Sep 6

While the world breathlessly awaits the release of the remastered Beatles back-catalog, I have just made an even more important musical discovery.

On a recent excavation in a dusty basement of the Snubian archives I came across a small wooden box. Inscribed on the lid were words from a language beyond my understanding, seemingly burnt into the wooden surface. Upon opening the box I was shocked to discover a monkey’s paw, withered and black. I removed it carefully, but as I did so the light by which I was working dimmed suddenly. I fell backwards and tossed the clammy paw into a dark corner of the room. Looking into the box again I saw that it contained a small parcel wrapped in velvet of the darkest blue. Slowly I peeled back one corner, then another, until the object inside was revealed. It was a cassette tape. Written on the tape was a single word: Battleaxe.

When I was in Year 10 at High School, a few friends and I formed a metal band. We called ourselves various names – Zenith, Red Alert – but Battleaxe was the one that stuck.

My good buddy Dave was on drums. Dave played trombone in the school band but was desperate to break into the percussion section. He was essentially a self-taught drummer, learning from his ever-expanding collection of hair metal albums. I had known Dave since he arrived at my primary school in Year 5. He was what was then called a “sissy”. That is, he played piano and organ, tap-danced, performed jazz routines to Village People songs at school assembly, stuff like that. But we got on well and started hanging out, moreso as our musical tastes started to form and converge.

Our singer was called Sasha. He was a few years older than us, a local identity who could often be seen speeding about the suburb in his dad’s hotted-up Ford Charger. Sash is I think the only person I have ever met who was truly tone deaf. Seriously, he could barely sing “Happy Birthday”. Great choice for a singer, I know. Sadly, his rhythm and timing were pretty poor too – he would often come in at the wrong time, or sing an extra verse when you were least expecting it.

On bass was another guy from our year at school, who was known by all simply as “Wacka”, although I think his real name was Robert. Wacka was a small-time drug dealer of some note as well as an electronics whiz and regional cross country champion. I’m sure these three attributes often proved to be mutually beneficial. (In fact, we had another bass player before this, who was summarily dismissed for forgetting to bring his guitar lead to rehearsal. Wacka commandeered his instrument, quickly soldered together a new lead and took over bass duties.)

I was on guitar and backing vocals. At this stage I didn’t have my own amplifier, so was playing through some kind of ancient radiogram that Dave’s parents had kicking around that looked like it was from the 1930s. My only method of achieving anything approaching a “metal” guitar sound was a rudimentary fuzz-box that Wacka had made from a design in an electronics magazine, and which I had bought from him for $12. It provided a little crunch but was far from the distortion-drenched sound I desired. At this stage I hadn’t been playing electric guitar long and was yet to discover the all important “power chord”, so I was still working from the cheesy chords in my Iron Maiden songbook.

Our rehearsals were held at Dave’s house, as his elderly parents (Dave was the youngest of a large but unspecified number of children) seemed to tolerate just about anything to keep him off the streets. We practised in Dave’s tiny bedroom, which was empty except for a pile of school-related mess, his drumkit and a bunch of mattresses that lined the walls – probably his long suffering mother’s futile attempt at “soundproofing”.

We rehearsed most Saturdays, choosing our material from the current crop of metal bands: Iron Maiden, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P. etc., as well as old favourites such as Black Sabbath. It is not false modesty to say that we were fucking awful. We were all beginners, certainly, but what we lacked in talent we made up for in volume and stupidity. We even gave ourselves fake names. I was known as Izzy Fareel. Dave became Dave Death. Sash and Wacka couldn’t be bothered.

Anyway, back to the mysterious cassette tape. At some point we decided to start recording ourselves on Dave’s ghetto blaster, and miraculously one of these tapes has remained in my possession for the intervening 24 years. There are a bunch of songs on the tape but only one features all four of us, what with Wacka’s various other pursuits often keeping him from rehearsals.

So, I present to you a cover of Iron Maiden’s “Running Free” performed by Battleaxe, c. 1985. Please excuse the poor quality of the recording, but remember that this is a historical artefact we’re dealing with here!

Running Free by Battleaxe

Here are the lyrics so you can sing along.

Just sixteen, a pickup truck, out of money, out of luck
I’ve got nowhere to call my own, hit the gas, and here I go

I’m running free yeah, I’m running free
I’m running free yeah, I’m running free

Spent the night in an L. A. jail, listened to the sirens wail
They ain’t got a thing on me, I’m running wild, I’m running free

I’m running free yeah, I’m running free
I’m running free yeah, I’m running free

Get outta my way!

Pulled her at the Bottle Top, whiskey, dancing, disco hop
Now all the boys are after me, and that’s the way it’s gonna be

I’m running free yeah, I’m running free
I’m running free yeah, I’m running free

You can tell by our squeals of delight at the end that we thought we were pretty shit hot. (That’s me exclaiming “That was tops!”) Apparently we suffered from a form of collective audio dysmorphia.

Here’s what the real thing sounded like, Iron Maiden performing “Running Free” with original singer Paul Di’anno on Top of the Pops in 1980.

So where are the members of Battleaxe now?

Dave was expelled sometime in early Year 11 after he broke into our school’s music department and stole some cymbals. He later got in with the wrong crowd – or maybe he was the wrong crowd – and has had serious problems for many years. Sasha did a runner after getting himself into some unspecified hot water with local heavies. He not only took his dad’s car but also cleaned him out of pots and pans, according to his younger brother who we grilled for information at the time. Wacka had always wanted to go into the Army – a career where his many and varied skills could be put to use – but I’m not sure if he got his wish. If he did he’s probably a Major-General by now. As for me, I have survived the dizzy heights of metalmania to become a calm and semi-responsible adult.

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