Original studio reel transfer by Eroc. Mastering and audio restoration by Patrick W. Engel at TEMPLE OF DISHARMONY in February 2020.
King, They Name Is Dragonslayer
Before we started talking, Dragonslayer’s guitarist and founder member Phil Odins pointed out that on previous releases he was aware of inaccuracies in the band’s timeline, and he’s obviously worked hard to try to date as many key events in the bands history. A couple of hours later, as we wrapped up, he said “For me, it’s not much of a story...” I’m sure NWOBHM fans would beg to differ...
Renowned for their sole ‘I Want Your Life’ EP, released in 1984, Dragonslayer trace their roots back to Rochdale in 1978. “I was eighteen at the time, just playing in various bands,” guitarist Phil Odins begins. “We had bits and pieces going on but nothing much was happening. You know how it is when you’re young, you’re just desperate to get something together. I used to go to this club called the Seven Stars in Heywood, one of these clubs where everybody who was into rock music used to hang out, and someone I’d got to know said ‘My mate Steve’ – Steve Morgan – ‘plays bass and he’s into Black Sabbath and all that kind of thing’. Well, that was exactly where I was coming from, Black Sabbath was my thing too. I already knew a drummer from school – although I hadn’t played with him – and that was Gary Walker. So the three of us went away and thought ‘let’s learn a few Black Sabbath songs’. We learned ‘War Pigs’, ‘Paranoid’, ‘NIB’ – I think they were the first ones that we did – and Steve was full-on Black Sabbath. He was Geezer Butler. He was our Geezer Butler. He’d learned the songs inside out. And that’s how we started off. It was great fun. Basically we were almost one of the first tribute bands, if you like, because we were just going to be a covers’ band. We had no big plan. We hadn’t really thought about it that much, we just wanted to play music. Most of our set, the songs that we did, were by Black Sabbath, although we did start doing Judas Priest – ‘Ripper’, ‘Victim Of Changes’ – and Uriah Heep, Bad Company, things like that, later.
“So that was the start of our band, Heavy Thunder. Our first singer was Dave Walker – Gary’s brother. But it wasn’t really happening. We only did one gig as that line-up, and that was Bonfire Night, 1978. It was an outdoor gig at a bonfire at Ashfield Valley, a big old Seventies’ style estate with a recreational area. They’d set marquee tents up and had a DJ, and we were asked if we wanted to play. When the fireworks started, everybody moved away from the stage to watch them and we were just playing on our own! But Dave wasn’t really that into it so he didn’t used to turn up for rehearsals. My girlfriend at the time said she knew somebody called Tony who sang, and this was Tony Manwell. We met with him and, funnily enough, he had the same influences – Black Sabbath, Judas Priest – and he was keen to give it a go. We arranged a rehearsal and he just sang the songs straight off. And he could do the Judas Priest songs properly, that was the other thing: he could hit those high notes. That was the moment when the band really came together. Tony came in around early 1979, and we played our first gig with him in a nightclub in Rochdale called Tiffany’s – quite a decent-sized venue – on 23 September 1980.”
It was after this that they decided to have a crack at writing their own songs. “Tony came up with the start point, a title ‘Calling The Devil’ from some picture he had on his wall. He came up with some lyrics, I came up with a bit of a short riff, we put it together and that was our first song. We got another gig, this time at Rochdale College (another decent-sized venue) on 7 November 1980 with a load of other bands, organised by a guy called Chris Hewitt. He had a local music shop, he was a promoter, and was involved with the band Tractor. Because we knew Chris we got asked if we wanted to go into Cargo Recording Studios and record a song. I mean, we only had one song!” he laughs. “They were putting a compilation album together, and although I didn’t really understand what it was all about back then, somebody wants us to be on a record and that was good enough for us! So we went into Cargo Studios and recorded it. It was a fantastic studio. A lot of people used it: Demon recorded their first album there.”
The compilation was never completed, but the experience galvanised Heavy Thunder into action. “The songs just seemed to flow. A song called ‘Memories’; another one, ‘Teaser’; ‘I’m Alive’; we had a quite a lot of stuff. We’d go into rehearsals with a little tape recorder, set it running, come up with an idea and put it down. And then we’d take it away, Tony would go home and work on the lyric a bit more, I’d come back and add a bit more to it and that’s how we used to write. And we had quite a bit of luck at the beginning, if you like, because we were asked back to Cargo Studios by John Brierley, who was the main engineer and owner. He knew us from that first song and thought we’d be alright to work with as he had a new engineer he was training up, Ian Blackburn, who used to play guitar for Turbo. They were using us so that Ian could practice recording – it suited him, and it suited us too. We recorded five songs, for free, sometime towards the end of 1980. We followed it up with a gig at the Lamplighter Club, and that was 9 December. That was a bit smaller, as a venue, not the size stage we were used to. We were thinking, ‘Oh, looks like things are going downhill here’!
