Some time (I think) in 1975 (it’s a long time ago!) I went to see a gig at Barnsley civic hall. Rock gigs were rare in my home town and, although it was mid week during the school term and I had to go alone because no-one else in my class fancied the sound of it, I decided to go.
The concert was a double bill of two hard working rock bands- Stray and Strife. They’re barely remembered now, except by those with a particular interest in the 70s heavy metal scene, but the evening is impressed upon my memory. I don’t recall much after 41 years, but what I do recall is volume, guitar solos and immersion in the barrage of sound and the fog of dry ice illuminated by the lights- a sea of red and the roar of the band. If you want to know more about the bands, they each have web pages (see wikipedia, www.stray-the-band.co.uk or http://www.spirit-of-metal.com/groupe-groupe-Strife_(UK)-l-en.html) . If you want to get a feel for their music, there are You Tube examplesclips of the bands live and reviews of albums to be found on the ‘Unsung’ page of Julian Cope’s excellent website, Head Heritage (visit https://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/).
I was 14 and a heavy metal fan. I had pretty clear ideas about what was good and what was bad music at that age (as tends to be the case) and I was puritanical: bad was soul and pop; good was rock. In my juvenile simplicity of judgment, my template for good music was very fixed: I wanted riffs, verse, chorus, riffs, verse, chorus, guitar solo and maybe another verse and chorus. And that was what I got. I was very happy indeed. It was inspiring and overwhelming. If the standard of a good gig was whistling ears the next morning, then I had enjoyed an outstanding night out: my ears whistled for much of the next day’s lessons. Only one thing would have made the evening better- a companion. Many decades later I corrected this in my novel, Freak or smoothy? In that story I partnered myself with Diane, the older girl at school who I admired and worshipped, and ‘corrected’ history. If only… (see Amazon to read a sample of my fantasy/ autobiography). I’ve created a soundtrack for the novel on a separate page on this site (‘Freak or smoothy?’- a soundtrack to the novel).
In 1975 I considered that there was only one style of music to be taken seriously and my views even on the parameters of that style were very narrow. The conventions of rock had been established in the previous decade and I respected them rigidly- as did many of the practitioners. The problem is, of course, that in the hands of those less musically and artistically creative, the style can ossify into something repetitive and unimaginative. Where the leaders blazed an innovative trail, imitators would follow obediently. The canonical structure became obligatory; solos were played because they were expected, giving us not just lead guitar showmanship but bass solos and- curse of the world- drum solos. If you really want to suffer, try ‘The Mule’, one side of Deep Purple’s live album, Made in Japan. A twenty minute drum solo from Ian Paice; it’s a gruelling listen.
It’s inevitable that, once a model has been formulated and accepted, some will wish to rebel against it. I was only dimly aware at that stage that the process was already beginning. I had seen the fast-paced, febrile blues of Dr Feelgood on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test. I had not appreciated that they were harbingers of change to come. Punk rock, was, of course, a reaction against heavy metal. It sought to be everything that prog rock was not- it was brief, fast, succinct; it was angry and political. There were no guitar solos, there was no ‘hippy’ self indulgence. That tidal wave was gathering and was, for many of us teenagers, going to sweep away the sorts of bands I saw at that evening’s gig. But, that night, I was impressed and excited. I was encouraged to go home and make by own music- which I was to do; but that’s for a later blog post!