Main Hell Bent for Leather

Hell Bent for Leather

A witty and self-deprecating memoir about headbanging your way through growing up. Seb Hunter was a Heavy Metal fan and he's not proud. This is the story of his misguided 15-year Heavy Metal mission: from the first guitar (his dad's), to the first gig (conquering Winchester with his riffs), on through groupies and girlfriends and too many drugs to a faltering career in London, where outrageous egos, artistic differences and the dreaded arrival of Grunge (and a much needed haircut) kill the Heavy Metal dream. Along the way Seb imparts the important distinctions between Thrash Metal and Glam and casts his connoisseur's eye over the Metal guitar. You'll learn when to play a drum solo, the correct way to wear Spandex and exactly what to do when you're in the middle of a field at the Donington Festival and you desperately need a piss. Affectionate, irreverent, and very funny, Hell Bent For Leather is a moving story about growing up, of playing air guitar in your bedroom, of living with...
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Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict


4th Estate
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd
1 London Bridge Street
London SE1 9GF
First published in Great Britain by Fourth Estate 2004
Copyright © Seb Hunter 2004
Seb Hunter asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the
required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text
of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled,
reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any
form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without
the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.
HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written
content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and
technological constraints in operation at the time of publication.
Source ISBN: 9780007161768
Ebook Edition © JUNE 2016 ISBN: 9780007381616
Version: 2016-07-19

From the reviews of Hell Bent for Leather:
‘Anyone who’s ever been too fond of music will recognise themselves in
Hell Bent for Leather … Though it’s hilarious and downbeat, [Hunter] retains
an honest love of the truth of rock. It’s a profound writer who can describe
AC/DC and Slayer as sounding like a trolley falling down the stairs’

‘Terrific … a thundering good read’

‘Hell Bent for Leather is a book that could do for heavy metal what Fever
Pitch did for Arsenal: make the terminally unfashionable hugely commercial
… this funny, honest book is both a homage to his first great love, and a
deconstruction of that most maligned of pop forms. You ; can enjoy it without
having heard a single heavy metal track. For that alone, Seb, we salute you’
‘Rock failure was very, very good for Seb Hunter … his book is a gem; a
wonderfully deadpan account of his childhood obsession with heavy metal,
and his subsequent attempt to make a career of it. The story is memorable not
only for Hunter’s mordant self-deprecation and hilarious recitation of heavy
metal trivia (how many sub-genres of glam metal can you name?), but for the
unexpectedly moving conclusion’
New York Times
‘Funny and genuinely touching … he relives the developments that shook the
metal world to its stack-heeled foundations’
‘Hunter relates with easy humour and perfect pacing a tragic, glorious youth,
dominated by music … he has an assured touch, good timing, genuine love

and knowledge of his subject, plus just the right amount of modesty required
when you’re not famous and you’ve decided to write a book about yourself
anyway. Terrific!’
Time Out
‘It’s easy to laugh at metallers and Hunter’s book makes it even easier … he
describes the era with affection’
Independent on Sunday
‘Irreverent, funny, candid and branching off the beaten track to include all the
other things that really matter, like love, life, death, dead-end jobs, alcohol,
parents, girlfriends, mates’ girlfriends, and guitars with pointy headstocks. If
that rings any kind of (ahem) Hells Bell with you, then you’ll love it’
Leicester Mercury
‘Funny yet tragic … anyone who believes music changes lives will find
validation here’
City Life
‘A Fever Pitch for Heavy Metal fans … Simultaneously hilarious and
strangely moving … identifies the very essence of why music is important to
life. Magic’
Q magazine
‘Seb Hunter’s wickedly funny biography combines the madness of Ozzy and
the incisive satire of Spinal Tap with an honest and contagious passion … a
delightful chronicle of the highs and lows of glorious youth’
Glasgow Herald
‘A truly brave book … an entertaining guide to heavy rituals, with diagrams
explaining the need for a 12-stringed axe’
Observer Music Monthly
‘Hell Bent is more than a memoir: it’s a crash course in Metal’
‘Enthralling from start to finish … Hunter is never afraid to laugh at his

former self and it is this factor more than any other which places Hell Bent …
in the proud tradition of Giles Smith’s Lost in Music and John Aizlewood’s
Love Is the Drug and makes it essential reading for any music fan, metalobsessed or otherwise’
Liverpool Echo
‘Seb Hunter talks from a true fan’s perspective … A truly human
examination of passion and music’
The List
‘Should strike a (power) chord with everyone who’s sold their soul to rock
’n’ roll … Hunter celebrates the joy of being lost in music’
Kerrang!, KKKK
‘Paints a vivid picture of the capital’s low-rent mid-80s muck ’n’ mascara
Classic Rock
‘A Hornby for the Kerrang generation’
i-D magazine
‘Mixing his memories of small-town England with an encyclopedic
knowledge of heavy metal, Hunter creates a book that, thanks to its
combination of poignancy and hilarity, is as infectious as a well-crafted
power ballad’
Publishers Weekly
‘You find yourself wanting to hug him one minute, and punch him the next’
‘Like Nick Hornby, Hunter can’t separate pivotal points in his life from the
songs he was listening to at the time. Read it and cringe – not in
embarrassment, but in recognition’
‘Brash, to the point, and earthy, this is an enjoyable disquisition on an adultirritating strain of music that just won’t die. With advocates and chroniclers

like Hunter, why should it?’

For Fa

Title Page
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
P.S. Ideas, interviews & features …
About the Author
Interview with Seb Hunter
Life at a Glance
About the Book
The Return of the Trash Can Junkies
More Music
Further Listening

About the Author
About the Publisher

I was in the pub with my friend Andrew and the conversation turned to ‘What
specialist subject would you choose if you were to appear on Mastermind?’
He came up with the very good point that in order to proceed to the later
stages of the competition, you would need a store of different specialist
subjects for each new round. But as the heats progressed, the standard of
fellow competitor would rise, so not only did you have to prepare – we
guessed – four rounds’ worth of different specialist subjects, but you
probably needed to gamble your weakest in the early rounds and save your
best one ’til last. We imagined the dreadfulness of early-round elimination on
some hastily cribbed topic, with our fountains of knowledge waiting primed
and unused. So assuming there actually are four rounds, including the final
(and yes, we’re taking huge liberties with our levels of general knowledge
here), Andrew chose:
1st round: Bob Dylan
2nd round: Samuel Beckett
3rd round: Tennyson (yes, he’s a fop and a nonce)
Final: The Beatles
He really likes The Beatles.
In response I installed my beloved Beach Boys at the top of the pile and
started to ponder my remaining three stages.
‘Can I have Brian Wilson as a separate round?’
‘Definitely not, or I’d have John Lennon.’
‘Oh, I see.’
It was then that a horrible truth began to dawn. It grew in my brain until I
couldn’t hold it in any more. Although I am very good on The Beach Boys
and, indeed, my hero Brian Wilson, there was a subject that, if I was honest
with myself, I knew more about than any other. And it wasn’t big, or clever,
or cool, or relevant to anything at all useful in my or anyone else’s life
(unlike Brian, of course). I covered my mouth with my hand.
‘Heavy Metal,’ I said quietly.
‘What?’ Andrew appeared confused.

‘My number one isn’t The Beach Boys. It’s Heavy Metal.’
‘Really? Heavy Metal? As random as that? No focus or specification? Just
the whole thing?’
‘Yes.’ My head hung in shame. ‘The whole goddamn thing.’
‘You never told me about this before.’
‘It’s kind of a secret,’ I muttered.
‘So if you got to the final of Mastermind, you’d sit there in the black chair
and when asked for your chosen specialist subject, you’d calmly reply
“Heavy Metal”?’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘That’s fantastic!’
It was true. And this book is all about what I have learned, and my
charmless stabs at emulation.
And hey, before you say anything – I’m not proud.


I’m ten.

It’s 1981, a late summer evening in an underground common room at a
boarding school in deepest Wiltshire. Someone is playing ‘Can-Can’ by Bad
Manners on a cheap yellow record player and we’re all running around in a
sweat, playing off the musical momentum, though hardly paying it much
attention. And then comes my big moment, the only real eureka, blindinglight moment I’ve ever had. Some wise child peels off from the fray and
clunks down AC/DC’s ‘Let’s Get it Up’, and that’s it for me. That was the
light switch – the world suddenly became three-dimensional and my ears
popped open.
It was so raw, so suggestive, that I had no idea how to react. This was a
whole new set of rules for my body; a sudden and unexpected DNA tattoo. I
stood motionless on the flagstone floor, beads of sweat hanging off my
fringe, waiting for this skull-splitting rheum to end so I could calm down and
return to how things had been before, but I never quite managed to get there.
‘Hey! Hey! What was that?’ I stood open-mouthed over the record player.
By the end of the week, having heard ‘Let’s Get it Up’ a further 16 times,

including the B-side ‘Back in Black (live)’, all other thoughts in my head had
evaporated. I taught myself how to do this, fast:

Back at home that Christmas I knew exactly what I wanted. For the last
few years my parents had been feeding my thirsty Star Wars obsession,
however this year I’d requested just one solitary item: a cassette by AC/DC.
My mother asked me where she was supposed to purchase such a thing and I
was forced to admit I had no idea. So I spent an anxious Christmas morning
worrying that I’d be getting yet more Star Wars figures and not the one thing
I craved so badly. But halfway through the communal giving I was handed a
tape-shaped package. Slowly I peeled at the wrapping until I could clearly see
a gold cover and a picture of a giant cannon, and on the back cover – oh my
God – the album contained ‘Let’s Get it Up’! I felt sick and slightly dizzy and
my hands had started to shake.
My mother, sensing my existential distress, plucked the plastic box away.
‘“Let’s get it up”,’ I whimpered.
My mother frowned. ‘What do you think that means?’
‘It means …’ I paused. ‘Let’s all get it sort of “up” and have fun.’
‘Well, you’re wrong, it doesn’t mean that at all, it means something
entirely different.’
‘Like what?’
‘I’m not telling you. Just be careful, that’s all, don’t go around saying that
sort of thing in public. And “Put the Finger on You”? What do you think that
one means?’
‘It just means putting the finger on you. I don’t know.’ She doesn’t
understand, I thought to myself. She just doesn’t get it!
She ran her finger through the rest of the songs, muttering under her
breath, and handed it back.
‘“Let’s Get it Up” means something rude. In fact, quite a lot of these songs
sound rather rude.’
You’re mad, I thought, embarrassed for her obvious misunderstanding.

