This weekend I mastered time travel – going back 35 years to the heady days of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal aka NWOBHM. Two days stuffed with 24 of the genre’s best bands.
My first time at an HRH event. A great line-up of some of the biggest bands from the late 70s and early 80s. The Tardis landed in the centre of steel city to see hundreds of NWOBHM acolytes in cut-off denims covered in back patches, black leather jackets, hair long hair flowing in the chilly wind, queuing to see their heroes at the 02 Academy.
All thoughts of about this being just a nostalgia trip for portly, balding middle age men vanished as I was amazed to find huge numbers of young enthusiastic metal fans from far and wide – including fans from across Europe; Romania, Germany, France, Belgium, Czech Republic and Finland and more.
A plethora of retro merch’ stands, including vinyl vendors with many classics from the era, packed with ‘Metal Heads’ looking for that essential album for the collection. Many of the records carried autographs of NWOBHM legends, making them extra special purchases. Other stalls peddled carved animal skulls, chunky silver skull jewellery, embroidered band patches all adding to the authentic 80s feel.
15:10 to 16:00: “Jaguar” Stage 2
For a freezing cold, damp day in December, the turn out for opening act Jaguar was impressive; over 300 people crammed in to the 2nd stage area, buzzing with anticipation for the band formed in 1979 in Bristol. They hit the stage with a roar, sounding like a band hungry for success rather than a nostalgia act.
Jaguar played faster and more aggressively than any other band during the early days of the NWOBHM, being a major influence on the then fledgling Thrash and Speed Metal scene.
New singer Jarvis Leatherby, from American band Night Demon, his voice a perfect fit as he belted out “Dutch Connection,” from the 1983 album “Power Games,” a rapturous reception from the crowd.
The band then powered through “Battle Cry,” and “War Machine,” from their 1980 demo. The band really were on fire and could do no wrong; a truly inspiring performance and really setting the standard incredibly high for the bands who were to come over the two day festival.
I grabbed a quick chat with Jarvis from Jaguar after their great set. Revealing to me this was his first gig with the guys. “Tonight was the first gig with the band; in fact, I only met the drummer for the first time on stage tonight.”
“I sing with the American band Night Demon; we covered “Axe Crazy.” Jaguar heard it, got in touch and asked me to join them on tour. I had to turn them down as Night Demon tour seven to eight months a year, so I couldn’t find time in my schedule.
“They contacted me again a year later. I was in such a good place in my career with my band, that I agreed to fly over at my own expense from the USA to join them at the HRH NWOBHM Xmas ROCKA, as they are legendary heroes of mine.
“When the band learned they would be the opening act, they nearly backed out, but I said, ‘No.’ If you’re not there, you’re nowhere.”
So did you enjoy the show? “It’s crazy a band of such stature would be the opening act, but yes. It was fantastic. I think we set the standard for the weekend for others to try and follow.”
So will Jarvis be part of the Jaguar family on a permanent basis? “At the moment, it’s one gig at a time, as I still have commitments in the USA with my band Night Demon. We will see how it goes.”
16:20 to 17:40: “Mythra,” Stage 2
Mythra, formed in 1976 in the days before NWOBHM was even a thing, releasing their self-financed EP, “Death or Destiny,” in 1979. Lars Ulrich of Metallica cited them as an early influence, there for all to hear across their seminal “Kill Em All,” album.
Like many of The NWOBHM acts, bad luck plagued them and they split up in 1981, even though they’d managed to sell 15,000 copies of their legendary EP in 20 days, they were consigned to the scrap heap.
Reformed in 2015, the band featuring four original members – Vince High, Maurice ‘Mo’ Bates, John Roach and Alex Perry, plus a killer new rhythm section in bass player Colin Hird and drummer Phil Davies.
They make an impressive noise, pummeling the crowd with powerful songs, “Death & Destiny”, “Killer” and “Overlord,” with a definite Judas Priest vibe. Vince High introduced the “Vicious Bastards,” as a song about terrorists, pretty much summing up this band; uncompromising and relentlessly Metal.
17:00 TO 18:00: “Black Rose,” Stage 1
NWOBHM is an umbrella for a variety of styles. Black Rose are from the school of rock that gave us Def Leppard; in the more melodic stadium anthem spectrum.
Formed in 1976, Black Rose’s melody driven rock was well received as they struck guitar hero poses and played a set of mid-paced rockers with flashy guitar breaks. Steve Bardsley on lead vocals and guitar, Kenny Nicholson on guitar,
Kiko Rivers on bass and drummer Chris Bennet.
The only issue with events like this, with so many great bands is there are scheduling clashes and this was the point in the day when you had to start picking and choosing which bands you wanted to see most. I hot footed it over to Stage 2 to catch the mighty Cloven Hoof.
17:40 to 18:40: “Cloven Hoof,” Stage 2
Billed as the debut show of the greatest Cloven Hoof line-up to date. Their only UK gig this year. George Call and Danny White have joined the Hoof permanently from the band ASKA. George’s incredible five-octave voice and Danny’s awesome drumming have taken the band to a new level.
