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Thursday 14 December 2017

Rich clips and quips bring heavy metal's past to life

HEAVY METAL BRITANNIA (BBC4) THE LATE LATE SHOW (RTE1) STACEY'S STARS Heavy Metal Britannia HHHHH The Late Late Show HHIII

Bill Ward of Black Sabbath was recalling life in Birmingham during the Summer of Love in 1967. "There weren't many flowers being handed out in Aston," he said dryly. "A few boots to the head, maybe, or a few razor cuts."

If there's one thing heavy metal stars do almost as well as wailing guitars and screeching vocals, it's quotes.

Heavy Metal Britannia, a wonderful, affectionate riff on the history of British metal from its 60s roots to the present day, was as rich in quips as in clips.

Flowers aside, one thing metal had in common with the hippies was drugs. Lots of drugs. "A lot of weird things happened within Sabbath that we couldn't explain," said Ward's bandmate Tony Iommi, remembering how he once fled to the bathroom to escape a dark shape standing at the end of his bed. "Of course, it could have been the drugs. When we did Volume 4 [Sabbath's fourth album], the cocaine bill was more than the recording bill -- and that was £80,000!"

But Heavy Metal Britannia was more than a collection of Spinal Tap-ish anecdotes; it was a serious, though also funny and hugely entertaining, attempt to pay due (indeed, long overdue) respect to a rock genre that the media has too often sniffily pushed to the sidelines.

The dirty guitar of The Kinks' You Really Got Me is regarded as the defining moment that made metal possible, though some of the contributors here -- and there was a gallery of them, including Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and, of course, the irrepressible Lemmy from Motorhead -- also cited Cream and heavy American bands such as Blue Cheer and Vanilla Fudge as inspirations.

The birthplace of the music, though, was really the industrial heartlands of England's Midlands. Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest recalled sitting in school, his desk vibrating in time with the forge of the local steelworks. Heavy metal was in the air.

The slow death of the steel industry coincided with the rapid rise of metal -- though the British music press and the BBC still tended to handle it with tongs, ignoring the brilliant musicianship, the "orchestral sweep", as Diamond Head's Brian Tatler put it, of the music and the soaring vocal power of the likes of Gillan.

America, however, devoured British metal. Bill Ward shed a tear as he recalled playing War Pigs to an audience packed with Vietnam vets in wheelchairs. "You don't forget something like that." Marvellous stuff.

At the far end of the musical universe, the Eurovision keeps Ireland tied to its past. Given that an 80s-sized recession is engulfing us again, it's hardly surprising that four of the five Eurosongs aired on The Late Late Show sounded horribly old-fashioned.

Former winner Niamh Kavanagh triumphed with the big ballad It's For You.

Marty Whelan reckoned it could go all the way. Could we afford that again?

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