HERE COME THE DRUMS in conversation with Harry Hill, drummer of North East rock legends Fist

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The stories and laughs were coming thick and fast. Lucky I had the dictaphone cos I wouldn’t be able to write them all down, I’ve included the clean one’s. North East rock legends Fist are back in rehearsals…Yeah we’ve just filmed 4 songs at The Queen Vic in South Shields for a promo video. We had to play them 6 times each. It was like doing 2 full gigs back to back (laughs).

We have an album’s worth of new songs but for this we played existing tracks Vamp, Name Rank & Serial Number, Lost & Found and Lucy which we last played on a radio session for Tommy Vance.

We used a local team to put it together, Colin Smoult on the live sound and lights by Glenn Minnikin. The results are pretty good. Mind you I was playing drum fill’s that I made up when I was 22 – it’s a bit harder to play them now (laughs).

Local musician and producer Tony Sadge done such a great job on the sound mix that we’ve asked him to get involved with recording a new album. There’s a few labels interested so with all that happening we’re back up to full strength.

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Sandy Slavin, former drummer with 80s American rock band Riot writes on social media about his experiences in music. Have you come across any of the stories ? Yeah certainly have. You know what it is, he hit’s the nail on the head. When we started playing live there were no mic’s on the drumkit. You just had to hit them, and hit them hard. There was none of this ‘just turn it up in the mix’ that you can get today.

Before Fist and even before Axe I was in a band called Fixer in the early 70s. On stage there was 2 Marshall cab’s, a big bass cab and the p.a. which you had to compete with to be heard.

I agree with Sandy you had to play hard to be heard and balance that up with plenty feel for the music. Any drummer can learn techniques but if you haven’t got feel you’re wasting your time. Simon Kirk (Bad Company) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) were masters at it.

Drummers have different styles. Bonham played along with riffs that Jimmy Page was playing on guitar. It’s interesting to hear it. Keith Moon sometimes followed Roger Daltry’s singing in The Who and then Townsend’s guitar. He was a phenomenal drummer. Very erratic at times but brilliant. I’ve played with Dave Urwin (Fist guitarist) for such a long time we just link in.

You mentioned being in a band called Fixer…Yeah the band was put together around 73. Fixer had a singer called Tom Proctor. He recently got in touch and said he had a cassette of a tape we made. We recorded it in a barn using 3 mic’s. 1 for vocals and 2 on the drum kit. Sounds great. I remember we rehearsed every night. Listening to the tape you can tell.

As a result of those tapes guitarist Geoff Bell and I got an audition for Whitesnake through producer Martin Birch and Tony Edwards (RIP) who was manager of Deep Purple. This was around ‘76. We went down to a rehearsal studio in London and they asked us to just jam together. We knew our styles of playing so well, we were comfortable together, they were impressed. We passed the audition and said You’ve got the job. But in the meantime out in Germany, Coverdale had just formed a band.

Sounds like a mix up in communication ? Well with a couple of mates, Terry Slesser (vocals, Beckett) and Paul Thompson (drums Roxy Music) I went to see their first gig at Ashington Regal. Afterwards we chatted with Coverdale and he explained what had happened. That was it. Just not to be.

Fist supported UFO on a UK tour during 79 & 80. What are your memories ? We had a great time. Someone reminded me a few days ago of an incident that I’d forgotten about. We were playing Hammersmith Odeon and a guy was heckling us. Really pissed me off. So I put my sticks down, jumped off stage and chased him into the foyer to give him a good kickin’. Thinking back, the Hammersmith had a high stage so I must have been fit to get down and run after him (laughs).

I remember playing Sunderland Locarno (6 miles from Harry’s hometown South Shields). That was a great Friday night gig. We played it a couple of times after that and done a few other venues in Sunderland by ourselves.

There was the Boilermakers Club and the Old 29 pub which was only a very long thin shaped bar. We never got much reaction and nobody clapped cos there was nowhere to put their drinks (laughs).

