With a name famously taken from the ‘Atomkraft Nein Danke’ slogan from the mid-Seventies Atomkraft was founded by bassist/vocalist Tony ‘Demolition’ Dolan towards the end of the decade. The original band had several line-ups and at one stage featured guitarist Steve White, who’d later form his own band War Machine and go on to release an album (‘Unknown Soldier’) for Neat Records. Splitting Atomkraft after they’d recorded the ‘Total Metal’ demo in 1983, Tony went off to Canada, but on his return to the North East a little later he decided to reform the band.
Meanwhile, Ged Wolfe was a drummer looking for a band. “I don’t know if you know my history with Venom,” he begins. “I was on tour with Venom since I was fifteen years old, and I was in Neat Records with them all the time. In 1983 Venom played New York with Metallica supporting them, and I was the drum tech on that tour. When I came back I joined Tysondog. I recorded the album [‘Beware Of the Dog’, Tysondog’s debut] with them around Christmastime but left some time later, around April / May ’84. So I was just looking for something, and I can’t remember who it was, but somebody at Neat Records said that Tony was looking for a drummer. So we met at Venom’s office at Neat Records and got on great. This was about October 1984, something like that; we got together and got on like a house on fire. He told me about Atomkraft, and I thought it was a great name. We decided to chop the sound around a bit, make it a bit more modern. At that time, Atomkraft was a bit Motörhead-y, so we decided to update the sound.
The band then went looking for a guitarist, and found their perfect player close to home. “The best one we came across was Rob Mathew, who lived next door to Abaddon – he was his next-door neighbour! Rob was just sixteen at the time, but he was by far the best guitarist we listened to. He was brilliant, and the three of us just clicked. Tony was a bit older, but Rob was sixteen and I was eighteen so we were just young kids, really. We started doing rehearsals, saved some money up and did the ‘Pour The Metal In’ demo at Neat Records’ Impulse Studios with Keith Nichol.” The three-track tape (which also included ‘Burn In Hell’ and the unreleased ‘Carousel’) created a bit of interest at Neat, although a deal wasn’t immediately forthcoming. “But we hooked up with Eric Cook, Venom’s manager, for the management side of things, and I knew David Wood anyway because I was in there all the time, so between myself and Eric we got a deal for ‘Future Warriors’ sorted.”
Atomkraft’s debut album appeared in the second half of 1985. It was an innovative and exciting release, a proto-thrash album coming just as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was waning, and was backed by a futuristic ‘Mad Max’-style image. It’s an extremely strong release and had a lot of fans. Unfortunately, Kerrang!’s Mark Putterford wasn’t one of them. “Kerrang! gave the album half a star, I think it was, and it was just the best review ever, as far as I was concerned,” Ged laughs. “I really liked the bit about Rob being to guitar playing ‘what King Herod was to babysitting.’”
Ged’s correct in that the review was highly amusing: my personal favourite was the observation that the band “was so narrow-minded they could probably all look through a keyhole with both eyes at once.” But it’s easy to be pithy when you’re slagging something off, and this wasn’t so much a review as a journalistic drive-by shooting. The fact that Putterford actually awarded the album 0.1K (in a magazine whose top album that week was John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘Scarecrow’ – how metal is that!) simply illustrated what a stupidly pointless exercise his review was.
“It hurt,” Ged concedes. “We were just young kids and we’re just trying our best. A lot of people thought the album was good, I thought the album was good; it could have been better, but we were still learning, and it hurt. Of course it did. But you can’t let something like that get you down. And you can’t please all the people all the time. But something like that could kill a band’s career, especially when he said something like ‘if I say you’re a promising band will you promise not to do another album’. A bit shitty. And there was the North / South divide going on, as well as the UK / US thing. We were roped in with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands – but we were slightly after that if you ask me – when all these American bands were making their presence felt, but also, down south, particularly in London, there was much more chance of getting coverage. The press were covering the bands at the Marquee and Dingwalls and were drinking with them and so on, but it was a bit harder for us because we – North-East bands – were up here with sold-out shows and no-one covering them. Really, where we needed to be was down in London. But, that’s the way it goes…”
Still, Atomkraft certainly did get their share of the column inches when they played London’s Marquee on 24 June 1985. “I can remember when we were completing ‘Future Warriors’ – I know exactly when it was because I was in the studio finishing off the drums while Tony was down in London at ‘E.C.T.’ [a short-lived live metal show on Channel 4] the night Venom were playing. He was right down in the front row, and I couldn’t get down because I was finishing off the drums [so that was 31 May 1985]. So we wrapped it up, everyone that we knew loved the album, and it was time to gig. And what better for your debut gig – Atomkraft hadn’t played live before that – than supporting Slayer at the Marquee on their first UK show.”
