I have an unshakable belief that heavy metal, hard rock, whatever you want to call it, can be enjoyed by anyone open minded enough to give it a listen. I feel that some good evidence for this is Metallica playing to an insanely huge crowd at the Pyramid stage at last year’s Glastonbury and AC DC being bookies favourites for headlining next year. This is backed up by the fact that Metallica are also headlining Reading on Saturday night this year, where there are a number of other interesting recent heavy bands like Ghost and Mastadon playing. If you’ll forgive my over enthusiastic optimism I think this confirms that we’re experiencing a shift in the way people perceive metal (Reading is incredibly fashionable these days). This is a pretty good step forward from my teenage memories of being a cultural leper for my eccentric music taste, and although I can’t afford a ticket to any of these shindigs and don’t want to risk being shot on sight for breaking in, I couldn’t be happier.

I think the fact these bands are sharing a stage with such a diverse range of acts rather than there being a segregated rock stage is vitally important… I’ll try to illustrate this by looking back to the NWOBHM era, when Reading festival became the place where you could expect to see the more independent heavy metal/hard rock groups playing.

(Here’s a less obvious Iron Maiden song from that era to set the scene, hang in for the bit at 1:26…)

The line-up for the 1980 Reading festival was apparently chosen to focus on metal acts, following violence between metal and new-wave fans in 1979. The decade’s first Reading saw the once eclectic festival dominated by hard rock. A Reading organiser has said ‘If there were any other sorts of act on this bill they would probably have fared badly’. In this post I want to discuss whether this was really as good for our movement as is generally accepted? I’d argue that for the metal cognoscenti, it probably felt amazing, as if the new wave ‘poseurs’ had been defeated and rock had taken over. It was also a time when metal crowds began to feel separate from other music fans, which led to a boosted sense of community, making the NWOBHM feel like a proper cultural niche.

Now there was just a crowd of metal heads, and no new wavers to get in the way with non-metal music!

This cult mentality would have made followers feel self assured and powerful, and I think the legendary rain of mud and piss-filled cans fired towards Def Leppard during their performance for having ‘sold out’ is symptomatic of this, “we are the mob, and if you sell out to ‘the man’ we can and will make you suffer”. I think this demonstrates a dark side of the growing distance between metal and other genres.

As an aside I wonder how Girl went down? I wonder if they were pelted with crap for being ‘sissys’?

The giant Monsters Of Rock festival wasn’t amazingly supportive of the smaller acts, so the only NWOBHM bands who played at Donington during the early 80s were More, Diamond Head and Saxon (twice). Iron Maiden played there for the first time in 1988 believe it or not.

Here’s Saxon doing their thing as the only young British band on the Donnington bill at the first Monsters Of Rock in 1980 (these days it’s impossible to think of Saxon as ever being young isn’t it?)…

So that summer was quite special with two massive heavy UK festivals, Reading was a gushing torrent of NWOBHM and Donnington just huge. But am I being crazy in seeing this as the trigger for a kind of self-inflicted segregation of metal heads from the rest of the world, a source of the tendency for metal heads to take part in discussions about ‘what is and what isn’t proper metal’, in order to strengthen the barriers so we could feel disconnected from the mainstream?

I always wonder if these conversations ever happened in the 70s? If you look at a Black Sabbath crowd from the 70s, don’t they just look like ‘ordinary’ music fans (aside from the Hells Angels of course)? Perhaps metal needed to suffer the threat of punk making them look out-dated around ‘77 in order to develop the stronger ‘tribe identity’ that you see in the front row at Iron Maiden concerts around 1980? Does anyone recall having a ‘what is and what isn’t proper metal’ discussion prior to 1980? If so please write a comment!

This dispute is a room-clearing conversation I would frequently trigger in my teenage years (’92-’99), generally because I felt that metal had become a dirty word and had been pushed underground. By the mid 90s the world had got bored with classic rock stereotypes, and cravings for an unpretentious, open-minded underground movement had lead to alternative rock and grunge to take over. So I wanted metal to be an extreme that no one could confuse with ‘commercial rock’. I would tell other metal heads that they weren’t metal if they liked The Smashing Pumpkins or the Wildhearts…

*see below for an interesting/boring footnote*

…The point I’m trying to make is that as a teenager I was unconsciously taking part in a self inflicted apartheid. I wanted everything to be underground, perhaps because I thought the fact that other people didn’t understand my culture was what made it special. This would have been fine if there had been an army of other people on the same wavelength, but looking back, I was just pushing people away not through faithful love for my music, but because I wanted to be a heroic pariah. Dedication to an uncompromising belief system had become muddled in my mind with being a guardian of authenticity.

This is something I like to call ‘the Manowar problem’.

‘If you’re not into metal, you are not my friend’. This is a quote from the Manowar song ‘Metal Warriors’, which was on their 1992 ‘Triumph Of Steel’ album. I’ve heard this song played at parties as a joke, and find it really embarrassing because the album it comes from is actually amazing, apart from this ridiculous song. Here, have a listen.

Saying you don’t like other culture does not make you a more dedicated metal fan and any intelligent person would be right to feel uncomfortable about a movement that encourages narrow-mindedness. OK, so the song doesn’t say you can’t listen to or appreciate other music, but it does say that you should look down upon those who don’t like metal. Let me remind you how I started this post… ‘I have an unshakable belief that heavy metal, hard rock, whatever you want to call it, can be enjoyed by anyone open minded enough to give it a listen’.

Manowar may have been strengthening their branded empire with this ridiculous song, but our genre had already become a laughing stock, and ‘Metal Warriors’, an anthem against the open minded, was the last thing it needed. Hence ‘the Manowar problem’.

In 1980 pariah status had lead to a strong sense of community and heritage, but this path eventually lead to what I see as confusion between being uncompromising and being authentic. ‘Metal Warriors’ is the anthem of this mindset. By 1992, it had become abundantly clear that metal needed to grow out of the ‘proud pariah’ mentality. I’d argue that through our aggressive separatist image, we often push people away, when it would be more prudent to encourage others to share the passion we feel for our music…

I think this Girschool song is about shutting yourself out from the outside world; in isolation you can become a victim of your own pigeon hole…

You don’t have to look far on-line to find evidence of ‘what is and what isn’t proper metal’ discussions. Now, I love Encyclopedia Metallum and find it really useful to quickly reference bands who don’t have a Wikipedia page, but am I the only one who finds it funny when inflict their iron fist of judgement on what is and what isn’t metal?

At the time of writing, Energy, Big Daisy and Praying Mantis are ‘not metal’, which I wouldn’t mind so much if they weren’t so aggressive in laying down the concrete boundaries they use to define (what they perceive as being) true metal. We all have different interpretations of what metal means, and in the case of all NWOBHM groups, they made heavy music that moved people, thus (in my opinion) most bands from the NWOBHM era are worthy of acknowledgement on the data base because of what they contributed, not because they showed defiance to what was popular…

Is recognition by Encyclopedia Metallum a sacred paradise where all metal bands aspire to sit on a golden throne next to King Diamond? Whether yay or nay, here is some non-metal for you, a single from 1980 by Energy from Corby in Northamptonshire…

More non-metal from the guys from Lichfield who were so metal they had the balls to call themselves Big Daisy…

And finally, some non-metal from London, Jody St…

Heavy metal exists not because one day musicians wanted to defy authority and lash out at the music industry (that was punk’s thing, although pop culture is littered with creative attempts at rebellion), when Dave Davies from the Kinks cut the cone in his speaker while writing ‘You Really Got Me’ in 1964, he incorporated that sound into the song not because it would piss people off but because it sounded amazing. The backlash to these innovative new sounds and styles were always secondary, and by the time Black Sabbath had developed their sound and image, bands (and their management) had learnt roll with this kind of ‘devil’s music panic’ developing it into a pretty effective marketing ploy.

We have to remember the innovations that led to the NWOBHM and set the scene for this phase of wild experimentation came from trying to make a kick ass sound. This sound can be shared by anyone, the door is open. If anyone shows an interest in our music it doesn’t matter whether they’re in a suit and tie, or an Adidas tracksuit, if they are interested in supporting our music and the people who make it, the door is wide open. Don’t scare them off!

