I guess that as a subculture, a family, whatever, that as metalheads we like to think we have guts. Balls. Regardless of gender. We constantly use it about the musical drug of choice we prefer, about friends, about the ones who get up on stage and perform. Balls.
All of which makes it kind of ironic that those who were born with those dangly spheres far too often ignore their own. Until something goes wrong with them. But do we talk about it? Nah. Guys don’t. Do they? We have death metal and goregrind bands who name themselves after the diseases but talk about it?
Until we have to.
Compared to rates of, say, prostate cancer it is less common but it can often strike those who are still in their teens to mid-forties. Which of course is where a large chunk of the audiences sit.
Caught, diagnosed, treated not only is it something you can recover from but also carry on as before. Go to gigs, father children, the world is out there.
The singer of UK band Reign Of Fury, Bison Steed, knows all this. And has done all of the above. And so his band, their manager, friends in music, family, decided that they wanted to do something to raise awareness and start a conversation in the metal community about testicular cancer and also to raise money for the the Teenage Cancer Trust. Headbangers Balls was born.
Ave Noctum got hold of organiser and manager Andy Pilkington and talked a little bollocks. And asked the question: Are you mad?
AN: So, then. It takes so much sheer effort to organise a tour for one or two bands, what in the Batshit-Insane-Level-of-Hell makes a guy wake up one morning and decide “I know, what about dozens of up and coming bands, across the UK and if that isn’t enough of a rod for my back, I’ll do it for charity and to raise awareness of something most blokes just don’t even want to think about let alone discuss; testicular cancer.”?
Andy: I’ve been asked this question a lot, and the more time goes on I realise there’s probably a more honest answer than the one I give, though it’s only just revealed itself. I think I felt I had a point to prove. I don’t believe in any God, yet I see people I love, a ring around me of cancer and other horrific diseases, and I want someone to stop it happening. I think when you genuinely realise the buck stops with you, me, them… you either step up or you don’t. I’m so thankful for my health, as all of us around Bison are for his now he’s cancer free, and I think I just decided that it was time for me to apply myself more, harder, better. To do the maximum I was able to. I want my daughters to grow up seeing that their Dad cares. Not just enough to donate a few quid here and there, but to give everything, at least once.
AN: How has it been getting other people on board with this tour? The bands with personal positive survival tales and just wanting to be part of it have come a running as we can see from the line-ups, but what about venues and the like? You seem to have had issues with getting the main metal mags on board with this in some cases as well I noticed.
Andy: It’s an overused analogy, but ‘rollercoaster ride’ fits the journey we’ve taken perfectly. In fact, it’s been like riding a roller coaster without the seat belt. At the start it was very tough, but that was always going to be the case as we had nothing to back us up other than big ideas. We found a venue to take a punt – Jon Vyner at Camden Underworld who’s a great man – and slowly things started to happen. We approached a lot of bands to begin with, then as we grew they came to us. A few ups and downs, bailouts and excuses later we started to fill the shows, and get venues. There were a few very big let downs, venues not responding, double booking us, snubbing us, but we eventually ended up with 12 shows from a planned 10!!
When it came to publicity, the heroes were the people who were already supporting the unsigned scene. The majors, despite one or two promising otherwise, completely blanked us which was very disappointing. Thankfully, via friends and old work friends, we built a good base of sponsors and they’ve helped us get where we are.
AN: What attitudes have been the hardest to overcome organising the Headbangers Balls? Has social media been a help or a hindrance? What about “charity fatigue” at times off financial strangulation?
Andy: Anyone with sense in the music industry knows Facebook and the like has its place, but has to be just one part of promotion, not the be all end all. There are too many bands and promoters who see it as the 21st century flyer… and leave it at that. However, for us it’s been absolutely fundamental to what we’re doing. We needed to build ourselves an army who we could interact with, talk to, listen to and entertain. By plugging in twitter, a website, Youtube etc it’s given us a great platform to work from. We can tell people we’re doing something good, but if we get them to our Facebook page we can prove it.
AN: As ever, even metal isn’t immune from the cynics and there had been a couple of public snipes at the Balls. The usual things from doubting the reasons behind it all, the calibre of the bands, the usual crap. Has social media been a help or a hindrance? Do you have anything you want to say to these people?
Andy: It’s funny really, before I took this project on I was the sort of person who’d have taken those kind of snipes and reciprocated tenfold, I’m good at it! But the weight of such an important cause has changed my approach a lot and I’ve tried to take my own opinion out of it. I won’t let anyone put us down, especially in a public forum, there are cancer survivors involved, but instead of reacting I’ve just made sure everyone reads what they’re saying and decides for themselves. If people criticise us, they’re also criticising our supporters… so let the supporters decide. We got some very sincere and public apologies that way!
AN: What do you think it is about guys that means they not only don’t often talk about things like cancer but don’t appear often to want to inform themselves about it either?
Andy: I grew up as one of five kids, and four of us were boys. I think it’s a hangover to not showing weakness in peer groups, but times are changing. People have been really open about their experiences with me through this campaign… and that openness has been infections. I think in a closed group it takes one person to break the mould and open up, then it comes more easily. If we can be the ones breaking the moulds, perhaps it’ll allow a little more discourse.
AN: Why did you think Metal was a perfect way to raise this issue? Do you think that the untimely loss of such icons as Chuck Schuldinger and Ronnie James Dio to other forms of the disease, as well as Tony Iommi’s current fight, have changed any attitudes?
Andy: Well Metal is who I am, so it’s the only way I know really, but I do know that when I was younger the metal scene was a brotherhood. A bunch of guys who never met could end up en masse in one place and feel safe, looked after, cared for (barring the odd mosh-pit tear up) so I felt we’d be able to tap into that like-mindedness. I also wanted to show people outside the scene what we can achieve… with the likes of ill-informed Daily Mail articles spitting bile about us, it’s much needed. With legends dying, especially Dio, it has made it more pertinent, yes.
AN: With finances being squeezed out of existence by the bunch of rich shits running the country, and with (I know personally) lots of people being unsure if they can even do their normal run of festivals this year, how have things been persuading people to buy advance tickets? Do you think it’s a case of people waiting to see how things pan out financially post Download or are you encouraged? I mean your ticket prices seem pretty spot on for the events to me: It is not an expensive night out.
Andy: I think you’re right, Download has affected things, but it is a major concern – you’ve found our hot topic! The support we’ve got from our people is immense, with a huge amount of people telling us they’re coming, but that just hasn’t manifested in sales. Ordinarily it wouldn’t be the main worry, but as we’re trying to keep venues confident about attendance and covering costs, and ultimately ensuring bands play to good crowds, it’s a concern. We couldn’t be doing a lot more than we are with publicity and a lot of incentives to buy, so we may just have to sit this one out with slightly sweaty pants and twitchy sphincters.
AN: I know you all know that one lot of gigs isn’t going to change everything so: What do you want to achieve, minimum and wildest dreams?
Andy: Minimum: some money for the charity, good crowds for the bands to play in front of, positive response from our people.
Wildest dreams: Successful enough to inspire others to do it to. That would be the best thing. We’re only a little project, we need more people doing more.
AN: Now I can’t see that attendees are going to get anything forced down their throats other than a celebration of up and coming heavy metal bands, and metal in general. Do you think people are scared of that? And what’s the pitch: What are they going to get when they come through those doors?
Andy: People are getting line-ups consistent of four or more bands that are regularly headlining and filling their own shows. No minnows when it comes to quality. Where else can you get that? Top quality from start to finish, no running order egos, everyone ready to put in their best. I think many of the bands on this tour are writing, recording and playing far better music than those considered ‘big’. Anyone coming to the shows will find that out.
AN: There appears to be a good deal of humour involved in the promotion of Headbangers Balls too, which is refreshing. Who decided on this and, speaking of humour how the hell did you get old Krusher Joule involved (and more importantly is he out of the toilet yet…)?
Andy: The humour just comes from the Reign of Fury banter. It’s puerile and it’s constant. And you can’t really be too serious with all the ‘balls’ puns flying around. For me Metal’s always been about pissing about, and no-one does that better than Krusher. Legend. A few of us know him, and he lives locally to Matt our bassist. I think he put up some shelves for him. Krusher’s been brilliant, and whatever happens I’ll be chuffed to have put him in our no-budget nonsense, even if he can’t stick to my scripts…
AN: You’ve done well on the merchandise too. As well as a cracking t shirt design and the now obligatory but still pretty cool wristband there’s a huge downloaded compilation with the bands involved (which really puts to bed any doubts as to the quality off the bands) You must all be pretty proud of pulling that together.
Andy: Yeah, that’s something tangible we’ve been able to enjoy now, rather than having to wait, so it’s great. Everyone loves them. We’re so lucky to have Matt Dixon as our Reign of Fury artist who did the art for free, so with a bit of my graphic design skill we’ve been able to make things look pretty professional. The album’s just come out and starting to sell, and hopefully we’ve got a CD release thanks to our friends at Mosh Tuneage. Those 38 tracks that give an immense cross section of the UK scene today, and it’s pretty fucking beautiful.
AN: If there is one last thing you’d like to say to get the punters in and involved, what is it? What’s that one line?
Andy: If you’ve got a pair, you’ll be there.
AN: I honestly wish you all the best guys. I hope the gigs go down a storm.
Andy: Thanks! \oo/.
None of this applies to you, eh? Really? I thought that too. I mean only one of my mates has had cancer. Oh wait, two. Oh yeah and three schoolfriends when they were teenagers. The nice guy next door too. The lass I work with. All true. Damn. See? It is there. And just awareness and a couple off checks that take minutes can mean so much to you and those around you. Check out the links below.
Talk, check, live your life full on metal.
Gotta be done.
Get to one of the Headbangers Balls near you for a celebration off life and metal, some cracking up and coming bands and the sweet feeling of it all helping just that bit. What’s not to like?
Article and Interview: Gizmo