Hell was formed in 1982 by vocalist/guitarist Dave Halliday, after a few years playing together and having their talents largely ignored by the media, Hell managed to get signed by Belgian label, Mausoleum. Before an album was every released, the label folded, which was part of a series of tragic events that led to Dave’s suicide. The band members went their separate ways and it seemed that the metal world had missed out on a magnificent band. World-renowned producer and Sabbat guitarist Andy Sneap was taught to play his guitar by the late, great Dave Halliday and he cites Hell as a major influence on his musical career. Years later, after re-assembling the old cast, Hell would experience a triumphant comeback like nothing ever seen before.
On my recent travels in London, I managed to catch up with Hell bassist and total gent, Mr Tony Speakman after another storming set. Fresh off stage at the Islington Academy and Tony has, very kindly, spared me a few minutes for a chat.
Hi Tony, It’s a pleasure to meet you and what a fantastic show tonight. How was it for you?
Brilliant. Great crowd. I saw a lot of faces that we knew, some guys we know from Kings Lynn and a lot of the locals from Nottingham. Various faces that we have seen at various festivals, it’s nice to see these people following us around. But the London crowd were great, fantastic reception and a good turn out for the time of evening. I’m normally having my tea by this time.
What inspired you to carry on with Hell after so long away?
Nothing really inspired us, it’s a bit of a long story. Tim [Bowler, drummer] and myself were always in touch and have always been in touch with Andy [Sneap, guitarist and producer], but nobody knew where Kev [Bower, guitarist] was. It was Kev’s son that got in touch with Andy because he didn’t believe that Kev knew Andy, this great producer who did all these albums. He asked him “is it true that you know my dad, Kevin Bower.” Andy replied “yes, get him in touch with us” so we all got together around Andy’s with all the old recordings and photos to have a reminiscence night with curry and beer, just to remember the old days. When we got there Andy had set up some amps in his studio. So we actually, without any warning, had a go at playing.
[passing by] Don’t believe a word of it
I’m talking about you, not to you [laughs], anyway. It was scary and terrible but we managed to hammer our way through four or five songs, which was quite interesting. After this, Andy and Kev spent a few days together tracking a few guitar tracks. Andy said “let’s record something, so for any old Hell fans that want a copy, can have one.” It was never really destined to be an album, but we started recording and thought ‘We actually have something quite interesting here’ so we started to take it seriously and the rest is history. ‘Human Remains’ came out and it was a tremendous success.
It really is a great album, how do you think the music stands up today?
Very well. Proof of that is the fact that these songs were written in the early 80’s and we’ve gone out to our first gig, which was in Nottingham, to our old crowd. We knew they were going to like it, and it was awesome. Great memories and a lot of old faces all looking a bit older, but it was just like the old days. The next gig we did was straight out to Metalfest, with all these young, modern bands, we didn’t have a clue how we were going to go down or what is going to be like, and it was fantastic. The reception was amazing but a lot of people didn’t know how to take it, like the intro to ‘Macbeth’ they must have been thinking ‘what the hell do we do to this?’ but people came, watched and really enjoyed it, so I think that the music really does stand up today. The thing is music nowadays, in my opinion, I think it’s gone a bit stale. A lot of bands sound the same, look the same, there is nothing new. In the old days bands used to have identities, you could put Iron Maiden on or Judas Priest on and as soon as you heard a song, after a split second, you knew who it was. Nowadays, when I put Scuzz on I can’t tell one band from another. Maybe it’s just me because I’m getting a bit older. It stands up well because it’s good music and it’s interesting and sounds modern, also the visual show as well. I think it sits nicely in the modern age, the fact that the album has sold as well as it has answers that question really. People really seem to like it.
Some would say that it was ahead of its time.
In the day, when we came out at the end of NWOBHM and before the Thrash scene, we were in that no mans land where nothing really was happening. All the press and the record companies wanted to play safe and take on bands that they knew were instantly going to sell. We were a bit different, well totally different and what you are seeing today is basically what we were doing then, you’re talking thirty years ago now. The live shows always went down a storm and were fantastic but the press just didn’t get us or the music. We got signed to Belgian label Mausoleum, they went under and shortly after, bless him, Dave committed suicide and that was completely the end of the band. We all thought it was over.
How true did you stay to the original recordings? Did you feel that there was any need to change anything?
