ROCK OF AGES with Fist vocalist, Glenn Coates

I was reminded of the night the New Wave of British Heavy Metal came in to South Shields. What happened was I was flicking through my records and I come across the Hollow Ground EP which was kindly given to me by Lou Taylor (Satan/Blind Fury) after I lost my copy.

I originally bought one from Second Time Around Record Shop in South Shields after watching Hollow Ground play live at Tyne Dock Youth Club in 1980 – my very first LOUD gig. They certainly gave the place some welly and was one of the first NWOBHM gigs I went to – Hellanbach and Satan followed over the years.

Glenn Coates was vocalist that night, but later he left the rock hard granite sound of Hollow Ground, and became frontman for another South Shields plug in an’ play no frills outfit, Fist…Yeah we used to play so loud, one gig I jumped onto the drum riser at the very same time that the drummer hit his crash cymbal and I nearly lost my balance, I think I have tinnitus now (laughs).

I saw Fist at venues like South Shields British Legion, and Newcastle Mayfair on 4 June 1982 on the Y & T Earthshaker tour….

I remember they brought all their gear in flight cases. One of the cases was like a very tall chest, and when they opened it, it was full of cans of beer. We had a great time opening for them, good memories.

Later that year I saw Y & T again, this time opening for AC/DC in Newcastle. The Americans warmed up the City Hall enough for DC to land on stage with their huge backline. They were fronted by ex-Geordie singer Brian Johnson. During the ‘70s & ‘80s a lot of rock/metal bands came from the North East – The Animals, Geordie, Raven and the Tygers of Pan Tang….

I remember Fist supported the Tygers at Warrington Park Hall, which is the same set up as Newcastle City Hall…said Glenn.

The Tygers were doing well at the time with arctic’s full of sound gear parked outside. But our van with all our gear decides to pack up on the M62. We eventually got to the hall just in time – we pulled up outside at 6pm with our backline in a horsebox (laughs). 

If we go back to the start, how did the job in Hollow Ground come about ?

You mentioned that Tyne Dock gig, well we have fond memories of playing there because before Hollow Ground I was in a band that used to rehearse in that youth club. There was Brian Rickman (bass) and myself in a band with guitarist Steve Dawson (Saracen/The Animals/Geordie). That fizzled out around ’78 so Brian and me got together with Martin Metcalf (guitar) and John Lockney (drums), that was the beginning of Hollow Ground.

We also rehearsed in a backroom at the Adam & Eve pub in South Shields and all day on a Sunday in a hut in West Park. We used to give the caretaker a fiver and he’d let us in. We’d always record our rehearsals then listen to it back during the week, then rearrange the songs.We had started to write our own stuff and went in a studio to get it down on tape.

Studio work was financed by playing covers in pubs and working men’s clubs around the North East. The first studio we went into was Impulse Studio where Neat records were based, and we recorded an hour long live demo. It turned out quite good, I thought the vocals and drum sound was better there than at our other recording for the EP at Guardian Studio in Durham.

What was your experience of Guardian studio ?

Terry Gavaghan was owner and producer there and it was exciting to make a record at Guardian. We were still pretty naïve about it all you know – making a record to get noticed by a record company. Then we put some tracks together for a compilation album called Roksnax. Other bands on the record were Saracen from South Shields and Samurai who I think were Newcastle based. We all contributed four tracks each.

How did joining Fist come about ?

At first Hollow Ground were like sponges taking everything in, playing gigs wherever and whenever we could, at pubs and clubs doing covers to pay for the studio time. Learning all the time, it was a great energy to write the songs and it came about quite easy and quickly.

But thing was Terry Gavaghan said EMI were interested in signing us so we were waiting for that, but really I didn’t believe it and I’ve heard he told lots of bands the same. The band had stopped playing live so with no gigs happening I wasn’t doing much.

Fist came along and asked about me joining, I took it because they had things to offer. This was around ’81 and in the summer we played the Rock on the Tyne festival at Gateshead Stadium with Rory Gallagher and a few others. U2 were on the day before us.

The night before we played in Manchester and someone had smashed the whole back window of our car. I remember being freezing cold travelling on the motorway finally getting back to the North East about 4 in the morning. Not the best preparation cos we had to do a soundcheck and the first band on stage at 12 noon. With hindsight shouldn’t have played Manchester, but had a good time the rest of the day playing to a very large audience at Gateshead stadium.

Did you go in the studio with Fist ?

Yes we recorded the Back With a Vengeance album and the feeling then around the band and the songs was great. There was magic in the air. We also recorded a single on Neat records in 1982, it was an easy going pop song called The Wanderer with Too Hot on the b side. The Wanderer was just a laugh really, I don’t think we even played it live.

But some people thought we had mellowed and gone poppy by releasing it, but no, it was never meant to be a serious record. Then about a year later Status Quo recorded a version and got it in the charts. The picture on the front cover is me with my long hair – I haven’t got that now but I still think I’ve got that jacket (laughs).

When did Fist call it a day ?

We didn’t call it a day as such, it just kind of fizzled out. We were still rehearsing new stuff in Harry’s pub (Hill, drummer) as he had got into the pub game by then. But I don’t think any live dates were coming in. It’s a hard game to keep going.

But Fist played some memorable gigs. On 7 May 1984 we opened for Motorhead at Hammersmith Odeon on their No Remorse tour. It was great they had the Bomber lighting rig. I just remember seeing the first two or three rows singing along to songs we had wrote, it was such a buzz.

Afterwards we were upstairs in the Green Room drinking, Motorhead were there and Young Blood, the other band who were on. Lemmys son was also there, who is a good looking lad – all the lasses fancied him (laughs).

What are you doing now ?

Fist are still active. We’ve got Mark Jackson in on drums because unfortunately Harry Hill had to retire due to health problems. Last year we were still gigging and ready to go in the studio, but the March lockdown came so that put a stop to it.

We’ve got an albums worth of new material so when we can, Covid permitting, we will go in the studio and record the songs cos they can’t be left on the shelf.

Interview by Gary Alikivi    February 2021.

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