Napalm Death and the Possibility of Life’s Destruction
It was a big day for Napalm Death. John Peel’s producer, John Walters, had called drummer Mick Harris at his parents’ house in Birmingham to ask the question every up-and-coming band wanted to hear: whether the band could come down to London to do a session. They knew that Peel had been going crazy for their debut album Scum, and holding the DJ in no little reverence, they agreed. Too excited to be nervous they looked forward to a Sunday afternoon in the BBC’s Maida Vale studio, and the prospect of a free meal.
The teenage band – as ever – had to converge on Birmingham from disparate points: bassist Shane Embury came from home in Ironbridge near Telford, Shropshire, and stayed overnight at Harris’s house. Bill Steer’s parents dropped him off in the morning (they still wouldn’t let the guitarist travel on his own by train from the Wirral). They piled into the rented van and picked up vocalist Lee Dorrian in Coventry before heading towards their destiny. Long-suffering Peel Sessions producer Dale Griffin was aghast. Harris had gamely presented him with the twelve-song set list that the band wanted to perform in their twenty minutes in studio 3, beaming from ear to ear, the hyperactive little shite as ever. But this was not the way things ran,Griffin explained: bands had twenty minutes divided into four slots: A, B, C and D. Yes, a band could get away with five, maybe six songs if they squeezed two into one slot, but twelve was out of the question. Harris had to repeat to yet another sound engineer how Napalm worked: that it would only take a few minutes – their songs didn’t last long. Griffin was perplexed as much as exasperated, but soon relented and stood open-mouthed as the band blazed through their set in one take. Music had taken some very strange paths since he had co-founded Mott the Hoople in 1969, but this was something else.
Dorrian and Harris took their positions to overlay the vocals, credited on Scum for ‘lead growls’ and ‘Caveman screams and growls’ respectively. Once they started Griffin had to be fast to stop them in their tracks: half-laughing and halfcrying he ran out and brought back avant-garde punk vocalist Danielle Dax who had been recording in the adjacent studio. They started again, before Dax exclaimed, ‘You can’t sing like that! You’ll damage your vocal chords, boys!’