One Friday night we played the Newcastle Mayfair (2,000 capacity) with a 10,000 watt pa that we’d hired. We asked the sound man Stosh, when the p.a. had to go back and he said not till Monday. Champion, we booked a gig for Saturday afternoon in the Old 29 pub. We knew there’d be a reaction this time.

As we blasted out the p.a. in this little pub the audience were pinned against the back wall (laughs).

Can you remember any other bands gigging around the North East at the time ? Yeah Raven, who we played with a few times. There was Tygers of Pan Tang…wiped the floor with them. Then next time John Sykes and Jon Deverill were in and that was a different band. That was a kick up straight away. Robb (Weir, guitarist) is still playing in the Tygers and has got a great band now. Really solid.

Fist were playing at Norbreck Castle down in Blackpool around 81 /82 and John Sykes popped in. He just lived in the area. He came over and introduced himself. Chatting with him he said he’d made a huge step up in joining the Tygers. And he was right.

We had the same record company (MCA) and with a lot of bands they look and sound ok but in a studio there’s nowhere to hide. Well there probably is now, but we can’t find it (laughs).

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There was the famous article in a 1980 edition of Sounds, when North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands were interviewed by Sunderland based music journalist Ian Ravendale…I bumped into Ian a few years ago and we got chatting about the interview. I said I remember two things you wrote. ‘Fist maturity shines out like a lasar in a coal shed’ (laughs).

The other was ‘If Harry Hill gets any heavier he’s gonna need a reinforced drumstool’. Cheeky sod I was only 12 stone ! (laughs)  They were great those rags Sounds, NME, Melody Maker every Thursday. Nowt like that now.

Full article in Sounds by Ian Ravendale 17th May 1980.  http://ianravendale.blogspot.com

I saw Fist at the British Legion in South Shields around ‘82. Would you ever think then that you’d still be playing together in 2019 ? Fist has been my life. It’s always been there. I remember getting to 25 and thinking I’m too old to be a drummer in a rock band. But I look at music back in 1970 when I was listening to Zeppelin, that’s 50 years. Then go back another 50 year to people dancing to the Charleston in the 20s. Then forward to the rock n roll explosion. Maybe now we’ve reached saturation point. Old stuff blows all over the new music. Although recently I heard a band called Greta Van Fleet who were like a breath of fresh air. Great little band.

What do you think of live music today ? Back when I started playing you went to see local bands and they could really play. Every one of them. Today you will see some who maybe haven’t put the time in. For any band to get tight they have to be on the road.

I stepped in for a band called The Radio Set who had a single produced by Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order). It was indie stuff completely different for me but it was good. In rehearsal they complained I was too loud (laughs). But they only done about 5 or 6 gigs, with a couple of festivals. The band sounded confident and correct, but they never had that bit magic that you need.

Are there many independent venues on Tyneside ? I think it’s getting harder and harder. The beauty of Fist is there is some international work. We’re going over to Belgium and Germany later this year. The following is amazing there. But with the local scene economically it is so difficult to keep going for any venue. Some need to take £1,000 just to break even. When pubs are struggling like they are now the first thing they do is put live music on to drag a few people in. It might get them in but it won’t necessarily make you any money.

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Fist have got some live dates planned…Yeah the first gig back for a few years is the Grimm Up North Festival. Steve from TysonDog asked us to come along and as it’s for a charity close to my heart we said yes. It raises money for diabetes and heart disease. We’ve got Norman Appleby back on bass, Glenn Coates on vocals and Davey Urwin on guitar. So it’s back to the original line up from 82. We’re scheduled for the Friday and we’ll do about 50mins before Blitzkreig top the bill.

We’re deciding what tracks to put on the EP. We’ve got around 10 match perfect songs so far, with another 2 we’re putting together now. So plenty to choose from, it’s really exciting times.

What does music mean to you ? Absolutely everything. At times probably totally cocked my life up but I’ve got no regrets what so ever. It’s not just music it’s everything around it. Creating things, the friends you make, I couldn’t imagine life without music.

Check the Fist facebook page for latest gig dates.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.