On tonight’s “Heavy Metal Britannia” (BBC4), Ian Gillan stared quizzically into the camera and commented “Which Came First – The Riff, or The Chicken?”
Which only just topped the revelation that Jon Lord keeps a bust of Beethoven wearing shades on top of his piano.
I actually, actively loved this. Although it didn’t have time to do more than skim the top of the subject, the ninety minutes we did get flew past. Quite apart from the appearance of Burke Shelley from Budgie (about whom my opinions may have been unfairly skewed thanks to the revelation in a Word Magazine Podcast about just what he takes on tour with him), the heavy-hitters turned up and spoke candidly and lucidly, without a hint of any embarrassing “phew, metal fans – aren’t they loony?” nonsense in the commentary.
Embracing and affectionate, it even found time for a genuinely moving moment when Bill Ward from Black Sabbath broke down in tears at the memory of wheelchair-bound Vietnam veterans struggling to stand up at Sabs concerts when War Pigs came on. “I didn’t expect to cry this morning”, he said with delicate understatement, before the narrative delicately moved on.
The ridiculous devil-worship scandals were covered with just enough depth, and some quite obviously tongue-in-cheek responses. Rob Halford proved once again why he’s one of my favourite rock stars by being resolutely down to earth about the day-job (actually, pretty much everyone in this was reassuringly matter-of-fact, proving once again that if nothing else, British Metal has always been aware that a healthy sense of the ridiculous is essential, otherwise it all becomes teeth-scrapingly precious). “I wake up in the morning, I have me cup of tea and me cornflakes, and then by the end of the evening I’m on stage screaming me tits off…”
I could sit and compile a list of all the people who could have shed further light on the labyrinthine twists and turns of British metal – Steve Harris for example, who’d have been great on his own ruthless ambition being the motor that took Maiden further than most of their contemporaries. I’d have liked the likes of Wolfsbane to get a look in; Thrash, Speed and Death Metal was ignored (and yes, we did have something of a scene in this country – we weren’t all praying at the feet of Metallica) and the whole thing pretty much slanted towards Black Sabbath, Purple and Judas Priest, with some cursory references to Budgie, Saxon and Diamond Head thrown in. Could have done without quite so much time being devoted to the “is it metal, are we metal?” debate as well, given that nobody from the first generation seemed to want to admit to it. But in terms of making me even more affectionate towards something that’s formed a massive part of my life, and is even now driving me back to listen to them all over again… job done. And done well.
But I’d still have liked Lawnmower Deth to get a mention. Some archive footage of Qualcast Mutilator would have gone down a treat…