As soon as the Queen’s speech was over and the family had thanked each
other for their biscuits and condiments, I interrupted proceedings by loudly
demanding we play my new tape.
‘Everyone will like it!’
‘But Granny …’
‘Granny will like it too!’
My father raised an eyebrow. I had up until this moment been a thoroughly
charming and dutiful child, so after a moment’s consideration, the cassette
player was reluctantly dragged in from the kitchen.
With my back to my extended family, I slid the new cassette into the
machine and covertly inched up the volume in preparation for AC/DC’s
grand opus For Those About to Rock … (We Salute You) in all its corrosive
pomp. As the guitars snaked out I turned, grinning and blushing heavily, and
grabbed onto the aerial to steady myself. Then the bass began to throb and I
noticed some awkward shuffling on the sofa. Next came the drums – crikey
they were loud! I glanced at my scary Uncle Geoff and he’d started turning
purple, but still I sensed a thrill of expectancy in the room. Then came the
singing – or rather some wordless yelps like a rusty iron lung – and with it a
sharp, horrified wince from the entire family. It was slowly dawning on me
that perhaps not everyone would love AC/DC quite as much as I’d hoped.
Finally, just as the chorus came blazing through (For those about to rock! We
salute you!) and I was at the very peak of excitement, my father shouted
‘Enough!’, and my mother leapt at the eject button, and I was hastily sent
upstairs by Granny.
My mother and father married in 1968. My mother was an artist and a
teacher, and my father ran his own property development businesses. Three
years later I came along.
And then two years after that, my sister Melissa.

I’m Rupert the Bear, Mel’s a mouse.

For the first six years of my life we lived in an old farmhouse in the
Hampshire village of Meonstoke, surrounded by farms and fields, until my
father grew bored with the country and discovered a gigantic run-down
Victorian house in Winchester. It looked like it would need years of work but
was irresistibly cheap, so he decided to buy it. We all slept on brown
corduroy cushions in the drawing room for the first few months, while the
electrics were recast, water was coaxed back through the miles of disused
black pipes, and the child-sized gaps in the floorboards were hastily covered
with lino. This was an amazing house: it had 30 rooms, a cool vaulted cellar
and a giant warren of an attic. My sister and I liked to change bedrooms
whenever we felt like it because there were just so many to choose from,
while my mother painted huge colourful murals on their walls for our
entertainment. My father meanwhile took this sprawling house to task,
attacking it with sledgehammers and drills, knocking up arches through walls
in a comedy hard hat. The garden was a giant overgrown jungle in which I

constructed dens out of old beehives, played laser wars with imaginary
friends, smashed a football against the green garage door and goaded our
At eight years old I was sent to a small boarding school miles away in the
countryside near Salisbury. For the first few terms I was poleaxed by
homesickness, but after a while I lightened up, and then suddenly – for the
only time in my life – school became a complete delight. We wore cool navyblue boiler suits when we went outside to play, and there was an old quarry in
the vast school grounds, and hardly any girls to be scared of. I was extremely
lucky to be there; my parents had had to borrow money to send me in the first
place, and slowly I began to repay some of their investment. I developed a
random obsession with Austria and, aged nine, began a James Bond style
novel, casting myself as the heroic Austrian protagonist. I supported Austria
passionately at football and in the skiing on television on Sundays, and had
an Austrian flag on my bedroom wall. No-one knew what had triggered this
Austrian obsession, not even me; I’d never even visited it.
During my school holidays back in Winchester I made friends with my
next-door neighbour. Alexander was a spoilt only child, which meant he
could get hold of almost anything. We liked playing toy soldiers, sci-fi laser
war and Lego – he had so much Lego he had to keep it in buckets and giant
Tupperware boxes, and his armies were so huge that wherever you walked in
his house your feet would get spiked by the piles of discarded military
enmeshed in the carpet. We also liked ABBA and spent many evenings
dancing chaotically in Alex’s front room. We even made ABBA compilation
tapes, for no better reason than Alex’s posh stereo had twin tape decks. And,
for a while, that was all we knew about music.
AC/DC changed all that. First chance I got, I rushed over to Alex’s to tell
him about my discovery. He went straight downstairs to request an AC/DC
album from his parents, and a day later he was the proud owner of their 1979
masterpiece Highway to Hell. I was so jealous I refused to listen to it, but I
couldn’t keep this up for long. As we cued-up the record for the fiftieth time,
I realised that this wasn’t just a passing phase – this was the real deal, the
meaning of life. There were rampant phalanxes of guitars, drumming so hefty
it felt like dinosaurs were stomping round the room, and a voice so astringent
it could strip paint off the walls. Alex said he was going to change his name
to Alexander AC/DC and that his parents had said it was OK, and I,

temporarily, believed him.
Together Alex and I learned that AC/DC had had two different singers:
Bon Scott, who sang like a snake and was dead (he choked on his own sick in
1980), and his replacement Brian Johnson, who wore a flat cap and a vest and
sounded like a vomiting pensioner (maybe that’s what had pissed Granny off
so much). Alex and I liked Bon the best – too much Brian all in one go was
distressing, and Bon sounded sexy, though we didn’t know what ‘sexy’ was
exactly. We just knew Bon was cooler, and funnier, and being dead we knew
he couldn’t turn around and decide to write a ballad.
Bon was great, but our favourite thing about AC/DC was their iconic lead
guitarist, Angus Young. Angus was a short Australian man with straggly hair
who always wore a school uniform: velvet shorts, velvet jacket, velvet cap,
shirt and tie. It wasn’t the fact that he dressed like us that impressed us
particularly – although we respected the gimmick – it was the sheer feral
noise he made with his guitar. Every note that Angus played seemed to
possess a kind of taut, evil shiver; it got us right in the diaphragm. His
perpetually blazing Gibson transfixed us and we devoutly mewed every note
in exhausting bouts of keep-up air guitar in Alex’s bedroom. While the rest of
the DC stood rooted to the spot in their tight mucky T-shirts under their
curtains of hair, Angus duck-walked his way around the stage like a depraved
goblin Chuck Berry, dripping rivers of sweat behind him as he methodically,
ritually disrobed. We duck-walked with our air guitars around Alex’s room,
careful not to skip the needle.

Me as Angus at my sister’s fancy-dress birthday party. L – R: dog, sister, me.

A month later, Alex’s parents took us to Le Havre for a weekend. They

were both doctors and were travelling over there for a medical conference.
Alex and I spent hours locked in the hotel room, squinting out over the docks,
watching sea-gulls attacking cars. When we were eventually let loose in a
giant department store called Les Printemps, Alex was allowed two new
AC/DC albums and I was allowed one. It took us hours to choose. In the end
I went for Powerage while Alex demanded Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
and If You Want Blood, You Got It (I still feel estranged from both to this
day). Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap featured songs called ‘Big Balls’, ‘Love
at First Feel’ and ‘Squealer’. It was getting harder to avoid the sexual
We were banned from listening to the tapes back at the hotel or during the
journey home, which was probably a good thing anyway with all that talk of
big balls. So instead we bickered over whose tape was better before we’d
even heard them, and learned the track listings and the times of the songs and
every detail from the covers. My tape had a picture of Angus with a crazed,
electrocuted expression on his face and wires coming out of his sleeves
instead of hands, which I soon discovered was exactly how he sounded
inside. But Alex and and I were worried: had Angus really impaled himself
upon his Gibson SG on the front of If You Want Blood, You Got It? It looked
extremely convincing. How had he survived that?

Angus – dead?

Back in Winchester, we bought up the DC back catalogue using Alex’s
parents’ money and waited impatiently for their first new album since we’d
discovered them. It was called Flick of the Switch and had an exciting though
minimalist cover, with Angus and his guitar hanging off a giant switch. My
favourite song was ‘Bedlam in Belgium’. I imagined the devastation the DC
could cause in Belgium – Angus duck-walking down a blazing street that
looked a bit like Le Havre, but bigger and engulfed in flames. Unfortunately

for us, Flick of the Switch was their worst album to date, but we hadn’t
discovered the music press yet, so it took a few years to realise.
My family’s appetite for AC/DC hadn’t progressed at quite the speed I’d
initially expected. I was particularly let down by my father’s response, who,
as a brilliant pianist, bass player and all-round musical Svengali to our family
(when he felt like it), should have been the most appreciative. He became
agitated when I played the DC on his fragile and expensive record player at
objectionable volume while the family sat watching The Two Ronnies. He
wasn’t completely anti-pop – he owned ‘Strawberry Fields’/ ’Penny Lane’, a
T-Rex album, and a Chris Squire (out of Yes) solo album that someone had
once given him by mistake. But whenever he heard the DC he would wrinkle
up his face comically and hold his ears as Brian Johnson screeched out ‘What
Do You Do for Money, Honey’ and ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You’ and
‘Givin’ the Dog a Bone’. I convinced myself that if he listened long and hard
enough he’d eventually get it, just as I had. I said, ‘OK, maybe that one
wasn’t so good, perhaps not the best, I agree, but hold on, listen to this one.’
And he’d light another Silk Cut and turn up the darts on the television and I
would translate an annoyed movement of his mouth into acquiescence.
One Sunday he was lighting a fire with wet kindling and newspaper, a
cigarette in his mouth, and I was playing him Highway to Hell, explaining
each track as they came and went. His face was a picture of resigned
indifference, but I was determined he’d like it this time. After all, it was my
current favourite album, and Bon’s voice was easier than Brian’s, and my
father didn’t have his fingers in his ears for once, which was a start. After
‘Shot Down in Flames’ he slowly took the cigarette from his lips and
muttered, ‘I quite liked that one.’
Wow! I played it again straight away, fluffing the rewind button in my
excitement, but next time when it finished he said, ‘But that one was bloody
‘It was the same one!’
‘Aha.’ Pleased with himself, he turned on the television.
‘Well, did you like it or not?’ I was hopping around, preparing to rewind it
again, but he’d turned the TV up so loud he couldn’t hear me.


Heavy Metal is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as: ‘A style of rock
music with a strong beat, played very loudly using electrical instruments’. I
reckon they’ve nailed it. The Collins calls it: ‘A type of rock music
characterised by high volume, a driving beat, and extended guitar solos, often
with violent, nihilistic, and misogynistic lyrics’. It’s hard to disagree. And by
Heavy Metal, I mean the real thing – the original full-fat knuckleduster
motherfuckers. I’m talking about Metal’s Golden Age, which took place
between 1969 (the first Led Zeppelin album), and 1991 (Nirvana’s second
album, Nevermind). This book only takes into account events that took place
between those two landmark dates, so if you’re here looking for some
Slipknots, or The Limp Biscuits, you should search elsewhere.
Heavy Metal comes from two places: the blues, and a strange kind of
bombastic neo-classical. Two famous Metal bands illustrate this well:
Motorhead and Van Halen. Motorhead’s seminal (the Metal world adores the
word seminal) No Sleep ’til Hammersmith, an album recorded at the genre’s
High Temple, Hammersmith Odeon, is a Metal classic. Essentially it’s just a
fast and mucky blues album howled out by a handlebar-moustached and
wart-ridden speed-freak. In the other camp you’ve got Eddie Van Halen,
guitarist in his eponymous group, who created a new style of Wagnerian
arpeggio by playing his guitar’s neck two-handed, almost like a piano, using
classical scales and phrasing, which went on to influence swathes of bouffant
pomposity and Paganini plagiarism. There was no soul in that half – most
Metal came straight out of the blues and those hoary old three chords, just
played at ear-splitting levels – and in very tight trousers.
Why is the concept of high volume so important to the genre? It’s because
otherwise it would be extremely boring. If you think about it, there are no
subtle structural dynamics to listen out for – no artistry in construction to be
intellectually appreciated and politely applauded – you’re not going to miss
anything. The only question to ask during a Metal song is: when is the guitar
solo? That’s all you really have to think about, so you’re free to jump up and
down and make devil shapes with your hands, headbang if you feel like it,
and brazenly punch the air to the battering flood of watts coming at you from
all those Marshall amplifiers.
It’s primal, all the way through – stick-of-rock primal. Sound, volume,
pummelling. It even hurts the next day. Brilliant!
The loudest musical performance ever recorded (so far), hitting a

