If You Want Blood (and Flashbombs and Dry Ice and Confetti) You’ve Got It

THE NEW WAVE OF BRITISH HEAVY METAL: FIRST IN AN OCCASIONAL SERIES BY DEAF BARTON

“WELCOME TO the heavy metal crusade!” bawls DJ Neal Kay, adding with hippyspeak sincerity, “It’s peace tonight because tonight is the night of heavy metal in London town!”

The Scorpions’ number ‘Speedy’s Coming’ erupts from the PA with enough force to stun an elephant and, finding it difficult to share the jock’s enthusiasm, I allow the waves of sound to somehow carry me inexorably bar-wards.

The Music Machine sounds hollow this Tuesday night. One or two punks loon about on the dancefloor, a few more motley longhairs warily occupy the sidelines and look on with suspicion. Whenever I’ve been to this venue before it’s always been jam-packed with a seething mass of humanity, hundreds of people piled right up to the rafters… therefore it’s strange to see it so deserted, stripped of its usual Bacchanalian atmosphere.

And, without the sound barrier of numerous bodies, the pre-recorded megawatt mayhem tears through the auditorium with unstoppable, tidal wave ferocity, the sound searching out and mercilessly penetrating every last nook and cranny.

It’s still early after all, there’s at least half an hour to go until the first of the three bands makes an appearance. Time enough, surely, for a sufficient number of fans to crowd in, shuffle up stagefront and make a success out of this ambitious project.

If you’ve read Sounds with any regularity over the past year or so you’ll doubtless be aware of the existence of the Bandwagon, a heavy metal Soundhouse tacked on to the side of the Prince Of Wales pub at the Kingsbury Circle, London NW9.

Spurred on by the ever-increasing popularity of HM, disc-spinner Kay has decided to go out on a limb and group together three popular ‘Wagon outfits under one roof at a major London venue, with himself DJ’ing the whole event.

Which is why I’m here tonight holding my American heavy rock bias in check and readying myself to watch the activities of Angel Witch, Iron Maiden and Samson — three new British metal merchants with the potential to gain, in time, Sabbath-Priest-UFO levels of popularity? We shall see.

“GOOD EVENING to ya! Nice one! C’mon, where’re all you witches? Gonna get you all rockin’ and rollin’!”

Angel Witch bass player Kevin Riddles’ introductory call to battle, far from putting people off as you might expect, actually does motivate a respectable number of punters to gather around the base of the stage. And, even more surprisingly, closer inspection reveals them to be diehard fans of the band — yes, really.

Seems as if the group have already garnered a sizeable, devoted following: T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Angel Witch’ in Motorhead-style gothic lettering abound — why, there’s even someone wearing a denim jacket with the monicker painstakingly embroidered on it, displaying a slavish degree of dedication usually reserved for the Led Zeppelins of this world.

The band lurch into their first number ‘Extermination Day’ and it’s instant time warp: to the sound of what can best be described as the first Black Sabbath album being played through a cement mixer. Angel Witch toss their long hair, stomp around, pout, pose, punch their fists into the air after each agonising guitar solo… I can’t believe my eyes and if my hearing hadn’t suddenly cut out I doubt if I’d have been able to believe my ears either.

As the auditory appendages slowly recover from suddenly being lambasted by a wall of sound (although the rest of the audience don’t seem to suffer: “How’re ya doin’? Are ya alright?” bellows Riddles. “Yeah!” shouts the crowd. “Is it loud enough for ya?” asks Riddles. “No!” replies the crowd), it becomes obvious that Angel Witch operate at the sword and sorcery end of the HM spectrum.

Songs with titles like ‘The Gorgon’, ‘The Sorceress’, ‘Schizophrenic Mind’, ‘Devil’s Tower’ and ‘White Witch’ make the connection straight away, reminiscent in many ways of early Sabs, when the band (with such songs as ‘The Wizard’ and ‘Behind The Wall Of Sleep’) were rumoured to dabble in Black Magic.

Formed by Riddles around a year ago (rest of the band: Kevin Heybourne, lead guitar/vocals; Rob Downing, rhythm guitar; Dave Hogg, drums) Angel Witch make one hell of a noise, but their music is too fast (no need to be ‘punk conscious’), cluttered and ill-defined, at the end of the day leaving you dazed or, in extreme circumstances, comatose. That said however, the band’s version of UFO’s ‘Lights Out’ was tight, punchy and to the point, their ‘theme’ ‘Angel Witch’ was a good, solid audience participation number and the encore, finally exposing the band’s roots for all to see, could not be faulted: “This is a fing from an amazing band called Black Sabbaf!” yelled Riddles. “Y’know what it’s called!” . It was of course ‘Paranoid’, with particularly emotional vocals during the line ‘Can you help me? Thought you were my friend’ and some mindless guitars-above-heads grunging towards the end.

Desperately old-fashioned, but so over the top they’re way down the other side… in a kind of perverse way, I enjoyed Angel Witch.

‘PROWLER’, A song from the Iron Maiden (unfortunate Margaret Thatcher connections in that name) demo tape, has figured strongly in the Bandwagon HM chart for some time, but tonight is to be my first encounter with the band.

The Music Machine now (thankfully) reasonably full, a perfunctory ripple of applause welcomes Iron Maiden onstage and the immediate impression is that they look a lot better than Angel Witch (who, I forgot to mention, mostly wore cheesecloth shirts and loon pants… the bass player’s trousers even had the old triangular pieces of material sown into the seams below the knee, making his the widest flares I’ve seen for years).

