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Slipknot, stabbings and Samurai: The hard lessons I learned working for Hammer

The drunken trials and tribulations of being a heavy metal journalist

What long-time Metal Hammer scribe John Doran has learned about drink and drugs over his 13 year tenure...

John Doran has written for Metal Hammer for the last 13 years, and in that time he’s hung out with and shared beers with the likes of Lemmy, Deftones, Rob Halford, Slayer, Queens Of The Stone Age, Dave Grohl, Machine Head, Dimebag, Mastodon, Electric Wizard, Trent Reznor, Venom, Bruce Dickinson, Gene Simmons and many more. So when it came time to write his memoirs, it raised one problem: which rock 'n' roll stories should he include and which should he leave out…


My name is John Doran and I write about heavy music.

At some point toward the end of 2002, while blind drunk in a West London pub, I started shouting wildly about how I wanted to execute all the members of Coldplay after torturing their pets in front of them first. Unbeknownst to me, lurking nearby was a senior executive from Future Publishing, the company which then owned the music magazine Metal Hammer. He was eavesdropping on my berserk routine and must have thought to himself, ‘Hmmm – who is this maverick soul? Seems like a dependable sort, I must get his contact details and offer him some work…’ And so my accidental 13 year career as a rock writer began.

My first ever job as a freelance music writer was to review Killing Joke’s self-titled 2003 comeback album (the one featuring Dave Grohl on drums) for Metal Hammer... and I’ve worked for the magazine ever since. My constant employment by this august publication since that date really means a lot to me as it marks by far and away the longest unbroken period of employment I’ve ever had… despite them having had several very good excuses to sack me along the way. (More about this in a second...)

Not only did my association with the monthly metal title give me a steady stream of extreme music to enjoy but I also got to meet and interview some of the biggest names in the metal world – many of whom were personal heroes of mine. I’ve done all sorts of work for Hammer ranging from reviewing the demos to writing cover features, not to mention going on the road with bands and doing in-depth live reviews and interviews. It was my equivalent of joining the Royal Navy, because it’s how I got to see the world… well, mainly North America, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe but that suited me just fine.

So when I came to write my memoirs last year, it went without saying that I would have to dedicate several pages, if not several chapters, to my time spent writing for Metal Hammer. The only trouble was – which stories should I include? My 13 year journey working for the title had been quite eventful, with me meeting Bruce Dickinson, Lemmy, Dimebag, Slayer, Queens Of The Stone Age, Machine Head, NIN and Rob Halford along the way – not to mention inventing a cocktail called the Stingray with Deftones and their road crew (which I believe you can still order to this day, if you happen to be passing through Saratoga Springs, upstate New York). And that was before considering the fact that I’d been stabbed during two interviews, beaten up during another and had two groups actually split up while I was speaking to them. In theory I could have filled up an entire book full of rock 'n' roll anecdotes and most of them would have come from Metal Hammer jobs.

The reason I didn’t, however, was a very straightforward one. My book, called Jolly Lad, which came out last year on Strange Attractor Press, was actually about the fact that I’m an alcoholic and drug addict who has suffered with mental illness for most of my adult life. Or, to be more precise, the book is about how I’m now a recovering alcoholic and substance abuser who hasn’t drunk for nearly eight years and currently lives a fairly healthy lifestyle in order to deal with a bipolar condition and a tendency toward severe depression and anxiety. So what I had written was just as much about the healthy, quiet life I lead now as a middle-aged dad – albeit a middle-aged dad in a Slayer T-shirt – as it was about me being a former hell-raiser.

But the wild times and the great people I met along the way were all part of the vivid tapestry of my trip so far; so the only question that remained was what should I include and what should I leave out.

I asked myself, should I include details of my first ever visit backstage at Download?