If you get the Digi-pak, then you can hear the original recordings and it’s very close. I mean, from a bass player’s point of view, there are very few changes to the original bass lines. There is a bit in ‘The Oppressors’ which is totally new and a few little tweaks here and there. But otherwise, most of it is absolutely original. On the album of course, it’s got the new production, we have new gear and toys to play around with, new samples. A lot of the old intros, like tonight, you heard an intro which isn’t on the album, the extra-terrestrial flying machine bit, which was exactly as we did it back in 1982.
Whose idea was the theatrical stage show? It’s a lot different from most bands.
A lot of it was Dave Halliday’s influence years ago. All that choreography that you have seen tonight, well most of that, probably around 90%, we were doing in the 80’s. The bit at the beginning of ‘Plague and Fyre’ is new, but a couple of bits that we did on the Accept tour that we found ourselves doing some nights and thought that we may as well do it every night and they have stayed ever since. We wanted to be different, not just another Rock band, we wanted to create a show. With the ideas we have got, if you gave us a headline tour and the budget to do it, then you would see a serious show. We have so many ideas but at the moment just cant do them in these smaller places.
It was quite a grand stage show already for such a small stage.
Well believe it or not, that stage show packs down into a couple of bags. We took all that with us to Europe. It wasn’t cheap because we had to have them specially made, but it looks great, when we were out with Accept, it looked like two headline bands. You get the full grandeur of the stages and the full ‘Church of Hell’ set. When that goes off you have the Accept set and people have said the photographs of the tour look great.
How did you approach the process of finding a new vocalist? And was it difficult to find the right man?
Purely by luck. Originally, as you’re probably already aware, Martin Walkyier [Sabbat vocalist and Andy Sneap’s bandmate] was going to do the album and he recorded it. Martin is a great singer, but Martin sounds like Martin. It sounded like Sabbat doing Hell songs or a Martin Walkyier solo project because his voice is so distinctive, which is how he made his name. It just didn’t sound right for Hell, so Martin had recorded the album and Dave [Bower, vocalist] came in to do some voice-overs and while he was doing it, began singing along to some of the songs. Andy asked him to have a go at recording something and he did. One day, Andy turned up at my house with my original bass that I played in Hell years ago. So he turned up with this bass and then told me to sit down and listen to a recording. It was only on his phone, but after he played the song I said “where did you find that?” because it sounded so close to Dave Halliday. I thought he had lifted it off an old recording. He told me “no, this is Dave, Kev’s brother” and I thought he was joking. So it was really a stroke of luck because he is a brilliant frontman and he owes me a tenner wherever he is.
How does it compare playing in Hell now, then it did in the early 80’s?
It is different, bearing in mind that back then we were young, full of testosterone and thought that we were going to be rock stars and were convinced that we had a great product but couldn’t convince the rest of the world. Back in those days it was sweaty little clubs all the time and we didn’t have the internet to advertise. Flights weren’t cheap and every time we wanted to sort something out we had to walk to the phone box, so the logistics of trying to get a band together were an absolute nightmare and it took a while to get everything together. Now there are so many tools at your disposal, its all become easier and we are paying bigger places, some are the size of the NEC [Arena, Birmingham] which is quite a buzz. Now we have the album out, people can get to know us through magazines and the internet.
It is a lot easier to get your name out now in the internet age...
It is, but in the same way, that can work against you. Everybody can get your album for nothing and album sales aren’t what they used to be. It is better today in many ways because of the bigger venues. We are living the dream, it’s like a fairytale for us. How many other bands are in our position, been around 30 odd years ago, now come back as a load of 50 year old blokes? My daughter thought it was great, at first she thought “oh my god, that’s my dad up there” but after she saw us she thought it was great.
Awesome, now, I have one more question. What is next for Hell? Some more tours or even a new album?
Oh yes, there are lots of things, a summer full of festivals, in a couple of weeks we go over to Germany for the Rock Hard Festival. We have a couple of weeks in Sweden including Sweden Rock Festival and what a bill that is, bands like Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Motley Crüe and King Diamond, I am not missing that one, so if anyone wants an interview then I will be out to lunch [laughs]. After that we are off to Denmark, Holland, Slovenia and Czech Republic and when the festival season is over, we intend to start on the new album. We are aiming to get the new album out in early 2013, but obviously it won’t come out until it’s ready.