Saturday, January 20, 2007

The M to P of Heavy Metal

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The M to P of Heavy Metal?!! Why not the A to Z (that's a Zed, not a Zee, readers in Amerika) ?

Well why not? Maybe I could start with a band beginning with A. AC/DC? Nah. Not really heavy metal, whatever you may think. And anyway I have a good reason for the M and the P...

I've had an at times intensely physical love affair with heavy metal since I received a lethal dose of Motorhead at Newcastle Mayfair in November 1980, whre they unveiled the songs from their then new LP 'Ace of Spades', the title track of which is now their signature tune and a bona fide Rock Classic. Here it is performed by the Incredible Singing Pish Dolls, and sounding uncannily like the original...

So you see, they were the M. They were one of the bookends of the period of my life when that genre of music dominated my musical tastes. Before seeing Motorhead for the first time, aged 18, I was vague about music. At school, I wasn't that bothered by it. There was little music on telly, apart from Top of the Pops, which I always watched, and The Old Grey Whistle Test, which somehow seemed too grown up for me, not to mention too late - I was in bed before it came on.

I liked music, don't get me wrong. As 11 year olds me and my best mate Steven Dibb and a couple of other lads formed a 'gang'. Not that we did anything, or caused any trouble, so calling us a gang, by the standards of todays adolescent armies, is risible. But a gang we were, even if it was really just me and Steven. We had to form a gang because, in the corner of Pudsey Cemetery were some huge victorian greenhouses, still fully glazed, which needed a gang to use them as a hideout, a den. We had to form a gang then, see? Just so the greenhouses didn't go to waste.

What's this got to do with heavy metal, with Motorhead, and why is it the M(otorhead) to P of heavy metal? Patience. All good things come to those with blonde hair and larger than average breasts.

Right: My rock bitch, Jude, with blonde(ish) hair and larger than average breasts, adopting a suitably heavy metal attitude

The greenhouses were beautiful. They still had their timber staging, and stacks of terracotta plant pots, and white glazed sinks sunk into the floor under the staging, full of cold water for watering the long gone plants. Part of the Council Parks Department, but closed down when Pudsey was absorbed by the amoebic creep of the city of Leeds. We left the greenhouses alone. We didn't break anything or set fire to them. I was actually slightly in awe of them, to be honest. I had respect for them and their history.

No, we just hung around in there; 'hung out' to use the American parlance that has, like, sprung up like weeds all over the garden of the English language, dude. We once got hold of some of those little tubes of car touch-up paint and wrote our names on the pavement, and I was terrified the police would be after me. Can you imagine an adolescent boy in 2007 thinking that way? No, the greenhouses would be wrecked within a weekend, the glass smashed and staging burnt. A 'gang' in 2007 would quickly destroy their own adopted home. Idiots.

Heavy Metal? Well, we had to have rules in our gang. To be a member, you had to like Slade. Slade were the first band I was really into, probably because my grandad bought me a cassette of 'Sladest' as a christmas present in 1973, which was the first piece of music I owned. OK, I know Slade aren't a heavy metal band, even if Quiet Riot did cover 'Cum on Feel the Noize' sometime in the 80s. No, not heavy metal, but definitely a rock band. Heavy metal didn't even exist then, I suppose. Not by name. It was 'Heavy Rock'. Black Sabbath had invented the genre without realising it, back in 1970, with their eponymous first LP, but they were lumped together with the heavy rock bands like Led Zep, Deep Purple and the like. I was too young to appreciate those bands. You didn't see them on Top of the Pops, so I had no exposure to them until I was older. Slade was as heavy as it got, but it set the template in my head.

For anyone who doubts that Black Sabbath invented Metal As We Know It (MAWKI), listen to this; Sabbath performing 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath', the title track from their 5th LP, released in 1973, and later to be covered by the Swedish Hardcore Porn-Metal act The Cardigans...

1973 not early enough to justify their "invention" of MAWKI? How about this, the title track from their first LP 'Black Sabbath', performed live in Paris in 1970...

The RIFFS man, the riffs!

From glam pop roots like Slade and Sweet, my musical tastes grew. The parochialism and subcultures that characterise the music scene now didn't really exist then, in the early 1970s, and I was happy to take my growing collection of singles to parties and play Slade's 'Skweeze me Pleeze me' next to the Beatles 'Paperback writer' (which I'd swapped off my mate Ray Quinn for The Sweet's 'Hellraiser'), followed by Abba's 'Money Money Money', Frankie Miller's 'Be Good to Yourself' and Heatwave's 'Boogie Nights'. A confused kid, or was I already a kid who was developing admirably broad tastes?

In 1976, I started hearing a new sort of music. Punk. The Sex Pistols. The Damned. The Clash. These bands were all over the papers and TV. They were intimidating, and parental warnings of doom rang in my ears as attempts were made to prevent me falling into the clutches of Satan's music and coming home wearing a sloganised bin liner with safety pins through my newly bloodied ears.

It worked. I was never a punk, but I did like the music. For the first time, I felt I was in at the start of something. That I was part of a generation who owned the music that was burning through the ancient forests of the established music hierarchies. It was ours. I'd liked Slade, but they were around ages before I discovered them, and anyway, they weren't a threat to anyone. I enjoyed the power that punk gave me, that I could sow mild fear in my mother's eyes simply by casually letting slip that some of my mates were 'punk rockers'. I suppose a lot of 14 year olds felt the same.

Left: Original London punk icon Soo Catwoman, one of the people at the very cutting edge of the scene in 1976. What balls! Nobody I knew looked like this in 1976. Or 1977 for that matter. Wonder what she's doing now?

When punk really exploded then went into a slow decline, as the music industry got over the surprise and shock of its arrival, and worked to trap and break this wild mustang, so it could work for them, and earn them money, it was 1977. I was 15, and I was finally waking up to the heavy rock bands I'd missed in the early 70s. I was watching the Old Grey Whistle Test now, and I saw no discrepancy in playing Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd next to The Buzzcocks or Siouxsie and The Banshees. It was all good.

To be honest, most of my generation were the same. The idea that punk swept away all the long haired prog and heavy rock bands was a myth, apart from within the inward-looking lives of the punk hardcore; those who fully embraced the punk ethic, and rejected what went before. I suspect even they had guilty pleasures tucked away at the back of their album racks, and still grooved to Trammps or shook their larded hair to Deep Purple. After all, Lydon was well known as a fan of Tim Buckley and other former representatives of the Love Generation, so McLaren's "Never trust a hippy" slogan, though endorsed by many, rang hollow when looked at closely in the context of the real attitudes of his proteges, with the obvious exception of the cartoonish Sid, who seemed to delight in rejecting everything, including life.

Look at footage of many early punk acts like the Buzzcocks or The Fall and you'll see flares, long hair, wing collar shirts and tank tops. Outside the London scene, it definitely wasn't all bondage trousers and spiky hair. Far more mix and match, like the slow slide from Roman Britain into the Anglo-Saxon period, the dividing lines were blurred, and all the more so in Northern towns like Leeds or Manchester. Punk music was everywhere but the tsunami of punk fashion ran out of steam long before it reached Pudsey.

It was at that point in 1976/77, when I'd been energised by the rawness and fury of punk, but was beginning to explore the 'album bands' I'd missed out on, that I went to my first gig. Not a punk gig. It was Thin Lizzy, at St George's Hall, Bradford. I'd queued for five and a half hours on a freezing cold snowy day in December of 1977, with my new mate and later climbing partner, Mark 'Sambo' Phillips, to get tickets for the concert. It was worth it. The attachment and affinity that I'd started to feel towards punk, suddenly exploded overnight, and music was instantly at the core of my existence, perhaps the most important thing in my life.

Lizzy (fans always called them 'Lizzy': calling them by their full name was not cool and marked you out as a mong or a doylum, the late 70s colloquial equivalents of the nerd or the geek. Note: see also 'Sabbath', 'Floyd', 'Purple' and 'Led Zep'), were not heavy metal, and were also not at all punk. They played tight, melodic rock music with beautiful strands of irish folk music woven through the warp and weft of their sound. Someohow they managed to avoid the derision heaped upon many of their hirsute contemporaries and retained the affection of many who had strayed to the 'dark side' and become punks to varying degrees. Here they are blistering the paintwork with 'Jailbreak'...

With hindsight, I should have joined a band. Formed a band even. I could write songs, and had performed them to schoolfriends a capella, in school cloakrooms. They had titles like 'One way mudball' and 'Pea soup reggae'. But somehow I missed out. Too shy and lazy to go for it probably, and not motivated enough to learn an instrument. But I loved to listen.

I saw Lizzy again in 1979, at the long since demolished Queens Hall, an old tram shed with a leaky roof in Leeds, and host to the now legendary 2-day 'Futurama' festivals, the first headlined by Hawkwind and PiL!. By now, I had a circle of very music-aware friends who were happily mixing and matching punk and heavy rock with disco and the newly emergent bleak post-punk of the Human League and Joy Division. Most of these friends sported the same patched jeans, duffle coats and long hair that they'd had in 1975. You could see 'real' punks in Leeds, but not up here in this local town for local people.

Fuck it. I love Lizzy so much I have to include another clip (thank you YouTube!), this time of them performing their fucking awesome version of Bob Seger's 'Rosalie'. Enjoy...

One day, I was at the school youth club. It was a Thursday night in 1979. There was a mate of my younger brother there, a lad by the name of Jonathan Stockdale. He was well into his punk; he had a huge collection of punk singles, which would probably pay off a small mortgage now if they were all auctioned on ebay. He was often to be seen at the youth club, hogging the record player, and treating us all to a fast and furious series of what are now classic punk songs. On this evening though, he put something on that seemed totally different. I'd never heard anything like it. It was ROCK, Jim, but not as we knew it.

The thunderous noise pouring from the speakers, which was making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, was like holding onto the outside of a rocket being launched into space. It was exciting, LOUD, it was crude and powerful. It had the crushing heaviness and bass-driven riffing of Black Sabbath, somehow hybridized with the 4-minute fury and simplicity of punk. It was MY MUSIC. It was 'Overkill' by Motorhead. It was definitely, unequivocally, Heavy Metal. The meanderings of my musical explorations suddenly imploded into the all consuming black hole of Heavy Metal.

Couldn't find a good clip of the band playing 'Overkill', but click on the YouTube link below (the original recording soundtracking some Manga animation) and listen! Remember, it has to be heard loud, or it doesn't really work. Anything else is the equivalent of an 18 inch high Stonehenge.

The year after, I went to Newcastle, to study for a degree in Marine Biology. Motorhead were playing at The Mayfair, a smallish venue near where I lived. I wasn't sure what to expect. I never saw the band come onto the darkened stage. Suddenly, there was LIGHT. Blinding light, hot beams of spotlights playing across the crowd from a lighting rig shaped like a plane, a nod to their previous album 'Bomber', which looked like something from a children's playground hung from the ceiling. Sounds funny, but any comedic overtones were swept aside in this fucking incredible NOISE. The sound was suffocating, a jet engine scream, like an aural blowtorch, pinning me against the back wall of the club.

I stood there, blasted by the roar and thunder, my skin flayed by the sheer power, and my ears hammered mercilessly for the hour and ten minutes the three men were on stage. It was the greatest thing I'd ever experienced, right up there with my recent loss of virginity.

It's sort of a given, these days, that Heavy Metal is music for adolescent boys to masturbate to, music which makes a spotty, confused boy, who can't relate to his parents or to girls or even to himself, feel like an Ubermensch. But look beyond the sticky trousered adolescent with bad skin and you'll find that metal provides at least a partial soundtrack to his parent's, grandparent's or even great-grandparent's generation. It really has been around that long. However, just like drugs, each generation thinks they invented it, and that their parents and teachers don't, can't understand either it or them. Feeling like an outsider, not only set apart from older generations, but from the mainstream of one's own generation, is an important part of being a metal fan. Alienation is cool. Metalheads are outlaws.

Three years ago, I went to the Ozzfest, a one-day festival of nothing but metal, at Donington. There were, reassuringly many men of my age, and older, at that event, some wearing faded t-shirts bearing band names like Budgie and The Pink Fairies, moshing sweatily and violently with 14 year olds in Korn t-shirts. It was an epiphany for me. A revisiting of a spiritual shrine, like a Muslim making the Hajj.

