File under Missing Links. Or perhaps: Good Bands who should be better known because they tie a lot of other things together.
Let’s begin with Malcolm McLaren—that cultural magpie who took his inspiration from some very unlikely quarters. When he was punting the Sex Pistols as modern day Artful Dodgers he was taking a cue from another band the Heavy Metal Kids. McLaren was never one to be shy of pinching other people’s ideas to confabulate something of his own. The Heavy Metal Kids were a gritty rock band who had a fanatical following in and around London during the early-mid 1970s. As McLaren used pub rock bands (like Kilburn and the High Roads) to show the Pistols stagecraft, he also saw something usable in Heavy Metal Kids’ frontman Gary Holton’s appearance—a style, a presence, a definition of how he wanted to sell the Pistols. Holton dressed like a Dickensian street urchin. He looked like Keith Richards dressed as the Artful Dodger in top and tails swinging an umbrella menacingly around in his hands. Holton’s swagger, his pure theatricality made a good rock band into something better, something bigger, something more dangerous and out of control.
The Heavy Metal Kids formed out of two other bands—Biggles and Heaven—Holton had been lead singer of both. Biggles were given a lot of hype by the record industry which proved to be money well wasted as Biggles proved to be a “Disaster. A very expensive disaster.” However, all was not lost as it was decided to merge the two bands and create a new one called Heavy Metal Kids in 1972.
The band’s name came from the gang of street kids featured in William S. Burroughs novel Nova Express. It was apt as juvenile delinquency and teenage street crime were rife across London at the time. Bovver boys. Skinheads. Gangs aping Alex and his droogs from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange were running riot. The Metropolitan police even ‘fessed up on a BBC documentary that teenage criminality was at an all time high and that one of the city’s most notorious burglars was an eleven-year-old kid.
Gary Holton plugging the Heavy Metal Kids support tour with Alice Cooper.
The original line-up of Heavy Metal Kids was Mickey Waller (guitar), Ronnie Thomas (bass and vocals), Gary Holton (lead vocals), Keith Boyce (drums) and Cosmo (guitar). With Holton’s powerful rock ‘n’ roll vocals and supreme stage swagger, the Heavy Metal Kids were soon spotted by Dave Dee—better known as singer/guitarist with sixties hit combo Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich—who signed them up to Atlantic Records.
The Heavy Metal Kids probably thought of themselves as a rock band but their hard-edged sound was an early sign of the oncoming punk tsunami. Their music mixed hard rock, proto-punk and Weimar cabaret. They were anti-establishment, political to an extent (Holton famously railed against the cops), and idolized by their fans—many of whom (Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, Paul Simonon and Chrissie Hynde) went onto form their own bands. The Heavy Metal Kids’ gigs were legendary and infamous as Holton related to Sounds music paper in 1975:
“[W]e got banned from just abaht every ‘all we played in. Our act’s a bit lewd, and I fink the management of some of the venues was rather shocked. I was stickin’ knives into the stage durin’ one gig, and afterwards a guy come up to me and said: ‘I wish you ‘adn’t splintered it all up like that, we’ve got a ballet on tomorrow!’”
They supported Alice Cooper on his Welcome to My Nightmare tour and were the only band Keith Richards claimed he listened to in the mid-seventies:
In those days, the mid 70s, about the only thing I remember listening to is the Heavy Metal Kids.
They should have been big. They could have been massive—but it just never happened. The spark that flashed may have set others on fire but for the Heavy Metal Kids it flickered and faded all too quickly. A handful of albums, a shedload of memorable concerts, and they were gone.
Holton was too big a talent to keep down. He went into acting. Appeared in Franc Roddam’s movie of The Who’s Quadrophenia and then starred in the hit TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Sadly, he died of a drug overdose in 1985. The Heavy Metal Kids reformed with different lead singers and since 2002 continue to tour and record.
Gary Holton once said:
I’m already a star, it’s just that a few million people don’t know it yet.
He was right. And people are still catching up with this fact now.
For the record: below is a compilation tape of a few of the Heavy Metal Kids’ TV and stage performances—including a strange insert clip on teenage crime in London during the seventies.
Opening with the band’s blistering performance of “Hangin’ On” from The Old Grey Whistle Test (introduced by “Whispering” Bob Harris) and then moving on to “It’s the Same” (via some Ry Cooder) from the same show, before crashing into a crime report from BBC’s current affairs show Panorama (with a great out on the age and crime of young offenders) and blasting straight into a brilliant live track “The Cops are Coming”—lookout for someone who looks like a very young Chrissie Hynde in the front row of the audience around 13’29”. We then head back to the BBC crime investigation before a well-packaged clip of the band playing the excellent “Blue-Eyed Boy” live intercut with ‘60s TV clips—finishing on a rather glam rock appearance on Top of the Pops where the band performed “She’s No Angel” in 1976.
Bonus: Heavy Metal Kids ‘Delirious.’
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Ian Dury: Before The Blockheads when he fronted Kilburn and the High Roads