BACK IN THE GAME with St Helen’s rock band Snatch Back

‘We were sleeping in the van during a weekend of gigs. To pass the time before the evening gig, we were invited to an afternoon strip show. We returned to find the van windows had been broken. The singer was annoyed they only pinched his wooly hat and a half eaten bag of chips. The vintage guitars under the piles of sweaty underwear remained untouched’.

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Snatch Back formed in 1974 in St Helen’s, UK. What are they up to now…‘After decades of local fan interest we decided to reform the original line up in 2016. Ste and Ian had kept in touch. It was amazing how well we still got on. As soon as news got out we were invited to headline the St Helens Westfield Street Music Festival and got great press reviews. We are now building on this to promote and enjoy playing our music again to a much wider audience thanks to NWOBHM fans’.

The line up is:
Ste Byatt – guitar & vocals
John Cowley – lead vocals
Steven Platt – drums
Ian Wood – bass & Vocals

Who were your influences ?
Ste: ‘Watching Jimi Hendrix performing Voodoo Chile on UK tv music programme Top of the Pops. I never believed guitar could be so moving and limitless. Later I saw local band Gravy Train at a local theatre. From the moment their guitarist Norman Barret hit the stage it was ‘I want to do that’.
John: ‘My influences were albums by Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Mott the Hoople, Frankie Miller and Free. I walked around school with long hair, tassled jacket and acoustic guitar strumming Neil Young tunes but really wanted to be like Ozzy from the Black Sabbath 4 album cover.
Ian: ‘After watching Ten Years After, Mountain and Mott the Hoople at Liverpool Stadium gigs I wanted to play hard driving blues rock bass. Mott gave an interest in tempering this by writing more melodic novel material’.
Steven: ‘Hearing Foxtrot by Genesis on album and then soon after seeing them at Manchester Free Trade Hall. Loved those complex but driving drums’.
Ste : ‘Our drummer Steve took me to see Hendrix Plays Berkely. We immediately decided to form Snatch-Back as a four piece writing original rock. We all attended superb, affordable music venues like Liverpool Stadium and Liverpool Empire as well as Manchester Free Trade Hall. We saw great bands such as Back Street Crawler, The Faces, Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Bad Co, AC/DC, Judas Priest and Queen. They were all very influential’.

Youth Club Gig

Where did you start gigging ? ‘There wasn’t much going on for us really. Our town was filled with social clubs offering bingo and variety acts. The only other nights out were cinema and working mens pubs which had no music. There had been one non alcholic blues club in the 1960’s but was closed before 1970. There were no rehearsal or recording facilities. Snatch-Back bluffed our way into a local youth club to rehearse on the promise of organising live music concerts. We did this in two local clubs and encouraged recording bands like Gravy Train and Nutz (later Rage) to step down and play for door money’.

With Ste Kay Bass

‘Later the local cinema put us on between films by Status Quo and Rory Gallagher. This made the local news as an unusual event and ensured a larger following for us. Then a local social club was persuaded to allow us to run a Tuesday rock night. We partnered with another local band and filled this for several years with guest bands and us headlining once every few weeks. These audiences knew our own material from regular gigs but we had recorded very little apart from band rehearsals. By this time we had moved rehearsals to a farm where the singer worked. We were constantly writing and recording live demos there but never released any. With more experience, and having money for a van, we gigged in the surrounding areas of Liverpool, Cheshire and Yorkshire. These were all gained by doggedly phoning the venues for a gig. Our biggest venues were The Lion in Warrington, The Casino and Mr M’s Clubs, Wigan, The Cherry Tree in Runcorn. Stairways of Birkenhead. We were amazed to be playing the same venues at the same time as Vardis, Diamond Head, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Nutz, Limelight, Strife (later Nightwing) and even Alex Harvey’s final band’.

‘Unfortunately, late in the 80’s good venues closed for all but larger touring bands. Faced with longer travel for small pubs we again focused on our local St Helens to self promote and headline a Theatre gig with capacity 700 seats. Playing alongside other local original bands. We sold this out on two separate gigs. Unfortunately, without management and commercial savvy, we lost hope of ever topping these achievements outside of our area and finally drifted apart’.

What were your experiences of recording ? ’We recorded in Smile Studios, Manchester sometime in 1975. ’My mate’s got a great studio, very cheap. You need to do a demo tape’ that’s how it started. Very cheap meant a Sunday morning a quick 2 tracks and an even quicker mix. Very rushed, very stressed. The band felt they had reached a significant milestone and by the following Wednesday we would be partying with Led Zeppelin after this ground breaking session !
The studio is rumoured to have been used by bands such as Slaughter and the Dogs. It was an 8 track mixer/4 track tape recorder in a basement of a tiny terraced house. Unfortunately, the engineer was anti-rock, so stressful negotiations ensued in an attempt to get it sounding half decent. We were however, thrilled to be recording and listening to our original stuff in glorious stereo…but vowed to improve’.

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‘We sent this demo around and gained some recording company interest. But it was not representative of our live sound. The whereabouts of the tapes are unknown. Tracks recorded were Shoot on Sight (updated version on our 2016 CD) and another we don’t recall as it was soon dropped due to it’s ‘formative’ nature.
Next was Central Sound Studios, Manchester in 1979. After playing a Blackburn gig we were approached by a studio owner looking to fill off-peak time. A deal was struck which included a batch of vinyl singles. A few late evenings recording were completed. We were much more insistant on the Marshall stack sound and worked hard on well rehearsed overdubs. We were much more confident and happy with the sound. Again there was a poor engineering match as their experience was with Manchester Indie bands such as the Buzzcocks, who called in occasionally, along with various Manchester theatre and variety performers for all night recording sessions. Comedian Freddie Star popped in one night. We even did a seperate evening mixing, time was tight though, with artists in before, during and after our sessions. Unfortunately we had never heard of mastering. If this had been good, then the final single would have been a lot heavier. Tracks we recorded were Eastern Lady and Cryin’ to the Night (Copies of the vinyl on our 2016 CD).
Fortunately copies of this single and unofficial mp3 files kept interest in the band and brought us to the attention of NWOBHM fans’.

