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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… the NWOBHM… May 21, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

For this I blame EamonnCork. It was a comment of his a while back which got me thinking about the NWOBHM – and many of you will be able to unbundle that particular acronym as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a sub-genre of rock which lurched into view around 1979-81. If the names Gillan, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Mama’s Boys, Vardis, Tank, Diamond Head, Preying Mantis, Motorhead, and a score of others mean nothing to you then perhaps stop now. But if not…read on. EamonnCork has added some extra text and advice which you’ll find in quotes – for which many thanks.

The roots of NWOBHM

Recently I was toying with the idea of putting up a post in this series about Gillan, that is Ian Gillan, late of Deep Purple (and… er, briefly Black Sabbath). And then it struck me that it was near impossible to go through his solo albums because what he, and groups like his, represented was something that was more a movement than an individual enterprise. And crucially they represented a period where singles rather than albums dominated and when in that respect metal briefly took over the mantle of punk bridging a gap as punk turned into post-punk and thence on to territories new. And what a time. I have a few old SOUNDS magazines from 1981 and 1982 and nearly every issue contains interviews and reviews of metal bands who were charting regularly.

So to look at Gillan in isolation from the NWOBHM would be to almost miss the point of the exercise. Part of the appeal was that this was a wave, a movement and therefore examining any single individual in isolation during that period is to detach them from everything else going on.

That said, the fact that an elder statesman, I exaggerate – but only slightly, like Gillan [then in his mid-30s] could join the fray – albeit away from the sludgey and torpid riff of “Smoke on the Water” Deep Purple had always had a speedy element to their output – was in its own way a telling indication of where metal and the NWOBHM were going.

These weren’t the big beasts of the 1970s, the Zeppelin’s and Yes’s whom punk had loathed (and who would later be redeemed, at least in the former case by critics – Yes, of course, took the fairly clever route into pop by way of one Trevor Horn to arrive at 90125, whose title made no sense to me in the early 1980s I should add). Whatever else one could say about Purple, or Sabbath who would also run a parallel course with the arrival of Ronnie James Dio as lead singer, they had remarkably little pretension. And importantly Gillan when solo was consciously or otherwise mining the rock’n’roll classics and putting them out as singles – many of which were successful.

In a way the NWOBHM was a natural progression from the stripped down rock that Bon Scott era AC/DC and Motorhead were already producing and both those were hardly much more than an added guitar solo away from punk itself [AC/DC were popular at punk clubs]. Both those bands, albeit with a brief hiatus for the former after Bon Scott died, continued to have hits during this period. Curiously though, AC/DC shifted to a slower style of music after their seminal Back in Black with new singer Brian Johnson.

There’s one other influence that’s worth thinking about. That is Van Halen. Their brand of stripped down, speeded up metal as typified on their first two or three albums – the first was recorded in a near live context with mistakes retained – can be heard across a raft of NWOBHM bands. “On Fire” from their solo album, if one removes Dave Lee Roth’s typically over the top vocals could comfortably sit on many NWOBHM albums.

Therefore it’s not difficult to see this tilt by all these bands and later the NWOBHM towards a faster harder form of metal as either a direct response by heavy rock to punk, a reworking of its tropes and a blending of them into the mix or a process of convergence that was already in train.

And there’s arguably an age aspect to this. The older rock and metal bands had been around quite some time. Some, like Zeppelin had – for all their aesthetic integrity – moved a long way from the small clubs and venues that they had started in. The gap between them and their audiences was too great, too obvious, particularly when set against the speedy noisy and exciting racket emerging from punk, something directly positioned in a sense that anyone – literally anyone – could pick up a guitar and play.

The NWOBHM was a wave and one that pulled in a range of bands in its wake, even those like Lizzy [listen to Thunder and Lightening, their last album and the influence of the NWOBHM is self-evident] and Mama’s Boy’s who were geographically distinct. But that didn’t matter because metal completists were [and perhaps still are] at least twice as dedicated as the most fervant collector of 4AD albums. And hence you’d find Gary Moore nestling up against Metallica in vinyl collections even if, on the face of it, their styles are utterly diverse – simply they both use amped up guitars and because metal is a broad and inclusive church and always happy to open the door for new worshipers while keeping a generally benign eye on apostates. Simple geography wasn’t going to matter even in the context of something with the word ‘British’ in its title.

Class, politics and gender

No, no. Don’t laugh. This is serious stuff. Well, somewhat serious. In class terms metal listenership was mixed, at least in Irish terms. In the mid 1980s I was in charge of a group in a youth club on the northside. Those participating could be divided broadly speaking into two groups, a group of twenty or so working class kids who were into reggae and nowt else – and two middle class boys who were into metal – but in school in Kilbarrack hardly five years earlier it was much much more widely listened to (albeit there was an age aspect to the profile, as people aged they transitioned into post-punk). And bands like Lizzy had a broad class demographic (and as an aside you might wonder how much of that transferred to the more radio friendly post-October incarnation of U2).

I also made a couple of phone calls today and the lads I spoke to had the same memory as I had of heavy metal i.e. that it had the most proletarian followers of all. We’re talking West of Ireland here and Dublin may be very different. But I, and they, remember that the hard core of metal fans were the lads who came from council estates or the guys from small farms out the country who tended to be in trouble with the law and ended up either emigrating, joining the army or working in garages. In fact it was almost a 100% working class thing, anyone destined for college tended to look down their nose at it though given that it was by far the most popular genre of music around in rural Ireland, everyone had some nodding acquaintance with it and nobody could resist the charms of AC/DC at a disco. Headbanging was popular given that we were (A) very shy with girls and afraid to ask them to dance and (B) aware that the proper dance to snyth pop was a great deal more sophisticated and camp than we were going to chance in a local hall. But the real devotees, the guys with a million patches and all the albums were a pretty tough bunch. They also took music more seriously than anyone else, they were forever getting away to gigs, usually with older brothers who had full-time jobs in their teens. I travelled with a couple of them to the U-2 Croke Park gig in 1985 (still think it was a great concert by the way) but the lads complained that it was a poor spectacle compared to something like Monsters of Rock and that U-2’s showmanship fell far short of what you’d get from Maiden or Motorhead. There was also the sense in which being a HM devotee was shorthand for being a hard bastard in the same way that being into Kung-Fu had been in the seventies and wearing a Celtic jersey is today.

As EamonnCork noted in the original comment that kicked this off it was a lingua franca, and it was then and remains so ever since. I’m never more comfortable discussing music than with metal fans because the reference points are so clear. The canon is agreed and then it tends to be a matter of finding new or obscure acts.

But let’s be honest, there was no end of sneering from others. Those who had been into punk had by 1980-82 moved onto post-punk and all the myriad streams that flowed from there. It might, though, be fair to note that those who were 16 in 1976 were just about hitting their 20s in 1980 when the next cohort behind them got into metal. That’s no gap at all when you’re 30, but at 16… And metal, or rock more broadly, had taken a big hit after punk, one which it took the best part of a decade to recover, but ironically it was the energy and dynamics of the first part of the NWOBHM which was most influential musically, rather than the imagery of the second part which came to characterise (or infest if you will) metal more broadly.

Politically… well there wasn’t much politics. This wasn’t music advocating a confrontation with the state, let alone the man. Listen to the lyrics of “Strong Arm of the Law” by Saxon detailing the band being pulled over on a drug bust by the cops who discover to their surprise that despite “the clothes they wear and the way they look” they don’t have any drugs. Hmmm… you’d have to have a heart of stone not to find that just the tiniest bit funny, and not for the reasons Saxon might think. But am I slagging Saxon? I am not. Their “Princess of the Night”, a paean to a train was pretty fine, their “Denim and Leather” an odd little bit of almost self-reflection in a genre which didn’t usually bother with such matters. Their “Dallas 1 P.M.” about the assassination of JFK, well let’s just say it was an oddity.

“Strangers In The Night” is a great song and Saxon could be very good indeed. “Denim and Leather” [is] a rare self referential anthem about rock fandom and it does epitomise the closeness between band and fans which seemed unique to HM. It was certainly absent from punk, most of whose leading figures seemed to regard their fans with contempt and irritation. I think there was a certain old fashioned working class decency idea in HM about giving people an honest couple of hours entertainment when they handed over their money

For all the sturm und drang of the guitars and drums, or the overblown lyrical content – particularly when it strayed into matters fantastical, it was fairly safe stuff. One will search mostly in vain for the reports of metal-heads on the rampage in city centres. Injuries where they occurred tended to be mostly self-inflicted, but let’s not go there. Sexism. Well, yes and no. Few would dare to argue that there was much progressive thinking going on there. But in some respects it was remarkably coy – bar the occasional foray into bad taste or worse again outright misogyny [and a big hello there to Venom, amongst others].

If we consider sexuality more broadly it might be unkind to say that this betrayed the concerns of your typical early to mid adolescent male in Ireland [and perhaps the UK at the time], unkind, but not entirely inaccurate. It is best seen as being typical of the issue and reality of sex for them, an aspiration rather than a concrete reality and therefore not unduly overshadowed by more important issues like having an [usually unspecified but generally involving alcohol] good time.

Which is not to say it was entirely male oriented, but women made up only a small number of the bands – though more of the fans – involved, albeit interestingly these were all-women groups rather than being women fronted. And so Girlschool and Rock Goddess, to name but two, because there were just about two(! – though well I remember Lita Ford, more or less straight from the Runaways and others attempts to jump upon the bandwagon a couple of years later), also had more than a hint of that punk DIY ethos. And a punk sound. Listen to “C’mon Let’s Go” by Girlschool and you can hear Ramones DNA threaded through it – I have the single on vinyl somewhere. And Girlschool were not merely great in their own right but also released with Motorhead a dynamic cover of “Please Don’t Touch”…

The Motorhead/Girlschool record is great though amazingly the best bit, the whispered intro, is on the original Johnny Kidd and The Pirates record. Now there was a band who were miles ahead of our time. Girlschool, as far as I remember, managed to avoid being seen as sex objects (at least in comparison with almost all mainstream female groups today), you tended to think they’d be great to have on your side in a fight. The singer and guitarist, name escapes me, had serious cred with male HM musicians but died of cancer in her forties. Very few of the HM people are dead, compared to the punk people, I suspect this may have something to do with the choice of alcohol rather than heroin as drug du jour. It doesn’t do much for you long term but it doesn’t kill you as quickly oy by accident.

Image and music…

And if much of this was unquestionably juvenile, not all of it was. Lemmy, cool as fuck in 1980, was an undeniably adult presence amongst the fresh faces, was perhaps in some sense modern in a way that many of the others weren’t and never would be. But then Motorhead, even with the leather waistcoats somehow had a pared down imagery both musically and visually that transcended most of the sub-theatrical nonsense that others were getting up to.

Which neatly leads us to the output of NWOBHM itself? Ah well, here we run into trouble. Let’s just say that in relation to lyrics and image there were problems. Big problems.

Consider, if you will, Exhibit A – “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest. In a way this sums up the best and worst of the NWOBHM, and that’s before we get to the fact that Judas Priest had been around for years before the movement took flight. How many years? Well they were founded in 1970 and released their first album in 1974.

First the good. A song, a short song with no real guitar solo. The lyrics? They’d grace many a punk band perfectly. Quite a step forward for a metal band. But then there’s the step backwards, this being metal. The video. The video. Fer Christ’s sake, the video. They hold up a bank with guitars? Believe it or not this was made by Julien Temple of Pistol’s fame. Was he serious? Were they? Who can tell, but the evidence of later videos isn’t comforting.

And where Judas Priest went others followed with a will. Within a couple of years if we examine that remarkable cultural artifact, the video to their song “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, we can see Rob Halford had adopted a mixture of sub-bondage leather and studs style which was taken up by Iron Maiden and others (perhaps most entertainingly by US based metal crowd Manowar who almost incomprehensibly ‘refined’ this to a mock Viking/caveman look, and fun fact for completists let’s not forget their first album treated us to a spoken narration by Orson Welles).

That Halford later came out as a gay man was little surprise to most of us and of no great significance I suspect to most of his legion of fans, typifying a beery and usually good-natured indifference to such matters.

I think in the BBC4 doc Metal Britannia Halford actually says that he’d picked up a lot of the stage gear during his voyages in the world of gay S and M and thought it amusing to see the fans and bands following suit. There’s a great documentary about the trial JP went through in America, and I remember thinking at the time how like the West of Ireland the place was, religious fundamentalism, stasis, a general feeling that life was elsewhere. We needed, as my friend Mike McCormack (a great and grievously under-rated writer) songs about hard rocking men loving foxy ladies on the lonely boulevards in the heart of the city.

Def Leppard perhaps characterised the worst excesses of this. One brilliant album – their third if I count correctly, or possibly their second, Pyromania, produced not coincidentally by Jeff ‘Mutt’ Lange (long-time AC/DC producer) followed by a dubious succession of ever more pop-rock output that has, almost incredibly, continued to this very day [it’s also worth asking just how influential they were on a later generation of hair metal bands. Well, okay, maybe not that much worth asking].

And these image problems persisted.

Consider too the rather brilliant Tank, whose lead singerAlgy Ward had been in the Damned and before that the Saints – my God, the man was almost a punk aristocrat – and who arguably were the clearest example of a punk/metal crossover, not least because they modelled their approach very very closely to that of Motorhead. Great songs which eschewed much of the swords and sorcery nonsense of their peers, but gaze in wonder at the cover of their album Filth Hounds of Hades, and what of that title… dear oh dear oh dear.

Diamond Head, whose first album contained the none-more-influential “Am I Evil”, didn’t do themselves any favours in the appearance wars either, with a look that was rooted in that of Zeppelin circa 1974. Speaking of “Am I Evil”, listen to that and you’ll see or hear that it provided a template for more than one or two tracks later put to vinyl by Metallica [and the influence was acknowledged by the latter band]. That their second album proper, Canterbury, saw them transform into a cross between prog and a metal inflected new wave/pop did them no favours with their fan base, but made for an interesting and on occasions quite excellent listen.

One genuinely disturbing track from Diamond Head. I think the band, and Venom, meant it man. In the Metal Britannia doc you get the impression that DH might well have taken the old satanic side of things seriously. And people did, I knew lads who were obsessed with rumours of black mass and animal sacrifice in the rural countryside. And Bishop of Achonry Thomas Flynn called in local teachers to warn them that there were satanic messages in HM records if you played them backwards. Which was pretty observant for a man who couldn’t spot a rampant paedophile priest in our village. I used to be fond of the Canterbury album, it’s an odd thing, they’re really trying to create something beautiful but they don’t have the vocal or lyrical chops to do it, yet it’s an extremely gallant failure.

Then there’s Iron Maiden. I’m well old enough to remember the first incarnation with Paul Dianno on vocals, and in particular their breathless classic “Women in Uniform”, a cover of Australian band The Skyhooks. Listen to either of their first two albums, and you can hear on songs like Running Free that punk/metal crossover. Sure, the guitar solos are there, but the singing is rudimentary and all the better for it (indeed listen to most Oi bands, The Business spring to mind most immediately, and you hear a convergence from the other side of the musical Berlin Wall – and a better example again are Discharge who music was clearly inflected by NWOBHM guitar sounds but who remained very clearly punk in output and attitude).

After that the Bruce Dickenson version never quite measured up in my estimation [though, and I’ve mentioned it before, an infrequent contributor to the CLR is known to have been quite the fan in his day]. Sure, “Run to the Hills” is speedy, but it’s glib and if Saxon used the front page of the Sunday Mirror in one hand for their inspiration, Dickenson-era Iron Maiden always seemed to have a copy of Dennis Wheatley or some novel about 19th century soldiery in the other. But that’s a personal gripe. Who am I to complain? I don’t have to listen to them [one could note also the way in which their imagery was appropriated by Loyalism, a charming cultural cross-pollination to some, to others…].

Or listen to The Tygers of Pan Tangs first album, Wildcat. Their singer at the time, Jess Cox, also exemplified that punk vocals style with a flat but oddly compelling approach – and the guitar work when it eases out of a sub-Pistols chugging is pretty odd too with lots of U2 styled harmonics in the background. An album later – clearly following the Iron Maiden trail – they had jettisoned Cox and taken up with the more rock oriented Jon Deverill on vocals whose tenure saw them have a reasonably big hit with a cover of “Love Potion No.9”. Again, note the way in which, like Gillan, they too were mining older pop and rock and roll standards to give a poppy but abrasive edge to their output.

One of the curiosities of the NWOBHM was how it included some and excluded others. Priest got in, but UFO stayed firmly on the outside. Their 1981 album No Place to Run, produced by George Martin, wasn’t at the races. Perhaps because UFO, unlike Priest didn’t transition their sound to something more hard edged and speedier but remained locked in a more blues influenced style. Others, such as Sabbath managed to speed up but remained somewhat offside. But then in some ways having written Paranoid they could with justification point to being the earliest adapters. Ozzy was there or thereabouts with “Crazy Train” and some of the tracks off Diary of A Madman being equally speedy, but already there was a strong whiff of cheese and the west coast about the enterprise.

Then there’s bands like Jameson Raid with their “Seven Days of Splendour” (and hat-tip to EamonnCork for this one, I’d never heard of them). Listen to them and they seem to more neatly into a Pink Fairies/Hawkwind early 1970s lineage mixed with an element of punk and more than an hint of Thin Lizzy [and expect the Pink Fairies to feature in a This Weekend… soon]. And then one listens to “Do It The Hard Way” [the studio version is unavailable on YouTube] and it sounds like a direct precursor of late Kyuss and early Queens of the Stone Age. Funny that.

And for something not entirely dissimilar look at Vardis whose first album 100 MPH was actually a live recording. They were crossing into the NWOBHM from pretty traditional glam/boogie roots with a side order of punk. Their sound isn’t really like any of the others to be found here, but none the worse at that. And they had an excellent cover of Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” on their second album.

Preying Mantis – again a tip from EamonnCork – came from an entirely different place being more melodic, AOR and even prog in their approach. Though their “Panic in The Streets” has an interesting edge to it more characteristic is that descending scale which underpins their classic “Children Of The Earth”, not unfamiliar perhaps to those of us who have listened to Rush. Oh yes. As are the multi-tracked vocals on the chorus to those who have allowed the odd Journey album to grace their CD player. But hey, broad church… broad church, folks.

It’s fair to say that one significant problem for the NWOBHM, indeed metal more widely, in the 1980s and afterwards was the release of Spinal Tap, and yes, it’s far too easy to slot much of this into that perspective. Because some of it was awful. Terrible. But it was never entirely clear to me whether Tap was parodying Sabbath era bands or newer arrivals – perhaps both. Either way it in its own way locked into the styles of metal that developed in that decade.

And what of our own contribution to the erm … NW of British Heavy Metal… Mama’s Boy’s. Nice lads who made the sensible decision to modulate their own soft Irish tones by treating the vocals.

Generally treated as a joke band because they were self deprecating and prone to publicity stunts. But Needle In The Groove is great and so are In “The Heat Of The Night” and the brilliant “Freedom Fighters”

Talking of which the latter had a sort of political content. Sort of.

And if “Needle in the Groove” bears certain similarities to “The Strong Arm of the Law” by Saxon, to pick two songs at random, then that’s okay. Venom’s “Angel Dust” was but a hop skip and a jump from Motorhead. And but a further hop skip and a jump to black metal, death metal and so on, and that was both a function of Venom’s interest in all things occult (a trait shared by Diamond Head) and of the music itself. That’s how this worked.

Indeed one aspect of metal, and this was very true of the time and to some extent continues to this day, was a sort of reverence of earlier waves, so to see this as Year Zero in the way punk was, with a similar kicking over the statues of predecessors, would be incorrect. Those into NWOBHM didn’t forswear Purple or Zeppelin or UFO or Rainbow (Rainbow itself was marginally influenced by these goings on and had a number of hits with Graham Bonnet, and later Joe Lynn Turner, fronting them during much the same period, when Ritchie Blackmore adopted a harder edged guitar sound), or Rory Gallagher, or whoever.

And again speaking of an Irish influence as Eamonncork notes:

Parochial point. There were two Dubs in Gillan, Bernie Torme on guitar and Liam Genockey on drums. I always found it amusing that Bernie Torme was actually Bernie Tormey and have had hours of amusement referring to a well known FG figure as Bill Torme at election time.

Everything rocks and nothing ever dies – the rise and fall [and sort of rise again] of the NWOBHM

There are those who argue that the departure of Dianno from Iron Maiden was the death knell for the NWOBHM. And there’s something in that. Look at the differences between Dianno fronted Maiden and Dickenson fronted Maiden or what of the difference between the videos for “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, a mere couple of years between punk roots and seeing it dissolve into metal, all metal.

In fairness though, metal wasn’t the same after the NWOBHM. But then, neither was punk with parallel and intermixed evolutionary processes evident thereafter, particularly, but not exclusively, as regards hardcore.

And it provided an even clearer path for later metal bands who were in no way shy about articulating their debt to punk as much as heavy rock.

As for the NWOBHM itself, it’s amazing how influential this stuff was on Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth who bear the same relationship to it as Oasis bear to The Beatles. Your point about Lizzy is well made, their late albums are hugely influenced by the movement. Of course they acknowledged this by poaching John Sykes from Tygers of Pantang, thus ruining maybe the best band of the lot.

One great benefit was a sense that barriers began to come down between the two areas. Read the comments under many of these clips on YouTube and see how the Pistols and the Clash are thrown in as reference points those into NWOBHM should also be listening to. Read Kerrang! or RockSound today [not that I necessarily am suggesting you should] and you’ll see how both areas and others are now regarded as being interlinked in many ways to an extent that still seems remarkable to me thirty odd years later.

It’s also remarkable to see Def Leppard still gigging. Remarkable, yes, but you wouldn’t catch me at one of those gigs. For me their [first and] last moment was Pyromania. Maiden, Priest and even Saxon are still out there. Most others forgotten, which in some cases is a pity, in others – not so much. Jameson Raid are apparently back together for a gig this summer. Preying Mantis are still gigging. It’s like Robert Christgau once wrote… and not necessarily in a positive way… Everything rocks and nothing ever dies.

So, finally, was it any good. Ach, sure, as Theodore Sturgeon, the US science fiction author wrote,

I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud.[1]

Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

Which leaves 10%, but that’s okay, generally the singles are the ones to listen to. And if we can turn the amps up to 11 maybe more than 10%…

AC/DC – Girls Got Rhythm

Van Halen – On Fire

Gillan – No Easy Way

Gillan – New Orleans [live]

Motorhead – Ace of Spades

Judas Priest – Breaking the Law

Judas Priest – You’ve Got Another Thing Coming

Iron Maiden – Running Free [with Paul Dianno]

Iron Maiden Run to the Hills

Girlschool – C’mon lets go

Girlschool/Motorhead – Please Don’t Touch (1981)

Jameson Raid – Seven Days of Splendour

Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law

Saxon – Denim and Leather

Diamond Head – Am I evil

Tygers of Pan Tang – Suzie Smiled

Tygers of Pan Tang – Blackjack

Venom – Angel Dust

Mama’s Boys – Needle in the Groove

Mama’s Boys – Freedom Fighters

In the Heat of the Night [live from Reading]

Angel Witch – Angel Witch

Tank – Struck by Lightening

Vardis – Let’s Go

Black Sabbath – Mob Rules

Preying Mantis – Children of the Earth

Preying Mantis – Panic in the Streets

Def Leppard Rock! Rock! TIl You Drop

Thin Lizzy – Cold Sweat [John Sykes from Tygers of Pan Tang was the guitarist]


1. ejh - May 21, 2011

No mention of Geoff Barton then?

Or TV on the radio?


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

No, but remember, this is sort of from an Irish perspective, and at 15 years of age I surely didn’t have the money to be buying Sounds. It’s a fair point though and I’ll edit in stuff about Barton/Sounds later.


2. sonofstan - May 21, 2011

Wow…..so much to disagree with!

I probably should have stopped reading after what you you said in the first para, because I never liked or ‘got’ metal –

But Lingua Franca? I really dispute that: there were hordes of music fans I knew through the 70s/ 80s that hated the stuff, all sorts of alternative scenes that were just as ‘prole’ as you make out metal was (‘Cureheads’ for a start).


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

Ah but EamonnCork was very specific that metal was a lingua franca in the late 70s very early 1980s. I think by the time Cureheads appeared in significant numbers – possibly 83/84ish things had changed as post-punk had taken hold. Actually, I’m trying to remember when Cureheads and later Goth did take hold.

And yes of course, there were lots of people who hated metal, and still do 😉


3. sonofstan - May 21, 2011

Well, I’d even dispute that – the late 70s/ early 80s bit. Everyone I knew then was into Joy Division and all that immediate post-punk stuff, and, while I wouldn’t ever assume that ‘everyone I knew’ counts as a representative sample, there were scores of bands in the country then playing that kind of thing, and healthy enough scenes in Dublin, Cork and Belfast -whereas metal for us was like homosexuality was for mainstream Ireland – you were aware it existed, and probably wouldn’t go away, but you did your best not to think about it.

Maybe it’s an age thing though: you, EC and me are all ‘middle- aged’ but I’m perhaps a little more ‘middle-aged’ than you two – pre-punk, my musical taste was nurtured on Glam – the Bowie/ Bolan/ Roxy + the Faces, and soul records for ‘the disco’. Metal was the province of a long-haired, army surplus wearing weirdos who were rumoured to smoke cannabis (which was an exotic substance then), not of anyone who harboured any ambitions of ever having a girlfriend 🙂 So, although the supposed golden age of metal was the 70s, maybe it wasn’t till the 80s that it actually reached its peak audience.

