How one South Shields music lover went to Hellanbach - and is still rocking today

Hellanbach, the band which Kev Charlton thought would be his ticket out of the shipyards.
Hellanbach, the band which Kev Charlton thought would be his ticket out of the shipyards.

When music gets in your blood, there’s usually no cure.

Just ask South Tyneside musician Kev Charlton, who found fame, if not fortune, in the 1980s with heavy metal band Hellanbach – and who is still playing in a band today.

Kev Charlton back in his 1980s Hellanbach days.

Kev Charlton back in his 1980s Hellanbach days.

And, as local film-maker and blogger Gary Wilkinson explains in one of his many fascinating online look-backs at local groups and singers, it was a gig in South Shields which launched Kev’s career, and his life-long love of music.

Kev, who today is known for being a member of North East rockabilly band Bessie and the Zinc Buckets, started on his rock ’n roll journey with local band Oblisque.

“We arranged a gig at Talbot Road Youth Club in South Shields,” he reveals, in Gary’s blog The Entertainer – all the world’s a stage.

“The word got round, especially with the kids in the youth club, and it was like, wow, they are in a band.

Kev Charlton is still rocking today with Bessie and the Zinc Buckets.

Kev Charlton is still rocking today with Bessie and the Zinc Buckets.

“The gig went well, but that band fizzled out, it didn’t get out of first gear, but it turned into a band that changed my life - that was Hellanbach.

“We started rehearsing, then had our first gig at St Hilda’s Youth Club.

“We started getting everything together, rehearsals, flyers, everything was going ok, until it got to the night of the gig and there was a queue all the way around the Market it looked to us.

“Then the nerves kicked in, but when we started playing I knew we had something. I can’t put my finger on it, but it was something special and drove a lot of people crazy.

“Basically I got hooked from then, it’s something that’s in your blood, you can’t give it up. I can’t get enough of it.”

From there, Hellanbach gained traction, putting together a four-track EP for Guardian Records in 1980, which Kev says sold “like hot cakes”.

Off the back of the EP, the group secured a deal to record their first album with NEAT Records, which they did at Impulse Studio in Wallsend.

“That was the best time,” recalls Kev, who describes it as a “very proud moment”.

“The album, Now Hear This, came out in 1983, and I remember taking it into work, thinking ‘this might be me leaving the shipyards’.”

“It really was one of the weirdest times of my life because it came out to amazing five-star reviews; some of the big bands weren’t even getting five stars.

“I remember sitting in the toilets of Wallsend slipway reading the reviews in Kerrang! and Sounds, thinking ‘this will be the last time I’ll be in the shipyard’ – but it wasn’t.”

What then? asked Gary.

“In 1984 we recorded another album, The Big H, of which I’m immensely proud.”

But despite the quality of the recording, major-league success eluded Hellanbach.

“Looking back, I’m so disappointed that we didn’t gig enough, and we listened to the wrong people.

“It all went pear-shaped and just fell to bits. We should have been touring the States, but instead I went back to the shipyards.”

Even so, the music bug had bitten, and Kev remains a music man to this day.

“I’m still playing, making a living and having a great time. We still rock ’n’ roll like we did when we were 16-year-old kids in a garage trying to play our first song, which I don’t think was Smoke On The Water.”

Today it’s rockabilly rather than heavy metal but, as Kev declares, “basically it’s still my love and I set out to play music ‘til the day I die.”

You can hear more of Gary’s music blogs at https://garyalikivi.com/
What are your recollections of Hellanbach?