Ginger Nuts of Horror
If they'd only released this one album, they'd have been legends, and that is a true test of a band's legacy.
It's one of those albums that featured prominently at the very beginning of my passion for intense, heavy music. The record had a big impact upon my fourteen year old mind, and influenced my future taste in music.
I first encountered the record back in 1984. As a new arrival in Birmingham, having just emigrated from New Zealand, with a suntan and funny voice that others continually imitated (even the teachers), I was an odd, even exotic creature in the West Midlands. The experience of being friendless and starting at a new school did nothing to allay my innate capacity for misanthropy, with thoughts already settling on the dark-side of the spectrum. But confirmation and escape was at hand. One of the first mates that I made at school loaned me his 'Axe Attack' cassette (Ktel). I'd only ever heard three heavy metal songs before this time - 'I Was Made for Loving You' by Kiss, 'Smoke on the Water' (Deep Purple) and 'The Wolf of the Red Roses' (Meatloaf). At the time I hadn't known who'd recorded the last two songs. My rocker friend cleared up the mystery and began my metal conversion by loaning 'Axe Attack' to me. A passion that has lasted to this day was created by that very cassette. It's a great compilation, but my favourite song quickly became 'Running Free' by Iron Maiden. I bought their first album on cassette from Revolver Records on Birmingham New Street (later becoming HMV). This was 1984, so Killers, Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind and Poweslave were already out, but I started at ground zero.
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was over and the music wouldn't explode commercially again until 1987/88. In 1984/5 there were also only around half a dozen rockers in my entire secondary school, and it probably wouldn't have been inaccurate to call us pariahs. We were harmless but out-of-step with fashion in music and clothing, and mainly because we were proudly dedicated to a musical subculture in the trough of its fortunes.
Eventually, my new rocker mate at school also invited me to join his role playing group. I remember when I first met the whole group of guys (most of whom I still know today), that two of the guys were wearing Iron Maiden 'World Slavery Tour' shirts. But, thus, a predictable profile formed for me: Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal. Or, as my brother once remarked to our mother (during an interrogation on why we were without girlfriends): our interests and hobbies were "the best form of birth control known to man". But amidst the horrors of a British comprehensive, the awful weather and cold, and a sometimes volatile city and country, Maiden and heavy music gave me something special that became pretty consuming.
Hours and hours and hours and hours passed in my room, while I listened to that first Maiden album, and then the others that I bought on both cassette and vinyl. Just to complete the cliche these albums were also the soundtrack to reading H. P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker. And I even began to dress like the guys in Maiden. My uniform until the age of eighteen was white baseball boots, skin tight jeans, a brass bullet belt, a Maiden shirt with the sleeves cut off, a leather biker jacket with a denim cut-off worn over the top, the back panels festooned with Maiden patches. Interestingly, I can never remember a word of complaint from my parents, not about my appearance or about the volume of my music. Years later, they told me that despite my long hair, bullet belts, studs, leather, denim, and Maiden shirts, that I was never any cause for parental concern. I listened to music, rolled dice, formed a band, and read books. My rebellion, I guess, was internal, creative, and mostly in my imagination.
But the album! Prowler, Remember Tomorrow, Running Free, Phantom of the Opera, Transylvania, Strange World, Charlotte the Harlot, Iron Maiden (my copy never had Sanctuary, so I bought it on the 12 inch). Not a bad track on the album, and no fewer than four timeless, heavy metal classics, to my taste, on one album. The only Maiden album to feature Dennis Stratton too, so I'd have to guess at his influence on 'Strange World' and 'Remember Tomorrow', which remain odd in the Maiden catalogue, but they remain two of my favourite Maiden songs. I just love the melodies and atmospheres within those two tracks. And these tracks also demonstrate the musical range on the album, from dreamy, lingering melodies, to the raw, explosive anthems.
If you consider the first Van Halen album, or Highway to Hell, or Holy Diver, or Reign in Blood, or Appetite for Destruction, then a truly great heavy metal album has to explode and the music needs to electrify the senses. Every single part of each song has to integrate perfectly. The melodies need to catch and endure. Iron Maiden does that for me. Maybe no music gets you in the way that it electrified and transported you in your early teens, but I still find the album energising and invigorating and a reminder of why my passion for heavy music has endured for over three decades and counting. How this album made my young spirits soar.
Historically, there are several interesting things about this album for me too. The album has never dated. It's as fresh, raucous, intense and explosive today as it was on its release in 1980. 1980! The first recordings of the album occurred in 1979. The actual 70s, and the band must have been writing these songs for years before that stage. But I've not heard a punk album from the 70s as blistering as the first Maiden album, which is a metal album. Following that thought, the vast difference between Maiden at that stage, and most other heavy bands in the field (excluding Motorhead), is something I rarely hear Maiden credited for. They helped to advance metal one step further in its very speed and intensity. In its own way, within metal, it's an album as influential and significant as Appetite for Destruction and Nevermind and the first Korn album, in that those albums kick-started and gave impetus to burgeoning musical subcultures; the styles and sound the bands achieved on their albums were precursors from which so many took their lead later.
Though Bruce Dickinson is my favourite Maiden singer, because I've always prized the power vocals and operatic singers in the field, above all others, Paul Dianno just had the greatest voice of that time. He was so damn punk. And right from the dawn of their long career, one thing that heavy metal haters, surely, cannot deny, is the exceptional musicianship and song-writing that Maiden have consistently maintained. If they'd only released this one album, they'd have been legends, and that is a true test of a band's legacy.
Anyway, my passion for the band and their music deepened and I finally saw them live, three nights running in 1986, on the 'Somewhere on Tour' tour, at the Birmingham Odeon. I bought my tickets through the fan club and even got to meet the band after each show. After playing a very long and energetic set, they stayed behind until they'd signed every item that the fans had brought along to the shows. Via the fan club, I actually wrote to Maiden and thanked them for hanging out and signing so many of my items – and Steve Harris sent me a signed Iron Maiden Christmas card! And that is another reason why their fans remain so loyal: Maiden had so much time for us and it was always a two-way street. They remain great role models for other bands, the tribe and the culture of heavy metal.
I've seen Maiden live into double figures now and they'll always occupy a special place in my musical soul. And it all started with 'Running Free' on Axe Attack and then this album.
Some of Adam's Iron Maiden collection.