Who would have thought it? The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal – a mouthful of a term invented on a whim and a prayer by Sounds editor Alan Lewis 25 years ago; a phrase much more awkward and cumbersome than ‘punk rock’, ‘nu-metal’ and even ‘alt.country’, fer Chrissakes – has stood the test of time better than Joan Collins (and with nary a strategic nip/tuck along the way).
Yep, the NWOBHM – as we shall refer to it from here on in – has proved to be more long-lasting than a gobstopper-sized hot-air balloon, more influential than a battalion of Labour Party spin doctors, and more formidable than a herd of rampaging rhinos.
How did it happen?
How did a motley selection of juvenile British longhairs, cheap guitars in their hands and tubes of Clearasil in their back pockets, somehow inspire the formation of modern-day metal titans Metallica?
How come NWOBHM originators Iron Maiden are still going strong in the 21st century, their most recent album ‘Dance Of Death’ last year entering the charts at No. 1 in five European countries including Italy and the Czech Republic, and at No. 2 in the UK, Germany and, erm, Switzerland and Slovenia?
How did Def Leppard learn to thrive and survive, after having suffered the traumas of their guitarist Steve Clarke dying from heroin addiction and their drummer Rick Allen losing an arm in a road accident?
Why, as if one Saxon wasn’t enough in the NWOBHM’s early days, are there now two of them?
To sidestep into reggae-dom for a second (and to paraphrase Johnny Nash), there always are more questions than answers. In any case, it’s not really my intention to provide a full NWOBHM history lesson here; rather, I’d prefer to offer you up a finger-clicking series of snapshots of what rock life was like two-and-a-half-decades ago. And if, when the prints come back from Boots, they look a little blurred and frayed around the edges, I hope you’ll forgive me. Because the truth is, even to this day, I remain ever so slightly confused. That’s because at the tail end of the 70s, when it all started going off, I would never have predicted that the legacy of the NWOBHM would have turned out to be so significant, so far-reaching and so all-Goddamn-powerful.
I mentioned punk rock earlier, and that’s most definitely where we should begin. Because without punk, there would likely – very likely – have been no NWOBHM.
Let’s travel back to late 1976 or thereabouts. Babylon is on fire and a new breed of spiny-barneted, saliva-sputtering yob is causing the conflagration.
The pavement slabs outside your house are slippery because they’re covered in dribble from the friendly neighbourhood Mohawks. The ‘filthy’ f-word is being uttered on early-evening television. The Queen, it is being alleged, ‘ain’t no human being’, and no blood tests are being put forward to prove otherwise. Dance floors throughout the nation are being strengthened with titanium girders to due enforced pogo-pounding.There is, in short, anarchy in the UK.
With their middle fingers locked in permanent skyward positions, with the straps attached to the legs of their tartan bondage pants restricting them to small but very deliberate steps, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, et al are sweeping the old guard away – and they’re using broomsticks tipped with barbed wire.
Behemoth supergroups such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer are being consigned to the dumpster. The carcasses of Led Zeppelin and Yes are being pecked at by scavenging crows on the local council tip. Waste containers marked ‘progressive rock albums, please deposit here’ are appearing on street corners alongside glass- and newspaper-recycling units.
No doubt about it, punk rock spat in the face of the establishment and upset the senile Old Major living next door.But how, you may ask, did it provide the inspiration for the NWOBHM?
Well, it was the straightforward idea that it was possible for someone – anyone – to pick up a guitar, sit behind some drums, grab a mic, record some Godawful racket and release it without record-company mega-bucks backing. This mad concept struck a simple but strident chord with thousands of disaffected young UK rockers.
Prior to punk, British rock had disappeared up its own arse. With no hint of Justin Hawkins-style irony, bands were wearing shocking pink catsuits designed by Zandra Rhodes and writing 12-album box sets about whoever put up those giant-sized head-sculptures on Easter Island.
People were buying records purely because they had crazy-mushroom sleeve artwork by Roger Dean (Welsh rockers Budgie being a surprise beneficiary here).