“John liked what we were doing, and so did Ian, and they asked if we wanted to go back in again and re-record a couple of the songs we’d just done. John’s idea was that he would get things up to scratch and approach Heavy Metal Records, who I think they’d done quite a bit of work with, to get us a record deal. We’d got friendly with Ian, meanwhile, and he suggested that we could do with another guitarist and so he actually joined the band before the session.” Phil can’t exactly recall the songs now – “one was ‘Memories’, and possibly ‘I’m Alive’. I can’t believe nobody has any cassette copies of those demos. So much stuff lost!” – but the session was far from easy. “John was pushing us hard in the studio and we weren’t ready for that. And then he mixed it and kind of edited it all up and it was almost like we didn’t even recognise the songs. We weren’t happy at all and although there wasn’t really a falling-out we couldn’t agree and so it got pulled.
“But with Ian on board we’d already written the song ‘The Slayer’ and on 29 January 1981 we did our first gig with him, this time at Rochdale Football Club. Back at the big venues” – another laugh – “and although it was indoors, in the club venue, it was a good size with a big PA. By the time of that gig, we’d changed our name to Slayer. I think we just weren’t so sure about Heavy Thunder any more. Bit of a funny name, and we’d come up with this song ‘The Slayer’... I’ve spoken to Tony about this and we think it was either Colin Richardson – another engineer at Cargo – or Ian who suggested that Slayer would be a better name. It’s one word, it’s there, and it’s metal,” he adds, definitively, and you can’t argue with that. “We all liked it and we went with it. So Rochdale Football Club in January 1981 was the first gig as Slayer.
“There was friction in the band though with Ian coming in. Steve didn’t like it: he wanted us to remain a four-piece like Black Sabbath. Finally, he came to me and said, ‘I’m not happy with this; I’m going.’ And then Gary was the same. All of a sudden it seemed the whole band was coming apart, so it was decided that Ian would have to go.” Naturally, Ian wasn’t happy about this. “He’d only come in as our engineer, but he could see where we were going as a heavy metal band and wanted to be part of it. He felt he could add something to the band. But it didn’t work. So I asked Ian to leave, and then went back to Steve, and then Gary, and said, ‘Look, let’s get back to where we were.’ And that’s what we did. Except now we were Slayer.
“Gary was still unhappy though, he wasn’t turning up for rehearsals, and eventually he decided to leave. He left in 1981, we advertised in the local paper and this guy called up, Bob Carol. He was an excellent drummer. Not a solid drummer; more like Keith Moon. He’d previously worked with Don Estelle and Roy Castle [BBC TV personalities and ‘light entertainers’"> but came in and bashed it about all over the place. We thought, ‘Wow! This is good. This is a step up.’ We got eight songs together – ‘The Slayer’, ‘Run Like Hell’, ‘Blind Terror’, ‘Satan Is Free’, ‘Broken Hearts’, ‘Man In The Dark’, ‘Hammerhead’ and ‘Lady Of The Night’, and went back to Cargo. We couldn’t work with Ian, of course, and we weren’t going to work with John, either, and Colin Richardson was the other engineer there. We didn’t know him that well, but we were happy to work with him, and so we went in and did an eight-track demo in 1982 which became known as ‘The Eight Track Demo’. We did it in two parts. We went in at 6pm one evening – I don’t have an actual date – and we were still there with Colin at 7 in the morning! We did a full overnight session just doing three songs – ‘The Slayer’, ‘Run Like Hell’ and ‘Blind Terror’. This is where it came together. When we look back, this is the point where we feel we had it right.”
Phil shrugs off my comment – that the session must have been punishing – with a laugh. “We were young! And we were supposed to be going to work in the morning, that wasn’t good, but it’s what you do at that age, isn’t it! We were meant to finish about 10pm but Colin was very eager. He knew where he was going, he started at Cargo but he was a very enthusiastic guy, and still is. He’s worked on over a hundred albums. Slipknot, Machine Head, Fear Factory, Carcass, Bullet For My Valentine... He’s done them all, but it was funny that he engineered and mixed ‘The Eight Track Demo’. Anyway, because it went so well we went back in for a second session –another full night – and did the other five songs. We started sending the tape about and did some smaller gigs, pubs around Manchester way, St Helens, the North West, but even though he played well Bob wasn’t really into his metal. He liked it, you know, but he wasn’t overly happy with it, and in the end he said he fancied doing something else. By 1983, might have been late ’82, he’d left.” His replacement was Dave Philips, who joined in early 1983.
