Christopher Owens opens a page from a rock band diarist.
Forming in 1985, Geordie legends Hellbastard have been kicking against the pricks ever since.
Taking the approach of having socially aware lyrics and thrashing music that bands like Amebix and Crass developed, Hellbastard soon found themselves appealing just as much to the burgeoning thrash scene as much as the anarcho-punks. John Peel was also a fan.
Cookstown guitarist Jude McIlwaine (of Acid Age, and a good friend of mine) played with them from August 2017 to November 2018. Here, he documents his time in the pioneering act when controversy, seemingly, followed them everywhere.
Over to you, Jude …
When I was approached with the idea of writing this piece, I immediately opened up Word with the intentions of documenting my year with the band that gets blamed for inventing "crustcore." Ironically, once said text document was opened, I had a horrendous time trying to work out how to start.
I was in Hellbastard for slightly longer than a year and it was absolutely insane.
All I can do is give an honest recap of the events as they happened and try to do so diplomatically and with the utmost respect for the integrity of a select few "people", I have changed their names.
My band Acid Age was invited to support Hellbastard in Voodoo, Belfast. I eagerly accepted as I had been a casual fan for a long time and, if nothing else, I would get to see Hellbastard for free.
On Friday the 4th of August 2017 (which was the beginning of the HB UK tour), the band played the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Scruff did a spot of fire-breathing without permission from the events organizers (despite a picture of him performing the same stunt being used as advertising for the festival).
The end result saw the band being escorted off-stage, the other bands on the bill being cancelled due to "health and safety violations" and a massive cyber shit-storm from fans and haters alike.
This was only two weeks before Belfast and then, all of a sudden, guitarist Dougy Turnbull and bassist Dave Ingram Jr (R.I.P) announced via Facebook that they were exiting the band.
I figured I could forge ahead and fill in for the guitar slot and Acid Age/Putrefy bassist Jake Martin could play bass for the Belfast gig if Scruff and then drummer John Rushforth (formerly of Gorerotted) could get guys to fill in for the rest of the UK dates.
I contacted Scruff on Facebook and offered our services. He immediately responded that he was unaware that the last two guys had quit … Awkward!
The next day, Scruff mailed me again asking me if we could do the entire tour. Part of me thought "This is a bad idea" but I agreed anyway. The events which took place at Rebellion seemed to give Hellbastard a sort of resurgence in popularity, for better or worse. The publicity of the event would guarantee that over the next two weeks all sorts of people would attend the gigs of the UK tour either to shake Scruff's hand and say "fuck Rebellion" or to get into some sort of altercation. Myself and Jake had 4 days to learn the entire set, 12 songs total.
Then we jumped on a plane to Gatwick to begin the tour. When we got there we were greeted by John Rushforth (Lets call him Rushie as I can't be assed typing full names)
Rushie met us at the airport and he sped off at what felt like 190 miles per hour while some awful pornogrind band was blasting out of the car stereo. About an hour later he slammed on the breaks outside a pub where we ordered breakfast and Rushie had a pint or three.
Me: "Are we meeting Scruff here?"
Rushie: "No, we're meeting at the practice space, it's about an hour away"
So after Rushie stopped at 3 more pubs and downed about 6 more pints we arrived at the practice space. Scruff arrived about an hour after with Pat Carolan the van driver and James the merch guy. We practiced for about an hour and jumped into the van and set off for Chimpyfest (that particular year it was held at T-Chances in Tottenham).
Chimpyfest was an interesting experience. I got to meet Civilized Society and watch Birdflesh both of which were enjoyable experiences before our headline slot.
Though this was after only one gig and it was impossible to answer.
The second gig was at the Frog and Fiddle in Cheltenham.
The venue is beautiful, has an old medieval England decor and a decent sized stage.