Journeymen guitarists such as Jan Akkerman (Focus) had suddenly metamorphosed into virtuoso musicians, their faces grimacing in creative torment as their guitars creaked like rusty door hinges…
You might think I’m exaggerating. But here’s a true story. I vividly remember attending a show by Peter Bardens’ Camel at London’s Royal Albert Hall, some time during this tortuous pre-Pistols era. As I took to my seat I couldn’t help but notice that the person in front of me was gazing at the pages of the Camel’s tour programme with Pope-style reverence. After several oohs and ahhs of amazement, he turned to a full-page photo of Bardens on stage in glowering agonised-axeman guise. The fan then remarked to his friend in wonderment: “Wow, you can just tell by the expression on Peter’s face that he’s playing ‘The Flight Of The Snow Goose’ can’t you?!”
Ha! Punk killed all this off, and good riddance to bad rubbish. Time to start afresh.
Like I said, it was punk’s ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude that kick-started the NWOBHM. Traditionally, rock music had been all about learning your craft, paying your dues, spending year in a studio perfecting your material and eventually releasing a first album, then a second, then a third, by which time your hardcore following had grown to, oh, at least a couple of dozen people…
It was a laborious process that required a benevolent, bankrolling record company – and a lot of blind faith. Some rock groups, such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, UFO and Judas Priest, would make it against the odds. Hundreds of others would not. And yet, until Johnny Rotten came along and said something like, “Fuck off and form a band”, no one had thought of doing it any other way. Or, in Sid Vicious’s case, my way.
By the time the 70s turned into the 80s, punk rock had already imploded – but its influence remained all-pervasive. Like HG Wells’s pale-skinned underground Time Machine dwellers, the Morlocks, hard’n’heavy bands made up of gauche young longhairs began to emerge, blinking, from out of protective bunkers and shadowy alleyways, safe in the knowledge that there were only a handful of people remaining who were likely gob at them. From London’s East End – Leytonstone or thereabouts – came Iron Maiden. From Sheffield pounced Def Leppard. From Stourbridge arrived Diamond Head. And from deepest Cheshire stumbled Silverwing…
Armed with independent outlooks, total self-belief and unbridled enthusiasm, this fresh new breed of British rock band began to break through using the same route to stardom as the punks: sod the big labels who don’t understand us, let’s make our own records and sell them off our own backs. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll use the backs of lorries instead.
Although, at the time, it was uncool for fans and music critics alike to be into both punk and metal, subconsciously there was an influence. The link was in attitude and youthful exuberance maybe more than the music.
Of course, it’s very easy to theorise about the origin of such-and-such a musical genre. But I recently spoke to Cronos (aka Conrad Lant; he likes to be known by his real name these days) of Venom – possibly the most important NWOBHM band of them all, about which more to follow later – and he heartily backed my punk-influence conjecture.
“My serious ‘hardcore life changing experience’ was The Sex Pistols; the punk era in the 70s was exactly what everyone needed,” Cronos/Conrad insisted. “People like me needed to rebel, we needed to stick a middle finger up to the establishment and say, ‘Fuck you, we have our own ideas, we have a new set of rules’. I even told people that Johnny Rotten was my dad, even though he would only have been about six when I was born.”
But equally, and possibly as a backlash to punk, 25 years ago there was also a burgeoning national pride in Britain for all forms of rock music. In short, the timing was right. And in May 1979 the NWOBHM was born.
It’s true to say that the NWOBHM changed the face of rock music. Looking back, it was a unique era, a fascinating period of musical evolution and the starting point for many of today’s stars – even if I, for one, didn’t quite realise it at the time.
Today, many people might still view the NWOBHM as a minor lesson, chapter and verse, in the rock history books. Nothing more than just a curio. And I admit that I certainly had an ambivalent attitude toward the ‘movement’ (sorry to be so pompous, but there really is no other word for it) at the very beginning…
So who was the catalyst? Who set the snowball tumbling down the mountainside? Who cranked up the faders into the red zone and caused this avalanche of fresh new British rock’n’roll? Was it Iron Maiden leader Steve Harris, in cohorts with super-astute manager Rod Smallwood? Was it Radio One’s Tommy Vance, the only national radio DJ with credentials that were remotely rock-related? Was it David Wood, head honcho of Wallsend’s Neat Records, the North East indie label that released so many fine early NWOBHM singles and albums?
