A FISTFUL OF METAL
With a moniker befitting the music, Fist was one of the very first bands to be linked with what became known as the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal). Following a brief period of playing under the name Axe, the band came to be in 1979 in the North England city of Newcastle.
After a couple of false starts, the band took another shot at the limelight in 2013 and this time the band’s longevity prospects look more promising. The current partners in crime are: drummer Harry ‘Hiroshima’ Hill, guitarist Dave Irwin, bassist Norman Appleby and Fist’s most recent recruit, lead vocalist/guitarist Glenn S. Howes.
In January 2016, I met all 4 members of the band and the 5 of us crammed ourselves into Norman’s car to discuss past, present and future of the band. The occasion was Fist’s first London gig since…..
Dave Irwin: …..1985. We were supporting Motörhead then at Hammersmith Odeon.
Harry Hill: Yes, I agree. I think it was 1985.
And what do you remember about that gig?
Harry Hill: Nothing!
Norman Appleby: I do remember the prostitutes…..
Harry Hill: Tsk…that’s typical enough of you, Norman!
Harry Hill: I do remember it was a great gig. Peter Gill, who was a mate of mine, he used to play with Son Of A Bitch [precursor of Saxon] and Saxon…..well, Peter Gill was drumming for Motörhead then. And Girlschool were there, weren’t they?
Norman Appleby: Yes, they were..
Harry Hill: They were lingering about at the venue.
Girlschool, Motörhead, Fist……sounds like a fantastic bill…..
Harry Hill: Girlschool weren’t actually playing. They were just [backstage] drinking.
Glenn, when you were with bands such as Avenger, Blitzkrieg and Earthrod your role was that of lead guitarist. So weren’t you apprehensive when faced with the possibility of singing with Fist?
Glenn S. Howes: Yes! Absolutely, yes. I mean I had been singing for quite a while, actually, on and off…..
Harry, Dave and Norman: Mostly off! [all laugh]
Glenn S. Howes: [grinning] I’d like to say not ‘off key’…but on and off over the years, singing some lead vocals…stuff like that. But as such I never did the ‘frontman’ thing properly.
So obviously doing it with Fist was a major hurdle…..well, not ‘hurdle’…..
Glenn S. Howes: ‘Challenge’, yes. So getting into all that and doing it for the first time was quite an experience as well.
I’d like to go back further in time and ask Dave and Harry…..what do you remember of the very first Fist rehearsals?
Harry Hill: I think the first rehearsals…obviously Keith Satchfield was still in the band…he was the main songwriter then…I remember we had this really good work ethic going. We rehearsed every day and after a couple of weeks we were already on the road…gigging six nights a week.
We played all the social clubs that we could play back then. They were really enjoyable times.
With bands such as Fist, Avenger, Venom, Atomkraft and Raven…amongst many others…Newcastle was a hotbed of the burgeoning Metal scene back in the early 1980s, a fact partly due to Neat Records being based in the city.
But from your own point-of-view, what was the driving force behind the formation of all those bands?
Dave Irwin: I think it was just a very strong area for Heavy Metal in general. The city hall was always sold out whenever bands like Black Sabbath came around. There was just a real concentration of Heavy Metal in the area.
Glenn S. Howes: I think there was a connection between that and the North East being mainly working-class as well. There was a kind of general unhappiness and a need to get out of the general humdrum of life.
I suppose it’s similar to what happened in Birmingham…
[All the band nods in agreement.]
Glenn S. Howes: Yeah, very similar. You know we had the bleakness of the docks, the shipyards…..
Glenn, you’ve played with many bands over the years but I’m curious to know what it was like to work with Brian Ross [Satan, Blitzkrieg, Avenger] since your paths have often crossed in the past…..
Glenn S. Howes: Yes, that’s correct, I’ve worked on and off with him quite a few times over the years. We remain good friends to this day.
Dave, my impression is that you know Cronos [Venom vox/bass player] quite well. Of course Cronos did the artwork of the first single and you have even played with Venom for a short while….
Dave Irwin: It was just for a week and a half [that I played with Venom] in a tour of North America.
