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Drummer Thunderstick made his name with his mask and cage, recording several albums with NWoBHM band Samson. He had previously played with Iron Maiden, and swapped places with then Samson drummer Clive Burr.

The mask wearing caust notoriety and controvesy with a well publicised rapist at the time wearing a similar mask.

Solo projects and other work have kept Thunderstick busy, including two Samson reformations. The latter, in 2000, featured probably the scariest solo spot ever, when he emerged from the cage to abuse a doll. Sadly, since then, both Paul Samson and longtime Samson bassist Chris Aylmer have succumbed to cancer.

With his solo work due on CD sometime soon, Thunderstick took time out to chat to GRTR.

What are you up to now?

I am currently involved in the local songwriting consortium, we write for computer games, jingles and basically anything we can sell – musical prostitutes! Not exactly high profile but it pays the bills. I also give drumming lessons.

Any involvement with the NWoBHM 30th anniversary?

Ah yes, the 30th Anniversary. It has both sweet and sour connotations for me; mainly for the fact both Paul and Chris are no longer here so there will be no true Samson Anniversary. However, I have been approached by the ‘Keep-It True’ Festival, taking place in Germany in April to make an appearance. I will be doing this assisted by a band called Roxxcalibur who are learning a couple of Samson tracks from the albums. I gather that they have already sold out, so I will don the mask once more. Also, I have been approached by numerous people, such as yourself, to do interviews about the early days.

Can we expect to see your solo album (+ EP) on CD sometime?

I would very much like to release all recorded Thunderstick material on CD. Have been playing with the various mixes and tapes to try and make it sound a little more up to date – watch this space.

Didn't you record a second album that was never released?

Yes, the second album was entitled 'Don’t touch I’ll scream'. A couple of tracks have found their way onto compilation albums a few years back, but I still have the mainstay of the album completely unheard. I think that this was possibly the best material the band ever recorded, with everybody firing on all six. The material I know is strong and could hold its own in today’s musical environment. So, yes, I am quite keen to try and get it out there.

How did you start drumming? Influences? Early bands?

I started drumming behind a real drumkit because my parents decided that they liked their furniture too much so therefore it was better for me to sit behind a kit rather than a dining table. When I was 9 I was collecting for a garage sale for my uncle, and somebody threw out a pair of military drumsticks.

I had always been interested in music, rather than football at school so when my friends were out playing I was in there listening to music, and it was always the type of music my parents hated. The more they hated it the more that I thought I am on the 'right track'. So, anyway, drumsticks got thrown out, they never made it to the garage sale, I kept them for myself and started….. At the age of 9 I got my first drumkit.

Influences? Far too many to list but I will mention the essential ones. From an early age I was like a sponge and absorbed anything that I found fascinating and musically challenging, whether it be because of the sheer power that it generated, or the complexity in which it was played – all kinds of influences.

These would be, in no particular order, Frank Zappa, Brian Eno, Heavy Metal Kids, Alice Cooper, The Tubes, Van Der Graaf Generator, Gong, Hendrix, the list goes on. As I said previously, these are all held in such high esteem because of their various technical abilities and the sheer enjoyment projected through their talent.

Rumour has it you didn't last very long in Iron Maiden. Any stories from back then?

Rumour is such a powerful force. It can either work for, or against, I am not really sure how its worked for me. There are a lot of truths behind my time with Iron Maiden. If anyone who reads Wikepedia wants to believe that I fell asleep during the course of a gig whilst playing with them, then its true! HOWEVER, as I remember it my time with Iron Maiden was both pleasurable and enjoyable.

The reason I left was the band were going through a transient stage trying desperately to find themselves. Steve couldn’t find the formula, and let's make no mistake, it was always Steve’s band. He was very directional in what he wanted. He would come to my house, me behind the kit, he with his bass and go through the rhythm parts. That was it. That was the way that Steve worked.

The material that we were working on was the material that eventually made it onto the first album. For me, it all fell apart when Steve was toying with the idea of going back to college, back to his technical drawing (I wonder if he ever did??!!).

People were coming and going within the band and it no longer held anything special for me; I should imagine I played in the band for about 8 months. We rehearsed a lot and did a couple of gigs….. What time has not recorded however, is…. the fact that, I was asked to rejoin their ranks before Clive Burr was taken on. This was after the Heavy Metal Crusade in which Iron Maiden had supported Samson.

They had had trouble with their then drummer, Dougie Sampson (ironic), and had decided to part company. I received a phone call over the Christmas period 79/80, attended a jam with the band a few days after Christmas, did the proposed single 'Running Free' with them and was asked to rejoin.

I spent the whole of the Christmas period deliberating but decided that due to my Thunderstick image taking off (recent front cover of Sounds) of which Iron Maiden wanted none of, and the fact that I was due to go back into the studios with Samson to record 'Head On', decided that I had taken a different direction, Steve Harris agreed. Imagine my surprise on finding out that the drummer that had been offered the job was none other than Clive Burr. Clive obviously being Samson’s original drummer!

What's the story behind "Thunderburst", recorded almost simultaneously by Samson and Iron Maiden (the latter as 'Ides Of March')

I came up with the drum pattern that did that constant rolling thing.. I would have ideas and Steve would then transpose them onto bass/guitar, because I don’t play guitar. It was the same with Samson…. I am unable to pick up a guitar and show them my ideas.

