PYROMANIAX – Bombs, Flashes and Burnt Eyebrows

On their world tours American rock band Kiss would go to huge lengths to put on an explosive show. But not when I saw them at Newcastle City Hall in October ’83. The band had unmasked and cut back. Apart from fire ’n’ blood spurted out by Gene Simmons, there were no stage effects. The full circus hadn’t turned up.

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Kiss, Newcastle City Hall, 29th October 1983. Photo by Stephen ‘Winst’ Wilson.

The late 70’s and early 80’s saw bands on this blog putting on a show. To add atmosphere there would be dry ice and smoke, and for dramatic effect, explosions at the beginning/end of a song. But they didn’t all go to plan.
Here’s 10 stories about bombs that didn’t stick to the script and smoke machines with a mind of their own.

Dave Dawson (Warrior, The Hunger April 12th) ‘One time our manager Ken Booth hired someone to do some flash bombs. We thought yes this will look good. But when they went off they blew me forward, all the gear turned off and ripped a gash in the ceiling. It made the local papers, but that might have been the only time we were in them like !

Danny Hynes (Weapon UK, All Fired Up May 6th) ‘Now we liked having a few explosions going off during our set you know, flashes, smoke bombs the whole lot. Well we just got on stage in Newquay, first few bars of our opener and a pyro went off between my legs…I almost became Danielle haha.
Once we were playing a gig in Stoke and the stage was very low, I walked towards it through the dry ice, tripped and went head first into the drum kit… Happy daze!

Paul Macnamara (Salem, To Hull and Back April 6th) ‘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!

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Mandora, South Shields Ampitheatre, July 1987. Video still by Craig Elliott.

Duncan Binnie (Mandora, Let the Music Do the Talking July 25th) ‘During summer ’87 we’re playing an outdoor gig at the Amphitheatre down South Shields seafront at one of the biggest crowds that’s been down there. Council wouldn’t give us any lights so it was an absolute disaster ‘cos halfway through the gig it was dark. But we had the fireworks and the stage was pretty good at that point. We had a few unpaid roadies one of them was called Joe and it’s unbelievable what effort he’s putting in for nowt. Well during a song he’s crawled onstage sorting a drum out or something when one of our explosions went off and the poor guy gets blown up. I remember seeing him afterwards and he was standing there, his coat was all burnt, the whole top of it was fringed up and he had no eyebrows left’.
Watch the full interview and footage (start at 50mins) in the music documentary ’We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll’ on You Tube.

Maurice Bates (Mythra, Just A Mo’ May 12) ‘We once played the Old 29 in Sunderland and our friend Lou Taylor was the lighting guru. To his mothers dismay he made all the lighting rigs for our shows in his garage and bedroom.
On this particular gig he let off a smoke bomb which gave off so much smoke the pub had to be emptied. Another time I managed to get hold of an aircraft landing spotlight. When it was turned on and pointed at the audience it was so powerful it blinded everyone in the room, it was like looking into the sun haha’.

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Tygers of Pan Tang, Newcastle Mayfair, September 1980. Photo by John Edward Spence.

Richard Laws (Tygers of Pan Tang original bassist) ‘My hand is bandaged in these photos because we used to keep our pyrotechnics in a cool box and they had leaked and the box had a load of magnesium powder at the bottom. I thought it would be fun to put a match to it and it nearly blew my hand off ! I had second degree burns and it was agony! When it happened you can imagine I disappeared in an enormous flash and cloud of smoke and when I came to my senses my hand had swollen to twice its normal size. It was so painful I had to keep my hand in a bucket of water until I got to the doctor and got the bandages on. Luckily, even though it was quite a serious burn I could still hold a pick. They were old pyros from when we did the clubs which we would put on tables at the front of the stage. There was a theatrical shop in Newcastle where you could buy the cartridges and the electric firing mechanism. When I first got them I set them off in the back garden to see what they were like and they were pretty spectacular. I remember a few times at gigs people sitting at the tables we put them on and despite being warned, refusing to move until the bombs went off – then they moved pretty quick! By the time the 1980 UK tour started I was still bandaged but I could at least play’.

Howard Baker, Warbeck/Nightwalker (Howard’s Way, August 17th) ‘We had some pyro to put on a bit of a show. We used to put the bombs in two small waste paper bins, but at one gig we forgot them so went outside in the backlane and got a big bin. We put both bombs in there and set it up behind the drummer. End of the first set the roadies set it off and a big boom ! But they never cleaned the bin out first so there was rubbish, banana skins all sorts all over the stage, haha.
Another time we were playing Usworth Social Club and we forgot to bring smoke flares. We liked a bit of smoke around the stage. So we went out and bought some flares nearby. These were for boats, like distress flares. Again they were set up behind the drums and were set off just as we played Smoke on the Water. Well at first they didn’t look much but the smoke coming out of them just kept on coming until it filled the concert room. The concert chairman was up in arms. There was so much smoke we couldn’t see a thing, our eyes started streaming. They rang the fire brigade who eventually found the bin and hoyed it outside. But the worst thing was the smoke was orange. The concert room was covered in orange stains, all over the chairs, everywhere. Ended up we never got paid for that gig, just a massive cleaning bill’.

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Saracen, 1980.

Glenn S. Howes, Blitzkreig/Fist/Saracen roadie (Metal Health, December 1st) ‘Working for Saracen at the Legion Club in South Shields in the early 80’s I was put on smoke machine duty. Saracen are on stage rocking away. I pushed the button to put a little smoke on stage however Les the bass player kept shouting more, more ! I was only a bairn at the time so I did as I was told. Before you knew it the whole concert room was full of stage smoke. You couldn’t see the band at all. We had to open all the doors and windows to get rid of it. I got a right royal telling off from the vocalist Louie Taylor. Les never told him it was his fault’.

Ged Wolf, Atomkraft/Venom drum roadie (Running with the Pack, August 14th) ‘The first gig in New York, USA was memorable, we had made some huge bomb pots the size of footballs, you know Venom was all about the show. Well the guy in charge of the pyro was out of his head on something and he ended up loading the pots twice. The bombs went off at the start of their first song Witching Hour, one of the bombs went down through the stage creating a big hole. The other one went up over the crowd, past the balcony and embedded into the back wall. There is a plaque there now, Venom 1983 haha.
But the explosion blew the whole backline so for the second gig we had to get all new equipment. I’ve never had to work so hard in all my life it was 24 hours non stop. I was that tired I was asleep under the drumriser when Metallica were playing. It was the only place I could stretch out haha’.

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Venom

Tony Bray, Venom (Hebburn or Hell, July 28th) ‘We were putting all the money back into Venom, buying the pyro, all the stage effects. We got our drumriser built for us in the shipyards, the whole scissor lift, it was just one big thing it never came apart. It was huge, they couldn’t get it out of the doors haha. But when we started out we played a gig at a heavy metal disco at the Quay club in Hebburn. Eric Cook (later Venom manager) ran the disco and he arranged to put Venom on. We bought our stage effects from Sound & Lights store in Newcastle where former Blind Fury vocalist Louie Taylor was working. He ended up doing some pyro for us, we were big on that haha. Louie was all about the safety aspect and I was all about let’s chuck some more powder in and see what happens. Well that gig we fused the building, lights went off right through the whole club, the bingo mafia downstairs went mad haha’.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2017.