Monday, March 29, 2010

Heavy Metal Britannia

A few weeks ago BBC Four had a heavy metal weekend with the Program Heavy Metal Britannia.  I watched and really enjoyed it.  Here is what the program is about.

It was a very interesting program especially of you like metal or rock guitar.  It went into the history of British Metal.

The first section was on the beginnings of metal.  First sounds of metal from blues rock artists.  Songs like The Kinks, You Really Got Me (which Van Halen and others have since covered).  The guitarist of the Kinks, Dave Davies (his real name) said he put a screwdriver through the paper cone of his guitar map to get the distorted sound.  It went on to Jimi Hendrix and Vanilla Fudge, Caravan and heavy blues rock artists like the Yardbirds.

Next was a section on the first metal bands.  They chatted to Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and a welsh band called Budgie.  They came from a dank dark industrial British landscape of coalmines and British Steel. They had a choice of working in a factory, mine or doing music.  There is some good footage of this life gone by.

Not mentioned was that Black Sabbath's guitarist Toni Iommi had an accident in a steel mill press where he lost the tip of his finger.  This was the day before he was leaving the job to become a professional musician. He was inspired to play again by listening to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who also had a left hand injury but continued playing guitar. 

The older band members chatted about how they got their sound and pioneering the whole metal movement.  It was interesting to hear Jon Lord of Deep Purple say it took three albums and several years before they settled on a sound and identity.  They all lived in industrial areas and the industrial sounds influenced and leeched into their music.   Note: None of them claim to be Heavy Metal, they all say they are Heavy Rock, Hard Rock or Heavy Blues.  Notably Led Zeppelin was missing from the program.

They toured in vans going to Working Men's clubs.  KK Downing of Judas Priest describes how one time they got paid one time, not to play they were so loud and heavy.  No one knew what this type of music was then.

The Punk era came along and this saw the rise of Motorhead (who toured with The Damned).  The Metal bands survived but as Biff Byford of Saxon said, they liked and picked up on the energy of Punk.  The New wave of British Heavy Metal came at the end of seventies.  These band members grew up in a different era, one of strikes, 3 day weeks and winters of discontent.  The days of coal mining and steel works were disappearing.

The kids also had their own club.  The Heavy Metal Soundhouse at the Bandwagon run by Neal Kay.  Neal was on the program chatting, he mentioned Rob Loonhouse inventor of the Air Guitar.  Rob came in one weekend with a replica of a guitar.  Someone asked Rob why it had no frets.  Rob replied that it didn't need them as it had no strings.

This section, The Beast looked at Saxon who came first.  They were first ones who had chart hits.  Biff says when they played Top of the Pops (the British BBC chart show) other artists had champagne, a green room and red carpets.  They pulled up to the back door in a taxi.

The also had Iron Maiden, probably the most successful band of NWOBHM.  Charting their career from the start up to their number 1 album, The Number of the Beast.  They chatted to Bruce who described the first time he saw them with Paul Di Anno singing and how he thought he could do so much with that band.

On the other side they chatted to the Diamond Head guitarist Brian Tatler.  They influenced Metallica.  Lars Ulrich followed them on tour and slept on their couch.  Diamond Head wondered why they weren't getting signed.  When they did they missed the boat.

Of course in the program there were loads of musical clips of each band to accompany the program and chart the history of the rise of British Metal.  If you get a chance to watch the program please do.  Certainly Heavy Metal Britannia was an educational program in a good way.

Thanks for reading,

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