Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bernie Torme




Alex Eruptor speaks to Bernie about the storming new ‘Flowers & Dirt’ album and tour, and raids the vaults to discuss some of the most interesting (but less written-about) projects and collaborations from the axeman’s career.




“The opening gig was in a club venue underneath another venue, where Jasper Carrot is appearing. They asked us to keep it down a bit so the noise didn’t overspill, then the guy said ‘start’. So we started. And then its kind of mayhem.  Jasper’s upstairs trying to tell his jokes but all that the audience can hear is us lot downstairs.  The guy who is organising Jasper’s gig runs down, I didn’t see any of this, but he charges over to our desk, pulls all of the output down.  So no PA, but it still sounds okay on stage – so we’re all kind of carrying on playing.  Then some guy to do with Jasper jumps up out of the audience in front of Chris (Heilmann, bassist) motioning to us to stop.  But I’ve been playing for a long time and the law has always been you don’t stop.  When I played with Gillan we had guns pulled on us – and that also happened to me in Northern Ireland – but you don’t stop.  So we carried on.  There’s uproar upstairs and Jasper is not happy.  They somehow managed to complete and the guy then says okay play as loud as you like now.”


......For the uninitiated, Jasper Carrot is a British comedian and TV personality/gameshow host who first rose to fame during the mid-1970s, and in recent years also famous for being the father of actress Lucy Davis (who played receptionist ‘Dawn’ in the UK version of sitcom The Office).  The man explaining this triumph of rock over comedy, which had occurred just two nights prior to our meeting, is Bernie Torme: A mainstay of the touring circuit who has worked with some of the biggest names in rock and has released over 24 albums along the way.

As lead guitarist for the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan during the 1980s (see photos below), Bernie became one of the most highly regarded axemen in hard rock and heavy metal. Subsequent high profile collaborative projects included ‘Desperado’ (with Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and Iron Maiden’s Clive Burr), GMT (with former Gillan colleague John McCoy), and a 1980s incarnation of the sadly underrated doom/soul/prog overlords Atomic Rooster. 


Above: Rockin' with Gillan
Below: On tour with Ozzy





However, it was with the eponymously named band  ‘Torme’ (fronted by future LA Guns frontman Philip Lewis) and also as a solo artist that Bernie has been able to spread his wings most freely and truly craft his distinctive guitar style, which blends flash-metal fretboard pyrotechnics with gut wrenching blues-based riffing and lots of punk-ish ‘fuck you’ attitude.

Bernie originally carved out a niche as the original ‘Electric Gypsy’ amongst the early 1980s London punk and sleazerock circuit which revolved around the Soho club scene (which included late, lamented venues such as the Marquee, Gossips, etc) but scratch below the surface and you find that Bernie’s style has more in common with the classic and blues rock inspired players of the 1970s than it does the ‘guitar-technocrat’ style that many of his contemporaries adopted. Just like the late, great Rory Gallagher, he can coax screams, wails, dive-bombs and blistering break-neck solos from his battered Stratocasters, but he never loses sight of the song.



A promo photo from the 1980s


I met up with Bernie prior to his recent show in the city of York, England, thanks to his road manager, Rob Grain. Although show-time was fast approaching by the time it took me to find the recently relocated venue, Bernie was relaxed and talked freely and at length about his new album, the tour, and also a few of the less frequently discussed moments of his career…

Beginning with the new album, Bernie explained how he financed it via crowd-funding “Record labels and industry people….I’ve never really liked all of that.  But I know a guy called Ginger Wildheart who is kind of the king of pledging and crowdsourcing.  He and his manager said I ought to try it.  I thought I’d get two people, maybe a couple of quid! But I talked to a couple more people; Arthur Brown and his manager, and they said its an idea. Try it. So I tried it and you know it was just astounding.  As an artist you don’t know if you have a kind of ‘fan base’ really y’know? Because really a lot of the time these days if you go and play a gig, people have kids and they have jobs so they don’t necessarily turn up to the gigs. 




“I did it and I had the amount I needed in 24 hours, I couldn’t believe it.  It dragged on because it goes on for 60 days or however long after that and I ended up having 418% of what I had asked. I was in the process of recording an album so it became a double album and I was thinking well this is terrifying because I really didn’t expect to get the money at all. So it was you have to complete and that was great because it was just like the old days in the early ‘80s and the ‘70s because you have to complete the album.  It had to be finished. That was it.  I found that really helpful because it was almost like having a gun being held to my head! So I did it and I was just hoping that the people would like it and its gone down so well its just untrue.  Y’know almost every other album I’ve done I’ve had people kind of slag off but this one people liked! Oh God I’m thinking I don’t need no record company! I don’t need no industry!  I’ll just do it myself! It was cool. It was just a great experience.”

As a result, the aforementioned manager of Arthur Brown, Ben Hylands and his agency – the aptly named Inspired Artists – were quick to spot the momentum and offered Bernie an extensive UK tour. Tonight was the third show in as many nights for Bernie and his band, but the first time I’d ever witnessed him in concert, despite being familiar with a fair amount of his recorded work.





 Above: Rockin the house down at York Fibbers (photo by Alex Eruptor)



Opening the show were local rock/metal heroes Bastrad, whose set I watched mainly from the door between the side of the stage and the back stage area.  It was a good location to hear them play as the sound was straight from the kit and backline and less distorted than out front.  What I missed out on in volume was compensated for by clarity.  Bastrad sounded tight and blasted through a well received set which culminated with the dynamic ‘Riff Propelled Grenade’.  Despite being loaded with so many time and rhythm changes, the band nail it, bringing to an impressive finale their energetic and fun set.

After a short interlude Bernie and his band take to the stage with all guns blazing, opening with the swashbuckling ‘Wild West’, an uptempo rocker full of guitar heroics from the 1983 Torme album ‘Electric Gypsies’.



