Meet The Beat-Hells – the punk rock Fab Four
If you love punk, rock and The Beatles then today is your lucky day.
The Beat-Hells – the Fab Four but not as you’ve heard them before – are launching themselves upon your unsuspecting ears with their self-titled debut album.
Breaking cover last year with a coruscating cover of The Beatles’ 1962 single ‘Please Please Me’, their avowed aim is injecting a little mayhem and mischief into Merseybeat, and fashioning a fast, frantic and frenetic version of the Fabs.
The Beat-Hells is a project that came together during lockdown in Wales and Germany. The line-up features Welsh musicians Neil Starr, on vocals and guitar, and Will Davies, on bass, complemented by German musician, Sibbi Hafner, on vocals and guitar. The band also includes a revolving cast of different drummers. More of which shortly.
The idea of the band was born out of their mutual love and adoration for The Beatles and rock/punk music, choosing some of their favourite Beatles tracks and putting a unique and modern punk rock spin on them.
“Back in March 2020 I contacted a friend I had met a decade ago called Sibbi, who plays in a German band called Itchy,” says Neil, a well known musician in Wales thanks to his stints as frontman of outfits such as Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons, States and Empires, Attack! Attack! And Dopamine.
“We first met a decade ago when Attack! Attack! supported Itchy on a German tour. The tour was amazing and we hit it off as friends straight away and always stayed in touch.
“I also spoke to Will Davies about playing bass guitar for the project. He is one of the best bassists I’ve ever played with and had the pleasure of being in two bands with him in the past Attack! Attack! and States and Empires.”
Rather than recruiting one drummer for the whole album, Neil and Sibbi decided to pick a different drummer for each track, which has resulted in a number of good friends from all over the world playing on their forthcoming self-titled debut album.
The roll call of accomplished sticksmen reads: Ed Udhus (Zebrahead), Dane Campbell (Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons), Kob (punk rock factory), Johno Fisher (States and Empires), Eike Herwig (Donots), Sascha Madsen (Madsen), Michael Dreilich (Blackout Problems), Max Zimmer (Itchy), Daniel Kotitschke (Van Holzen), Flo Weber (Sportfreunde Stiller), Fab Füss (Emil Bulls) and Fabi Halbig (Killerpilze).
“It’s a killer line-up of drummers,” laughs Neil. “We decided against trying to find a permanent member on drums mainly I guess because we knew we wouldn’t be able to rehearse due to the pandemic, so instead we decided to get a different drummer in for each song, the idea being they could record from home or local studios if open.”
The first single to be released digitally across all platforms was ‘Please Please Me’, chosen as it was one of the first singles The Beatles’ released.
“This was also one of the first songs we arranged and recorded,” says the frontman. “It’s full of energy and an early Beatles classic.”
A full length self titled 14 track album followed digitally, containing a smattering of Fabs’ classics such as Help, Ticket to Ride, Taxman, Good Day Sunshine, Back in the USSR, I Saw Her Standing There and many more of those songs that have woven themselves into the fabric of rock ‘n’ roll history.
But now the band have committed their debut long player to vinyl and CD – with the vinyl particularly striking available in eye-catching white and green versions.
The Beatles may be one of the most covered bands in history, with any number of popular tribute acts faithfully reproducing those songs from yesteryear, but it’s likely there has never been a band quite like The Beat-Hells.
“I’ve always loved The Beatles and have always wanted to cover a Beatles song while in previous bands,” says Neil. “Back in 2013 we actually recorded a couple of Beatles songs whilst we were States and Empires. We never released them to anyone because the band went on hiatus shortly after recording the songs, but they sounded great and that was kind of the starting block I guess. Beatles songs lend themselves to the punk rock style so well.”
Punk rock transformation
Like most musicians The Fab Four were pivotal to Neil’s nascent musical life.
“My late teens was the first time I actually made an effort to research them and the song history and instantly fell in love more and more with their music,” he says. “I would always play Beatles songs as part of cover band sets when I was growing up and have always loved singing their songs.
“That’s why it was almost impossible to choose tracks (for the album) as there are so many amazing songs. In my head I had to think there will be more than one album eventually so that I could justify to myself not doing certain songs.”
“The album release is 14 songs for now but we did record 16 in total so there will be two more to upload at some point we hope,” adds the singer. “We tried splitting the choices and arrangements between me and Sibbi, so that way Sibbi sings half the main vocals and I sing the other half of the tracks.”
Whether there are certain Beatles tracks that lend themselves to more of a punk rock transformation than others, the Welshman reckons it’s a stylistic smorgasbord.
“We tried to mix up the style of the songs so it’s not just straight forward punk rock,” says Neil. “Taxman for example I went for more of a Rage Against The Machine vibe, really focusing on the riff to make it more Tom Morello influenced.
“I Saw Her Standing There is flat out punk style and Helter Skelter we just tried to make sound as heavy as possible because I read that Paul McCartney when he wrote it was trying to write the heaviest song in the world at that time.”
If there is anything you can say vaguely positively about a global pandemic that has had such a devastating effect on so many lives it is that it has inspired an outpouring of creativity in many art forms – not least music.
“In a way it’s COVID inspired,” says Neil of The Beat-Hells project. “I’m not sure any of us would have felt like we had the time to do this while still writing, recording and touring with our other bands, so the lockdown certainly had a part in allowing us the free time to do this.
“Obviously it was only possible due to the fact that home studios exist too. Every layer of the album was recorded remotely, at no point did any of us rehearse as a band or record in the same room together so that was a weird experience too.
“With every track having a different drummer that also made the mixing of the album a really tough job, trying to get it to sound consistent track after track. The album was mixed by Todd Campbell (music producer and a member of Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons) and he did an amazing job.”
Up until recently the singer was the frontman of the Campbell family rock band, the group created by Motorhead guitarist and Pontypridd native Phil Campbell, with his sons. Neil being the only non-relative in the group.
After five years, he parted ways with the band last year, but is keen to point out this new punk rock project had nothing to do with him departing PCATBS.
“The album was written and recorded during lockdown so we weren’t doing anything touring wise with PCATBS. The guys in PCATBS decided recently that they wanted to explore a different option in a frontman and vocalist so that was the reason for the change there, this project had no bearing on the decision.”
For now the musician is throwing all his efforts into The Beat-Hells with an attitude of ‘let’s see what happens’.
“We have set no goals or aims,” he says. “We would love to play the tracks live at some point for sure but for now the plan is to see what people think from the digital release and if people enjoy it we would love to get straight to work on a second album.
“It would be a great festival band in my opinion as the songs are full of energy and everyone already knows them to sing along to.”
And if The Beat-Hells do appear live, don’t expect them to ape John, Paul, George and Ringo, like so many others do.
“We’ve broken the rules slightly on that as Will who is the bassist doesn’t sing, Sibbi and I play guitar and sing so that’s not quite following The Beatles to the letter of the law,” says Neil. “I love Paul and John’s vocals so it’s impossible to choose, I don’t mind Ringo’s voice either and I’m not just saying that because we share the same surname!”
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