Sheffield soulman helped return Motörhead to mainstream success - via Dore & Totley Youth Club
Pete Gill is arguably one of Sheffield’s greatest musicians.
Few drummers have spanned more genres or retained their success for as many years as he did with so many different acts.
He started as a soul drummer but made the seismic leap to be the city’s only glam icon of the early seventies. When glam fell out of favour he changed image once again and helped turn Saxon into heavy metal chart stars and then went one even better in the rock arena – he took over drumming duties with Motörhead.
And when things soured there. Well he did the obvious thing, he tried to punch Lemmy’s lights out.
Top of the Pops – with numerous image changes – became an almost weekly occurrence.
Pete Gill was a drumming obsessive from an early age. He didn’t come from a musical background but the amount of would-be drummers that must have picked up the sticks for the first time following his success in the 1970s and 1980s must run into tens of thousands – he was once voted one of the best rock drummers in the entire world.
Few people are probably more deserving of a blue plaque outside Sheffield Town Hall – but Pete Gill doesn’t have much else to prove.
He was far more than a drummer – he was a great songwriter, arranger and organiser in a rock’n’roll world where debauchery was king.
Pete Gill helped turn rising South Yorkshire rock act, Son Of A Bitch, into world-beating Saxon and was instrumental into returning Motörhead to mainstream success.
He started out in the sixties drumming for local soul band Midnight Express.
Pete Gill said: “We’d got a full brass section and we used to open for Arthur Conley and all the American stars and we did the big circuit. I was just seventeen!”
His audition for Gary Glitter was arguably one of the most unorthodox in rock history.
“I was asked to go and see the band perform in Scarborough so I could chat to them. They were absolutely fantastic but at the time they weren’t known and didn’t mean anything to me.”
The band became renowned for having two drummers.
“They finished their set at the crowd were going wild for an encore. The tour manager came rushing over and said ‘just follow me’. He ushered me through the crowd and it quickly came apparent that the other drummer had collapsed after the show.
“He said ‘you’re going on’ and the other drummer said ‘just follow me’. I had no nerves in those days and just thought ‘bring it on’. When Gary Glitter came on he did a double-take when he saw me sat behind the kit thought ‘who the f**k are you!?’
“I obviously did okay as straight after the show the band said ‘will you join?’.”
Pete Gill’s first of many performances at Sheffield City Hall were with Gary Glitter.
A few years later – following the demise of glam - he spotted an ad in Melody Maker from a future Saxon (then Son Of A Bitch) needing a drummer. He joined and they started honing their sound in the Working Men’s Clubs – many of them were having regular rock nights in the mid to late 1970s.
Saxon actually signed to Carrere Records in the Boilermakers Club in Sunderland!
It was a support slot with Motörhead on their Bomber tour that helped the band’s rapid rise to heavy metal giants of the late 1970s.
A few years later Pete Gill went one better – he joined Motörhead and his opening gambit was co-writing ‘Killed By Death’ and renowned work on comeback album ‘Orgasmatron’.
And what was the single most iconic moment of a career that started at Dore & Totley Youth Club – site of his first public performance?
It was personal audience with Jimmy Page.
“Motörhead used to rehearse in Nomis Studio in London. At this particular time Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin was next door with a band called the Firm – I was a massive fan. Anyway he walked into our rehearsal room and Lemmy said, ‘this is Jimmy and this is Pete’.
“It didn’t register at first that it was Jimmy! After we chatted a bit he started asking about our guitarist’s Les Paul. He picked it up and played a Led Zeppelin song – a request from Phil our guitarist. I was mesmerised!
“They say never meet your heroes? Well he was my hero and he still is!”
* Pete Gill's full story is in the brand new edition of 'Signing On For The Devil - the Rise of Steel City Rock'