The crowd are then treated to back catalogue favourites such as ‘Turn out the Lights’, ‘Getting There’, and ‘Lightning Strikes’, a selection of choice cuts from the new album (‘Blood Run Cold’, ‘Partytown’), some crowd-pleasing classics from the Gillan years (‘Trouble’ and ‘New Orleans’) and for the encore a blazing take on Hendrix’s ‘Fire’.  The new material stands up well alongside the older songs and it is fair to say that the crowd enjoyed it all, a fact which bodes well for the possibility of new music in future.


And talking of new music, latest album ‘Flowers and Dirt’ is a veritable feast of heavy blues-influenced hard rock n’ roll.  The fretboard pyrotechnics and Bernie’s distinctive tone are of course all present and correct, but importantly so is the groove. Starting in a high-octane blaze of glory with the rapid fire triple shot of ‘Crash & Burn’, ‘Party Town’ and ‘Blood Run Cold’, followed by the hypnotic driving beat of ‘Your Voodoo’.  The pace then slows down a bit, such as on the bluesy, ‘Out in the Cold’ or the Hendrix-meets-Cream time machine of ‘Garden of Earth’s Delight’.  Contrastingly, ‘Spirit Road’ provides an acoustic dimension with some neat guitar harmonics and drum patterns, whilst ‘Outlaw Blues’ has a country vibe.  ‘Turn the Tide’ continues the acoustic theme but before building into something heavier.  Instrumental track ‘Stoneship’ features a firey guitar solo over a grungey, Sabbathy backing. I won’t list every song but rest assured, Flowers and Dirt is a collection of strong material with plenty of attitude, ‘feel’ and all the other qualities that you’d hope to find on a great rock album. The recordings have a ‘live’ sound to them and this works well, particularly when turned up loud, and is true to the way that the band sound in concert. 

Here is a great track from Flowers & Dirt called 'Blood Runs Cold':




Impressed by the music, I asked Bernie a few more questions about ‘Flowers & Dirt’:

Me: 'Partytown' is a great track, was it inspired by anywhere in particular? 

Bernie: “My home town Dublin, really about the celtic tiger period when Dublin seemed to be the place every UK stag and hen party seemed to home in on. The Dublin Temple Bar area in particular, it used to be gross and pretty nightmarish in those days, streets full of puke and bodies!

I saw a newspaper article about a Dublin guy called Paddy Dunning who owns a studio called Grouse Lodge in Ireland, (at one point I was vaguely thinking about buying the place, it was up for sale years ago and relatively cheap at the time too). But then he had Michael Jackson stay there, and then MJ died, and among other things he started renting it out for corporate weekends including 'sleeping in the bed Michael Jackson slept in! Aaaargh! (the article is here if you are interested: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/aug/15/michael-jackson-ireland-secret-retreat)

Bizarre, and a totally Dublin sort of thing to do, even though the studio is in Westmeath, an hour or so out of Dublin. Paddy apparently started out building his empire as a dustman in Dublin, I loved the story so hence the opening line of Partytown, 'Baby don't fear the dustman…..etc'

It just all had that slightly hallucinatory surreal Flann O Brien/Joycean thing that Dublin stories often have, which I love, it makes me feel secure to think the world is that bizarre! That’s where the idea for the song came from, its not about exactly just that, more a melange of images that relate somehow in my addled bonce to that aspect of Dublin!”

PARTYTOWN:




Me: The new album has a great sound, I'm taking about acoustically but also the dynamics of the playing.  It is very much the sound of a great 'live' band in the studio and these songs have much more of a 'groove' than some of your earlier material.  How easy or difficult was it to capture that sound and 'vibe' (for want of a better word!)?


Bernie: “That was what I was aiming at but the fact that it worked was totally in the hands of the bass and drums, it is sometimes different players, but they could all do it: that was amazing and a tribute to their ability. It was hugely important to me to get that feel, I've done lots of the mechanical stuff in the past and I wanted something that had a little more natural groove, more rock n roll than metal really. 


It wasn't hard to capture at all, some tracks were on clicks though most weren't, we always tried to do it without a click first, but some needed it, but it was down to the drummers involved, mainly Ian Harris, but also Simon Jeffrey earlier on, that they were able to maintain those loose-ish  classic rock n roll grooves with that bit of old time swing even when playing to a click. Still sounds human and grooves, exactly what I was aiming at. 

Soundwise I was going for that Glyn John's 70's drum sound to compliment that style, maybe with a few more Bonham-esque room mikes, but its all real, I avoided that 80's drum reverb thing like the plague, its pretty much what the drums sounded like in the room, its quite a live room, and quite a decent size too which is important. It was completely about getting a feel and keeping the room sounding real. The playing fitted the sound and vice versa.”



Me: There are a lot of songs on the new album and the quality control is high throughout.  Did put everything on the record that you recorded or is there anything still in the vaults from these sessions that might see light of day at some point? 


Bernie: “Yes there are a few left. Some are pretty good too, there just wasn't a place for them that worked. Its probably about 6 or 8 in all, though not everything got finished because it became apparent that there was no place for them this time round, and I didn't have the time to fuck around. I am sure they will get used in future at some point.”



All in all, it is fairly obvious why the fan-funding approach has worked out for Bernie Torme: Great songs, great musicianship, distinctive sound, and importantly a great connection with the audience.  Torme himself is a likeable guy and more down-to-earth than most rockstars, and it is clear that for many in tonight’s audience what they saw and heard tonight will live long in the memory. 