Nope. None of the above. Instead, step forward Neal Kay, DJ at the Bandwagon Heavy Metal Soundhouse – a hard-rock discotheque jam-packed with speakers capable of huge power and sound, and situated (believe it or not) in a hall dolled up like a B-movie Wild West whiskey saloon, attached to the side of the Prince Of Wales pub at the Kingsbury Circle, London NW9.
When I was a writer for Sounds music weekly, Kay used to phone me up on a regular basis to try and get publicity for the Bandwagon. With his hippy-hangover attitude, gift of the gab and talent for self-promotion, Kay was extremely difficult – make that impossible – to ignore. But even though big American acts such as Aerosmith and Ted Nugent were consistently selling out major venues such as London’s Hammersmith Odeon at this time, I couldn’t really get my head around the concept of such a quintessentially British rock club as the Bandwagon. To be honest, as I slunk into my heavy metal cubicle in the Sounds office, the sounds of the latest Lurkers 45 and Vibrators demo resounding in my ears, I was stunned to discover that a place such as the Bandwagon even existed.
Eventually Kay enticed me up to visit his home-from-home, and I summed up the Bandwagon phenomenon – because phenomenon it most certainly was – in an article headlined ‘Wednesday Night Fever’ in the August 19, 1978 edition of Sounds:
‘I expected some sort of time-warp populated by scruffy longhairs, a place where head-shaking, imaginary-guitar playing, peace-signing flashing and above all blood and thunder reigned supreme,’ I wrote. ‘And that was all true apart from the fact that the Bandwagon ain’t no time-warp.’
Kay and his scabby-maned cohorts were very much alive, kicking and fighting back, and doing their level best to mount a rearguard action against the onslaught of punk rock. So there was nothing for it. I decided to dust down my bright-red-satin Uriah Heep ‘Wonderworld’ tour jacket, bring my copy of Deep Purple’s ‘Machine Head’ down from the attic, and join them in their battle.
“An awful lot of bikers frequent the Bandwagon,” Kay told me at the time, “and there’s no way that they’re even remotely sympathetic to the punk cause. It annoys them that these people buy £70 leathers for the sole purpose of ripping them up. It annoys me, too.”
Matters proceeded apace. Nine months or so later, and Kay had outgrown the Bandwagon. Spurred on by the ever-increasing popularity of heavy metal, he decided to go out on a limb and group together three popular ’Wagon live acts under one roof at a major London venue, with himself DJ’ing the whole event.
The date was May 9, 1979 and the place was the Music Machine, a venue that would later metamorphose into the Camden Palace. The three bands on the bill were Angel Witch, Iron Maiden and Samson. And this was when, by popular belief, the NWOBHM was born. Hell, it had to start somewhere.
Certainly, the double-page-spread review of the show in the May 19, 1979 edition of Sounds marked the first use of the ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’ epithet.
The headline, ‘If you want blood (and flashbombs and dry ice and confetti) you’ve got it’ was accompanied by the line: ‘The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal: first in an occasional series by Deaf Barton’. All of which carried the unmistakably daft – sorry, deft – creative-writing touch of the rag’s editorial boss, ‘Big’ Al Lewis.
But in truth, my story of that night at the Music Machine fell way short of ecstatic. The article began with a quote from the Kay-man himself, uttered with heartfelt enthusiasm from the Music Machine’s DJ booth: “Welcome to the heavy metal crusade! It’s peace tonight because tonight is the night of heavy metal in London town!”
Next, The Scorpions’ number ‘Speedy’s Coming’ rumbled from the PA with enough force to send Mike Tyson tumbling like a Canadian Redwood down on to the canvas. But, with a cynical music-critic hat still lodged firmly above my eyebrows, I found it difficult to share the jock’s enthusiasm.
In truth, the Music Machine sounded hollow and echoey that long-ago Tuesday night. One or two punks shuffled around on the dancefloor while a few more scruffy longhairs warily occupied the gloomy sidelines and looked on with suspicion. The battle lines were already being drawn.
