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Rob Grain (Samson crew member) Interview
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So, tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you first got in touch with Paul. In which ways have you been working with the band (both officially and unofficially)?.
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How long have you got? I was interested in Music from quite an early age, played in the school Brass Band and that sort of thing. I dabbled with guitar and Bass for a while, but then lost the tip of my left middle finger, so that sort of put a stop to that. Maybe if had been playing a bit longer, or known what I know now, I would have adapted.Instead I then carried on with drums for a while.
I probably didn’t get into Rock music until I went to secondary school, which would have been around 1969. Mountain were a big favourite of mine, along with Grand Funk Railroad, Free, Cream, Trapeze, and other bands that tended to improvise, rather than just play set arrangements. I didn’t really get too much into Hendrix until a bit later on, although now he is one of the artists that I admire and collect most, maybe I just didn’t understand him at that age.
I first saw Paul when he was in Refugee, probably about 1973. I was about 15 at the time, and I had a friend whose older brother had a car, and used to occasionally take us to places like the Black Prince at Bexley, and various other London pubs that had live bands. I can’t really remember anything about it, other than that I saw Refugee during the period that Paul was with them. The first time that I actually met Paul, was at the Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone, during 1976. He was supporting Woody Woodmanseys “U” Boat. What struck me was this guitarist whose sound and style was a mixture of Leslie West, Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, and all of the people I admired. He also played a Mountain song (Waiting to take you away). I managed to have a chat with him afterwards and bought him a beer (training for later years), and we both seemed to like the same bands, and were both quite surprised the the other one had heard of this “new” American band called ZZ Top. I saw Paul do Various supports at the Leas Cliff Hall, to people such as Whitesnake, and the Steve Gibbons Band. Funnily enough, this turned out to be the very first gig with Chris and Clive under the name Samson. As the years went by, I always seemed to manage to be around for the important occasions.
I lived in Gravesend, in Kent, and my local pub was the Prince of Wales, and there was also the Red Lion at Northfleet a mile or so out of town, and places like the Nags Head at Strood, about five miles the other way.
By about 1978, these venues were well established on the circuit for the up and coming bands that later became known as the NWOBHM. At any weekend, within 5 miles of home, I could see bands such as Samson, Hotline (featuring Gerry Sherwin, Dave Colwell, and Pete Jupp), The Shots, Die Laughing, Denigh, and Triarchy. Occasionally, some of the bands would get a night off and just go to the POW to see other bands. I had spoken to Paul about The Shots, I think more about the guitarist than anything, but anyway I was in there on the night that Paul and Barry turned up when they were playing. The bands used to play on an area of floor, there was no stage, and to get to the toilets you had to walk through the middle of the band. Bruce made the most of this, and after having a conversation with one of the local Hells Angels, where he was given answers along the lines of “Bollocks” and “Up your Kilt”, he picked on Barry. By the way, this was also my first meeting with Barry. Paul introduced this big guy with a mane of hair and a Kiss jacket to me as Barry, the new drummer. Although I knew Paul quite well by then, it was more as a fan than anything else. I started to travel around a bit more to see them where possible.
By 1979, I was spending time assisting Terry Lee, the Promoter at the Red Lion, rigging and wiring up the PA system, and eventually learning my way round the mixing desk. The Red Lion was a larger venue than the Prince of Wales, and consequently the stature of the bands was larger, with bands like Vardis, Diamond Head, and Ethel the Frog all playing there. There was also a stage outside in the garden, and Samson played some spectacular shows there with lots of pyros. Because I was quite small, and able to wriggle through the crowds and behind the PA, I became known as Rob the Ferret! I was also subject to some severe ribbing about my apparent hero worship of Paul and all things Samson.
By the time the press cottoned on to what was going on with the so-called NWOBHM, it had really been going on for quite a while, and whilst bands like Samson, Angelwitch and Maiden were getting the press as the new thing, at the Red Lion we were seeing bands like Trespass, Marquis de Sade, Overkill, Chinatown, Denigh, Spider and Truffle, who eventually became more or less 2nd wave. In about 1980, I became roadie/soundman/lightingman etc for a band called English Rogues, which was based around bassist Gerry Sherwin. We were doing between 4 and 6 gigs a week, and I was still doing a day job. I caught up with Paul on the phone occasionally, and we did a couple of supports to Samson at the Marquee, (as well as supports to UFO, Twisted Sister, Budgie, Dirty Strangers, and other bands of that stature), but didn’t get to see Samson as much as I was always working. Barry sat in on drums with English Rogues a couple of times, and Paul would occasionally turn up to jam at local gigs. At one such gig, (Crayford Town Hall) all of Samson turned up after a rehearsal, and took over for 3 songs. This was not long before Barry left, and I think that Turn out the Lights, and Firing line were 2 of the songs played. Paul used to use Gerry on bass for the odd pub jam that he did, which meant that he used Gerrys PA, so I was usually involved. One such gig at the Red Lion was billed as “Little Rob ever so proudly presents Paul Samson and Friends”, I still have the poster somewhere. I was silly enough to retaliate by pointing out to the guy that designed the poster that he had made a mistake on the logo. When we arrived on the night, the Poster was changed to read that I was a bit of a sad hero worshipper, who knew more about the band than the guys in the band did. I was really angry at first, but eventually saw the funny side.