marauding 129.5 decibels (louder than a jet plane take-off), was achieved by
an American band called Manowar during a concert in Germany. Manowar
were one of those bands that gave Metal a bad name. They epitomised the
clichés we were all so ashamed of. Manowar wore animal hides and fur, had
huge biceps and Viking-style handlebar moustaches. They cut themselves
with a ceremonial dagger and then signed their record contract in their own
blood. They had names like Scott Columbus, Ross the Boss, Death Dealer
and Rhino. They believed in True Metal (their own music), and dedicated
their entire career to the vanquishment of their nemesis, False Metal (music
other than their own).
Manowar set out to wither the competition with decibels and gesticulation.
They succeeded up to a point, inspiring their huge and loyal fanbase to write
letters into Kerrang! magazine accusing bands like Poison and Motley Crue
of peddling False Metal, in terrible spelling. Every album Manowar released
was even more epic than its predecessor, more grandiose in its warrior vision.
They’re still going today, still topless and wearing loincloths, their
moustaches just slightly craggier. False Metal is still out there winding them
up, and they remain committed to destroying it. Joey, Manowar’s muscled
bass player, sums up their ethos well: ‘The whole purpose of playing live is
to blow people’s heads off. That’s what we do; that’s the energy of this band.
We’re out there to kick ass. We’re out there to turn our gear on and blast.
We’re out there to kill. That’s what Metal is. Anyone saying otherwise is not
playing Heavy Metal. We will melt your face!’


Metal’s love of volume is ubiquitous. Here are some song titles

celebrating, and, in some cases, frantically urging you to turn the volume up
to aid your listening experience:
‘I Love it Loud’ – Kiss. A simple paean to loud music. Gene Simmons, the
bat/demon character in the group, wants you to feel it right between the eyes.
‘Blow up your Speakers’ – Manowar. Speaks for itself. They also criticise
MTV in this song, for not playing their music, a statement that to this day
remains unrequited.
‘All Men Play on 10’ – Manowar again. Ten refers to the volume dial.
‘Blow up your Video’ – AC/DC. Because it’s not loud enough, and the
speakers have already been blown up, elsewhere. This is another protest at
lack of television airplay. It also makes the point that videos are commercial
and unnecessary and somehow False Metal.
Loudness: the self-explanatory name of a Japanese Metal band of the 80s,
humorously nicknamed Roudness by the Metal press. They wrote songs
called ‘Rock Shock (More and More)’, ‘Burnin’ Eye Balls’, ‘Bloody Doom’,
‘Dogshit’, and my favourite, what-does-it-mean? ‘Hell Bites (from the Edge
of Insanity)’.
‘For the Sake of Heaviness’ – Armoured Saint. Almost poetically honest.
‘Too Loud (For the Crowd)’ – Venom. (Metal loves brackets too.)
‘Louder than Hell’ – Motley Crue. Strangely, this song comes from the
height of their poodle period, when you’d have thought being louder than hell
was the last thing on their minds. This song isn’t loud at all.
(Manowar had a song called ‘Louder than Hell’ too.)
Although lyrics about how loud you play are evergreen, there are several
basic lyrical themes which are even more beloved. These are: anything
involving or referring to sex or the sexual act; travelling really fast; blowing
things up (rebellious violence in the name of rock); and (preferably Norse)
mythology. Any combination of these subjects is also completely fine, indeed
combinations are essential if you’re going to have enough to write about over
the course of a long career.
If a Metal band decides to stray from these well-trodden paths, they will
usually end up producing a concept album. The concept album is Heavy
Metal’s ultimate High Art statement, its holy grail of spiritual and intellectual
achievement. Most Metal musicians will, at some point in their career, be
inspired by a film they have seen, an obscure mythological tale they have
read, or a social injustice they have stumbled across, and decide to retell that

story via one continuous piece of music which often stretches over an entire
double album. The result is usually a paper-thin narrative crudely welded on
to a set of lyrically clumsy songs that are all still about sex and rebellion and
mythology, but with spooky incidental music breaking up the individual
tracks. These concept albums often come in expensive and showy packaging;
fold-outs with poems and encrypted messages for their fans to unravel. Then,
on the subsequent tour, at some point in the show they’ll play through the
whole thing from start to finish, using tapes to fill in the linking bits they
can’t play themselves, boring everybody in the audience who came to hear
the songs which celebrate how loud the band is. Almost every Metal group
makes a concept album at some point during their career, even Motorhead; it
was about the First World War and it was called 1916.
Metal fans occasionally like to argue over what was the first ever Heavy
Metal song. Often the answer is ‘You Really Got Me’ by the Kinks. It’s got a
rhythmic fuzzy guitar line and is clunky and unsupple; it piledrives. But the
Kinks obviously weren’t Heavy Metal, so what bands can you call Metal?
And are there different types? There are loads of different types, so here are a
few handy pointers:
The Scorpions – Classic Heavy Metal from Germany
Def Leppard – New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)
Meat Loaf – Panto Heavy Metal, but no-one likes him, he’s too fat, and
uses too many keyboards
Slayer – Thrash Metal (slightly frightening)
Bon Jovi – Kind of Heavy Metal (especially if you are a girl)
Europe – (as above)
Marillion – Prog Rock (we tolerate them because we think they bring us
intellectual credibility)
Genesis – (as above, for those slightly older)
Poison – Glam Metal (completely different from 70s Glam)
Michael Bolton – Heavy Metal (when he first started, believe it or not)
Led Zeppelin – Heavy Metal (though it pains me to say it)
Bryan Adams – Not Heavy Metal (but we like him anyway because he
keeps it real)
Thin Lizzy – Trad. Arr. Irish Heavy Metal

Iron Butterfly – Heavy Metal with an Organ
If you think I’m being free and easy with my Heavy Metal tagging, I don’t
care. It’s how artists were perceived by Metal fans that’s important here, not
what their music actually sounded like. If Metal fans tended to like
something, then whatever it was, it was allowed into the fold. Pretty much
anybody could record a piece of pop fluff, but so long as it had a cranked-up
guitar in there somewhere, no matter how low in the mix, or one of those
solos (you know, a whiny one), then Metal fans would give it the collective
thumbs up and allow themselves to buy it, or at least watch it endlessly on
shitty pop TV; often it was the only way Metal could get anywhere near the
At the absolute far end of Metal’s acceptability were Roxette, the Swedish
Eurythmics of the late 1980s. Their music was primary-colour Euro synthpop with shouty choruses, however because their portly guitar player had
vaguely rock hair, wore his big rock guitar low, pulled the right shapes, made
Os with his mouth and wore a tasselled leather jacket, some of us kidded
ourselves into thinking we could actually hear a guitar in there, so in some
quarters Roxette were tacked sheepishly on to the very edge of the Metal
landscape. Kerrang! magazine would review their singles. They slated them,
of course, but acknowledged their existence nevertheless. They weren’t so
When Samantha Fox burst from Page Three on to our stereos, she too had
the good sense to apply some ‘raunchy’ guitar to her miserable repertoire,
with the same effect – grudging acceptance from the Metal community. At
least she was ‘keeping it real’, with ‘proper instruments’. She also wore lots
of denim, which helped slightly. There was even a time when Kate Bush was
considered borderline Metal, but I’m still not sure why. I think it might have
been a simple sex-object thing. Maybe it was just because she had really long
hair. Or because she crimped it.
Heavy Metal is essentially a club, a gang with an allegiance to a musical
and social set of values. It might be frowned upon by society at large, but
that’s something that binds Metal even more tightly. Metal has always
retained a dubious conservative mindset – black or gay Metallers are rare
indeed. I’m not claiming the whole Metal community are a bunch of Daily
Mail readers – heaven forbid, only most of them – but as a movement, and

right through its 30-odd year history, those not of a WASP predilection have
tended to align themselves somewhere else. They take one look at this bunch
of clowns and for the rest of their lives say to themselves, ‘well, at least I’m
not one of those …’ Metal fans know that people say this about them and they
resent it; this partly fuels the ‘nihilism’ mentioned in the Collins Dictionary
definition. This conservatism probably stems from Metal’s lack of outside
stimuli from other musical or social trends; its bonding conformity has tended
to squeeze out any progress society might have made since Metal’s inception,
so ever since it has revolved around the old-fashioned ideals it’s always felt
comfortable with.
The closest Metal has ever come to genuine inter-racial embrace (ignoring
revered icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Phil Lynott, etc. who
were unique individuals and succeeded despite rather than because of, the
prevalent racial perception) was in the late 1980s, with the sudden appearance
of Funk Metal and the all-black band Living Colour. These four chops-laden
dudes from New York knocked down doors the genre had assumed would
remain closed for ever, were tentatively embraced by an ethnically parched
community, and fundamentally altered the rock landscape for the better. They
set the pace for a glut of non-white rockers, who now had the freedom to
express themselves within a format they had always loved but had
nevertheless felt excluded from all these years. A few months down the line
from Living Colour’s hit single ‘Cult of Personality’, every Metal band in the
world had shoehorned a turgid funk track or two into their set, and were
claiming Sly Stone and Funkadelic as deeply influential to their music. Funk
was Metal’s ‘next step’ for a while – another blast of life-maintaining oxygen
like the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (an exciting young vanguard of
leather and perms in the late 70s that included Iron Maiden and Tygers of Pan
Tang), the arrival of Guns n’ Roses in 1986, and the revolution of Thrash
Metal, popularised by the likes of Metallica in the mid-80s. These arrivals
kicked Heavy Metal’s perpetually fat and lazy arse and forced it into different
directions – or at least kept us busy objecting to them. Metal would have died
long before without their cumulative influences.
Homophobia is an accusation that one can direct much more easily. Heavy
Metal has always been almost comically heterosexual, professing a collective
horror at the antics of the homosexual pop fraternity and the gay community
in general, which is ironic when you think about the basic trappings of the

genre: long hair, tight leather trousers, phallic symbolism, make-up, bondage
gear – the look is steeped in sexual ambiguity. The magnificent irony of this
came in 1998, when the lead singer of arguably the ultimate Heavy Metal
band, Judas Priest, left the group and outed himself live on MTV. Throughout
his career Rob Halford had dressed in leather peaked caps, shaved his head
and showered himself in blindingly camp iconography. Yet the sound of the
Metal community’s jaw hitting the floor on his confession was loud indeed,
and delightfully naïve. As with Freddie Mercury, it was suddenly all so
obvious. Halford had even alluded to it in his anthem ‘Hell Bent For
Leather’. But how were we supposed to tell from that?

Rob standing outside his mum’s house in Birmingham.

The most obvious visual sign of allegiance to the Heavy Metal cabal has
always been in the long hair. In many ways it’s all you ever really need to
demonstrate your purity, your unarguable virility. Short-haired Metallers
always protest about this, but that’s only because they’ve been told they can’t
have long hair by their parents or their bosses. Long-haired Metallers know
this only too well and will always feel superior about it. Occasionally you get
long-haired Metal musicians who cut their hair to be clever. They always
grow it back again, though, unless they’ve done it because of baldness, in
which case they wear a big hat, or a bandanna, or both at once with some
Wigs are more common than the world of Heavy Metal would like to
admit. It’s vital to maintain the pretence that your hair will never fall out.
Famous wig-wearers include all of Kiss, David Lee Roth and Ritchie
Blackmore; W Axl Rose is just a rumour. Spinal Tap caused controversy just

by wearing wigs in their film. It was as if the Metal community was saying, If
they’re going to make a film about Metal, at least use people with real long
The Heavy Metal community has never been one hundred per cent
comfortable with the film Spinal Tap, despite its earnest claims to the
contrary. The film’s frightening accuracy horrified Metal bands and fans
alike when it was released in 1984, and the Metal community, as one,
complained that it just wasn’t funny. But director Rob Reiner’s fondness for
the subject and his attention to detail eventually won us over, until eventually
it became bad form to protest. That is until the buggers decided to come back
in the late 80s, this time as a ‘real band’, with a new album and gigs and
everything. Oh no, not again, said Metal, and all the rock mags handed Break
Like the Wind terrible, thank you very much now go away, reviews. The
‘band’ thought Metal fans would love it, as they’d been claiming to love the
movie, but they didn’t, they hated it, and the whole project died a messy
Ha ha ha, who’s laughing now? we gloated.
Keep it True. Death to the False.

It always troubled me that Alex got everything before me, if indeed I ever got
it at all. It didn’t really matter because I was round at his place all the time
anyway, but it still rankled, so I came up with a foolproof idea: I would
invent my own AC/DC album, design a cover and a track listing for it, and
try to convince Alex that it was the real thing. – a ‘lost’ DC album, never
mentioned anywhere, found exclusively by me. It was a brilliant idea, except
for one key element: I had no music to go with it. I would have to say that,
unfortunately, I had mislaid the actual cassette along the way. Frustrating,
yes, but these things happen. But it was brilliant, trust me. In fact Silver, the
superb and legendary missing AC/DC album, was, in my humble opinion,
The Greatest Record They Ever Made.
I constructed the cover out of black cardboard and wrote my muchpractised AC/DC logo in silver pen in the middle. Underneath that I wrote
Silver, all classy like, hardly smudging at all. Then I carefully listed ten
made-up songs which I thought sounded like DC titles: ‘Stick it Further In’

and ‘Give it to me Heavy & Hot’ and ‘Let’s Rock Hard All Night’ and
‘AC/DC Forever’. I wrote those in silver pen on the inside, and the credits
too – all tracks by Young, Young and Johnson, without a single mention of
Hunter anywhere.
One afternoon as we walked downhill from home towards the water
meadows, I showed Alex my cassette box with great pride and no hint of
shame. I explained the extraordinary story behind the album, and the tragic
tale of the lost cassette. Alex listened politely and toyed with the case. I
described the songs, even sang him a few, then it went back in my pocket and
we never mentioned it again.
It was around this time that I started my weekly charts in a green exercise
book that I’d stolen from school. It was 1982 and I was sick of the charts on
the TV and radio because there was no AC/DC in them. (There was that year,
actually – ‘Nervous Shakedown’ sneaked in at the low 30s for one solitary
week. I bought it, of course, and then pretended not to be disappointed when I
realised it was exactly the same as it was on the album.) So to redress this
imbalance I came up with the idea of compiling my own charts, based on my
current favourite songs. Each week I solemnly transcribed my list of
favourite songs by AC/DC into my exercise book. I would apply myself to
this task with professorial fastidiousness, and pore over the slight drop of
‘High Voltage’, or the exciting new entry of ‘Let There Be Rock’. When I’d
finally written out the placings, I’d spend half an hour reading down the chart
in hysterical detail in the style of a Radio One DJ, comparing this week’s
chart against last week’s. The track that spent the longest time at number one
was the stunningly average ‘Up to my Neck in You’, which stayed up there
for 13 weeks. It shrugged off all-comers, even ‘Bedlam in Belgium’, until, on
a winter’s morning in 1983, two new songs from one new band gatecrashed
the party.
The songs: ‘Flight of Icarus’ and ‘Run to the Hills’.
The band: Iron Maiden.

Alexander AC/DC is on the right – his rifle is real.

As my boarding school was what felt like a hundred miles away from
Winchester, and my parents couldn’t afford the fees any more, I sat exams to
try and get into Winchester College for free, but failed them with flying
colours. So at 11 years old I took another exam and got into a school in
Southampton for free instead, just ten miles down the road, which meant I
could catch the train there every day. Money was suddenly so tight that we
were forced to move into a much smaller terraced house, and it suddenly felt
as if we were all living on top of each other.
By this time I had worked my way methodically through the Maiden
œuvre, pausing only briefly to return my cassette of Killers because Bruce
Dickinson, the singer, sounded nothing like he had on Number of the Beast.
That was a tricky conversation in the record shop, believe me. I went back a
few weeks later, in disguise, and bought it again after I found out they’d
changed singers between albums.
It seemed to me that Iron Maiden were slightly more serious than AC/DC –
no gimmicks, no dirty words, no flat caps; just a lot of long hair, leather and
Spandex, and songs with epic themes. AC/DC functioned on three chords and
thinly veiled sexual metaphors, but Iron Maiden were all puffed chests,
complex guitar solos and songs about the wind and flags. They were operatic
and overblown and I was extremely excited by their blustering cutlass sound.
Alex and I did the Maiden – we raced through it, constantly trying to outdo
one another with Maiden facts and figures which we often just made up.
But our friendship wasn’t to last. Our schools were miles apart and my
plunge into Metal’s rich belly was starting to pick up pace. One day outside
the school gates some incredibly cool kid played me some Judas Priest on his
Walkman. The snippet I heard was enough; it was awesome. To me, the
Priest sounded like the future, so the following week I burst into
Winchester’s Metal-friendly Venus Records and bought Defenders of the
Faith. Aside from the impressive hulking robot monster on the sleeve, the

album’s aural innards gleamed with razor-sharp sounds. The guitars were so
heavy and fast! The singing was like molten shards of glass! The lyrics were
about how great Heavy Metal was, and how we were right and everyone else
was wrong! And in the picture of the group on the back, not only were they
wearing just leather, they were also completely covered in studs and rivets.
This was easily the greatest record ever made, and, despite the fact that one of
the group had short hair and one even had a beard, these were the coolest
bunch of guys I’d ever seen.
I bought up a few of their records from the 1970s, but became slightly
disillusioned as parts of them weren’t heavy enough, especially Sad Wings of
Destiny, with its great big flouncing angel on the front. Still, I knew that
allegiance was particularly important in Metal, so despite their ballads I felt
sure I was the Priest’s number-one fan in Hampshire. I pored over their
chequered history, filling the space reserved in my head for traditional
academic subjects with facts about beardy Ian Hill’s bass technique (there
wasn’t one), the making of the seminal British Steel album (it didn’t take
long), and the controversy around the Stained Class album and an American
teenager’s suicide. I was genuinely shocked to find no Judas Priest entry in
my father’s complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica; I even went so far as
to compose my own, which I posted to the compilers for use in the following
year’s edition, but my father refused to buy the whole set again so I don’t
know whether they put it in or not.
Nobody seemed to appreciate my precocious charm at this huge new
school in Southampton. It was swallowed up by the screaming playgrounds
and the echoing wooden halls, and my complete lack of street wisdom played
into all kinds of hands. I made friends with a few other Winchester firstyears, but as a group we were easily capsized, and I clung harder to the
Heavy Metal dinghy in my head. I wasn’t bullied, just trampled underfoot, so
I spent more and more time carving out the logos of my favourite bands on
my exercise books, which, I was sternly informed, was naughty, and to stop
Heavy Metal was taking me over. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of it out in
the real world so I decided to invent my own imaginary band. I named them,
cryptically, ‘ER’, and gave them the most convoluted, soap-operatic career
curve in the history of Metal. Singers quit, axe gods were mysteriously fired,
and a trail of humiliated part-time synth players littered their chequered

career. ER’s canon of around 25 albums was the very peak of my early teen
imagination; even today, their memory still holds the residual weight of a
genuine musical entity. My long daily walk to the station, and then from the
station up to school and back again, consisted of me surreptitiously muttering
out the life and times of ER under my breath, twitching at invisible
instruments as I slouched. I’m not exaggerating when I say that for each of
those imaginary masterpieces I had designed artwork, song titles, lyrics,
pyrotechnic guitar solos, song times, tours, setlists and gatefold double live
Their logo was shit though.

My social life improved in my second year when I discovered a pupil a
year younger who was also from Winchester and also liked Heavy Metal. He
was disreputable, and his name was spelt disreputably: Marc.
Marc was radical in his musical tastes. He liked Whitesnake and Ozzy
Osbourne, both of whom were crossed off my list of potential bands to get
into because they used keyboards. He liked some Iron Maiden too, on the
side, because at that time you just did. Our age difference wasn’t a problem
since he was twice as streetwise as I was; he introduced me to a glut of bad
habits including masturbation, lying about ejaculation, and spitting. I was
already a proud smoker and had worked my way up to Marlboro within a
matter of weeks, having started on packets of ten menthols and the occasional
stolen Silk Cut from my father. Marc and I clouded the smoking
compartments on the train to school each day and practised smoking poses in
trees behind Winchester Station before we went home.
One weekend, sensing ourselves as grown-ups, we decided to take the train
to Southampton to buy ourselves our first Heavy Metal T-shirts. This would
be the first time I was to wear anything not selected and purchased by my
mother, so I’m not keen to elaborate on the clothes I was wearing at the start
of this journey, except to say that I had a pretty cool Batman shirt that I liked

to wear a lot, which had big, pointy, bat-like collars.
We marched down Southampton High Street with open minds over which
particular T-shirt we were going to choose in HMV. It was 1984, the summer
of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and it was difficult to find a T-shirt that
didn’t resemble a billowing white sheet proclaiming ‘Frankie Say …’
something we didn’t understand. We eventually uncovered a few piles of
black shrink-wrapped treasure, laid them out over the racks and filtered out
all the smalls we could find. After much dithering, I chose a Judas Priest one
and Marc got two Maiden ones. We rushed over to the park opposite and
pulled on our new T-shirts and suddenly we were cool, suddenly I was a
sexual animal, suddenly I cared about my hair. We strutted very slowly back
to the station, eyeing up older girls along the way, one more thing that Marc
had shown me how to do.
A week later I acquired a denim-style jacket (actually my mother did –
charity shop, black corduroy, baggy armpits), which meant that Marc and I
were now officially Metal. It was becoming hard to tell the difference
between ourselves and any passing member of, say, the Maiden, and we
didn’t change our clothes for almost two months. Passing similarly attired
young fellows in the street, we’d blush and push back the edges of our jackets
to display the T-shirt design properly.
The winged flying steel robot beast on the front of my T-shirt was called
the Hellion. He featured on a sequence of Priest records in a variety of guises.
On my T-shirt the Hellion was Screaming for Vengeance, the image on the
cover of the Priest’s best album, I think.