Without the sound barrier provided by numerous bodies, Kay’s pre-recorded megawatt mayhem tore through the auditorium with an unstoppable, tidal-wave ferocity, the sound seeking out and mercilessly penetrating every last nook and cranny.
But it was still early, and there was at least half an hour before the first of the three bands made an appearance. Time enough, surely, for a sufficient number of fans to crowd in, shuffle up stage-front and make a success out of Kay’s ambitious, heartfelt project.
So let’s take a quick look at the bands’ performances on the night:
As show openers Angel Witch lurched into their first number ‘Extermination Day’ I was reminded of the first Black Sabbath album being played through a cement mixer. The band, dressed in cheesecloth shirts and loon pants, tossed their long hair, pouted, posed and punched their fists into the air after each agonising guitar solo…
Delving deep beneath the wall of noise, it slowly dawned on me that Angel Witch operated at the ‘sword, sorcery and Satan’ end of the heavy metal spectrum, with songs with titles such as ‘The Gorgon’, ‘The Sorceress’, ‘Schizophrenic Mind’, ‘Devil’s Tower’ and ‘White Witch’. In a perverse way, and even though they sounded desperately old-fashioned – the encore was a version of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’, as if to ram the point home – I enjoyed Angel Witch. And amazingly, they appeared to enjoy a much better reception than second-on-the-bill Iron Maiden…
‘Prowler’, one of the standout songs from Maiden’s first demo tape, had figured strongly in the Sounds/Bandwagon heavy metal chart for some time, and tonight was to be my first encounter with the band.
The Music Machine now (thankfully) reasonably full, Maiden – resplendent in tight-fitting leather outfits – looked poised and coolly confident, and opening number ‘Wrathchild’ was a suitably demented rock anthem. Unfortunately, though, it took up until the tail end of the set for the band – just a four-piece at this time, and featuring Paul Di’Anno on vocals instead of the more familiar Bruce Dickinson, or indeed Blaze Bayley – to produce another song of equal calibre. ‘Sanctuary’, ‘Charlotte The Harlot’ and ‘Another Life’ ground into each other horribly and the inevitable “It’s time to slow things down a little” number, ‘Strange World’, found the crowd drifting away until the band were only left with a handful of interested onlookers. Astonishing in these stadium-stomping modern-day Maiden days, but true, nevertheless.
However, things really started moving again with the song ‘Iron Maiden’, a spiked statement of titular intent, while the live version of ‘Prowler’ (or “‘Prahla’, dedicated to all of ya dahn at the Soundaase” as it was announced) scorched like a smokin’ frying pan to the forehead. But on the evidence of this performance, would I have predicted the levels of greatness that Maiden would go on to achieve? Not on your Nelly, Eddie.
Samson took the stage as a three-piece, the arrival of vocalist Bruce Dickinson (yes, it’s that man again) being a short time into the future at this point. Paul Samson (guitar/vocals), Chris Aylmer (bass) and Thunderstick (drums, sporting a disturbing Cambridge rapist-style mask) had already released two singles on the Lightning label (‘Telephone’ and ‘Mr Rock ’N’ Roll’) but had recently moved to Lazer Records, if memory serves me correctly. I guess that almost made them the ‘elder statesmen’ of the evening.
At the time, I recall criticising Samson for being too rambling and bluesy-guitar-solo-oriented – but the band’s stage effects were something else.
A glaring thunderflash opened the set and proved to be an extravagant foretaste of what was to come. Permanently shrouded in FX smog, during Samson’s performance you got dry ice, flashbombs, dry ice, showers of confetti, dry ice, fireworks, dry ice, clouds of multi-coloured smoke and even some dry ice into the bargain.
So, while I felt lukewarm about Samson’s music, the band were deserving of a gold star for presentation alone.
I’d like to say that the Music Machine show was legendary, but the truth is that the NWOBHM began as less of a surface-fracturing explosion and more of a subtle slow burn…
And Neal Kay’s reaction to the Music Machine show? “I was a little worried at first,” he told me the day after the gig, “the vibes were very heavy at the beginning of the evening when the punks were occupying the dancefloor. The metal freaks took a while to arrive in force. At the end of the night everything was cool, though. Finally, the punks were coming right up to me and asking me to play Van Halen, Black Sabbath and even Jimi Hendrix tracks.
