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4th April 2011
When it was announced back in 2008 that eighties UK metal act Hell had reformed to record a new album, the name would have been unfamiliar to most although roused memories for some of an innovative and forward-thinking metal band that were drastically underappreciated during an all too brief existence from 1982 - 1987. Although generally overlooked at the time by the music press, they have since become regarded in the annals of British metal history as contributing to the occult aesthetic that became rife in a whole plethora of bands subsequent to their demise. And Hell's breakup occurred under both unfortunate and tragic circumstances: finally signing a deal with Mausoleum Records in 1986, said label went bankrupt before the band were able to record their debut album, and frontman Dave Halliday took his own life a year later. This led to the band's split before they had the opportunity to realise their huge potential. However, twenty five years later and that is about to change. With onetime fan and longtime friend of the band Andy Sneap recruited as guitarist and producer, along with the three remaining members, Kev Bower, Tony Speakman, and Tim Bowler, and TV/film/theatre actor Dave Bower on vocals (brother of Kev), Hell will once again be unleashed in 2011 with the release of new studio album 'Human Remains', re-recordings of tracks only previously available on a series of demos. And the involvement of producer extraordinaire Sneap couldn't be more apt as Halliday taught him to play guitar during his teenage years and Hell themselves a pivotal influence and inspiration in the inception and subsequent music of Sabbat. During a near forty minute phone conversation, Andy spoke to Metal Discovery about the return of Hell along with a touch of nostalgia in recollections of his encounters with the band during the eighties...
METAL DISCOVERY: How you doing?
ANDY SNEAP: I’m good, how are you?
(Andy Sneap on rehearsals in preparation for Hell's forthcoming live shows)
"...in rehearsal now when we’ve being going through some of the old stage moves, there are bits which I totally forgot and I’ve not thought about for twenty five years, and it’s all coming back. It’s weird!"
Hell - promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 Nigel Crane
MD: Yeah, not too bad, ta. So, Hell then…I gather from everything I’ve read they were a huge influence on your own style and development as a musician back in the eighties, so would it be fair to say Hell were to you and Sabbat what Diamond Head were to Metallica?
AS: Yeah, if you want…[laughs]…I don’t mind you comparing us to Metallica! [laughs] But yeah, it was that sort of thing, especially as we were so close to them as friends as well. We were like the young kids who…I mean, I was fifteen when I formed Sabbat so we were just like sponges back then, soaking everything that was around us musically. They were the one band we were really following. I take it you’ve heard the album now?
MD: Absolutely yeah, it’s great.
AS: You can really hear the riffs that I nicked!
MD: And that’s the sort of analogy I was drawing there with Diamond Head because you can hear all sorts of bits and pieces of Diamond Head in early Metallica stuff, of course.
AS: Yeah, I think a lot of young bands do that anyway. You can always trace the roots of a band back to influences, especially when you know what they were. Even the likes of Led Zeppelin were ripping off all the blues bands, weren’t they.
MD: Yeah, they were.
AS: So bands always do that; they all have a little pool of resources and stuff that they pull from but then they sort of colour it themselves and that’s how music moves forward, isn’t it.
MD: Yeah, particularly when you’re that young as well, like fifteen, you’re always going to be more inspired by other stuff rather than progressing yourself. That comes a bit later, I suppose.
AS: And you’ve also got to realise as well that Dave Halliday, the original singer/guitar player, taught me to play from the age of twelve. His style of playing is so familiar to me that when I was learning to play all these songs when we recorded the album, I could instantly tell which ones were Dave’s riffs because it felt so natural to me. Kev’s stuff is a bit more off the wall.
MD: So what are your most vivid memories now then from when you used to go and see Hell play back in the day?
AS: I’ll tell ya, it’s weird, in rehearsal now when we’ve being going through some of the old stage moves, there are bits which I totally forgot and I’ve not thought about for twenty five years, and it’s all coming back. It’s weird! Even the scent they used to put in the smoke machine; they used to have vanilla in the smoke machine. They always say that music and smell are the two things that trigger memories. But I really remember the first time that I saw them and I went down the local pub down near where I am here. They had a hall at the back of the pub where they were playing and it was absolutely rammed. I think I’d seen Iron Maiden by that time; I saw them on the ‘Beast on the Road’ tour, and that was the first big gig I ever went to, and then this was the second ever proper metal gig I went to, and I was in awe. They were amazing for the time. Compared to all the other local bands, they just treated it on a different level. They treated it as if they were playing the city halls, and assembly rooms and stuff but, obviously, they hadn’t got to that level. They were playing leisure centres and things like that occasionally but mainly smaller pub gigs, but they always treated it very professionally. Even to a kid as young as I was back then it sort of shone through.
MD: So did you following them round quite a bit then?
AS: Oh, I went to every single gig.
MD: Really? Wow.
AS: Yeah. Literally, I had to go and see them if they were playing locally.
MD: So was it mainly local gigs they did then or did they do much touring at the time?
AS: Whenever there was a bigger band coming through, they were always the support band that the local guys got to play with them. They did a few out of town sort of things but, back then, for people to organise that sort of thing was a lot harder. When you think, we didn’t even have fax machines…we might’ve been on Telex machines then. Telex machines were the thing they used to do the Grandstand results with, wasn’t it.