On the first day of the festival in 2004 I spent an hour standing just behind the main stage with Machine Head as they waited to go on in support to Korn and Metallica. I was there when Robb Flynn sorted out a long standing beef with Kerry King and then as the pair shared a joke, seemingly from out of nowhere, an SUV pulled up next to us and all of Slipknot, fully masked and boiler suited rolled out of the door engaged in a full on mass brawl. When it was time for Machine Head to go onstage, Flynn motioned for me to come with him so I could see what it felt like to walk on stage at Donington. The crowd erupted as we strode up the steps and out onto the stage as a jumbo jet flew overhead. I watched the whole gig standing next to the drum riser. “You can take me now God”, I thought, “I’ve seen enough to satisfy myself.” And then, as if that wasn’t enough, I spent a big chunk of the rest of the night drinking beers with Dimebag and Vinnie Paul discussing how to make the perfect bloody Mary.

Should I include details of my first ever tour with the Icelandic hardcore band Minus?

I spent three entire days on the road with them in an imbecilic haze of Bells whiskey, Stella Artois and rocket powered chang. This was to the extent that the only thing at all that I can remember about the experience now is a ‘toy fight’ with the bassist Johnny getting out of control and yours truly getting stabbed in the hand with a pair of scissors. I came round in my flat in London a few days later with an appalling hangover and something close to amnesia but there were seven pages of Metal Hammer to fill and all I had was an empty reporter’s notebook which was completely soaked in blood and free of any legible writing bar the scrawled words: “FATHER CHRISTMAS????”

Should I include details of the astounding trip I took to Atlanta in order to write a cover feature on Mastodon?

I got to hang out with the band for the best part of a week, going to not just their favourite bars, shops and restaurants but even chilling in their homes. While visiting facially tattooed, maniacal guitar genius, Brent Hinds at home as part of the trip, a very bizarre evening unfolded. After he gave me the guided tour of his house to view his collection of chainsaw tiki carvings and more Creature From The Black Lagoon memorabilia than any sane person should own, ‘energy’ and ‘inspiration’ for the interview were provided in the form of prescription and non-prescription ‘sweets’ kept in a big glass bowl on the kitchen counter and then via welcome and constant blasts of grape, grain, herb, powder and potion for the rest of the evening. Approximately two hours later the interview had to be abandoned due to psychic incoherence on the part of both interviewer and interviewee. Not quite knowing what was real and what wasn’t, I lurched to the kitchen sink to pour myself a glass of water, just for the horrified Hinds to shout: “Dude! What the fuck are you doing? Don’t drink out of the faucet – that shit will kill you!” He walked over to the fridge to grab me a bottle of mineral water shaking his head and muttering to himself: “Crazy fucking limey has a death wish.” America truly is a different country.

Should I include details of my drunken performance as one of Metal Hammers’ hosts at their annual Golden Gods Awards (the UK’s heavy metal Oscars) in 2004?

Still to this day, I have no idea what it was that I did that was so bad as no one would tell me the next day and I couldn’t remember a single thing but I was given a choice: either forfeit an entire month’s pay or never work for the entire publishing group again. Whatever it was I was worse behaved than Kerry King who turned up at the Hackney nightclub where the afterparty was held, dragging a huge brass crucifix with him that he “broke off a church” and worse behaved than Dimebag who ran through the venue swinging a Les Paul round his head by its strap, nearly hospitalising three party goers.

Should I include details of the time when I got so drunk during an interview that I was thrown out of it by hotel security just to end up getting stabbed in an alleyway outside then chased home by the police?

