Did you think you would get signed to a major label ? The first line-up of Secret Sam nearly got us signed with a big advance, but it fell through during Christmas ‘85, we were gutted when we found out. When I think back to those times I’m not proud of myself either. I was, and still am, pretty difficult to work with sometimes.
Russ Thompson (guitar/vocals) and I really laid the law down about arrangements and harmonies, I ended up falling out with some really nice people. It got ridiculous in the end, Russ sacked himself and a dozen other people came through the band before I finally wrapped it up in late ‘86.
A year later Mick McKnight (guitar) and Paul Bateson (keys) had a club act and ended up doing Stars In Your Eyes, a big show on TV at the time. They got ripped apart by journalist Nina Myskow, that was fun to watch, but I did feel for them.
I mentioned being in the Jess Cox band, we did the first series of TX45 (music TV show filmed in Newcastle at the time of The Tube) and a couple of shows in London with Les Cheatham on guitar and a couple of great guys from down south, this was around ‘84-86.
Working with Jess (vocals) was a good learning experience, he’d had some success with The Tygers of Pan Tang so he sort of knew what he was talking about, even though he was clearly tainted by the music industry at that point.
In rehearsals for the TV show, he helped me refine my playing by offering suggestions like ‘can you put a blanket over those f**king drums’ and ‘don’t do drum fills’. Of course I will be forever grateful for that advice!
There was an album I did around ’85 with Jess and Rob Weir (guitar) called imaginatively – Tyger Tyger. Me and Rob programmed all drums on a Roland TR-707 then went into Impulse studio to record real hi-hats and cymbals, that was the second most awful studio experience I’ve ever had. I don’t think it ever saw the light of day, it wasn’t that good.
What did the new decade bring for you ? At the end of the ‘80s, heavy metal band Battleaxe got in touch and I started playing for them. Don’t they say any publicity is good publicity ? The singer would have crazy ideas like ‘we’re going to make a video on an oil rig and the BBC are coming down to film it’. At first I thought this is exciting, but soon realised he lived in a fantasy world.
What he forgot to mention was with all our gear we would have to sneak illegally onto one of the oil rigs being built in Sunderland docks, and start playing until news media and police turned up to arrest us.
Incidentally, from 2010-14 I returned to Battleaxe but I’ll not go there, it’s a four year horror story I’d rather forget, it includes the worst band and recording experience I’ve ever had.
By the mid ‘90s I was enjoying playing around the pubs in a little three piece band and one day got a call from the late Eric Cook who managed Venom and others. He asked if I could do a tour because the drummer they were hoping to use had dropped out. I immediately said yes, it’s a powerful word yes – the tour was the next week and the band was Skyclad.
I’d never heard of them but did sort of know Steve (Ramsey, lead guitarist) and Bean (Graeme English, bass) from the band Satan. With only four or five days to learn the set, we were off to Europe to play with Blind Guardian, Yngwie Malmsteen and Saxon.
It was great, but I felt like a fish out of water. I’d never played in a folk metal band before and I’d never done that kind of tour. Big venues, lorries full of gear, half a dozen tour coaches, catering the lot, it was like stepping into the unknown for me – totally routine for the other guys though.
One of the highlights for me was jamming with Yngwie Malmsteen’s band in the sound check in Hannover, a rare opportunity, they were brilliant players, and had to be because Yngwie would dock their pay if they made a mistake on stage.
I stayed with Skyclad for a couple of years, doing a few tours with bands like Riot, Whiplash, Subway to Sally, and recording a couple of albums at top studios like Moles in Bath and Jacobs in Surrey, but I was sick to death of being away on tour. It all came to a head for me at the end of ’96 in a snow storm and -20 degree temperatures.
Imagine spending Christmas Day in a freezing hotel in a town where nothing was open, and being away from your loved ones without any means of contacting them but a payphone in the street – totally depressing. Why anyone thought that would be a good idea was beyond me.
Things got so bad that in true rock star style Andy smashed up his hotel room causing a couple of thousand pounds worth of damage – by the way Andy was the lighting guy, it was the band who were the sensible one’s.
At this point I was in my mid-thirties and realised this is a game for the young, but I appreciated the experience and the band always treated me well.
What have you been doing the past couple of years ? From 2016-18 I was drumming for American band Bob Dee with Petro, he was a great guy, we did a couple of UK tours, one supporting Chris Holmes from ‘80s metal band Wasp.
So that’s about it, trying to make it in music brought good times and not so good times for me, it’s great to talk about it if someone’s interested in listening, but these days I find myself less inclined to.
What do you think about your time in music ? I think my ‘80s was a great time, the band scene was vibrant and anything seemed possible. I often think of people like Karen McInulty from She, Dave Donaldson from the Jess Cox Band, Eric Cook, and others who are sadly no longer with us, and loads of other people who were part of that close knit scene at the time, really fond memories.
For me it’s like telling a story about climbing a mountain, it’s easy to romanticise about it in hindsight and say it was all fantastic, when in reality it was hard work with only the odd moment when the clouds broke.
Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2021