Unfortunately, Slayer’s demo didn’t attract any great positive reaction. “I think bands like Motlëy Crüe were creeping in, while we’d been put in with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. We didn’t put us in there, it’s where we got placed. But that was the sort of knock-backs we were getting from labels – ‘well, we’re looking for something more like Motlëy Crüe’.” After debating their next step Slayer decided they needed to get some vinyl out there, so towards the end of 1983 went to Cavalier Studios in Stockport, where they re-recorded ‘Satan Is Free’ and ‘Broken Hearts’ and added a new song for the lead cut on a three-track EP.
“So the A-side was ‘I Want Your Life’ – the new song – and ‘Satan Is Free’, with ‘Broken Hearts’ on the B-side. Cavalier was owned by Lol Cooper, and anything that came out of there he put on his Cavalier label, although of course we were financing it.” The EP was recorded towards the end of 1983, although they didn’t actually get hold of it and start putting it out until January 1984 because the pressing plants were busy over the Christmas period. “Like the demo, we sent it out to record labels and we also had an advert in Kerrang! and started getting letters from people wanting to buy it. We had a thousand of them and got rid of them all. I also got a request from a distribution company in London saying that somebody in Los Angeles had asked for it and wanted fifty copies, so fifty copies went over to LA which is probably where some of the later confusion began...”
The thing about the NWOBHM is that, time and again, just when things look like they’re going right they go wrong. In-between Slayer recording their three songs and the EP being delivered to them, something wholly unforeseen happened. On 3 December 1983 Metal Blade Records unleashed ‘Show No Mercy’, the debut album by a band from Huntingdon Park, California, called Slayer. “I hadn’t even heard of Slayer. But they appeared in Kerrang!, they’ve got this album out, and it’s like ‘Oh, great... We’ve got a thousand copies of a single with ‘Slayer’ on it. This is going to cause problems’.” The band couldn’t afford to scrap the EP, so a solution had to be found. “I don’t know who came up with the bizarre idea, but one of us – I don’t know: maybe it was me! – suggested getting new centre labels printed up and stuck on top of the original.”
Fortunately, the record didn’t have a picture sleeve, and the centre label had all the track information on one side, with just the band name on the other. So, one thousand stuck-on labels later, the situation was largely rectified. “We’d come this far and were beginning to get known and people were aware of us at record labels as Slayer, and we liked it. I think it was Tony that came up with our new name, in relation to the film ‘Dragonslayer’. ‘Dragonslayer sounds just as metal’, he suggested, and yes, it does! It’s still Slayer, but now we’ve got a dragon as well! Even better!” Phil laughs. “So we’re Dragonslayer now, we’ve stuck the labels over the top on the EP and they’re being distributed in LA. It was years later that I realised there was confusion, as a lot of people thought that Slayer had changed their name from Dragonslayer. Somebody asked Kerry King in an interview, ‘I believe you were called Dragonslayer at some point?’ and he replied ‘I’ve heard this story over and over and it’s not true. I don’t know how it’s come about.’
“It is quite funny really! So we changed our name to Dragonslayer in January 1984, although on 8 February we did a final gig as Slayer, back at Tiffany’s, the nightclub in Rochdale, and that was probably one of our most memorable shows. We just stepped it up. We wanted to be doing ‘big’ and we brought in this massive lighting rig and PA – it was like, ‘Nobody turns up with a lighting rig and PA this size. Who are these guys?’ – and over-the-top pyro. We’d gone silly. The Fire Brigade ended up turning up because we’d set some alarms off. It was a wild gig, it was great, and it made people take notice. At this point I’m using two Marshall stacks, two-and-a-half in fact, and Steve was the same, so we had a massive backline, double bass drum kit on a riser, big lights, pyro everywhere, we even had an intro tape for when we came on.