Resplendent in tight-fitting leather outfits, Iron Maiden are poised, cooly confident, and their opening number ‘Rock Child’ is as demented a rock ‘anthem’ as I think I’ve ever heard. Vocalist Paul Dianno stalks around Geldof-style, blond-haired lead guitarist Dave Murray cuts an enigmatic, Schenker-type figure and Steve Harris (bass) and Dougie Samson (drums) provide a rock hard rhythm section… the first song finishes and things are looking very good for this East London (Leytonstone, actually) band.

Unfortunately though, it takes up until the tail end of the set for the group to produce another number of equal calibre. ‘Sanctuary’, ‘Charlotte The Harlot’ and ‘Another Life’ grind into each other horribly and the inevitable “It’s time to slow things down a little” number ‘Strange World’, while highlighting the various members’ playing abilities — in particular Murray’s capacity to play ‘mellow’ solos — finds the crowd drifting away to the bar until the band are only left with a paltry handful of interested onlookers.

However the fast-paced ‘Invasion’, with its extraordinary staccato chorus, brings the interest level back up again, and for ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ the band enjoy the ultimate accolade: a guy down front, playing a cardboard guitar, cut out to resemble the classic Flying V-shape. He really enjoys himself and — uh — gets down.

Things really start moving with ‘Iron Maiden’, a titanic, titular statement of intent, and the set closer, the aforementioned ‘Prowler’ (or “‘Prahla’, dedicated to all of ya dahn at the Soundaase” as it’s announced) burns like a branding iron to the forehead.

But the crowd don’t seem too impressed and the Angel Witch fans refrain from applauding on principle. Still, Iron Maiden scrape an encore and pound out ‘Innocent Exile’. And in a moment of madness towards the end of the song, Murray crouches at the edge of the stage reaches down and rubs the neck of his real guitar up against the fretboard of the cardboard one.

That’s surely got to be the craziest thing I’m going to see all night, I thought. But I Reckoned without Samson.

SAMSON ARE a three piece: Paul Samson, guitar/vocals (ex-Refugee and Kelly, he’s worked with Atomic Rooster, Sam Apple Pie, Zzebra and Noel Redding); Chris Aylmer, bass (ex-Steamhammer and Castle, he’s apparently been associated with Keith Emerson, Leo Sayer and Ian Gillan); and a drummer by the name of Thunderstick.

Formed in late ’77, the band went through numerous personnel changes before arriving at the current ‘definitive’ line up. They’ve had two singles out on Lightning, ‘Telephone’ and ‘Mr. Rock ‘N’ Roll’, but are now signed to Lazer Records.

Now… while Samson’s musical ‘pedigree’ leaves something to be desired and I didn’t go a bundle on the band’s music — too rambling and guitar solo oriented for these tastes — their stage effects were, as they say, something else.

If I had to sum up the Samson show in one word it would be ‘excess’. A glaring thunderflash opens the set, but it’s not — as is normally the case with HM bands — the solitary, attention grabbing ploy. No, rather it’s just a wildly extravagant foretaste of what’s yet to come: permanently shrouded in FX smog, during Samson’s performance you get dry ice, flashbombs, dry ice, showers of confetti, dry ice, fireworks, dry ice, clouds of multi-coloured smoke and dry ice.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band use so many effects so effectively and with such excellent timing — and, believe it or not, that includes Kiss.

And as if all that wasn’t bombastic enough, Samson’s drummer Thunderstick takes matters even further: for half the set he dresses in an off-the-shoulder leopardskin leotard, his head encased inside a bizarre — not to say Goddamn frightening — Cambridge rapist-type hood.

And later, during a lengthy guitar solo, he leaves the stage to reappear minutes later garbed as a haggard old schoolteacher. Cane in hand, he promptly gives the bassist six of the best across the backside, lunges to the front and drips blood from his mouth on to the audience in time-honoured Gene Simmons fashion, staggers up to the mikestand and, in recognition of the solo, announces “On guitar, Paul Samson” and finally returns to his position atop the drum riser and proceeds to beat the hell out of his kit.

It was something like Halloween falling on November 5 in fog-bound Dartmoor. Visually startling.

Unhappily Samson’s music failed to make a similarly positive impression. Numbers with titles like ‘Driving Music’, ‘Six Foot Under’ and ‘Big Brother’ came and went unspectacularly. Even the set closer, a meandering rendition of ‘Born To Be Wild’, left me unmoved… but to be fair I was pretty shellshocked and suffering from metal fatigue at this late hour.

So while I feel less than enthusiastic about Samson’s music, the band are deserving of a gold star for presentation alone. Simply, their stage show has got to be seen to be believed: a lot of money has been invested into the band, making their act slick, professional and exciting. Whoever is responsible for doing it has my respect and wholehearted appreciation. OK, so the effects distract your attention from the music… but maybe that’s the idea. For, as AC/DC say, “If you want blood, you’ve got it”.

Whatever, I’ll be down at the front the next time Samson hit London. And that’s a promise.

THE NEXT day I phone Neal Kay for some information on band line-ups, song titles, etcetera. He gives me the appropriate contact numbers and then says: “I was a little worried at first, the vibes were very heavy at the beginning of the evening when the punks were occupying the dancefloor. The metal freaks took a while to arrive in force.

“At the end of the night everything was cool though. Finally, the punks were coming right up to me and asking me to play Van Halen, Sabbath and even Hendrix tracks.

“Believe me Geoff, heavy metal took the Music Machine last night and won.”

While my feeling of elation isn’t running as high as Kay’s and while I have reservations — even in some cases grave misgivings — about the merits of the three featured bands, there’s no doubt that the heavy metal evening was a success, if only on a brain damaging, gross-out level… and some would say that’s what the musical genre is all about anyway.

In any case, the Music Machine management have seen fit to book the whole package back next month. See you there. I’ll be the one gibbering mindlessly in that dark corner.

© Geoff BartonSounds, 19 May 1979

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