One of the consequences of Tony Dolan leaving the band was that the 12” single Neat had OK’d, ‘Your Mentor’ (c/w ‘Funeral Pyre’, ‘Demolition’ and ‘Mode 3’), was shelved, the title cut later appearing on the label’s ‘Powertrax’ compilation cassette. And, of course, Ged Wolf and Rob Mathew were now short of a bassist / vocalist.
“Rob and I thought, ‘why don’t we get a singer AND a bassist?’” Ged recalls. “So we put a few calls out – ‘who’s the best metal bass player in the North East?’ – and we came up with DC Rage [Darren Cook to his mum and dad]. Now, I want to put this straight because there was a compilation or something which came out and said he was my cousin. He’s not. He’s no relation to me whatsoever. We met him, we auditioned him, he was absolutely phenomenal, and again he was only about seventeen, so the average age of the band came down again! But he was a great bass player, very much in the Steve Harris mould. We started rehearsing, and came up with songs like ‘Protectors’ and ‘Queen Of Death’. Alan Hunter, one of my friends from Tysondog, came in and helped us with the songs, so now we had the songs all ready but we didn’t have a singer. At that time, Avenger had just come back off a tour of America, so this is March 1986, and I knew Swifty [vocalist, Ian Swift] obviously, great front man, and he loved the idea. We’d got some great press off the tour and the record was selling – not that we made any money off it, but it was selling! – and things were happening for us. So he put the vocals down and did a great job on it. The sound was getting more American, the image was developing, and we put the ‘Queen Of Death’ EP out on Neat and Roadrunner in Europe. Much as I love ‘Future Warriors’, there’s nothing like ‘Protectors’ on it – that one will blow your feet off! The feedback we got off it was absolutely brilliant.”
Released in October 1986, the ‘Queen Of Death’ EP featured the newer ‘Queen Of Death’ and ‘Protectors’ on the first side and ‘Demolition’, ‘Funeral Pyre’ and ‘Mode 3’ on the flip, with Swifty’s lead vocals replacing Tony’s. As the months moved into 1987 the band had a second tour in the offing, but this line-up had yet to play live and needed to be bloodied. “Girlschool were playing up here in Newcastle and we asked if we could do a half-hour set – unannounced, just get up there and do it. So we did our set to try the band out and it went absolutely brilliant.” However, the four-piece Atomkraft that appeared on the University stage that night featured a familiar face on the bass.
“The thing about Tony is that we didn’t want a divorce,” says Ged. “I didn’t want Tony out of the band, we were getting great press off the ‘Queen Of Death’ EP, we were getting ready for the second tour, but Tony was a part of Atomkraft so we got him back, did the Girlschool gig and then we were set. Straight after Girlschool we did the second open-air Dynamo festival [8 June 1987] and then we were set for touring with Nuclear Assault and Agent Steel. Stryper were the headliners for the Dynamo. We arrived a bit late, and had to go straight from the bus up the ramp to the stage, in all the Future Warrior stage clothes, and Stryper saw us from their bus and went ‘what the fuck?’ We were the only band Stryper watched from the side of the stage. We did look good, and Holland and Germany were always our territory anyway, and we went down really well.”
The band’s next stop was The Longest Day, a show at Hammersmith Odeon on 20 June 1987 which featured Atomkraft, Onslaught, Agent Steel, and Nuclear Assault. The ‘Conductors Of Noize’ mini-album appeared in the shops the following month, and the Dissonance re-issue features four live tracks from that show which was also videoed and released on good old VHS under the same name. “That wasn’t great for us,” recalls Ged. “We had to soundcheck while the punters were coming in, and it was live on the radio, but the sound just bounced around. And the Atomkraft fans were at the back of the Odeon – you could hear them yelling, but they were right at the back. But after that we went on the road with Nuclear Assault and Agent Steel, and we had a brilliant time with Nuclear Assault in particular.”
