For those who aren’t familiar with the Battleaxe, the heavy metal band was formed in 1979-1980, at the days when "N.W.O.B.H.M. (New Wave of British Heavy Metal)" movement in UK was growing big rapidly; the term, which was pretty much created and brought to the public by the press - namely by Geoff Barton and Sounds magazine. A plenty of young musicians were hooked on the heavy metal, forming new bands, recording demos, in hopes of settling a record deal with a record label. Greats such as Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, Def Leppard, and Saxon are just a few examples of the early bands, which were considered to belong into the N.W.O.B.H.M. movement; and then... there was Battleaxe.
Battleaxe released their first demo in 1982, and shortly after, two full-length albums during the years 1983-1984: “Burn This Town” and “Power From The Universe”. The band remained active after that, working with new set of demos for the upcoming album, which never came out. Battleaxe didn't put out any official releases after the second album, and in the very late eighties the band pretty much disappeared from the heavy metal scene. Why? Read on! Battleaxe returned to the scene with a new successful heavy metal album in 2014, called “Heavy Metal Sanctuary”, and their next full-length release is currently on its way, though, still long ways to be recorded.
Mick Percy joined the band some time after the release of the second full-length album, “Power From The Universe” (1984), and has been in the band ever after, even though the band went through the “silent stage” around the years 1990-2010. The following interview made me personally discover many new things about Battleaxe's past, which I wasn’t aware of - which many of you mightn't know about, either. I found making this interview very interesting, and had a good time reading Mick’s answers, so I hope you enjoy reading it, as well. The reason I do an interviews such as this, is because I DON'T know many of the stories of the past of these old school heavy metal bands and musicians, and I'm eager to hear those stories, and share them, for the eighties was so fascinating era for heavy metal. The following interview takes us around the good old day of heavy metal, to the hard times of the second half of the eighties, to the current day and future plans, with Mick Percy; many thanks for answering the questions!
Now, without further ado – let’s get on with the interview; ladies and gentlemen, Mick Percy of Battleaxe!
~~~THE INTERVIEW WITH BATTLEAXE GUITARIST MICK PERCY~~~
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): Many thanks for taking your time to do this interview. Firstly, please tell us shortly about yourself, and about your role as a guitarist in Battleaxe? When did you first learn to play the guitar?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): I started playing guitar in my early teens in bands with school friends. My first proper electric guitar was a left handed Watkins Rapier and a very old Selmer valve amp. It had an earth shaking sound when cranked up! Thus my interest in heavier music was forged at that time. My" role" in Battleaxe goes way beyond that of just guitarist. Having been with the lads for nearly 32 years! We have been thru quite a lot together: playing, writing, recording, rehearsing, TRAVELLING, fixing gear etc. We think a lot alike. We're a band of brothers!
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): What influences you to continue making music, particularly heavy metal, after so many years?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): For me, Battleaxe’s music is my favourite style of Heavy Rock/Metal.
It’s because, when we get together, it’s like a time machine transporting us back to our earlier years!
There is, quite simply, no other experience in the world quite like getting in a room or on stage with Battleaxe. Imagine, plugging in to a Marshall stack, and Brian will shout turn it up Mick!
His bass is loud tight and thumping. The drums are like a Nuclear explosion! Dave's powerful vocals! So we kick into "Ready to Deliver” or “Chopper Attack” and suddenly, there’s an “Earthquake”! It's exciting stuff for us, as well as for the crowd! So, that's what keeps us all going.
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): Let’s go back in time a bit, at first. According to information that I’ve gathered (from the albums themselves, metal-archives.com, “The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia” the fine book by Malc MacMillan). – it seems that you became a member of Battleaxe after the first two full-length albums had been released (“Burn This Town” (1983), “Power From the Universe” (1984)) – and you first appeared with the band at “Nightmare Zone” EP recordings, which took place around 1987 (the EP which remained unreleased, until as late as 2005, Sound King Entertains records label)
Formerly, Battleaxe had only one guitarist, Steve Hardy, who you replaced at the time, along with another new guitarist John Stormont (ex-Spartan Warrior).
What’s the story behind you joining the ranks of Battleaxe back in the day? How did you become in touch with the band, and ended up joining the line-up after the release of “Power From The Universe” (1984) album? Did you play a guitar in another band before joining Battleaxe’s ranks?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): Good question. I guess I was a young, hungry up and coming guitarist just like lots of lads back then. I knew loads of musos and used to jam and gig around alot at a semi pro level. I joined a punk band when i was about 14 but soon realised I wanted to get into something more heavy rock as I loved BLACK SABBATH, MOTORHEAD, OZZY and AC/DC. I tried unsuccessfully to form a band like that. No one wanted to do it. Then I discovered there was only one band in town doing that sort of stuff BATTLEAXE!
I used to love seeing Battleaxe at Sunderland Mayfair back then. They were brilliant and Steve Hardy was an amazing guitarist. I had no idea what was about to happen in the coming months!
I actually auditioned and joined the band a couple of months after Steve left the band in 1984.
Steve abruptly left after he completed the Saxon UK tour of the same year. This is where it gets a bit wacky! So I'm sitting in my local pub on a Friday Rock Night when a good old friend of mine walks in; he is a guitarist called STEVE HARDY (no relation BY THE WAY!), “Hi Mick I've just got back from London!” He proceeds to tell me this story,
“You never guess what happened to me last week!” I'm like, “go on dude?” He continues, “I was walking down the street carrying my guitar, when this car pulls up, window winds down and guy shouts out, ’Hey man you look like a rocker!’, Steve nods, ‘Yeah’, and the guy says, ‘How'd you like to earn £50 quid? Come to London and do a photo session for an album cover?’ Steve says, ‘Yeah man sounds cool. What’s the name of the band?’
‘Battleaxe!’, shouted the guy. ‘Wow, I really like Battleaxe’, said Steve”. So, the man in the car continued, “Yeah, I'm the singer Dave King. Look mate, our guitarist just left the band after a tour and we have a new album coming out (Power From The Universe) and he has refused to go to London for a photo session to complete the art work for the album”. My mate (Steve) said, “Sure man I'll help you out”, and Dave said, “Brilliant you've saved the day! What’s your name again, mate?” “STEVE HARDY”, said my mate. DAVE KING FAINTED! [laughter].
So, “STEVE HARDY NO.2”, after his photo session (he is on front cover of Power From The Universe) auditioned for the band. He is a very fine guitar player, but, alas, his style didn't match the band. So, being a fan of the band myself, knowing “STEVE NO.2” wasn't right, and wanting to expand my own horizons, I quizzed him ruthlessly [laughter]. Turned out Dave ran a shop next to my parents house. So I went and asked Dave for an audition.
I got on great with Dave straight off, then i met Brian and drummer Ian. The band had auditioned dozens of players from all over the north of England. None had worked out!
So i was elated when the lads said “Yeah you can join the band”. I was just 20 years old.
Then the lads explained that they wanted to go to a "two guitar band" to broaden the music spectrum. So eventually I suggested JOHN STORMONT. He came along just after completing a tour with the JESS COX BAND SUPPORTING METALLICA and fitted like a glove thus completing the new lineup!
So we rehearsed, gigged around, and started writing and demo'ing new material. We had a great time gigging and hanging out. There was good chemistry around this time. I think it was Ian's idea to go in the studio at the time in 1987 and record those songs, which were only intended as demos. We realised we were ready to do the next album at this point, so it was around this time FRED PURSER used to come along to rehearsals helping us get ready for the studio. Things continued along at a snail’s pace, until sometime in 1988 when both John and Ian quit the band for personal reasons.
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): How did you feel about the heavy metal scene at the time of your joining to the band, in UK particularly, and how do you feel that Battleaxe did fit in the UK's heavy metal scene those days? Were you given recognition by the press and media; or do you feel you belonged more into the “underground scene”? How difficult was it to get your music "recognized" back in the day?
Do you think that Battleaxe started as being a part of N.W.O.B.H.M (the New Wave of British Heavy Metal) movement; were they a N.W.O.B.H.M. band, per se?
After you started recording for Nightmare Zone EP in 1987, I'd assume, that those were the times, when extreme metal such as thrash, and glam metal were more popular, and it was not long before the big media would start take more interest into soon-to-be-born alternative rock and grunge; was pure heavy metal as such starting to lose it's popularity at this point?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): Battleaxe started as a HEAVY METAL BAND. They never called themselves N.W.O.B.H.M., the press did that! They labeled all new bands with long hair N.W.O.B.H.M. It was real exciting time though, lots of great, fresh sounding new bands. We regarded ourselves a cult band. It really was amazing up to the mid 80's. Then, all of a sudden... I think VAN HALEN and BON JOVI had a lot to do with it! American bands started taking over the scene! To be honest, we really didn't know what to do! It was at this point that the bands sound started to pull in different directions. It wasn't just Battleaxe; lots of bands at this time were basically being forced to modernize their image and music to survive. So it's fair to say, we had internal musical struggles at this time. DEF LEPPARD had took off in the states (an English band with an American sound); you had this whole "hair metal" thing going on, so, now more girls were buying records and going to gigs. So I guess to sum up, we were torn between being a Rock band and Metal band!
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): It's an eternal debate between heavy metal fans, whether N.W.O.B.H.M. is classified as "a movement", or "a sub-genre of heavy metal" (with it's own distinctive musical characteristics); Mick Percy, a quick question: what's your take on N.W.O.B.H.M. issue – a movement or a heavy metal sub-genre?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): A movement! There was too broad a spectrum of bands from Prog to Thrash under the N.W.O.B.H.M. banner.
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): Which bands or genres influenced you personally, as well as Battleaxe’s musical direction as a band, at the time when you were recording “Nightmare Zone” EP in 1987? What direction were you trying to head at those days, and did you have any big future plans for the band? For what reasons wasn't “Nightmare Zone” EP material officially released for a long period of time, either as its own EP, or as a part of a new full-length album, until almost two decades later in 2005?
There’s a rumor that a third full-length album called “Mean Machine” (controversially, in Malc MacMillan’s book “The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia”, the unreleased album was referred as “Metal Edge”) was supposed to be the next release, but it never came out.
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): Ok, It's fair to say, Nightmare Zone was a bunch of demos for the "New" 3rd album that never happened! You can hear it sounds more Rock than Metal, and there were more songs like these. The influences are quite obvious: ACDC, DEF LEPPARD, WHITESNAKE etc.
Remember, these were very different times and music was very much controlled by the media, so we figured we needed to produce a big sounding Rock album like the big bands.
Our good friend FRED PURSER REALLY liked our new stuff at the time and was eager to produce the album. He was building a new state of the art studio which would be ready in a couple of months, which gave us time to write the rest of the songs. Unfortunately, FRED had loads of unexpected delays, and it took a further TWO YEARS to eventually get to record in his newly built studio, in which time JOHN and IAN had lost interest in the band.
Ian agreed to come in and record the drums. We got the rhythm and bass guitars down also.
Everything was sounding great. Fred had the whole album mapped out! Then suddenly, after five weeks in the studio, we ran out of funding and the recordings were shelved! We were gutted!
Obviously, while we were recording, we discussed the album title. "Mean machine" or "Metal Edge" ? [laughter] We had thought of re-recording the song “Mean machine” for this album, and it probably would have been, but LEMMY beat us to it! SO IT WOULD HAVE BEEN “METAL EDGE”!
(Note: "Mean Machine" was also a Motörhead song on their "Orgasmatron" album from 1986 -T.N.)
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): What happened after this? The band went rather silent for a long period of time. Did Battleaxe decide to call it quits in the late eighties, and if so, when exactly was this, and why?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): We NEVER CALLED IT QUITS! Things basically fizzled out when we lost the studio time and ran out of money. Studios were expensive in those days! We were looking at coming up with the best part of £20,000. The record company wouldn't give us any more money! They hadn't even heard it yet! Suddenly, Battleaxe were dinosaurs! Record companies were looking for the next Guns n Roses!
We still got together now and then and played small shows up to 1995 with various line ups!
The music scene for us was now shit. We just got on with other things and waited in the background for it to come back. It took a long time [laughter].
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): Let’s get back to the New Millennium. In 2005, Sound King Entertains records label re-released remastered versions of the two Battleaxe full-length albums, the debut “Burn This Town”, and the second album “Power From The Universe”. Along that, the “Nightmare Zone” EP, which was originally recorded in 1987, where you played the guitar along with John Stormont, saw also the light of day for the first time.
What’s the story behind these releases and “Sound King Entertains” records label? What influenced the band to make the re-releases available at the time?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): I think the new technology had a lot to do with it. The old albums were no longer available. They were available in the Far East on CD and were being bootlegged with shit quality. Websites were springing up with Battleaxe songs on. WE HAD NO CONTROL OVER OUR OWN MUSIC!
Dave realised something had to be done. Sound King entertains is just Dave’s mad sense of humour basically taunting me and Brain to get a reaction from us! There was a renewed interest in the band, so some good quality CD's were now available for both albums, plus the Nightmare Zone was Dave’s way of getting me back in the band [laughter]!
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): After the two full-lengths were re-released, along with the previously unreleased EP in 2005, there was nine years of silence, until you and the lads returned with a brand new album called “Heavy Metal Sanctuary” in 2014. The album was released by a major German heavy metal label called “Steamhammer” (a sub-label of SPV GmbH). I remember reading the news about the upcoming release of "Heavy Metal Sanctuary" many years before the actual release date.
Can you shed any light on, why did it take so many years from the first news about the upcoming album, until it's final release? What influenced you and the rest of the band to return the scene, and start recording for “Heavy Metal Sanctuary”, after several decades of silence? What made you guys feel, that the moment was right?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): Ok, after 2005 and the re-releases, we all started talking again and discussing if we can make the band happen again. I have to admit, I was a bit unsure if it would work or not. So the "Chopper Attack" budget video we made in 2007, got on YouTube, and took off like crazy! We appeared at H.O.A. (Headbangers Open Air) festival in Germany 2010 as well as HARD ROCK HELL and HAMMERFEST shortly after. We’d got the buzz back! So that was when we agreed we wanted to do an album. We had various old recordings lying around and we tried unsuccessfully to repair and re-record stuff over months! We even got the master tapes of "Metal Edge" with a view to completing it, but the tapes were in poor condition and were going to have to be baked in an oven! It was too expensive and too uncertain to go that route. So it was decided start from scratch with a brand new recording. So we started the pre-production around 2010. We had a few personal unexpected delays, and then had to wait until FRED was available. I had recorded all the guitars by mid summer of 2012. We eventually finished the album in FRED PURSERS studio in early 2013. The digital master was immediately sent to SPV! Then, we had to wait for SPV to schedule the release. Yawn. It took forever!
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): Let’s talk a bit about the current state of Battleaxe and your upcoming album; the one that will be your fourth full-length release, and the second after "the return". Tell me about it. Does the album have a title yet? What’s the current state of process with the upcoming album, and how is it coming along?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): Ok, The band is currently "On Hold”. At present there are no upcoming shows or anything for now. Our focus is the fourth album. The song writing nucleas is Me, Dave and Brian. It's going well; the song writing is fresh and exciting. We have about 7 songs so far, 3 songs nearly ready, and lots of extra ideas for songs. So, the idea is to have some bonus material also available as well as at least 10 tracks on the album. They are mostly much longer songs this time. It's too early to give away the title just yet, but, I can tell you that it's going to be a concept album about "the oppression of humanity"! There is an epic track entitled "SLAVES TO THE MACHINE"; IT’S ABOUT 8 MINUTES LONG! It’s quite different to anything we've done before, but still sounds like Battleaxe!
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): What’s the musical direction you’re aiming with the upcoming album; are you planning to continue along the same lines than with its successful predecessor “Heavy Metal Sanctuary”, or are you bringing some changes to the musical style and approach? Is the line-up the same than previously?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): We love the new tracks so far. There's going to be the fastest songs and the slowest songs on here, as well as the heaviest and most metal stuff we've ever done, as well as some great melodic moments. We are certainly pushing our boundaries with this material and we are quite excited about it! There WILL be a change of drummer for this album, plus, there is the possibility of guest musicians also!
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): When can we expect the upcoming album to be released? Have you set any timeline for the recordings and the release, or are things like these yet undecided? Will it be released by “Steamhammer” records label, this time, as well? Any plans for a tour after the album release?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): With this new album project becoming increasingly more complex, the songs are so good, it would be a mistake to rush it out! So yeah you're right. it's undecided at present. It's quite possible for a Steamhammer release. No tour plans until we finish this!
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): Lastly, what do you think about the current state of heavy metal and the scene around it compared to the eighties? Is there something you miss from the “old days”? What are your current favorite (heavy metal, or any other genre) bands that have impressed you lately?
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): I love the fact that a lot of much younger people are now championing and supporting the metal scene with such passion and drive. I don't really listen to much new stuff to be honest. When I do, I find myself listening to more European stuff. I still like all the old school bands though. When I'm writing new riffs, I don't listen to anything. That’s because it gets into your subconscious mind! You end up in danger of accidentally copying someone else’s riffs!
There's a really good up and coming metal band from Sunderland I like: RISEN PROPHECY. Great players with awesome tunes! They’re top lads as well!
Things have changed a heck of a lot. The 80's were great in terms of freedom! I miss, less restrictions and red tape. We could turn it up as loud as we wanted! Set off tons of pyros and smoke effects, strobe lights etc. We used to carry tons of equipment and a wall of Marshalls! In a double decker bus!!! You wouldn't get away with that now! Also, gigs were easier to put on. We had a really wild time!
But, Alas, I suppose things are safer now and better organised [sighs].
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): Mick Percy, any final words you want to add? For the readers, anything. The stage is yours!
Mick Percy (Battleaxe): Music has always been a big part of my life. Joining Battleaxe as a young lad changed my life forever, and opened up possibilities that would not have existed otherwise. I feel very lucky to have played some amazing gigs, met some great people and amazing musicians along the way. Heavy metal is the greatest musical force on the planet, long live METAL \M/.
Tane Norther (Kultmetal.com): Many thanks for the interview Mick Percy. We wish you the best success with the upcoming Battleaxe album; may you and the lads have a great time recording it!
Note: there were a few additional quick questions, which there wasn't time to do at the time; they might be added here afterwards and edited in the text later on. We'll see about that. If so, I'll just add here the date and notification that the interview was updated after the initial publication.
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-kultmetal.com | Tane Norther