Heavy Metal Tales
In his latest blog post / memoir Martin Copland-Gray shares what it was like to be a teenage heavy metal fan.
It’s 1982 and I’m cold. The kind of cold that gets into your bones. It’s penetrated every layer of clothing and just sits there, before moving very slowly, inching its way through every bone in your body before ending in your mouth and making your teeth chatter like the demented inmate of some Dickensian workhouse.
As I look around with my hands thrust deep into my pockets, turning up the volume on my walkman to the sounds of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and desperately trying to keep warm, I take in my surroundings. I’m standing in the middle of the corrugated iron majesty that is Bromsgrove Market Hall. All around me are stalls full to bursting with all manners of wares. From bedding to kitchen ware and back again via jeans, fruit and veg and interesting bits of hardware.
It’s a Saturday morning, earlyish and it’s already busy. In these pre-Morrison’s days this is where the good and bad of this Middle England market town do their shopping. It’s like a scene from an Alan Bleasdale programme, only the accents are different.
That unmistakeable Midlands voice is all around me and as I stare aimlessly at some multi-striped flannelette sheets that I recognise from my single bed at my Nan’s. I hear her familiar black country twang “Martin, I’m going to see the Egg Man”. I shout OK as I watch the bespectacled, curly haired figure of my Nan Floss, amble off in the direction of his stall.
The Egg Man sold eggs…naturally, but he also sold bacon. A winning combination when you think about it. You get up one morning, perhaps it’s the first time your new love has stayed at your place. You hastily get dressed and as you head out the front door with thoughts of grilling and poaching on your mind you shout up the stairs “I’m going to see the Egg Man”.
He sounds like some fabled guru who holds the secrets to all your breakfasting needs. In reality he’s a ruddish, thin faced man in a white coat and spectacles who happens to sell the best darn eggs this side of Worcestershire…well Bromsgrove at least. There might have been someone better in Kidderminster for all I know!
I never knew his name. He was the Egg Man. Years later, by chance he happened to walk into the clothes shop I was working in with his two daughters. We had a nice chat, talked about clothes and I shared with him my memories of those regular market visits with Floss. He even remembered who she was. Perhaps she stood out amongst all of those customers of his. She could talk for Britain and a loved a gossip so it’s highly likely he’d remember her.
At some point in the conversation I asked him his name and…I really can’t remember it. Perhaps I don’t need to know. He’s simply the Egg Man. It’d be like finding out that Dr Who’s real name is Roger or Brian. That just sounds like some dull businessman from Stourbridge who paid £54 for ice cream in Rome. The magic would be lost forever.
And so I leave my Nan to her regular spot of gossip with Bromsgrove’s finest purveyor of early morning delights and head off in the opposite direction in search of something special.
Today is an important day, or rather tonight is. This evening will see the event of the year take place. It’s the school rock concert and I’m going to be there. Me and my pals from school are all over it (to coin a more modern phrase). We are NOT cool. At lunch we sit close to the stage in the assembly hall (perhaps for safety and comfort) and discuss the merits of ZZ Top, AC/DC and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.
This is a full two years before I will be seduced away from rock music by that purple genius Prince. For now I’m lost in a world of endless guitar solos, denim jackets and patches, lots of patches.
It had all started back in 1980 with a birthday gift of the compilation album Axe Attack from my parents. I loved this record and if anyone wants to find me a copy of this on vinyl I’d be eternally grateful as mine has sadly been lost. On that record lay fabulous tracks by the aforementioned Rainbow, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.
For two years from then I devoured anything to do with heavy metal, bought every issue of Kerrang and at the budox of the galaxy that was South Bromsgrove High School I found willing accomplices in Phil Eves, Stephen Casserley and Chris Holick.
I remember one lunchtime when we sat there en masse recreating the opening of ZZ Top’s Gimme All Your Lovin’. We were really getting a groove on when we were told to ‘give it a rest’ by Mr Thorpe the PE teacher who happened to be on duty that day.
He might have won that day but that Saturday night was all about us and the music that we loved. The line up was to be a collection of local and student bands a la Marty McFly. Not particularly groundbreaking stuff but it was the place to be and we’d get to hear covers of a lot of the tunes we were into.
Back in the Market Hall I had arrived at the stall I’d been searching for. Armed with my few pounds worth of pocket money I’d been saving I stood before the black clothed table staring in awe at the sea of delights laid out in front of me.
There were t-shirts emblazoned with AC/DC, Kiss and Van Halen, a myriad of small button badges stretching as far as my eyes could see, well at least to the edge of the wooden table in front of me and patches, dozens of patches.
I knew exactly what I wanted – the new Rainbow patch in black and red with silver writing and the long Kiss patch to go across the top of my denim jacket. They’d go really well with the brass Skull & Crossbones belt buckle I’d bought from the now long departed independent record store Johnson’s Records the week before. I’d also need some Patchouli oil.
Now, I can’t even remember what that stuff smells like. But back then it was essential and as I was beginning to learn it was what the girls who’d be going to the rock concert liked. Having had my first serious experience of kissing that summer I was determined to get some of the action.