“Believe me, Geoff,” Kay concluded, “heavy metal took the Music Machine last night and won!”
Neal Kay describes himself today as being “much older and a hell of a lot wiser” than he was at the genesis of the NWOBHM.
“I was very insignificant actually,” he told me recently, “but the impact [of the NWOBHM] is still there and being felt today, I’m delighted to say.”
Kay – a man who Garry Bushell once said would likely burn up on re-entry if he fell off his towering platform boots – was a powerful force behind the NWOBHM, despite his protestations to the opposite (and even if he did mastermind some dodgy ‘Metal For Muthas’ NWOBHM compilation albums).
“But I assumed a self-crowned mantle that I never should have done,” he proclaimed modestly. “I’ve almost been forced to re-evaluate myself. But whoever that Neal Kay was, back at the height of the NWOBHM, I suppose that was me inside. I was passionate, driven and full of belief.”
Kay said he pestered me back in the old Sounds days because, “I knew that if I was to raise the Bandwagon’s profile, I needed the help of the top echelon [Sounds]. I attacked it like a business and I was so glad when you started to print a chart compiled by the Bandwagon punters in your pages. If heavy rock music was to be given a chance, it needed the focus of the press to help it along the way.
”So, what were Kay’s most memorable Bandwagon moments?
“Seen from the side of the stage, the whole place was on a high for five years,” he said. “The venue seemed to attract the world’s craziest fans – everyone was just a raving lunatic. This one place just seemed to have the magic.”
Kay was at pains to acknowledge the enduring legacy of the NWOBHM: “The movement had a profound effect on the young of the time and it was done with such integrity and intensity from a basic street level that it just enveloped everybody… what you’ve got realise is that genuine rock fans had been held back in this country for so long, they were just waiting for something to happen, waiting to jump over into the spotlight from their side of the fence.”
You might think I’m overestimating Kay’s role in the tale of the NWOBHM. But the following puts it into perspective:“Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch arrived outside my house in Colindale at the height of the NWOBHM, shortly after Iron Maiden had been picked up by EMI,” Kay recalled. “They said they were representing Phonogram. [The duo would later go on to create the all-powerful US management company, Q-Prime.] I thought, who the hell are these guys? They asked me, ‘Alright, we know it’s too late for us to sign Iron Maiden, but what else have you got?’ Initially they were interested in Praying Mantis, but they wanted them to bring in a new frontman and keyboard player…
”So the Americans began digging their fingernails into the NWOBHM’s skinny flesh at an early stage. Shortly afterward, Burnstein and Mensch would leave Kay’s doorstep to travel to Sheffield to oust Def Leppard’s early manager, Frank Stewart-Brown, and become the driving force behind Joe Elliott and Co’s success…
A post-Music Machine interview with Samson threw up an intriguing dichotomy behind the NWOBHM. The old-stager musicians thought it was a half-arsed Sounds invention, while the newcomers were only too willing to embrace it wholeheartedly.
“Reading about it [the NWOBHM] makes me laugh, I must admit,” Paul Samson once told me. “I mean, I’ve been around since 1974, I’ve played on the same bill as bands like Bees Make Honey and Slack Alice – remember them? Nah, there’s nothing really ‘new’ about me. Samson played 230 gigs at the height of punk, in 1977, but did we get any mentions in the press then? Did we fuck.”
Paul Samson’s argument was a familiar one, and he continued along the lines of, “there is no heavy metal revival because the music never went away”, citing Saxon (who played the clubs in an around their home town of Barnsley for years under the monicker Son Of A Bitch, and to zero recognition) to back up his views. But while I had sympathy with Samson’s comments at the time, he was unable to sway me from the belief that the NWOBHM was a genuine movement of the times, and that for every dues-paying guitarist like himself there were at least two or three youngsters who’d sprung up from nowhere and were giving the music a new impetus, and a new meaning.
I actually found an unlikely supporter in Samson vocalist Bruce Dickinson (who by this time had joined the band, initially calling himself Bruce Bruce and sporting a droopy moustache straight out of present-day ‘118-118’ advertisements).