How did that come about?
Dave Irwin: Jeff…Mantas…was ill and they couldn’t cancel the tour. So I helped them out. It was a good experience. Really good. I had two days to learn everything!
Oh, and there was also Les Cheetham, of Avenger, as the other guitarist.
[Around 2001, with Keith Satchfield at the helm, Fist got back together and in 2005 released the album “Storm”. Satchfield was the only member of Fist to have been with the band before its ‘split’ in 1984 so I ask Dave, Harry and Norman how they felt on first hearing that album, without themselves having had any role in the recording of those songs.]
Dave Irwin: I think it was a good album.
Hadn’t you been given an opportunity to be part of that re-incarnation of Fist?
Dave and Harry: No.
Dave Irwin: I wasn’t with it at the time. It was a different band.
And what is Keith Satchfield up these days?
Dave Irwin: I don’t know.
Harry Hill: He’s living in Spain. He’s had a lot of health problems. His main problem occurred when he started having fits and both his arms got ripped out of their sockets and he could only play continuously for a limited period. That was his main problem and he was unable to play again.
Was that the reason why he had been replaced by Glen Coates right after the “Turn The Hell On” debut album [1980/1981]?
Harry Hill: His health issues also included diabetes. He had a lot of health issues and found that he felt too much pain to be able to continue. That was it really.
Norman, I’ve read you’ve got a degree in Medical Microbiology…..
Norman Appleby: That’s correct.
[Rest of band burst out laughing.]
Presumably a high degree of meticulousness would be involved in that field of practice. Would you say the same can be said of yourself as a bass player?
Norman Appleby: No. Not at all.
Harry Hill: He was playing his bass when he was looking at amoebas. [laughs]
Norman Appleby: I’ve just had an interest in medical science ever since I was at school. In fact I’ve got two degrees. [emphases the word ‘two’ while grinning at his bandmates] I’ve got a Bachelor of Arts as well.
[The rest of the band and Norman trade good-humoured insults amidst much mirth.]
Glenn, amongst the many bands you’ve played with were also the Tygers Of Pan Tang. How did that come about?
Glenn S. Howes: Ah yeah…..essentially that came about when I was on a plane on my way to America to play with Blitzkrieg. Jess Cox, who was the original singer with the Tygers Of Pan Tang, wanted John Sykes [Thin Lizzy, Badlands, Whitesnake] to do it and he basically refused to do it.
So I came off and got in there as quick as I could. [laughs] Essentially I auditioned and got the job.
Harry Hill: ‘Cause nobody else wanted it. [more laughter]
A few straightforward questions now…..I’d like to name some Fist songs and have you describe the song’s lyrics in one phrase…..
Dave Irwin: Being on the dole in the 1980s.
Dave, Norman and Harry: Sex.
Nothing to do with the dark arts, therefore!
Harry Hill: Bikers….Hell’s Angels. That’s all about being a biker.
Do you still see yourself as an outcast… a ‘one percenter’?
Harry Hill: Nah. I was a biker for years…..I used to keep crashing my bike all the time.
Harry Hill: I think Satchfield came up with the lyrics but it was definitely about being a biker. That’s what it was about.
The main question I’m sure all Fist fans want answered is whether the band will be releasing an album’s worth of new material later this year. So, what ‘s the answer to that question, guys?
All the band, in unison: Yes, we will be.
Harry Hill: The new songs are already written, in fact.
And will you be playing any of the new songs tonight?
Harry Hill: No, because we want to know how it goes first.
Can you tell me more about the new songs. I mean since Glenn joined, I’m sure they’re going to sound a bit different….
Harry Hill: Probably the same sort of style. Hopefully in a few months’ time, we’ll get the album out. That would be really good.
Norman Appleby: I think at the moment people want to hear the old stuff. Once we put the album out, yes, of course we’ll play the new songs.
I suppose right now the main thing you’re trying to say is: ‘Hey, we’re back.’ Once that message goes through you’ll start focusing on the new stuff.