As you may know I used to spend my holidays with my family at our caravan on a site in Mid Wales. It was here that I met a girl that would be in effect the first love of my life. Her name was Helen Smith, she came from Oxley, Wolverhampton, had gorgeous long mousey blonde hair, a wonky eye and at the time I loved her.
There are two photos of her that I still have somewhere in a box at my Mum’s. In the first she is sat in our caravan wearing a long sleeved black velour top with her long hair falling onto her shoulders. She is leaning forward onto her knees, smiling in the direction of my Dad who is making the tea, gob-smacked that I have ‘pulled this stunner’. Ever the eloquent and forthright chap my old man!
In the other photo taken by a passing holiday maker we are stood at the entrance to the Brynowen Caravan Park wearing almost matching navy sweatshirts, flared blue jeans and blue denim baker boy caps. In all honesty I dress fairly similar today except that the jeans are darker, less flared and distinctly more tapered. I’m chubby cheeked and she has lots of lovely freckles. It was my first serious love and I was just about aware of that.
We loved kissing each other. Not far from where that photo was taken were the row of new caravans for sale. On regular occasions we’d sneak behind one and kiss for all it was worth. On one particular afternoon we stood there with our hands in each others back pockets, looking longingly into each others eyes. The wonky eye never bothered me…she was beautiful to me you see and in that moment I wanted to tell her just how much she meant to me.
I needed to sum up just how important this was and so I gathered myself and as the sea breeze blew through the trees next to us I leant her against the Willerby Six Berth Caravan and said “I love you more than my Mum”. I smile even now at the memory of that wonderfully innocent moment.
Towards the end of that memorable holiday we bought matching identity bracelets from Hubbards gift shop and had our names etched on them. She wore mine and I wore hers. We were totally smitten with each other and as we walked along the beach on the last morning of our holiday we talked about what would happen in the future. Quite a mature thing to do given we’d only known each other a short period of time and we’d barely scraped our teens. I remember clearly that she said that some day I’d be at the altar about to marry another girl, the crucial moment would arrive and I’d say “No I can’t do this, I have to marry Helen instead.” Wonderful stuff.
After that halcyon summer we met a handful of times but like a lot of holiday romances it just petered out and we lost touch. I did try and get in touch with her years later but to no avail. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be. But still, I’m lucky, the memories live on and I will always cherish those fabulous times.
Back in Bromsgrove on the Saturday night of the Rock Concert I was ready to go. Patches had been sown, button badges pinned and patchouli oil splashed…quite a lot of it actually. Resplendent in my rocker uniform of jeans, trainers, KISS t-shirt and my prized jacket I sauntered into the hall in a haze of perfumed denim.
The rest of the guys were already there and having grabbed some Cokes we settled ourselves onto the left hand side of the hall looking down onto the stage. Soon enough the concert started and we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Sadly a lot of the band names have escaped me but I do remember one called White Russian and another moment where one of my teachers, the fabulously monikered Quentin Watt joined one of the bands for a jam!
There was also the hysterical moment where the wonderfully named Stuart Mee got up on stage in full Angus Young schoolboy uniform get up and played along to Highway to Hell whilst twirling around on the floor like a lunatic with an imaginary guitar. I’d like to be able to say that this was just a one off but with Stuart he’d perform like that for anyone who’d give him a can of Coke and a bag of Hula Hoops!
All was going well until Steven Troth – bully, nemesis and all round numpty decided to make his presence felt. Making his way up to us he said “Oi Gray, what are you and your stupid mates doing here?” Before I had chance to answer he took a can of lager from his jacket pocket and with a sly grin on his face he opened it all over my denim jacket and my brand new Rainbow patch. Him and his mates skulked away laughing like hyenas and I was left there a dripping mess. I spent the rest of the gig smelling like a cross between Frank Gallagher and Bet Lynch!
It was the beginning of the end of my love affair with heavy metal. Purple Rain was just around the corner and my jacket would soon be hung up for good in favour of a Prince t-shirt & eyeliner. But before that happened there was one last hurrah at Stafford Bingley Hall on 12th October 1984.
In that big shed of a place just off the M6 I was fortunate enough to see KISS on their Animalize Tour supported incredibly by Bon Jovi! They only did six songs including their fab single Runaway but even so I remember thinking at the time how good they were and so I wasn’t that surprised when Slippery When Wet made them superstars just two short years later.
I loved the gig and KISS literally tore the roof but my enthusiasm was already beginning to wane. When my folks dropped me off it was like a scene from Almost Famous with my Mum refusing to let me wear my studded leather wristband in case people thought I was ‘a troublemaker’ and then to the jeers of passing heavies she shouted that I was to meet her in the car park as soon as the gig had finished.
And so I bade farewell to heavy metal, packed away my denim jacket, gave my t-shirts to charity, got my hair cut and moved on. I’d left school and was just starting at college. There was a different kind of music in the air. It was cooler, smarter and far more glamourous. So I dusted down my parents old disco records and went nightclubbing…
All words by Martin Copland-Gray. You can read more from Martin on LTW here.