Ginger Nuts of Horror
BY TERRY GRIMWOOD
Black Sabbath is my favourite band. It’s a simple as that. I have broad tastes, from Vaughn Williams to John Coltrane to Jimi Hendrix and everything beyond and between. But through it all, it is Black Sabbath with whom I shall grow old and finally settle down. It’s a love affair that began one afternoon in 1972. I was sixteen.
Why did I fall for them? No one reason. It was the deep, thunderous soundscapes of their riff-laden music. It was the imagery of the lyrics. It was the raw poetry of what they did. It was the way they tapped into a vein that had already been opened by Irwin Allen, Gene Roddenberry, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Herbert van Thal, Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Philip K Dick and their like
Black Sabbath are a national treasure now. A band whose final concert was courted by a false and fickle media that hadn’t the slightest clue of what they were about. A media who tiresomely cite Paranoid as the song the band are famous for, in other words, the only Sabbath song that most of them have heard. A band who, in their heyday, were dismissed and even treated with contempt by the music press. But the faithful will always be faithful. So, a romance in three songs…
1972. Stradbroke Modern School, Suffolk was visited by a touring theatrical group who performed an abridged and modernised version of Macbeth for us in the school hall. The performance was in the round and the protagonists wore combat jackets and camouflage rather than chain mail and horned helmets. It was a great production that enthralled its adolescent audience and opened our eyes to the fact that Shakespeare was for everyone, if someone you could just help you break the code.
But there was something else that afternoon, a snatch of music played at the darker moments of the play, a solid wall of malevolent guitar, a water fall of great crashing chords that resembled the doleful the tolling of a funeral bell. And a voice, like no other vocalist I’d heard before, agonised, howling out fear and despair. For me, a young lad dipping his toe into the seemingly limitless ocean of music and who had discovered a liking for 10CC, T Rex, Slade and Alice Cooper, this was a revelation. It transfixed me. I was hooked. It was everything I wanted from music.
There was Q and A at the end of the play. My question did not concern the finer points of the Bard’s greatest work, but; “What’s that song? Who is it by?” “A band called Black Sabbath,” Macbeth answered. “Do you like them? Cool aren’t they.”
“I’ve got that album,” said my school mate, Jeremy Peck, the next day. A few weeks later I was round his house, sitting on his bedroom floor while he pulled a big vinyl disc from its sleeve and placed it on the turntable. “The first track is that song they played when they did Macbeth,” he said.
It wasn’t. He was mixed up, but that didn’t matter. Because this song was every bit as good, if not better. Here I was, on my first date with Sabbath, a little nervous and gauche but falling hopelessly in love. And it was on this first date I heard one of my favourite songs of all times, one of my Desert Island Discs, if I’m ever famous enough for the BBC to invite me onto the show.
War Pigs is a post-apocalyptic epic. It is an anti-war song like no other and captured, completely my own fledgling hatred for those who make conflict. It does not mince its words and shows no mercy for the war-monger. Musically, it is the perfect mix of British blues and heavy metal, spacious yet intense, with a satisfyingly complex and cyclic structure, set out like the movements in a classical symphony.
Oh, and if you look here, you will find an early version of the song, under its original title of Walpurgis. I think its final iteration is far superior - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SaFe8Wy8HI
Wheels of confusion
Commitment is needed to make a relationship work, so I decided it was time to buy a Black Sabbath LP. Pennies saved, I walked into a record shop in the small Suffolk riverside town of Woodbridge one Saturday afternoon in the autumn of ’72 and picked up Volume 4. I was unsure about it because the album sleeve gave little clue as to what was inside. Concerned that this might be Sabbath’s easy listening or country-and-western album, I asked the shopkeeper to play the opening track. You could do that in those days.
I needn’t have worried. There was a moment, a slight crackle of needle-on-vinyl then one of those hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments as Tony Iommi's guitar uttered that long and lonely cry of despair that leads into a riff-laden sermon on the bleak realities of the transition from childhood to adulthood, from fairy tales and daydreams to times when happiness does not come so easy. It felt grown-up. It felt as if I was being spoken to like an adult, that someone cared enough to let me to know that life is tough, that it isn’t fair. It felt like one of these lets-be-honest-with-each-other moments that come to every love affair.
I bought all their albums after that, but then along came adulthood, marriage and children. Time to be sensible and take my place in a world where there was little room for fairy tales and daydreams and where life did get very hard indeed for a while. Tragically so. But once my children began to grow up and away from me as children do, the need to be an adult faded and I decided to replace my long-gone music collection. The first album I re-bought? Volume 4 now in a small, plastic CD package. How would it be? Had we grown apart? A moment, a small static crackle then the goose bumps were raised and a lump came into my throat as Iommi's guitar once more uttered that long, lonely siren cry and we were together again.
This time, it’s for keeps.
Terry teaches electrical installation at a further education college, plays harmonica, sings some blues now and then, acts, Directs, walks, and writes. He has three novels under his belt, "Bloody War," "Axe" and "Deadside Revoultion" , and his novella, "The Places Between" is about to be re-launched as as ebook. Oh, and he has written and Directed three plays, the scripts will be availble soon.