B i o g r a p h y
 B i o g r a p h y

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 poetry.

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 also Industrial 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 the Ukrainians.

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 available.

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 tours.

'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.

In 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 joined his fellow musicians for another 'Freeborn John' performance at the Beautiful Days Festival.

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.

Little 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.


© 1998-2016 Stefanie Fröhlke
Last update 31 Mar 2016