“We played Liverpool the other night,” Bruce related to me, “and to tell the truth we didn’t expect to do that well. The two days prior to our gig both AC/DC and Whitesnake had done shows in the city and we didn’t hope for much of a crowd, we thought all the kids would’ve spent their money on the name acts and wouldn’t have been able to afford to come and see us. But as it happens we did better than we anticipated, we drew about 350 people, which was respectable.”
Bruce continued: “After our set a punter came up to us, started chatting, and I asked him, ‘Did you go and see Whitesnake?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I didn’t bother with them, AC/DC neither. These days the only decent bands are people like you.
“‘Bands that are part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.’”
So that’s a taster of the story behind the birth of the NWOBHM. Despite my reservations (and ongoing obsession with megabuck American bands such as Kiss) Sounds sensed that it was on to a good thing. The new British rock scene began erupting and I found myself being dispatched to cover a dizzying array of exciting (and occasionally, if truth be told, not so exciting) new acts.
Meantime, the term ‘NWOBHM’ was spawning a whole host of lookalike acronyms. A little under a year after the Music Machine show, the NENWOBHM (North East New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) was born. This crazy term had its origins in Wallsend, a matrix of heavy metal mayhem just down the road from Newcastle-upon-Tyne (it says here), with bands such as Fist, Raven, White Spirit and The Tygers Of Pan Tang making astonishing inroads despite being on the obscure (and aforementioned) Neat Records label. Neat owner David Wood started the Impulse parent company in 1966, gradually building it up to a 16-track studio, providing recording facilities for soloists and bands of all sizes, shades, dispositions and artistry. But what is not commonly known is that Neat wasn’t Impulse’s first label. The folk-based Rubber had been around for years previous, even notching up a major seller with Mike Harding’s ‘Rochdale Cowboy’…
But Cronos/Conrad of Venom, who were also signed to Neat, claimed that the label’s success came about more by luck than judgment.
“The MD [David Wood] had a nose for money and started to sniff around at the increased interest in heavy music,” he revealed. “Before Venom took off I was helping out at Impulse and the MD asked me to get one of these new rock bands in the studio. He said I could work as A&R for him. I chose The Tygers Of Pan Tang, a band I saw perform every week in venue called Mingles, now called Idols.
“The MD had recently started a new label called Neat that had only released two singles, a band called Motorway, and the single died on its arse, and a young girl called Joannie McKenzie; this also died on its arse, The Tygers were Neat 03 [the single ‘Don’t Touch Me There’] – the first rock act from the stables of Impulse, and the doors suddenly burst open!”
The Neat story probably deserves an entire Record Collector feature by itself. What’s more, there’s a strong argument for claiming that Venom were the most important band to come out the NWOBHM, ahead of Def Leppard and Iron Maiden, even. That’s because unlike the latter two more traditionalist acts, Venom – a trio made up of Cronos on bass/vocals, Mantas on guitar and Abaddon on drums – invented at least two, and probably many more, brand new musical styles: Thrash Metal and Black Metal.
Says Cronos/Conrad today: “I got pissed off when I saw a Heavy Metal chart in a music magazine that had Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ in it [featuring Eddie Van Halen on guitar], and that’s when I said that Venom were not heavy metal, we were much more than that…”
Or, as one music commentator put it at the time: ‘Home taping is killing music. And so are Venom’.
Sounds closed 1979 with a lengthy NWOBHM update, rounding things up neatly in a state-of-the-nation story: Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, The Tygers Of Pan Tang, Praying Mantis, Witchfynde, Diamond Head, Angel Witch and Sledgehammer all featured prominently, and there were also worthy mentions for the likes of Nuthin’ Fancy, Vardis, Ethel The Frog, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Race Against Time, Zorro, Killdozer, Dragonfly, Bastille, Hellenbach… the list just went on and on. Today, you can log on to the website nwobhm.com to see just how many hundreds of bands crawled out of the woodwork in those long-ago days, and how many are still around and releasing records in the Noughties.
In 1989, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the NWOBHM, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and myself compiled an album featuring the best of the genre through Phonogram.
