Here they are- just as I remember them: Barnsley’s own hard rock band, Son of a Bitch. I first saw them early in 1975, playing the Centenary Rooms on the top floor of Barnsley Civic Hall. Although the band had been together playing as Blue Condition since 1970, it seems that this gig was one of their first with the line up featured in the photo and the name by which many of my generation will remember them (this tends to be confirmed by the venue itself- it was smaller than the Civic’s main hall, so that it would seem that the band were probably not risking huge sums on an uncertain audience: I mean, I played on the same stage within 2 years, so it definitely wasn’t that flashy a venue…..).
As I have described in my novel Freak or smoothy? my mum surprised me by allowing me to go. Although a good deal of Freak or smoothy? is a fictionalised version of my teens, my account of the SoB gig is wholly accurate: I discovered I could buy beer no questions asked at the Centenary Rooms bar; I discovered that you get very pissed on a pint if you’ve never drunk pints of alcohol before and I discovered that bands don’t come on at 8pm just after the doors open. I left early like a well behaved boy, because my mum had told me to, even though Son of a Bitch had barely started their set.
I saw Son of a Bitch several times after that, the last occasion being in 1977 when they played the main hall of the Civic for the second time. The previous gig to that was memorable for two reasons: firstly, the fact that some deranged soul had booked a white soul band to support them- the most bizarre pairing I have encountered; secondly, we learned that the lead guitarist had suffered a Tony Iommi like injury, severing the tip of his left index finger. This had of course imperiled his ability to play, but thankfully he was still able to riff and solo as well as he had ever done. We celebrated with one of our favourites by the band, a slow ballad called (something like) Rosalee, which was a lovely progression on D major – for all you guitarists out there. Certainly me and my friends were at the front of the crowd, studying and absorbing every detail of the band’s performance- the chords, the soloing, the clothes, the lights. I remember those striped trousers and the flowing silk shirts very well; they were exactly what I imagined myself wearing on stage before my adoring fans.
The second Civic gig was significant because Biff, the vocalist, had an announcement to make. The band had signed a record contract (roar of approval) BUT the record company had insisted that they change their name (boos- but perhaps not that surprising). From thenceforth they were to be known as Saxon, but (he assured us) to the loyal fans of Barnsley they would always be Son of a Bitch.
As I mentioned in my previous post (Hard rock in a mining town) even in 1975 when I first saw Son of a Bitch, changes were afoot. As a schoolboy in a small northern town, I could not have known this. Later that same year the Sex Pistols would be formed; as 1976 progressed the Pistol’s career and reputation gathered momentum and a movement for change gathered about them. I was oblivious to this. I was a ‘freak’- a heavy metal fan, I was very serious about the artistic and adult credentials of the genre and I saw no reason to change. In March 1976, for example, I had purchased the newly released second album by Judas Priest, the stunning Sad wings of destiny. This was for me the acme of dramatic, operatic heavy metal. I was swept away by the power and musicianship- as well as by the brilliant cover art.
In 1976-77 I was still proudly wearing my cheesecloth shirts, flared jeans and sweat shirts with coloured band pictures on the chest (ordered from the ads in the back of Sounds). I was very proud of my Led Zep top and later of my Fleetwood Mac one. In another of my novels, Feeling called love (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Feeling-Called-Love-teenage-obsession-ebook/dp/B014N1R0WC) I have again taken liberties with the facts and turned myself into an early punk adherent (along with a whole load of other enhancements to the boring reality of my actual teens). It’s true that, in early June 1976, I could have caught a train over the Manchester to see the Pistols play at the Free Trade Hall. I could have joined Peter Hook, Howard Devoto, Mick Hucknall, Tony Wilson, Pete Shelley and John the Postman and been numbered amongst the ranks of the happy few who got in right at the start. I could have done; but I didn’t. I was still a confirmed rocker. I liked ‘New rose’ by The Damned and ‘Anarchy in the UK’ when I first heard them on the Friday night John Peel show, but I had no inkling that they represented the start of a movement.
For that matter, though, I had no conception that change was afoot in the world of heavy rock either. In 1977 Judas Priest released their third album, Sin after Sin. This is regarded by many as pioneering the style that was to become ‘the new wave of British heavy metal’ and which was to inspire bands like Motorhead and spawn the many subdivisions of metal- such as thrash- that we take for granted today. Which brings us back to Son of a Bitch/ Saxon. They secured their record deal just as the hard rock of the late 1960s and early 70s was becoming outmoded. They had no inclination to reinvent themselves as a punk band (as some on the pub rock scene did) but they cannily positioned themselves on the crest of the new wave of British heavy metal and launched a very successful career.
For a soundtrack to accompany my story Freak or smoothy? click here: ‘Freak or smoothy?’- a soundtrack to the novel