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Comrade Aleks talks with Peaceville founder Paul "Hammy" Halshaw about his twenty years running the label, and his autobiographical 2016 'Peaceville Life' book (now just about to be republished in expanded form) describing it...

Interview with Peaceville Records (Label).
"Peaceville Records celebrated its 30th anniversary two years ago. It was founded by Paul "Hammy" Halmshaw, a tape-trader and punk rock musician, but despite Hammy's roots Peaceville is mainly known for the large number of Metal bands the label supported through the years of its existence, and amongst them are the three biggest Doom names of the '90s: Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. Hammy left the label in 2006, and in December 2016 he released his autobiography 'Peaceville Life', which sold out pretty fast. I missed that edition, but luckily for me Hammy has now finished the book's "extended edition", with more than 50 extra pages crammed with newly discovered photographs and an extra chapter. The book is available for pre-order at peacevillelife.com, and shipping should start in the first week of July 2018. Isn't that an ideal occasion to speak with Hammy about both the label and the book?"

Author, musician and Peaceville founder Paul "Hammy" Halmshaw in Havana, 2018.

Hello Hammy! First of all thanks for your time, it's great that we have an opportunity to discuss both your book and the years you spent at Peaceville. Let's start from the very beginning - how did you become involved in the music business? And when, actually, did you start to regard it as a "business"?

Thank you for the chance to take part! I first started by learning how to play drums in a very rudimentary way at school and when I was 16 I formed a band with my school friend, Simon Mooney, called the Instigators. We made an album four years later which was quite popular in the anarcho-punk scene. I'd started Peaceville up as a tape label through this time (to promote my bands' demo tapes) and around 1987, after I'd left the band, I put out other people's bands on a flexi-disc, then two 7". Finally I went on to do albums. I kind-of consider the first album release the start of the 'real' business. It was then that I had bank accounts and spreadsheets and the like. I had an official legal entity.

Even in your Peaceville years the label was known for its "anti-major label stance and left wing political outlook". How did these views manifest themselves?

Well, as I was an anarchistic vegetarian pacifist at 16 years old I guess that it was never going to be a 'normal' label. I had some very strong opinions. Some which have stayed with me and some of which have matured into more pragmatic opinions over time. I'm 53 now, so I look back and see that I was very idealistic - sometimes utopian and unrealistic and sometimes correct. I guess the fact that I wore my beliefs on my sleeve made me a target for some of the shit I got later - once we became popular.

At first the label was known for its focus on the punk scene, and you were a part of it yourself. How did you manage to keep it working, being right in the middle of this movement? Was it difficult to keep it organised and effective?

The punk movement was self-sufficient and it's a lot more organised in many ways than other forms of music. The people involved, the majority, make everything happen themselves, so it wasn't as hard as the metal world could be - where everyone waits for their manager or label to do everything. Being on the punk or metal sides were never a problem. It was when we did both together that there was a problem. The two scenes kind of clashed in the early days and that was sad. We just managed everything the best we could, and learned on the job - we were still very young. Yes there were many difficult days, many. But many great ones too.

Some people consider original Death Doom as just slow death metal, others (including some bands) point to its traditional Doom roots. You know - you say "Death Doom" and your first associations usually are Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, though some would add Asphyx and Autopsy. What was it for you?

I guess to me it's slow metal, not even death. I mean St. Vitus 'The Walking Dead' is not death metal in my eyes, but it is the epitome of doom. You can't forget Trouble. Starting an album with "The one you love… is dead". Can there be more doom? Give me the slow chug of a Trouble riff over a blast beat any day. Trouble and Sabbath. That's doom for me. What came after is all a branch off that tree. Fast or slow.

Hammy in 1984.

So you met Paradise Lost in about 1988 and, as I understand it, you produced their very first self-titled demo. What are your memories of that recording session? How much time did you spend with the band?