Bonus Content:

Whilst being highly regarded in his own right,`Bernie Torme has also worked and collaborated with many other great musicians from the British rock scene.  Some of these, such as Ozzy Ozbourne and Ian Gillan, have been covered in great detail in other publications, but when I met Bernie I thought I’d ask about some of the less written about collaborations from his career:


Thunderstick





“While I was playing with Ian (Gillian), John (McCoy) and I did two or three gigs in around 1980-ish as TMT which was Torme, McCoy and Thunderstick.  They were really enjoyable and in fact Thunderstick plays on a track on the Glory Road extra album, on ‘Come Tomorrow’.  After I’d left Gillan I went out and did Ozzy’s thing and came back and I had no drummer.  I’d been doing some demos for Barry’s (Barry Purkis, aka ‘Thunderstick’) first album and I asked him to play drums on a radio station and also one or two gigs.  Following that he had other obligations and I had to find another drummer, basically.“


Philip Lewis




“I had a publisher who said Van Halen’s doing great , you need a singer! Which is arguably true (laughs).  Everytime I’d seen Phil he used to say ‘I want to join the Electric Gypsy’s , I want to be in your band’ so immediately I thought of him.  I talked to him but he was already doing New Torpedos and not keen so I found this other guy and we did a couple or three or four shows…the Marquee and St Albans Civic but it was awful.  We had a disagreement and I told him to fuck off.  I then had a difficult situation as I had a string of gigs and no singer!  So I basically went over to Phil’s place and I said please please please please help me out! And Phil being Phil its like ‘oh I don’t know if I can’ , y’know (laughs) but he did.  At that time he was in the ‘Torpedos I went down to the Marquee a couple of times.  They were a great band.  But in the context of us he was ideal. He’s just such a great frontman. He’s just energy and just brilliant.”




He did both Torme and the New Torpedos for a while didn’t he?

“Yes he did and it was just him you know, to a ‘T’!  It suited him and after he joined us full-time I don’t think he liked that as much, he didn’t have the illicit thing going on haha!

I actually think he’s great and doesn’t get the credit he deserves.  He’s a truly awesome frontman, he really is you know? Every show we ever did I’d just stand there and kind of like….it was just fantastic.  He’d always do completely off-the-wall things.  Stand on his head and fall over in the middle of the stage.  It was just great.”

BELOW: NEW TORPEDOS (Rudi, Dave, Phil [front], Paul)




The Gang Bang Band


“This was something where I happened to be there pretty much by accident: I knew Spike from the Quireboys (at that time the Queerboys) pretty well, my bass player Chris Heilmann (then and now) was good mates with him.

So Spike and Buttz were trying to do this club night thing in a place called Gossips in Soho, and I went along because Chris told me it was good: I ended up playing. I really can't remember how that happened! I think I maybe played on the Gang Bang EP, I definitely played on All Right Now with Spike singing, but that’s not on the record. Maybe some Rolling Stones too, Honky Tonk I think. I spent most of the night getting paralytically drunk with Nasty Suicide who I had a real laugh with. Neither of us knew anything about it being recorded, or if he did he never told me!

I'm sure I remember Rene Berg playing bass on the jam, though he's not credited, that’s where I met him.

I don't know anything at all about the other two tracks, I'm not on them. I met Spike a few weeks ago and told him that, and he said 'Don't you remember coming down to Trident Studios to record, you were there!'. No I wasn't! Maybe I'm on the live Gang Bang and my name is on all of it because someone thought it would sell 2 more copies or something. But I know nothing about and I wasn't there apart from maybe one live track. I never even knew it was out till about 2 years ago! I've never even heard it!”


Rene Berg





'Secrets' by Rene Berg (featuring Bernie Torme on guitar)


“Rene Berg's 'The Leather The Loneliness And Your Dark Eyes' album was different: his publisher manager Pete Chalcraft from Notting Hill Music, a loveable shameless rogue who I used to drink with sometimes, asked me to play on it. 

We went down to this strange little studio in Witney, Oxfordshire where nothing seemed to work properly, with the wonderful Rat Scabies and Paul Gray from the Damned as rhythm  section, that was great, and some odd guy producing and engineering who was somewhat lacking in the required people skills vis a vis Paul and Rat. Rat takes no prisoners, so that was interesting! Rat and Paul spoke their truth and there was a whole lotta bitching going on from the control room end!

I had just come out of hospital where I had nearly died following a punctured lung…I weighed about 8 stone and looked like an effing skeleton. My eldest boy Jimi was born in the middle of the album sessions so I missed a couple of days recording because of that, he's 23 now! The sessions were weird to be honest. I did everything in one take, no one seemed to care very much. Even when I wanted to do repairs they didn't want me to do any. Considering I hadn't even heard the songs that was bizarre, I'm not that good!

Anyway, Rene was a great writer, very poppy, Beatles-y, very talented guy, and a really nice guy, but not really in need of my style of playing, which was what the producer wanted: the album was pretty great pop rock songs, more pop than rock to be honest, quite soft and sentimental and great tunes, very much subject based on being young and falling in love. I have no memory of that! Why they asked me to make noise over it I have no effing idea. I don't think I was the right choice, I was definitely pulling it in a direction it did not need to go. They (management engineer and producer) didn't really seem to know what they were aiming at, and I still feel Rene's talent, which was subtle, whimsical, gentle and very very English, got sort of waylaid in the process. But it still has some great catchy pop songs that shine through nonetheless. He was a great writer and fantastic voice, very English late sixties, reminiscent to me of Syd Barrett.

My favourite track would probably be Rob The Bank. followed by Secrets and Fast Car.

Below: 'Rob the Bank':




A few years back I heard Rene had died: I was really saddened, he was a lovely talented guy, and a good guy. He had been living near me in Dover, though I hadn't known it, and I went to his funeral and met his mother who was also lovely. I think I was the only person from the wonderful world of popular music who showed up. Well it wasn't in London, and everyone was living in LA by then anyway. It was very sad, he was 47. I don't really know what happened.

I did one gig with him too, in that horrible Marquee second coming on Charing Cross Road: same band plus the Darryl Bath on guitar, again no idea why they asked me, just the name probably, Darryl was the guy who should have done all the record, great guitarist and more in tune with what Rene was at. I never got paid for the gig so they probably agreed! Ha ha!”

