"The sight of Cliff wading into the insane mass of scrapping people with a hammer was legendary:” Cliff Burton's hammer, the Finnish schoolgirl, and the Metallica gig that turned into a mass brawl

Metallica, Ride The Lightning era
(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images))

In the Tarvashovi rock club near Lieto, south-west Finland there's a commemorative plaque bearing Metallica's original logo and the words 'Metallica was here 14.12.1984'. Metallica's first ever Finnish gig, three weeks into the Bang That Head That Doesn't Bang tour, was undoubtedly a memorable occasion for the 150 paying customers in attendance, and for the band too, not least because of the mass brawl that broke out on the night. 

As members of the band's road crew recall, the stramash was sparked by an unfortunate incident involving the group's lighting guy, Tony Zed, and a Finnish schoolgirl. The story goes that Zed, influenced by a scene from Mel Brookes’ 1974 comedy western Blazing Saddles, a band and crew favourite, had taken to announcing his entrance to communal gatherings by whooping as loudly as he could, and on the afternoon of the show, he returned to the band's tour bus in his trademark fashion.

This practice, however, had yet to be relayed to a Finnish schoolgirl sitting on the bus, and after being frightened out of her skin by the sudden appearance of this berserker, she stood up and punched Zed in the face. Regrettably, Zed's reaction was to return the blow, which understandably sent the teenager fleeing from the vehicle to seek sanctuary among friends. As her story spread, fellow Finnish metalheads became increasingly outraged by the treatment meted out to the girl, and vowed to avenge her honour, and as the band and crew members came into sight, flurries of punches were exchanged. Metallica’s Birmingham-born sound engineer ‘Big’ Mick Hughes remembers that “the whole fucking place was just this big scrap going on, and everybody was in the audience, all the band and crew. It was madness.”

It was Cliff Burton who brought the altercation to a close, in a memorable fashion. On tour, the bassist kept among his possessions a hammer, which he trusted for safekeeping to Andy Battye, James Hetfield’s South Yorkshire-born guitar tech. Once, on entering France, the Californian musician was pulled aside by a customs officer who enquired as to the purpose of this item: "Hey, you never know when you might need it,” Burton replied, a statement of inarguable logic. Surveying the chaos before him in Finland, Burton decided that now was the time.

“Andy, fetch the hammer!” he shouted, and upon receipt of his trusted hardware tool, he crashed through the melee, whirling his hammer above his head while informing all and sundry to back the fuck away.

“The sight of Cliff slowly and surely wading into the insane mass of scrapping people with a hammer was fucking legendary,” Mick Hughes recalled fondly.

Peace thus restored, Metallica were free to get on with the business of providing the soundtrack to an evening of headbanging, and exited the stage as heroes. Burton's hammer was packed safely away for another day, and the band carried on to Nivala and Helsinki with a new story to dine out upon.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.