Black Sabbath Ruined My Life (2005)

I was asked to write something for Tony Iommi’s website, back in 2005. This is what I came up with. The title is, of course, tongue in cheek, and taken from an official Sabbath tour shirt.


Confessions of a Black Sabbath fan: Episode One
by Hugh Gilmour

It was my first (and I was praying my last) Glastonbury mudfest when I first saw the words “BLACK SABBATH RUINED MY LIFE” emblazoned on the front of a t-shirt of a passing punter. Sipping lemon cider from a waxed paper cup whilst sitting outside a beer tent, it made me laugh out loud, but also made me wish that the Sabbs were on the bill, as it would have definitely cheered my mud-soaked-self up. I managed to pick up one of those shirts at the following year’s Ozzfest in Milton Keynes. It seemed to sum up so much to me and my life since discovering heavy metal at around the age of eleven, twenty five years ago. Sure, Black Sabbath can’t be held solely responsible for ruining my life, as motörhead, Iron Maiden and Kerrang! magazine must also have some accountability in this. I was once stopped by some female hick in one of Las Vegas’s grimier casinos, and asked “Did they really ruin yer life? They ruined mah life too,” in a drawn out Southern drawl that wasn’t looking for a hint of irony. They may have ruined my life, for without them I might have wanted to look for a “normal” career; in the military (as I grew up near Sandhurst), the police or as a lawyer; but I don’t have a single regret for that ruination. I got into heavy metal as much for their sordidly enticing sleeves of flaming skulls, murderous ghouls, viking warlords and robots spraying fluid at each other on lifts as the music held within. I wanted a part of that, to create that art, and if nobody would let me, I’d form a band so they’d have to let me paint my own LP covers.

In 1980 I loved both Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne with equal meausre, but I have to confess that at the age of eleven I didn’t know that Ozzy had even been in Black Sabbath. I didn’t know that Ronnie James Dio had been in Rainbow either. I loved that first Blizzard Of Ozz album, even if the things I’d heard about the singer from my school friends sounded quite horrific. That riff at the start of ‘I Don’t Know’ just sounded like the …FUTURE! Equally, I loved ‘Heaven And Hell’, with it’s sleeve featuring three suspended angels, smoking and playing cards. And I loved the music. It was heavy, but it was melodic with quiet passages that wouldn’t annoy my mother. I vividly recall hearing their new single, ‘Turn Up The Night’ played on Radio 1′s Top 40 chart run down just before setting off for school one morning, and it just sounded amazing. I went out and bought it on a seven inch picture disc that featured the silhouette of a dancing devil. This is one aspect that today’s young music novice sadly misses; that sense of discovery found by hearing the snatch of a track on the radio, seeing a short clip on Top Of The Pops, or scouring the bargain bins of Our Price for reduced compilation LPs so you could learn more about specific bands and what they sounded like without having to spend all of your pocket money on one LP by a single band only to find it was a complete duffer. Axe Attack Volume Two featured a Black Sabbath song called ‘Die Young’, but confusingly the singer didn’t look or sound like the guy on Axe Attack Volume One, which featured three minutes of the most vital fuzz-pedalled-rock music in the form of ‘Paranoid’. More frustratingly, just when I got a sense of line-ups and chronology, Dio left and was replaced by Ian Gillan from Gillan, and apparently he used to be in a band called Deep Purple that those blokes from Rainbow (them again) used to be in to. Today, a quick browse through the web will give you all the information you need, complete with sound samples or downloads, sent to your computer or to your phone.

My mum bought me a guitar, a Korean Kay electric, managing to make a god awful racket through my record player before it one day stopped working. I also trawled the Record & Tape Exchange in Camden Town for Sabbath LPs every time we visited my grandmother in Chalk Farm, just down the road. I bought a big, black double compilation, as it seemed like value for money, even if I found that dead looking girl holding a cross whilst laying in a coffin a bit too morbid. I detuned my trusty Kay guitar, and strummed along to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Children Of the Grave. How good or bad a sleeve looked was a very big deciding factor in my purchases. I thought Technical Ecstasy looked amazing. I even even appreciated its clean white border, and this was copied into my sketchbook. I bought the self-titled debut LP at Elephant Records in Aldershot, took it home on a dark and gloomy autumn Saturday afternoon, and played it as loud as my hi-fi would allow. My mother genuinely thought there was a thunder storm outside, which alone justified my purchase. There was a spooky girl on the grainy cover. And although it was a relatively simple image, it seemed to hold so much drama and hidden menace.

Years later, after training to become an illustrator, I returned to my studies in the hope of finding a more stable career as a graphic designer. After a year, I was confident enough to turn an Apple Macintosh on and off, but little else, but when I saw an advert in a local paper with a vacancy for a Mac Operator at a record label in nearby Chessington, I figured I had little to lose by applying. It looked like a slightly more appealing summer job than the one I had lined up in Surbiton’s Victoria Wine off license (liquor store). The record label was Castle Communications PLC, a company that specialised in issuing deleted catalogue on the still relatively new compact disc, previously only available on 12” vinyl LP. Castle Communications PLC had shrewdly picked up the supposedly dead catalogues of labels such as Bronze and Pye, and had a knack for presenting classic albums such as Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic, and make them look as cheap as possible. After a second interview with the company, they offered me a job with five grand more that I had asked for. I quit my degree and have never looked back. Just two months prior to joining Castle Communications PLC, I had finally completed my Black Sabbath collection on compact disc with the purchase of Live At Last, bought for a fiver at Plymouth’s indoor market. Castle Communications PLC controlled the rights to that live album, as well as Black Sabbath’s first six studio albums, from that self titled debut up to 1975′s Sabotage, as well as their attendant compilation albums (another speciality of the company). They looked awful. In all fairness, packaging for CD was still in its infancy. LPs usually had a single sleeve, and maybe an inner bag or lyric sheet, and if you were really lucky, a gatefold sleeve. The scope for how to package CD in their little jewel cases had yet to be realised, and although the music market has always been competitive, it didn’t feel in any way as tight and competitive as it does today. If truth be told, I joined Castle Communications PLC solely because they had Black Sabbath’s catalogue AND it looked awful, but specifically because it looked awful, one day it would have to be re-done more sensitively, restoring the integrity of the original packaging and artwork, and maybe adding extra elements if possible, and I was going to make sure I was there when it happened. Black Sabbath weren’t considered even remotely “cool” in 1993. Their post Ozzy albums had been a mixed bunch from the great to the not so great, but I for one was grateful that one man, Tony Iommi, was insistent on keeping that flame alive during those 16 or 17 Ozzy-less years, making sure that the Black Sabbath name was headlining major venues each year.

So 2005 is something of an anniversary for me, as it was ten years ago that I started work on re-vamping and restoring the artwork to Black Sabbath’s first 15 albums, including lyrics and remastered audio. I insisted they include sleeve notes, as I saw it was important for each album to have some sense of perspective and some sense of history, but when I was told that there was no budget to commission liner notes I just went ahead and wrote them myself, each approved (by fax, in those pre-email days) by the respective managers, and supplemented by photos courtesy of Ross Halfin and Chris Walter. Product managers happily pointed out that I’d probably have been happy to have done it for free (steady!), but I can’t deny that it was a labour of love. It was imperative to me to ensure each was packaged in a way that myself as a fan would want to buy, as we were expecting the punters to go out and buy CDs that they already owned (which included myself). I was incredibly pleased to hear from one of the sales team that several Our Price record stores had complained that the booklets were regularly stolen. Not the CDs themselves; the booklets. I also felt that heavy metal, and Sabbath in particular, were very misunderstood, and a series of compilations CDs and videos featuring skulls, crosses and rosaries, all of which looked more Remembrance Sunday than Prince Of Darkness, did little to dispell that notion. It was important for me to package their compilations in a way that a Joy Division fan might appreciate.

The first Sabbath albums I bought were scratchy, dusty LPs found in the basement of the Camden Record & Tape Exchange, complete with their swirly inner bags, or images of space ships on their Vertigo labels. Those re-issues I worked on back in 1995 are what many kids, in Europe and Japan, at least, are their first experience of these important records, and I was proud to have been a small part of that.