What many people don't know is that Rene Berg was also an accomplished angler, who made the record books for landing the largest pike ever caught in London . Photo below is from a detailed blog post all about it




Ron ‘Rebel’ Mathews

“In 1983 the Electric Gypsies album was released, we had been hanging on to the master tapes for a year because of an argument with DJM, who I was signed to. I got out of the DJM deal and then couldn't find a label, then Cherry Red/Zebra turned up and I signed to them: I wish I hadn't that was a complete disaster, they just seemed to look at it and me as a cash cow, spend as little as possible on it and make as much as you can. No interest at all in promoting my career as a musician. 

Frank Noon, our drummer, left to join Waysted who had a proper deal, to be briefly replaced by Dave Dowle from Whitesnake, who then left taking Everton Williams our bass player with him!

I was about a week away from starting a tour with no band. I lived next door to Colin Bond from Stampede, and he saved my bacon by offering to play bass. Ron Rebel was at that time playing drums for McCoy, and McCoy recommended him, so we had a blow and it was pretty damn good. So Ron and Colin stepped in at very short notice and saved the day. 


Yes indeed Ron had played for Maiden in the early days, and was still a mate of Steve Harris, a great meat and potatoes rock drummer. Thinking about it I appear to have played with 3 ex Maiden drummers, Ron Rebel, Barry Thunderstick and Clive Burr! Funny that!”





Bernie Torme’s latest album Flowers and Dirt is available now – visit http://bernietorme.bandcamp.com or http://www.bernietorme.co.uk for info and to buy it. Many thanks to Rob Grain for arranging the interview, York Fibbers music venue, and the staff at Hampton by Hilton hotel who found us a quiet space I which to conduct the interview.  Thanks also to Bernie and band for being accommodating subjects and for the beer. Cheers!


- Alex Eruptor, December 2014


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thunderstick




Following a resurgence of interest in Thunderstick (the drummer and the band) here is a 're-print' of the article I wrote about Thunderstick which appeared on the 'old' Sleazegrinder website back in 2009.

Since the original article, the Thunderstick back catalogue album and EP have been released on CD by Heaven & Hell Records, together with previously unheard demos, as 'Echoes From The Analogue Asylum'.  The music and packaging are killer, and on the back of the below article, I was invited to provide the sleeve notes.


So here is the original feature and interview in all its glory (thanks to Thunderstick and Rob Grain for many of the photos and graphics used!):





Thunderstick Interview
Words: Alex Eruptor (and Thunderstick!)
THUNDERSTICK is the insanely entertaining mad masked drummer who rose to infamy as a leading figurehead of the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) due to his exploits behind the kit (and cage!) with SAMSON and also an early line-up of IRON MAIDEN (more about that later)
Thunderstick’s antics included terrorizing audiences, pouring copious amounts of alcohol over himself at each show and generally causing chaos amongst the pyro`s and smoke bombs that were exploding around him. Added to which, he wore a mask and played inside a cage.
Thunderstick would eventually forge his own band with a horror-metal image who made some great music as well as some great album covers. Although his time with Samson (and even Maiden, to some extent) is fairly well documented elsewhere on the internet not much has been written about Thunderstick “the band” beyond their official website and an article published in 2009 on the website sleazegrinder.com, which updated here in light of the ‘...Analogue Asylum’ CD release.
So, adjust your straight jacket and let the mayhem commence...

Photo credit: Rob Grain/thunderstick.co.uk
Starting Out
Thunderstick joined his first professional band, `The Primitives`, at the age of 19 after their singer spotted him playing with his then band `Tiny and the Hot Toddies,` at Windsor Free Festival in England (a week-long Hippy festival which ran throughout the early 70s before being banned by the authorities). The Primitives were based in Sicily, “it was a band that the Italians knew well and didn’t mind so much as to who was in it as long as it existed”.
“The Primitives was my baptism of fire, I went away boy and came back a man. We toured relentlessly thorughtout Italy, Greece, Sardina, eventually having a number one with a single called ‘Yeah’ all in Italian. This, believe it or not, was later covered by the American rock band Angel who called it ‘Aint Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore’!”
On returning to England the young Thunderstick joined a folk rock band by the name of ‘Archer’ who enjoyed a limited amount of sucess on a local level doing a good amount of major act Support slots with other ` electric folkies` such as ‘Steelers Wheel`, before moving on to form a band of his own called ‘Oz’. “This was very prog-rock, plenty of rehearsals but not too much gigging. From there I moved onto a working band named ‘Mr Zero’ also very prog, but once again limited success, then a change in musical direction to a heavier lesser known band : ‘Iron Maiden’!
Iron Maiden
This early line-up of Iron Maiden already had an impressive set of songs, many of which would eventually be recorded for the first two Iron Maiden albums and assorted singles, such as ‘Sanctuary’, ‘Wrathchild’, ‘Prowler’ and signature tune ‘Iron Maiden’. Thunderstick worked with Steve Harris on a piece of music featuring a rolling drum pattern and dramatic chord progression which would become well known to NWOBHM fans when it appeared as ‘Ides of March’ on Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ album, and also as the song ‘Thunderburst’ on the second album from fellow metallers SAMSON to whom Thunderstick had made the move to…. but more about that later.
His stint with Maiden ended abruptly - according to folklore this was due to a Keith Moon-esque episode in which he allegedly fell asleep behind the kit during a song. According to Maiden bassist and founder member Steve Harris in the bands official biography “Run To The Hills”:
“He'd dropped a couple of downers or something like that ...he stopped in the middle of the Drum solo and he yelled, 'Stop talking, you GREAT MUSICIANS, and listen to the maestro!'