I spent loads of time with the band in the early days. Nick would come to my house every Wednesday and we'd play each other new stuff. I'd go out with them every weekend and we'd hang out too. They were young and fresh when they did the demo. A good bunch of guys. The demo recording was just like an Electro Hippies recording, for instance - young guys, full of energy, full of life and raring to go. They were always very organised though, PL, they knew what they wanted completely before each session. They were a pleasure to work with though, at times. Ha-ha!

'Lost Paradise' saw the light of day in February 1990. It was their first full-length and, again, you performed the part of producer. How intensive was this session? Did knowing that it would be the band's first big work make a difference?

We did take it as seriously as we could, but the guys weren't the greatest musicians back then and I was just starting out too - so it was still quite amateur, but we tried to be as serious as any major label about it. I wouldn't say that it was intensive though. In my eyes you're there to help the band relax about being in the studio so you try not to make things intensive if you can, and no, I don't think any of us knew back then just how big it would all become. So we were all very relaxed and having fun.

Was it a problem when Paradise Lost left Peaceville in 1991? You guided most of the labels' band's almost the whole way through and the fact that Paradise Lost switched to another label after 'Gothic' looks a bit strange, to the outsider.

I only ever had them signed for two albums - so it was obvious they would leave me then. They grew a lot faster than the label, so I knew early on that I couldn't afford to keep them. I'd rather have two albums than none at all, though. It's a bit like a small football team - you have a star striker and everyone wants them. Do you make them stay in the low divisions or let them sign to a to the top team to become stars? Their manager did the latter and I can't blame him - the band went on to be HUGE and I'm not sure we could have coped with it back then, or would have wanted to, we were already getting big enough. We couldn't have done as good for them as MFN did - I know that for sure.

Some of Peaceville's bands recorded their iconic albums with sound engineer Robert 'Mags' Magoolagan at Academy Studio. Did you work with him directly or was it a kind of recommendation from the bands?

Mags was a trainee at Academy Studio when we first met. He soon took over as the main engineer at Academy from the studio's owner Keith Appleton, who'd become just a little too opinionated and difficult to work with for a lot of the bands - who were very young at the time and needed someone closer to their own age. Mags then went on to do most of the iconic releases. He still works very closely with My Dying Bride.

How did you get in touch with the guys from Anathema and My Dying Bride? Did you really know that these bands would lay the foundations for the Death Doom wave? Was it intuition or were they just a bunch of young musicians who were able to raise a real noise?

They were just bands who were just-about happening, that I had a chance to sign, in a certain timeframe. There was no scene at all and we never thought of it like that. They were just very young kids who had formed bands and brought demo tapes. We soon did have a scene out of these bands though - and they were all hanging out together and going to the same nightclub, so it did cross pollinate and incestuously mix at times. We all lived quite close to one another, so that helped too - and being on the same label meant we could put them on at the same shows and things like that, so we did create that scene, for sure!

Speaking about the British Death Doom scene, no one can avoid the "Peaceville Three" tag. Plus, actually, you were not just some label owner - you really produced some of these cult records. How often did you appear in the studio? Can you name one album that you can say is really your baby?

Haha… the Peaceville three - so what about Darkthrone and Autopsy? It always pisses me off that - then you're also missing At The Gates, Doom, Electro Hippies. Anyway… Yes, I was around the studio for some amazingly influential recordings. I played my part, but to what extent? It differed on different records and I'm not going to take anything away from the artists because they are the real stars. If I had to pick one record as my own - I'm having 'Mental Funeral', but only because of the bong solo. I guess PL's 'In Dub' IS my work though, almost entirely (except the playing, of course).

Autopsy… what prevented them from becoming part of a Peaceville Four? Can you add a fourth band to this line-up, alongside Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost?

The Peaceville three tag is just very lazy journalism born out of ignorance. I mean the real Peaceville three are Deviated Instinct, Electro Hippies and Doom - because they attracted Paradise Lost and Autopsy in, so I have never - and will never - agree that there is a Peaceville three. If anything we were a thoroughbred stable.

