When Anto stated at RPM in August that he’d only a few weeks earlier first heard the term New Wave of British Heavy Metal, I have to tell you now, my flabber was truly gasted. We are the same age (even though he obviously looks older)…….how could the NWOBHM have passed him by…..? So, here’s my own personal retrospective of the music I “got into” as a teenager, that made me feel as though I’d plugged myself into a musical mains-supply, and that I still love 40 years later.

The term New Wave of British Heavy Metal has gone down in rock history as being first used in a May 1979 gig review (Samson, Iron Maiden and Angel Witch) written for the weekly music paper Sounds. Journalist Geoff Barton wrote the piece but Alan Lewis, the paper’s editor, is credited with suggesting the label which Barton then used in his 2-page spread entitled ‘If You Want Blood (and flash bombs and dry ice and confetti) You’ve Got It’, subtitled ‘The New Wave of British Heavy Metal: first in an occasional series by Deaf Barton’. As to the question of when Heavy Metal was born and what was actually the first proper HM song……..who cares? It’s been widely debated. But by the mid-70s the names who flew the HM flag were well known; Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Uriah Heap, UFO, Thin Lizzy………you get the idea. The NWOBHM can be viewed as being the second wave; post punk, young aspiring musicians took their influences from the pre punk HM bands, ditched their predecessors’ overblown musical excesses, fused their new music with the energy and DIY ethic of punk (punks only strong points in my opinion) and began forming bands………..oh, and the songs were shorter as well…………..mostly.

“Where were you in ’79 when the dam began to burst?” Saxon, from “Denim and Leather”.

It’s become accepted that 1979 was the year it all came to a head. At a grassroots level there was a groundswell of heavy metal bands from all parts of the UK who would jointly coalesce (many initially unknowingly) into what would become the NWOBHM “movement”. Even the BBC had noticed something was on the horizon and responded by starting the Friday Rock Show on Radio One in November 1978. Hosted by Tommy Vance, (TV on the radio) this was an essential listen every week and it was this show which gave many NWOBHM bands their first national exposure in the form of a Friday Rock Show Session, Def Leppard, Samson and Iron Maiden being 3 of the first in 1979.

“If you like to gamble I tell you I’m your man.” Motorhead, from Ace of Spades.

For me living in rural Suffolk, 1980 was the dam bursting year……yep, things moved a little slower there. Serving out my 4 year of sentence at high school, it was the year the musical lights went on one day whilst walking past the sixth form common room. This was a scuzzy prefabricated building which, for us younger ones, was extremely intimidating as this was where the older cool kids hung out, but from which on this particular occasion the most glorious noise was emanating; Motorhead’s Ace of Spades*. I was hooked.

*This was probably October 1980 as this was when the 7” single was released.

So what exactly is the NWOBHM?

I’m glad you asked! I would actually consider the NWOBHM to be quite a broad church of rock styles collected under one banner, an umbrella term invented and promoted by the music press of the time, in particular the already mentioned Sounds and then also by Kerrang, started in 1981 under the editorship of Geoff Barton……….yes, him again. For me it was not necessarily a restrictive pigeon hole but could encompass a diversity of what later became sub genres of the metal scene. At one end of the spectrum I would place the more melodic and technically proficient bands such as Demon (whose music was not as evil as their name might initially suggest) and at the other, bands who traded more on enthusiasm and image such as Venom (who were certainly as terrible and laughable as their name suggests) whose music, the term used in its loosest sense here, was rudimentary at best and lacked imagination. Specifically, it was new bands (there’s a clue in the title after all) who had been playing small pub/club type venues on the underground metal circuit for a few years, who had possibly brought out a (self-produced) demo, a single, an EP or possibly even an album. NWOBHM does not include any of the established acts who made their names throughout the 70s, although many rode on its coat tails, gained a second wind and produced some fine work during the NWOBHM years. In fact, many albums which are now seen as definitive by these older bands were released during this period, British Steel by Judas Priest, for instance, being a prime example. The NWOBHM bands certainly gave rock music a shot in the arm and forced the old bands to snap out of their complacency and “up their game”.

That’s got that sorted out, then.

The Decline.