I was not particularly surprised when the Band parted company with Barry, or Bruce for that matter. Barry wanted to take the stage show and theatrics further, whereby Paul and Chris felt that it was all distracting from the music. The direction that the new material written after Shock Tactics was taking wasn\'t really what Bruce wanted to do, and I thought that his ideas for this material were rather lacklustre, especially if you listen to Nicky Moores later interpretations of the same songs. Funnily enough, one of the last things that they did with Bruce was a song called The Biggest Lay in Town, which was about a bunch of groupies that used to hang around, with names like Spaniel Tits, The Elephant Seal, and Nutcracker. Bruce later used the same lyrics with Maiden on a song called Nodding Donkey Blues.
When Samson played Reading Festival a month or so after Mel Gaynor joined, they were the best band of the day. Considering it was only about the 3rd gig with this line-up they tore the place apart. By the way, If you get to see the video footage, I am holding one end of the Samson banner in the audience. I was asked to collect it from the management office on the way to the festival, and on arrival realised that It needed 2 poles. I found a hacksaw somewhere, and after converting a farmers 5 bar gate into a 3 bar gate, managed to have a particularly heavy banner to wave about.
It was quite obvious that Mel Gaynor wasn\'t going to stay for long, he was doing too many sessions and other things, but at least he stayed around for long enough to record the two live tracks on the Losing My Grip 12\". His playing on Tomorrow or Yesterday is nothing short of phenomenal. With the recruitment of Nicky, the band certainly became world class, and I saw them give so-called 1st Division bands like Whitesnake and Gary Moore a run for their money on tour. It was a shame that Polydor wouldn\'t give them the support that they deserved. Paul (along with the rest of the band) worked his butt off in search of major success, but the politics and business problems always seemed to be against him.
I was called by Paul and put on “stand by” for a roadies job a few times, but nothing ever came of it, although the 1984 Gary Moore tour was on/off right up until the last few days. In between gigs with English Rogues, I toured with Thunderstick and his new band, Sledgehammer (a tour and a tv broadcast from the Marquee), the Q Tips (post Paul Young), and gigs with various other bands of the time, as well as work for various P.A and lighting companies and promoters. The first “Proper” gig that I did as Pauls roadie was with McCoy in 1984, at the Marquee. I couldn’t do some of Pauls Empire gigs in 1986 ( by now I was drummer for English Rogues, a bit of promotion!), so consequently missed out on the Iron Maiden tour. I lost touch with Paul for a couple of years after 1987, although I kept an eye on what he was up to. We never fell out, just that I was bringing up a family, he was putting a version of Samson together, and we just sort of lost touch.
Paul Samson and Rob Grain
We got back in touch again in about 1991. He was gigging with Gerry and Tony Tuohy in Paul Samsons Rogues. I got a call from Gerry saying that they were playing in my area, and so I turned up at the gig. Paul came over with a big hug and we had a catch up on what we had both been up to, and from then on we remained best mates. I was unable to do the tour for the 1993 album as I was going through a divorce and stuff, but from around 1996 onwards, when he came back from the American tour with Richard Black, I was his permanent roadie. We did a couple of London gigs supporting Pat Travers, one with Chris Aylmer on bass, the other with Ian Ellis. Then there were some European dates with Ian Ellis and Terry Wright, and then Paul formed Metallic Blue. The drummer for the first tour was to have been Gerry Guzman from the Richard Black project, but when the plane landed 2 days before the start of the tour, he wasn’t on it. There was no question of cancelling the tour, so Paul rang around to see who he could find. He was recommended a young guy called Scott Higham, who couldn’t make it until the next day, so I was told that I may have to be the tour drummer, so spent the day rehearsing. I found Paul very interesting to work with as a musician on that day. He could be very intimidating, but I had known him long enough for that not to be a problem. He knew exactly what he wanted from his fellow musicians, but would also listen to suggestions. Once had had his little say about the bass drum pattern not fitting, he would compliment the snare work, and manage to bring the best out in you. I felt I left the room twice the drummer I was when I walked in. Needless to say, Scott turned up the next day and blew us all away. After the tour, Paul recommended him to Kevin Heybourne for the Angelwitch gig, and always expressed a desire to work with him again. After this came the Samson reformation, which I was very heavily involved in, but that is a story on its own.
You were also playing in a band of your own at this time. How did you look upon the whole thing?
I was not really playing that seriously for most of this time. I appeared to be a better Roadie than I was a Drummer, so I really went where I was in demand. It certainly meant I did bigger gigs!
What did you think of the other NWOBHM-bands? Was it the movement it was made out to be or was it just a media thing? Were the Samson guys ever \"hanging out\" with guys from the other bands regularly?
As far as the leading lights of the NWOBHM went, there weren’t many bands that I was over keen on. I was still listening to Mountain, ZZ Top, Cream etc all through that time. I felt (and still do) that Iron Maiden were so successful because of the enormous self belief of Steve Harris, the best management in the business, and the use of the Eddie image. Musically they have never really been my thing. I preferred the bands that were not really NWOBHM, but managed to get drawn into it, i.e. UFO, Gillan, Budgie, Rage (Nutz), etc. There were a lot of small-time bands, particularly in my area, that I felt were much better than some of the bands that made it. There was a certain camaraderie, members of Samson would go and see other bands, like Praying Mantis and Grand Prix, and there was also that competitive edge, who got the biggest crowd at the Marquee, that sort of thing. Gigs at the Marquee were always fun, there were usually as many people from rival bands in the audience as there were fans. Certainly, the media made everybody aware of it, and I can recall Paul telling people, even up to the gigs in 2000, that although Geoff Barton gave it the first press coverage, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place without Neal Kaye, and he is the one who should be given most of the credit for it all taking off. \'
How well did you get to know the other guys in the band and other people he worked with, and are you in touch with any of the old members today?
I got to know all of the members of Samson quite well, and obviously some of Paul’s friends from other bands. Paul looked upon everyone in the Samson circle as family. There are “business” things still to sort out, so we all stay in touch. Nicky and I send each other offensive text messages here and there, and I speak to Ian Ellis now and again. I am currently helping Chris Aylmer with his Dr Ice project, which I will plug here if that’s ok. Chris had to put the idea on hold a year or so ago, when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Last year, he had surgery to remove his voice box. He wanted to play again, but wasn’t sure how he would cope physically, so I put him in touch with a guitarist called Chris Evans, and offered to sit in on drums for a rehearsal. We had a blow a couple of days ago, 4 hours of running through old Samson stuff, and some of Chris’s Dr Ice material, and the pair of them gelled together well. Chris was fine physically, so the next step will be another rehearsal, and writing some more original material. I don’t know at this stage what will happen in the drumming department, we will have to wait and see. Chris has some excellent material, and I would love to see him playing live again. Thunderstick and I live quite close together, and I see him socially quite often, and I also speak to Billy Fleming about once a month.
You are probably the one who has best insight into what Paul (both in Samson and \"solo\") did over the years. We know he saved a lot of stuff, recordings of shows etc... Would you like to tell us a bit about what there is lying about in the archives? Who has the rights to Paul\'s recordings? What do you think will happen to this collection? Are there any plans for doing anything with them? If you could decide, is there anything you\'d like to see released? What do you think of the Castle/Sanctuary re-issues that were released some years ago? Will the subsequent albums be released in a similar fashion, with never before seen pics of the band and extra material?
There is quite a collection of recordings, but as far as releases go I wouldn’t like to say. The main priority as far as myself and Paul’s family are concerned, is Brand New Day. I can’t really comment much about it at the moment, but I am sure that the sleeve notes will answer any questions regarding the delays. To put the record straight, the line up features Paul, Nicky, Billy Fleming on Drums, Ian Ellis on Bass/Backing vocals, and John McCoy on Bass. The touring band would have been Paul, Nicky, Ian and Billy.
The other thing on the priority list is Paul’s book, which is the story of Samson from 77 to 85, compiled from day to day diaries, but which also covers what some of the other NWOBHM bands were up to at that time. There are some hilarious stories in there, and it is an accurate insight into the day to day goings on of an up and coming band. There is also the album that he recorded in Chicago with The Richard Black Project which will hopefully come out at a later date. Other than that, there are bits and pieces here and there, but with all of this stuff you have to look at why it wasn\'t released at the time, and does it maintain the standard of previous releases. Whatever, the new album is the priority.
Regarding the Castle/Sanctuary stuff, at least there were sensible sleeve notes and unreleased things on there. The Air Raid issues just showed a total lack of respect. The sound wasn’t very good, the sleevenotes were poor to non-existent, and there were spelling mistakes on the sleeves. Someone should have had their butt kicked for those releases.
The lack of cd release of “Don’t Get Mad Get Even” on cd was most disappointing. In my opinion, this was the best Samson album. The record company in the US were supposed to release this cd straight after “Before the Storm” in 2002, but for some reason never put it out. Paul’s sleeve notes on the Before the Storm mention it, but I really don’t know why they didn’t release it. I know that Paul had approved the masters and the artwork. A wasted opportunity, as far as I am concerned. Especially as the two live Mel Gaynor tracks from the 12\" single would have been on there, along with some live tracks from Mildenhall 82.
Paul Samson and Rob Grain, October 2000
\"Not gilcup\" (which is supposed to be written on the run-off groove of one Samson album) is a Monty Python Reference. Given Bruce\'s often quoted story on how he got the nick name Bruce Bruce in Samson there seems to have been a lot of pythonisms in the band. Would this be something typical of the jargon in the band? How come a certain member would be called \"Hurst\"? Were there a lot of nick names?
Ha ha, Splendid. Yes, the Python humour was most certainly prevalent, but then again so were things like Spike Milligan, and the Marx Bros. Every band has its own humour and develop its own sayings and expressions. A friend of mine used to comment that if he came round and I was on the phone to Paul, it was like another language.
Most members got nicknames. I was christened ”Hives” because Hives was the butler from a Laurel and Hardy sketch, and I was the bands Butler. Most people had more than one name, depending if they were in favour or not. I\'m sure that nobody would thank me if I was to quote them here, but they are all in Paul’s Book.
Bruce’s version of how he got the name actually differs from Paul’s. According to Paul’s, the singer was known as Bruce, although unbeknown to the others at the time, this was his middle name, and his real name was Paul. When Paul asked him what was his middle name, he truthfully replied ”Bruce”, so Paul thought that his name was Bruce Bruce Dickinson.
Of course, every new member was referred to as ”New Bruce” from the Python sketch, so maybe this is where Bruce’s version came from. Hurst was one of Pete Jupp’s nicknames. After his first gig, someone said ”I thought Hurst played well” (another Python quote) and it stuck.
In Iron Maiden\'s Early Days DVD Rod Smallwood mentions something about Samson \"fucking\" with Maiden and that he therefore had something against them. Is this anything you know of or would want tell us about?
In the early days, there was obviously a bit of rivalry between all of the bands, who were all trying to get the same gigs, record deals, management etc. I wasn’t directly involved in those days, so I can\'t really say much. There are certainly some things in Paul’s book that may give you a better answer.
How did Paul feel about that the band in some ways ended up in the background of Bruce and his career with Maiden? In a way it seems like Samson never got the credit for being one of the first important acts of the whole NWOBHM thing? Or did it feel like Samson didn\'t really belong under the NWOBHM-banner? Was Paul ever frustrated or even bitter about the trouble that seemed to be following the band? What are your thoughts on this? Do you think they have got the recognition they deserve?
I certainly don’t think that the band got anywhere near the recognition, or success that they deserved. Unfortunately there always seemed to be Management and Legal hassles, although these never affected the music. I never saw the band put on a bad show, and they certainly gave Uriah Heep, Robin Trower, Blackfoot, Gary Moore, Whitesnake and Rainbow a run for their money on tour.
Look at the two Reading festivals. In 1980 they were probably overshadowed by the stunning Pat Travers set that followed them, but in 1981 they were the strongest band of the day. Have you heard the recording of the 1999 Tokyo show? Samson were the only one-guitar line up of the day, yet had the biggest sound. I have just watched the video of the Wacken gig from 2000, and although the Nicky/Sticky line up didn’t really work, the power is still there. Paul really played his heart out on that one.
I don’t really think that they were ever “In the shadow of Maiden”, as the two bands were doing totally different things once Bruce had joined Maiden. As I said before, I feel that the 2 albums that Samson did for Polydor, plus Shock Tactics and Live at Reading, were 4 of the strongest albums to have come from the NWOBHM period.
The line up with Thunderstick was certainly different to what most of the other bands of the time were doing. He bought in influences from people like Frank Zappa, Van der Graaf Generator, and Gong. Maybe the general mayhem of the stage show overshadowed the music a bit in the live situation, but the material was certainly strong and diverse. Shock Tactics should be up there amongst the best metal albums ever. The band certainly came of age with Nicky Moore. The 2 albums that they recorded with this line up were well on a par with what people like Whitesnake were doing, and would have been huge worldwide if the record company had been behind them.