1988 saw the band embark on another major European tour, this time supporting Nasty Savage, with Exhumer opening on the UK dates. “We’d noticed that, well, we’d played with Slayer and Exodus and Nuclear Assault, and all those bands had two guitars, and you could notice a difference in their sound. Swifty was a fantastic frontman – just like Bruce Dickinson: a thrash metal Bruce Dickinson – and Rob was doing great on guitar, but we decided we needed another guitar to fatten the sound, so we decided to get Rage back in – he knew most of the songs anyway – and Tony was quite happy to shift onto rhythm guitar. And that’s how we did the last tour. It completely built the sound up, which was exactly what we wanted.”
I saw the tour at the Bristol Bierkeller on 23 February 1988, and the band were on fire that night. “I must admit, I think that was probably one of the best performances Atomkraft ever did that night: the whole band were brilliant. Often when you do a gig, it’s like ‘the drums could have been better’, or’ ‘the bass could’ve been better’ but that one, every member of the band that night were amazing!” The tour took in a trailblazing show at the Spodek Stadium in Katowice, Poland, but shortly afterwards the band appeared to grind to a halt.
“We didn’t really grind to a halt,” counters Ged at my assertion. “What happened was that, after the tour, Rob wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, Swifty wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, and then Tony left Atomkraft for the second time and joined Venom. Rob decided to leave so we got another guitarist and did some gigs around Newcastle and some demos, but after a while I just wanted a rest from it all. It is hard keeping a band together, and of course the music scene was changing and grunge was coming out – ’89, ’90, that sort of time – and all the hot young guitarists wanted to be in Nirvana or Pearl Jam. So eventually I just put it on hiatus. I know Tony’s done some shows under the name, just him, but I’ll be honest with you, that’s not Atomkraft. Atomkraft is more than one person: it’s the whole band. We all brought a little something to the party. Me with the drums, Rob with his guitar playing, Swifty when he came in with his Bruce Dickinson-type vocals, Tony with his Lemmy-esque, Tom Araya bass playing and then DC Rage with his Steve Harris-y type playing: every one of us brought something in and made it quite different. People would love to see that again, but I personally wouldn’t do it as Atomkraft. People have asked me, but Atomkraft is four or five people; that’s the way I see it.”
I wondered if Ged had any regrets. “No,” he says, “if I’m honest. What we did we did off our own bat, as we had no backing from any record label whatsoever… The only thing is that I think Atomkraft would have been so much bigger if we’d had a proper record company behind us. Towards the end we saw Onslaught get a record deal, and Xentrix, and that’s the only thing I suppose I regret. Atomkraft should have got signed to a record label. Music For Nations would have worked for us. If we’d been picked up by Music For Nations it would have been much, much better for us.”
Atomkraft were unfortunate in that they fell into a gap between the end of the NWOBHM and the rise of UK thrash. “Yes, I mean for two or three years it was just us and Onslaught, and Onslaught were based down south and were getting all the press and getting money from the record company. Whereas Neat Records, Neat never put any money into any of the bands; they never did that. Don’t forget, this is the label that turned down Metallica! There was no ambition there, none of the bands got paid. It would have been good to have had that financial backing from a record company, rather than trying to do everything ourselves.
“But we did some great tours, I’m proud of the records, and we were, well, evolving all the time. But regrets? No, I’d be more pissed off if I hadn’t done it. My dad was in the merchant navy and he saw the world, and I was in a band and I saw the world. I loved every minute of it. I was born to rock ‘n’ roll!” he laughs. “And as far as I’m aware, no-one has actually ever put these records out as three CDs before. There’s some bonus tracks too. On ‘Queen Of Death’ there’s an extra version of ‘Future Warriors’ with Swifty singing, and on ‘Future Warriors’ itself there’s a live version of ‘Pour The Metal In’ from the Venom tour. Have a listen to the speed of that!” he laughs. “And Steve Beatty, the head of Dissonance, he was at the Atomkraft show at Hammersmith Odeon. He was in the audience; he was one of the guys at the back. So in my view it couldn’t have come out on a better label, in my opinion.”
To stream or buy the Atomkraft releases, click on the links below: