THE RISE AND FALL THE
From page 41 of Classic Rock Magazine July 1999
That's the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, for those who missed out on it 20 years ago. A misty-eyed DAVE LING remembers the excitement of the scene its emergence, its survivors and its casualties. Which bunch of heavy metal muthas began life at the London College of Furniture? Which singer was a binman? Which drummer wore a Cambridge Rapist mask? And which NWOBHM star now works as a tree surgeon? Classic Rock reveals all...
H ow many of you remember such long-lost acts as Trespass, Mythra, Witchfynde and Fist? Perhaps you recall London venues like Camden's Music Machine, Crackers at the top end of Wardour Street, Brolleys in Richmond or the Heavy Metal Soundhouse? What about Rob Loonhouse and his ridiculous cardboard guitartoting cronies? Or the journalistic endeavours of scribes such as Geoff Barton, Ian Ravendale, Dante
Bonutto, Robbi Millar, Pete Makowski, Brian Harrigan or Malcolm Dome?
If you answer in the affirmative to at least half these questions, the chances are that you'll need little re-introduction to a musical movement called the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or the NWOBHM, for short. Can it really be 20 years ago? Yes, to paraphrase Saxon, one of the scene's main protagonists, it was back in 1979 that "the dam began to burst." As time was preparing to call last orders on the '70s, Britain had already produced three of the greatest heavy rock bands ever. But Deep Purple had already split, Led Zeppelin would make their final British appearances at that year's Knebworth festival and Black Sabbath, besides being plagued by drug and management problems, couldn't make up their minds whether or not they wanted Ozzy Osbourne as their singer.To add insult to injury, punk rock's 'new wave' had taken over the music press, lambasting the supergroups of the '70s not entirely unfairly, it has to be said as bloated, irrelevant dinosaurs. When Ian GilIan's manager went looking for a deal for the former Purple singer, legend has it that Stiff Records' A&R man told him to "fuck off!" before hanging up.
But although metaphorical doors were being slammed in the faces of the hard rock and heavy metal fraternity, the scene continued to thrive at grass roots level. Up and down the country, the pubs, scout halls and working men's clubs were brimming with underground talent just waiting for their chance. Keen to find heroes of their own generation, young rock musicians were continuing to play the music that was dear to them and bugger the street-cred.
Ironically, the early sound of an energetic young band from London called Iron Maiden contained a strong, spikeytopped flavour but, in terms of getting them gigs or press coverage, it was doing them no favours whatsoever in their East London manor. In Yorkshire, another group called Son Of A Bitch were experiencing the same problems.
"Until the NWOBHM, we had to tell promoters we were a covers band," admits guitarist Paul Quinn, before adding:"They soon found out we weren't!" By 1979, Son Of A Bitch had evolved into Saxon and sold around 12,000 copies of their eponymous debut. In effect, 'Saxon' was the first album of the NWOBHM era, closely followed by Samson's 'Survivors; the sleeve of which featured four figures atop a huge pile of corpses. One such mountaineer was drummer Thu nderstick, wearing a mask remarkably similar to that of the notorious Cambridge Rapist, and another was Bruce Bruce (later Dickinson), who, although on the cover, joined Samson too late to sing on the album.
Meanwhile, heavy rock's popularity continued to bubble beneath the surface. Its most celebrated meeting place was the Heavy Metal Soundhouse, at a club called The Bandwagon in North London. Under the guidance of DJ Neal Kay, entertainment there would include gigs, PAs and competitions like Headbanger of the Year. The club also generated its own celebrities like Rob Loonhouse (real name Robin Yateman), who took the art of air-guitar playing to ridiculous lengths with his own home-made hardboard axe. "There were no wallflowers," Kay chuckles now."Anyone that walked in the door was a God-given lunatic in his own right." Kay still recalls the momentous night early in 1979 when "a black-haired bloke and a blondehaired bloke" handed him their demo. The 'blokes' were Steve Harris and Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, but Kay had never heard of them and it wasn't until he returned home and played the tape that he realised what he'd been given.