The stuff that Paul did with later line-ups certainly seems to get overlooked. The \"And there it is\" album ( The \"1988\" cd) is probably one of the best AOR albums of all time, and Refugee has some of his best ever material on it too, as does 1993. The material that Paul, Chris and Sticky recorded in 1990, some of which was released on the Past, Present and Future cd, stands up alongside the stuff on Head on and Shock Tactics.
Paul believed in himself, and always gave his best. He also always surrounded himself with excellent musicians. He probably could have joined someone else’s band and become a household name, but he always wanted to do it on his terms. My advice to people would be to ignore all of the Bullshit that you read on the web, and listen to the music, then maybe then you will appreciate how good a musician and songwriter he was. Regarding the comment I saw on the web that said Paul would have been nothing without Bruce, I think that the facts show that it is more likely the other way around.
I find it particularly irritating that all over the web, and in books, you find articles that insinuate that Samson was Bruce’s band before he joined Maiden, and that Paul Samson would have been nothing without Bruce, that Samson were nothing more than one of Iron Maidens support bands, and that Samson were not serious musicians. I am sure that Bruce must have found it equally irritating. To get the record straight, Samson were one of, if not the, first NWOBHM bands to get a record deal. They had had 2 singles released with Clive Burr on drums prior to Thunderstick joining, a third single with Thunderstick on drums, and the Survivors album recorded, all prior to Bruce joining. Bruce was given a credit on the album, purely because he joined the band just prior to the tour to support it. The only times that Samson appeared together with Maiden was on the Heavy Metal Crusade tour, and a couple of festivals. (Reading, and Stafford Bingley Hall.) Maiden were above Samson on the festival billings, but you can’t really call that a support. The Heavy Metal Crusade was actually bankrolled by Samson’s management, and consequently they were the headline act. There was a bit of situation (possibly fuelled by Neal Kaye) at one point, which may be the thing that gets mentioned in the new Maiden dvd, and the two bands agreed that they would not do any London shows on the same billing.
Nicky Moore was actually in Samson for twice as long as Bruce. The band played in more countries with this line-up, to larger audiences, and sold more records. In my opinion, this line up was musically a class above the Bruce line up.
Whilst on the subject of the web, Paul asked me to look after the official site a couple of months before he passed away. I am in the process of building a new site, which will have much more Samson info on it than the current one. The one thing that I am very conscious of, is maintaining accuracy. The one problem with the web, is that people read something on one web site, then tend to go away and put their own interpretation of it on their site, or on someone’s forum, so all accuracy goes out of the window. Thunderstick’s image must be one of the best examples of this. The mask that he wore was black cotton, and he used black make-up around his eyes and mouth. It was just visually a Spiderman-type face. Unfortunately, around about this time, a guy in England started molesting women, whilst wearing a leather hood with the word \"Rapist\" on it. Suddenly, the press picked up on this, and referred to Sticky as the drummer with the rapists mask, then along came the web, and now he is referred to on most sites as \"the Drummer with the leather rapists mask\". Can you imagine playing the drums for 90 minutes with a leather mask on? Give me a break ! Anyway, look at Slipknot, he was 20 years ahead of them Image wise.
What are you currently up to?
I have various things on the go at the moment. I am currently rebuilding Paul’s website, www.paulsamson.co.uk although I am running well behind schedule as usual. The new one will have much more Samson info, a page on each ex member, more info on his previous bands, some unseen video clips, and info on some of his little known projects such as music for a film by Richard LaPlante, meetings with Steven Seagal, his very short term membership of a well known Southern Boogie band from Jacksonville, Florida, and some stuff on Metallic Blue, This Way Up, and his ZZ Top tribute band, ZZ Bottom. I also need to carry out an overhaul and update of Thunderstick’s website www.thunderstick.co.uk
. On the music front, I have been working as Roadie to Bernie Torme\' since about 2000, and have recently helped him relocate his studio. I have got involved with Denigh, a NWOBHM band who I knew back in the Red Lion days. I am assisting them with the mixing and release of a live album recorded in 1984, and possibly some live shows. There is also Chris Aylmer’s Dr Ice project, so I certainly have plenty to do. On a final note, I would just like to say that even though it is over 2 years since Paul passed away, I still miss him terribly, and I am really pleased that people like yourself, and Izuru Hashimoto in Japan, have taken the trouble to compile websites where people can find out who Paul was, and how important a part he played in the lives and careers of many. To anybody who is reading this, listen to his music, read the book when it comes out, and appreciate the legacy that he has left behind.