I have to sit there and …. 'doo doo doo dah dah dah, no that’s the wrong note' etc and we would go through it like that. So that’s how it came about. I had a drum pattern and I was trying to explain the chords to go with the drum pattern because the whole theme revolves around that pattern. I think we played it a couple of times with Iron Maiden as an opening track just as an intro, it was a throwaway thing, not really a compete track and it was also part of my drum solo at that time.

The story behind that was after we had recorded 'Head On' with Samson and they (Iron Maiden) had recorded 'Killers', both albums being recording simultaneously in nearby studios, Clive Burr went round to Paul Samson’s house to listen to the new Samson album and in turn to play him the new Killers material.

So Paul put on side 1 and they were 'yeah, great stuff' turned it over and up came the first track side 2: 'Thunderburst'!.... Clive promptly fell off his seat and went 'fuck, that’s the Ides of March'. Paul was 'what the hell are you talking about?'. So anyway, long story short, after Clive had played Paul same track different album, I got summonsed to the EMI offices.

There was Rod Smallwood, Steve Harris and Iron Maiden’s lawyer/solicitor and an EMI representative sitting opposite me. I was on my own. Samson’s then management had seen fit that I didn’t require representation.

It was decided upon that Steve Harris would share 50/50 publishing rights on the Samson version and I would get sweet FA on the Iron Maiden version. Due to the fact that there are no lyrics on either track there is no true 50/50 split required. However on the Samson version there is the singing mask with me going 'aaaahaaaa' in the background, does that substitute vocals? Probably not!!! Does it leave a sour taste in my mouth – you betcha!!

How did you find acting in the Biceps Of Steel video?

It was great fun, enabling me to be a character that wasn’t wearing mask (eg a roadie) with my then brother-in-law doubling as Thunderstick, wearing the mask when we were both in shot at the same time. It was filmed at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park over five days. The close up shots of Thunderstick are me playing in the cage. The band had a great time doing it with plenty of in-band jokes. The result is a highly –kitch piece of promotional fun. What more can I say.

How did the mask and cage come about? Do you feel that the fact the cage didn't fit in some venues was a little Spinal Tap-esque?

I think the cage made its first appearance in the above film. Was then later taken out on tour to promote 'Head On', culminating at Reading festival where Bruce observed that when it was covered over with blackout material it looked like a giant budgie cage. 'Spinal Tap-esque' – I would say so, what do you think???!!! But, it helped me promote the drummer as an animal ideal to the extreme. Let's face it, all drummers should play in cages!

How did your solo band come together? Wasn't there a change of singer between recording and release of the EP?

My solo band was put together purely on the fact that was the direction I was headed. Two driving forces, the absolute love of bands theatrical, eg Tubes, Alice etc. The second, putting a female vocalist at the front of the band as a throwback against the whole masked animal image. Therefore creating to some extent the Beauty and the Beast concept.

Remembering that I had had an amount of grief from the then newly formed Women’s Lib group whilst in Samson because of the mask, them thinking for some reason that it portrayed glorification of rape, so by putting female vocalist at the front and she in turn dealing with subsequent interviews I was dismissing this ridiculous accusation.

Yes there was a change of singer between recording and release of the EP. In fact, by the time that we released the first EP I was on my third singer. First singer, Vinnie Munroe, did live work with the band such as the opening show at the Marquee and subsequent others, however I felt that her voice when being recorded didn’t fit.

Second singer Anna Marie Carmella Borg complete reverse, good recording but lacked stage presentation. Enter third singer, Jodee Valentine, who later recorded both albums and toured with the band. Oh yes, she was at some stage my wife!!!

What did you work on after that?

After Thunderstick nosedived, purely due to lack of finance and not being able to secure the kind of record deal required to financially back a band that was as theatrical and as big in its ideas I went into a studio as a sound engineer/producer doing work with 'Gay Bikers on Acid', 'Bomb Party' and some others.

I recorded and produced Bomb Party’s 'Liberace’s Rising' album and did their live sound. I also toured as a Sound engineer with Steve Marriott (RIP) and Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack in Germany. I then moved into club promotion running two clubs in London.

How did the Samson reformations come about?

Paul Samson and I never lost contact with each other throughout the years and would always talk to each other at least once a week. The reformation came about after the two of us found ourselves in New York at the same time, resulting in us getting an American bass player and playing some gigs on the East Coast.

The Roxy Theatre gig in New York had Ace Frehley jam with us. We came back and started writing material with Chris Aylmer. Years later we found ourselves in Toyko together again and Wakhen Festival.

I co-wrote material on the last album which was to be a Samson album, but sadly ended up as Paul’s swansong. This was released as a solo album which was befitting. I visited and was in contact regularly with Paul throughout his illness and miss him – the ol’ bastard.

What's in the pipeline now?

To stay healthy, continue to enjoy music, continue playing and anything that the future throws at me.

Any message for your fans?

Remember I was there first, Slipknot were still in high school!!! Thank you for being there first time round.


Interview © February 2009 Joe Geesin


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