People think the standard Metal uniform of band T-shirt and jeans is easy.
And in a way they’re right. But passions run high – high enough for the
choice of T-shirt not to be taken lightly. Not only must you worry about what
band you’re going to choose, which is a perilous decision in the first place,
but you also need to think about its rarity value, its kudos, the effect it would
have on a fellow, say, Molly Hatchet fan, were you to bump into one on the
high street. If that Molly Hatchet fan saw you in a bog-standard latest-album
design with its colours still vivid on the print, you’d feel obliged to explain
that you are a real fan, and haven’t just got into them recently despite the

pristine appearance of the T-shirt. What you want to be wearing is that
limited-edition tour T-shirt, the faded one and, most importantly, the one with
the tour dates on the back. Having the tour dates on the back (preferably for a
gigantic, world-straddling tour with tons of dates in Germany and places
you’ve never heard of in America) makes you a proper fan. And if the tour
you’re advertising on your back took place over five years ago, you’re pretty
much sorted. Every Metal fan has at some point in his or her life walked
down the street in the depths of winter with their denim or leather jacket
slung over their arm, just to show off the tour dates on the back of their Tshirt.
The T-shirts have to be black. In the 70s they were occasionally red, but
red fades to pink which is unacceptable. Black fades really nicely into ‘old’,
‘old’ becomes ‘favourite’, and ‘favourite’ often turns into ‘second skin’.
When it comes to the design itself, the most important feature is the band’s
logo. This is a straightforward branding exercise. The logo should be
elaborate and embellished with one of a few standard lettering effects –
gothic, or spiky, or three-dimensional, or even all three – but not so
complicated as to be impossible to replicate in felt tip on the back of a denim
jacket or in an exercise book. Uriah Heep really messed up – their
labyrinthine design was much too difficult to draw without artistic training,
so people tended not to bother trying and wrote UFO instead. Here are a few
generic-looking logos of bands you may not have heard of, to demonstrate
the general effect:

‘Destruction’ are German.

‘Overkill’ – I don’t know why they chose to separate the word in their logo like that.


This says ‘Venom’.

This says ‘Witchfinder General’.

The logo is particularly important when it comes to the Heavy Metal Tshirt, because the rest of the illustration will often be interchangeable with
any other band’s. It might be a dragon, an apocalyptic urban scene featuring
explosions, a crude image of five or so longhairs (the band themselves), a big
motorbike, a large-breasted woman (often with the band’s name tattooed
prominently on her upper arm), and if the band is American, a top-hatted,
half-zombie Uncle Sam figure, cackling and pointing a spindly finger at you.
Most of these images have been used at one time or another by everybody.
The only Metal band whose art is particularly recognisable are the Maiden,
with their lifelong mascot, the famous zombie ‘Eddie the Head’. Eddie
features on all of the band’s album covers and most of their merchandise.

Eddie the Head

Jeans are easier. Any jeans are fine, so long as they’re not fashionable. If
you take too much time over choosing the jeans you’ll be labelled a ponce.
Bleached tight jeans will see you through without any problems. So too will

filthy ones, and good old-fashioned grease never goes amiss either; it
signifies a manual job, possibly with hot-rods or motorbikes, which is a good
impression to give.
If you have spindly legs, you might want to go a step further down the
jeans highway and invest in a pair of tight, clinging ones. These come in a
variety of different types. The most Metal are the legendary stripy Spandex,
as sported by behemoths all over the world since the early 80s. Spandex is the
definitive Metal legwear; it’s skin-tight and comes in a huge variety of
rainbow hues and faux animal prints. Tiger-striped, sequinned, leopardskin,
black and white, leather effect, pinstriped, spangled, satin, polka-dotted –
pretty much anything and everything goes, and amazingly no one (well, no
Metaller) will raise an eyebrow to question your sexual orientation. For best
effect the Spandex is finished off with a gleaming pair of bright white anklehugging trainers.

This chap knows he’s got it exactly right.

When it comes to coats, you can choose between two: denim or leather.
The leather jacket – stolen wholesale from the Brando/Dean model of the
1950s – has, from the 70s onwards, been the purists’ staple. The only
problem with the leather jacket is that you can’t really sew patches on to it,
but it overcomes this design flaw by looking plain mean. What you could
attach to your leather jacket were studs; in the late 80s they sometimes came
with studs already on them, if you were a twat.
The denim model, though plainly cheaper and a little more versatile, was

always considered the slightly younger brother of the leather. There were all
sorts of things you could do to your denim jacket (things that would’ve
ruined your leather one), such as add band patches, strategic rips, hemscuffing and writing on them with felt-tip. The denim was an all-round
friendlier type of beast – easier to celebrate your favourite bands with, but
lacking the sweat and fusty creak of the bad-boy leather. Motorhead,
arguably the only genuinely ‘cool’ Metal band ever, only wore leather jackets
– crusty old biker numbers with wide lapels that flapped in the wind. They
probably even wore them in bed (if they ever went to bed, that is).
Leather trousers are completely different. They’ve always been a big
mistake, especially if you spend hundreds of pounds on a gleaming off-thepeg pair, which just give you tree-trunk thighs and a huge baggy arse. The
only person ever to have looked cool in a pair of leather trousers (and even
then only for about five minutes) was Jim Morrison. In the late 80s, though,
during the new Glam Rock, leather trousers came back with a vengeance. In a
way they replaced Spandex, which had slipped slowly out of fashion due to
bands like Saxon never being out of the stuff. These new leather trousers
began to develop accessories such as tassels, sequins and laces up the sides.
This all looked quite nice for a while, but in the end they were just another
easy target for Kurt Cobain and his subversive cardigans.
I’ve mentioned big white trainers, but after Guns n’ Roses came along, you
had to wear cowboy boots, wherever you happened to belong on the Metal
tundra. If you were sold on the whole Guns aesthetic like most people (their
look would rule the Metal school right up until the end), you wore your jeans
inside your cowboy boots, showing them off in all their fake chintz glory. But
if you were still refusing to bow to the whole sleaze thing, or were on the
whole Thrash Metal trip, you brought your blue jeans out and over like actual
cowboys did.
Assuming you didn’t do that, assuming you had a shred of cool, you wore
them with tight black jeans, much like a goth might. But – and think about
this – have you ever seen a Metaller walking around with just a basic pair of
cowboy boots? No! For God’s sake man, where are your spurs? In my era,
between 1986 and 1992, all you could buy on Carnaby Street (the only place
to go if ever you want to dress Metal) were accessories for your cowboy
boots and skull-motif bandannas. But it wasn’t just spurs you could improve
your naked boots with; all kinds of metallic understrapped appendages were

permissible – studs, stars, flower shapes, bells, rivets, skulls, indeed anything
and everything went, just so long as it flattered your ankles, jingled loudly or
Have I mentioned jumpers? Good. They’re not allowed. Granny’s knitted
you a woolly pullover with ‘Warrant’ stencilled on it?
Fuck Granny.

Once Marc and I had the basic gear down pat, it was time to customise the
rest of our clothes. The most Metal way of doing this was by pleading with
my mother to sew on band patches. I got a small AC/DC one on my black
corduroy jacket in the area between the shoulders, and I wrote the Iron
Maiden logo along the bottom with a toxic silver marker pen. You couldn’t
really buy patches around Winchester or Southampton – often you had to rely
on getting one as a free gift in a special 12-inch single – so building up a
backful was something that took time, years even. The problem with this was
that you ended up with patches on your jacket of bands you’d liked at the
time of sewing, but had gone right off a few months later. Heavily patched
denim jackets had the constant potential to become walking walls of shame –
lucky for me I never got into the Quo.
My school uniform started to get in the way of this new self-expression. I
didn’t dare sew a Judas Priest patch on to the back of my blazer, though I was
desperate to. The only way to rebel from within the uniform was by stealthily
growing my hair down beyond my collar. This sounds vaguely rebellious
until you glance at any school photograph from that era, where, apart from
the hip kids with their sides-shaved mullets, we all have exactly the same
shaggy, bigfoot haircut.
By the end of my second year at this increasingly unpleasant and
bewildering secondary school, I was known among my peers as a sad and
boring Heavy Metal obsessive. I’d acquired this reputation on the back of just
three bands – the DC, the Maiden and the Priest. But as I endlessly thumbed
the Priest section in Venus Records, I could see a band poking through the
racks to the right that made me feel uneasy; they were covered in blood, fire,
and terrifying black and white make-up. Despite being frightened, my eyes
couldn’t help but occasionally stray over in horrified fascination, though I

didn’t dare pick out one of their records. Little did I know of the clandestine
excitement just around the corner – little did I know I was about to embark
upon an affair.
I’d heard of Kiss before – who hadn’t? But they had such a stupid and
uncool name (why not just call yourselves Hug, or Cuddle, or Namby
Pamby?), I’d always been loathe to investigate. I was also intimidated by the
way they looked – I didn’t really understand why they wanted to scare
everyone quite so much. But then one day, under pressure from Marc, I
bought their first double live album, Kiss Alive! – and suddenly they were my
new favourite band.
Kiss weren’t a regular band as such. Instead they were a Demon, a
Spaceman, a Starchild and a Cat, who just happened to play instruments and
hang out together in their own rocking fantasy world. The establishment
couldn’t see this and so therefore considered them dangerous. They claimed
that Kiss was an evil acronym that probably stood for Knights In Satan’s
Service, but this was all wrong because they were really just four young guys
from Queens, New York, who became so swept up in their theatre that
nobody saw them without their face paint on for ten whole years.
Kiss’s music wasn’t as technically great as Judas Priest’s or Iron Maiden’s
– they played nice easy chords with big choruses in a kindergarten blues style
– but their overwhelming visual impact more than made up for the pleasingly
rudimentary chops. You couldn’t just buy, play and listen to Kiss records like
you did with other groups – you had to buy into the whole rock ’n’ roll
pantomime. They became the biggest band in the world, a living, breathing
pop cartoon franchise. You either swallowed it down or thought the whole
thing completely ridiculous, which of course, it totally wasn’t.
Unfortunately for me, I got into them just after their album sales hit rock
bottom and the band consequently decided that the face paint had outlived its
magic. They decided to shake their dwindling audience back into action with
an earth-shattering gesture – their true faces revealed for the very first time
on the front of 1983’s Lick it Up.
The album was pretty good, all things considered (it even featured some
rapping), but my timing couldn’t have been worse – they exploded their myth
just as I excitedly approached, and the two coolest members had left the
band, too. I was stuck with their anonymous new clump-metal direction and
nobody left in the group that I liked.

They eventually came to their senses in 1996 and put the make-up back on
– something that ego catastrophe Gene Simmons said they’d never do –
having forced their slighted muse through the shame of going Grunge in the
early 90s. Kiss fans all over the world forgave them everything as the original
line-up gathered again, donned their capes, stack heels and shoulder pads,
and set out to conquer the world, via marketing, once more. They’d
unwittingly become the world’s ultimate tribute band.
Back at school I heard on the grapevine that there was someone else in my
year who liked Kiss. I knew him by sight because he had ginger hair and
caught the train from Winchester every morning. His name was Dominic and
I didn’t like him, or rather he didn’t like me, but I was desperate to talk about
Kiss with someone, so I regularly tried to approach him in school.
One day he was standing outside a classroom with a group of kids I didn’t

Kiss Koffin.

