Today Kev Charlton is known for being a member of North East rockabilly band Bessie and the Zinc Buckets. But in the early 1980’s he played bass for heavy metal band Hellanbach ‘Some of the shows we done around that time were great, the Newcastle Mayfair, Sunderland Mecca, the Hoffborough House. We played with Raven, who were our stablemates at NEAT, they were going great guns. People were going crazy for Hellanbach, we were caught in a whirlwind’.
Where did it all start? ‘First off I listened to bands like Atomic Rooster and Emerson Lake and Palmer then through a neighbour I got into playing bass. Started a band with a few mates and we rehearsed in a garage. Also a big influence was seeing bands at Newcastle City Hall, I have plec’s from Michael Anthony, Edward Van Halen, Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi when Van Halen supported Black Sabbath. Love collecting stuff like that I have a book full of ticket stub’s’.
‘Then a natural progression from that was to work as one of the stagehands at the City Hall and earn a bit money. What happened was a friend of ours Mick Laheaney, who worked for The Tubes and The Roling Stones, introduced us to a guy called Colin Rowell who was stage manager at Newcastle City Hall. So for years we worked at the Hall loading in the sound and light gear and meeting bands like Rush, Judas Priest and Motorhead. I remember we set up eight articulated lorries worth of equipment for Van Halen, all for the princely sum of £8 !’
‘Then I got the gig working on the backline for Davey Urwin and Kieth Satchfield’s band, they were called Axe at the time, then they turned into Fist. One of my favourite bands.
That’s where it started for me really. That stuff still get’s to me I love to see bands it’s something that’s in yer blood, ya just can’t give it up. I can’t get enough of it’.
Where were your first gigs ? ‘We called our first band Oblisque and arranged a gig at Talbot Road Youth Club in South Shields. The word got round especially with the kids in the youth club it was like, wow they are in a band. The gig went well but that band fizzled out, it didn’t get out of first gear, but it turned into a band that changed my life, that was Hellanbach’.
‘We started rehearsing then had our first gig at St Hildas Youth Club. We started getting everything together, rehearsals, flyers, everything was going ok, until it got to the night of the gig and there was a queue all the way around the market it looked to us. Then the nerves kicked in, but when we started playing I knew we had something. I can’t put my finger on it but it was something special and drove a lot of people crazy. Basically I got hooked from then, it’s something thats in yer blood, yer can’t give it up. I can’t get enough of it’.
What was your experience of recording ? ‘Hellanbach really hit the ground running because in 1980 we put a four track EP together for Guardian records in Durham, the studio was owned by Terry Gavaghan. We recorded Light of the World, Out to Get You, Nobodys Fool and Lets Get this Show on the Road. But we didn’t realise that what your playing isn’t in your hands of what goes down on record. That was the job of Terry Gavaghan’.
‘Then we went down to take some photo’s for the cover, it was on a bridge near the Burn beside Brockley Whins, the photo’s still look good today haha.
The whole thing was a great experience the feeling of listening to the playback thinking thats your music, your songs, it’s an incredible feeling. In the end we called the EP Out to Get You, put it out and it sold like hotcakes’.
With the sales of the E.P. did you feel that the band were getting somewhere ? ‘I really felt that the band were firing on all cylinders, off the back of the EP we got a deal with NEAT records to record our first album at Impulse Studio in Wallsend. That was the best time.’
‘After rehearsing for months getting the new songs together we recorded the album which is a very proud moment in my life. Now Hear This came out in ’83 and was produced by Kieth Nichol. I remember getting the first copy of the album, taking it into work thinking this might be me leaving the shipyards’.
‘It really was one of the weirdest times of my life because it came out to amazing five star reviews some of the big bands weren’t even getting five stars. I remember sitting in the toilets of Wallsend slipway reading the reviews in Kerrang and Sounds, thinking this will be the last time I’ll be in the shipyard…but it wasn’t’.
Where did you go with Hellanbach then ? ‘In 1984 we recorded another album The Big H which I’m immensley proud of. Our line up then was me, Barry Hopper on drums, Davey Patton on guitar and Jimmy Brash upfront. But looking back I’m so disappointed that we didn’t gig enough and we listened to the wrong people. It all went pear shaped with bad management and signing wrong deals, it just fell to bits. We should have been touring the States but instead I went back to the shipyards’.
What are you up to now and are you still involved in music ? ‘I’m still playing, making a living and having a great time. We still rock n roll like we did when we were 16 year old kid’s in a garage trying to play our first song. Which I don’t think was Smoke on the Water haha.
One thing I’m proud about is that I kept my Aria guitar, which I recorded the two Hellanbach albums on, a nice bass but doesn’t suit the rockabilly stuff that I play now. But still love it, basically it’s still my love and I set out to play music till the day I die’.
After performing for 30 years Kev Charlton played the Newcastle City Hall in 2014 where as a teenager he worked as a roadie. Alongside playing with Bessie & the Zinc Buckets Kev has recently joined North East heavy metal legend’s Fist, who he worked for on the road crew in the 1970’s. Yes you can say his dream come true.
Interview by Gary Alikivi taken from the documentary We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll available to watch on You Tube.