Cumbria's Hammerhead (not to be confused with Dutch or American namesakes) were one of the most talented minor acts to evolve from the N.W.O.B.H.M. movement of the late 1970's. They came together at the turn of the decade after the demise of various small-time acts such as Judas, Bitter Harvest, and 8 Hertz. After a few tentative appearances on the regional club scene during 1981, the group first came to public attention via a well-received demo tape. Although their signature number "Time Will Tell" even made it into one or two national Heavy Metal Charts and local response was quite encouraging, labels like Neat, HM Records or Guardian never got in contact with the band.
However, according to Buzz Elliot, it was never an option for them to move to London in search of a professional career as musicians. In an interview with Iron Pages from Germany he said the following: "In those days, just like the 60's and the 70's, it was always the done thing to move to London if you wanted to have any chance of success, but I don't think that we were ever the type of people to make such a life changing step as this, especially as most of us had jobs and family to consider, so I don't think this was ever a possibility, I have a few friends who have tried doing this without any luck, the only band from our area that I can think of who went to London to seek fame and fortune successfully, were It Bites in the 1980's. They had some great songs, and were so tight, it would have been hard for any A & R man to ignore them!"
Instead of moving to the capital, they published a self-produced single called "Time Will Tell" on their own label Linden Sounds in 1981 (a huge collector's item today). The circulation of this single was very limited: "There were only 1,000 'Time Will Tell' singles ever made, most of these records were sold at our gigs, given to pub juke boxes, or used to promote the band, but as time moved on, eventually there were a only couple of hundred left, and by the 1990's no one was really interested in them any more, I think Brian may have sold off the last batch of them to someone. When I asked Brian about this, he confirmed that they had been melted down into Guinness (his words, not mine!). This left us with no more than a couple of singles each and most of these have now been sold on ebay towards our studio fund." Press feedback for the single was very limited and (not surprisingly) quite biased: "I am not sure what year the Kerrang! magazine actually started, and I have never read it on a regular basis, so as far as I am aware, I don't think we were ever in it, I know from some of the e-mails that I have received that we have been mentioned in a number of small foreign fanzines, one review in particular, was of our 'Time Will Tell' single by Bernie Marsden from Whitesnake, who said that we were 'obvious, predictable and forgettable'. I would maybe have accepted this criticism for the song 'Time Will Tell' (bearing in mind that it was written intentionally as the end of the night headbang!), but if he had took the time to listen to 'Lonely Man' on the B-Side, I'm sure that none of his words could possibly be used to describe this song, in fact, I think it is the exact opposite of what he said about us, despite what he wrote I am still a big fan of his, and I have always admired his bluesy style. In another review which I think may have been in 'Sounds' Brian's vocals on 'Lonely Man' were described as 'like Paul Rogers on a bad day' which I think was meant to be a criticism, but Brian and myself had a good laugh at that one, as both of us would give anything to sound like Paul Rogers on a bad day!"
Despite being ignored by the mainstream press, Hammerhead contributed the song "Lochinvar" to the compilation "It's Unheard Of" (a highly-collectable piece of vinyl, released on Sane Records in 1984). Not many people know that the track "Lochinvar" actually featured a guest singer by the name of Billy Branch. Buzz Elliot told Matthias Mader: "Billy Branch was always considered to be about the best rock singer in the county during the 1970's and when I first heard him I thought that the tone of his voice, and the style of his singing reminded me slightly of Ozzy Osbourne, he recorded a number of songs with Necromandus in the early 70's, and these were produced by Tony Iommi. Before they were famous, Black Sabbath would often play in our area, in fact they used to play regularly at a place called 'Banklands' which is only just round the corner from where I now live."
Necromandus went on to tour the UK with Sabbath in 1973, their projected album "Orexis Of Death", however, was never released (at least not until the 1990's, when it saw a posthumous CD release on the Audio Archive label, there is also a cool vinyl version out on Black Widow Records from Italy). Buzz Elliot continues: "In 1984 Necromandus drummer Frank Hall had joined the Hammerhead line up, and it was suggested that Billy Branch could be invited into the studio to help out with the vocals, with limited time to prepare things, the only two songs that everyone knew quite well without much rehearsal were 'Don't Look Down' and 'Lochinvar' which was a revamped version of a song from one of Brian Hodgson's previous bands Bitter Harvest."
In 1992, the most well-known composition of Hammerhead, the A-Side of their one and only single "Time Will Tell", appeared on a bootleg CD (supposedly coming from Japan) called "N.W.O.B.H.M. Vol.6". The band got wind of having being exploited in such a blatant way only very much later, when they offered a self-financed version of the "Time Will Tell" CD-R on ebay: "I only discovered that a few of our songs were used on the N.W.O.B.H.M. bootlegs after putting our 'Will To Survive' CD onto ebay, I didn't really expect to sell any of them to be honest, I thought that it may be possible that someone within the vicinity of where we used to play, may be looking out for something, but when the first one sold within a couple of hours in America, I thought it must be a mistake! Thanks to those bootlegs, we've now sold the album in about 15 different countries, so I'm not complaining, It will be interesting to see if any of the other previously unavailable songs on 'Will to Survive' find their way onto any other bootleg compilations in the future."
As you see for yourselves, thanks to modern technology, Hammerhead's carreer was kickstarted again for good! Sonic Age Records from Greece put out the "Time Will Tell" CD with a proper cover and an extra video piece of "Lochinvar" in 2006. The album contains many previously unreleased numbers such as "Ton Of Bricks", "Heavy Handed" or the excellent "Crying As I Fall". Which brings us up to the present and the new studio album "Headonizm", released on High Roller Records (and recorded as Linden Sounds). The limited edition vinyl features new recordings of old compositions such as "I'll Be Back", "Devils Soldier", "Death Lesson" or "Mushrooms & Beer" (probably the best song of them all). Talking of new recordings, although the bulk of the material was written in the mid to late 70's and recorded in 2005, Buzz Elliot takes time to stress that "Headonizm" is anything but a "modern sounding" record: "I understand that some people may feel a touch apprehensive about these type of recordings, and that this is not as good as hearing genuine old versions of a bands songs, I myself have been disappointed on occasion when I have heard modern recordings of a band that I used to love, so with that in mind, we have done absolutely everything possible to ensure that these new recordings sound as if they were brought here in a time machine from the mid 70's, I'm sure that we could have told lies and passed them off as very old rare recordings, that is exactly what we wanted them to sound like, and the initial feedback that I have received so far supports this."
Matthias Mader (Iron Pages)