An interview with Thunderstick published on a Samson tribute website (www.bookofhours.netSamson/) provides a better explanation:

“Right, I'll tell you the story behind that. I was married for eight years and I was having an affair at the time with this beautiful woman who had just told her husband that I was having an affair with her. My wife had just found out. All three were at the gig. I had just bought a brand new drum kit, a Gretsch, and I'd never played it before, not even to rehearse on it. I literally took delivery of it that afternoon of the gig with Iron Maiden. So it took me a little while in the sound check to kind of set it up and try it out. And, yes, I did drop something. It wasn't acid or anything like that, it was a barbiturate, it was a downer, a Valium or something like that. I was so on edge that whole gig, because of the circumstances of my wife standing there, right next to her is my girlfriend that I'm screwing at the time and her husband and my new drum kit... I was used to the other kit and every time I'd go around it there wouldn't be a tom tom there, I would be a gap so hence the reason that that happened.”

This might have been the last gig Thunderstick played for Maiden, but their paths were destined to cross again...

Samson
Joining Samson in 1979, Thunderstick and guitarist Paul Samson spotted a young university student named Bruce Dickinson fronting a band in their local pub and gave the singer his first big break fronting SAMSON.
Thunderstick was then offered a second stint with Iron Maiden soon after, after the two bands had toured together, by then the THUNDERSTICK image had certainly taken on a life of its own , with the mask staring out from the front cover of the then SOUNDS magazine, and many tales of his exploits. Steve Harris wanted just a drummer not a `persona`, both Maiden and Thundestick were heading in different directions. The job went to Clive Burr who THUNDERSTICK had just replaced in Samson! So Iron Maiden recorded their first album with a drummer who had ‘Samson’ stencilled all over his drum cases whilst Samson recorded their second album ‘Head On’ with Thunderstick’s drums cases emblazoned with Iron Maiden’s name and with their future frontman on lead vocals!
The Samson line-up featuring Thunderstick/Dickinson would last until 1981 and produce three albums amongst the best of the NWOBHM era. The first `SURVIVORS` leans more towards a blues rock influence with occasional glimpses of what was to follow. Number two : ‘Head On’ is a very enjoyable slice of hard rock/heavy metal notable for the influence of Thunderstick who contributed much to the recording process and the production including his trademark sound-effects on the awesome ‘Walking Out on You’ as well as aforementioned instrumental ‘Thunderburst’:
“I came up with a drum pattern that did that constant rolling. I would have ideas and Steve would then transpose that, because I don't play guitar. I think we played it a couple of times with Iron maiden as an opening track. Just an intro, it was a throwaway thing, not really a track. The story behind that was that after we'd recorded "Head on" and they'd recorded "Killers" Clive Burr went round to Paul's house to listen to the new Samson album and in turn took the new "Killers" album with him. So Paul put on side one and they were "Yeah, it's great stuff", turned it over and up came Thunderburst and Clive nearly fell of his seat and went "Fuck, that's 'The Ides of March'". Paul was like "What the hell is he talking about?" So anyway, long story short, I got summoned to EMI and there was Rod Smallwood and Steve Harris sitting there and a lawyer, solicitor, and an EMI representative and just me sitting there. So what was decided in the end was that Steve Harris would share 50-50 the publishing rights on the Samson version of it, but I never got Sweet F.A. on the Iron Maiden version...”
(http://www.bookofhours.net/samson/)

Other highlights from Samson’s ‘Head On’ album include the classic rock of ‘Vice Versa’, the pedal to the metal ‘Take Me to Your Leader’ and a track called ‘Hammerhead’ which gave an indication of the sort of historical lyrics which would become the hallmark of Dickinson’s later careers with Maiden and as a solo artist.
“Although Production on the album could have been better, as a performer I felt I had really expressed myself, There are certain drum fills that I consider to be unique and could only be me, the same as when you hear Keith Moon you KNOW it`s Keith Moon .”
The next album ‘Shock Tactics’ featured a slicker production courtesy of Tony Platt (who had previously produced Iron Maiden’s Top 40 hit ‘Women In Uniform’) and includes some of their best songs, particularly ‘Blood Lust’ a mid-tempo slab of metal based upon a Sabbath-style riff the likes of which many of today’s ‘stoner rock’ bands can only dream of creating, and once again includes some characteristic Thunderstick studio sound effects.
However, by this time there was unrest in the band , behind-the-scenes politics… the rest of the band wanted to play down the visuals and move back into a bluesier back-to-basics direction whilst Thunderstick wanted to increase the theatrics and mayhem. Coupled with some questionable management decisions, Thunderstick left Samson and wasted no time forming his own band, which (in true Alice Cooper style) was also known as ‘Thunderstick’.
His replacement in Samson was Mel Gaynor, and this line-up played a storming set at the 1981Reading festival (since released as a live album). However, despite Mel’s undoubted ability the dynamic of the band changed. Simply, what Thunderstick brought to Samson was more than just the beats, and perhaps the band had made a mistake in opting to go ‘back-to-basics’. According to Bruce Dickinson:

"Samson worked together as this crazy, fucked up set-up, and when you took Thunderstick out of the equation and replaced him with Mel Gaynor who was in the band very briefly, Simple Mind's drummer, this phenomenal drummer, there was no excitement in it there anymore. When he played he played everything perfectly. Everything was in time, there were no mistakes, there was no danger anymore. And Thunderstick had provided that unpredictability so I got bored."

Samson continued with a talented new line-up featuring singer Nicky Moore, drummer Pete Jupp, and also with 720/Torpedos/Bad Company guitarist Dave “Bucket” Colwell at one point, which recorded some great bluesy hard rock albums throughout the 1980’s, Dickinson joined Iron Maiden, and for Thunderstick there was now freedom to pursue a vision of his own....