On a tangent, actually, a distinction that was vitally important, and that has vanished, was that between ‘hard rock’ and ‘metal’ – Lizzy, to pick an obvious example, were never a metal band – nor were Humble Pie, Aerosmith, the J. Geils Band or, I would contend, Motorhead …….but arguing about that is as anachronistic as the term ‘euro-communism’


anarchaeologist - May 22, 2011

It seems to be both an age thing and perhaps a locational thing too. The post brings back memories of growing up in Cavan in the late ’70s(well, somebody had to) and having to suffer this woeful (sorry WbS) music all around you. I’d always thought it had something to do with the place itself for metal and hard rock (and as SoS suggests, there’s an important distinction) was indeed the lingua franca, universally consumed in the borderlands. Mamma’s Boys being local were huge in Cavan/Fermanagh and seemed to gig a lot there.
But as far as I can remember metal was also completely classless in its appeal, enjoyed as much by the doctor’s son as the young fella from the small farm out the country and the lads from the ‘terraces’. If you were in to music at all, this is what you listened to and it was only after a few years in Cavan that I came across the odd bloke who had a 999 single or something as exotic as the Gang of 4. Personally I was of the ska/reggae persuasion and strangely enough, it was often the fellas with the most patches and the longest hair who were the ones less likely to give you a kicking. By the time I was 15 or 16 (’80-’81)I began to notice that tastes were being refined somewhat and that three groups were emerging, those into chart stuff, those who were into Zep and Purple and the soi-disant intellectuals who listened to the God-awful Doors. New Wave didn’t have much of a hold in this neck of the woods, though I still have the first Scritti lp with ‘Musicland’,stamped on the label (the town’s one record shop run by an old showband head, probably not a hommage to Moroder’s studios in Munich)… The wall’s of this emporium were decorated with metal sleeves on one side and local c/w on the other and I often wondered how a country’n’metal crossover didn’t emerge from the drumlin country as a result.
Metal remained a fixture of the charts though and head-banging was practiced at the disco irrespective of what was actually being played (though it was mostly metal).
I was amazed when coming back to Dublin to go to college that the metal heads I knew all appeared to be quite well off; metal certainly seems to have been popular in expensive Protestant boarding schools too.


sonofstan - May 22, 2011

though I still have the first Scritti lp with ‘Musicland’,stamped on the label

Been listening to that a lot recently for some reason: ‘I was like an industry/ depressed and in decline’

-ah, memories (of industry, I mean)


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2011

A great great group, or individual…


anarchaeologist - May 23, 2011

Just on the metal vrs hard rock thing, the latter was certainly the preserve of the older kids who weren’t scrawling the Gillen logo on their jeans, but Rory Gallagher was certainly very popular as were Lizzy and Quo, who had a lot of chart action then. Neil Young on the other hand was appreciated for the earlier acoustic stuff and I don’t remember hearing Crazy Horse at full volume until much later. The band that everyone loved though were (The) Horslips – the definite article was always used thus in Cavan. They came to town a few times a year and were certainly considered ‘heavy’ (and there were always fights). The Bogey Boys appeared once or twice as well but we never got any of the Dublin/Belfast/Cork bands (Nun Attax in the Sports Centre, Cavan?!). Regarding punk, SLF did have something of a following among the heavy brigade but there was nothing like a scene happening and when it came to local bands, they all went for the metal 3 chord trick rather than the punk version. There was one punk in the town, who traded on his surname (Germyn I think) and called himself Naz (with a missing ‘i’). He had the tartan bondage jeans as early as ’78 and the fuzzy cropped hair thing going on, but I don’t believe I ever exchanged as much as a word with him. Ska/2 Tone was much more popular across the border, with Enniskillen of a Saturday afternoon approaching something of a caucasian Coventry. You wouldn’t see black and white mini-skirts in Cavan, even on the girls…
On a different note, I believe Grebo (spelling?) was very popular in the mid ’80s among the same Cavan/midlands constituency but by that stage I was in Dublin enjoying the Stars and the Horde etc. etc. etc. and getting into the Minutemen and Sonic Youth. Now that was heavy!


4. Earl Williams - May 21, 2011

>>>>(A) very shy with girls and afraid to ask them to dance

And some of us are still stuck in that groove twenty-five centuries on. Though that’s probably too much information.

The points about the class base of metal are interesting. I wonder how true it is today, or how widespread it was? . . . working in academia you tend to come across the occasional lifelong (and middle-class) metal fan, usually but not always in the hard sciences as well.


Earl Williams - May 21, 2011

Did I say centuries? I meant ‘years’. Deep in his house at R’Lyeh, dread Cthulhu lies sleeping.


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

Mind you, in academia large numbers tend to be middle class, so that might be a self-selecting pool. I think as I intimated above {hmmm… never used that word before} that there was a split in terms of stuff people listened to. Those ahead of us tended to listen to punk, it was their time. Those with us split across pop, two tone/ska in particular and metal with more middle class types by the time we were sixteen into Pink Floyd and even… the obscurity of it from our perspective, King Crimson! That did change of course with post punk and bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, the Furs, etc supplanting a lot of that.

