A scene that frequently gets shoved to the wayside by the heavy-metal community is the massively influential, thriving and certainly one-of-a-kind brand of underground music that was both a worldwide phenomenon commonly known as “Hardcore punk”, and more specifically in this context a significant subculture that had begun to emerge in the wake of Thatcher-era Britain, – indeed, “Hardcore punk” has now become a very generalised term yet it barely scratches the surface of what the community did for so many young people in an era of increasing economic crisis, political unrest and social inequality. This was a chance for young people’s voice to get heard amidst all of the unravelling chaos – yet it wasn’t always easy. One particular group that have strong roots in this particular scene are the UK-based Ballpein, so we decided to dive a little closer and see what it really looks like inside. The interview was conducted by staff-writer Jaime Regadas.
Interviewer: Today we’re joined by Piggy and Steven Hargraves of Ballpein. Would you guys like to introduce yourselves a bit to our readers?
Piggy: I’m on Vocals. I write all the lyrics.
Steven Hargraves: Hi folks. I play guitar, or at least that’s what it looks like I’m doing from a distance.
Interviewer: So, let’s begin by giving our readers a brief summary of what you’re all about. How would you describe the group in a nutshell?
Ste: Musically I think it’s in-your-face, but it’s catchy too. You can tap your foot to it.
Piggy: We don’t stick to any certain pattern or style, we play what we like when we like it, which is a good thing because I never know what the next set of new songs are going to sound like.
Ste: There are plenty of metal elements in there, death metal, thrash, and there are Punk and D-beat elements too. Which is apt cause I first met Piggy and Ged at a Discharge gig.
Interviewer: 2017 was a significant year for the group as it marked the release of your EP titled ‘The Man in Black’. What was the recording process like?
Piggy: Right, I’m dodging this one and giving it to Steve (laughs). In all seriousness, he could explain about the mix and what went into it far better than I can mate.
Ste: Recording the new songs was a blast. It was all one-take stuff – as this kind of music needs to be raw and sound “played” rather than being so polished and ending up sounding like MIDI instruments – actually there’d be no danger of that with me playing anyway.
But I knew I wanted plenty of guitars on there so I took a rough mix from the engineer and I recorded two more guitar tracks at home in my kitchen. I kept the guide guitar track from the rehearsal rooms in there and panned these two much heavier guitars, one left and one right. Took about another hour to record it all. Keeping it spontaneous like.
But then, I spent about four months learning how to mix and master it all on my shitty old computer that still runs Windows XP. In fact I would still be tinkering with it now if I hadn’t kept getting nagged to let people actually hear it.
Piggy: It’s true, we thought he’d never fucking finish it. But it was worth the wait. Almost. And with regard to the EP itself, it was actually a very significant moment for us as a band, as it marked the first time we have actually recorded something in a studio and released it!
We did do a really rough demo back in around 1999, but that never actually got mixed or released, in fact up until we got the band back together, we’d forgotten all about it. A friend of ours had kept hold of the cassette!
Interviewer: Now it’s important to note that Ballpein, although contemporary in how they approach their songwriting, are by no means a “new” group, technically speaking. Tell us a little bit about the initial formation of the group back in the Nineties and how it all came about.
Piggy: Well we formed in summer 1998, Gerry (Bass) and Andy (Drums) were in a band, and Si (Guitar) and myself were in another one, but we decided to form a new band together. The first songs we wrote were ‘Kurten’, a song about the German serial killer Peter Kurten, as even back then I had a fixation on horror, and a song called ‘L.L.C.’ or ‘Low Life cleansing’, which was about Scallys.
Originally, we were called Cross To Bear, then changed the name to Sutcliffe’s Hammer after the Yorkshire ripper. Which in the end, got shortened again to BALLPEIN after the type of hammer used in the killings. The musical style we played back then would most probably now be classed as metal core.
We did around eight gigs with this line-up, mostly local but we did travel as far as wales. We played with hardcore bands like Cause for Alarm, Stampin’ ground, Freebase, Assert, Withdrawn and a lot of other bands who escape my memory.
That was also around the time we went into Hard City studios in Liverpool to record that first demo, which didn’t go very well if I remember rightly. They didn’t know how to record anything as loud as we were or as distorted.
Then, around 2000, Si left the band, and Craw from the now infamous Six Ft Ditch joined us on guitar. We changed our style a lot and leaned heavily towards a punk / oi! / hardcore sound. But this line up never recorded or played live because of one thing or another, life decided for us to split up around 2001.
But jump forward, how many years, seventeen? I decided that I wanted, and I needed, to get the band back together. So Steve joined up with us to give us a more metal sound again and to be fair, it’s more the sort of style and sound we originally were in the 90’s but with a more up-to-date feel.
Steven: Yeah, what he said.
Interviewer: (to Piggy) Steven Hargraves is a relatively new addition to the group. Would you say the presence of a new member has helped reinvigorate the spark?