What do you think Anathema's unique features are?

Although everyone mentions these three bands - the people who know their music, they all know how different these bands on Peaceville are. Anathema were no exception. They have always had that romantic air and a very unique take on songwriting which has, as we now see, kept them apart from the rest of the stable. They have developed in public and so it's been a rocky ride at times, but we worked with a lot of stubborn people, who always bounce back - thankfully!

The label kept on supporting Anathema until 'Alternative 4': was that because of a contract? Or did you just like that new direction they choose with new album?

Yes, I loved that direction. I think A4 is a wonderful album. I loved all their albums, but we had them signed for four. Then our contract was over and they went with MFN. It was a very turbulent time for the band members (as you can read in my book) so it all happened for a reason. We never had any doubts about releasing whatever they put out, because they were creatively superb all the time.

How closely did you work with My Dying Bride? It seems that the band always knew what they needed to do, so what was your part in their creativity?

Well my wife and I lived very close to MDB and knew them personally, so we were very, very close to them. Especially in the early days. I'm not sure what part I can play in their creativity, but we certainly gave them 100% artistic freedom and backed every idea that they had, financially, so I guess that's what we added to the mix. And we were comfortably familiar for them.

All these three core Death Doom bands have their own individualities as well as some common features, what do you feel is their main message? Doom metal often deals with a mournful aesthetic, so is it a kind of sorrowful catharsis? What does the man who was at the centre of the Death Doom revolution think?

Well there IS a common theme - misery! Or doom if you will. Like me, they (the bands) were all miserable at their lot in life and expressed it in a huge way. There are a lot of miserable people out there who connected with that. That's what I think it has in common with punk - the pissed off feeling at the core of it.

Amsterdam 2018.

Hammy, you produced Enchantment's first and only album, 'Dance The Marble Naked', in 1994, but in the end it was released by Century Media: how did that happen?

I'm glad you mention this, because I DIDN'T PRODUCE IT. The band asked me to do it, but took ages to get it organised and then all of a sudden the album came out with my name on it. I was, and still am a little pissed off about that. I presume they did it themselves and pocketed my fee. It's naughty though.

Can you name the most deluxe edition you did with Peaceville?

'Turn Loose The Swans' - three different covers for the three separate formats. A velvet bag with an embroidered band logo on the front - for the promo copies! We went for it big style and it paid off. It gave it the air of superiority that it deserved.

Was it money or rather relationship that helped to promote the bands in the early '90s? For example, how did it work with pushing bands on MTV? All these big festivals, all these tours - how smoothly did those usually happen?

MTV were young then and so were we. We worked together. We created the videos and they aired them - as simple as that. The festivals paid well, so that was easy. The tours are a different thing though. They are so difficult to organise and usually lost a lot of money. MDB supporting Iron Maiden in Europe and then DIO in the states cost over £100,000 to do. Did we earn it back? I doubt it. Promotion is very expensive all round!

Damn… really? Speaking about the financial side of tours, does that mean that bands can raise some funds only by selling their merch then?

Absolutely. Merch is a big part of a band's survival. Touring generally loses money and record sales are getting less. Merch income is more important all the time.

So, 'Peaceville Life' - the first edition - was released two years ago, how did you come to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the label by writing a book?

Well, I'd kept very quiet about the end of my time with the label, because after my mother died I wanted some time to myself. I then kept seeing my name mentioned with things that weren't true. Plus I also did a podcast interview with an ex-label staffer and he got questions wrong. My wife, Lisa, said "you must write a book and tell the real story now - before it's too late" and I thought "yeah, you're right, I should". It was a huge job, but I'm so glad I did it.

Was it your first experience of writing something of that scale? How did you organise your work and did you bear in mind some other books related with the underground scene as a guide?