‘Then in ’81 we went into Amazon Studios, Liverpool. Wow! A 16 track pro studio with great engineering at last. We took great care to get a superb drum sound which the band that followed us Rage, pinched for their Nice and Dirty album. We planned a seperate day mixing and tightly rehearsed all the overdubs to cram 4 tracks into a one day session! Moving Out, Boogie Shoes, Got Trouble, She’s Dead.
Everything went great as we were much more experienced. However, more time and more overdubs as the engineer suggested, would have improved the sound. Unfortunately Ste B was over influenced by the sparse production of Van Halen 1’.

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‘Last year we went into Catalyst Studios, St Helens. Pro digital at last. A determined project to update the bands earlier material and produce a CD for Westfield Street Festival. We had the advantage of a determined studio owner Andy to assist us and the ability to transfer tracks to home studio for interim reviews and adding backing vocals to save time. Even so, we went over budget with extra guitar parts. Andy put extra hours in mastering and did a great job. We are very happy with the Back in the Game EP package. Would have been better with more time, a pro Rock producer and a mastering expert. But we had great reunion fun and its available through our media sites now.
Tracks recorded were Need Some Heat, Shoot on Sight , Gypsie of Love, Rough Treatment and bonus tracks from viny, Eastern Lady, Crying to the Night and a farm rehearsal track Nashville Splatt with rare drummer’s vocals. Additional drum and guideline tracks were recorded in these sessions which we are currently developing for future release’.

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Did you film any music video’s or tv appearences ? ‘The only early video was of a 1980’s St Helens Theatre Royal performance. This was never purchased by the band and its whereabouts are unknown. We have a few radio interviews on local independent stations. We did received regular request airplay of our single on Liverpool radio stations with rock DJs such as Phil Easton on Radio City’.

Have you any stories from your gigs ? ‘A fantastic rock night in New Brighton on the Wirral was followed by the noise of motor boats in the street ! What happened was we were due to play at The Empress of India Ballroom watering hole, it’s a first floor Victorian dance hall. To disguise it’s decline it is painted black inside. Anyway, we couldn’t park the van next to the entrance. The manager standing next to his Mercedes, was laughing as we parked up the hill and watched us lug the gear down and then scale the multiple flights of stairs to reach the stage. When the River Mersey winter tides came flooding in the water covered the ground floor but luckily it didn’t reach our van. But the Mercedes guy was waste deep in water attempting to retrieve his car arguing with the coastguard who were talking to him by megaphone. Haha what a scene’.

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‘We had picked up our new manager Mick. Eager to proove himself he copied the early Smile Studios demo and sent it to various record companies. A letter came back announcing a visit from a London A&R guy to our next gig. This was before the era of internet and mobile phones. The showcase gig was to be at the New Brighton Empress again. The red carpet was rolled out and VIP admission organised. The gentleman arrived in his Bentley, walked in with a Saville Row suit on and a gorgeous model on his arm wearing an immaculate white afghan coat. They were greeted by a big hairy venue owner ‘I don’t care who you are, it’s ten bob to get in’. They expected a polished club act but by then we had ‘matured’ to become a very hairy and very loud bunch of sweaty rockers playing to a sea of Newcastle Brown soaked bikers. ‘We’ve nailed it’ Mick the manager said as he waived the Bentley off. The following week a polite letter arrived declining Snatch-Back as they had found a more suitable band… The Rubettes. Oh well, no way our hair would have fitted under those berets on Top of the Pops’.
(The Rubettes had a string of hits during the 1970’s and were regulars on UK music programme Top of the Pops)

‘A call from Mick the manager he said ‘Got you a great new venue – definitely rock, you’ll love it’. Yes it was rock…and roll too! It was a Teddy Boy jive night. We had to fill an hour and a half with Led Zep rock and roll plus very long Chuck Berry jams or get beat up. Another time we played a late night club in a defunct church near Oldham, Lancashire. The owner was a dreadlocked Rasta who hated rock music but loved the amount of drink that it sold. We returned for a gig to be faced with another band already setting up. ‘Sorry man. We arrive early because we have trouble with our home made light show’. The Rasta says ‘Sorry I’ve double booked. Thing is I can’t stand rockers. One band is as crap as the other and they are set up already, so goodbye’. The other band was Def Leppard and things seemed to look up for them after that gig’.

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What is the future for Snatch Back ? ’We are not against becoming involved with managers, promoters or record companies. We welcome any support or advice that we can get to promote the band. We aim to continue to play gigs by establishing contacts in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and local rock band communities. We still find partner bands playing original rock and organise venues where possible. We love the recording experience but there is some regret that we didn’t do more recording in the 1970’s and 80’s. Our main focus then was keeping the band financially mobile by keeping the van and equipment running, and building a live fanbase. We are currently recording and working on new material for another release’.

Forthcomming gigs:
21st October 2017 E Rooms, Skelmesdale
16th December 2017 Yorkshire House, Lancaster
16th February 2018 The Griffin, Newton-le-Willows

Contact the band for more info including gig dates, photos, videos and shop at the official website snatch-back.co.uk

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2017.