Re HP Lovecraft, ah, as an old Nephilim fan… yes, truly… ironically I’ve only just started reading the stories. And I’m loving them… clunky but entertaining 🙂


Earl Williams - May 21, 2011

>>>>as an old Nephilim fan…

He admits it openly. . .


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

Yeah, I know… no shame me. Though I accept all and any critiques of them. 🙂


5. WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

Sonofstan. I think you’re spot in about the age issue. Location also had a part to play and the difference in ages at that point even a couple of years made a difference…


6. rockroots - May 21, 2011

Great article! Lots here to check out and keep me entertained for more than just the weekend. I’m already looking forward to that Pink Fairies write-up too, BTW.


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

Me too… when I get to write it!


7. Ramzi Nohra - May 21, 2011

“filth hounds of hades” would be a great name for a political party.

Really interesting stuff. I’ll send it to a couple of non-political music heads I know.

I was more into hard rock than metal, in fact more late 80s glam rock like motley crüe and guns and roses (is there a more credible music genre?!) but had a lot of exposure to the bands you cite.

Where I grew up I think it was always seen as a minority taste, but fairly classless. Middle class as well as working class kids into it. Obviously more of a male than a female thing too. Some good music though.

By the way, was the “pan tang” thing a moorcock reference?


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

late 80s glam rock like motley crüe and guns and roses (is there a more credible music genre?!)

There is not, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 🙂

Yes re the Pan Tang reference, Moorcock influence was big.

Speaking of glam rock etc, did you ever hear of a crowd called the Sea Hags, must have been 88. I have an album by them that a friend gave me years back. Pretty good.


Ramzi Nohra - May 23, 2011

Vague memories. Will try to check them oot.


8. T - May 21, 2011

I always thoughts Mama’s Boys were crap (I think I had one 12 inch of theirs which was perhaps not representative) but that Freedom Fighters song is quite listenable and today leads one to think of the representation of the Troubles in pop/rock music and the commentary on the same by musicians etc.. – especially given recent utterences from Morrisey. Interesting, if perhaps predictable?, difference between groups from the diaspora and from the island it seems to me.

Also would have thought NWOBHM got wiped out/supplanted by Thrash? What was its impact? Or were people more grown up and had grown out of bullets belts anyways by the time that came along.

I can remember (from early to mid 90s not early to to mid 80s) a difference in school streaming and musical taste – mixed honours classes were certainly more indie/alternative/NME (possibly later day version of post-punk listening cohort refered to above)pass classes more likely to be listening to metal/hard rock, dance music was soon to overtake all anyways.


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

Supplanted is a great way of putting it. I think that’s true. NWOBHM sped metal up just right for mid to late 80s stuff that came after – Metallica, etc. But those guys were also influenced by hard core, even if only tangentially, so it was a punk/metal thing really. I guess NWOBHM and other parallel styles opened up metal to other influences.

Dance did do it all in really. Though metal is still huge.

Re the Troubles in music, brilliant idea for a post for this series.


9. CMK - May 21, 2011

Great post, brought back lots of memories. I wonder is there any relation between a Christian Brothers education and Heavy Metal? I went to a brother’s school in the early to mid 80’s and everyone, and I mean everyone, appeared to be a metal fan: going by what was stencilled onto their school bags etc. There were a couple of mods (who stuck together and kept their heads down) ditto for some New Wave types, but the dominant musical taste was metal.


WorldbyStorm - May 21, 2011

It could be. I found the same in the Gaeltacht in 79 and 80 and 81. In the Community School I was in, though there there were also people into other stuff. And as 80 turned to 81, 82 post punk came much much to the fore.

Funny thing is, and again I think this is age related, and I’m aware this is a dangerous generalisation, people of my age at the time (15 in 80) thought that punk was messing around both at the time and for a while after. Probably because it seemed like a lot of craic and not necessarily the music side of it so much. So I don’t think a fair few took it seriously until we were a bit older.


sonofstan - May 21, 2011


That’s seems such a weird perspective from my 5 years older view, because punk was -to us – (to borrow the title of Val Wilmer’s book about free jazz) ‘As Serious as your Life’ – much too serious in retrospect 🙂

And now my generation – touching 50 – are as tiresome and self- righteous about punk as French ‘souxante- huitards’ are about politics and culture.


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2011

I know, but I genuinely think it depended on location. Where you were that was precisely it, and where I was, well likewise!

I didn’t get into punk until 1983/4 and the Ramones and Husker Du/Dead Kennedy’s were the gateway. And that’s not just me but all my peer group. Even those who were earlier into post punk came in through U2/Virgin Prunes. Not punk, etc.

But that said I don’t think that you’re self-righteous or tiresome about it. Different times, or whatever. We all wound up seeing punk as something fundamental. After all the whole post above is about how punk changed metal.


Phil - May 22, 2011

I’m with SofS here. I was born in 1960, so for me punk was incredibly important – and it was precisely the fact that so much of it was not about the music, and that it put so high a value on just dicking about and being awkward, that made it seem so powerful. I mean, like, anarchy in the UK… and other nearby nations, obviously…


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2011

Well, what’s interesting for me is that by 86/87 the anniversary punk was hugely important to me. The Pistols, the Damned in particular, the Ramones [though I’d been into them since the very early 80s, probably 81 or 2] and so on were key. Oddly enough somehow I missed getting into the Clash until much later.