Piggy: Well, without Steve we would still be recording on cassettes and sending each other hand written letters!
The amount of work he has put into this band is unreal, not just the riffs but also the web page and a lot of hard work and effort into making the promo videos. To be fair he puts up with all my shit at band practice as do the other lads, so therefore he’s deffo a good fit with the band.
And he’s put us on the map digitally in a big way. I know I can speak for the other lads when I say we haven’t got a fucking clue about setting up web pages and emails and videos etcetera, and I think he also helped reignite our spark with his style of playing and enthusiasm.
Interviewer: (to Steven) Would you say you’ve settled in to the group now or is it still a learning experience?
Steven: It’s more a learning experience for Ged as I’ve been showing him his own riffs as he’d forgotten them – Just kidding Ged if you are reading this!
But, joking aside, I felt at home from the start. I turned up to the first rehearsal in shades at night and pulled out my ridiculous looking silver and white glam metal BC Rich Ironbird and it still didn’t put them off!
They are a boss bunch of lads and I’ve always been into this kind of music – short punchy songs – so even after only a couple of practices I contributed new material.
I think Piggy went out for a smoke once and by the time he came back – I’d jammed a tune with Andy on the drums – and five minutes later we had ‘The Man in Black’.
I’d learned how to play the original Ballpein songs from old gigs on VHS from 1999 – and any bits that were too hard to make out clearly, I just came up with another riff to fit the space. There was an old song called ‘Contempt’ where this happened, as I couldn’t make out was being played on the video clip, but the other lads liked the new riff so much, they felt it deserved better!
So I came up with a few more sections and we had the track ‘Concrete Mixer’.
Interviewer: What are the predominant lyrical themes of the band?
Ste: Sunshine. Petals. Giggling in meadows. I can’t make out what he’s shouting about to be honest but it seems to keep him happy.
Piggy: Serial killers and just my fucking hatred of people and the general public as a whole. I’m just not keen on humanity to be honest, and as I’ve got older I’ve grown more grumpy and cynical with the world. Plus it’s like it’s everyone for themselves now so it seems.
I don’t really have a single predominant theme as such, but that’s what I mostly write about at the moment.
There are social issues in there too though, like ‘Sudden Frenzy’ is about domestic abuse and Concrete Mixer is about losing someone close to you in life. I also get a lot of ideas from James Herbert books with regards to some of my darker lyrics. I’ve always been in to watching horror films and I think that shock-value of the video nasty era underpins what I write.
Ste: Ah mate, you should have said. I’ll stop composing all those ballads then.
Interviewer: Who are your biggest influences?
Piggy: Is this the bit were I name check a thousand cool bands? Well, I grew up on punk rock and early oi! Then got into hardcore, then metal, then I got into hip hop.
To be honest like, I get influenced every time I hear new music no matter what the genre. As I briefly mentioned before, I get a lot of inspiration from James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell, Shaun Hutson and some Stephen King stuff.
Ste: Where do I start! Far too many influences to namecheck really, but people don’t usually go from listening to Pinky and Perky one minute to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath the next. But I did when I was about six or seven. I was the only kid in the junior school with a denim jacket full of patches so you could say I’ve been into this for a while!
I’m old enough to remember when Motorhead were a new band and watching the Sex Pistols on telly as a kid.
And as music got heavier so did my tastes. So it was a stepping stone from Kiss and AC/DC, to Accept to Metallica to Voivod and so on. Until you get to the pinnacle of extreme music which I think was nailed by Napalm Death’s You Suffer. It goes on for a bit too long like, but it gets the point across.
But seeing Carcass, Virus and Death Angel at the Bierkeller gig in Liverpool, that was just awesome for a fifteen year old, and I’d been playing guitar for a bit by then and everything I’ve listened to since – even stuff that isn’t of this genre, like Zappa or Van Der Graaf Generator, everything has influenced me in some way. It’s just subconscious now. Like I’ve just absorbed the vibe and write what comes naturally and it just feels right for the band.
Interviewer: How would you describe the current punk scene in the UK?
Piggy: I don’t take part in the so called “scene” myself, don’t get me wrong I love playing gigs and try and support all my mates bands if and when I can but I rarely go see bands these days.
In fact when I do go to a gig I mostly stand outside having a beer and a smoke and a catch-up with mates anyway, so its deffo more of a social thing than a music thing for me now.
Locally though, Mersey Poison work very hard to promote gigs for often very little or no profit, and also Osmium Productions have promoted their first gig and hopefully we may see more in the future.
DROP the Dumbbulls also put on some good gigs. Respect to all these people for trying to bring bands to the city and as I mentioned before for little or no profit. But what I can make out especially locally there are like 3 or 4 cliques or groups of people who go to their own gigs and for some reason don’t attend others.
As a band, you want people to hear your music – But it’s never going to be 1986 again is it?
Ste: Yeah, I don’t get out as much as I used to either.
I miss the good old days in the 80s, when you could go to Planet X on a Saturday and there’d be an all-dayer on. So for a few quid you’d see loads of bands in their formative years like Napalm Death, Doom, Carcass, Bomb Disneyland, Doctor & The Crippens.
And it was just great. Life affirming stuff even. And in Liverpool there were loads more venues around too, like Milo’s, Rockfords, Wilsons, and the KrazyHouse was called Sloanes. Which is obviously a better name. And if you looked like a scal or had short hair you wouldn’t even get let in back in them days. Did they let you in Pig?
Piggy: I wouldn’t have wanted to go in.
Interviewer: Has it been an exciting experience to play gigs over the past few months?
Ste: Playing gigs is what it’s all about. It’s fun to rehearse and write songs but the whole point of it is to play music at people. And maybe hurt their eardrums a little bit.
Interviewer: And of course you’ve already written a new EP, currently titled ‘The Beast of Birkenshaw’ which is scheduled for release quite soon. Tell us a little bit about what we can expect to hear.
Ste: Well there are four songs on it. ‘Emotionally Detached’ which is what we’ve been opening the set with lately and that channels ‘83 era Metallica, but really pared down, as it’s only about a minute and a half long!
And it will be recorded in the same way as we did The Man in Black EP – the drums, vocals, bass and at Vulcan – and then I’ll take it home to add some extra guitars. But this time round, I’ve saved the settings somewhere so I won’t take months mixing it. I say that now, but I’ll still faff for ages.
Piggy: Well, these are songs that we have been rehearsing since the last gig. They came together really quickly. I remember we had this one practice where everything just clicked and from the material we’d been working on, we finished three new songs out of it.
There’s one that needs a bit more work on it, but we should be ready to record fairly soon now.
Interviewer: Is there any particular meaning behind the title?
Piggy: The title refers to a man called Peter Manuel aka the Beast of Birkenshaw. He was a serial killer who was born in New York then moved to Scotland, were over the years he killed eight people, the police suspected that he’d killed more, but couldn’t prove his guilt.
Interviewer: Does it differ at all musically from your previous works?
Piggy: In places yes, ‘Devil Mask’ is a pretty challenging song to do, it’s got some good off-beats and discordant riffs going on. Emotionally Detached is lyrically inspired by “Beat” Takeshi films and is a short blast of a song.
And ‘Smoke n Lies’ has deffo got an old school hardcore vibe to it and is probably my favourite of the four. Sorry lads if you beg to differ, but it is!
The Beast of Birkenshaw is very much in a similar vein to The Man in Black but much faster and raw, and sort of reminds me in parts of old UK punk.
Ste: Yeah, that title track is old school punk with a cool middle section. And the two other tracks Devil Mask and Smoke n Lies I think musically, are a bit of a curve ball in terms of what has gone before.
You can deffo hear the influence of bands like Voivod, Discharge and S.O.D. in there – even though it’s not intentional – it’s only when we listen back from the things we’ve come up with in rehearsal that we spot them. This type of stuff is just what comes out when we jam together!
Interviewer: Does the group have a collective philosophy at the moment?
Ste: I think calling anything we do a philosophy would be a massive overstatement as it’s just for the fun of playing this kind of music. We all have our own tastes and influences but when we come together as Ballpein it’s just fast and loud but at the same time, this type of music comes from rock n’ roll, so it’s not trying to be technical or challenging. It’s fun and the riffs should stick in your head.
Piggy: And I know when we’ve come up with something good, because the tune will still be playing in my head for the next few days after.
Ste: Like the Old Grey Whistle test! And we are old and grey enough to remember that programme. Or at least Piggy is.
Interviewer: Are there any particular gigs lined up this year that you’re allowed to mention?
Piggy: Yes, there’s an all dayer in Liverpool coming up on Saturday 28th April in EBGBs. That’s got loads of metal and punk bands on I think.
Ste: And on May 19th we’re playing the Tivoli in Buckley, as special guests on a bill headlined by The Crippens who’ve recently started playing again. That’s one I’m really looking forward to as I first saw them around thirty years ago when I was fifteen or sixteen and I was a huge fan back then. I still am in fact. Don’t look in the freezer folks.
Interviewer: Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers here at Metal Nexus?
Piggy: Thanks for your time, it’s always hard doing interviews! Thanks to everyone and anyone who supports the band, everyone and anyone who bought or downloaded the EPs and a massive shout out to everyone who comes to our gigs and takes part in the banter, if it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t be doing it anymore!
Ste: Yeah Jaime, cheers man! I’m always made up that anyone takes an interest so thanks for listening. And I’d just say to people, keep going out to gigs and support your local scenes. I didn’t realise how lucky I was growing up when there were boss gigs every week and loads of venues. But it’s really encouraging to see youngsters turning up to shows.
It was a pleasure chatting to the guys from Ballpein. Be sure to check out their Facebook page below for more updates!