Intervju med Tony Speakman i Hell!
Hell är ju det brittiska bandet som i början av 80-talet var på gång och delvis räknades in i NWOBHM, men allt gick åt skogen. Skivbolagsstrul, sångaren begick självmord och bandet upplöstes.
Nu är de tillbaka med hjälp av framförallt Andy Sneap och plattan "Human remains" är faktiskt inte pjåkig alls.
Jag ringde upp Tony i England och fick ett mycket trevligt samtal med en pratglad britt som nu äntligen lever sin dröm efter att plattan hyllats världen över och arbetet med uppföljaren är redan på gång. Vi snackade bl a om influenser från KISS, hur de hamnade på Nuclear Blast, arbetet med Andy Sneap och likheten med Anvil.
Hey Tony, it´s Niclas!
Tony Speakman: How you doing Niclas? How´s it going?
I´m good! How are you?
TS: Oh, not so bad mate, not so bad!
It took me forever to figure out how to call you.
TS: Well, that´s why I´ve got my e-mail up in case you couldn´t get through and you´d have to e-mail me in a panic.
I wanna start with the beginning of all things and the beginnings of your musical career. What were you up to before Hell?
TS: Before Hell? Basically, I met a guy through an ex girlfriend who was playing guitar in his front room. At the time, obviously I was into rock music and metal music, bands like Deep Purple, UFO and Wishbone Ash, the early rock bands. I basically used to stand there pretending to be a guitarist and wishing I would one day be a guitarist or a musician. Through this ex girlfriend I met this guy who was playing guitar. His parents were away, so he had dragged his amplifier into the front room and I was just spellbound by him. I just walked into the room and asked “Would you give me a lesson?” and he said “Yeah!”. We got together and we formed a small band called Fluff, who incidentally contained Tim, the drummer from Hell. Tim and I have been together right from the very start of our playing careers. That then formed into a band called Tokyo Road. We were young and full of testosterone and full of ego and we sort of split for a bit. I left and joined another local band and they were doing fairly well on the local circuit, called Sovereign and from there, that´s when I met Kev. We used to rehearse at this lovely local pub and I went into the pub one night to rehearse and this guy came up to me and said “You´re gonna be asked to join Paralex!” and sure enough there was Kev and he asked me to join Paralex, who at the time had a record deal with the “White lightning” EP out and everything. I then went off to join Paralex and spent a few years with them doing the rounds and we made quite a name for ourselves. When we were in Paralex we used to work with Race Against Time, David Halliday´s original band. It was basically like today´s tour packages where three local bands go out and play bigger venues rather than all struggling in tiny little pubs. Proper gigs with bigger stages, better lighting, better everything! Then we became friends with Dave and then Dave split from Race Against Time. I don´t know the full story of what happened there, but when that happened, Kev was adamant that he wanted to work with Dave, so he approached me and said “We´re gonna put this new band together!” and he approached me and I said “Yeah, I´m up for it!”. Back again to Tim, my old friend because Tim and I were social friends even though for a couple of bands we didn´t play together and I said “How about Tim on drums?” and that´s how Hell formed.
Who came up with the name?
TS: I believe that was myself! Not the logo. The reason being, in 1976, I think, I went to see KISS in Manchester, one of their first ever gigs in the UK and I only went to see the support band Stray. I´d never heard of KISS. I was working in my cousin´s record shop at the time and I saw that Stray was playing in Manchester, I was living up there, so I borrowed some money from my auntie and bought myself a ticket and off I went. I didn´t know who KISS were, but I wanted to go and see the support band Stray. Well, I came out of the place, as you can imagine, a completely different person! The next day I went to my cousin´s shop and there were loads of KISS albums there, so I just bought the lot and became a big KISS fan. The idea behind Hell was… I believe I´m right, but the others may say I´m wrong here, but I seem to remember I sat in these girls conservatory conceiving this idea for this band where basically there was no backline or anything on stage. It was like a big theatrical set as you would imagine hell. A lot of red lighting and the idea that the monitors were gonna be like rocks and lots of dry ice and creating the stereo typical vision of hell. The devil´s domain! I think that´s where it came from and then the logo, I believe was another one of Kev´s brothers who came up with the logo and then the image just evolved. We wanted to do a show that was just totally different to any of the other local bands. There was a lot of local bands around and we wanted to take it one step further. What you see now of Hell is not that dissimilar to what you saw before.
Back then, who would you say were Hell´s influences when it came to listening to other bands?