That night our support band was a thrash band I was familiar with from YouTube called Suicide Watch. As the time was rolling on, it became evident that this was going to be a quieter night than Chimpyfest. There were about 25 people there however I got to meet a friend I had on Facebook called Emma Stuart who came to meet me and Jake and fortunately I had a spare Acid Age T-shirt in my luggage bag which I gave her to thank her for coming to support us.
Supposedly there was a £500 guarantee on this gig despite the small audience but before we could receive £1 the promoter left and mailed Scruff with an apology stating he had a family emergency. Fair enough, I thought though I'd be lying if I said I had my doubts especially considering there was 25 people there.
The third gig was at Fuel Rock Club in Wales and was run by Sodomized Cadaver drummer Gavin Davis. Upon arrival to Cardiff we were met by a nice lass with bright green hair called Harry. She informed us that it was unlikely that we would see Gavin as it is common for him to book gigs and not show up to meet the bands for various reasons. Needless to say this made us nervous. Our gig was not until the next day and she kindly invited us to stay at her house, all of us apart from Rushie who she knew from a previous occurrence, I am not sure what happened. My guess is he made a drunken pass at her (though I am only speculating) but regardless Rushie slept in the van while the rest of us were fed, watered and taken care of by the very awesome Harry. I still can't put into words how grateful I am to her for her kindness.
The next day we woke up and went out for breakfast and did a bit of exploring. I'd never been to Cardiff before so I went to check out a guitar shop and met Glenn the drummer from the very awesome hardcore band Grand Collapse. He was an absolute gentleman and said he would come and see us play later. I've stayed in touch with him ever since.
About three hours before we were about to play Gavin Davis and his missus did indeed show up which was a relief. He provided a rider of food and beer and we played to a small but awesome audience of about 50 people. It was a very special gig for me, I still don't understand why but the energy felt electric and after we went back to stay at Gavin's house. Thanks Wales, you were awesome!
The next gig was the Underground in Plymouth, a place with nice scenery and weird folks. Funny story ...
I was trying to phone my girlfriend back home and let her know how things were going and walked into the cellar but it had one of those heavy safe doors that slammed shut behind me and locked me in. Jake went looking for me and walked in and I shouted "The Door!" and then it shut behind him as well. We had a chat about how we were enjoying the tour and how we had a good tour party so we decided to stay in Hellbastard in that cellar.
Fast forward about 25 minutes and Scruff walks in.
"Scruff The Door!"
But it slammed behind him too.
Twenty minutes later Rushie walked in and the same thing happened. So there was all 4 members of Hellbastard (as made official in that very cellar) locked in a dark cellar surrounded by cans of beer. As I am sure you guessed we didn't waste any time in helping ourselves and having a good chat about plans for the future of Hellbastard and making stupid videos for fun.
An hour later the bar owner found us and let us out. We missed all the support bands but the crowd was larger than the previous night in Wales. Nowhere near as energetic, however they did seem to enjoy it.
It was also the first time I had the very weird experience of being asked to sign some records that I didn't even play on. I informed the owners and they said they knew so I signed them anyway. Those LP's are worth fuck all now.
The following gig was supposed to be in Ceol Castle in Birmingham but apparently the promoter (who Acid Age had done a gig for two years previously supporting Broken Bones) was informed by the organizers of Rebellion that if he proceeded to let Hellbastard perform that he would be blacklisted and would lose all upcoming punk gigs from bands like Discharge, GBH etc. The gig was cancelled. I suggested to Scruff that we go ahead with the gig and instead use an obvious Hellbastard song title as our band name for that night. We were going to be called "Headed for Internal Darkness" but the promoter didn't like the idea.
I don't blame said promoter for cancelling to be honest. He received a legit threat which would have had an immediate impact on his business. Instead I blame Rebellion.
Fuck Rebellion anyway, it's a cringy weekend warrior fest for midlife crisis punks who are all of a sudden punk as fuck again now that their kids are away to university.