"I was running and screaming round the house like a lunatic I couldn't stop playing it!" he cries. Soon he was regularly including tracks from Maiden's demo in a Soundhouse-requests chart he would compile for Sounds magazine. Invaluable exposure for the new, unsigned bands.
Several acts saw the DIY example of punk as a way of circumnavigating the industry's apathy. If the major labels wouldn't release their music, they'd start their own. Maiden had spent just £200 on their demo, but soon 'Iron Maiden; 'Invasion' and 'Prowler' were pressed up on 5,000 copies of their debut EP, 'The Soundhouse Tapes; which they sold via mail-order on their own Rock Hard label. Meanwhile, Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott borrowed £148.50 from his father to finance 'The Def Leppard EP' (featuring the tracks 'Ride Into The Suri7Getcha Rocks Off' and 'The Overture'), later released through the band's own Bludgeon Riffola company.
A II that was needed now was some press. So Neal Kay had the brainwave of organising the triple-pronged Heavy Metal Crusade, a 30-date UK tour featuring Soundhouse
faves Samson, Maiden and Praying Mantis.
"Our management tried hard to get Geoff Barton from Sounds to come along and review the London gig, and right up to the day of the show he kept trying to get out of it," recalls guitarist Paul Samson."Eventually, we sent a cab for him, and he loved it. With Geoff on board he really helped to get things moving, but getting him there was a real bastard."
Barton persuaded his editor to let him profile the scene. He even came up with a name for it. "The phrase 'new wave of British heavy metal' was this slightly tongue-in-cheek thing that first came up in a sub-heading," Barton reveals."We just expanded it to give it some sort of slant. To be honest, I didn't really feel that any of these bands were particularly linked in a musical way, but it was interesting that so many of them should be emerging at the same time."
After moving from Denmark to the States and buying the debut albums from Iron Maiden and Diamond Head, a certain Lars Ulrich and his pal Ken Anthony would became totally obsessed with the new music.
"Each week I'd pore over every printed word in Sounds," recalled the future Metallica drummer. "I had a long list of every single band in the NWOBHM who got a name-check — even if it was only in the gig guide. I ended up with over 200 names, not knowing that about 180 were just garage bands who'd only written one song!"
But to Malcolm Dome, a then Record Mirror writer who had witnessed early Leppard, Mantis and Samson gigs, it was obvious who the opposition would have to watch. Dome, now a contributor to Classic Rock, recalls that Maiden were "clearly identified as being at the vanguard of the new movement': Strangely, though, bassist Steve Harris maintains that Maiden themselves were only "vaguely aware of any real scene outside the Bandwagon and our own gigs. We read about it in Sounds like everybody else."
New bands seemed to emerge on a weekly basis. From all four corners of the UK they came; Trespass from Suffolk; Fist from South Shields; Holocaust from Edinburgh; Sledgehammer from Buckinghamshire. The EF Band, featuring onetime Angel Witch drummer Dave Dufort, hailed from Sweden before relocating to Clapham...
Although I was too young to write about the scene, some of my most cherished musical memories come from nights at the 'old' Marquee in Wardour Street, checking out the likes of Maiden and Leppard for less than the price of a pint.The look of gleeful disbelief on guitarist Dave Murray's face said it all the first time I saw Maiden at a sauna-like Marquee in early 1980. Support acts were usually worth investigating, and my first encounters with Tygers Of Pan Tang, Fist, Witchfynde and the underrated More all came completely by accident.
Then, in February 1980, Geoff Barton began raving in Sounds about Diamond Head, a Stourbridge quartet who he proclaimed had "more great riffs in a single song than Black Sabbath had on their first four albums': He was exaggerating, of course, but there was no denying the sheer excitement of tracks like 'Sucking My Love' or 'Am I Evil?' As long-time Metallica fans know, Ulrich was another Diamond Head freak. Indeed, years after the band's demise, Meta Ilica, would cover'...Evil?', and acknowledge them as a major influence. It's less well known, however, that the first NWOBHM albums to really make an impression upon Lars were Samson's 'Shock Tactics' and 'Wheels Of Steel' by Saxon.
"Anyone who's got 'Shock Tactics' will know where we ripped off the sleeve design for our own '...And Justice For All' album," Ulrich admitted."And when I heard 'Wheels Of Steel' it utterly knocked me out. One of the things that first attracted me was the photo on the back; there was a definite vibe about it."
Almost overnight, Iron Maiden and Saxon
found themselves playing 'Running Free' and 'Wheels Of Steel' on Top Of The Pops.
"It was like a whirlwind," recalls Maiden's then singer Paul Di'Anno. "For me, it was a bit overwhelming to find yourself touring in America with Judas Priest, or in Europe with Kiss."
As Byford remarked:"You've got to remember, we're doing what we've always wanted to do. I mean, if I were a dustman, which I used to be, and you asked me what I wanted to be, I'd say a rock star. And here I am."
B ut the NWOBHM was about more than Maiden, Leppard and Saxon. Until Maiden poached Bruce Dickinson and legalities bound them in straitjackets, Samson were definitely in with a shout. Barton awarded their second album,'Head On; the full five stars, comparing them to Deep Purple and claiming they were "more metal than the Eiffel Tower': But, alas, the breaks never came Samson's way.
The Tygers Of Pan Tang had existed in Whitley Bay since 1978 and welcomed the opportunity that NWOBHM provided. Sounds reluctantly acclaimed '80's debut album 'Wild Cat accusing them of "childish banality" for drummer Brian Dick's nickname of 'Big', but the energy of their early live shows had to be seen to be believed. In later years, however, albums like 'The Cage' would border on melodic rock territory.
The all-important Bartonian seal of approval was also stamped upon White Spirit and Witchfynde — the former apparently "a British working-class Styx" and the latter a bunch of home-made Satanists from Mansfield who Barton suggested were "about as frightening as an episode of Casper The Friendly Ghost':
In retrospect, there is a suggestion that the NWOBHM was an exercise in tunnel vision. Yet, with the likes of White Spirit, Mantis, Geddes Axe and Limelight operating at the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, Angel Witch, Witchfynde, the Tygers and Diamond Head opting for unashamed rifferama, Girl and Silverwing raiding the make-up counter and Raven and Sledgehammer pursuing all-out lunatic extremity, a case can certainly be made for its variety.
"One of the interesting things to note is the uniqueness and individuality of each band," Lars Ulrich wrote in the sleeve-notes to the 'NWOBHM '79 Revisited' album he compiled in 1990."It's badly missed in today's bland, conservative,'play it safe' heavy metal mentality, where everybody just imitates the competition."
Fittingly, for a band who began life at the London College of Furniture, the melody-conscious Praying Mantis were always considered too luxuriously upholstered for diehard headbangers. Critics also insisted that Tino Troy's vocals were an Achilles heel — hence '92's addition of former Grand Prix man and current Uriah Heep singer Bernie Shaw, before Mantis teamed up with ex-Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr and metamorphosised into Escape. But one listen to '81's 'Time Tells No Lies' album is all it takes to appreciate their stunning songwriting. And you had to feel for them when Rainbow gazumped them by recording 'I Surrender' first...
Vardis, a boogie-metal combo from Wakefield, defied protocol by releasing the live '100 MPH' as their debut LP in 1980. Barton adored the trio's axe-dominated thrashings, hailing the album as "the longest guitar solo in the worldnn those days, praise in Sounds was worth its weight in gold, but Vardis were scuppered when cub reporter Mick Wall (whatever happened to him?) informed Sounds readers that the followup/The World's Insane; was a "worthless piece of junk". Burger King employment beckoned...
Finding the right image was a gigantic headache for most of the NWOBHM acts. Biff Byford remembers that, until the record cornpany provided some cash for stage clothes to appear on Top Of The Pops, Saxon's usual garb was "oily jeans and parkas".
"So they took us to Kensington Market," he remembers, "I liked this leather jacket with white strips and was told it cost £400 you could have bought a fookin' house for that where I lived! but eventually we bought it together with some silver spandex trousers , and that was the look for the next three years... with no underpants."
Many other bands chose to buy their stage gear from girlie boutiques like Top Shop, Chelsea Girl or Etam. Some favoured flimsy blouses that would look good under the lights.
"We came onstage at Hammersmith Odeon supporting Gamma or Triumph and there were a lot of wolf whistles," blushes Praying Mantis' Chris Troy at one particular memory. "They must have thought we were girls..."
Angel Witch, with their 17-stone bassist Kevin 'Skids' Riddles, were another band who never quite got it right.
"There was a glamour angle to the other bands," observes guitarist Kevin Heybourne today."With us, there were Fatty and Skinny up at the front, and this hippy on drums. But we never pretended to be anything we weren't."
All the musicians we spoke to for this piece maintained that, although the level of interband competition was often fierce, there was little in the way of unpleasant rivalry,
"If there was any of that, it was between management and labels," suggests Biff Byford. "Obviously, Saxon started off stronger than bands like Maiden, but we were always very friendly to each other. And I'm very pleased to see that Bruce Dickinson's back with them." A !though it's impossible to state a precise
time of death, the NWOBHM finally expired in the early '80s. Neil Kay was
booted out of the Soundhouse by Charringtons, the brewery that owned the venue. And as Rob Loonhouse and pals began picketing to demand Kay's reinstatement, the era stumbled into a somewhat tragic conclusion. Another death knell was Paul Di'Anno's replacement in Maiden by Bruce Dickinson.
"With hindsight, I wish I'd left after the first album, not 'Killers; but I didn't have the bottle," admits Di'Anno today. "I still wanted to play music, but not with Iron Maiden that's why I've still got my band Battlezone."
Don't go expecting Leppard's Joe Elliott to be celebrating the 20th anniversary, either.
"We'll be avoiding anything to do with the NWOBHM this year," he blasts. "To be honest, I never saw why we got lumped in with Maiden and Saxon anyway. I never had a problem with Maiden, 'Arry's a mate, but Saxon... that name just makes me shudder.To be associated with a movement that also had Witchfynde and Vardis is embarrassing they just re - hashed old Quo and Sabbath, and did it badly."
Besides the big *guns of Leppard and Maiden, all that's left of the NWOBHM in 1999 are Saxon and the reformed Praying Mantis and
Samson, plus a few acts like Motorhead, Girlschool and Venom who existed on the fringe of the movement, In fact, there's not just one version of Saxon touring the UK at present, but two! Former guitarist Graham Oliver (plus bassist Steve 'Dobby' Dawson and drummer Nigel Durham) maintains his intention was to play as Son Of A Bitch, but promoters insisted they be billed as Saxon. Oliver claims he has a right to use the name, as "the only genuine Saxon would be one that contained all the original members". The matter will be settled in the High Court.
"The twat'll lose and lose badly," predicts Biff. "The last show he played with us was Bremen in 1994, and he's still on that fookin' stage playing his stupid fookin' Gibson guitar with Jimi Hendrix on it. He's in a time warp..."
It's no co-incidence that the bands who fared best were those with the strongest management; companies like Maiden's Sanctuary and Leppard's Q Prime. In stark contrast, Diamond Head were managed by singer Sean Harris' mum, and, according to guitarist Brian Tatler, financially backed by "a bloke called Reg who ran a cardboard box factory".
"It's clear as daylight in hindsight, but at the time we just wanted to be rich and famous like everyone else," sighs Tatler now.
Such naivete is understandable when you consider that Diamond Head made their first album when they were 19, signed a major record deal at 21 and had split up by the ripe old age of 24!
"It was like, 'Wow! What was that!" Brian frowns."We'd supported AC/DC, Foreigner, Iron Maiden and everybody, and it was just gone."
"The NWOBHM lasted a very short space of time," agrees Mantis man Chris Troy."There was all this activity and suddenly it was gone. If you hadn't really formulated a good name by that point, the door was closed."
Ultimately, the career prospects of Praying Mantis, who were eventually picked up by Arista, were as doomed as Diamond Head's. For they, like many others, made the fatal error of signing the wrong record deal. It mattered little that Tatler and company still regarded by some as potentially the best NWOBHM band of all had the world at their feet back in 1982, as MCA had no idea what to do with them.
"Later on, the Bay Area thrash metal bands took ideas from ourselves, Diamond Head and Witchfynde, but they had chances that were denied to us," says Angel Witch's Kevin Heybourne now. "Everything was controlled by record companies, but Metallica had seen bands get screwed by the labels and insisted on this 'hands off' attitude. It's a luxury I wish we'd had."
And 20 years on, how does the music of the NWOBHM stand up?
"Well, at least 90 per cent of ours still does!" insists Biff Byford."And possibly the same percentage of Iron Maiden's.With Def Leppard, not so much, as it was their later stuff that made an impression. But 'Strong Arm Of The Law' is still a classic rebel song. It's amazing how those songs appeal to the 16-year-olds they were just five when they were written!
"I'd love there to be a groundswell of interest in British rock again even if the band to lead it isn't Saxon," concludes Buff. "There should be some fookin' bands playing British metal again. It's the tossers who put it down in the first place that are out of a job now, not us." -G oo d old rya The Goon D ays Valerie Potter (with a little help from the Classic Rock fogies) gives us a NWOBHM Top 10 to be proud of.
I, 1/ r /litICOUS ARTISTS - 'Metal For Muthas (EMI, 1980) ***** Compilation assembled by Neal Kay. Contains two tracks from Iron Maiden ('Sanctuary' and ,Wrathchild') as well as cuts by Sledgehammer,
Praying Mantis and Angel Witch.Also, bizarrely, Toad The Wet Sprocket and Ethel The Frog.
2) IRON MAIDEN -Iron Maiden'(EMI, 1980) *****
Will Malone's production may leave something to be desired (they didn't team up with Martin Birch until the following year's 'Killers'), but their debut contains classics like the title track, 'Phantom Of The OperCRunning Free' and 'Remember Tomorrow:•
3) DEF LEPPARD -'On Through The Night' (Vertigo, 1979) *****
This pacy,entertaining,Tom Allom - produced debut captures the teenage Leppard at their raw, pre-'Mutt' Lange best and, as such, is a faithful representation of the band's then live show.
4) SAXON -'Wheels Of Steel' (Carerre, 1980) ***** The Barnsley quintet's second album gave them two Top 20 hits with the title track and the classic '747 (Strangers In The Nighty As a result, Saxon looked like major contenders. Sadly , the band
were never to sound so good again. '
5) TYGERS OF - PAN TANG -'Wild Cat - ' (MCA, 1980) ***** Snapped up by MCA following the success of debut EP 'Don't Touch Me There', the Geordies responded with an album of quality, new wave metal, from the title track to the somewhat dated-sounding 'Euthanasia' and 'Suzie Smiled 6) PRAYING MANTIS - 'Time Tells No Lies' (Arista, 1981) ***** It took ages for the Londoners to release their debut album, which was a shame because 'Flirting With Suicide;tovers To The Grave' and 'Captured City' combined melody with real bite But by 1981 the NWOBHM was almost over.
SAMSON - 'Head On' (GEM, 1980) ***** A huge improvement on 'Shock Tactics', the previous year's John McCoy-produced debut, 'Head On' was best summed up by'ViceVersa; a brooding, malevolent number that saw the vocals of Bruce Bruce (later Dickinson) threaten to remove the ceiling.
8) DIAMOND HEAD --1 ightning To The Nations' (Happy Face, 1980) ***** This hugely influential (ask Metallical) and selffinanced debut was only originally available via mail order, although tracks like 'Sucking My Love; 'Lightning To The Nations' and 'The Prince' have become renowned through various licensed re-issues and compilation albums.
9) ANGEL WITCH - 'Angel Witch' (Bronze, 1980)
Geoff Barton accurately described 'Angel Witch' in Sounds as "the first Sabbath album played through a cement mixer:But'Sweet Danger;
'Gorgon'and 'Angel Witch' also had strong hooks, . _ 10) WHITE SPIRIT -White Spirit' (MCA, 1980) ***** White Spirit cut their teeth on Neat, releasing the 'Back To The Grind' single. Besides the frantic guitar work ofJanick.Gers, later of Gillan, Fish and Iron Maiden, their sound was distinctive for Malcolm Pearson's innovative use of keyboards
WHERE ARE THEY
Neal is now involved in record production and frontof-house sound, as well as managing a recording studio. He has now "retired", he says, apart from helping out a couple of nights a week at his local minicab office. Still dreams of taking NWOBHM bands on a tour of America, South Africa and the former Eastern Bloc, and putting together a definitive 'Soundhouse Years' CD, which he would compile and narrate. Natch.