TS: That´s an interesting question actually. Really in those days there was two sides to Hell and as Kev is a genius now with his song writing, he wasn´t really a social guy then. He didn´t go out much and he didn´t go to all the local rock discos and he wasn´t influenced particularly by anybody. There were bands he liked and in the early days of Paralex he was into Pat Travers and very into Rush, but he wasn´t really influenced by the trends of the time. Likewise with Dave. They wanted to do something different, whereas Tim and I were the social party animals! We went out and lived the rock and roll lifestyle and we were out every night drinking. We were the ones, just like every other local musicians out there doing it. I suppose we were influenced more by of what was in the trends at the time. Certainly the NWOBHM, Priest, Maiden, were all favorite bands of ours. In those days and I´ll drop this now, Mercyful Fate! I´d certainly never heard of them, but I did later on hear of them and obviously became aware of King Diamond, but I never really got into them. I never really listened to them and I don´t know why. It´s not until Hell got back together again that I thought “Who is this Mercyful Fate? I better have a look at this!” and “Wow, what have I been missing?”. I didn´t realize how close we were then although they were on the other side of the world. It´s amazing this genre was starting up.
Were there other bands that you came across while you were out touring and so on, that became bigger bands later on?
TS: Not really, no. We did a couple of gigs with some of the guys from Thin Lizzy and we did some gigs with Uriah Heep, which was great for us because they were one of my favorite bands of the time and we got to know Mick Box quite well actually. A great bunch of lads! They were brilliant to us on the gigs because they just looked after us. We weren´t getting any money and we always found there was a bit of food for us and a big case of beer in the dressing room. Really nice lads! All the bands that we were with? No, not really! There were a lot of underground bands who were around at that time. We were around at the end of the NWOBHM and before the thrash thing. I mean, Andy with Sabbat basically took what Hell was doing, because of his connection with Dave and everything, and took it to Sabbat and they were doing thrash music. The image and the ideas and everything, they took with them and carried it on. We were in a bit of a no man’s land really. Live we went down a storm, but the press just didn´t get the music because it didn´t sound like Saxon and mainstream NWOBHM. And it certainly didn´t sound like thrash, because that wasn´t what we were about. We were totally in no man´s land. It was the wrong time, if you like.
I´m looking at the demo versions and the rehearsal versions of the songs and in the booklet there´s all these refusal letters from record labels…
TS: Yeah, it´s on the cover of the vinyl of “Human remains” of course. I mean, we got the deal with Mausoleum… it was the best deal offered to us for one thing, but I think we were sort of grabbing because we recorded the original “Save us…” single up at a… it was part of Avenue Records and we recorded it at the studio, but Avenue weren´t really interested. It´s because the press didn´t really… we weren´t a cool thing to be around, you know. Word of mouth in this industry is everything. If there´s a good band knocking about, people hear about it. We just weren´t vogue and nobody was really getting it. The press, and I remember a particular character in Kerrang, slated the single and it was “Hilariously inept amateur hour demonic ramblings!”. He later, in an edition of Record Collector, hailed us “One of the bands that should´ve been a super group!”. Thanks a lot mate, you owe me a career! He was part of the scene then and I don´t hold anything against him and he was just doing his job at the time. I wouldn´t buy him a pint if I ever saw him! (laughs) I think he also was involved with an album of that era that came out and we were on that. Hindsight´s wonderful, but you can´t change history!
Where did the idea for blowing up bibles come from?
TS: It didn´t come from anywhere! I used to do the fire breathing back in the day and when we can use it, it´s still part of the set now. Obviously with a name like Hell, you´ve got a certain vision. People are gonna have this preconceived image of what the band´s gonna look like, so we said we wanted to go all out. We used a lot of pyrotechnics, a lot of big flashes, smoke and we had this thing where we used to blow this powder, Kev used to blow this powder out. Things like that and it was basically the whole thinking of things we could do that were different and would create a visual thing or shock people, if you like. Not just an audio thing. What would somebody in Hell do? `They would blow a bible up! It wasn´t actually a bible. It was a wooden box with pyro in it, dressed up as a bible and it´s still there now.
The album´s been out now for a couple of months now. How do you feel about it now? There´s been some raving reviews all over the world.
TS: It went straight into the German chart at number 12. Somebody told me it charted in Sweden, Finland and France. How do I feel? I´m living the dream! When I left school, this is what I wanted to do, to play in a band! I love rock music and I love being part of it and this is what I wanted to do. At the moment it´s strange, because I can´t think of another band who´s been in our position. We´re just leaving school again and we are literally living our dream. The response to the album… I always used to ask Andy “How many do you think we´ll sell?” and it´s exceeded everybody´s expectations! The press from it has been amazing! Can you imagine when this album first came out and we´re looking at the reviews on the computer and in the magazines and we´re being hailed in the same sentence like people like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. “The best album to come out of the UK since this!” and “Album of the year!”. It was kind of shocking and an amazing feeling! I can´t describe what it was like, because it really is like a fairytale.