By the mid-80s, the NWOBHM torch had started to gutter and burn its self out. “By 1986,” says Brian Tatler, guitarist with Diamond Head, “there were only a handful of NWOBHM bands left. Everyone else had gone back to their day jobs, including Diamond Head.” Of course, once an underground movement becomes accepted, it becomes the mainstream…….and once it becomes the mainstream it comes under pressure from outside forces to change and conform. The NWOBHM was no different. A few bands stuck to their artistic vision and, under the auspices of sympathetic management and record companies, survived. Iron Maiden are the best example of this. Others, just as musically talented as Maiden, were not so fortunate and either because of record company interference or lack of support and/or mis-management threw in the towel in frustration; thinking Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang here. Most though were probably “of the moment”, enthusiastic but limited in their musical capabilities, they were good for a few singles, even an album, were entertaining in a “you-had-to-be-there-to-get-it” kind of way in the confines of a hot and sweaty venue, but just didn’t have that extra “something” to last for any length of time.

So, in no particular order, here’s my personal choice of NWOBHM bands that particularly caught my ear at the time, some continuing to do so to this day and some for which the passage of time has not been so kind.

Motorhead (London)

“We are Motorhead and we play rock and roll,” Lemmy would always assert at the start of each gig. He always claimed that Motorhead were not a Heavy Metal band, as have many others. ‘All of a sudden (in ’79) everything was heavy metal. We were heavy metal, Journey were heavy metal, Hawkwind were heavy metal. Very strange,” he said. At the time though, if you looked at the patches sewn onto any headbanger’s denim jacket (probably by their mum), there would always be one bearing that famous logo written in Fraktur font. True, Mr Kilmister was not a youngster practicing with his mates in their Dad’s garage with dreams of their new metal band “making it”; he’d certainly been around a bit. But it is difficult to ignore the influence Motorhead had on the NWOBHM scene at the time or indeed upon the rock world subsequently. Even though the band had formed in 1975, their only releases prior to 1979 had been their debut album and 3 singles. 1979 was the year they really started making waves with the release of both the Overkill and Bomber albums, and that’s why I would propose them to be a NWOBHM band rather than an established 1st wave act like Black Sabbath. (The Sabs by ’79 had released 8 albums and were therefore part of the established old guard.) The next two years I’d view as Motorhead’s golden period, again falling within the zenith years of the NWOBHM. The Ace of Spades album was released in November 1980. A collaborative release with Girlschool, the St Valentine’s Day Massacre EP, secured the number five slot in the UK singles charts in February 1981. The live album No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith reached number one in the UK albums chart in June 1981. Motorhead lasted for 40 years until Lemmy died in December 2015. My second favourite band, btw.

Ace of Spades -

Def Leppard (Sheffield)

Def Leppard, formed in 1977, were one of the first NWOBHM bands to be embraced by both media and rock fans. A self-produced EP, the Def Leppard EP no less, came out in 1979, one of the songs “Getcha Rocks Off” given repeated play on the BBC by John Peel, of all people. Increasingly being seen as hottest of the emerging NWOBHM bands, a Friday Rock Show session was recorded and broadcast in October. Also that month, they secured the support slot on the UK leg of AC/DCs Highway to Hell tour. Signing to Phonogram Records, their debut album On Through the Night was released in March 1980. For me this is one of the classic NWOBHM albums. The 1981 follow up High ‘n’ Dry still keeps the NWOBHM spirit although has a much slicker production, hinting at the musical direction the band were heading in and which they perfected with producer Mutt Lange on the Pyromania album released in January 1983. This album turned away from their NWOBHM roots, was more commercial and radio friendly and sold in America by the bucket load. After this album I stopped listening, it’s where they lost their NWOBHM grit and turned into an insipid MTV band playing watered down American radio rock.… there. They went on to conquer the world, of course. They have apparently asserted that they were never a NWOBHM band.

Rocks Off -

Girlschool (London)

Viewed by many as a female Motorhead, Girlschool formed in 1978 and took on the male dominated NWOBHM……..and in my opinion, won. Upon hearing their first single, Take It All Away, and then meeting the band, Lemmy requested Girlschool be the support act on the Overkill tour in the spring of 1979. Motorhead’s management also acted for the girls and secured a recording contract with Bronze, the same label at the time as Motorhead. Debut album Demolition (remember my RPM nomination for terrible art, great album?) was released in June 1980 climbing to number 28 in the UK albums chart. Following Girlschool’s collaboration with Motorhead (see above), second LP Hit and Run came out in April 1981. The first two albums are the must-have-ones as far as I’m concerned. Subsequent releases started to include more covers (Slade, T-Rex…) and were not as strong in my opinion. By 4th album Play Dirty, released in October 1983, keyboards were included and the production had a more transatlantic-radio sound. Personally, I blame Pyromania. Every record company with a NWOBHM act wanted them to become as successful as Def Leppard which of course meant the production should sound the same. Not for me, I’m afraid. Where were my raucous NWOBHM biker girls? Girlschool still continue to perform today and are excellent live. More recent albums have regained something of their old vibe again, their last, Guilty As Sin released in 2015 being a respectably solid affair…….even though it includes an ill-conceived cover of Staying Alive………yes, that Staying Alive.

Kick It Down -

Tygers of Pan Tang (Whitley Bay)

“Tygers of Pan Tang?”, I hear you say. Yep. Anyone familiar with the fantasy writings of Michael Moorcock will understand. Pan Tang is an archipelago from the Elric of Melnibone books where it’s wizards keep tigers as pets. The Y in the spelling is just one of those NWOBHM affectations…..just accept it. The Tygers are one of the NWOBHM bands who had the potential to go far……..or at least further than they did. Formed in 1978, their recording debut in August 1979 was a self-produced 3 track EP released through the Newcastle independent label, Neat. This was the labels 3rd release and following the popularity of the Tyger’s EP, it’s 1000 copies selling out very quickly, Neat went on to become one of the prime independent NWOBHM labels releasing over 60 singles and around 50 albums. Tygers of Pan Tang’s first album Wildcat came out in August 1980 on the MCA label, charting at number 18. Spellbound, the follow up a year later in April 1981 stalled at number 33. For me, these are the two classic TOPT NWOHM LPs, btw, (sorry, couldn’t resist the consecutive abbreviations). Of the two albums, I would consider Spellbound to be the best. A new vocalist and bringing in 2nd guitarist John Sykes (later in Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake) still maintained that all important NWOBHM grit and spirit but gave Spellbound a more professional sound compared to their debut…….although for me, Wildcat still has a certain NWOBHM DIY charm about it. Two more albums followed; Crazy Nights in November 1981 and The Cage in August 1982. “I thought we’d spend the year promoting (Spellbound) around the world,” says guitarist Rob Weir. “The record company all of a sudden said, “We’d like another album to put out in November” (1981). We didn’t need to do another album in the same year”. For MCA, though, it was all about milking money from their NWOBHM cash cow. Recording Crazy Nights meant the Tygers were not out on the road promoting Spellbound and when Crazy Nights was released, MCA bizarrely didn’t back it by promoting a tour. When album number 4 was required, songs by more commercial outside writers were foisted on the band as well as an insistence to include cover versions. The Cage is consequently a very weak collection of songs lacking the bite of the first two albums. “I think they had their eye on Def Leppard in the States,” muses Weir. Ironically, the Cage charted at number 13 in the UK albums chart. Fed up with their record company, Tygers of Pan Tang split up in 1983.

17 years later in 2000, Rob Weir reformed the band which continues to perform today. Recent releases, Animal Instinct, Ambush and the eponymous Tygers of Pan Tang are back up to the standard of those early couple of albums.

Take It -

Saxon (Barnsley)