My first inspiration was Boff (from Chumbawamba). His book 'Footnote' helped me to find the right tone for the writing. Honest, but fun and friendly. It was a big help. Before that it was like a user manual mixed with a kill list. I also once read a fanzine which, instead of being about music, was all about the guy's experiences taking drugs. He reviewed real life experiences in the same way a fanzine would review albums. It was hilarious and I've never forgotten about it, over 30 years after. So they were two things that I wanted to come away from writing the book feeling like I'd emulated in some way, in tribute. I'm very glad to say I think I did. I'd never written anything before - so that was a learning curve - and it took me over two years to get everything in the right place. But, initial feedback tells me that it's worked out well. A big word of thanks has to go to my editors too. I would produce pieces and they would say 'no way' or 'brilliant'. And they were always right. I just couldn't see it at the time because I was consumed by it all, at times. It was such a huge job.

'Peaceville Life, Extended Edition', 2018: purchasable at peacevillelife.com.

Can you describe, for those who haven't had the chance to read it yet, what the book's structure is? Do you lead your readers through the whole story of the label, or do you pick up some bands and tell about your work with them? Does it contain some of your interviews, or interviews with Peaceville's bands?

It is kind of an autobiography, novel and label history all in one. Because I was in bands and the label rose up from out of them, there is a kind-of statistical side to telling the tale. And because it was my label from its conception to taking on major partners, my own history is intrinsically linked to how the label developed and both of these sides had to be touched upon. But most importantly I set out to illuminate the story from as many angles as possible by interviewing all of the major players - to get many sides of the whole proceeding - to make it a comprehensive telling of the story. Finally I had to edit it down and make it read like a story - to keep it interesting and flowing.

The new 'Extended Edition' contains more than 50 extra pages including a new, final, chapter and new photographs.

Yes, I know, it's very early to be doing another edition, but I didn't expect the first edition to sell out in a couple of months - I thought it would take years - so now that I have finally found Porl, the photographer, and all these rare shots are there - unused, I just thought 'fuck it - DO IT NOW'. The first edition is a real collectors edition now too (especially the signed and numbered ones) so no one can feel cheated. Plus, I'm doing a hardback edition this time too. I wish I could have done it all sooner. The anniversary did come up a bit too quickly for me, but I really wanted to mark it with the book's release. It just takes a long time to get in touch with certain people at times - even the most important ones, like Porl Medlock, who has hundreds of photos from all the classic bands sat in his house, doing nothing (he really should have a book all by himself!).

Are you satisfied now with the final result? Or did you discover a perfectionist inside yourself who wants to prove this work again and again?

I'm happy to say that, with the release of the Extended Edition, I think I have finished the job. As it stands, there is no more to add - I'm not envisaging doing another version and I'll be happy to return to my quiet life. It's taken up quite some time. I do understand what you mean though. There is certainly a temptation to keep adding. I won't though… I promise.

I almost forgot to ask! Will you have a presentation of the 'Peaceville Life' re-issue?

I will be working on a lot more press and promotion with this printing. In fact I didn't do ANY for the first edition. As soon as Fenriz said it was 'Top Notch' on his Facebook page it sold like wildfire and soon I didn't have any copies left to send out or give away. But this is a marathon and not a sprint. There's plenty of time for the book to work it's way around. It's not like the story dates, or anything. Plus, there's a movie in there… deep down somewhere…I still think it's all been under-sold. Time to change that!

Hammy, now that you've finished 'Peaceville Life', what are your further plans? Do you feel an urge to expand your creative energy on more writing or music-writing… or maybe producing albums?

You'll probably find it strange when I say this, but I feel that I have finished with my musical career. I don't really listen to a lot of music anymore. As I go through the years I find myself steadily transforming. My next project is mastering meditation and emptying my mind for my oncoming old age. I may write more. I've really enjoyed getting into the writing process and find it meditative in itself. I have a couple of ideas, but nothing concrete as yet. Thankfully, there is no rush - nor need there be. I'm founding the Slow Book movement - you read it here first.

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Interviewed on 2018-07-09 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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