It´s not the same, but if you look at a band like Anvil, the released albums but they went nowhere and then they did this movie and everybody loves them and hails them. You come along, release this album and everybody are into you as well.
TS: I think really, it´s a case of… when we were out before it was the right band at the wrong time. A lot of people have said it and we were ahead of our time. I didn´t realize that we would become as, if you like, through the tape trading industry and the underground, as big as we have. That was a shock to me, because those tapes were never ever meant to be released! They were literally done on a cassette player in a rehearsal room. Some of them were proper demos, but it was on a cassette player in the rehearsal room for us to hear how we sounded and that was it. Somehow they got out and it´s been like an advertising campaign going on worldwide that we knew nothing about! What was the question again, I´ve digressed a bit?
Just that it´s a bit similar to Anvil.
TS: Yeah, I suppose it´s similar to them. When the movie came out… I mean, in the old days… I saw them a couple of times, but they were one of those bands that came and went. I don´t know where they went, I have absolutely no idea! I enjoyed the gigs and they were great! The movie came out and it´s one of those things where it probably came out at exactly the right time. People were probably looking for something a little bit nostalgic, something that´s got a name and something that´s sort of instantly accessible. There ´s a bit of something there that they can look back on as well, there´s been a history to it and I suppose it´s the same with us. There is this history that´s surrounding it. A lot of people think this whole 1980´s thing was a big marketing ploy. It´s not! It´s all absolutely true! It really was and it is.
After Dave was gone and the whole thing with Mausoleum Records and the band ended and all that, what have you been up to during all this time?
TS: I was the only member of the original band who carried on playing. After Hell split up, we lost the deal and it basically destroyed our morale. Kev disappeared from the band because he just couldn´t carry on doing it and we got this young lad in, Sean, but like with a lot of bands, when you get new members in the chemistry of the band completely altered. Dave was down in the dumps and we were just destroyed. Basically all of a sudden you´ve got your childhood dream, you´ve got a record deal and you´re out doing it and then you fall off the ladder, if you like. That´s basically what happened to us and we just didn´t recover from it. Instead of dusting ourselves down and think “Alright, we need to go out and start getting another deal!”, it all just went completely crazy. The band split, Dave, very, very sadly… what a loss, committed suicide which was a tragedy and I still to this day remember when Tim told me and it was horrible! Hell was dead and buried as far as we were concerned. I got into a local band with some friends which was basically just a “drink a lot, play a lot, have a lot of fun band” to cheer me up. It wasn´t gonna go anywhere. We did one little single, but it was a good time, good fun. We all look back at it and enjoy it. Then I got into the tribute scene which was a big thing over here in the UK at the time. That´s where the money was! I spent years in a Status Quo tribute band of all things. I was earning really good money and we were out doing all the holiday camps and gigging very regularly. It was a good living! After that I got fed up with the Quo. I mean, I love Quo music and I grew up with it as a kid and it was the heaviest we could do to get on holiday camps, but then I got involved with a Deep Purple band who then transformed into a Rainbow tribute band and spent several years playing the circuits and festivals and doing Rainbow music, which I really enjoyed because it´s the kind of music I like. It was great fun!
When Dave committed suicide, did you ever get a real answer why he did it? Did he leave a note or anything?
TS: It´s a very personal thing, but I know one thing. Dave always said that if he hadn´t made it in a rock band by the time he was 30, he would commit suicide, but nobody took him seriously! We didn´t! I honestly think that Dave planned for Andy to find him because Dave was very, very close to Andy and he taught him how to play. They were more like brothers and Andy´s quoted in the past that he could´ve gotten off the rails but Dave was the one that sorted him out. Andy´s got so much respect for Dave and a lot of what he´s doing now is in honor of Dave, if you like. Andy as a kid was star struck watching us guys up on the stage and he sort of gone on and overtaking us and become the guy he is in the production world. He sort of wanted to honor Dave for giving him that opportunity and for being such an influence. Andy´s living the dream as well. He would´ve never have thought that one day he´d be in the band that he started out admiring and he´s now the main man behind the band, production wise and the guitarist. He´s enjoying it as much as we are. He´s loving it and he wants to get back into being a guitarist again. He´s done the production thing for years and he loves to get out there and play!
What else did he bring production wise to the band?
TS: Andy knew the band from the very early days because he basically spent half his life with Dave so he had that, like root into the way the band was. The feelings and the atmosphere. He obviously knew us all, but also, Andy has been involved in the industry ever since and he´s seen the changes, the growths, the goods, the bads and everything through it. When he came to do the album, he got this picture in his mind of how he wanted the music to sound. He didn´t want to make it ultra modern and he didn´t want to bring in blast beats drums and everything. He wanted to keep it as much as it was, but give it that modern edge. Everybody´s labeling us as NWOBHM and it´s bound to be that ilk to it because the music was written in the early 80´s, but I think he wanted to transcend then and now and try and be that bridge between. He just wanted to make it sound how it should´ve sounded, but of course he´s got all the modern toys to do it with.
How come you ended up on Nuclear Blast? Did they approach you?
TS: Nuclear Blast actually, was the first label who… when “Human remains” was being recorded, Andy sent some rushes out because obviously Andy works with Nuclear Blast and for what I remember, they said back “When it´s done, give us first refusal!” and they wanted to straight away and then it went quiet, so Andy said “Well, we´re gonna take it somewhere else!” and various labels came onboard like Century Media, Metal Blade and by the end of it we got five labels literally arguing and fighting and tailoring the deal to suit us, which again “Hang on a minute! What´s happening? This wasn´t in the script!” and we were just about to sign up with… we were talking with Metal Blade or Century Media and all of a sudden Nuclear Blast came back to us “No, we want it! This is the deal, tell us what you want! There you go! Sign, sign, sign!”. I think because Nuclear Blast had originally said “This is great!”. People there love the music and they knew of the band of old and if you´ve got somebody like that, you´re not just a product. There´s a little bit more intimacy there and a bit more feeling and I think Andy felt that Nuclear Blast was the right people to go with and they´ve been great! Absolutely fantastic! Great to work with and have done the business for us.
There´s obviously gonna be more albums?
TS: Oh yes! We´ve got a couple of songs that we´re starting to work on at the moment. One is just about in a playable state. I´m not gonna tell you which one it is, but at New Years Eve we´re doing a local gig and we´re hopefully gonna be demoing three or four songs at that gig, which should be nice for the local fans to hear. The next album is gonna be… we believe about 50 percent old and 50 percent new and the new stuff is being written and it sounds killer! We don´t wanna try, as a lot of modern bands do, and jump on the band wagon. We´re trying to keep it as near… can you imagine if the band had carried on and we´d had “Human remains” out in 1983, then we want to try and write music that would´ve been what we´d have done in 1984. We certainly don´t wanna jump on anybody else’s band wagon, because we´ve got a unique sound and we wanna keep it that way! I think we´ll be working on the older material before we start on the new ones. We´re in that groove. The idea is to try and keep it as Hell as possible.
Good to hear! Touring wise then?
TS: At the beginning of December we´re doing a London show with Sabaton and we´re really looking forward to that! Then we´re doing “Darkness over Christmas” and then we´ve got a bit time off. We´ve got Hammerfest in March and then we´ve got Rock Hard and there are other things which are on the verge of confirmation which I cannot disclose for obvious reasons. We expect to be quite busy next year, both writing and recording and touring.
I guess we can see you next summer at Sweden Rock?
TS: Well, we´d love to come and do it! We really enjoyed the cruise! The Swedish people are fantastic! It was a really good gig. Every now and then you get gigs that are kind of special and this was one. It was really great! Same as the one we had in Greece as well. On all the gigs, the response has been phenomenal! We´ve gone down so well. I think every time we do a show there´s a spike in album sales and we do well on the merch.
Finally, about the artwork for “Human remains”. Is that anyway close to the original idea+ had you discussed the artwork the first time around?
TS: It´s one of the original ideas we had. We never got to the point with Mausoleum, but I know at one point in time, we had an idea and the album was originally gonna be called “The devil´s deadly weapon”. That was one of the working titles and one of the ideas that we were talking about… and it´s later what became a very historic album, and that was just a plain straight forward black cover with an embossed Hell logo on it! Something that was different. So many bands do these cliché fantasy monster type things and I suppose to a point the cover to “Human remains” fits slightly in that ilk, but it´s not totally that way, because of London burning in the background you´ve got a connection with “Plague and fyre”. We just wanted something that would visually stand out in adverts for one. How close is it to the original? That´s difficult to say. A friend of mine did a painting that he would´ve liked to go on the album cover, which I suppose is very similar, certainly color wise it is very similar. The vinyl package… I´m so proud of it because it´s one of the best triple vinyl packages I´ve ever seen! The artwork is something…. We´ve all had a lot of input, “Color it like this! Do it like that!” and the guy who´s done the artwork has done a killer job! 99 percent of the people love it and as far as I´m aware, he will be doing the next cover as well. What that will be, I have no idea! No working titles or anything yet! Some people say the album cover is cheesy, but we never had our bit of cheese! This is our slice of cheese! We´ve just done what we think is right and that´s what we wanna continue doing.
Well Tony, I thank you so much!
TS: Thank you!