All through my life, people ask me… what is your obsession with Rock, and Heavy Metal(and its’ varieties)? Well, I fnally decided to sit down and write a bit of how I started listening to the world’s greatest music…
Here we go….
When you hear somebody say that he’s into Heavy Metal, strange images of drug addicts, castles, dragons, babies on clotheslines, crosses and orgies come into mind. But actually it isn’t as bad as that!
It is somewhat more refined. Heavy Metal encompasses a strange group of people who are first and foremost fanatics. True fans will go to any length to get that piece of music missing from their collection, or that special edition album with just one extra track from the original.
People sometimes are quick to label us as upstarts, rebels, or even worse. However behind my black t-shirt donned exterior there is a quiet, quick and intelligent mind (I hope!). So why am I labeled as a throwback to the past? Why haven’t I given up Metal with the passing of my teens? I can’t! It’s in my blood, running in my veins…
The sheer power of a new album shakes me, thrills me and moves me to tears. God forbid if I am at work and that new album plops through the letter box at home.(Usually my eldest daughter,(now 19), calls me at work.) Because I simply have to rush home to listen to it… hold the shiny package in my hands… and my imagination runs riot. I rip the album tracks to my iPod, and put the nearly unspoilt cd up with my collection…my huge collection of albums, alphabetically ordered and meticulously tended by none other than me.
Sometimes I find an album out of place, grumbling to my wife that she shouldn’t have touched my discs. Only for her to reply that it was Rachel , my daughter, who plays the albums when I’m not there. A smile creeps to my face….(this was when Rachel was just 11 or 12).
It goes without saying that Rock music has influenced me and my family in every aspect of life, even to this day. I have played in Metal bands, Classic Rock bands… as well as a Christian Rock band. Who would have believed it? I confess to still not owning a radio (why would I?), and my kids have taken my lead. At nineteen years old, Rachel is a true Power Metal fan, and at eleven had already started collecting Manowar memorabilia and concerts like there’s no tomorrow, while Roxanne (now 14) favours the erm… mellower stuff by Taylor Swift… not exactly Hard Rock, but extremely good just the same. Rox has a great voice, and maybe someday…
My wife has learnt to live with our nuances, and despite favouring music from the sixties and seventies, is not adverse to the more commercial metal music as made popular by Bon Jovi, Dire Straits, Clapton and Scorpions.
So….how did I get to this point? Quite a long story to get to this, so let’s start as all stories should do…from the beginning!
I have had a love of music for as long as I can remember, which is quite a bit. I once asked my mother where this interest came from. Why? I only needed to hear a song once or twice to learn the lyrics and tune. No matter who sang it, in whatever manner or rhythm, I would pick up the tempo, and get into it immediately. My mum said that since her father and brothers were all accomplished folk guitar players (not to mention her grandma and HER brothers), it must be genetics.
She said that I was quite a restless baby, and she used to park my pram right beside the radio so that I could keep my trap shut! Hmm… so that’s where it started. My mum said that it was the only way she could get any housework done. So there you have it, my first interest in music!
My dad had this huge radio that he had brought with him from Singapore, when he was in the British navy. It had this mysterious eye that glowed and flickered a bright green, blazing in the dim coolness of the sitting room. How was I to know it was simply a valve? It had a certain mystique to me.
So, having my (sadly deceased) dad as a seaman meant there was quite a bit of travelling for him. And being the Admiral’s personal assistant,chef, whatever, meant that the travelling was not only regular but lengthy.
My mum once told me that since he was away in England most of the time, it only made sense for all of us to live there for a while..Us..yes, I had just one brother back then, Kenneth. Like me he favoured Metal for a long time, but lately his faith has wandered to calmer waters, although he still loves Led Zeppelin with a passion. Now… where were we?
Oh, right…England. My dad was stationed in Portsmouth, and that was where we rented a house, I forgot the landlady’s name, Winnie, I think it was…time has been kind to her as the only memory I have of her is that of a doting matronly woman. My mum says she was a sod..but besides this little unimportant detail, I can remember every little bit of what happened in those days..and when I mean every little bit, it is absolutely crystal clear.
So we were stationed in Portsmouth for quite while. Meanwhile the usual stuff went on, you know, important stuff like growing up, making new friends at school, getting into scrapes with your friends …you know..usual shit. My mum still used to keep the radio on, even then. It was usually a mix of Beatles, Stones, Elvis , Gerry and the Pacemakers (I guess they really wear pacemakers these days!).
My dad though wasn’t about to let radio spoil his favourite tunes. So it was up to him to provide the endless Billy Fury, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry et al albums. His favourite past-time when he had a Sunday off was to go rambling at car-boot sales, only back then they were called jumble sales. He could pick albums like a gnat from a cat, and he always returned with enough to expand his ever burgeoning collection.
The fateful day arrived once when I was just a tender 11 year old. Not even a teen yet. We were up at Leigh to visit our relatives, and my uncle sort of mentioned in an offhand way that there was a jumble sale up the road. He hardly had time to close his mouth before being bundled unceremoniously into his battered Wolseley by my enthusiastic dad. My mum sent me with them to keep me out of her hair.
So there I was at this jumble sale, my dad riffing through albums like there’s no tomorrow, when a gold-coloured album with a large, round, red and white sticker catches my eye.
It said ‘Includes the multi-million selling song, ‘Smoke on the Water’. Of course, back then I didn’t know what song it was, but the album looked cool in gold, just as if it was a nugget pulled out from a mine. And a song that sold over a million copies HAD to be good.