The word stalwarts could have been invented for Saxon. Formed in 1977, their eponymous debut album appearing in May 1979, these NWOBHM heroes have championed the metal cause for the past 40+ years, never denying their roots. Of all the NWOBHM bands, theirs was the star that burnt the brightest during the early 80s having 5 singles in the top 40 of the UK singles chart between 1980 and 1983 and 8 albums in the top 40 of the UK albums chart between 1980 and 1986, unprecedented for a British HM act. The essential LPs are the quartet released between 1980 and 1983; Wheels of Steel (1980), Strong Arm of the Law (1980), Denim and Leather (1981) and the Power and the Glory (1983), second album Wheels of Steel the definitive in my opinion. The mid 80’s saw the band signing to EMI and, probably at the instigation of the record company who had more than likely contracted that dreaded disease Def-leppard-itis, releases from this period have an increasingly commercial and less heavy sound. For me, the latter part of the 80s is where Saxon lost their way a bit. They didn’t seem to be the same band that had kicked down the HM door with Wheels of Steel, and the dreaded keyboard washes were just not what the band were about. 1997 was the start of a renaissance, however, which coincided with the arrival of new guitarist Doug Scaratt and the release of the Unleash the Beast album which certainly did what it claimed on the tin. They continue to tour and record and have become highly respected elder statesmen of heavy metal. 2018s Thunderbolt is a particularly strong release, well up to the Saxon standard and the first leg of the UK tour was superb with Diamond Head and Rock Goddess lending support. Metaltastic!

Machine Gun -

Diamond Head (Stourbridge)

Here we go again with another tale of what could have been. How Diamond Head didn’t become as big as Iron Maiden is a bit of an odd tale. The band formed in 1976 and finally released their first album on a major record label in March 1982. Wait a minute; 1982? Yep, a good two years after that dam had burst. Saxon, for instance, had already released 4 albums by then. So why did Diamond Head initially miss the boat? They’d actually already recorded enough material for a debut LP, Lightning to the Nations, in 1980 which was released by an independent label and sold at gigs or through ads placed in Sounds. The recording had been conceived as an enticement by the band’s management (Reg Fellows, the owner of a cardboard box factory and Linda Harris, Sean Harris the bands singer’s mum…… couldn’t make it up!) to secure a deal with a major record company. And not just any deal; a deal of Led Zeppelinesque proportions. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. Eventually, MCA picked them up in 1982 and rushed them into the studio. The Four Cuts EP came out swiftly followed by the Borrowed Time album in March of that year. This is the must have recording which I bought at the time, (also catching the band at Ipswich Gaumont on their UK tour promoting said LP). Retrospectively, though, I would consider Lightning to the Nations to be better. It’s rawer and has more of that NWOHM vibe to it. In 1982, I didn’t know Borrowed Time was really Diamond Head’s second album and it’s only recently that I’ve tracked down the 1980 album, finding a very nice CD reissue which includes their singles of the time as well. Borrowed Time successfully entered the UK albums chart at 24. You can guess what happens next, can’t you? Yep, rather than allowing the band to spend time touring the album, MCA insisted Diamond Head return to the studio to record a follow up………….with Mike Shipley who had engineered Def Leppard’s Pyromania, aaahhh! The Canterbury album appeared in June 1983 charting at 32 but for me lacked that good old NWOBHM grit and spirit……hardly surprising really. MCA, getting tired of the band’s interesting management structure issued an ultimatum; drop them or we’ll drop you, which they did in January 1984. Diamond Head disbanded in 1985…………and that could have been that if it hadn’t been for some band called Metallica who included a cover of the Diamond Head song Am I Evil as a B side to a single in 1984. Metallica loved the NWOBHM and Diamond Head in particular and went on to record 5 of their songs for various releases which kept up an underground interest in our lads from Stourbridge. Diamond Head briefly reformed in 1990, performing as openers for a few Metallica shows but by 1994 internal tensions had caused them to fold again. In 2000, guitarist Brian Tatler and vocalist Harris gave it one more try playing gigs and writing a new album, which has never seen the light of day due to Harris deciding he didn’t want the band to be associated with the NWOBHM and therefore wanting to change the band name to make a fresh start. In 2003, Harris left for good but Tatler has continued with Diamond Head to this day, the eponymous 2016 album being the first for nearly 10 years………well worth the wait though.

