Review – Heavy Metal Kids – The Albums 1974 to 1976 – by John Wenlock-Smith

The history of rock is strewn with endless tales of wild antics, excessive outrageous behaviours, substance & alcohol abuse and sheer unmitigated heartbreak and sadness. This was certainly the case with the Heavy Metal Kids who were a force while also being touted as the next big thing and the possible progression from the premier league of Pink Floyd, Yes and Led Zeppelin and the ilk to a rapidly changing musical scene, one with the emerging, inevitable and possibly much needed paradigm shift to a simpler, angrier and punk fuelled regime that shook the musical world significantly.

So it was into this maelstrom and vortex that Gary Holton and his crew set sail, emerging in 1973 and garnering the attentions of Dave Dee (yes, him of 60s pop idols Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich) after being spotted by his staff at a speakeasy in London’s West end. Holton having beenextricated from his previous group Biggles, who were a jazz rock outfit with connections to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, their drummer being Carl Palmer’s brother,

Holton was from Wembley and had been a member of the touring Hair ensemble and also has his sights on an acting career, he had been in theatre at the Old Vic and had done some Shakespeare along the way. Atlantic Records saw something in this lot and they were offered a contract with Dave Dee as producer, this resulted in their first two albums, ‘Heavy Metal Kids’ and ‘Anvil Chorus’.

Their name was, however, misleading as their music was not heavy metal at all but was in fact more a mixture of hard rock, glam and, unsurprisingly, vaudeville. This was a very different sound to what their name suggested, however the band live were certainly powerful and this is clearly shown on tracks like Rock ‘N’ Roll Man and It’s The Same, both of which have a definite swagger to  them. The album was critically acclaimed yet, as is often the case, this didn’t translate into record sales. The band set off on an ambitious touring schedule and were well received in America and Japan. The debut is a good album in parts and when they rock they do so convincingly with the added bonus of having a great keyboard player, Danny Peyronel, who’s honky tonk piano embellishments added much to the groups sound. That the album is largely overlooked and unknown by the masses is a tragedy as there is much to appreciate, the four bonus tracks here are being very good indeed.

For the second album, their name was shortened to The Kids , although there was a sticker that said ‘Featuring The Heavy Metal Kids’, the album is a little more consistent and is more rock oriented. You Got Me Rollin‘ is carried on a lumbering bass line that carries the song along wonderfully as does the following track On The Street, bass player Ronnie Thomas really shining on the tracks, indeed his prominent bass really impresses throughout. The songs are stronger and sound energised and inspired with great guitar fills and a solid rhythm section, all with the added colours of Danny’s keyboards to make a cohesive sound. This is sublime and worthy music, however, despite more US touring with the likes of Rush, Kiss and Alice Cooper, the album still failed to gain traction and had disappointing sales which led to them being dropped by Atlantic.

Help came from an unexpected quarter as Mickie Most of Hi Ho Silver Lining fame and teenyboppers Mud, Suzie Quatro and the RAK organisation offered to record their next album in France for his label. The resulting album appeared many months later in 1977 and again failed to really make an impact, even a Top of the Pops slot for She’s No Angel couldn’t save them and the band, despite touring with Uriah Heep on their high and mighty tour, had pretty much called it a day by 1978 when Holton quit for a short and ill feted solo career and also a more successful venture into TV & Film. A final gig at the Speakeasy with a difficult and unruly Holton brought things to a less than glittering close. The band decided to continue without Holton and went through a succession of singers, including a short return by Holton, and, thereafter, by the likes of Phil Lewis and John Altman.

Looking back to ‘Kitsch’ again, you can hear how new keyboard player John Sinclair changed the sound, making it more classical at times, and tighter than before. The album is more symphonic and more musical, this is certainly the case with the opening Overture and Chelsea Kids, in which the band marry punk aggression and rock sensibility to make an intriguing hybrid of styles. From Heaven To Hell And Back Again is another good track with the inclusion of other instruments to round out the sound further used to good effect, it really impacts well. Cry For Me has some superb guitar played to great effect along with tubular bells chiming.

The album was mixed and partly reconstructed by Mickie Most as his final statement and a kind of reaction to modern pop music, he wanted something grander and saw the Heavy Metal Kids as part of that statement and, to be honest it, it does have some very good moments and the 5 bonus tracks make interesting listening. All this is embellished with a very informative booklet that tells the whole story in fine detail. This set is really very good and an excellent reminder of the vagaries of life and that things that look good and sound good are sometimes beyond the ordinary person. Mass appeal music has its place but sometimes what is overlooked and undervalued can actually be of more worth and value.

Released 20th January, 2022.

Order from Cherry Red here:

Heavy Metal Kids: The Albums 1974-1976, 3CD Expanded Edition – Cherry Red Records

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