If I may, I’d like to look back at your previous albums. In my opinion, the songwriting of “Back With A Vengeance” was much better than “Turn The Hell On”.
So what were your feelings back then, when the merits of “Back With A Vengeance” weren’t translating into greater successes for the band?
Norman Appleby: I think we were just glad to be in amongst all the other big bands but unfortunately we got let down management-wise.
Do you feel bitter about it?
Norman Appleby: Not ‘bitter’….it’s just….I think things happen for a reason, I suppose. It just wasn’t meant to be at the time. But this time it is.
Harry Hill: We just had a short break of 25 years, that’s all. [rest of band laughs]
Recently we played in Belgium with The Rods. And I remember The Rods from Newcastle years ago. The Rods were probably about the same level [of fame] as Fist at the time but what they did was they kept going. And that was our mistake, we should have just kept going, and kept going, and kept going.
So you’re saying you shouldn’t have given up?
Harry Hill: That’s right, yes. Exactly that. Unfortunately life gets in the way when you’re trying to play in a Rock band. Now The Rods are touring consistently, making reasonable money and unfortunately we’re not in that position as yet. But we’re going to try and catch up now.
Norman Appleby: We had sort of drifted away.
You’re mentioning life on the road….I was speaking with Dave earlier about these festivals sprouting all over the place that focus specifically on old-school British Metal. I wonder what your views are on these festivals. Do you think they’re merely nostalgia trips or do you view them as great opportunities to get the band back in the limelight?
Dave Irwin: I think they’re great.
Harry Hill: Yes, I think they’re fantastic. It’s great for us to go abroad and play for an audience half our age and they know all the words of our songs. I mean we don’t even know the fookin’ words. [Everyone laughs]
Glenn S. Howes: I will try and disprove that tonight!
Harry Hill: It’s as if everything has come full circle and the focus is all back on Rock music. Personally I’m very proud to have been a part of the NWOBHM because you cannot really recapture its feeling unless you were there at the time.
Glenn S. Howes: Maybe they just want to see the band before we all die. [Once more, laughter all around.]
Harry Hill: Not until Tuesday, hopefully.
Why? What’s happening on Tuesday?
Glenn S. Howes: He’s going to die on Tuesday! [laughs]
[Harry says something I couldn’t really understand…..something to do with an insurance renewal I think…..sometimes the Geordie accent is quite a challenge to decipher for an outsider!]
I don’t know about lives but this interview is approaching its end. Is there anything you’d like to say to whoever is going to read it?
Dave Irwin: I would just say thank you for the continued support all over the years.
Harry Hill: Yes, totally great. The general reaction we’ve been getting from the fans is absolutely fantastic.
Glenn S. Howes: Without the fans we wouldn’t be where we are, doing what we do.
Norman Appleby: Yeah, and we hope to see many of them in the summer.
Glenn S. Howes: We’ve already got some festivals confirmed and we hope to confirm more as time goes along.
I guess fans just have to log onto the band website or your FaceBook page to get the latest on that.
Norman Appleby: And we’re very approachable. So if you see us at any gig or festival we play, do come and tell us hello.
Harry Hill: And if you’ve got a passion for amoebas, Norman is the one to speak to. [Laughter all around.]
Norman Appleby: Sod off!
So you don’t agree that bands should be detached from the fans in order to promote some sort of Rock star aura….
All the band: No, definitely not.
Harry Hill: When you look back at the Zeppelins and the Purples and then of course when the Punk movement came along…which, incidentally, I hate with a vengeance…the whole idea was that the bands were approachable. I think that as the likes of Iron Maiden came out of the Punk movement, the new wave of Rock bands were totally approachable. For example just before this interview, I met a guy wearing a Fist t-shirt…..I had never met him before but I shook his hand and thanked him for buying the t-shirt.
With a youthful mischievousness and an eagerness to succeed, my interviewees are really a likeable bunch. Add to that a deep-rooted legacy and an abundance of talent and a new album from Fist becomes a thoroughly enticing proposition.
© 2016 Chris Galea
(With thanks to Paulina Leyton for letting us use some of her photos.)