I was commissioned to write Hammer’s first ever cover feature on Trivium back in December 2006. I had arranged a second interview with Matt Heafy the night his band supported Iron Maiden at Earl’s Court on December 22 before they flew back to the States for Christmas the next day. I thought this was a great idea as I was sure the band would be in full on party mode and give me some great quotes. Unfortunately, they were not the only people in full on party mode that night. After 15 Long Island Iced Teas, eight large bourbons and four large glasses of wine backstage thanks to Iron Maiden’s stupendously welcoming hospitality, by interview time I was barely able to walk, let alone talk. I didn’t get very far into the process before I got thrown out of the hotel for drunkenness by security. The exact details of what happened remain something of a mystery to me to this very day but I use the word “thrown” advisedly – as I remember sailing through the air and landing in a pile of bin bags in an alleyway outside. I was certainly so clattered that I was unable to express verbally to the security guards that my coat, containing my mobile phone, travel card and wallet were still inside. While standing in the alleyway directly outside, roaring and trying to work out what was going on, I was approached by a gang who showed me a knife and then asked for my money. Being hyper-emboldened I grabbed the knife – by the blade – and the guy holding it pulled back quickly, leaving me with a deep cut to my palm. One of the muggers looked visibly disgusted at me and pushed me back into the pile of bin bags, before they ran away empty handed. I was barely able to walk and now had blood from my wound all over my face and shirt. A police car on the other side of the dual carriageway flashed its lights and sirens once at me as its window rolled down. So I ran off into a housing estate. Not only was I so drunk I couldn’t talk, with no phone, no coat, no travel card and no money but I was approximately 10 miles away from home and now the police were chasing me as well. The actual hero of the hour was Herman Li of Dragonforce who carried on interviewing Trivium for me back at the hotel “for a laugh” and tracked me down to the Crobar the next day to drop off his – pretty decent as it turns out – interview with Heafy for me. So if nothing else at all was achieved during that terrible, terrible weekend, I did file a great feature on Trivium. Even if I didn’t write the whole thing entirely myself.

Should I include details of the time that Rob Halford proved himself truly to be a Golden God and an all-round great guy?

Once the magazine got sent a letter by a young, openly gay 14-year-old metalhead who was being violently bullied at school for being “abnormal”, so I showed it to the Judas Priest singer. He told me to tell this young guy that he was the one who was normal and not to worry because exactly the same thing had happened to him when he was at school. He said: “Tell him that these kids who are bullying him – they’re the abnormal ones and after they leave school they won’t amount to anything and they won’t be able to touch him any more. Just tell him to have faith in himself, faith that he’s following the right path and to be patient. Tell him things are going to work out just fine for him.” We published his stirring reply in the magazine and heard back from the kid that it had given him the strength to get through the rest of his time at school without having to live in fear. Rob Halford… what a total dude.

Should I include details of the album review I wrote that was so severe that it caused a Samurai sword attack?

I once wrote a demo review in Metal Hammer that was so harsh that it caused the musician in question to self-release a single called We Hate You John Doran and then another called Why Don’t You Stick This CD Up Your Arse John Doran You Sarcastic Creep. When I gave those a bad review as well, the black metaller snapped and went round to his neighbour’s house and attacked him with an ornamental Samurai sword, breaking his arm in several places, earning himself a lengthy stay in a secure psychiatric hospital. From this location he orchestrated a campaign of death threats to both me and the rest of the magazine – sometimes delivered in the form of gangsta rap posted on C90 cassettes. He’s back out now and recording again but to the relief of everyone – especially the receptionists at Metal Hammer and his next door neighbour – I no longer review his work.

Should I include details of the Lemmy drinking stories?

Man, that would probably take a book in itself… but suffice to say, I’m glad the days when I had to drink a four pack of Strongbow, neck a pint of Blue Nun down in one and then start on a pint of Mateus Rose simply to prove I was a ‘decent sort’ and kick start a memorable interview are firmly behind me. Rest well wherever you are dear sir – the world is now a slightly duller place for your absence.

When it came to publishing the book I included one or two of these stories and left some of them out but one tale that had to be included was the time I met Sid Wilson, the DJ from Slipknot. The reason I had to include this story – even though it’s perhaps not quite as funny, and is in fact maybe a bit more distressing – was because really my book is about mental health… how it shouldn’t be seen as a stigma and even if you suffer from things like bipolar or clinical depression or personality disorder; how these things shouldn’t necessarily stop you from doing interesting and creative things with your life. Also the book is about why it’s important to safeguard your mental health – especially when it comes to the use of heavy drugs. That’s why I had to talk about him in Jolly Lad and I’ve included the very same clip from my audiobook as a Soundcloud just below. I hope you enjoy the extract and I just want to say thanks once more to Metal Hammer for giving me such interesting work to do over the years – I’m pretty sure the writers of Skiffle Hammer and Jazz Funk Quarterly don’t have such colourful stories to tell.

John Doran's drink, drugs, madness, mayhem and music memoir, Jolly Lad, the audiobook is out now. You can pick up a copy from Audible or from Amazon or even from iTunes.

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