If you were there – and I wasn’t, because like hundreds of other people I just couldn’t get in – you’ll recall that the place was rammed. Ged laughs. “What happened was, we travelled down on the cheap bus from Newcastle – Neat Records never paid for anything: bet you’ve never heard that before! – and the gear went down in the van with three or four crew. We got down there – this was the old Marquee in Wardour Street – and we found we had about twenty crew! Anyone who knew us jumped in the van and got down there. The Marquee management took one look and went: ‘what the fuck? Line your crew up.’ Atomkraft had more crew than Slayer!
“Slayer were absolutely brilliant though,” he continues. “We met them, and they were fantastic. If you remember the old Marquee, you’ll know you couldn’t get two drum kits on, so Dave Lombardo said ‘after the soundcheck, we’ll take my kit off and you can put your kit on,’ and that was great, but then he asked if I could lend him a set of drumsticks. ‘Absolutely! No problem.’ So, we went on stage, played three-and-a-half songs and the whole backline crashed. So we trashed everything. I had a sledgehammer, I smashed the whole drum kit up and threw it out into the crowd. There was a guy walking home afterwards with a bass drum!”
At this point I felt I had to ask why Ged had a sledgehammer in the first place. “Initially I was just going to smash one bass drum,” he explains, “but I just smashed it all and thought ‘well, I’m not going to take it back to Newcastle’ so I threw it all into the crowd. And that was that. Then Dave Lombardo reminded me about the drumsticks. Shit! I’d thrown them all out to the crowd! My drum roadie had to go into the crowd and ask if we could have some drumsticks back to get two to give to Dave. How embarrassing!”
Autumn 1985 saw Atomkraft on the road for their first tour, opening for Venom and Exodus in Europe. The slot on the first leg of the tour, around the UK, was London’s Chariot. “Literally, Chariot got off the tour bus and we got on it,” laughs Ged, “and set off for Europe. The tour was brilliant. We went on the road and had a great time, especially with Paul Baloff and Gary Holt, and we had some great times together. Let’s put this into perspective. Our debut gig was supporting Slayer at the Marquee, our second gig was in Rome at the Teatro Tenda in front of about 5,000 – 6,000 people [12 Oct 1985]. It was a big tent in the car park of the Coliseum. And don’t forget that Rob the guitarist was just sixteen-seventeen years old. His mum and dad didn’t want him to go on the tour because he’d only just left school.”
Although Ged refers to the tour as an “amazing experience” the Atomkraft trio had virtually no money and nothing to eat, and when they arrived in Copenhagen to find just the odd burger awaiting them backstage they issued a no-food-no-show ultimatum and stuck to their guns, something Ged now views as a mistake. “We should have played for our fans. That’s what you should do. Plus, Metallica were there, recording ‘Master Of Puppets’ so they were watching the show too!”
Neat had green-lighted a four-track EP and even assigned it a catalogue number when Tony and the band parted company. “When we got back, Tony wanted to have management in London, while me and Rob were quite happy with the our management company. I don’t want to be funny, I know Eric’s my brother, but at the time Venom were the number one independent band in Europe and were doing pretty well for themselves. And Tony actually wanted to move down to London as well, and we didn’t want to do that. Going back to the North / South thing, it’s true that we’d get more attention if we moved down to London, but we just didn’t want to do it. So that’s when Tony left the band for the first time.”
To be continued…
To stream or buy the Atomkraft releases, click on the links below: