When I signed up to be a rocker back in 1985-ish the rules were pretty damn clear, we had to listen to very loud music all the time and be wild, untamable free spirits, staying up way past bedtime drinking to excess and bonking all manner of dirty women* preferably in pairs, we were gonna be too fast to live and too young to die, oh and there was a strict uniform policy. Yup, long hair, band T-shirts, bullet belts, Hi-Tec baseball boots and the tightest jeans imaginable – girls were allowed minor infringements of the dress code, blokes were not; amusingly it was probably stricter and more rigorously enforced at the time than my school uniform policy. None of this rot about being allowed to have short hair or wearing what you wanted to** and quite rightly so. It was tribal.
I’m put in mind of all this browsing the wealth of clippings which form the cover, inner sleeves and gatefold of the, succinctly titled, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited; everyone dressed as though for a uniform inspection. I swapped a wireless router for this beauty back in 2009 and have enjoyed it a lot ever since. Now all we rockers know our history, from ’79-82 Britain threw up the NWOBHM movement, literally, all manner of skinny-jeansed roustabouts were suddenly swarming the barricades armed with the energy and DIY attitude of punk and copies of In Rock, taped compilations of Led Zep’s faster moments and Paranoid. Some big bastard monsters were birthed, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, (and to a lesser extent) Saxon and Girlschool and a shit load of rock bait that never quite got beyond a couple singles and maybe an LP. I say all this with complete authority of course, being 7 years old at the time.
Steve Harris has always bristled at the idea that NWOBHM took any energy from punk, he’s wrong. Okay so the fast, brash, often damnably gauche material may well have taken its energy from ‘Communication Breakdown’, ‘Children Of The Grave’ and ‘Highway Star’ rather than ‘Pretty vacant’, but that desire to storm the barricades, to read the riot act to all the big arena acts, the push to (mostly) ditch elaborate fantasy lyrics and sing about more earthly concerns, the creative energy that made bands like Def Leppard record their debut EP for £148, the front that it took all those provincial bands to stand up and be counted – that was pure punk rock. Before that they were primed to worship and admire from afar, to goggle at musicians they could never really hope to emulate, it was that essential irreverence that was needed to manure the movement’s seeds^. That anxiety and youthful desperation to be heard percolates through all the 24 tracks on offer here.
With a few exceptions this would all be of minor historical interest to all but the nerdiest rock historians, like me, if a certain Danish tennis prodigy hadn’t taken a real interest and had the resources to back his fandom to the hilt, before going on to drum for that big band, whose name I can never remember – you know the ones, they did that great cover of that Budgie song. Lars Ulrich New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited co-curates with Geoff Barton of Sounds and Kerrang! fame. Basically we get 24 tracks of, mostly, over-caffeinated, hopped up rock from the archives, plucked from (now very expensive) singles, compilations and the odd LP track. As you’d expect some of the production values are cheap but the energy and exhilaration here are more than enough to carry it all through. Some highlights:
- Blitzkrieg – Blitzkrieg: My favourite track on here. This is proper metal, relentless riffing and menacing vocals. You can see why Metallica covered it, you don’t have to add too much to it to create Metallica’s sound circa ’83.
- Sweet Savage – Eye Of The Storm: Irish mob with a flash young banjo player called Vivian Campbell
- Jaguar – Back Street Woman: Just a revved-up, driving cacophony – brilliant.
- Raven – Don’t Need Your Money: How did this lot fail? this is an absolute adrenalized blast, sounds an awful lot like an awful lot of late 80’s US rock.
- Paralex – White Lightning: Under-produced but still mighty, this track simply has a really classic structure and riff.
- Holocaust – Death Or Glory: Is just a gnat’s hair, or two, away from the nascent hardcore punk sounds of Discharge and Conflict and is suitably fast and murky (see also Sledgehammer – Sledgehammer)
But that’s just a small sampling, I’m not a fan of Angel Witch or Witchfynde and Venom scare me to the point where I gave my two LPs of theirs to Satan’s representative here on Earth^^, everything else here rings my bell. It’s interesting that there were fewer Black Sabbath influenced guys around then (or at least documented here) than there are now, my theory is that it wasn’t until grunge seriously re-popularized them and rock slowed down a little more after it had a damn good thrashing, that all the doom merchants crawled to the surface to assume their rightful place as our leaders. But New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited is mostly about the speed, although honourable mentions need to go out to the melodic likes of Trespass and Gaskin who both acquit themselves really well.
It’s a good exercise to hear Saxon, Leppard and Maiden amongst their peers here. Interestingly for my money the most complete-sounding and powerful crew are Saxon with ‘Motorcycle Man’, a great galloping rocker. Iron Maiden’s track is a Friday Rock Show version of ‘Sanctuary’ which does sound suitably deranged – it has always been a real fave maiden track for me and not just for its cover, unfortunately for once it is out-savaged by Jaguar who follow straight afterwards. As an aside Bruce Dickinson doesn’t stand out at all with his turn on Samson ‘Vice Versa’, which despite some good guitar-slinging at one point is very second-rate.
Like all scenes it didn’t last and the little fish ate the bigger fish until there were only a few very big well-armed fish left, but New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ’79 Revisited is a great document of a time, place(s) and energy – thoughtfully put together and well presented. Interestingly it also sounds much better on my portable player than it does on my proper system, maybe this stuff was designed to be heard and appreciated cheaply? It is a great listen and not just a historical curiosity.
On a parting note today is the first time I’ve ever really got into Diamond Head, Lars insisted on two tracks from his favourite band ‘It’s Electric’ and ‘Helpless’. ‘It’s Electric’ opens this LP and is just a perfect slice of rock, really well sung and rhythmically more interesting than most here. Now I’ve heard these and other DH tracks plenty of times, but for some reason they only really clicked for me today. It’s odd. Maybe its about mood, the phase of the moon or hearing them in context, but my main theory is that it all fell into place today because I’m mentally wearing my rock uniform tonight, complete with Saxon T-shirt, my long-gone flowing locks and ripped bleached denim stretch jeans. (Sighs for what was).
*I was, and still am, a little unclear as to the finer details of how these were to be procured. I think I was probably counting on your allotted allocation being handed to you on the door of the first rock night you went to.
**I cite the case of Graham Bonnet, singer of two of my fave rock singles ever, but viewed as deeply suspicious by all on account of his short hair and penchant for wearing blazers*^ and thus not beloved as he should be.
*^the latter being a trait I still find deeply suspicious in anyone, in music or in any other walk of life. Rightly so too.
^Of course no-one ever seems to mention Motörhead in the context of NWOBHM, they were older, already out there and doing it – peddling their brand of Viking lechery, very successfully. Mind you, their exploding out of Hawkwind and hanging with the Damned didn’t really fit the narrative. So let’s leave sleeping Lemmy’s lie. In the same spirit we’ll pretend we never heard of Judas priest and Budgie too. Shhh!
^^true story, although the details are a little hazy now but I’m sure brimstone was involved somehow.