Tom Hill of Geordie: The Interview

Tom Hill of Geordie Interview

Tom Hill of Geordie – image courtesy of Tom Hill/Geordie

To many, Geordie will forever be known as the band that Brian Johnson was a member of before joining AC/DC, but for longtime fans, the Newcastle veterans are oh-so-much more.

Geordies original lineup – Brian Johnson (vocals), Brian Gibson (drums), Vic Malcolm (guitar), and Tom Hill (bass) – was a seismic bunch insistent on creating fresh-faced yet bone-crushing rhythms. While the band was “glam rock” at face value, deep beneath the surface resided a raging volcano akin to a rock ‘n’ roll supernova, just waiting to be unleashed.

Unleash it they did, across four quintessential records – Hope You Like It (1973), Don’t Be Fooled by the Name (1974), Save the World (1976), and No Good Woman (1978) – garnering a cult following in the process. But label tensions and a lack of steady commercial success plagued Geordie, leading to the original lineups fracture in 1978.

With Geordie now searching to replace lost members, the commercial freefall continued. In 1980, lead singer Brian Johnson famously departed Geordie for AC/DC, changing the course of both acts forever. In the ensuing years, Geordie moved through various lineup changes before Gibson, Malcolm, and Hill reunited Geordie, only to change its name to Powerhouse in an act of ’80s-inspired desperation.

Undoubtedly, the years that followed were challenging, seeing the band back-peddle as Geordie, only to falter and fold. But in 2018, a stroke of luck came in the form of an unexpected reformation with old friend Terry Slesser on vocals, and as the band prepares to move forward, albeit, without Vic Malcolm, Geordie is out to prove once and for all that they belong amongst the canyon of heroes.

With renewed focus and a second chance at a musical life in hand, Tom Hill beamed in with to recount the turbulent history of Geordie, his current relationship with Brian Johnson, the status of Vic Malcolm, the band’s latest music, and what makes Terry Slesser the person vocalist for the band today.

From an early age, what first gravitated you toward rock music? Where and how did the bass guitar come into the picture for you?

I tended to listen to bands like the Beatles and the Stones and then to bands like Zeppelin. As soon as I heard those bands, I was hooked. I bought my first bass guitar from a second-hand shop at the bottom of Brian Gibson’s street; it was a Hofner Artiste and very similar in shape to a Fender Precision. It’s crazy to think that it cost me the grand sum of £14. [Laughs].

Geordie formed amongst a bustling Newcastle rock scene. Paint a picture of that scene for me.

Back in the day, Newcastle was full of talented musicians all looking to work and make their way up the ladder, some did, but unfortunately, a lot didn’t. But the way Geordie formed was that Vic [Malcolm] came looking for me and asked if I would be interested in forming a band with him to do original songs. Initially, he had guys in mind, one of which was Billy Elliot, who ended up in Splinter, a band that signed to Dark Horse, which was George Harrison’s label. So, one day, after a rehearsal, I told Vic I was working with a better singer and drummer and that he should check us out. So, Vic came to see us play and agreed. If you haven’t guessed, the singer and the drummer were Brian Johnson and Brian Gibson. With that, Geordie was formed.

What was the sequence of events leading up to the signing with EMI Records and the subsequent recording of Hope You Like It and Don’t Be Fooled by the Name?

Vic and I had gone to London with our demos, and we went into what would end up being our management company on Wardour Street, Red Bus Records. Our first single came out on a subsidiary of EMI and then was transferred to the EMI label. With Hope You Like It, all of the material on that album was written by Vic and the recording side came quite naturally to us. What came next was better because Don’t Be Fooled by the Name was a statement to the public that we weren’t just a glam pop group. We were trying to tell people that we sounded like a lighter band based on our name; basically, don’t let our name fool you.

What led you to depart Geordie?

The typical things that plague bands. Fighting, being young, and a lot of arrogance. Things weren’t going the way we’d hoped they would, and we weren’t having the type of success one would have hoped for, so it made all the sense in the world at the time for me to leave. Looking back, in some ways, I wish I’d stayed, but hindsight is always 20/20.

While watching from afar, were you surprised by Brian’s ascent with AC/DC?

I always knew that Brian had the goods, and I figured that it must have been hard for Geordie at the time. But no one could blame Brian for taking the chance that he did. Geordie was going nowhere at the time and was missing several original members. Brian was given a chance at greatness, and he took it. I was never surprised by his success at all. Brian has always been great. What’s interesting is that Terry Slesser – our singer now – was called in after Brian left. Terry was also a name on the northeast scene, but it must have been a funny time for the band as no original members were left.

How did the three remaining original members of Geordie end up regrouping with Rob Turnbull on vocals?

We got tired of watching Geordie II perform and decided to give it another go. We hadn’t had much success in the ’70s, but we had a strong following in the underground. We hoped that we could run with that while reclaiming what was ours. It’s hard to watch something from afar, knowing that it’s you that should be up there. Vic, Brian [Gibson], and I all shared that mindset, and so we reformed with Rob, who we felt could carry the legacy of what Brian had done onward.

What was the sequence of events which led to Geordie’s rebranding as Powerhouse?

We recorded No Sweat with Rob and then toured the album, and we had little success. It was the ’80s, and we knew that if we wanted to make a mark, we would have to try a different approach. So, we called ourselves Powerhouse and continued onward with a renewed mindset. We also thought it was time to try another direction musically, so Powerhouse was now in the studio for the album. Ultimately, that was not the correct decision, as we alienated our older fans and didn’t gain many new ones. I can tell you that we rode those years out with incredible difficulty. But when it’s in your blood, it’s hard to let go when you know you still have something left to give.

Geordie was an essential part of the hard rock/glam rock scene that would manifest in the 80s, yet Geordie remains underrated. What are your musings?

As to a lot of our peers and ourselves, this is a mystery. This has always been the question for us. It’s why the lineup didn’t stay together in the ’70s. It’s why Brian Johnson left for AC/DC. And it’s why we tried something new as Powerhouse in the ’80s. We’ve always been chasing the notoriety that we deserved. I guess it’s possibly due to a lack of representation back in the day, but who knows?

Walk me through the initial conversations to reform Geordie. Was Vic Malcomn considered?

We were approached by a friend and agent to see if we would be interested in putting the band back together. And after talking it over with Brian [Gibson], we decided to give it a go. I called Vic, who I had always kept in touch with, told him the situation, and asked him if he fancied the job. But Vic suffers from Vertigo, so he can’t really fly anymore, so he declined to tour and play shows. But having said that, Vic is still a big part of the new material we intend to release.

What makes the current lineup, including Terry Slesser, capable of carrying Geordie forward?

Terry has a history with Geordie, so that helps. That familiarity certainly made us more comfortable because we knew he could handle the material. Terry was a great singer back in the day with Becket, Charlie, Back Street Krawler with Paul Kossof, and Micheal Schenker’s band. So, we knew he could handle the challenge.

Of course, Brian is busy with AC/DC, but is there a chance we ever see Brian Johnson fronting Geordie again, even if just for a few shows?

I haven’t spoken with Brian in a very long time. His life is very different than mine, and we lost touch long ago. And so, with Brian being as busy as he is with AC/DC, it’s hard for him to do anything else. But regarding working with him again, I never say never. Geordie always was and always will be a band that isn’t frightened to go forward and try new things, so why not?

With a revitalized lineup ready to go, what can you tell us regarding the next Geordie album and tour?

We have been doing a few rock festivals up and down the country and still have a few coming up. We are now looking to rehearse and record a new album which will include songs written by Vic Malcolm, who may even play on some tracks. We don’t have a release date, but I can say that we’re working on it. We’ve waited 40 years for this, so what’s a bit more time? [Laughs].

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