I even wonder if perhaps post Reading Def Leppard would have felt encouraged to continue commercialising their music in order to distance themselves further from ‘the mob’…

It’s hard to believe the notorious ‘NWOBHM backlash’ came in the later months of 1980, following this glorious summer of rock so closely. Before the community of heavy bands had a chance to stabilise, the journalists who had previously supported what seemed to be becoming a movement had decided enough was enough. The cultural guardians had got bored, becoming massively critical and attacking anything remotely NWOBHM as if they had over-dosed and wanted to stay on the non piss-can throwing wagon. As with many unstable relationships, journalists became more extreme in their mood swings, and behaved quite unpredictably towards NWOBHM groups from that time onwards.

Our bands had to work harder and stay independent in the face of corporate indifference, and I think this 1983 song (by the Energy, who thanks to Encyclopedia Metallum we’ve established aren’t actually metal despite sounding like this) sums that time up perfectly…

 

Fast forward 35 years and thankfully ‘metal’ isn’t currently a dirty word. We have fallen out of favour so many times but we always come back because there is a need for our kind of music, which we should all be proud to still be celebrating. For all the crazy sub genres that the NWOBHM triggered, it’s this strange era that is slowly pulling together to finally be recognised as a creative movement of talented people who remember the summer 35 years ago when rock ruled the world. Can our bands get the bite of the cherry they would have tasted had the media not got cold feet following the summer of rock?

I enjoy being dedicated to a phase of creative expression that dates from a time preceding this over reliance by record labels and the media to categorise acts into convenient pigeon holes. Looking through my rose tinted spectacles, I often imagine that people debated over only two pigeon holes during the NWOBHM which were effectively the same thing, hard rock and heavy metal. Although by some accounts you were likely to have piss thrown over you if you veered too closely to hard rock…

Back to Metallica, you can mock them for making an experimental album for hipsters (‘Lulu’ 2011) but I reckon this year’s album is set to be an acceptable successor to 2008’s ‘Death Magnetic’ because it sounds a bit like this…

And the fact they played in front of so many thousands of people at the UK’s biggest festival last year has to be seen as a watershed moment.

I’m over the moon that Glastonbury is supporting music closely related to ‘our music’. It means heavy metal and hard rock can be put out there, where people can stumble across it and choose to get involved.

A parallel to Michael and Emily Eavis’ eagerness to put classic bands that people care about on the pedestal they deserve is Tommy Vance in the early 80s who actively supporting our music by giving it a place to live and breathe and be broadcast to the nation on the biggest radio station of the time.

Here is a product of this open-mindedness, the best version of Xero’s ‘Cutting Loose’…

Surely it’s not completely out of the question to get some NWOBHM onto some smaller stages in coming years? As Rob Halford said when he heard about Metallica playing ‘If people are finally going to accept metal, it should at least be British’… When Glastonbury and other commercial festivals decide to invite Hell, Diamond Head or Saxon in the next few years, that’s the kind of open-minded risk taking attitude that could convince me to get onto the recycling team so I can see the gods of our era making people happy in a muddy field…

Here’s quite a well known obscurity to end on, ‘Running for the Line’ (1983) by JJ’s Powerhouse!

See you all next week.

*Bonus rambling Schindlers-personnel-list style fact… Ginger from the Wildhearts played in a later incarnation of Mournblade; and prior to forming Phasslayne, the guy who became the original Wildhearts drummer Andrew Stidolph played in Axiss with Glen S. Howes, who helped to trigger the current incarnation of Tygers of Pan Tang and is currently fronting Fist (the Newcastle scene is insane). I thought Phasslayne were pretty convincing at this year’s Brofest by the way, I was surprised there weren’t more Wildhearts fans there… Actually here’s one more tangent, Saturday the weekend of Brofest I saw a young couple in Iron Maiden t shirts while I was eating a sandwich at Grey’s Monument. I asked them if they were at the festival and had no idea what I was on about and had never even heard of Blitzkrieg! Did they follow my advice and attend the festival? Did they bollocks! Youth of today… Maybe the Brofest crew could start a NWOBHM society with the Northumbria University to actively tackle this kind of ignorance?*