Tuesday 24 March 2009

Birmingham, Home of Metal


Last month myself and Ben Rayner went to Birmingham for the Home of Metal exhibition on behalf of Vice. Here are two of the moreinteresting interviews...

Mike Clement


So, you’re Tony Iommi’s guitar tech?
Yes, I’ve been Tony’s guitar tech for 18 years now.

How’ve the 18 years treated you?
They’ve gone rather fast, he’s a good guy to work for, professional.

How many guitars do you need to prep for tours?
Not very many, he tends to use one main guitar and we have a backup. When we’re out with Ozzy, there’s two different tunings so there’s a main and a backup – that’s four guitars. One for the dressing room, tour bus – you’re looking at a maximum of half a dozen, really.

Any horror stories?
Yes (pauses then laughs).

Oh okay. I’ve always wondered, he plays left handed, but he’s missing the tips of his right hand (his fretting hand).
That’s right, it happened in an industrial accident on his last day at work before he left to become a professional musician.

Do you think that has added to the dynamics of his guitar playing?
It has, with hindsight, yes. He was obviously a very gifted guitar player before that and he genuinely thought it was the end of his playing days. Must’ve been absolutely devastating to him, totally.

So he still has the tips in the tins?
He still has the tips in the tins, there’s two tins, one is spare which I keep in my toolkit and the main tin he keeps with him at all times.

Are they now prosthetically made, because originally they were made out of Fairy Liquid bottles?
That’s right, in true Blue Peter style. What we do now is we get two different types made by the artificial limb centre at a hospital in Birmingham. One is what’s called a plastic glove, which is basically a plastic hand and he cuts the finger tips off them. If we get half a dozen hands he’ll find three or four suitable tips. Unfortunately they get brittle with age, so we have to keep looking for new ones. The other type is made out of fibreglass, which he sticks a thin strip of leather on and works oil and talcum powder into it so it has a very smooth surface and that’s what gives him the ability to do those very fast hammer-ons.

Does he use particularly light strings?
He uses extremely light strings, very light. With his accident he had to be very careful as his fingertips, as they are now, are very sensitive. So that was another problem, he couldn’t find guitar strings marketed as guitar strings that were light enough so he had to use banjo strings and select his own sets. The normal gauge we use onstage for the D# tuning is 8-8-11-18-24-32.

Woah. Fuck me, that IS light, he gets such a thick sound though.
A lot of it is actual technique. He does have a very unique technique of playing, I swear some of the bass notes coming out are lower than the guitar can generate and I think, ‘How the hell is he doing that?’ We developed some pick-ups with Gibson a few years ago that were electrically a copy of some originals made in Birmingham by John Birch and John Diggins that are unique in their internal structure…

What do you think of the event anyway?
It’s great. Really, really good. Not a day goes by where I’m not doing something related to Tony’s work.

Nick Bullen


You’re one of the originators of grindcore are you not?
I suppose so yeah.

How did that all come around?
Logically really I suppose, just out of an interest in, eh - trying to express what you were hearing in your head really.

Was it easy in Birmingham, at the time, to find people of similar interests?
Not really no. One of things about liking the more extreme forms of heavy metal and punk was that in Britain at the time they were looked down upon as being less important musically. That is why people who were involved in the early grindcore movement were in very disparate cities across the country but all knew each other, because you would have to write to each other. We were just lucky in Birmingham that three of us had the same idea.

So what were you listening to at the time that you thought wasn’t quite the sound you were after?
The more extreme end of punk that developed in the early 80’s in Britain. What was originally called hardcore thrash, before that term was taken on by metal. Discharge etc. Simultaneously we were listening to a lot of the faster hardcore from America: Poison Idea, United Mutation, groups in Canada like The Neo’s. Bands that were being influenced by Discharge in Scandinavia and to an extent some of the earlier Japanese groups. Also, we were simultaneously listening to more extreme developments in metal, I suppose the bigger groups like Metallica, groups like Death and then groups from Europe like Celtic Frost. You had to search far and wide to try and find music like that. We liked industrial music, we also liked post-punk, particularly bands like Killing Joke.

How do you think the scene developed over the years, how to look at it now?

It seems very healthy, people seem to get very inspired by it. It inspires them to be creative, inspires them to do something they’d like to do which is positive. Obviously it’s solidified into a genre to some extent, which means that sometimes the element of experimentalism and more abstract creativity gets lost.

How do feel about the exhibition?
It’s quite intriguing. I think the project itself, the Home of Metal project, is a very good project, because it combines popular art forms like music with social anthropology and hopefully by involving people it allows them to be as primitive as they want to be. I feel that if you kind of extend different strands of music out to people it’s a positive thing, particularly perhaps for Birmingham where I think to some extent the development of its creativity, in terms of the history of music, largely gets overlooked. I think that’s one thing about pre-grindcore, in the three or four years leading up to it, we had no interest in London, it never produced anything relevant to us.

Do you still follow the scene?
I follow the music, yeah, yeah.

Is there anything still coming out of Birmingham?
I wouldn’t know so much about Birmingham, I’m not a 100%, I guess Anaal Nathrack etc.

You follow any other genres of metal?

Predominantly grindcore because that’s my interest in metal really. I’ve got a little bit of a soft spot for doom metal. I was really interested in St.Vitus when they first appeared back in the 80’s. A lot of metal is predicated on musicianship and virtuosity, and I’ve no interest in that kind of approach. I think it’s a little bit restrictive as well because it means that people can’t express themselves freely, when I first started I only had one string on my bass.

To read the full article click here and here.

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