Thunderstick “The Band”
Recruiting Ben K. Reeve and Colin Heart (former bandmates from ‘Archer’, ‘Oz’ and ‘Mr Zero’), Neil Hay and Scottish singer Vinnie Munro, Thunderstick the band was now established to perform female-fronted theatrical rock. Sold out showcase gigs at London’s famed Marquee club suggested a bright future but after recording with this lineup, Thundestick ( the individual) decided a new singer and guitarist were required.
Enter Ana-Maria Carmella Borg and Cris Martin. This new line-up recorded an EP ‘Feel Like Rock n’ Roll?’ which has since become quite collectible and three decades later is included in remastered form on the 2011 ‘...Analogue Asylum’:




This is the coolest record cover I’ve ever seen. I used to stare at this album in the bins of every metal shop I haunted for years and think, “Well, goddamn. That’s the way a rock record oughta look.” I mean, there he is- Mr. fuckin’ Crazy himself, peering through the darkness in his studded S&M mask. He’s got an executioner’s hood on, and he’s wearing plastic vampire fangs. This cat is obviously capable of just about anything. “Feel Like Rock and Roll?” Well, yeah, Thunderstick, I do. All the goddamn time. Flip the back, and there’s a zombie-girl and some black leather ghouls-with-guitars waiting for you. How the fuck could you resist? The cover and the title absolutely nailed the gonzo-rock aesthetic.” (Sleazegrinder.com)
Despite their growing reputation, yet again there were problems in the vocal area, with Anna suffering due to the full vocal assault required by the music. A replacement was found - American singer Jodee Valentine, who took up the challenge with aplomb. She joined as the band were in rehearsal for a forthcoming tour to promote the release of the E.P. It was decided to credit her and include her photo on the cover, as this was to be the touring lineup. This new line-up subsequently toured the UK in 1983 and it was not long before Jodee and drummer Thunderstick were Choreographing their own particular Rock`n`roll mayhem to accompany the bands Soundtrack. 



The setlist from this tour is documented by the website http://www.bookofhours.net/samson/thunder.htm and reproduced below. All of the tracks from the EP were included (although ‘Runaround’ featured was re-titled ‘Masquerade’) as well as the Samson classic ‘Earth Mother’.
Afraid of the Dark
Alecia
Buried Alive
Earth Mother
Thunder Thunder
Blackwing
Masquerade (n.b. "Runaround" with different lyrics)
The Shining
Feel like Rock'n'Roll
Lights (take me away).

Over Christmas/New Year 1983-84 the band entered Shepperton studio in Surrey, England, to record the first full-length Thunderstick album which was released as ‘Beauty & The Beasts’ (Shepperton is of course notable for its connections with the British horror film genre, the likes of which influenced the Thunderstick aesthetic).
This is a solid album of impressive musicianship and hard rocking songs such as ‘Another Turn Around‘, ‘Contact Angel‘ and ‘Heartbeat in the Night’ as well as some characteristic studio trickery and progressive production values from `The Stick` himself.

After a few more live shows and another change of guitarist a new record deal was struck for a follow-up album, provisionally titled ‘Don’t Touch, I’ll Scream’. Unfortunately due to the demise of the company concerned the resulting recordings remained in the vaults, although two songs did appear on a hard-to-find compilation album of NWOBHM era rockers entitled ‘Best of British Metal’ and the awesome ‘Thunder Thunder’ was made available to listen to on the Thunderstick myspace page.
“In my opinion this contains the strongest material that we ever recorded as well as the best performances. The band were indeed truly fired up for these album sessions, unfortuantely it has not seen the light of day YET, however I am working on it.”
The band was put on hold whilst Thunderstick and Jodee went to the U.S.A with the mixes of `Don`t Touch...` to try to secure some American interest. This they did with involvement from a company based in New Jersey. They had been out there for a considerable amount of time and the original members had all long gone to various other projects. Whilst in the US a new set of vocals were recorded to the original “Feel Like Rock`n Roll ?”, finally addressing the balance of Jodee being truly on the E.P. and the couple also found the time to get married.
On returning to the UK they reformed the band with a completely new line-up for one last try but alas, the Major record deal that was required for such a theatrical project remained unattainable and after a few showcases Thunderstick called it a day.



A few Samson reformations during the early 1990’s and early 2000’s saw Thunderstick back in his cage for dates in Europe ,U.S.A, and Japan but the untimely deaths of guitarist Paul Samson and bassist Chris Aylmer signalled the end of the road also for that band.
Present Day
Fastforward to April 2009 and Thunderstick is somewhat back in the public eye. He is quoted heavily in a recent Bruce Dickinson biography and interviewed unmasked on the DVD (Iron Maiden and The New Wave of British Heavy Metal). In April 2009 he was back on stage playing his co-written Samson material at the Keep It True heavy metal festival in Germany, and a number of interview features followed, including best-selling music magazine ‘Classic Rock’ which also voted him number 36 in a list of ‘50 Best Rock Drummers of all Time’. Praise indeed and proof of Thunderstick’s enduring appeal as one of the great rock n’ roll characters.
In the Spring of 2011 it was announced that the Thunderstick back-catalogue, encompassing the ‘Feel Like Rock n’ Roll?’ EP, ‘Beauty & The Beasts’ album, and a wealth of rare and previously unreleased bonus tracks would finally see light of day as a digitally remastered CD package entitled ‘Echoes From The Analogue Asylum’ (the title being a reference to the fact that this was the first time the music had been issued as a digital format).


And so it seemed like the perfect time to ask `Stick` a whole bunch of burning questions I’d been wanting to ask for years. Much has been written about his time with Samson and Maiden but little light has been shed on Thunderstick the band, so in addition to the information and quotes used in the biography above this was the main focus of our conversation conducted in two sessions via email, firstly in the Spring of 2009, then followed-up two years later to coincide with the ‘Echoes From The Analogue Asylum’ release.
So how do you begin an interview with a mad masked percussionist with a love of mindbending progressive rock and tendency to play his drums within a cage? Ask him about his favourite brand of drum sticks? Maybe something about his musical influences of memories of being interviewed for Kerrang! magazine? After some consideration I thought I’d get straight to the point.....
Alex: You are one of the most iconic figures from a particular era of rock music. Along with Iron Maiden mascot “Eddie the ‘Ead” perhaps the most recognisable. But without the mask do you ever get recognised? You must be tempted to put the mask/costume on in public from time to time. It would be awesome to go to the shops for a loaf of bread wearing full Thunderstick regalia.
Thunderstick: You’re raving mad! I never go shopping..... I wish! No, I never feel the need to dress up as Thundersick and go out in my immediate neighbourhood. As far as being recognised, the fact that I am unmasked on the “Iron Maiden and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal” DVD (available at your local outlet) might just get me recognised – who know, who cares!
Alex: How has the image/costume evolved over the years?
Thunderstick: The image has evolved by a “softening”. It was a very stark image in the early days with Samson, resulting in much hatred from the newly formed Womens Liberation Group during the Cambridge rapist era (early 80s), the latter wearing a mask similar to the one that Thundersick wore. This led to tearing down of posters etc in areas that he had been active, and the accusation from these women that Thundersick wearing such a garment was glorifying the act of rape. This was so, so far removed from the Thundersick character who was, in my opinion, a loveable lunatic! I asked the aforementioned to debate this on radio but they always declined.