The next gig was at the Hairy Dog in Darby. I hated this gig as the stage was so fucking hot that my our guitars kept warping out of tune and it felt like it was going to continue forever. Pat and James asked me after why I seemed upset and I just told them I wasn't happy with my performance nor the sound. They understood, those two guys are awesome. They packed up my gear for me and told me to grab a beer.
This is a shutout to Carolan transport. Pat is incredibly professional driver and amazing craic but his unsung praises are the fact that he is also a roadie and will help load and pack the van and he even brings a case of spare guitar cables and drum mics incase there are any problems. That's all I remember about this gig.
The next gig was at Bannermans in Edinburgh which is without a doubt my favourite venue in the UK. The food, the staff, the stage, the sound and the accommodation were second to none and best of all we got to play with my old Scottish thrash buddies in Daniel Wax Off. It was absolutely packed and everyone went nuts, this gig was the best of the entire tour. We played flawlessly and the sound was immaculate. After we went out for a piss-up but after about an hour or two myself and D.W.O guitarist Taco decided to go back to the flat above the venue for a jam and a bottle of Buckfast. Excellent! Taco rules!
I wish I could say such nice things about the following gig in Ivory Blacks, Glasgow. However as I am no longer in the band I am happy to do so now because I am doing so of my own free-will and these opinions do not reflect the opinions of the entire band.
If you are reading this and are thirsty or hungry I suggest you get sorted now before you continue reading. I have a lot of bitching to do …
We arrived in Glasgow, a city I am very fond of and I went to a pawn shop and bought a nice guitar. So far so good …
We then went to the venue where we met the promoter, so lets call him "Cactus Jack" due to his uncanny resemblance to the wrestler of the same name. Cactus Jack was off his tits on every kind of substance short of petrol. His girlfriend (we'll call her Cactus Jane) said she would feed us traditional Scottish haggis. This wasn't very fitting as Scruff is a vegetarian and Rushie is a vegan. The rest of us tasted it and it tasted like what I imagine is the flavor when one crosses salty milk and old coins with obese mans armpit. They did however give us a hefty amount of beer.
We watched this absolutely awesome band called Insurgency who were like a cross between early Kreator and Discharge on steroids. I was instantly blown away by the tightness, precision and speed of their set. They also happened to be three of the nicest guys I have ever met and would become future touring buddies of ours.
I instantly offered them a gig back home and they accepted but we'll get to that later. We played an OK set that night, at least I assume so considering I couldn't hear a fucking thing because the monitor was either too loud or too quiet.
After the set we went back to Cactus Jacks gaff where we were meant to be staying …
Cactus Jack and Cactus Jane were blasting thee Worst punk demos I have ever heard in my entire life. Nothing about it was good, bad production I'll overlook if the band is good and indeed sometimes it adds to certain recordings but this, this was the utmost worst quality of music I have ever heard, out of time, out of tune … Everything that can go wrong was wrong with this shit and they were drunk as all hell and absolutely blasting it beyond reason. This is particularly interesting considering we were on the 4th floor of a block of flats.
Rushie asked them "Have you ever got a noise complaint?" and Cactus Jane informed us that they had received an ASBO which is something kids get when they are like 14 not two old punks in their mid 50s. We were exhausted, hungry and fatigued and wanted to crash so Scruff asked where we were staying and Cactus Jack, who was now too wankered to say words looked at his girlfriend, Cactus Jane replied on his behalf saying that we were welcome to crash on the floor of the living room whenever we wanted. I don't have a problem sleeping on the floor but it would have been easier if …
1. They stopped partying and blasting shit punk in said living room
2. The living room wasn't infested with cockroaches (which horrified me)
Myself, Pat and Scruff decided to sleep in the van. The next morning we woke up and despite the fact that we were 4 floors below them, we could hear the shit punk Still blasting and when the rest of our party came down we ordered them to shake off their jackets so that they wouldn't bring any cockroaches into the van. For as long as I live I will never forget the sheer hell that was this event and I swear on the lives of my children that I will always strive to treat bands and generally humans better than I was treated that night.