EamonnCork - May 23, 2011

SOS, good to hear the namecheck of the Wilmer book. Maybe the best music book I’ve ever read and her autobiography is pretty fantastic too. Much under-appreciated woman writing about much under-appreciated music. And responsible for my annual subscription to The Wire.


10. Crocodile - May 21, 2011

Entirely with SofS on this one – maybe the most unappealing period of the most unappealing genre in the history of recorded music.
The fact that working class youth liked this stuff doesn’t – except through some very convoluted inverse snobbery – make it any good. And as for the remark that:
‘being a HM devotee was shorthand for being a hard bastard in the same way that being into Kung-Fu had been in the seventies and wearing a Celtic jersey is today.’ – you could substitute the word ‘sad’ for the word ‘hard’ there without losing any accuracy.
I was glad metal existed though, in my teenage years. It gave you something to snigger at in Pat Egan’s as you were buying your Television album, and you could finish ‘Sounds’ quicker if you skipped the Deaf Barton bits.
As for the misogyny, the totalitarian imagery, the ‘style’ – only a nostalgie de la boue for one’s grotty adolescence could justify relistening to this stuff.
Was it not Lemmy who said : ‘Never underestimate the potency of cheap music?’ (no!)


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2011

Hmmm… yes. But tell us what you really think. Don’t hold back! 🙂


Crocodile - May 22, 2011

Of course, maybe it only shows – in my case, anyway – how the petty snobberies and prejudices of adolescence last into middle age.
Maybe I should give Iron Maiden another chance….


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2011

I wouldn’t… never liked them much myself.


Ramzi Nohra - May 23, 2011

on Maiden
this is kind of beside the point but you may know Dickenson is a private pilot (he flies airlines occasionally in his spare time).

Anyway, he was one of a group of volunteer pilots who flew relief into Lebanon in the 2006 war.


11. irishelectionliterature - May 22, 2011

Great post, Would still listen to the odd old Motorhead LP, had a few Mamas Boys and Iron Maiden albums too.
That first Iron Maiden album had a great song that was in a Lucozade ad with Daley Thompson (I think it was him). Bought one Saxon album but never took a shine to them.
I remember buying the album ‘The Power and The Passion’ by Mamas Boys which had a scantily clad lady on the cover. Inside was a poster with her in the same pose but topless. The poster had to be disposed of mighty quick as there would have been war had it been found.


Earl Williams - May 22, 2011

>>>>The poster had to be disposed of mighty quick as there would have been war had it been found.

Kind of puts the whole ‘hard bastard’ thing in perspective, doesn’t it?


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2011

Ah yes, but they/we loved and respected their Mammies…


irishelectionliterature - May 22, 2011

An older lad I knew had been caught with Condoms a few weeks previously (Not that he was ever going to use them) so fears were heightened considerably as the local parents were on heightened ‘filth’ alert.
… or put another way, my mothers first words to my now wife were “You realise that there is no pre marital sex under my roof”


WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2011



Phil - May 22, 2011

Feel The Embarrassment And Do It Anyway Dept: a quick google this morning revealed that the model in question was Tina Shaw, whose filmography can be found here – roles include “Nightclub Stripper”, “Stripper #1”, “Lola the Stripper” and “Striptease Danseres” (this last in a Dutch film). She also played “La femme du tisseur” (“The weaver’s wife”) in a TV drama called “La fessée” (er… “the spanking”).


12. Earl Williams - May 22, 2011

I didn’t know that Metallica did a version of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’:


13. skidmarx - May 22, 2011

A racist controversial LSE a <href=http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/19/lse-academic-triggers-race-row>"academic" has pointed out that more intelligent people listen to classical music.


Earl Williams - May 23, 2011

Here’s a former student of mine commenting on that strange little man:



14. WorldbyStorm - May 22, 2011

“more intelligent individuals are … Likely to prefer instrumental music than less intelligent individuals”

No problem there – heavy metal has always had classical pretensions from Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group.. to Metallicas orchestra backed gigs.

Or there’s electronica, huge swathes of which is instrumental.

Lovely people who do studies like that.


Earl Williams - May 23, 2011

Satoshi-san appears ignorant of the fact that the classical genre is not limited to the merely instrumental – in addition to opera, there are also things like this:


15. ejh - May 29, 2011

I guess NWOBHM and other parallel styles opened up metal to other influences.

I’m not so sure about this. I think that the problem with NWOBHM, in general and with exceptions, is that their influences were mostly heavy rock and heavy metal bands, which meant that they were heading down an evolutionary dead-end, narrowing rather than expanding their range. The bands that influenced them had come from an interest in blues and its outgrowths: they knew, I think, a lot more music than the people who followed them.

I may have mentioned on here before that I still have, somewhere, a tape of Lemmy guest-presenting the Friday Rock Show. It’s quite a show, with his playlist including, for instance, the Everly Brothers singing Love Hurts. Did the later bands, who grew up listening to Motorhead, have the range of influences Lemmy did? I don’t know that they did.

Talking of the Friday Rock Show, it was only this morning that I learned the late Tommy Vance’s real name.


16. John Medd - June 28, 2011

There’s a rumour going ’round that Late Arrival are getting back together again.


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