The Night The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal Was Born
Come inside for a bunch of vivid memories of the dawn of the NWOBHM…
If you’ve got a copy of the brand-new issue of Classic Rock (No.134; summer 2009 edition) you’ve doubtless noticed the awesome photo-spread on pages 52 and 53.
The pix of Iron Maiden, Angel Witch and Samson were taken by Paul Slattery at the Music Machine in London, in spring 1979. (Yes, we know we say ‘a pub in the East End of London’ in the photo-spread’s strap-line… but that’s wrong, wrong, wrong!)
Anyhow, gaffes aside, we promised that we”d post Geoff Barton’s memories of the show – widely regarded as being when the NWOBHM began – on the Classic Rock website. So here they are…
Iron Maiden/Samson/Angel Witch (Music Machine, Camden, London, May 8. 1979)
It was a defining moment in the annals of rock: the birth of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Three bands – Angel Witch, Iron Maiden and Samson – making a spectacular re-emergence after years of punk rock oppression and doing a their celebratory, Iwo Jima-style, flag-raising thing in a gloomy old ballroom at the bottom end of Camden high street.
“Welcome to the heavy metal crusade!” cried hippy DJ Neal Kay by way of introduction. “It’s peace tonight because tonight is the night of heavy metal in London town!”
Kay – who these days would probably rejoice under the pseudonym MC Catweazle – was the influential disc-spinner at the Bandwagon, a heavy metal haven that used to cling like a festering sore to the side of the Prince Of Wales pub at the Kingsbury Circle, London NW9.
For the Music Machine show, Kay boldly decided to group together a trio of the Bandwagon’s most popular acts under one roof at a major London venue, with himself presiding over proceedings.
Angel Witch – all cheesecloth shirts and loon pants – grumbled through songs with titles such as ‘Devil’s Tower’ and ‘White Witch’, proving that they were in league with Satan years before Venom got promotion from the Conference. Driven by Kevin Riddles’ lumbersome bass and the shrill guitars of Kevin Heybourne and Rob Downing, they encored “wiv a fing from an amazing band called Black Sabbaf” – ‘Paranoid’, of course. If Angel Witch ever had a finest hour, this was probably it because they received a more positive response than Iron Maiden, the second act on the bill. Amazing but true.
Kicking off in destructive style with ‘Prowler’, Maiden were just a four-piece at the time, with Dave Murray the sole guitarist alongside Paul Di’Anno (vocals), Steve Harris (bass) and Dougie Sampson (drums). Despite a promising start, formative versions of ‘Sanctuary’, ‘Charlotte The Harlot’ and ‘Another Life’ then proceeded to collide into each other horribly. The slow-paced ‘Strange World’ prompted punters to drift away to the bar until – unbelievably, in this day and age – Maiden were only left with a handful of interested onlookers.
But I’ll always remember the sight of a guy down the front, playing a cardboard guitar lovingly cut out to resemble a Flying-V shape. It was none other than the legendary Rob Loonhouse. At the end of Maiden’s set, in a moment of madness toward the end of ‘Innocent Exile’, Murray crouched down at the edge of the stage and rubbed the neck of his real guitar up against the fretboard of Loonhouse’s cardboard one. It was probably at this moment that I became convinced that this band were destined for greatness.
The evening concluded with Samson – pre-Bruce Bruce/Dickinson, and replete with drummer Thunderstick in misguided Cambridge rapist-type hood. More exploding bombs than Dresden successfully disguised the fact that this was workaday blues-rock led by Paul Samson’s tortuous guitar. Still, matters perked up when Thunderstick changed costume and came on stage as a wizened old schoolteacher. Cane in hand, he proceeded to give bassist Chris Aylmer six of the best across the backside and spit blood at the audience. You had to be there.
The next day, I spoke to Neal Kay on the phone and he proclaimed: “Believe me, Geoff, heavy metal took the Music Machine last night and won”.
And whaddya know, history has proved that the stubborn old crusty was bang on the button.