I will also never forget the pale skinned Jake looking at me like he wanted to vomit, cry and fight all at once, the sheer confusion and hatred in his eyes. Even now I am laughing while typing this.
It was actually way worse than I am writing, I can't put into words how fucking Shit it was! Vietnam in the 60s was a calmer place!
Oh yeah and before I forget … Cactus Jack never paid us.
Sunday the 20th of August we were exhausted and starving but we set off for Newcastle Upon Tyne. The good news is my brother Dan lives there and we met him when we arrived.
Dan: "You look fucking knackered"
Me: "You don't know what I have seen..."
Dan went into hysterics when I told him and he took all the touring party out for a meal and several round of drinks. He actually saved us that day.
Thanks bro, you're the best!
That night we played the very awesome Newcastle (hometown of one Malcolm 'Scruff' Lewty) and the crowd was fantastic.
A certain "legendary" punk singer was there in the crowd (we'll call him FAT BASTARD) and tried to start a fight with Dan because Dan was not dressed correctly, see my brother is not a fan of extreme music, not metal nor punk, he came along to the gig to support me and for that I was grateful. If you watch the YouTube clip of Hellbastard live at Triliians at the very end you will hear me shout "Whose That Cunt Over There" as I did not recognise Fat Bastard despite the fact I am fan of his band but he was starting on my brother so I had the venue staff remove Fat Bastard and the rest of the gig was a great success.
After the show, Dan was far too drunk to hang out with us so I called him a taxi and made sure his girlfriend took care of him and we went back to stay at a friend of Scruffs. She was a lovely lass but I can't say I wasn't a tad concerned for her mental health upon entering her home. The whole thing was bright Pink!
The walls were pink, the fireplace was pink, the kitchen was pink, the curtains were pink, the kettle was pink, the fridge was pink, the sugar was pink, she even told us that she buys pink dye to ensure that even her toilet water is pink.
This girl really, really loves the colour pink! Except she doesn't, fun fact …
No One likes the colour pink! Pink is the only colour that is psychologically disturbing to the human eye and over-exposure to said colour can cause nausea and hallucinations. It's apparently ill advised to let children have pink bedrooms as it is likely to make them ill over years of exposure but anyway ... That particular night we were in a completely pink house, the picture frames were pink, the stairs were pink, the soap was pink, every cup in her cupboard was... Yep, you guessed it, Pink!
That being said she was incredibly nice and generous and her mother came to meet us too as she was an old family friend of Scruffs and they are a lovely family. The whole pink thing is eccentric as fuck but I am grateful we had a place to crash in that was the polar opposite to Cactus Jack's jungle. Live and let live I suppose.
The next gig was in the Temple of Boom, Leeds. We had exactly four people in the crowd watching us: the support band and former English Dogs (and future Acid Age) singer Adie Bailey. I actually had a great time and despite the lack of audience the good folks at Leeds much loved venue still paid us the guarantee. I'd play there again in a heartbeat. Lets hope there's more people next time though.
The following gig was at the Dog House in Nottingham, it was an absolutely awesome night! There were a bunch of guys there that were fans of the band for twenty plus years, the place was bouncing. The promoter told us that Voivod (one of my favourite bands) had played there two weeks prior and we had a bigger crowd. After the gig he gave us an audio recording from the mixing board and then awarded us with an open bar and locked us in. Pat, James, Scruff, Jake, Rushie and myself all played a couple of games of pool and drank the bar dry. The jukebox even had a few Hellbastard songs on it which I found amusing. The next day we were hungover and getting ready to head to the next venue but not before the bar owner made us all a lovely breakfast and a couple of strong cups of coffee. Awesome venue and awesome staff!
The following gig however ... That was supposed to be at the Mulberry underground in Sheffield. I fucking hate Sheffield with a dying passion (due to a previous gig there with Acid Age). This particular situation did nothing to change my mind.