My musical tastes have expanded over the years, into jazz and electronica, reggae and 'world music' ( I do hate that term). But Ozzfest reminded me, that like an underground river, the spirit of metal flows through my veins and I will never lose the capacity to be excited by crushing riffs and growled vocals, borne on drums like thunder. The lyrics may sometimes be comedic (though don't assume that), but metal is all about effect. Don't look for depth in meaning. Rather, look for depth in the sheer noise. That's what it's all about. When I heard 'Overkill' in 1979, I didn't even register the words, apart from the repeated "OVERKILL!" chorus, barked by Lemmy. I just felt the torrent pick me up and carry me away. Cum on Feel the Noize indeed.

So what's the P stand for? Well, the golden era of my love affair with this music was definitely in the 1980s, very much against the musical and sartorial trends of the time. To give you an idea of what I mean, here's some pictures of me in 1982...

It came to an end, in a way, in 1987, when I and a couple of hundred like-minded souls crammed into The Duchess, in Leeds, to spend the best part of an hour colliding violently with each other in sweaty delirium, to a band called Prong. Prong were definitely a metal band, I mean just listen to them. But their lyrics were about real life, real feelings. It was emotional music. Emo. You can get a potted history for the band on their Wikipedia entry.

Drummer Ted Parsons was a former member of the crushingly loud (though not a metal band) avant-garde New Yorkers, Swans. That fact demonstrated that metal was now coming out of its ghetto, and hybridizing with other genres, just as motorhead had hybridized heavy rock with the spitting runt that was punk.

Prong were superb, cathartic. One of the best live shows I've ever seen, out of hundreds. Shortly afterwards, we had Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Jane's Addiction, The Beastie Boys and a host of other bands, none of them metal bands as such, but all taking the sound and feeling of that music into new genres and new directions. Metal was in from the cold and, judging by the sheer number of crossovers and metal hybrids which have appeared in everything from hip-hop to jazz, it was shagging everything in sight.

Anyway, here are Prong, with 'Unconditional'...

I spent the late 80s and early 90s kidding myself that I'd 'grown out of' heavy metal, whilst still listening to bands like Husker Du, Rollins Band and Dinosaur Junior. Somehow, I and the music press classified these as 'US Hardcore', and the M word was not mentioned. Have a listen to Husker Du playing 'New Day Rising'. Is this metal?

No? Try The Rollins Band, here on Later, with the intense 'On my way to the cage'...

The singer here, teetotal exercise nut, poet, spoken word raconteur and nice bloke Henry Rollins, is the former leader of legendary late 70s/early 80s US punk outfit Black Flag. Punk? Metal? Who cares?

See? My metal blood is diluted. I am no longer pure.

To conclude, let's avail ourselves of the wonders of YouTube once more, and see where metal is now. This is Slipknot, who should be funny, but somehow aren't, with 'Duality'...
Put it on the full screen setting and turn it up loud!

NOTE: Soo Catwoman is alive and well and still called Soo Catwoman. My spelling of her name as Sue stemmed from a book called 'England's Dreaming' where here name is spelled thus, perhaps as a provocation, by author Jon Savage. I apologise to Soo for my shoddy research. I only included her on a whim; an aside to my mention of punk's influence on my musical tastes at 15, and didn't feel the need to look her up, other than to find her picture on Google. She does in fact have a Website and MySpace, and I'd urge anyone who is interested to visit. her MySpace is ace. Ace MySpace. Like it. Note to selves: I must get a MySpace soon. There's clearly much ado about Soo, and her connection with the scene, as defined by the likes of 'England's Dreaming', is merely a sprouting seed somewhere in the past. There is now a tree. With fruit, I shouldn't wonder, and perhaps a community of arthropods.
She has a website


  1. Come quickly Many sexy girlin you,Make friends with the most beautiful girl

  2. 我完全同意肖我老伙伴。但我已经交朋友与最美丽的女孩。

    (I totally agree Xiao me old mucker. But I already make friends with the most beautiful girl.)

  3. LOL! funny as fuck brian :)

  4. See reply on "Gorgon is a Moron"


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