The album in question? 24 carat purple…by none other than the great Deep Purple. Even the name sounded cool as I rolled it off my tongue. It was a compilation album and the titles sounded so mysterious….Child in time, Machinehead, Fireball, Black Knight, Highway Star….I asked my dad if I could buy it. He asked if I really wanted to. I can still recall that it cost me all the 50 pence weekly allowance I was given. Money wasted, he informed me
knowingly with a wink…
We get home, my dad goes for a shave and a shower, and I sort of meander my way accidentally to the record player. I slip on the headphones and give the turntable a spin. I cue to the ‘multi million selling song’….and the floor drops away from me…I get goosebumps, I feel giddy and elated. What is this? What is this? The huge demonic riffs from a certain guy called Ritchie Blackmore thunder in my tender ears….THIS IS AWESOME.
I pick myself off the floor shakily…dammit the record liner has no lyrics..Bummer…but the vocals come in clearly to my (unbeknowingly) trained ears… It is sweet, as sweet as could be. The riffs grind to a halt after five electrifying minutes, but I’m still spinning. I play the song again. This time I can make out the thumping bass line, so simple, effective, and meaningful…and..and so precise.
Needless to say, practically everyone worth his salt in this universe has either heard Smoke on the Water, played it on guitar, or even air-guitared it. Such is the greatness of this song. What an introduction to rock music!
After Smoke on the Water, I play Child in Time, and this time the emotional impact is total. I feel the tears welling up as the child in question is mutilated, beaten, nailed up on a cross and left to die…I cry with the song….I still do actually…this is my favourite Deep Purple song ……ever. I take off my headphones, struck numb with the secrets unveiled to me.
Dinner that night was different. I think I was quite muted. My mum thought I was coming down with the flu or something. Remember I was only just past eleven years old at that time, when it is normal to be molly-coddled by your parents. But I can honestly define that moment as being the one of my innocence passing away in a flash.
That music was what I was waiting for all my short life…there was no other way to describe it except ‘superlative’.
That night I gingerly carry my Deep Purple album with me to bed and lie looking at it until I drift away, haunted by the chords that will forever be blazed in my mind. When I wake up the next morning I wonder whether it was just a funny dream, but no..the album is still there on the dressing table.
Being Monday, my dad and uncle were at work. My mum had gone with my aunt to the market, taking little Kenneth with them. I pretended to be asleep so as not to go with them.
‘Leave him be..’ my mum had said. ‘He can take care of himself. He seems to have grown up a lot lately anyway.’
No sooner had the front door closed than I was up, kicking my pyjamas into a heap and throwing on my old faded tracksuit. I grabbed the record and fairly flew downstairs to the record player. This time I didn’t need the headphones to tell me that I was listening to something that would change my way of listening to music (and why not? Life!) forever. I played the songs on that LP to exhaustion that day, and I only subsided when the grumpy old
neighbour hammered incessantly on the walls dividing his home from our host’s. I own up that he might have been driven loopy far earlier, but naturally I didn’t hear him.
If I recall correctly, that evening I asked my dad to take me to the high street the following day (no internet back then!), as I wanted to find out more about Deep Purple. He hadn’t approved of the record obviously. He thought that it sounded as if somebody was murdering the cat. Ian Gillan my friends… Ian Gillan… murdering the cat my ass!
He took me to Leigh centre HMV and there, while he chatted away with the store’s customers, I kept opening the
record store’s copy of 24 Carat Purple, and copying the lyrics onto a little black notebook. How I would love to know what has become of it.
I only found the album after the long-haired sales assistant had pointed out that Deep Purple were to be found under the Heavy Metal section. Heavy Metal…..Heavy Metal…. it sounded awesome. Turning to the back of my notebook, I remember writing in some other names…Led Zeppelin, Yes, Uriah Heep…and of course…Black Sabbath. The Sabs…..aah….I recall that the album was their infamous self-titled epic. I timidly asked the assistant to have a listen at the title track. I remember being devastated by the power that was transmitted through the
speakers. My dad stopped in his tracks, cigarette loosely dangling from his lips.
‘I’m not having this..I mean I’m not paying to have this drivel at home, This is evil.’
I’m sure I couldn’t blame him..I was actually horrified myself. I didn’t listen to Sabbath again for some time until I heard Paranoid…boy oh boy…that really shook me up. More about that later though. He marched me right out of the shop by the scruff of my neck. Well I still had the notebook full of Purple lyrics. That night I made sure to wear the headphones before settling down in front of the roaring fire.
The mood transformed that record into my first real love relationship with music. I still have that LP today, though it sounds like Rice Krispies as it snaps,crackles, and pops its way on the turntable. No amount of cleaning can bring back its original pristine sound. The cover is wrinkled, mottled and greenish, but there is no way I will ever throw it away…. it will forever remind me of my induction to the rock scene. I honestly owe so much to Rock and Metal.
About eight years ago I had shown the record to my little Roxanne. I simply handed it over to her. She held it in her arms just like a boy would do when confronted with a steering wheel for the first time.
‘What is it?’ she piped in her squeaky voice, examining the black vinyl.
I told her it was a record, that you play it and music comes out, much like you would do with a CD.
‘It is true I am still little girl, papa’, but you’re not fooling me. Even I can see that it will not fit into the cd tray.’
Me and the wife simply held to each other as we laughed. Times really do change. She was nearly eight years old, and she could not even remember the good old cassette player, let alone a turntable.
Anyway, we don’t even buy physical CDs anymore these days. The Internet has seen to that. I do miss the large LPs with the great artwork though….anybody seen an Iron Maiden sleeve and not been amazed by the paintings?
So there you go…. my introduction to the world’s greatest music!
Part 2 coming up (pretty) soon…