He was ignoring me, trying to edge out of my way.
‘You like Kiss!’
‘So fucking what?’
‘Do you like Creatures of the Night?’
‘Just fuck off, Hunter. For once, just fuck off.’
‘Have you got Alive 2?’
He attempted to walk away.
‘Love Gun?’
He turned and spat – yes, there on the vinyl tiles!
Why didn’t he want to talk about Kiss? I couldn’t find anyone in this

godforsaken place who liked them!
Then I had a lucky break. There was a swarthy kid in my form who told
me in passing that he had an older brother who went to another school in
another town but who liked Kiss.
‘How much does he like them?’ I felt nervous.
‘He really likes them.’
‘How much is that?’
‘A lot.’
‘Has he got Creatures of the Night?’
‘How am I supposed to know?’
‘Has he got Alive 2?’
‘I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him yourself?’
So I wrote him a letter.

Paul Bavister and I exchanged letters like lovers. Every morning I would
enter the form room and approach his grumpy younger brother who, after
toying with me for a while, would reach into his blazer pocket and pull out
Paul’s daily message. In return I would hand mine over. We exchanged long
letter after long letter, packed with Kiss devotionals, but would always end
with shy and suggestive allusions to other bands to make us sound more
adventurous and slightly less weird.
I was desperate for Paul to like me, but he was almost three years older, so
I felt I had some catching up to do in the credibility stakes. I achieved this by
lying. I told him I was a member of the Kiss Army, the world-famous Kiss
fanclub, and it worked. He would ask me what I had gained from the
experience, materially and emotionally, but I had no idea, so I just made stuff
up that sounded feasible: an Ace Frehley keyring, a Gene Simmons mask,
some gold discs on my bedroom walls. He became jealous pretty quickly, so I
knew I was on track to a healthy and lasting friendship.
After a few months of this, we began to moot the idea of a phone call. The
very thought made me nervous, and I prepared for it by sitting on my bed,
looking out of my little window and repeating to myself: he likes Kiss, I like
Kiss, how can this be anything other than beautiful?
When the phone rang at last, our respective parents did the preliminaries.
My father picked up at our end, which was a potential disaster; wherever I
was concerned, he felt it his duty to load everything he said with heavy
sarcasm. He could be ruthlessly offensive to anyone who crossed his path: he
was usually inspired and hilarious, but back then I thought it was indefensible
and humiliating.
My father was extremely thin – pipe-cleaner thin – and sartorially wedded
to the 1970s. He wore flares and rollnecks and had floppy hair and was in
love with music and driving fancy cars. He was the exclusive and expensive
first to the digital watch, the calculator, the turbo car, the microwave, the

home walkie-talkie system and the voice recognition radio that, years later,
he actually thanked me for breaking (I broke all these things in the end,
except the car). He was handsome, irreverent, witty and financially
untrustworthy; a master of shuffling debt. Even within the bosom of our
family he maintained a deep independent spirit and everybody
simultaneously admired and felt intimidated by his raffish charm. He was,
however, fuelled mostly by alcohol; not the kind of destructive appetite that
wrecks lives and reputations, but more of an insidious ethanol trail, which he
disguised with aplomb. He was never drunk, for a start, at least not that I was
aware of, but he always carried that subtle scent. He stopped in for quickies
whichever the way, and drove up to the Golden Lion every night after we’d
had tea. When I went round to friends’ houses I’d always be amazed that
their fathers were there, and not down the pub. He went on occasional twoday cooking benders, during which the family were strictly banned from the
kitchen as he conjured up vast gastric assault courses. Afterwards the kitchen
was a bombsite; in fact he enjoyed showing us the mess he’d made, proudly
displaying the force of expression that had gone into preparing that one
solitary meal. Unsurprisingly he never hung around to clean it all up; this was
one of the prices my mother was paying for his companionship. But we all
pretty much hung on his every word.

And he struck gold so far as I was concerned when he threw another
couple of hundred pounds at one of the first domestic cordless telephones,
which I lugged two-handed up the stairs for my first spoken words with Paul

Bavister. I was mortified when my piping treble pitch was returned with a
deep, husky voice. Thinking on my feet, I started to reel off a few names of
Kiss songs, and he followed with his man’s voice, but before long we had
reached an important agreement over the deep significance of Kiss’s ‘And on
the Eighth Day (God Created Rock ’n’ Roll)’. That it was true and we were
on some kind of mission.
Our letters dried up and the phone calls lengthened. Soon we were
communicating on a nightly basis – marathon Kiss conferences that were
starting to piss off both sets of parents. However, as well as the phone calls, I
had secretly decided that I too should become a Metal god. For months now
as I earnestly listened to Kiss’s ‘Christine Sixteen’ and ‘Plaster Caster’, I had
gazed at a pair of electric guitars – one six-string, one bass – leaning up
against the grand piano in our small living room. My father had knocked
these up during his brief hippy phase. He’d bought the cheapest guitar and
bass he could find (at Woolies) and taken them apart. He’d stripped off the
vinyl finishing, pulled out the wiring, replaced the scratchplates, done
something strange to the pickups, and generally transformed these lowly
instruments into a pair of hotwired minimalist axes, on to which he’d then
stencilled his cool initials: A.StJ.B.H.
I knew the bass was easier, so one day when he was out I plugged it into
his giant Farfisa organ amplifier, hit a bottom E, and made the dog’s lower
jaw shudder. After a couple of days of furtively standing in front of the
mirror, I was still unable to play ‘Detroit Rock City’. My fingertips had
turned scarlet and the bass kept sliding off my shoulder because the
headstock was too heavy. To counter this, I played sitting on a chair, which
was an important sign of my dedication to musicianship over style, but it was
OK because I leant the mirror against the fireplace so I could still see myself
quite clearly.
Then, one evening, Paul said solemnly, ‘We have to start a band.’
We’d both known deep down that this had been coming, but had been too
shy to bring it up; I hadn’t told anybody about my bass explorations, not even
‘We should, yes.’
‘It would be a brilliant band,’ he said in a deep voice.
I was getting excited. ‘An amazing band,’ I said. ‘The best band ever.’
‘I play the bass,’ said Paul.

What? Since when? I was silent for a moment.
‘I play the bass also,’ I replied. Oh man, this was a disaster.
More silence.
‘I’ve been playing the bass for ages,’ he said. ‘I’ve also got a strap and four
‘What do you mean, ages? I’ve been playing for ages too.’ The dog looked
at me.
‘Why can’t you play something else instead?’ he said unreasonably.
‘No, I play the bass. I’m a bass player. I’m actually really very good at it.’
‘I thought you said your dad had an electric guitar? Why can’t you play
My father’s six-string sat malevolently in the corner. There was absolutely
no way I was going to be able to play it; for a start it had almost twice as
many strings again as the bass – approximately twenty. But then Paul did
have the strap and the plectrums.
‘I’ll think about it,’ I said.
‘You could be an axe god.’
‘Oh yeah, oh sure.’
I hung up, and reluctantly turned my mind to every Heavy Metal fan’s
ultimate weapon of choice – our sonic call-to-arms, our horizontal phallic
light sabre – the electric guitar.

Think punk, think punk guitars. Could you tell a punk guitar from a non-punk
guitar? Think reggae, think about the guitars reggae groups use. Could you
tell these guitars apart from, for example, New Romantic guitars? Think
Britpop. Think 60s pop. Think Stax. Think ska. Think Krautrock, think
anything. There’s only one kind of music where you can tell what you’re
going to get just by looking at the instruments.
Here is an electric guitar.

It’s the most popular and famous guitar in the world, the Fender
Stratocaster, a design classic, popularised by Hank Marvin. Pop into any pub
that has live music and chances are there’ll be somebody onstage with one of
Here are some Heavy Metal guitars.

Aren’t they much better?
Metal is the only genre that has thought, hang on, why don’t we make the
guitars look like us? So that’s what they did.
It was probably Jimi Hendrix who first came up with the idea of turning
the guitar from a straightforward instrument into something more ambitious.
He was left-handed before the invention of left-handed guitars, so he spun the
thing around and strung it upside down. Then he played it with his teeth and
after that, he set it on fire. He knelt onstage with the guitar lying between his
knees squirting lighter fluid into the flames, coaxing them higher, sometimes
up to six inches in the air. The Who smashed their guitars up. Blue Cheer
blew theirs up. Kiss made theirs fly! But I’m getting excited. Let’s calm
down and have a look at some more guitars.

This is a B. C. Rich Warlock guitar, an early Metal prototype. It’s not as
modern as it looks; these guitars date from the early 70s. I’ve always been
deeply fond of this model, it’s not as ostentatious and zany as others we’ve
seen, I think it retains elements of classicism. Joe Perry from Aerosmith used
to play a red one, which definitely counts in its favour, but then I was always
dead keen on Joe Perry as well.

Here we have a Gibson Explorer. It was popularised in the early eighties
during the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’, and subsequently embraced
by groups such as Metallica, whose tough-guy mainman James Hetfield
sometimes plays a black one while wearing black clothes. They have a
mixture of nice clean lines and a slightly old-fashioned look, but still manage
to look very Metal. If you’re playing one of these in this day and age you’re
either doing it ironically, or you’re rather beautifully unreconstructed.

Bow down to this sturdy mutha. You know this one for sure – this is the
definitive Metal guitar – this is the Gibson Flying ‘V’. You would be
forgiven for thinking this meaty specimen dated from the 80s. In fact it was

first seen in the 60s, when Jimi Hendrix, no less, occasionally strapped one
on. But it was Metal that suited it best. Randy Rhoads, Michael Schenker, all
the NWOBHM bands, every longhair worth their salt had to own one of these
(and it was a good idea to customise it, maybe with an airbrush). One of the
great things about Flying ‘V’s is that they are impossible to play sitting
down. Look at them – of course it’s bloody impossible! – so you had to strap
them on, thereby becoming an instant Metal guitar god. I don’t know how
anyone ever got around to taking theirs off.

This is another design classic, the Fender Telecaster. Jimmy Page used to
play one of these before he switched to the Les Paul. Its most famous devotee
is The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. It symbolises everything he stands
for: a complete lack of pretension, no frills, simple plain shape, hardy, manly,
it makes a noise that sounds like chicken wire, and positively thrives on
sweaty forearms. You don’t come across them very often in Heavy Metal. I
once bought a second-hand Telecaster off a guy in a junkie flat in Muswell
Hill. I was selling my Les Paul, going in the opposite direction from Jimmy
Page (not for the first time) and we got into a discussion over the pros and
cons of both guitars.
‘The great thing about Telecasters,’ he said. ‘Is that you can chuck ’em
through a wardrobe door and they come out fine the other side. You can do
anything to ’em, whatever you like, and they can always ’effing take it.’
‘Right,’ I replied, and paid him in cash.

Here we are, the second most popular electric guitar behind the Fender
Strat, the Gibson Les Paul. This guitar was invented by a gentleman called

Les Paul, way back in 1954. They’re not only satisfyingly heavy (weight, not
Metal heavy, though they’re that too), but they also sustain a note for hours
(when plugged in). They have a very distinctive fluid sound, all belly and
full-tone. Famous devotees of this model include Jimmy Page, Slash and Ace
Frehely. Mick Mars out of Motley Crue liked these axes so much he named
his first-born child after them. Les Paul Mars.