“We carried on writing new songs because we weren’t gigging that much, and this led to our next demo, with ‘Satan’s Soldiers’, ‘The Battle Is On’, ‘Lies In Your Eyes’, ‘Rock With Me’, ‘Dragon Drums’, ‘The Hunger’, and ‘Catch Me’, in 1985. We went back to Cargo Studios, but it was called Suite 16 by then. It had changed hands and everybody had moved on, but we went back there because we knew it. We didn’t want to use their engineers because the guys who were running it were more into the Tony Wilson Manchester sound, so we hired in Phil Ault who’d worked with Marseille [‘Do It The French Way’"> and Twisted Ace [the ‘Firebird’ / ‘I Won’t Surrender’ 7”">. We used him because we’d heard a song by Twisted Ace and thought it sounded pretty good. We didn’t know the rest of his back catalogue – he’d worked with Camel as well, loads of bands – but he came up to Suite 16 and we recorded this seven-track demo.
“It was a difficult session. We were trying to do all these songs over one weekend. We were in there all day on the Saturday, but Tony was struggling with his vocals because the songs were more metal so he was really giving it some, and we had a load of problems with the studio with tape machines breaking down... I think it was all to do with this Satan stuff – they’d never had trouble before, but by the time we got to ‘Satan’s Soldiers’ I remember the tape machine kept stopping and stuff like that. They’d get someone in, get it working, and then as soon as we started again it would stop! On Sunday, we were meant to be finishing off with a mix down but we just weren’t happy so Phil got us into Studio One in Chester. We packed up and all drove over to Chester, same day, and went into Studio One for the mix down. We were there all night. I don’t think Phil had bargained for that! The funny thing is again that the last song that we mixed down, and we were really pushing it for time now, was ‘Satan’s Soldiers’ and just as we were doing it the tape reels actually jumped off the machine. Tape all over the floor. ‘Oh, no, this can’t be happening!’ I remember Phil saying ‘It’s this damn song of yours! There was nothing wrong with Suite 16 – it’s you!’ We managed to salvage it but I’ve got to say that we’ve never really been happy with the sound of that demo. We kind of found our sound with Colin back with the ‘Slayer’, ‘Blind Terror’ stuff. It’s known as the ‘1986 Demo’, by the way,” he adds, “but it was actually recorded in June 1985.”
The band went to London to do the rounds of record companies. “But again, we weren’t getting any great response. All we were hearing was, ‘You should be a bit more like this’... We were getting sick of hearing about Motlëy Crüe but this is what was happening with us. We did a few smaller gigs but by now things weren’t going great and Steve struggled with it. He’d wanted this badly, you know, and he wasn’t in a good place. When we’d gone down to meet the record labels in London, on the day we were going Steve went missing. Nobody knew where he was and we had to go down without him and make excuses. Mental health wasn’t a thing on the agenda back then, and we just didn’t realise... One day Steve just said: ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’ve just got to get this band out of my head.’ We were absolutely gutted because, like I said, he was our Geezer Butler. And a great friend, too.
“We decided to carry on. There was a guy we knew who’d played in a few bands, Voltage and Traxx, called Marc Webb. He joined around late ’86, and we changed direction a bit. We were still a metal band, still doing our thing, but we did change our image and started looking a bit more Motlëy Crüe-y. Marc had brought that in, because he’d already gone that way. He basically was Nikki Sixx! But we didn’t write much stuff; it wasn’t really working, to be honest. We got offered a slot by Ebony Records on one of their compilations. It was ‘Metal Collection Vol. II’ we were on, with a song called ‘Rock The Radio’. It was a new song, slightly different from the dark Satan-y stuff, but we weren’t really happy with it. We weren’t being honest with ourselves. I don’t even have that album – never owned a copy and never really wanted to. After that, we did a few gigs, but there was not much life in it though, and we ended it where we first started. Oddly enough, somebody had set up another festival at Ashfield Valley, a summer one this time, so we had a decent-sized stage again, and a good crowd. We did this gig – the summer of 1987 – it was good, it was fun, but after that there really wasn’t much happening and at that point Dave Philips was offered a spot in another band, and after thinking about another line-up change, me and Tony just got together and said, ‘You know what...’ and that’s where it ended.
“This album will be the last thing for Dragonslayer. Me and Tony have re-recorded a couple of songs – ‘The Battle Is On’ and ‘Rock With Me’ – as they should have been done, but on reflection maybe we should have just left them alone anyway. Leave them the way they were. The way people remember them. Someone did once say, ‘I can’t believe you guys didn’t get signed’. But do I have any regrets? No. I’d go back out and do the same again tomorrow. We played music because we liked it, and I have no regrets. None at all.”
John Tucker April 2020
This album is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Steve Morgan – our Geezer Butler