Luke Hatton and Chris Coss remain the twin lead guitar axe men and Lee Payne the only original member, completes the line-up. The band have been recording the new album in the USA and in the UK for the past year.
The band hit the stage all guns blazing as George Call’s impressive voice cut through the thundering riffs. Cloven Hoof have been around since 1979 and Lee Payne’s perseverance has paid off, as this latest incarnation of the band is impressive. The real jewel in the crown is finding a front man with both the voice and charismatic stage presence to sell the songs. A band that deserve to be playing on a bigger stage.
18:20 to 19-30: “Persian Risk” Stage 1
Persian Risk formed in 1979, have had many members pass through their ranks, including Phil Campbell of Motorhead. The current version centred around singer Carl Sentence; recognised as one of the best rock vocalists around, and said to be up there with the likes of Mr Bruce Dickinson.
The songs have touches of Iron Maiden about them, which is no bad thing as they are all consummate musicians and manage to surpass that obvious influence to make a sound all of their own. The crowd lapped it up, making Persian Risk one of the big highlights of day one.
19:00 to 20:00: “Fist.” Stage 2
Fist was always a second tier act back in 1982 and while full of energy with some strong songs, nothing much has changed. The band was tight and the packed room was on their side, singing along, fists pumping in the air, but I felt they were just short of the mark compared to what had come before.
19:50 to 20:50 “Witchfynde.” Stage 1
Originally formed in 1973, Witchfynde are fans of the occult, sinister song titles about the Devil and vampires. When they hit the stage, they are a band of two realities………. close your eyes and the doom-laden riffs and banshee vocals are spot on. Open them and it’s a rather camp experience, with singer Luther Beltz cutting a rather odd figure; portly in black leather with eyeliner running down his grinning face.
To be fair Beltz’s Rob Halford-like vocals are impressive and the band all solid players. The material is OK and the audience lapped up the very 1980’s Devil’s music, I just couldn’t get past the visual experience. Luther Beltz is joine by Montalo (Trevor Taylor) on guitar, Pete Surgey on bass,
Gra Scoresby on drums and percussion and Tracey Abbott on guitar.
The break neck speed of the day was thankfully slowing down as the second stage closed for the night, meaning there was a welcome gap between acts, as the main stage was the sole focus from now on.
21:10 to 22:10: “Blitzkrieg” Stage 1
As Blitzkrieg hit the stage, I did a double-take as I thought Alice Cooper was on stage; Brian Ross’s resemblance is uncanny. But as he started to sing, it was unmistakably Brian as his huge voice filled the room.
Brian splits his time between Blitzkrieg and the band Satan. A formidable frontman with this band; playing classic NWOBHM as heavy as it gets. His voice as strong as Rob Halford’s, while still still maintaining originality. A real powerhouse performance.
Brian Ross’ comrades are: guitarist Ken Johnson, Brian’s son Alan Ross on guitar,
Bill Baxter on bass and Matt Graham on drums.
22:30 – 23:00: “Jess Cox” Stage 1
Jess Cox, original singer with Tygers of Pan Tang on their breakthrough album “Wild Cat,” was also the owner of the record label Neat Records from 1992, until 2001 when he sold it to Sanctuary. He also runs the labels Eldethorn, Edgy and Metal Nation.
Never blessed with a great voice, and as he took the stage in his sweat pants tonight, he was not really on his game. He often fluffed the words from the songs off “Wild Cat,” coming in before the band and having to restart the songs.
On a day when so many of the bands were really tight and frankly better, it was disappointing for Jess to get such high billing. Living off a reputation built on the 1980 Top 20 album, tonight he failed to live up to that past success.
23:15 to 00:30: “Rock Goddess” Stage 1
Rock Goddess were and still are one of my favourite NWOBHM bands, and I was hugely looking forward to see them live. Their 1983 debut album “Rock Goddess,” still finds its way on to my turntable.
Despite the 23:15 start, the venue was packed as the band took to the stage looking like they’d got paintings in the attic – they haven’t changed a bit. But more importantly, they sounded amazing.
Jody Turner on guitar and vocals, Julie Turner on drums and Tracy Lamb on bass.
Owning the stage, they played with passion. Jody’s vocals just as strong as they were in 1983. They opened with “Satisfied,” then “Crucified” from their debut album, followed by “God Be With You,” from “Hell Hath No Fury.” They were clearly loving every second, playing an 18-song set that transcended nostalgia.
Sounding uber-relevant; the new material sitting seamlessly with the classics. They pulled all the classic poses we have come to expect from heavy metal bands, but with a lot of style. For me the highlight of day one, closely followed by Jaguar, Blitzkrieg and Cloven Hoof. The weekend fully sold out, with nearly 3,000 people on day one and even more on day two, with 3,500 packing out the venue.
Words & Photos: Andy Pickard