Here’s Angus Young again, my first ever guitar hero, with his trademark
model, the Gibson SG, and of course his usual school uniform. SG players
seem to be fanatically loyal to their instrument; I don’t know why, I think
they look crap. They sound good though – raw and fiery – and are probably
the sturdiest guitar that Gibson ever made.


A guitar war broke out in the mid-80s. It was triggered by the headstock –
the end bit of the electric guitar, where the tuning pegs are. First of all, guitars
had normal headstocks. They looked like this:
Stylish, classic, nobody had any problems. They were just the end bits of
the guitars. Then somebody at Jackson Guitars designed the world’s first
pointy headstock, and the guitar world went completely mad for them. They
looked like this:


This new development shook the Metal world to its stack-heeled
foundations. Much like the Spandex explosion after years of denim and
leather, pointy headstocks smashed the floodgates open. All of a sudden even
the most traditional and old-fashioned guitars came with these new pointy
headstocks welded on the end. They looked absurd – it was like putting
spoilers and racing stripes on a Morris Minor – but the momentum was
unstoppable, and it soon became obligatory for every axe to sport one. These
headstock daggers signified poise, sleekness, modernity, fashion … and
fashionable things were rare in Heavy Metal, so here was a chance to really
get one over on your less streetwise Metallist.
Even basses weren’t immune. The first pointy bass-stocks followed soon
enough, and the usually ultra-cautious steady-Eddie legs-akimbo bass players
of the Metal world bought them too. These headstocks and the new body
shapes that followed had invented a whole new way of expressing ourselves.
Guitar bodies started to look like this:
The Metal world began to dribble. We’d been the ugly duckling of the
music world and at last felt that we were becoming sexy. And we were.

But hang on, what happened to the war? Check this out:


Reverse pointy.

Yes, it’s the other way around!

Normal pointy.

Reverse pointy.

This new development threw us all into turmoil, and a nasty squabble
ensued as the forward pointys faced off against the Robespierrean reverse
pointys. The kingdom was split. This fierce, uncompromising discussion
raged for years, until the huge success of Guns n’ Roses turned the wheel
slowly back in favour of the Gibsons and the Fenders and the plump,
rounded, normal headstocks.
Even today, if you’re real Metal, your guitar has a pointy headstock. And if
you want a quiet life, it looks like this:

Points both ways.

The next picture is the Metal equivalent of the bullet that killed JFK or the

arrow that hit King Harold in the eye at the Battle of Hastings. It’s important
to boo when you set eyes on this next specimen. It is an evil Excalibur of a
musical instrument; it’s the guitar Kurt Cobain used to kill Metal.

The Fender Jaguar is actually a damn fine, if expensive, piece of sonic
machinery. It resembles a knackered old Thames barge, and can be made to
sound quite similar. This is one of those guitars that I want to lick.
At the opposite end from the Fender Jaguar’s ramshackle elegance is
Cheap Trick’s ‘madcap’ guitarist, Rick Nielsen. Cheap Trick were Pop Rock,
but slid into our territory by virtue of their long hair. They had a moderately
successful career throughout the 70s, and happened to write two of the alltime great pop-metal songs; the heart-string-tugging-but-punch-the-air-at-thesame-time ‘I Want You To Want Me’ and the even better ‘Surrender’.
Nielsen’s problem was that he was short-haired and strange-looking while the
lead singer and bassist were drop-dead gorgeous. Cheap Trick album covers
always featured the handsome two on the front, and Nielsen and rotund
drummer Bun E Carlos on the back, so Nielsen needed a hook to grab himself
a piece of the attention. First of all he came up with this:


Then this:

This is an accurate representation of Nielsen himself.

This too:

This is actually an electric guitar.

And finally this:

This is actually an electric guitar.

5 May 1985: my 14th birthday. Downstairs in the front room, my mother and
sister groggily watched me open my presents. As usual, my father was still
asleep upstairs, and as usual, he hadn’t got me a present himself. But
suddenly I had an idea. I padded up the stairs to my parents’ room and knelt
at my father’s bedside.
‘Wake up,’ I whispered. ‘Wake up.’ Nudging didn’t work either, so I had to
roll him over on to his back. One eye reluctantly flickered open and he
grunted and rolled back again.
‘You know it’s my birthday today?’ I whispered into his ear.
He grunted again.
‘Well, I’ve thought of something you could give me as a present.’
No grunt this time, he just pulled up the sheet.
‘Why don’t you give me your electric guitar? It won’t cost you anything
and you don’t have to wrap it and it’s not going to leave the house, is it?’
There was a very long pause.
‘Well?’ I whispered, and held my breath.
‘Oh alright. Now, please, fuck off,’ he mumbled from under the sheet.
I ran downstairs, strapped it on and stood in front of the mirror and gazed
at myself for a very long time. It was lighter than the bass, and much more
complicated. But it was suddenly the sexiest fucking thing in the world and it
was mine, which meant that I was sexy too. I had my photograph taken with it
in the garden that afternoon.

It’s a fictional chord.

When my father agreed to teach me how to play the guitar, I had assumed it
would take him more than six minutes to do so. He showed me E, he showed
me A, and he showed me B7.
‘Right then,’ he said.
‘Right what?’ My fingers were gracelessly locked into B7.
‘I’m off to the pub.’
‘But what’s the next chord?’
‘That’s all you need,’ he said, looking for his lighter and car keys.
‘I only need three chords? There are more chords than that, aren’t there?
What about … what about C?’
‘Just learn how to play those three and you’ll be fine. You can work out
the rest yourself.’
‘Can’t you please just teach me a few more?’
‘I’ll see you later.’
He left, I gazed at my trembling B7, played it and dropped my plectrum.
What galls me today about this is that apart from being right, he was also
being extraordinarily lazy. Had he delayed his visit to the pub by a couple of
hours, I would’ve got through the painful preliminaries considerably faster
than the months it actually took. But then again, his laziness gave me the
opportunity to be a self-taught guitar player, which is definitely the best way.
Your style is your own. Your cackhandedness is unique. You can’t blame
your guitar teacher for your complete lack of technique. You can be utterly
rubbish for years all by yourself. And your defence is perfect: Well, how the
fuck am I supposed to know?
I don’t know why, but my father owned Russ Conway’s old bass player’s
amplifier – not the speaker or anything, just the top bit, the amp. He talked

about it in hushed tones like it was our own Elgin Marble, so I did too. Russ
Conway. Who was he?
Later that week he wired the amp up to an old hi-fi speaker and we
plugged in the guitar. The sound that came out was fuzzed-up and rancid
(he’d overloaded the speaker) and all you could hear was distortion. My
father apologised and moved to dismantle the contraption, but I elbowed him
away and lugged it up to my room, quaking with excitement. My guitar was
already Heavy Metal!
My sister still owns cassettes that I recorded of my early practice sessions.
She likes to remind me of them every now and then as if they’re some sort of
lost treasure waiting for reappraisal. There’s hours of the stuff: no singing,
just monster riffs out of time and barking root chords that go on for ever.
These tapes feature my first attempts at writing a song. It was called ‘Go!’.
It’s enthusiastic.
Paul and I were now an official band, despite the fact that we’d never
actually met, let alone played our instruments together. The tone of our
conversations shifted to accommodate this new professionalism as we
arranged our first physical meeting. This summit was a logistical headache as
we lived miles apart; the journey would involve generosity from one of my
parents, and since my mother had stopped driving altogether after a dicey
moment in high winds on the M27, it was all about trying to bribe my father.
I was obviously the star of our group – having no singer certainly helped
my cause – and as my father drove me down to Paul’s house for the weekend,
I gazed out of the car window, a supremely confident master of the art of
axemanship, off to the country for a few days of rehearsals of original
material that I’d written out in my new Complete Guitar Player Music
Writing Book. I was also feeling quite cocky since my father had recently
told me how bar chords worked. It turned out they were agony and took ages.
‘Are my fingers supposed to hurt as much as this?’ I asked him.
‘The pain is good for you.’
The Bavisters lived in a big house near the coast and Paul was waiting for
me in the drive as we arrived. He was tall and ungainly and covered in spots.
We were very awkward with one another and filled the gaps in our
conversation by reciting the names of Kiss songs back and forth just as we
had in our first telephone call. When my father left, we headed up to Paul’s
bedroom, which smelled disgusting, and began the serious business of

deciding what kind of band we were going to be. He showed me his bass; in
fact, he strapped it on and played a complete load of rubbish.
‘That was “Ladies Room”,’ he said.
‘I don’t play Kiss songs, I play original compositions only.’
Then he told me that he’d invited another friend over for the weekend,
somebody called Luke, who also played the guitar.
‘But why did you invite him? I thought the band was just us.’
‘Luke plays lead guitar, you see? He’ll play lead guitar while you play
rhythm guitar. And I play bass.’
I was crestfallen. ‘Yes, but is he actually any good?’
‘Yeah, he says he’s amazing.’
Before I’d had a chance to digest this properly, we heard Luke’s parents’
car pull up in the drive. Luke looked like a spotty cross between Jimi Hendrix
and Phil Lynott and had a flashy Fender Stratocaster copy guitar with its own
plush case lined with purple Afghan velvet. He wore a leather jacket and a
bullet belt and had a high-pitched nasal voice.
‘Hello,’ he said through his nose.
‘Have you got an amplifier?’ I asked.
‘No, I was hoping to use your one.’
‘Russ Conway’s amplifier only has two input sockets, I’m afraid. One for
me, one for him,’ I pointed at Paul.
‘I don’t mind,’ he said. ‘I’m here to play solos.’
‘But if you’re not plugged in then how—’
‘Just solos,’ he snapped.
We set up our gear – the three guitars and the amplifier with the speaker on
a wire – in Paul’s straw-matted conservatory. Paul and I immediately got on
with some pointless sonic jousting, playing random noisy chords while
eyeing Luke as he sat on the floor fiddling with his tuning pegs. After an
hour, bored with our racket, we sat down and constructed a proper song. Paul
already had some epic war-like lyrics, and we attached them to some music
I’d written. We practised it a little and then bang bang bang, off we went,
noisy as hell, riffs clattering, dreadful, eager, high on it, whooping.
‘Right. Shall we record it then?’
‘Definitely.’ So we stuck Paul’s cheap tape recorder with its little
condenser mic next to Russ Conway’s amp and hovered a finger over the
record button. We were to yell out the vocals in tandem while we played,

which meant we had to play our instruments kneeling down by the machine
so it would catch our voices. The song was called ‘Armageddon’s Ring’, and
its chorus went: ‘So can’t you hear the distant thunder / growling in the East
/ the war of good and evil / the righteous and the Beast.’
It was good.
We recorded pretty much everything we played; with hindsight, I don’t
really know why. Maybe it was in case we came up with some spontaneous
masterpiece, our own accidental ‘Stairway to Heaven’. As we played through
‘Armageddon’s Ring’, Luke sat on the floor hunched over his Strat. It was
still unplugged, and he moved his fingers speedily up and down the fretboard.
I watched nervously as we crashed along, knowing that sooner or later it was
going to be his turn to be plugged in, and that what he was doing silently with
his fingers was scaring the shit out of me.
When Paul and I were satisfied with our performance (take #2), Luke
looked up from under his hair and said that he had a guitar solo worked out
for the song. We were impressed – we didn’t even know how he’d managed
to hear himself for the last ten minutes. But how were we going to record
‘Overdub me,’ said Luke.
Paul and I looked at one another and gestured towards the tiny cassette
machine. ‘How? It’s just a tape player!’
In the end we stopped the tape after the second chorus, plugged Luke in,
let him do his solo unaccompanied, and then, when he nodded he had
finished, pressed pause.
The solo was truly extraordinary. Paul and I sat open-mouthed while Luke
attacked his axe like a man possessed – he even grunted loudly as he played
it. The problem was that he couldn’t actually play the guitar at all. Not in the
slightest. He just ran his fingers blindly up and down the fretboard, producing
the sound of pigs being slaughtered. He couldn’t even tell how bad he was –
that’s how bad he was. Maybe he’d just watched a lot of video footage of his
heroes and believed that some vague speedy finger-aping would see him
through. Perhaps I should’ve suspected something at the beginning of the
session when he’d appeared to be having problems tuning. But I’d just
thought, maverick axeman – respect. Halfway through the pertinent