Alex: On the ‘Iron Maiden and the NWOBHM’ DVD you say that you enjoyed the Sex pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks...’ Album. Do you enjoy any other punk bands? The Thunderstick image is not totally out of place amongst the punk scene, for example bands such as The Damned.




Thunderstick: Yes, The Damned I love. I enjoyed the overall energy and forcefulness of the Punk movement. Out of any movement there will emerge a chosen few with the rest falling by the wayside. This in turn happened and we have the few bands that we look back on now with mainstream reverence as opposed to dismissal.

Alex: Do you see any influence of what you were doing in the 1980’s on any artists since?
Thunderstick: Yes..... SlipKnot where’s my namecheck!

Alex: So, about ‘Thunderstick’ the band. What were the musical objectives?
Thunderstick: TO BE GOOD! I know this sounds ‘twee’ but I always regarded the band to be of good muscianship. The quality of the music stood for itself, and by the fact that I had a female vocalist at the front of it, it was somewhat different for its time. There were not that many female-led rock bands, for it is ‘rock’ as opposed to ‘metal’. Add to that the highly theatrical imagery.
The mixes, in hindsight, are not all they could have been, but given the limited facilities and time I produced an album that I am still proud of. Upon listening to it even now I still think it stands up to the test of time.

Alex: There were various line-ups of Thunderstick the band. Any particular memories from each line-up?
Thunderstick: The line-up with Vinnie the first singer, would be the first set of rehearsals on hearing that a female vocalist would actually work at the front of my band, and the Thundersick band appearance at the sold out Marquee Club, extremely hot having to have oxygen backstage. This was probably the hottest I have ever been, at times finding it actually hard to breathe behind the mask despite the fact that we had on stage with us two industrial fan blowers. It was the middle of a unrelenting heatwave!



Second line-up Anna, much rehearsal resulting in me using her on ‘Feel like Rock and Roll’ EP her then her losing her voice whilst in rehearsal and subsequent trips to the Ear, Nose and Throat hospital with worries that she could have permanently damaged her voice. That’s why I had to let her go She found intense rehearsal for any length of time unmanageable and subsequently she and the band had to part company.

Enter Jodee, Jodee we toured with, did both albums with, during which time Meatloaf asked her to join him when he was recording his ‘Modern Girls’ album. Contact was made through our then publishing company. He wanted both recording and touring commitment. After much deliberation he was turned down as a result of the fact that we were mid-way through recording our second album. By this time she and I were “an item” both personally as well as professionally.

Alex: You released music on Thunderbolt records, which your website says was your own affiliated label. Was this your very own label?
Thunderstick: I did not own the label, but was instrumental in setting it up – in other words, other people’s money........ politics and the good old rock and roll industry!
Alex: The aesthetic of the band – everything from the clothes to the logo has that old horror movie vibe to it. I especially like the haunted castle logo! Are you a fan of Hammer Horror? If so, which are your favourite films?
Thunderstick: Fantastic! Can I congratulate you. As far as I can see you are the only person that has written about Thundersick the band that has picked up on the aesthetic of the band. All others seem to have an opinion that all was done on the cheap. This, to a certain extent, is true. There were never mega-bucks to be spent on the band in the way that large acts such as Iron Maiden have at their disposal. However, the whole ideal of the Thundersick image was indeed an amalgamation of “Hammer kitch”, my love for cheapie horror movies, Victoria London legend, eg fog-filled passageways with Jack the Ripper type characters lurking on every corner, the Rocky Horror Show and Edgar Allen Poe stories. I tried to sprinkle the band with an amount of each. Something that I truly enjoyed, but plainly sailed over the heads of any prospective reviewers et al. I am not sure even if the audiences picked up on it, so I thank you for seeing it as it was intended!
Favourite films: Vampire Lovers, all the Hammer Draculas, Countess Dracula; indeed I was honoured to take the lovely Ingrid Pitt to lunch once, an event I will NEVER forget!

Alex: Thunderstick always had awesome record sleeves. Your website biog says that the ‘Beauty and the Beasts’ album was released with inferior packaging to what you had in mind (you even had a different title for it). So were there any ideas/designs that you had which didn’t get used?
Thunderstick: Yes indeed, there was a diferent title for it, it was to be called “Inomini Patris” which is Latin for “In the Name of the Father”, intimating that Thundersick was the daddy of the band – not literally but spiritually. The original album cover was to be a similar set-up to the “Feel like rock and roll” cover with the Thundersick character holding a playing card size photograph of the picture which was ultimately used as the full cover; this was to indicate transition from individual to band. Then, on the back cover individual photos of the band. However, the record comapany deemed that it was probably too expensive to engineer therefore went with the soft option of just using the original “mausaleum” shot.

Alex: Where were the photos that were included on your record sleeves taken?
Thunderstick: At a mauseleum just outside Shepperton, I can’t remember exactly where. All I remember was that it was an early shoot on a very cold winter’s morning.