Art Of British Rock

Art Of British Rock (Elephant 2010)

Celebrating a half century of design in posters, flyers and advertising ephemera, The Art of British Rock highlights the UK’s distinct contribution to rock’n’roll graphics. From custom designed posters for provincial ballrooms in the late 50s to the computer-generated images of today, rock music illustration has reflected – and influenced – crucial changes in popular visual art. With classic examples (some unseen for many years) of key styles including pop art, psychedelic illustration, punk ‘do-it-yourself’ and digital imaging, the book documents the stunning visual style of British rock from the era of the Beatles and Rolling Stones to the present-day art of indie guitar bands, cutting-edge soloists and contemporary clubland. Arranged chronologically, The Art of British Rock features more than 350 posters ranging from the work of anonymous artists to internationally acclaimed designers including the Hapshash group in the 60s, Hipgnosis and Barney Bubbles in the 70s, and Malcolm Garrett, Peter Saville and Vaughan Oliver in the 80s and beyond. All are the subject of special features within each chapter. Concluding with the mix of retro and state-of-the-art design that has characterised rock poster illustration in the first decade of the 21st century, this is a unique account of more than 50 years of British rock’n’roll art.

Sons Of Merrick complete new album

Tight Nerves and Suavity

Sons Of Merrick have completed work on their new album, ‘Of English Execution’, which has been slated for a late Spring 2012 release.

Sons Of Merrick sign to Hydrant Music, Japan

London’s Sons Of Merrick in association with Sounds Of Caligula recordings are proud to announce that they have signed with Hydrant Music/EMI Music Japan exclusively for Japan. The first release from this deal will be a new, enhanced edition of Sons Of Merrick’s debut, “Tight Nerves & Suavity”, expanded with no less that 9 exclusive bonus tracks, including the whole of their highly limited, original demo-album, 2007’s “Hip Cracking Spell”. Originally released in Europe by Sounds Of Caligula, “Tight Nerves & Suavity” was described by Kerrang! as “Deliciously heavy… recalls Sabbath or Zep at their most monstrously grandiose and commanding”, where as Metal Hammer reckoned their “deep, dark grooves will be lapped up by disciples of Down, Kyuss and COC””, and by Big Cheese as a “loads of meaty riffing, thundering percussion, and slimy, greasy melodies”. After playing them on his BBC6 radio show, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson reckoned Sons Of Merrick were, “severely mentally impaired and damaged people making this kind of music… however, it was rather good!” As Hydrant Music is the Japanese home for Rival Sons, Bigelf, Three Inches Of Blood and The Union, the band that Metal Hammer described as dealing in “huge great dirty slabs of southern rock with the lascivious swagger of Mötley Crüe and the true grit of Pantera”, they seem to have found a perfect label for their music to be represented in Japan. Sons Of Merrick are currently putting the finishing touches to their sophomore release, “Of English Execution”, which is being readied for a European release during the first half of 2012. With titles such as ‘Bag of Ants’, ‘Hideously Taloned’ and ‘Bowels of Britain’, “Of English Execution” is shaping up to be a worthy follow up. For more sounds, pics and news of gigs in 2012, go to:

The Union at No3 in Classic Rock’s Best of 2011

The Union 'Siren's Song' (Payola 2011)

Luke Morley’s band The Union’s latest album ‘Siren’s Song’ has been listed No3 Best Album of 2011 in Classic Rock’s end of year poll.

Whitesnake’s Forevermore No7 Best Album in Classic Rock poll

Whitesnake 'Forevermore' (2011)

Whitesnake’s Forevermore album was listed No7 Best Album of 2011 in Classic Rock’s end of year poll.

Pig Iron: Pig Iron IV

Pig Iron 'Blues+Power=Destiny' (Sounds Of Caligula 2010)

Pig Iron are currently working on a new album, their fourth, entitled “Pig Iron: IV”. New songs such as ‘The Tide Within’, ‘Carve Your Name’ and ‘Horseshoes And Hand Grenades’ have already become mainstays in their live set.

Marillion Early Stages box set

Marillion 'Early Stages' (EMI 2008)

Early Stages is a collection of previously unreleased live recordings by Marillion featuring the iconic original front man, Fish. This band approved release features new artwork from Mark Wilkinson, and liner notes from Fish himself.