MD: Oh yeah, yeah.
AS: I think that’s what we had back then but, obviously, they didn’t have one. You know, you’d be in a phone box trying to find out what was going on half the time!
MD: So it was more getting out on the streets and flyering gigs.
AS: Yeah, that’s what it was all about and kids today, they got it…I know I’ll sound really old saying this, but they’ve got it easy when you’re trying to launch a band today. It’s so easy to get a record deal now. You just throw it on MySpace, or Facebook, or whatever and try and get some digital downloads.
MD: But I think there are pros and cons to that because the internet’s so over-saturated with crap that it’s quite hard to actually discover any good stuff in that as well.
AS: Yeah, and I had this discussion – I did a conference out in Calgary a few months ago and they were saying there was 4,200 metal releases last year and how saturated the market’s got. I think it’s actually the way that downloading’s killing the music industry at the moment, I think actually having a record deal soon is going to be almost sort of a quality control thing. The smaller labels are probably going to die by the wayside a little bit more and it’ll be the bigger labels that survive, then you’re looking almost back to what it was in the seventies again where if you had a record deal it meant you were worth something, didn’t it.
MD: Yeah, definitely, yeah.
AS: Really, the only reason that people are making albums at the moment is so they can get out on the road and tour and then make money out of merchandise and the actual touring side of things.
MD: Which is where the big money is for the bands these days rather than the actual music.
AS: Exactly, exactly. It sort of…I don’t know how we got onto this…[laughs]…the whole thing is sort of moving in a roundabout kind of way and it’s rediscovering itself at the moment. It’s not a very good time for the music industry but I think it’s gonna come back round a little bit.
MD: Definitely. It was originally announced back in 2008 that Hell had reunited and you’d become involved, so was that really surreal for you in any way to join and make music with a band that had influenced you so much?
AS: Well, the reason we managed to get it back together again is because we found Kev again. I’ve known Tim and Tony through social circles for the past ten years. We’ve become friends again because we’d all gone separate ways after Dave died. Then Kev popped up because his son was a metal fan and he didn’t believe that he knew me. So his son basically got in touch with me and said, “my dad said he knows you, is it true?”, and it was like, “oh, we’ve found Kev!”, and he was living under our noses. But he’d totally not been interested in metal; he’d downed tools and gone and done the normal sort of route in life…you know, became a salesman and hadn’t bothered with music. So when I managed to get hold of Kev again I literally had a couple of drinks with him and got him down the studio because he was always into the studio side of things anyway; he’s very technically minded. I put a guitar in his hand and started making him play old Hell songs. He was like, “oh, I like this, this is good!” You know, he was sort of sparking up again. I said to him - “Just come down one night, we’ll get some drinks in and get the other lads down here, and we’ll put a couple of the songs down for a laugh and see what it sounds like. It won’t cost you anything, we’ll do it in downtime.” We didn’t stop! We carried on for three years! We ended up with his brother singing on it because he came down just to do a spoken voice on ‘Plague and Fire’ and he started singing, and holy shit, this guy can do it. We’d been looking round everywhere, like Rush cover bands and someone who could get the same register and high notes of Dave Halliday. I used to say it was like the ‘Rentaghost’ of heavy metal!
AS: You remember the jester off of ‘Rentaghost’?
MD: Oh yeah, Timothy Claypole.
AS: Claypole, yeah, but just trying to find someone with that quirkiness and theatrics to the voice. I just didn’t know what we were going to do. Because Dave’s a trained actor and had also seen the band 15-20 times back in the day, he knew exactly what it needed.
MD: And he’s done TV and film, stuff like that I think I read?
AS: Yeah, he’s done ‘Coronation Street’, ‘Casualty’…he’s done ‘Othello’ with Lenny Henry. He does pretty big stuff.
MD: So metal was a completely new thing for him?
AS: Well, kind of. He’s got a covers band that he sings in and he’s in a band with Wayne Banks, the bass player who replaced Fraser Craske in Sabbat. It’s just a local thing he knocks about with, you know, pub gigs type of thing. He sings in those bands so he’s used to singing but this is a bit more full-on for him.
MD: He sounds like a natural.
AS: He does.
MD: Like he’s been doing it for years.
AS: Yeah, and that was the great thing where as soon as he started singing I was like, “oh, we’ve got something here.” I knew straight away that I could push him in the right direction for this.
MD: It was originally announced that Martin [Walkyier] was going to be singing on the album but I vaguely remember him telling me last year that it ended up sounding like a new Sabbat album or something?
AS: Yeah, and that was the thing – I hated to upset Martin by telling him he wasn’t doing it but that’s exactly what happened. Because Martin’s voice is so distinctive and, basically, these riffs are so similar to what Sabbat was! A little less thrashy in a way, you know, it’s got a bit more rock to it, but you can see how it would have sounded like a Sabbat covers album almost. So we had to sort of say, “look, we’ve got to do this for the right reasons”. The reason for doing this album was to do a Hell album…and we had to sort of say, “look, this is the way we’re gonna go with this; sorry, but we feel this is more the direction the band should be going”. I think, with hindsight, it was the right decision.