UPDATED: 3 August 2016.
The birth of Heavy Metal. Hey, I was there!
I’ve suddenly realized just how fortunate I am. The penny dropped while recording my ‘blues-rock to heavy metal’ broadcasts on Code Zero Radio a couple of years ago. I suddenly became aware that my young self was actually there, standing and sitting in the middle of it all, while heavy metal was taking its first thunderous steps before me.
As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, I witnessed Black Sabbath playing one of their very first gigs under the name Black Sabbath, when the band I managed supported them. Both bands, then, would have been classed as blues rock or hard rock, but back in 1969, they were simply bands who played ‘progressive’ or ‘contemporary’ music, as the music papers would describe it.
|Black Sabbath. I remember them looking even younger than this. Ozzie was a just a boy, but an exceptional, lucid and amusing front man way before they became famous.|
At the time, there wasn’t much, musically, between the two bands except one was loud and the other deafening: almost literally, in my case. I watched my band’s excellent set from the bar, accompanied by a few pints of the amber nectar. Sabbath came on about midnight by which time I was feeling a bit sleepy.
After being amused by Ozzie’s antics and admiring Tony’s unusual thimble-fretting on the guitar I rested myself against one of the speakers and allowed myself to be bounced to the rhythm of Sabbath’s heavy beat. It was at the side of the stage and you could simply stroll up and lean on speakers in those days, if you were young, under the influence and stupid. As a result, Sabbath’s pounding beat punched into my head and body like Mike Tyson in his pomp. Consequently, I still have ringing in my ears to this day, some 47 years later. No wonder musicians play with plugs in their ears these days. I can’t believe I just wrote 47 years. Time and tide and all that …
At the time, Sabbath weren’t considered any different from their more famous hard rock contemporaries, all the heavier riff-driven UK bands like Free, Ten Years After and Irish band, Taste. Their forerunner, Cream, had disbanded the previous year and Led Zeppelin were being forged to fill the gap in the market left by Eric, Jack and Ginger. Over in America, another English band, the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass, were laying down some pioneering heavy metal foundations.
Black Sabbath’s paranoid single, a rare Top of the Pops video from September 1970
Sabbath would only make their point of difference when they released one of Metal’s game-changers, their first single, “Paranoid”, which reached number four in the UK, although only 61 in the US hot hundred. However, that was only the beginning. It would take years of hard work before Black Sabbath were perceived as one of the founders of heavy metal.
|I also remember Uriah Heep when they were this young|
But before Paranoid there was Uriah Heep’s ‘Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble’ album and Deep Purple’s smash single, “Black Night”. And that’s why I consider myself so fortunate. I may have witnessed one of the very first Black Sabbath gigs, but I actually helped promote an unknown Uriah Heep and equally unknown Deep Purple by persuading London’s rock press to go and see them and review their gigs and records. And let me put on record that you couldn’t meet more genuinely nice guys than the Heep’s Mick Box and David Byron and Purple’s Roger Glover and Ian Paice.
Indeed, the Heep were so accommodating they invited their wet-behind-the ears PR boy to their recording session; and then kindly shouted me to an Indian meal afterwards. And they were the client. It should’ve been me who bought the meal. Uriah Heep’s manager, Gerry Bron, was paying my boss, the late Tony Barrow, a tidy fee I’m sure for our PR services. I also had the innovative but then little-known Gentle Giant as a PR account; while ex-Beatles press officer, Tony Barrow, looked after his big blue chip clients like Paul McCartney and Wings, and such visiting American stars such as Tony Bennett and Andy Williams. Deep Purple, of course, would soon be up in that league, too, because while I was working with them, they released their UK mega-hit “Black Night”. Deep Purple quickly took off big time.
|Deep Purple’s Black Night, released in June 1970, was the first heavy metal single to make it big in the pop charts|
For some reason, Britain’s highly-publicised ‘guru’ of ‘alternative music’, the BBC radio DJ John Peel, didn’t rate Deep Purple as “progressive” and flatly refused to play their records on air. Bizarrely, Peel reportedly ‘wept with joy’ when T-Rex topped the charts with the excellent ‘Ride a White Swan’ four months later in the October of 1970. Why the late John Peel felt T-Rex were progressive, and Deep Purple weren’t progressive, is anyone’s guess.
As it turns out, Deep Purple proved to be highly progressive, becoming the first band to have a heavy, riff-driven, lead guitar embellished, prototype-metal-vocal-style hit record in the UK, which was ‘Black Night’. This was in June 1970, the same month Uriah Heep released their seminal ‘Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble’ album. This ground-breaking record, retitled simply as “Uriah Heep”, was released in America the following year. Uriah Heep, as many british readers will know, was a character in Charles Dickens’ classic novel, “David Copperfield”.
The fictional Mr Heep was a very self-effacing man who didn’t pronounce his aitches. Presumably the band, Uriah Heep (obviously a well-read lot), were picking up on Mr Heep’s ‘umbleness, while at the same time saying ‘ow ‘eavy their music was. Was this album’s title the catalyst for the naming of a genre? I’ll leave that for someone else to prove or disprove.
|For me, this was the first heavy metal album in June 1970|
Gypsy from Uriah Heep’s Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble album. June 1970
To me, hearing Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble laid down was hearing the first authentic heavy metal album of all. Some might point to Sabbath’s self titled album in the February of 1970 and, of course Led Zeppelin and Cream were pumping out monstrous riff-driven blues rock in the 1960s. But, to me, Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble captured the pure essence of heavy metal and managed to bottle it in the studio. Deep Purple and Black Sabbath were the first to put fledgling heavy metal in the pop singles charts. For a while such music was disparagingly described as “head banging music” then somewhere along the line, somebody pigeon-holed it as heavy metal. A genre was born. And, as luck would have it, I was there at tits birth.