Rob Loonhouse Geoff Barton
No longer working in the music business, these days Geoff is the swanky publisher on one of those auto-mags that we can never remember the name of.Auto-Rock, perhaps?
One-time Samson vocalist Bruce Dickinson has just rejoined Maiden, after leaving to pursue a solo career in 1993, as has guitarist Adrian Smith, who left in 1990, giving the band a three-guitar line-up and making them a six-piece for the first time in their career. After selective dates this summer in America and Europe, they will start work on a new studio album in the autumn, with a massive world tour planned for the year 2000.
The Sheffield band, these days augmented by former Sweet Savage/Dio/Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell in place of the late Steve Clarke, are just about to release their first album since 1996's 'Slang'. Like Maiden, they have outgrown and out-lasted the scene, selling millions of records and establishing themselves as one of the biggest groups in the world.
After Metallica reactivated interest, vocalist Sean Harris and guitarist Brian Tatler tried to revive the band in the early '90s, most notably as the opening act on Metallica's Milton Keynes Bowl show in Jess Cox of th 1993 when their line-up included bassist Pete Vuckovic who now sings with 3 Colours Red. But internal differences split them up again. Brian now plays in a Celtic-style folk rock band called Quill, while Sean is currently working on a drum 'n bass project. He says.
Tygers Of Pan Tang
After leaving in 1980, vocalist Jess Cox teamed up with ex-Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton to form Lionheart. When that didn't work out, he took a media degree and became a journalist. Offered a job at Neat Records after interviewing its boss, DaVe Wood, he now owns the label. Meanwhile, guitarist John Sykes went on to Thin Lizzy, for their final 'Thunder & Lightning' album in 1982, and then, most famously, with Whitesnake for their s'quillion-selling '1987'album.
Still a going concern, although just frontman Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn remain from the original line-up. Currently working on a new album called 'Metalhead: which is due through SPV in September.
An album with Metallic Blue, a three-piece that Paul Samson describes as "heavy as fuck with a bluesy element':i on the horizon, but he also travels to Japan in August for a NWOBHM show under the Samson name, alongside bassist Chris Aylmer and drummer Thunderstick.The latter is now a weight-training instructor. Later this year, Paul releases a 30-track compilation of Samson material entitled 'Past Present And Future', which will feature five new tracks recorded by Paul, Chris and Thunderstick, plus Dickinson soundalike Rick Antony. .
Since being fired from Maiden, Di'Anno has been engaged in a number of projects, most notably Battlezone and Killers. He has recently reformed Battlezone with former members of Tokyo Blade and released a new album entitled 'Feel My Pain: Bizarrely, he claims he converted to Islam four years ago, but as Steve Harris says,"It's the way he tells 'em!"
Frustrated by a lack of UK success, guitarist Kevin Heybourne 'relocated the band to San Francisco in 1990, where he formed a US line-up with John Torres (ex-Laaz Rockit),Tom Hunting (ex-Exodus) and Doug Piercy (ex-Heathen). After his manager"shopped me to the Immigration Authorities" Heybourne was deported back to England. Arriving with nothing but the clothes he was wearing; he felt "like a fucking vagrant': Still writing with Torres;he currently works as a tree surgeon. .
After splitting in I 989, the f Pan Tang. original line-up has now reformed and recorded a new album, featuring guest appearances from Lemmy, Fast Eddie and Paul Samson. It will be released on Communiqué Records later this year.
Since making their first visit to Japan in 1980 as a kind of NWOBHM supergroup (cough!) with Paul Di'Anno on vocals, Dennis Stratton on guitar, Bruce Bisland on drums, and Tino and Chris Troy on guitar and bass, respectively, Mantis have now toured there five time's. They return in August, this time with original guitarist Rob Angelo and drummer Dave Potts.