On 28 May 1983 two car loads of hairy teenage metallers left South Shields and travelled down the M1 to see an all-day gig at Leeds. I remember we arrived in the city and the first thing I saw was massive blue posters for the gig. For me Anvil stole the day, and a month later confirmed their metal credentials when the Canadian band supported Motorhead at Newcastle City Hall. Still got my ticket from Leeds.
One of the bands playing that day were Battleaxe from the North East. Vocalist Dave King remembers the time….
We supported Saxon as special guests on their Crusader tour in 1983/4, and again at the Leeds Queens Hall Festival with Saxon, Twisted Sister, Girlschool, Anvil and more. Good old Noddy Holder from Slade was presenting the show.
I remember after the show Dee Snyder and Mark Mendoza from Twisted Sister came on board the Battleaxe bus to have a look around and thought it was fantastic. They saw a large cooking pan in the compartment under the stairs and asked what it was for. Brian the bass player told them it was for making vegetable broths in the kitchen on the bus cos we don’t wanna get scurvy on tour – that’s the god damned truth. We really did stop off near farmer’s fields to dig out potatoes, cabbages and carrots to make food on the tour bus – it saved us a fortune (laughs).
In 1981 the King family from Sunderland were restoring an old empty pub they owned called The Albert Inn, in Shotton Colliery, Durham. A local band called Warrior, not to be confused with the NWOBHM band from Newcastle, used to rehearse in the ground floor room of the pub. A young Dave King was roadie and driver for the band. When Warrior broke up there was a vacancy for a singer, and Dave hoys his hat in the ring – after an audition, he gets the job.
The band changed the name and Battleaxe was born. With help from Dave’s father Derek and promotion manager Rob Stuart, within a year Battleaxe had signed a deal with Roadrunner Records and Music for Nations, plus Tommy Vance invited the band to record a session on Radio One’s Friday Night Rock show.
Dave takes up the story…..
The first gig Battleaxe performed was Heighington Village Hall in Bishop Auckland in 1981, then we played venues like Thirsk Town Hall, Spennymoor Recreation, Country club in Saltburn and Leeds polytechnic. Sunderland Mayfair is probably the best gig we played back then and the only time we ever got paid to cover the costs of the massive show we carried with us.
Back then we used a double decker bus to travel about in. A week before the Radio One session with Tommy Vance we had bought the bus and I remember parking up in BBC Maida Vale studio car park with ten of us on board – and all the p.a. plus backline equipment loaded on because at the time we were doing a UK tour with Madame X (American hard rock band).
The bus had accommodation upstairs with the stage gear down stairs. We carried an 8k rig with loads of lights, pyros, smoke machine, the lot. Plus a four stack Marshall wall and a two stack Trace Elliot bass rig for Hardies and Brian’s backline, with full double drum kit and riser for Ian.
Unbeknown to us the bus was actually a classic from the Ribble coach company on a Leyland chassis. One of the first double decker bus models to have the front cabin built over the engine creating a flat front like all double decker buses are now. We sold it to Leeds Bus Preservation Society and I’ve been told it’s now in a museum somewhere.
BURN THIS TOWN
Our first recording was in Guardian Studios in a village called Pity Me, County Durham. Terry Gavaghan was the producer and owner of the studio. We recorded two tracks – Burn This Town and Battleaxe. We self-released them on a single on the Guardian record label.
500 units were pressed which are now very rare and quite valuable in record collectors guides. The quality of the tracks were very basic but they got us a deal with Roadrunner Records and we recorded an album for them called, Burn This Town.
I remember we were sent the contract to sign at our base in Kensington Hall in Sunderland. The original member’s were me, Brian Smith (bass) Steve Hardy (guitar) and Ian Thompson drums. A year after recording Burn This Town in Guardian studio, Ian was attacked by a thug and obtained a serious injury. He couldn’t carry on so Ian McCormack came in who recorded the next album with us.
SO BAD IT’S GOOD
Cees Wessels, the record company boss, asked us what we wanted for the art work on the album cover. We had a friend and local artist called Arthur Ball who come up with a basic idea of a biker on his motorbike wielding an axe with a town in the back ground burning down – it looked like Sunderland (laughs). We sent that off in the mail to head office at Roadrunner in Holland.
You’ve got to remember there was no internet or social media at that time and things took a bit longer to arrange. We waited weeks and really needed to know from Cees Wessels what his thoughts were on the idea that Arthur had come up with.
Two months later the album was released worldwide, we couldn’t believe they had gone and used the draft cover idea as the finished art work. Since then there has been constant comments in media articles as it being one of the worst Heavy Metal album covers – ever.
Yet even today after 39 years, metal fans and journalists are still talking about it. Personally, it’s worked out as a marketing marvel. Over the years the Burn This Town cover has had a face lift four times and we are very happy with the latest upgrade drawn by Louise Limb.
Now we are really looking forward to getting out on tour and the Halloween date in Newcastle, but more so the release of our fourth album Rezonator. We have a great new set of songs for the upcoming October dates including many from our back catalogue. It shouldn’t be too long now before the new material gets to be heard as tasters before the big release.
We really hope some of the metal followers and Battleaxe fans reading this can get out and see us play in October, we are looking forward to seeing some of your there.
Battleaxe are: Dave King (vocals) Brian Smith (bass) Mick Percy (guitar) & session drummer from Colombia Mauricio Chamucero (drums).
Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2021