Harry Hill is drummer with North East Heavy Metal legends Fist. I saw Fist a few times live but the memorable gig was at Newcastle Mayfair in 1982 when they supported Y&T.
‘Y&T loved Fist they thought the band was great you know and the plan was to do a mini tour but sadly it never came off. Thinking back it would have been Carole Johnson who got us the support gig. Carole was ex wife of AC/DC singer Brian Johnson, she also had Lynx Studio – we had some wild nights there haha. Another memorable gig was around 1984 we done two nights at Hammersmith Odeon with Motorhead and they were loud, very loud, you don’t try and out do Motorhead’.
Who were your influences in music ? ‘Basically the important guys John Bonham, Ian Paice, Cozy Powell and Bill Ward who in my opinion was one of the most underated drummers. The other one of course was Brian Downey out of Thin Lizzy who was also a great player. Modern day now I love listening to Mike Mangini from Dream Theatre, and of course Dave Grohl it’s good to keep up with them. Sometimes if I think I’ve done a good gig I’ve played well and then I watch one of these guys it’s ohh back to the drawing board mate haha’.
How did you get involved in playing music ? ‘It was the old story of four mates at school, one was going to be singer one was the guitarist the other on bass and I was the drummer. None of us could actually play anything! I was around 14 then and lived in Shields with just my mother as my father had died a few years earlier. But he had a beautiful piano which he used to play in the front room. So in my wisdom I thought I would sell the piano and buy a drum kit which I did for £45. I put the drum kit where the piano was and thought my mother won’t notice I mean you never went in the front room did you haha. It was lock the door, close the curtains and off I go. I was totally oblivious to the neighbours about the noise I was making. They’d bray on the door and shout ‘will you stop hitting those drums Harry you’re giving me a headache’.
It was a tough instrument to learn then because there was no tuition or coaching like there is now. When I was at school I passed my exams for the Oxford University entry exam and I remember walking into the careers officers room he said well done Hill what’s your plans now, I said I’m gonna be a drummer in a rock band he screamed GET OUT! haha.
I was one of the first around town to get a kit with double bass drums and I locked myself away for weeks in my flat to learn them, it was the only way, the only way to do it is to get stuck in. I came out of that pretty competent at playing’.
Where did you rehearse and when did you start playing gigs? ‘Keith Satchfield came round and said he was putting a band together with two drummers do you fancy joining. We were called Axe at this point. First rehearsals was upstairs in the Cyprus Pub in South Shields. The other drummer turned up in a MG car with Jackie Stewart gloves and I rolled up on a £3 push bike I got from the second hand shop haha. Dave Urwin was there and on bass we had Chris Nolan. Later we got in John Wylie. Eventually the band went with just the one drummer, the other guy was a nice lad but a bit sloppy and Keith was very much into keeping it tight, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse you gotta know your stuff learn your lines you know. So I was in. I thought this is it I had my house picked out in Los Angeles all ready to go!’
What venues did you play ? ‘I remember the Gateshead Festival gig in August 1981 with Diamond Head, Ginger Baker and a few others it was a good line up. We were playing in a Warrington nightclub the night before and we got out around 3am. I was pissed on the bus on the way back when we finally got home I only had 2 hours kip before turning up at Gateshead. The guys working our backline where already there and were checking the drums, (one of them was Kev Charlton bassist for Hellanbach who will feature in a later post) so with the bass drums banging away and my splitting headache from a huge hangover it wasn’t a good entrance. It was a two day festival and Rory Gallagher was headlining that night, top of the bill on the second day was Elvis Costello and halfway down the bill was an unknown band from Ireland called U2… whatever happened to them haha’.
What were your experiences of recording ? ‘We started recording pretty much straight away the first was in Impulse Studios, we were still called Axe then. We recorded S.S.Giro which we still play to this day. It was never released as a single it was just a demo tape. The track ended up on the Lead Weight compilation cassette put out by NEAT records. The first single we put out was Name, Rank and Serial Number and You Never Get Me Up In One of Those on the b side. We done a lot of reheasal and prep work so we were tight, ready to record. When we done Name, Rank we were on Northern Life TV. The cameras came down filmed in the studio the whole thing was coming together very quickly, that was 1980. Would love to see that again’.
‘Strangely the only piece of vinyl I have is our single we recorded The Wanderer and I’ve an awful feling it was my idea to do that song haha. We started putting it in our set and we thought it was ok to play and sounded good so yeah went in and recorded it. Status Quo released a version a couple of month after ours but honestly thought our version was better haha’.
‘When Iron Maiden took off all the labels were trying to sign NWOBHM bands. We went down to London and signed with MCA. There was a meeting in London in their offices and Stuart Watson was the A&R guy he signed us up’.