Am I Evil -

Samson (London)

Formed in 1976, Samson took their moniker from the surname of their guitarist Paul Samson. First album Survivors came out in 1979. My first encounter with the band was purchasing second album Head On released in June 1980, replete with dodgy 80s NWOBHM cover featuring the band’s drummer, Thunderstick, real name Barry Purkis, sporting a black executioner’s face mask and brandishing a very large blood smeared axe; indeed, coming to take your Head….Off! The mask and pseudonym were all part their NWOBHM act; on stage Thunderstick even played within a cage…..of course he did………not the sort of antics you’d really expect from someone called Barry, though, ehh? The album charted at number 34 in the UK album chart. It also featured newly installed vocalist, the pre-Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson under the guise of one Bruce Bruce. There are probably a few reasons why Samson never made it big time. Mis-management was certainly one of them, matters coming to a head in 1981 resulting in a court case between the band and its management. “The band were never the same after the court stuff and everything. It took its toll, “says our Barry…….sorry, Thunderstick. Despite all this upheaval, Samson managed to write and record 3rd album Shock Tactics releasing it in May 1981. An unstable line-up throughout 1981 is possibly another reason for Samson stalling as a band. By this time Paul Samson wanted fewer theatricals going on behind him; so, given the chop, it was bye-bye Barry. Then not long after the band appeared at the Reading Festival in August 1981, where they had a respectable 4th from top-of-the-bill placing, Dickinson also departed, poached by Rod Smallwood manager of fast rising NWOBHM stars, Iron Maiden. Considering that in 1979 Samson were hot NWOBHM property and had headlined above Maiden at the gig which resulted in the Sounds review giving the “movement” its name, this was a change in fortunes, the band’s upward trajectory plateauing……unlike Bruce’s which, with his new band, took off for new heights……in more ways than one. Vocalist Nicky Moore replaced Dickinson and two further albums were released, Before the Storm in 1982 and Don’t Get Even, Get Mad in 1984. These two albums moved away from the NWOBHM sound going in a blues-ier rock direction which suited both Moore’s voice and Paul Samson’s style of guitar playing. And that was it really, Samson the band disbanding in 1984. Paul Samson continued to perform under his own name, reformed the band briefly on a couple of occasions and sadly died of cancer in 2002.

Riding with the Angels -

Rock Goddess (London)

Short and sweet can best describe the NWOBHM career of Rock Goddess. Formed in 1977 by sisters Jody and Julie Turner whilst still at school, they were managed by their father John who using his connections in the music industry, started getting the band gigs. Following their appearance in August 1982 at the Reading Festival, their career really kicked off when they secured a record deal with A&M Records. Everything important then happened in 1983; eponymous debut album was released in February and follow up, Hell Hath No Fury, in October. I’d say these albums just caught the tail end of the NWOBHM era before record companies deemed that all rock bands should sound like Def Leppard’s Pyromania. For me their debut is the best record, a loose (in a good way) slice of garage/rock/metal. A 3rd album, Young and Free, was recorded but because of various problems wasn’t released until 1987, and then only in France that well known hotbed of NWOBHM fandom. The band then split. Jody Turner resurrected Rock Goddess between 1994 – 1995 and then again in 2013 when it was announced the band would record a new album. Entitled Unfinished Business, it ironically has not yet surfaced, although an EP It’s More Than Rock and Roll was released in 2017. The Rock Goddess story is therefore a frustrating story of starts and stops…….but mostly stops.

Heavy Metal Rock ‘n’ Roll -

Magnum (Birmingham)

Here’s my contentious NWOBHM nominees! I’ve read a few times that Magnum are not a NWOBHM band, and I can sort of see the reasons behind that statement; they formed in 1972 so are therefore too old and therefore a first wave band, they’ve got keyboards so are not heavy enough, they’re too prog……but I disagree on all counts. Guitarist Tony Clarkin (one of the most under rated songwriters in rock) and vocalist Bob Catley may have started the band in the early 70s but had no success whatsoever and even acted as a backing band for various artists who came to play in their neck of the woods. They didn’t “get it together” properly with a first album until Kingdom of Madness came out in August 1978. Reviewed in Sounds, it was given five stars by Geoff Barton……yes, him again. Second album….er….Magnum II was released in October 1979, the NWOBHM dam bursting year, so right on cue. As for the keyboards……..well, as I’ve suggested already, the NWOBHM was a broad church and keyboards were indeed included in the line-ups of some NWOBHM bands; one album wonders White Spirit being a good example. During 1980 and 1981 Magnum opened for Def Leppard on their On Through the Night tour of the UK and Tygers of Pan Tang on their Spellbound UK tour respectively, also fitting in an appearance at the 1980 Reading Festival. So quite a lot of NWOBHM street cred there as well, I reckon. Plus, let’s look again at the back of a denim jacket of the time and what’s that you see nestled amongst the Saxon, Diamond Head, Praying Mantis, Vardis and Iron Maiden patches? Oh yeah, it’s one bearing the Magnum logo. I rest my case. All that hard road-graft finally paid off in 1982 when third album Chase the Dragon was released in March, peaking at number 17 in the UK albums chart. This was the first of the four albums which I would consider their golden period, The Eleventh Hour (1983), the definitive Magnum album On a Storytellers Night (1985), and Vigilante (1986), taking us to the year by which the NWOBHM had reached its’ sell-by-date, according to Brian Tatler. As with all NWOBHM bands, late 80s releases had that transatlantic production washed all over them, although Magnum, I think, weathered this a little better than some of their contemporaries (maybe because they already had the keyboards) and still maintained a semblance of their peculiarly English prog-metal vibe which I would consider their trade mark. 1995 saw Clarkin fold the band but after a 7-year layoff, Magnum re-convened with the Breath of Life album in 2002. They have continued performing and recording, bringing out Lost on the Road to Eternity in January 2018, in my view their strongest album since Storytellers Night.