Lars came up to visit me (I was editing Kerrang! at the time) and a writer for Sounds called Neil Perry at our offices. At that time we worked at a place called Ludgate House on the south side of London’s Blackfriars Bridge. The building had been specially constructed for the Daily Express newspaper and we had some space there. The Express had moved from Fleet Street which had plenty of pubs and drinking dens, and (as I understand it) the paper’s often drunken journalists would only agree to make the move to a less salubrious part of town if the proprietors agreed to incorporate a ground-floor bar into the building plans! So, incredibly, we had use of a pub downstairs at Ludgate House called Poppins Bar where we went to chat with Lars.
The idea of the NWOBHM album came about after several crates of Mexican Sol beer. We thought all these great (big and little) bands deserved more recognition, even though the beginning of the NWOBHM was merely a decade back down the line.
I’ll be honest and say that Lars and the label guy at Phonogram, Dave Thorne, did most of the legwork in tracking down the bands and master tapes for what turned out to be a lavishly packaged double vinyl album. But I certainly got all the press clippings et cetera together for the sleeve, which took some considerable time.
The biggest problem as far as track selection was concerned was with a band from South Shields called Mythra and their track ‘Death And Destiny’ on the forgotten Guardian label. I really wanted to include this number but Lars wasn’t so keen – I later learned that ‘Death And Destiny’ was supposed to have influenced Metallica’s ‘Kill ’Em All’, so maybe Lars didn’t want his roots showing too much! Anyway, Lars eventually said OK to the track but we couldn’t get hold of the master tape. Apparently it was owned by one of the band’s uncles who had financed recording of the song; he’d never heard of Lars or Metallica and wouldn’t let it out of his possession...
But despite (or maybe because of) the absence of Mythra, the NWOBHM album wasn’t a big seller for Phonogram; it would probably have been better off on an indie label. As it was, the album’s relative lack of success contributed (or so I believe) to Dave Thorne’s eventual departure from Phonogram.
In actual fact, I didn’t know too much about Lars’s outrageous NWOBHM fanship prior to Metallica, although I did find out later he was in the audience at an early Diamond Head show I attended in Portsmouth – he’d travelled all the way from Denmark just to see the band. The support act for the show was Silverwing who were terrible that night – which is probably why Metallica are never likely to do a cover version ‘Flashbomb Fever’, a song I wrote for the band! A certain Jess Cox had a little more luck, however…
Good and bad things came out of the NWOBHM and the following two postscripts might help put matters into perspective, here in 2004.
The first PS comes from Cox, an early singer in The Tygers Of Pan Tang who went on to form Lionheart, dubbed ‘the first NWOBHM supergroup’, with Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton.
Following Lionheart’s failure, Cox left the music industry completely and “eventually became a journalist, of all things,” he jokes. “Anyway, while I was working on Newcastle’s daily paper, The Journal, I went to interview David Wood of Neat Records fame for a human interest story and he asked me to do some press on his label’s latest releases…”
That triggered Cox’s return to the music industry. He began wheeling and dealing, and through circuitous means managed to pick up the back catalogue of Scottish NWOBHM stalwarts Holocaust “for a few grand”.
Then what happened? Metallica covered Holocaust’s track ‘The Small Hours’ on their ‘Garage Days Re-revisited’ EP, and also included it on their ‘Garage, Inc.’ album.
“This makes me a good income,” says Cox. “I can pick and choose what I do now.”
The second postscript is from that man Neal Kay again – and, if this article has succeeded in making you feel even the smallest amount of affection for the NWOBHM, then I strongly suggest that you keep a pack of Kleenex handy.
“Last week [our conversation took place on February 14] I heard that they’ve pulled down the Bandwagon – they’ve actually demolished the old Heavy Metal Soundhouse,” Kay complained. “That sad news just reached me today. Some of our old fans went there for a beer for old times’ sake and got confronted by a load of rubble. I believe they’re going to build a supermarket on the site. But what can you do?
“That’s progress, I suppose,” Kay concluded. “But we mourn with great sadness a place of those times; those truly great times.”
In the old days I would have berated Kay for his overbearing hippy sentimentality. But even though it was Valentine’s Day evening, this was no time for hearts and flowers.
Because although the Soundhouse may be no more, the musical marvel it played a massive part in creating, still endures.