‘Armageddon’s Ring’ (‘reminds me of Van Halen’ – my sister in the car on
the way back to Winchester) comes a loud click and a pause, and then 30
seconds of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, a Situationist guitar solo. We
had to leave it in because it appeared that Luke was in the band now. Well,
three was better than two, I supposed, hating him and his stupid solos
We took a break and sat on the swings at the end of the garden and talked
about gigging while I smoked and spat, my voice the only one yet to break.
We agreed that our song ‘Armageddon’s Ring’ was sufficiently definitive to
name the band after. Our logo was to the point: a ring that you’d wear on
your finger, but with a nuclear explosion as the ‘jewel’.

The weekend recording with Luke had brought us to an edgy impasse. To
Seb Hunter: Guitar & vocals. Can play bar chords. Can sing high
harmonies. Speaks like a child. Short hair, but almost over eyes. Excitable.
Prone to almost wetting pants if things are getting too overwrought.
Paul Bavister: Bass guitar & vocals. No sense of timing. Tone deaf. Tall.
Bad skin. Deep monotone voice. Big house.
Luke Foster: Lead guitar. Voice like Kermit. Technique like Kermit. Also
tone deaf. Everything deaf. Bad skin as well.
(NB – I had bad skin too, I just decline to mention it.)
Back in Winchester, my reputation fractionally increased after I told the
other kids at school that I was now in a band, and a fucking good band at that.
Dominic, who was still extremely aloof even though he secretly liked Kiss
too, asked me who our influences were.
‘Heavy Metal,’ I said. ‘Heavy Metal generally, and Kiss.’
‘Well, you sound completely shit and it’s a shit name as well.’
None of this mattered. I was already cultivating a haughty rock-star
attitude that included a cigarette wedged behind each ear and a pair of my
father’s aviator sunglasses. Dominic said I should listen to some decent

fucking music for a change, like UFO or Aerosmith. He played me some
UFO on his Walkman, but two minutes into the track I wrenched off the
fuzzy headphones.
‘It’s got keyboards!’
‘Yeah? What’s your problem? Don’t be such a prick.’
‘But you can’t have keyboards in Heavy Metal.’
‘You are a fucking prick.’
Actually, I thought to myself, you are the fucking prick, because UFO were
absolutely rubbish – the syrupy washes of keyboards made the whole thing
sound like the bloody Magic Roundabout.
‘Are Aerosmith as shit as this?’ I asked.
‘It’s pointless saying any fucking thing to you.’
‘Just tell me. Are they?’
A few days later he lent me Aerosmith’s fourth album, Rocks. What
happened next can be anticipated.

Aerosmith came out of Boston in 1972, fronted by two men known as the
Toxic Twins because of their vast appetite for drugs: Steven Tyler on vocals
and Joe Perry on guitar. They played a slightly more aspirational Rolling
Stones brand of rock music, but with their twisting guitars turned up much
louder. Their songs were low-slung authentic blues-sounding, but were
anthemic enough to appeal to us kiddies in need of such sweeteners. The
success of their third album, Toys in the Attic, meant that they could buy as
many drugs as they wanted, which they did, and they managed to look
extraordinarily cool while on them (in fact the more zonked-out they became,
the more they began to look like pirates). At the height of this giant plane of
excess, the band entered a studio called the Wherehouse outside Boston and
recorded their fourth album, the one Dominic had lent me, which they
somewhat ironically titled Rocks.
Rocks is the greatest rock album of all time, by anyone, ever. I don’t know
how Aerosmith managed this considering the state they were in while they
were making it. When asked about the record these days, even Tyler says that
all he can hear are the drugs. It sounds like something from another
dimension; entirely otherworldly, a hazy sonic entity unto itself. It swirls and

swaggers but feels arid and fragile at the same time, and although they’ve had
their odd decent moments since, this is the only Aerosmith album you
honestly need to buy – it’s a rawhide goddamn masterpiece. Its final song, the
faux doo-wop coda ‘Home Tonight’, features my all-time favourite guitar
solo; it’s a weird and unique thing – a guitar solo that makes me cry.
As Rocks slowly released its charms, Kiss slipped off the end of my radar,
and thus began a holy tumble into an abyss of dark stuff – music made by
outlaws in eyeliner, high on drugs. Aerosmith had opened another big door
for me – the gateway to the defining Metal giants of the 1970s. In America
this era belonged mostly to Kiss and Aerosmith, but in the UK it belonged to
the really big boys, the guys who were so big that they became known as
dinosaurs. This was the decade where Heavy Metal started on solids, learned
to walk, and grew into the monster that conquered the world, East and West.
The 70s were where Metal found itself, where the sacred texts were hewn
from the death of innocence in the 60s, lines were carved thick in the sand,
amps were cranked up to their limits, and the rules of the game were
conceived, practised, and stuck at for over 25 years. Let’s take a deep breath
and enter the Houses of the Holy.

THE 1970S:
Led Zeppelin were the daddies of us all. They were the biggest, the loudest,
had the longest songs, went on the longest tours, had the longest instrumental
solo spots, had the highest-pitched singer, had the best and thinnest guitar
player, took the most drugs, shagged the most groupies, were the first to have
their own private jet, had the most songs about knights and goblins and stuff,
and, most importantly of all, sold far and away more records than anyone else
of the period.
They came out of the ashes of the late 60s and ripped off old blues
standards shamelessly but with virtuosic brio. The only weak link was singer
Robert Plant, who looked the part with his puffed open chest and leonine
mane, but who sang too high and too squawkily, and wrote silly lyrics, worse
than Noddy Holder. But they conquered the world with their first ever tour –
as simple as that – the crowds had never heard anything like it before. The

Zep were the first to achieve rock’s definitive critical mass; to master its
liberational equation: Blues + Power = Destination.
Led Zeppelin were so big and famous that when they got to their fourth
album they didn’t even bother to give it a name, or even put their name on the
outside record sleeve. It says a lot about the doggedness of the Metal
community that people still row about what to call this fourth album. Seeing
as the Zep called their first record 1, their second 2, and third 3, the argument
for calling it 4 would appear overwhelming. But calling it 4 in front of a
Zeppelin diehard provokes howls of protest. They know it as The Four
Symbols. Others call it Zoso. Some say it has no name. All you need to know
is that it’s the one with ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on it, the one you’ve probably
got. It’s almost beyond seminal. It starts off with ‘Black Dog’, which is really
hard to play on the guitar and is about sex. It’s followed by ‘Rock and Roll’,
which is hard to follow at the beginning if you’re a guitarist and you’re trying
to count yourself in, and is about sex too, and is really hard to sing if you’re
playing it in the right key. Then it’s the medieval epic ‘Battle of Evermore’,
which is full of wailing and mandolins and is profound and hard to play on
the guitar (and the mandolin). Then it’s time to settle back for the main
‘Stairway to Heaven’ is perhaps the most famous rock song of all time. It
goes on for about 15 minutes and has many different parts; it’s like
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ but slightly less embarrassing. ‘Stairway’ is a song
about nothing really. Plant (known affectionately in Metal circles as Percy)
wrote some of the words with a hangover a few minutes before he was due to
record them. For a song so famous, few other artists have had the nerve to
record their own interpretation. Those who have (Dread Zeppelin, Rolf
Harris, Dolly Parton) have produced a mixed set of results. Even Percy hasn’t
got much to say about the song any more. ‘I was a kid when I wrote that,’ he
says these days, dismissively.
After this, the Zep got even bigger, and they started to give their albums
names again – a sign of insecurity if ever there was one. Punk arrived, and
everybody assumed the Zep would be one of the first to fall, but instead they
ran away to America and played three-hour sets with models of Stonehenge
onstage. In the end neither punk nor their own bloated weight killed them:
they were killed by Death. The best drummer ever, John Bonham (known
affectionately in Metal circles as Bonzo), died the archetypal Metal death,

going the same way as Bon Scott from the DC and several others: he choked
on his own vomit while sleeping. He died in 1980, and the rest of the Zep did
the right thing and broke up the band. To their credit, they still haven’t sullied
their legacy by reforming, although they’ve come mighty close over the
years, and probably will some day, but that’s OK because that’s what people
do. People should be less precious about shit like that.
Black Sabbath were punk before punk was invented, but without sounding
much like it. OK, they had long greasy hair and moustaches, and dressed in
black, were obsessed with crucifixes, wrote songs about witches and stuff and
were probably Satanists, but the principle behind the noise they made, and
their attitude while making it, was punk all the way. All four of the Sabs were
from Birmingham, and all were really dodgy, especially their delinquent
young vocalist (in Metal, always use ‘vocalist’ rather than ‘singer’), the
deadly Ozzy Osbourne. The noise they made was instantly terrifying. If you
can imagine getting on the Titanic (before it sank), stripping out all its decks
and cabins and everything until you’ve just got the gigantic iron shell, and
then in the middle of the night scraping something rusty and fetid along the
bottom, for hours, then you’ve got the raw effect of the sound of Black
Sabbath. They did a few ballads too, though these weren’t ballads so much as
funereal dirges, which provoked suicidal urges among those unconditioned to
their sound. They scared people, and people love to be scared, so the Sabs
became enormous.
The Sabs were bolder than the Zep when it came to naming their fourth
record – they bit the bullet and decided to give it a name: Volume 4. Like the
Zep, it was their best and most famous album. It came out in 1972 and
included a song called ‘Supernaut’, which has, to my ears, the greatest riff of
all time. And it’s these riffs that turned the Sabs from a modest blues band
into bona fide Princes of Darkness. Tony Iommi, guitarist and songwriter
(once described by the editor of Melody Maker as looking like ‘a gypsy
violinist in an Earls Court pizza parlour, or more accurately, like the Italian
contestant in next year’s Eurovision Song Contest’; Iommi later punched
him), is the all-time Master of the Riff. Those thick slabs of chords, jagged