The gig was cancelled because apparently former Hellbastard bassist Dave Ingram Jr cancelled the show with the promoter in an attempt the sabotage the band name (or so I'm told). He also had been spending a solid week posting statuses on Facebook about how Scruff had fucked him over and stole his bass rig. I never saw any of these statuses myself as my phone broke whilst on tour and I was using Jakes phone to contact my loved ones back home, but several members of our touring party claimed they saw the statuses. As for the "stealing the bass rig" thing, that's not quite true …
Dave quit the band immediately after the infamous Rebellion gig and left his bass cab, head and bass in the back of the van. We were on tour and had no way of getting it back to him until we got to Sheffield. Dave had his girlfriend mail Scruff threatening to call a solicitor and take court action. Evidently he wanted us to abandon the tour as he had just so we could drive from the top of England to Sheffield to return his equipment, our driver Pat refused as it would have cost a small fortune on diesel and was an impractical route for us to take when we had gigs to play day after day and we were on a specific time scale. The whole ordeal cost the entire party a serious amount of stress and worry.
Once we arrived in Sheffield we handed the bass over to a mutual party (Woz, the regular Hellbastard merch guy who couldn't make the tour due to work obligations). We were offered to stay with Woz and his lovely family that night and Dave Ingram Jr did receive his rig. It is worth noting that Jake brought his own bass rig and at no stage did anyone touch or tamper with Dave's equipment. It stayed in the back of the van the entire time.
Dave put a final status up when he received his equipment stating that he had received his equipment and would be taking no further action against Scruff nor Hellbastard. I remember thinking this was a rather ignorant status (this one I did see) as I thought "Why would he take legal action against me? I didn't do anything on him".
(Sadly, Dave would end his life on the 14th of January 2019. R.I.P)
I was unsure about talking about Dave in this as it doesn't paint him in the best light and I have absolutely no desire to speak ill of the dead because he was a fantastic musician and a very likeable guy generally but I am recalling these events as they happened from my own perspective. I still don't know why he thought we should drop everything and just drive straight to his house with the equipment. He was a touring musician, he should have understand that when you abandon your gear in a van, the van may have other places to be before everything can be dropped to return said gear. As far as I am concerned, I came in to save a tour for a band that I liked which was in jeopardy due to two former members exiting rather unceremoniously before the touring obligations were complete. I don't think I deserved to have been name dropped (indirectly or not) in anyone's statuses against Scruff but I was. Interestingly enough, Scruff claims that he actually paid for half the bass rig but I can't comment on that as it was before my time in the band.
Musicians are really bitchy, they're almost as bad as tattoo artists.
The next gig was a "home coming" show for me and Jake. Voodoo Belfast and the last gig of the tour. This one gig was the reason I went to such an effort to help Scruff, I suppose in hindsight, it was out of selfishness because I wanted Acid Age to have a cool support slot for the, then new lineup (we've changed again since … ... Even I don't know whose in Acid Age anymore LOL).
The gig was great. Acid Age played a great set and the new lineup was very welcomed. Scimitar played probably the best set that I have ever seen from them, tight punchy and aggressive and then Hellbastard went one. Oddly I can't actually remember if we played tight or not, I do remember I was having sound problems but all my friends and loved ones were there to greet me and congratulate me for managing to complete a tour with a band which at the time was cool to hate after the Rebellion fiasco.
After we played, me and James got beyond drunk, Woz did merch that night to give James a night off and it was awesome to hang out with him and the rest of the guys. Before Scruff, Rushie, Woz and James went to catch their flights we all hugged and agreed to stay in contact and continue with Hellbastard.
It was a very special night for me.
That was the last performance I did with Hellbastard in 2017. There was another after in the Czech Republic but unfortunately I couldn't make it for various reasons so that day Hellbastard played as a 3 piece without me. Handy enough!
My biggest regret about missing that Enemy of the Sun Fest is that it would be my last chance to see Rushie (which I didn't know at the time) I miss him greatly, he was and is a stellar drummer and an awesome guy.
Stay tuned for part two.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.