:: The mask of the Demon ::    

From where I sit these days in sunny Brisbane, Australia, (and of course eighteen years later), Stoke-on-Trent in 1981 was a pretty dismal place, though I'm sure other members of the band may not agree.

Mal Spooner, Dave Hill and Chris Ellis around 1979/1980 (Pre-Demon)

Hill Street Café in darkest and deepest Stoke is a fairly dominant memory, where we would eat greasy bacon and cheese sandwiches most days between rehearsals. In the studio up the road we were cutting the demo for "The Unexpected Guest". A few months later we would start on "The Plague."

Despite the often grey and wet weather, the humour was always dry, cutting and bloody funny. It was a sort of triumph in the face of record companies if you know what I mean. All of us had already had varying degrees of success in the business; me and Les with Hunter, Dave and Mal with various bands, and Crow (John Wright) with the Cyril Dagworth Players, among others.

We'd seen the rise of friends like the Climax Blues Band and the Sutherland Brothers. We thought it was going to be our turn.

Little did we know that now, in 1999, because of the net, all that effort, sweat and toil would pay off again, thanks to the loyalty of fans we didn't know existed. I haven't been a real part of Demon since "The Plague", though I did a lot of work on BSA, and did the live gigs to promote "Heart of Our Time." However I still feel huge pride in "The Plague". Who wouldn't? One of my biggest regrets is that I never got to play it live.

Mikael asked me to write a piece for the web page about the creation of the Demon, so that's the reason you are reading this. I'm sure Dave and Mike won't mind my account.

The Demon was the concept of Dave and Mal, but it came alive through a friend of mine.

James (Jim) Cullen then owned a pottery company, Culinaire Studio Pottery, which operated out of Elder Road in Burslem. I taught him and his daughter, Beth, to play the guitar from my house in Demon's home town of Leek. (Beth is now a successful sculptor in her own right.)

Dave, Mal and I talked to Jim about the music, about the concept, and he simply and totally embraced it. We had (by our modest standards) lavish dinners at his house, with his truly wonderful wife, Jude, who is the woman in the pictures.

A sculptor by nature, training, inclination and soul, Jim blew us away when he made the mask, let alone stripping Dave to his underpants, then covering him in wet flour and red paint. Dave was pretty cold that day.

But the vision suddenly came alive, and the results are on the website, on the cover of the One Helluva Night single, and the photos I sent to Mikael which accompany this article.

I comprehensively and exclusively photographed the make-up session but I have yet to find the pics.

I was suddenly confronted by Dave, my mate, looking like something from another world.

Jim's vision came alive again on the evening of October 23rd 1981, when Demon made its live debut at the Mayfair Ballroom in Burslem. The sellout gig was sensational.

After that, a lighter mask was cast from the original, and a rubber suit was made, to save Dave hours of the discomfort of wearing pounds of paste. Tours and more recording followed, with both success and failure. One of the biggest triumphs was getting regular gigs at the legendary Marquee Club, which were always magic.

Back to the mask though. The original is in the safekeeping of someone who will look after it. I delivered it there a couple of days before our departure for Australia. For years it had stared down at me from a shelf in my study in Stoke, later a temporary studio, and its presence was seriously tangible.

I still listen to "The Plague", and think it is as good now as it was then.

It is in my view, a rock classic, that never received the recognition it truly deserved.

Some idiot reviewer (I think it was Kerrang!) said in bold comments: "Too many keyboards!!".

From reading the comments on Mikael's site, I'm obviously not the only person with the opinion that The Plague was a classic.

I'm happy to receive emails from anyone. The address is:

Finally, I think Mal Spooner would appreciate this account of the early days. I still remember playing at a pub gig at The Wilkes' Head in Leek (where "The Plague" was put together), where he jammed with the best of them, and outshone them all.

But being present when he laid the guitar track for "The Only Sane Man" was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. Laying the bass afterwards was just the icing on the cake.

Chris Ellis
Brisbane, Australia, July 1999.

–  ' The mask of the Demon ' updated 2006-02-09  –