Thunderstick: "Samson weren't just out to take drugs and find women"

a press shot of thunderstick

Barry Graham Purkis is the first person to admit that Barry Graham Purkis is no name for a rock star. But add a sinister ski mask and the nom de guerre Thunderstick and you have one of British rock’s most memorable figures. As an early member of Iron Maiden and, most famously, Samson, the drummer was a prime mover in the NWOBHM scene before putting together his own eponymous band in the 1980s. Now he’s back with a new recod, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Why has it taken more than 30 years to release a new album?

It wasn’t through lack of trying. But music changes and the music industry changes, and you get a bit distant from it. But this is something I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve put a lot into it. It’s even got a ballad, this thing called I Close My Eyes.

You first came to prominence in Iron Maiden and then Samson. How do you look back on the NWOBHM scene now?

It was great to be part of that. It was an exciting time. It would never happen again. But it is hard to take when Bruce Dickinson stands there and says that he felt Samson were just all out to take drugs and find women. [Laughs] I mean, to a certain extent we were. But we were serious musicians as well.

Where did the idea for the ski mask come from?

Apart from Keith Moon and John Bonham, there weren’t many drummers that people knew. The most you could see was the top of their head. They were faceless. So I decided to create a faceless drummer, and that’s when Thunderstick became my alter ego.

What are the best bits about wearing a mask to work?

Well, it gets you noticed. It got me the front cover of Sounds magazine, which was the issue where the phrase New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was coined. And when I started doing it, it was great fun. There was no social media, nobody ever saw my face. I even had a mask specifically for soundcheck. But then I started becoming Thunderstick.

What do you mean by that?

It sounds ridiculous, but I became this other person. It got to the point where I was becoming Thunderstick five miles down the road from the place we were playing. It started to take over my personality. It got overwhelming. It was strange for the band.

It’s fifteen years since the death of Samson guitarist and founder Paul Samson. Do you think he gets the respect he deserves as a musician?

No. I think he’s a really underrated guitarist. Paul was a great friend and a brilliant musician. He had this sound like a mountain. It was like playing alongside two or three guitarists at the same time. Samson should have been bigger than we were, and that was down to bad management decisions. They were just chartered accountants who wanted to be on the scene.

Will we have to wait another 33 years for a new Thunderstick album?

I hope not. But I’m writing a book now. I kept a day-to-day diary of that whole period from Samson and my solo career. It’ll be Thunderstick unmasked.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is self‑released and is available now.

Paul Samson: NWOBHM's lost star