Rev Hammer was born as Stephen Ryan in '1965 - Kent, England,
to a London Irish family. Music came into his life at 5 years
old via Johnny Cash - "Live At San Quentin Prison". It has
never left, much to his delight' (Red Sky Coven CD booklet).
Rev grew up in Buntingford, a small town in Herfordshire,
to the north of London.
About the beginning of his musical career he says: 'I learned
to play guitar and sing at the same time so I thought busking
was the best way to get to a standard where I could play publicly.
I spent 18 months busking in the streets before I dared stand
up on the stage' (Cooking
Vinyl's Rev Hammer page).
Rev first appeared on stage when he was still at school with
his band Featus and the Undertakers. As Featus he also performed
After he left the band he formed the duo Hammer & Sickle
with Grant Davidson, who called himself Bi Sickle. 'Hammer
& Sickle played a number of gigs and recorded two tracks on
the "Buntingford Centre of the Universe" album with Justin
Sullivan & Robb Heaton from N.M.A. [New Model Army] under
the alias of Crowman & Rokk Artthrobbe which came out in march
86, only 500 copies were pressed' (Biffer's
Rev Hammer page).
Rev had met Justin Sullivan when he joined some friends who
followed New Model Army, and the two men became close friends.
In 1986 Rev, Justin, poet Joolz and bass player Brett Selby
formed the travelling folk club Red Sky Coven. At one of her
readings Joolz told how the four got bored one rainy night
in Bradford and decided to go to a pub. There they saw a couple
of performances and were convinced that they could come up
with a better show. They talked to the pub owner, put together
a show and a week later or so came back and performed. They
believed they had done a brilliant job and wanted to return
next week, but strangely enough they were not allowed on stage
in that pub again.
Red Sky Coven continue to perform in much the same fashion:
Rev plays his songs and tells jokes and stories, Justin mostly
does acoustic versions of New Model Army songs, Joolz reads
her poems and tells funny stories, Brett accompanies them
all on his bass guitar, and as encores the four of them murder
folk and rock classics. They have toured all over Europe,
and while in the beginning most people were drawn to the shows
by Justin Sullivan's name, all four of them have always been
popular with the audience and won their own faithful following.
Meanwhile, Rev has also worked on his solo career. After
a couple of demo tapes, in 1991 he released his debut album
'Industrial Sound and Magic'. It was recorded in a cow shed
in Essex with The Levellers as backing band. The album appeared
on Cooking Vinyl and is Rev's most folky one up to now (see
Sound and Magic LP Extras for further info).
The follow up album, 'The Bishop of Buffalo', came out in
1994 on the same label. It was produced by Justin Sullivan
and again features many other artists, such as Justin Sullivan
and Dave Blomberg of New Model Army and Stepan Pasicznyk of
Two years later Rev released 'The Green Fool Recordings'
on small independent label Velvet Records. Most songs are
very sparsely instrumented, and 'Green Fool' is Rev's most
quiet album. The title refers to The Green Fool, an autobiographical novel by Patrick Kavanagh, who also wrote the words to "Raglan Road".
Kavanagh was born in the village Inniskeen in the Irish County Monaghan
in 1904. There wasn't much to do, so the young men would meet at cross
roads in the evenings, toss coins and bet on the outcome (cf. "Swansfeather"). At a fair Kavanagh heard ass-dealers sing the traditional ballad "It
wasn't the men from Shercock..." which is quoted in the chorus of
"Swansfeather". Kavanagh's father was a shoe maker and small farmer.
Kavanagh was supposed to follow in his trades but showed neither
interest nor talent. Instead he wrote poetry. When he came across a
copy of Irish Statesman, a
modern literary magazine edited by AE (George William Russell), he was
fascinated. He sent AE his own poems and managed to have some of them
published. In 1931 Kavanagh decided to meet his hero and get introduced
to the sophisticated Dublin literary scene. He walked all the way in
new boots he had made himself (cf. "The Green Fool").
Although he returned home disillusioned Kavanagh settled in Dublin in
1938, where he lived, wrote and drank till his death in 1967.
In 1997 Rev's most ambitious project, which took over fifteen
month to record, was released on Cooking Vinyl: The concept
album 'Rev Hammer's Freeborn John: The Story of John Lilburne
- The Leader of the Levellers'. The album includes performances
by Justin Sullivan and Robb Heaton, The Levellers, Rory McLeod,
Eddy Reader and folk legend Maddy Prior.
On 27th January 2004 Rev's album 'Spitting
Feathers' appeared on Attack Attack Records. Featuring again
a number of guest musicians, this album marks Rev's furthest
departure from his folk/singer songwriter roots yet.
He returned to those roots on his most recent album, 'Down
The Alley', on which Rev accompanies himself on the guitar. It
came out in 2010.
Rev's songs have also appeared on several folk samplers and
have been covered by the likes of The Levellers or Oysterband.
However much I like the albums, in my opinion Rev is always
best when he performs live on stage. With Red Sky Coven he
went on tour in spring and autumn 1988 (UK), autumn 1989 (UK
and Germany) and spring 1990 (Europe, mainly Germany), autumn
1991 (Europe, mainly Germany), autumn 1993 (UK) and early
1994 (Germany and Amsterdam), December 1995 (Germany and UK),
January 1999 (Germany), March 1999 (UK), January 2001 (Germany)
and May 2001 (UK), early 2004 (Europe), January and February
2009 (Germany) as well as several
gigs in between. There are also three Red Sky Coven live CDs
Rev also went on his own tours with varying backing bands,
e.g. in 1991 (I think), autumn 1992, and spring 1994 (UK,
Germany and a couple of gigs in Austria). In addition, he
supported The Levellers, Oysterband and Ukrainians on their
'In the winter of '94-'95 Rev joined the Serious Road Trip,
a charity entertainment troupe; and along with jugglers, clowns,
DJ's and other musicians toured the refugee camps in Slovenia
and Croatia which acted as home for thousands of victims of
the Balkan Conflicts and War. On arrival at a camp a "spontaneous"
show was performed and workshops went long into the night.
The money to go on the trip had been raised by live shows
and performances in England and aid was also carried to many
of the most disadvantaged areas' (Cooking
Vinyl's Rev Hammer page).
On 15/05/99 Rev appeared on the Levellers Day in Burford
and was joined by Justin Sullivan, Mark Chadwick and Simon
Friend of The Levellers, and his long-time collaborator Martin
Pannett. One of Rev's most recent projects is Drunk in Public, where
he performs small acoustic shows along with Mark, Simon and
John of The Levellers. They formed in 1997 and appeared on
British stages Christmas 1997, in summer 1999, as well as
in summer and December 2001. The four also went on UK tour
in May and again in August 2002, in June and December 2003,
Autumn 2005 as well as in May and December 2006, and all of
the time, really. In 2009 they played one gig as
Daddyshambles. They have
released three live albums.
August 2003 Drunk in Public played at the Beautiful Days Festival,
which was organised by The Levellers. Rev also acted as compere,
announcing every band to perform on the festival's main stage. Drunk in
Public again appeared in the Festival's 2004 and 2006 line-ups. In 2005
at Beautiful Days, Rev was joined by a group of illustrous folk
performers (most of them from the Freeborn John album) for a live
rendition of the Freeborn John album. It was released on a DVD/CD pack
in late 2006. Early in 2008, the Freeborn John show went on tour in
Britain. A recording of the final gig of that tour was released in 2015
on a double CD as 'Buxton Bootleg', along with the 'Freeborn John'
album and Live CD/DVD, in a commemorative box set. In 2015 Rev played
some Freeborn John songs solo at the John Lilburne 400 Conference
(including 'Bonny Besses' and 'Seventeen Years of Sorrow'!) and
fellow musicians for another 'Freeborn John' performance at the
Rev and many members of the Freeborn John cast
have also been part of The Fabulous Good Time Party Boys, who performed
at every Beautiful Days from 2006 to 2014, mostly covering rock
classics. They have released one live album. In March 2016 they
announced: 'As things stand there will be no more Fabbies' (facebook). Rev is also
a regular at the newly established Bearded Theory Festival.
is known about Rev's private life (but then it's none of our business).
Rev used to live in London (I think) and Cambridge (definitively) and
currently lives in the country side in Devon (I think). Judging from
his songs and jokes, he likes Wales and sheep. In Summer 1998 Rev's son
Samuel was born. Apparently he also has a daughter, but all that is
known about her is that she is older than her brother. On Twitter he
writes about another daughter, who in 2013 is 4 years old. The song
"Mimi Mae" was written on the night of her birth (Rev's Youtube channel).
At least from 2011 on, Rev Hammer has worked for the Exeter branch of
the Academy of Music and Sound and is now their principal.