Alex: Any video footage of Thunderstick the band?
Thunderstick: Yes there was a video promotion shot in the old Great Western Railway hotel at St Pancras Station (i.e. the main building). At the time it was deserted, was completely gothic and also rumours of it being haunted. It was a building I first spotted on the inside cover of ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ by Alan Parsons. In the inner booklet there is a picture of a girl dressed in white descending a large staircase. After some enquiry I found this to be St Pancras. I did three photoshoots there as well as a video. The video was financed by the then management company who paid for it. On separating from the management company (I am afraid they have to remain nameless due to legal reason) I was asked to pay what I considered to be an exhorbitant amount of money for the tapes, hence it exists ... somewhere, but I have never seen it I only saw the rushes. What I did see of it would have been absolutely perfect. There is a still from it on the Thundersick My Space site. The track that we were doing was called ‘Thunder-Thunder”. It was absolute Hammer-horror revisited.

Alex: Awesome, I’d love to see that!! Talking of pictures, the pics from the Autumn ‘83 tour look like you had some fun! Any good tour stories?
Thunderstick: It was indeed a good tour, but somewhat frustrating for myself as I was finding it heavy going trying to break the band through in the popularity stakes. This was hard at times as I still had (due to the image) my female haters, even though there was now a female at the front. Coupled with the fact that there was a defintive Thundersick image from the Samson days to try and iradicate and project an upgraded version through the band. A task that at times seemed impossible. As regards tour stories, these will be in my book if I ever get time to write it!!



Photo Credit: Rob Grain and Thunderstick
Alex: What were the high points and low points of Thunderstick the band?
Thunderstick: The high points, probably (a) sellling out the Marquee Club, completeing the first album which I wrote, co-engineered and produced .... I remember long long sessions.
Low points, being reviewed for that same album by a self-opinionated, biased, theatre rock hating wannabee (I know the destination, but I don’t know how to drive the car!!!!) psuedonymed female rock ?........., my final word would have been “journalist”, but I am to this day not sure that she ever was, “Heavy Metal Heather”. She started the review by saying, “the one bad thing about this album is, that I have to actually sit and listen to it to review it. To all intents and purposes to my friends I wasn’t in by turning of the lights and hiding behind the curtains......” It went downhill from thereon in. It was plain by the review that she hadn’t fulfilled her duty to actually listen to it, but had formed her biased opinion on face-value by the very nature of the fact that it existed in the first place. Something to this day that still enrages me and we are talking over 20 years later....... That’s how angry I was, and still feel. It probably wasn’t the greatest album ever recorded but a lot of work went into it.

Alex: Apart from drumming, what other jobs have you had? I read that you roadied for Chicken Shack and worked as a gym instructor?
Thunderstick: Not that I have anything against roadies, they are the salt of the earth, however I have never roadied in my life. I was a live sound engineer for both Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack and Stevie Marriott (RIP) throughout German tours. I was also house sound engineer in South East London by the name of Barrington studies, where I engineered and produced an album by a band named the “Bomb Party”. As well as engineering all the sessions the studio had booked. This came to an end when my marriage to Jodee Valentine fell apart.
Yes indeed, I have worked as a gym insructor, I am Bawla qualified which enables me to teach both children and adults alike in weight training, conditioning, olympic lifts and power lifting. Having said that, I haven’t taught for a few years now.
Thunderstick was back in Germany slaying crowds at the ‘Keep It True Festival’ in 2009. How crazy was it?
Totally crazy like stepping back in time 20 years, all wearing balck leather , denim with various band patches, circa UK 1980, I played two Samson tracks with a good backing band called Roxxcalibur, a NWOBHM `tribute` band. The tracks were ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Too Close to Rock’. The singer was an American by the name of Harry Conklin who sings for a band called Jag Panzer, he had various Bruceisms both in voice and stage postures. I managed to pull a guy out of the crowd, stuck an extra mask on him that I had, let him dance around a bit, then covered him in 2 litres of water, retired back to the kit and left him there at the front of the stage soaked and masked, Dare I say `Dancing Fool` Frank Zappa.!!! I think I went down well, along with various members of Demon, Tank, Bleak House, Girlschool and others.
Alex: The world would be a much duller place without Thunderstick! So, fast-forward to 2011, this will be remembered as the year Thunderstick (the band) finally makes it into the digital era and onto CD! What took so long?
Thunderstick: Letheragy on my behalf probably, coupled with the fact that it has taken longer than I expected to get back the rights for my recorded material. But now its mine, all mine (laughs maniacally!)
So, the original versions were released on vinyl over 20 years ago. How easy was it to remaster them and how pleased are you with the results?
It has taken a few months to remaster the original material. I have managed to add a large amount of unheard material both within the mixes and as additional unheard tracks, pleasantly kicking it into the ‘today’ fighting and screaming, making the transition from analogue (hence the title) to digital. Engineered by my friend and longstanding associate, Rob Grain (our backline tech back then) we have spent nostalgic hours transported back to the day. It has been a labour of love and we are both delighted with the subsequent outcome.
Alex: Has this release emptied the vaults or is there more Thunderstick music waiting to see light of day?
Thunderstick: Yes there is definitely more. The band’s proposed second album waits silently in the shadows. After a short break we intend to start remastering that album and subsequent extra tracks.
Alex: Any plans for brand new Thunderstick music or any live shows in future?
Doubtful but I never say never! I think Thunderstick the band, was a product of its time and its genre. Having said that though, there are so many idioms these days that I am sure a modern day Thunderstick would sit snugly within any particular musical arena.
Many thanks to Thunderstick, Rob Grain, Ken McKintyre at Sleazegrinder.com, and Jeremy Golden at Heaven & Hell Records.  
More Thunderstick info available from the highly informative websites:
www.thunderstick.co.uk

Any fans of Iron Maiden and related bands with an interest in 'the early years' / nwobhm that are reading this, you can find tons more info on Barry/Thunderstick's time with the Irons at any and all of the following Facebook groups:







- Alex Eruptor
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