TO HULL AND BACK – with Salem’s Paul Macnamara

‘In 1983 we won a Battle of the Bands competition and the prize was to record in a Professional studio in Huddersfield. We were very pleased with the sound quality and I think it captured the developing maturity of our song writing. So we took this demo to several record companies but they all said “It’s good but not what we’re looking for at the moment”.

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Paul Macnamara, guitarist with Hull based heavy metal band Salem, who from 1979 to ’83 were part of the NWOBHM scene with Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang and Iron Maiden. They reformed in 2009. I caught up with Paul when he came back from a Salem gig in Barcelona and asked him who were his influences ? ‘Probably the biggest influences were Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore and American bands like Kansas, Boston, Sammy Hagar and Ted Nugent. I also listened to a bit of jazz and classical music that was my dad’s influence’.

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How did you get involved in playing music ? ‘Music was always on at home it was a big part of our lives, my dad played piano and guitar. Around 12 years old, I started learning a few chords on that guitar and I haven’t looked back.
I was taught classical guitar at school, which was great for picking up music theory and the technical side of things.
I had a band at school that played a few small gigs and at the same school was Adrian Jenkinson who is Salem’s bass guitarist and music producer. It was he who recommended me to the ex Ethel the Frog guys and so formed Salem in 1979’. (Ethel the Frog had their song ‘Fight Back’ released on the compilation album ‘Metal for Muthas’ alongside Iron Maiden, Samson and Angel Witch)

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Where did you rehearse and when did you start playing gigs ? Salem started rehearsing in a garage in a little street off Spring Bank in Hull, then we moved to the Hull Truck studios on the High Street.
Our first gig? well that was in the Autumn of 1980 in Hornsea a couple of miles up the coast supporting a band called The Crack. It was in a venue called The Floral Hall the gig wasn’t very memorable, to be honest there was hardly anyone there, just girlfriends and the other band…you’ve gotta start somewhere haven’t you!

Salem (1983)

What venues did you play ? ‘We played in pubs and clubs in the Hull area, we travelled all around the North we got to Leeds, Sheffield, Grimsby, Cleethorpes and even as far as Darlington!! In 1982 a friend put me in touch with Neil Jeffries who was a journalist at new Heavy Metal magazine Kerrang. He recorded an interview and got it published in the May issue so we got a great turn out for the Darlington gig. It made a big difference to sales of the single. That’s a great memory from those early NWOBHM days’.

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What were your experiences of recording ? ‘Our first recording sessions were in the well established Fairview Studios in Yorkshire, where many famous people have recorded great records there, so we were in good company. Notably in 1979 they had Def Leppard recording their EP – whatever happened to them haha. Fairview also made records for Witchfynde and Tokyo Blade who were part of the NWOBHM scene.
The first time we went in the studio was on 4th January 1981. This was a massive learning curve for me, I thought I could play the guitar ok, but the discipline of the studio was something quite different so we really had to be focused.
That demo cost about £200 which was a small fortune to us, it was about two weeks wages for me!  The studio looked like an old garage from the outside, but on the inside it seemed to bristle with complicated gear and technology. We recorded four tracks there, Coming For You, Cold As Steel, Fool’s Gold and Make The Grade. We were there for the whole day and felt shattered by the end’.

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‘The next time we recorded in Fairview was April ’82, that was for our single Cold As Steel / Reach For Eternity. By now we had Simon Saxby in on vocals and second lead guitarist Mark Allison to create a fuller sound. Not that memorable apart from Simon keep getting the lyrics wrong. As we were recording the reverse chord on the beginning of Reach for Eternity, I counted the band in, then when I nodded my head, my headphones flew off !(Back then Salem were selling the double A side single for £1.20)
Then in September ’82 we went to Adda Studios in Hull that was with a new drummer Paul Mendham who completes the current and well established line up. Adda cost us somewhat less than Fairview as it was, let’s say, not as sophisticated. But still we recorded six tracks that day. There was The Keeper, Fighting For The Cause, Coming For You and a few others.
The last demo was at September Sound in Huddersfield. This was a much bigger place because they normally had silver and brass bands there, but now they were hoping to get into rock music.  This time we recorded five fairly new songs: Rock Fever, Save The Night, The Other Side of Hell, The Hangman’s Noose and The King Trilogy III’.

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Have you any stories from playing gigs ?  ‘We supported a few touring bands when they came to Hull. There was Budgie, Magnum, Diamond Head and Tygers of Pan Tang who are still gigging now. The only time we got a mention on the front page of the local Hull Daily Mail was when we DIDN’T support the Alex Harvey Band, they turned up with their own support!
We used to experiment with pyrotechnics, thinking back, if the Health and Safety Executive had known we would have been in a lot of bother. I remember one gig we played in Sheffield there was so much smoke from the flash bomb it just hung around on stage so we couldn’t see anything at all!
Our ‘flash bombs’ comprised an old camera flash bulb wired to the mains electric, then flash powder poured on top and as we made our dramatic entrance to the Hall of the Mountain King one of our faithful roadies would throw the switch and BOOOM!! The crowd didn’t expect a mini nuclear mushroom cloud!
In hindsight, we could have travelled further, our horizons weren’t wide enough. So we never met with other bands apart from the touring bands we supported. One thing we could have done was have a manager to help promote the band, get bigger gigs and that illusive record deal. I tend to do all of that now!

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What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘Since re-forming Salem in 2009 we have been very busy, and have released two studio albums on the German label Pure Steel Records. We have played festivals in UK and Europe, gigged in places like Paris, Athens, Brussels, the Headbangers Open Air in Germany and we went to Sweden and played on the MuskelRock festival. We have just played the Brofest in Newcastle alongside Mythra, Tokyo Blade and really enjoyed that gig.
We’ve just come back from a gig in Barcelona, soon there’s gigs in Belgium, down to France then back to the UK and we’re looking to add more dates to take us through the year. We are also currently working on the next album which is sounding great! So, yes we are still very active, that is the plan to take it as far as we can’.

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Interview by Gary Alikivi 2017.