‘We done the Turn the Hell On album in De Lane Studios in London there was four studios, in Studio One there was Queen, in Studio Two there was Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Studio Three was Wishbone Ash and in Studio Four was us, not bad eh !
Our problem was they gave us Derek Lawrence to produce Turn the Hell On, don’t get me wrong he was great producer for Wishbone Ash he done a fantastic job on them but that’s not who we were. When the final mix was done Keith heard it on bloody massive speakers in the recording studio so it was pounding but on a normal system it sounded weak as piss. We were so disappointed with the final mix. Ideally we should have had somebody like Mutt Lang or Martin Birch who done some Black Sabbath stuff. People like Ted Templeman who got a great sound for Van Halen. Production is so important and the producer would be an extra member of the band to help create the sound. North Eastern band Dance Class had the same problem as we did, they were with RCA, the album came out and didn’t have any punch to it you know’.
Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘We worked through an agent Ivan Burchall, and we were out 6-7 nights a week in the clubs, we got to Durham, West Cornforth, Easington all over the North of England. We had a residency at the Legion in South Shields then after that we would drive over to Mingles rock bar in Whitley Bay. We were still Axe then before becoming Fist. The reason why we changed names was because there was an American band called Axe so we changed to Fist but we found there was a Canadian band called Fist so we became Fist UK and they called themselves Myofist when in Europe, complicated? nah not really.
In ’79 UFO were promoting their album The Wild, The Willing and The Innocent and we supported them on a 21 date tour then 23 dates in 1980. We had a great time with them, fantastic. We were playing the City Hall’s and Hammersmith Odeon and all the rest of it, magic time’.
‘There was a guy in Jarrow, Mick Lewis who made these drums for me called Viking with two 24inch bass drums they were huge and the sound out of them was phenomenal. He made them out of orange boxes or something like that. Well Andy Parker UFO‘s drummer was playing a plastic Ludwig kit and he couldn’t get the sound I was getting. He was complaining about the support band getting a better sound so they flew in a guy from Ludwig in America to meet Mick Lewis at Newcastle City Hall. He asked Mick what was the secret to these drums, he thought there would be something technical and Mick just said I make them out of these orange boxes, nothing special. He was gutted haha.
But we had to buy on to that tour it was about £6,000 and we were only on £50 a night. That had to buy our fuel to get to the next gig and we had to pay the sound guy and the lighting guy £15 each for a good sound you know, unbelievable. But it was great exposure for us because we had our album out Turn the Hell On’.
‘We were playing the Marquee and for two nights we were supporting Iron Maiden when Paul Di’Anno was in them. We were going down an absolute storm the place was chocca I’m not sure what the band thought about it but their road manager Adrian was kicking off, shouting and screaming ‘you’re just the support band you’re not supposed to go down like that’. We won him over in the end and he came in the dressing room with a crate of beer. Yep we give them a run for the money’.
Did Fist have a manager ? ‘Dave Woods was around for the Impulse recordings but he wasn’t manager, Carole Johnson took us on around 1982-3. Carole was ex wife of AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson, she also had Linx recording studios. John Craig was producer there. But it was party time there with drinks, dancing girls and illegal substances. We thought should we rehearse, record or… well you know. Some bad decisions were made there. We also had a company from Manchester looking after us, John Linnen and Kieth Maddox he was DJ on Radio Piccadilly they bought us a van and PA equipment but unfortunately that was all knicked’.
What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘Despite the songs written over 30 odd years ago they seem to be timeless you know. We went to Germany a couple of years ago and done the Keep It True Festival. I was gobsmacked there was about 3,000 people there and the first 500 people sang back to us Name, Rank and Serial Number. I was sitting behind my drum kit thinking how do they know the words cos after all these years I don’t even know them haha’.
’It’s surreal really because back in the 70’s and ’80’s we were in unknown territory. I remember I got to 25 thinking I’m too old to be a rock drummer now. I saw the Rolling Stones at Knebworth in ’76 and thought they are a bit old for a rock n roll band they are getting on a bit, just after Lynyrd Skynyrd had blown everyone away like. But I think that I’m a better drummer now with the experience you know. I believe now that 80% of what you do is work rate and 20% is ability, you’ve got to nail it and do it again and again. I’m fitter now, keeping the standard up and still hitting the drums hard haha’
‘I remember signing to MCA and runing back to my mam shouting Ma, Ma I’ve got a recording contract with a major label, but I didn’t stop and think whats our cut, how much do we make, what does this cost ? But thats what happens when you’re young and in a band. But I’ve got no regrets what so ever, cos I’ve had a fantastic time, still am’.
Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2017.