NWOBHM – the new wave of British heavy metal


IMG_6907Heavy metal is a genre that refuses to die – like the walking dead, it can never rest in the grave. In the early 70s, the rock scene was dominated by giants like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. But then along came punk and traditional rock banks looked a bit lost.

But rock was not dead. It was merely slumbering. Punk rubbed some of its aggressiveness and thrashiness off on to a new generation of rockers and so emerged the NWOBHM. Faster beats, a frenetic pace and audiences that no longer politely sat through gigs.

By 1979, punk had seriously run out of steam. There were some laughable punk-style acts that Sounds magazine tried to convince us were ‘working class’ but in reality were truly awful. I mean, how many times can you say the F-word and shock anybody? Let alone screaming ‘anarchy’. Punk was becoming a parody of itself. New Wave filled the void but didn’t capture the anger and frustration many young people felt as the country tanked into economic meltdown from 1979 to 1981.

IMG_6909So, along came the metal monsters. Rock had returned re-energised. Def Leppard, Motorhead, Saxon and Iron Maiden. Ozzy Osbourne, lead singer of Black Sabbath, resurrected with the comedic Blizzard of Ozz and the hilarious single Crazy Train. Black Sabbath replaced Ozzie with Ronnie James Dio and released Heaven and Hell.

Ian Gillan, formerly of Deep Purple, clawed his way back with his own eponymous band. Other Deep Purple ex-members re-surfacing included Richie Blackmore with a band called Rainbow and David Coverdale fronting Whitesnake. All these bands popped up in the late 70s coming to prominence at the end of the decade.

So you had new faces and new bands plus the old guard in different guises. AC/DC topped the charts with their album Back in Black while Canada’s Rush brought out Permanent Waves and toured the UK in 1980. Rush were a sort of prog rock band with rock sensibilities.

IMG_6908After 1976, I never thought I’d grow my hair long again but somehow I succumbed for about a year to NWOBHM. Then I lost my virginity and recovered my senses and scuttled as fast as I could away from it.

But for that year, there was a denim jacket adorned with Rush patches and badges. And I will confess to a continuing soft spot for Rush and Motorhead – who both put on amazing gigs back in the day.

In 1980, the Reading Festival was nicknamed the Can Festival – because of the amount of tinnies that hit the stage and spectators. Some were stamped on and thrown like frisbees. These were often violent times at all kinds of gigs. There was a crackle in the air and a lot of discontent. This would all boil over in riots during the summer of 1981. One interesting band at Reading was Girl – a rather camp metal combo with more than a hint of the New York Dolls about them.

NWOBHM was one safety valve for pissed off teenagers to head bang and play air guitars. DJ Tommy Vance on Radio 1 was one of the few outlets that would play the music. Top of the Pops, needless to say, was too busy with Shakatak to notice. After 1981, it all went very mainstream and most of us moved on a little embarrassed to admit we had indulged NWOBHM.

Larks in the Park – pop in Liverpool’s big green space


Through the early 80s, Liverpool’s Sefton Park used to reverberate to the sound of some of the top bands from the north west. Hard to remember now but Liverpool ruled the pop waves at the time with combos like Teardrop Explodes, The Mighty Wah!, Echo and the Bunnymen, China Crisis, Flock of Seagulls, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, etc. They didn’t play this festival – think I’m right in saying. But some like Frankie did.

Here’s the festival mag for the 1985 event. It includes ads from some great nightspots of the time in Liverpool like Keith’s wine bar (we used to think that place was very posh), Jody’s (gay upstairs and futurist downstairs) and the Armadillo (a trendy eatery opposite Probe records).

 

WH Smith goes ska in 1980


IMG_62321979 and 1980 were the glory years of the so-called “second wave” of ska music – first wave in Jamaica twenty plus years before and now the 2Tone wave came crashing out of Coventry. The Specials seized the charts by the scruff of the neck with a string of hits. And even WH Smith felt the vibe as the his ad from 1980 shows.

But…by the end of 1981, political pop gave way to bubblegum pop. However, fans of bands like The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat have remained fiercely loyal to the present. And it would be remiss of me not to mention that I co-authored the biography of Neville Staple, front man in The Specials, titled Original Rude Boy.

Neville Staple playing Gangsters!


Neville Staple is still touring with The Neville Staple Band and I filmed this gig on my iPhone in Chelsea a while back. He puts on a great performance as you can see. Neville is not playing with The Specials anymore but treats you to all the classic songs. I worked with Mr Staple on his biography Original Rude Boy back in 2009.

David Bowie – it wasn’t always adulation


Well, for most of the time it was adulation in the 70s and 80s but Bowie wasn’t immune to criticism – particularly in the late 70s and early 80s when everything from his political views to musical relevance came under post-punk scrutiny. Here is flattering front page from the US new wave magazine Trouser Press but underneath is a less flattering letter in a British teen mag.

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When The Specials went to Northern Ireland


It was a brave pop band that went to Northern Ireland at the start of the 1980s and loudly advocated a non-sectarian message – but that’s what The Specials and The Beat did in 1981.

On the UK mainland, 2tone bands had made racial unity central to their musical message. When it came to the violence torn province, unity of Catholic and Protestant youth was their plea. I write about this tour in my biography of Neville Staple – Original Rude Boy. And below is a press clipping from my archives.

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Pop faces of the early 1980s


Three magazines from my huge archive of 80s stuff – Record Mirror featuring Blondie, My Guy with Steve Strange and No.1 magazine with the faces of 1983.  Record Mirror was a good music mag but it never inspired the tribal loyalty that attached to the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds. In the late 70s, it would publish painted images of pop stars, some of which I’ve framed as they were rather fetching. The mag closed down in 1991 but bizarrely, the name was bought by Giovanni di Stefano – an Italian lawyer most famous for being on Saddam Hussein’s legal defence team!

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