Martin is guitarist for NWOBHM band Hollow Ground who formed in South Shields in 1978. He also played in Geordie, Powerhouse, Fist and Sabbatica.
The day we were due to meet was as cold as Russia. I walked up to his front door knocked a few times and rubbed my hands together trying to get some warmth. Knew I should have worn my gloves. Door opened and I was greeted by a smiling Martin Metcalf ‘How ya daein howay in I’ve got the kettle on’.
I asked Martin what were his earliest memories of music and his biggest influences. ‘I first listened to glam rock bands like TRex, Slade and Bowie with my first guitar hero being Mick Ronson. Then got into heavier sounds like Alice Cooper and progressed to bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. That was the catalyst of wanting to play music.
I got my first Satellite Les Paul Copy guitar and Sound City Amp and started rehearsing in Tyne Dock Youth Club in South Shields’.
When were your first gigs ? ‘We played a few pubs around South Shields around 78-79 and then later some more local gigs with Fist and Hellanbach. We also played in clubs with a more commercial set doing cover versions under the name Horizon. This financed our first time in a studio, recording at NEAT records’.
What was your experience of recording ? ‘My first one was at NEAT’s Impulse Studios in Wallsend basically a live recording of most songs from the Hollow Ground set. I think it was Keith Nicholl who produced the demo and the tape operator was a guy called Conrad Lant aka Chronos, who later became the bassist in Venom. We were just young lads then, sort of finding our feet in the studio. That one cost £50 and was recorded totally live’.
‘One night we went to Newcastle Mayfair to watch our mates Fist who were on the bill with Raven. Steve Thompson who was producer then at NEAT records pulled me to one side and said theres a deal at NEAT if I wanted it. I liked the idea but told him we had just sorted something out with Guardian. We went down to the studio in Durham and recorded 4 tracks Flying High, Warlord, Rock On and Don’t Chase The Dragon. It cost around £500’.
What was the story behind Roksnax the compilation LP that Hollow Ground appeared on? ‘What happened was we met up with producer Terrry Gavaghan and talked through the idea of a compilation LP with a couple of other bands from the North East. So we went down to Guardian and recorded a further 2 songs – The Holy One and Fight With the Devil. Our mates from South Shields, Saracen were also going to be on the record’.
‘We were in the studios for 2 days and slept overnight there. The studio was basically 2 terraced houses knocked into one. I still remember the smell of the brown cork tiles in the studio and having to sellotape the headphones on my head when recording as they kept falling off! ‘
‘In hindsight maybe NEAT would have turned out better for us in the long run. Although a good thing was that Lars Ulrich from Metallica bought a copy of the Roksnax LP in Los Angeles and that led to our track Fight With the Devil being played in the Metallica documentary A Year And A Half In The Life Of Metallica’.
What caused the break up of Hollow Ground ? ‘Hollow Ground lasted until our singer Glenn Coates went for an audition for Fist. The writing was on the wall because they already had a following and a record deal with NEAT plus they had recently toured with UFO. Glenn got the job and in the end there was no hard feelings about it, all the lads in Fist were and still are good friends’.
Where did your career go after that ? ‘Around ’84 I had a 5 year stint with Geordie, who changed their name to Powerhouse following an album release. We played gigs and recorded the album (Powerhouse) at Redwood Studios in London for Mausoleum records’.
‘Redwood was owned by the Monty Python guys Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison. The studio was run by a guy name Andre Jaquemin who in 1980 set up some studio work for Brian Johnson, who at the time was on the brink of leaving Geordie and joining AC/DC. Small world eh’.
What are you up to now are you still involved in music ? ‘I’m still working in music, just not as much on stage. We do a few Hollow Ground gigs at Metal Festivals in Europe and I still play, but nowadays I mostly work behind the mixing desk engineering live sound’.
‘I do loads of gigs for North East bands in fact I’m booked up for pretty much the rest of the year. So yeah, I enjoy that and get just as much a thrill out of it as I do when playing on stage’.
I drained the last few dregs of my coffee, put my coat on, said our goodbyes and walked out into a cold wind howling in from the North sea. It’s Baltic out here. Head down and quickly walked along the street catching the sun going down over the river Tyne.
Interview by Gary Alikivi on 12th January 2017 .