How Far Jerusalem -

Iron Maiden (London)

So, we come to the masters of metal, the mighty Maiden! If you were to imagine those boys’ comics of the 70s like The Victor, The Hotspur, and Battle being given a couple of Strats and a Les Paul, shown what a Marshall stack was and told to form a band, it would be Iron Maiden; ripping yarns meets spine-ripping riffs. Formed by bassist Steve Harris in 1975, after a lot of hard gigging and a few line-up changes, Iron Maiden were signed by EMI at the end of 1979. They were quickly embraced by rock fans and became one of the vanguard NWOBHM bands. For me, Maiden can be split into various eras; the early punk metal version with vocalist Paul DiAnno; the first reign of Dickinson 1982 to 1993; the best forgotten Blaze Bayley years 1994 to 1999 and the renaissance 1999 to present. Essential albums (and there are a few!) are the eponymous first (1980) and second, Killers (1981), DiAnno vocalist on both, third release and best NWOBHM album ever The Number of the Beast (1982) which was Bruce Dickinson’s debut having been freshly poached from Samson, Powerslave (1984), Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988), Brave New World (2000) and The Final Frontier (2010). What has propelled Maiden to such a revered position within the rock world? In two words; Steve Harris. His single-minded vision has put Maiden where they are today. No other NWOBHM band had a Steve Harris character amongst their ranks which is why all, apart from possibly Saxon who have vocalist Biff Byford fighting for their corner, have fallen by the wayside. Maiden even survived the dreaded Pyromania fall-out years unscathed, something most other NWOBHM bands didn’t manage to do. Other than a glitch in proceedings during the 90s when Dickinson left the band to pursue a solo career and the hapless Blaze Bayley was brought in on vocals for a couple of overly long, not very inspired albums, the quality of music has been pretty consistent over the years, especially since Dickinson returned to the fold in 1999. The only band in the world to fly themselves to gigs in their own plane, Dickinson being a qualified commercial airline pilot as well, to boot, they show no sign of retiring quite yet. Long may they fly……..quite literally.

The Number of the Beast –

Five more bubbling just under the surface………..

White Spirit (Hartlepool) NWOBHM shouldn’t have prog keyboards or prog time signatures? No one told White Spirit.

High Upon High -

Tank (London) Contenders for most brilliantly ridiculous over-the-top album title of all NWOBHMdom with debut LP Filth Hounds of Hades.

Walking Barefoot Over Glass -

Mama’s Boys (Derrylin) Combo of the 3 Northern Irish McManus brothers, Pat, John and Tommy. Jimmy Page-like, Pat would wield a violin bow on a couple of songs….except he could really play the fiddle….and did. Sod that posing lark with a Les Paul!

Runaway Dreams -

Fist (South Shields) Terrible album covers and just as terrible record company backing, but one great cult single.

Name, Rank and Serial Number -

Raven (Newcastle) – Frenetic instrumental antics and mental vocal screams….originators of speed metal? Possibly. Prize for best NWOBHM B side? Definitely! Top notch crazy fun.

Wiped Out -