After their performance supporting Sabaton at Koko in London, I spoke to Hell's guitarist Andy Sneap in their dressing room. We were then joined by his fellow guitarist, Kev Bower.
Festivalphoto: OK, Hell was around in the early '80s before splitting. What sparked the decision to reform in 2008 after so long?
Andy: Obviously we never really thought we could do it. I'd always wanted to record Hell's material because I grew up listening to them and going to see them, and it wasn't until I bumped into Kev again, it was probably late 2007. We got talking about old times and it made us realise, because he'd seen the studio and he came over to visit me, basically we were just sat in the studio and said it would be great to record some of these songs. All we had were the old demo recordings that we put out as the bonus disc, but I'd been in touch with Tim and Tony constantly so I got the three of them together - it was probably the first time we'd all been together for 20, 25 years, and just for a bit of fun we'd get together on Sundays and start recording a little bit, you know, get the guys playing again, and slowly, over the course of, was it three years?
Kev: Yeah it was three years
Andy: Over the course of three years we ended up with this album together, and it was kind of "what are we going to do with it now?". Obviously we got Dave involved which was a godsend really. I mean we tried to do the album with Martin from Sabbat originally, we did the whole album with him and it just didn't really gel, it didn't sound like Hell, it sounded like another Sabbat album, and I really wanted to keep the identity of Hell right, you know the feel of it, and Dave's got the quirkiness of Dave Halliday's vocals, and that range, that higher Halford, Geddy Lee range when we need it.
Kev: And obviously that theatricality for the live shows...
Andy: Because as he'll tell you, he works in the theatre...
Kev: He'll tell you that over and over.
Andy: It just worked out great and felt really natural didnt it?
Andy: We all get on great, we've been friends for years, so when we do get together and rehearse it really is like an old mans meeting.
Kev: A gentlemans wine drinking club.
Andy: This is quite a nice tipple isn't it?. We're trying each others glasses on to see who's got the worst eyesight.
Kev: Cabernet Sauvignon '96
Andy: What prescription's this?
Andy: So that's how it all came together, and we didn't set ourselves any time limits with the album, we just went at it and three years later we had this album and we went to the labels with it. Initially they were a bit standoffish, and as soon as one label started showing interest then everyone else was jumping on board. We ended up having five labels fighting over us by the end of it, and literally Nuclear Blast came on board at the final hour, it was a Sunday afternoon and the A&R guy was phoning up and begging me after six months earlier I'd offered it on a plate to them.
Kev: We were literally about to sign a deal with Century Media and it was the Sunday night and the phone rang and they said "Don't sign anything".
Andy: In fact in that one week I was phoning you up "Kev, you're not going to believe who just called me now". I think it was Candlelight, Metal Blade, Century media, another small indie one that I hadn't heard of, and Nuclear Blast. Nuclear Blast offered us four times the amount anyone else did, and a really fair deal, did everything that I asked them om the deal, so it was a no-brainer really. I've got to say they've done an absolutely brilliant job, they really have.
Festivalphoto: Was there a temptation to release some of the stuff you recorded with Martin Walkyier on the bonus disc?
Kev: It'll never see the light of day
Andy: It didn't work. Me and Martin, we've got a chequered history, but it's nothing to do with anything like that, it didn't feel like Hell, and I don't think it's right to put something out that doesnt really represent the band properly.
Festivalphoto: You played Bloodstock this year opening the main stage on Sunday. Despite being fairly unknown you ended up as many peoples band of the weekend. Were you surprised by the reception you got?
Andy: We really were yeah. We were kind of shafted on the running times - we got shifted from second on to first on, so that was a bit annoying to start of with, but we just took it in our stride and got set up, did the thing, did what we did and I think it was the stage manager was saying it was the most amount of people for an opening band on the sunday.
Kev: Yeah Rob Bannister who was the compere and does the the introductions and warm-up was saying he'd never seen the arena that rammed on a sunday morning for an opening band, which is incredibly flattering for us, but the response we got was just off the scale really.
Andy: We didn't expect it at all did we?
Kev: No. Bloodstock have got a forum, a very active user forum and you may have seen that we got voted the best performance on the main stage on the Sunday, and we ended up polling more votes than anyone else which is hugely flattering. Again that's on the back of a period of probably four or five months after the album had come out where literally every week there was another five star review appearing, and we've just been awarded "Album of the year" by Sweden Rock magazine. We ended up 6th in the Metal Hammer best of 2011 poll which is not as good as number 1, but when you look at the guys above you, there's Mastodon, Megadeth, Machine Head, Opeth and Anthrax, there's no shame in that really is there.
Andy: It's gone great, I mean we couldn't have wished for it. This time last year, we didn't think we'd even have an album out yet did we?
Kev: As Andy may have already told you, the original plan was just to get together and record the songs properly and maybe do a few CDR's for friends and family, so its...
Andy: It's kind of worked out alright.
Festivalphoto: 2011 has been a busy year for you with festivals and tour dates. Has this been hard to fit in with your producer commitments with other bands?
