“Let’s talk about this Hell band then!”
“Ha, this Hell band!” replies Andy Sneap, guitarist and producer of the reinvigorated Hell, the NWOBHM underground legends who were screwed over by bad album deals and finally disbanded when Dave Halliday tragically died in 1987. Hell are now back in 2011 and have their debut, Human Remains out on Nuclear Blast. This interview is from April 2011, shortly before the album was released.
“Back in the later seventies, early eighties, there was the whole New Wave Of British Heavy Metal thing going around the Midlands. There were really two bands at a high point of it, which were Race Against Time, Dave Halliday’s old band, and Paralex which was Kev Bower’s band. This was mid-81. They all knew each other, they’d played together. And Kev really wanted to be in a band with Dave, once Race Against Time had split up he went to see Dave and pitched him the idea of Hell. There was Tom on bass who was playing bass with Paralex back then. Tim was drumming for a band called Overdrive at the time. They came together and they really combined a lot of Race Against Time and Paralex stuff and turned it into this band called Hell.”
“I first met Dave Halliday in 1982, when I was twelve years old. He was introduced to me by a friend of his who was in the year above mine and you’d see him walking home from school with a guitar under his arm every day. I was just desperate to play guitar, and Dave was really the go-to guy to play metal guitar in the area. I started off getting lessons from him, and ended up being very good friends. I had lessons for four or five years up until he died in 1987. Obviously I formed Sabbat when I was fifteen, in 1985. I actually got introduced to Frasier the bass player through Dave at a local show, and we met Simon the drummer through Tim, the drummer from Hell. So, all of my past is kind of linked in with these guys. When this idea of making the album with all the old material, and when I found the old guys again, we all kind of crossed paths. It’s the sort of thing we were always talking about, but never got round to it until we found Kev.”
“I met Kev…three or four years ago, first time I’ve seen him in twenty five years. We got him in the studio, put some riffs down and since then we’ve never looked back! For a bit of fun, every time I had some time off work we’d come down the studio and put some more Hell tracks down, and get Tim and Tony down when they could make it…and it’s all been put together in the last three years. When it come to the vocals we tried Martin from Sabbat, and he sang the whole album. Although he did a good job on it, it sounded more like a Sabbat album than a Hell album. So Kev’s brother, David Bower, came down to do a voice over. He’s a professional voice over artist and actor. He started singing along to the track, sort of melodic backing vocals and as soon as I heard him doing that I realised that this was the guy for the job because he sounded so much like Dave Halliday. He’s a freak! Y’know, he’ll go and do Othello in the West End with Lenny Henry…he’ll turn up on Coronation Street as a doctor or a Polish immigrant! He’s totally off the hook and not afraid to make a prat of himself onstage, he fits the band brilliantly”.
“It’s all sort of fallen into place and it’s good that it’s happening now. It feels like it’s the right time for it because we’ve not looked at any influences or what’s going on with the music scene now. We’ve followed our hearts and tried to keep it true to what the band were in the eighties. Some people are a bit confused about it; is this a spoof or is it some kind of gimmick? But anyone who knew the band back then would tell you that this is the genuine article.”
The debut single, On Earth As It Is In Hell, depicts Hell in all their macabre makeup. “We don’t think it’s over the top! We wanna do more! We’re forty year old guys, we want to have a bit of fun with is. Fuck it, why not? You see all these black metal bands who take themselves so seriously. To be honest, Hell was never in that vein. It was a lot more theatrical and a bit tongue in cheek , but not to the point of piss-taking…it’s not like The Darkness doing commercial rock…well, I guess they were a little tongue in cheek. It’s more like the band were back in the eighties…we just didn’t think about. We’ll make a proper metal video with fire! We’re on a limited budget of nothing, so we got twenty cabs down into the old manor…a bit of fun! They always had the white faces and the blackened eyes, the waistcoats so they all looked the same. It’s not like we’re trying to do anything that’s not new to the band. If you see the pictures on the bonus disc of how the band was back then, it’s a continuation of what the band were doing, and that’s what we should do. If we start worrying about what people think, it’ll take the novelty out of the band, it’s part of the charm for me. You should’ve seen us last night, we were practicing stage moves. Felt like a dick doing it!”
Andy first saw Hell when he was twelve years old. Bless. It’s certainly something that a lot of kids dream of to become part of one of their favourite bands. “After that, I used to go literally to every show. Dave was like an older brother to me and they were all very good friends. I’d help them with the gear…they were doing everything I wanted to do at that age. They influenced Sabbat so much…I wouldn’t say we ripped them off but we borrowed a lot of ideas, we didn’t expect to see them come back round again. If you listen to the album, you can definitely hear where a lot of ideas in Sabbat came from, with the time changes…but Sabbat was a bit thrashier and perhaps a bit more basic, but more extreme in other ways, obviously with Martin’s voice. But Hell were a huge influence on us, some of the riffs are very similar, we were even doing stage moves and stuff. The early pictures of Martin on stage and you see him with the makeup on and the waistcoat, so it’s quite easy to see where we were drawing our influences from back then.”