Andy: A little bit. I'm kind of putting Hell as a little bit of a priority now. We've got the Accept tour out in Europe next year in April, and we've got three or four festivals now?
Kev: There's quite a few. Masters of Rock in Czech republic, Rock Hard in Germany, Hammerfest in Prestatyn. We've also got a couple of small ones that we're headlining, there's Muskelrock in Sweden and one in Denmark called Metal Magic which are kind of 2000 capacity festivals, and it's great to do those as well.
Andy: We've all got day jobs and our normal lives, so it's not like we're 17 years old and can just go off on a bus for three or four months, we can pick and choose. There's a lot of these festivals in the summer now, and something like the Accept tour, you're not going to turn that down. We're in a fortunate position really where we are being offered some decent gigs and we can cherry-pick a little bit.
Festivalphoto: Are you likely to join Accept on stage at some point during the tour - I know you have done before now?
Andy: I don't know - we'll see if they'll have me after doing another album with me.
kev: We've all learnt Balls to the Wall just in case.
Festivalphoto: As you mentioned, you're due to play Hammerfest next year. There are a few other bands from Nottingham on the bill including Lawnmower Deth who you've worked with before.
Andy: Yeah a long time ago. I think it was the second demo I did with them. I could have gone somewhere if I hadn't done that. Actually it's funny, I used to work with Pete, the singer at the square centre studios, he was the main booking agent for the studio. I've known those guys for years. It was actually me and Frazer, the bass player from Sabbat, that put those guys together, beacuse Chris the bass player always used to turn up at Sabbat gigs with Ratt painted on the back of his jacket, and a really bad perm, with Nessy and Pete and Flymo...I don't know if you know, but the original Lawnmower Deth demo was Flymo revving his lawnmower at different revs and just screaming over the top of it, and we thought "we can do better than this", so we put them all together, it was just a joke and they did alright. I actually appeared on Boon, do you remember Boon, the TV show? I appeared on Boon as a member of Lawnmower Deth. So yeah, we've got a chequered history.
Kev: You have with everyone
Andy: I know.
Festivalphoto: Your show is very theatrical - has this always been an aspect of your shows or is it something introduced by David Bower?
Andy: It always was. When they were going in the '80s it was so theatrical, and we're just trying to carry the mystique and the whole vibe of what the band was doing. We just do what we think is right for Hell, we don't think what's current, we're not looking at what's going on, and I think that's the right attitude because it makes it fresh. it's the same with the music, it almost sounds fresher than anything else out there because it hasn't been influenced by anything in the last 20 years.
Festivalphoto: Was the album easy to make as the songs were already written?
Andy: It was actually quite easy because I've listened to these songs for 20 years and I was more familiar with them than with any other album I've done before. Obviously trying to get the funal mix and the final mastering sorted out was a bit painstaking because we put three years of effort into it and by that stage you're pulling your hair out on it, but it wasnt that bad actually. We knew what we wanted to create, so it was alright.
Festivalphoto: For anyone who hasnt heard the album, how would you describe it?
Kev: "Album of the year, Sweden Rock magazine"
Andy: How would I describe it? It hints back to the '80s obviously, there's the Judas Priest and Rush influences in there, you'd say there's Mercyful fate in there as well but that's only because Mercyful fate were around back then and getting influenced by the same sort of bands, these guys got called the British Mercyful fate back then, but we've got comparisons, it's quite riffy and the higher pitch vocals, but there's more of a theatrical element as well.
Kev: I think the other great thing about the album is there's no one single element in what we do, it's very multidimensional and there's a lot of textures on there, and obviously we've talked to lots and lots of guys in the media and lots of fans and it appeals to all sorts of different people on all sorts of different levels because there is so much going on. There's a bit of speed on there, a bit of thrash, a bit of doom, epic symphonic stuff, and there's eleven tracks there, none of which sound remotely like the previous one. So yeah, check it out - it's album of the year, Sweden rock magazine. Number six in the metal hammer list as well.
Festivalphoto: You've got one more show left this year?
Andy: New years eve, yes.
Festivalphoto: what made you decide to do a show on New Years eve?
Andy: Money *laughter from the rest of the band sitting around in the dressing room*
Festivalphoto: Don't beat around the bush
Andy: No I won't. It just seemed like a good idea, because we've been out and about and we wanted to do a Christmas show locally and we just thought New Years Eve would be good - noones ever got anything to do on New Years Eve, well we don't, so we may as well do a gig and have a laugh doing it, so it sort of came to fruition.
Festivalphoto: I see you've actually put special buses on to get fans to and from the gig.
Andy: Yeah it's going to be an all-round good night I think, with a few surprises.
Festivalphoto: Have you started thinking about a second album yet?
Andy: Oh yeah, we've got it mapped out havent't we?
Kev: Yeah it's mapped out and at this New Years Eve gig we're playing three sneak preview songs. We've got a pretty good idea where we want to go with it.
Festivalphoto: Ok that's great, thank's very much for your time.