“When I first started producing this, I was swinging to hear the songs properly as all we had were these old cassettes. It was really Kev who stepped in and asked me to join. Even at the first photo session I was sitting off to the side…Dave was supposed to play guitar, and I was thinking maybe I should take a back seat on this. I didn’t know how my work as a producer was panning out as well, and I didn’t want to hold them back if they were offered an album cut on the other side of the world. But they insisted that I was a part of this, and I was quite glad in a way. I’m really enjoying it to be honest. It’s great when a band is enthusiastic and everyone gets along so well. In Sabbat there was always a little bit of black cloud; me and Martin have never really seen eye to eye. Of course, we’re a lot more grown up now and a lot more friendly to each other…there’s only been a little bit of artistic tension, shall we say? Nothing nasty, but pulling a little bit in different directions, which is quite obvious when Martin goes off and does his own thing. I think it’s sometimes good in a bit because it balances it out a bit, but there’s nothing like that in Hell for me. It’s very refreshing and it’s very exciting. It’s nice to have been asked, but I’d have not liked to have been asked; obviously I wish Dave Halliday was here to do this and it’s a crying shame that he isn’t.”
Dave Halliday’s suicide was the culmination of a record deal gone sour, the NWOBHM movement fizzling out, both of which contributed to Hell’s fall from grace. From an outside perspective with hindsight it’s easy to see why, but at the time things were certainly a lot different. “When you look at the eighties scene…how old are you?” Twenty four, it turns out. “Ah, you’re a whipper snapper! I remember the eighties very clearly, it was a really good time. The metal scene then was really changing. By the time you got to the mid eighties there was a real American influence coming through. You even had Ozzy coming out wearing the dressing gown and sequins, and it was pretty poor the way the scene went very commercial and American. When you line that up against what Hell was doing with the quirky image and the lyrics and the heaviness it wasn’t what people were looking for. If you read all the rejection letters they had from record companies, they were looking for more commercial, Def Leppard sort of thing. People just didn’t get it and they never had decent recordings to give. And you’ve got to remember, there was no internet, no easy way of communication. If you wanted to make a phone call it cost an absolute bomb. All of the flyers of Dave’s I’ve got, it’s all carbon paper copies from a fax machine. It was so difficult for the band to get their message across, the only way was tape trading. They didn’t have the money to get out and do it. The only way to do it was to get down to London and do showcases which was nigh on impossible”.
“[After Dave died] There wasn’t really anyone pushing for it. None of the other guys…well, Dave’s death affected everyone and everyone went their separate ways and got on with their lives…some people left the music industry. Some people made a go of it only to fall by the wayside. I think it pushed me with Sabbat harder. I met Tim and Tom again about ten years ago, we didn’t even know where Kev was and because he was the principal songwriter and knew all the riffs…50% of this stuff is his music. We didn’t have any way of doing this…and when we met Kev again, literally in two or three hours were talking about doing this.”
I had to phrase this next question very carefully. This next part was put forward by an acquaintance who firmly believes that a) the original recordings have better production, and b) that Hell today are doing nothing more than ‘cashing in on a dead man’s legacy’. I would like to assure all readers that this is not my own personal opinion and would offer Andy Sneap and everyone associated with Hell my apologies if this offended them in any way.
“They can fuck right off to be honest. I’ve just sat with Dave Halliday’s sister for two hours, making sure that she gets all his share. Anyone who says that clearly doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. How we can be cashing in on a dead man if all we’re doing is putting his recordings out there and paying his family? They have no idea what they’re talking about, what we’re doing or any idea of the internal politics. They don’t know the history between me and Dave. He actually left all the songs in his will to me, a seventeen year old kid who hadn’t done anything back then. It only goes to show the faith he had in me, not to mention that it’s all the original members”.
On to better and brighter things, let’s talk about the album deal. Surely being Andy Sneap is a good thing when it comes to securing album deals. “Nuclear Blast were my first port of call with this, we had the album pretty much finished in May last year. At first they said no. We went to Metal Blade who put an offer in which wasn’t good…there was Candlelight and a couple of other smaller offers. Then Century Media put an offer in which we were actually about to sign. Then a few things changed and Nuclear Blast, as well as something to do with this year’s releases. Then Jaap [Wagemaker] got hold of us, and it turns out him and some of the other guys are huge Hell fans and totally into the tape trading, and offered us [deal details removed for discretion]. It worked out really, there were my first choice. It came at the right time, so luckily we fell on our feet.”
Are there already any other plans for a second record or new material? “For the next album we’ve still got 50% of the next album that we’ve not ventured into yet. So the next album will be half and half. Kev’s sat down and he’s written a load of new stuff and got his teeth into it again. I’ve got a big stockpile of riffs and ideas myself, but I want to keep it true to Hell and Kev was one of the main songwriters so I want to keep his style there as much as possible. There’s no worries about the second album, it’s definitely going to happen and it’s well on the way!”.
So there we go, Andy Sneap is a grass roots fan from the days of NWOBHM, but his despite his personal success, he is fantastically grounded and realistic about the days ahead.
Human Remains is out now on Nuclear Blast.