Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kerrang! Penpals Konfidential

I don't suppose anyone has penpals any more, and it's just another word heading for obsolescence thanks to the internet. After all, if you can do things like connect with people in real time via MSN Messenger and Facebook, or post comments on their infrequently-updated blogs, would you really feel the need to spend your time writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg?

Back in the 80s of course, it was all different. As it was difficult to post pictures of yourself drunk online via a Spectrum 48K, people had to write letters to each other, and if you were looking for people with similar interests to yourself to add to your burgeoning Social Network, then there were few better places to look than the Penpals! page in Kerrang! This page became one of the surprise hits of the early magazine as the sheer numbers of people wanting to advertise themselves in the Klassifieds section became too large that they eventually decided to make it a free service and dedicate an entire page to it.

Reading through some old issues from 1982, you quickly see that there was a basic format for each entry, along the lines of

Male Headbanger 18, into Maiden, Sabbath, AC/DC and Motorhead, looking to write to female headbangers aged 17 -23. If interested, please drop a line with photo to "Mad" Phil Rocker, 22 Acacia Ave, Bury, Lancs.

Of course this was just the basic format and as with all courtship rituals, the one who could stand out from the crowd was guaranteed the most suitors. One way you could do this was to list an act or two among your faves who were not among the most commonly-mentioned bands. You had to be careful here, though as "Yes, Eloy and Magnum" tended to conjure up images of bedroom walls covered with Roger Dean posters, while "The Rods, Dumpy's Rusty Nuts and Anvil" promised nights out drinking Woodpecker cider at the local biker bar. Neither of which boded too well for attracting chicks. If this strategy failed, another way was to pluck up the courage to post a picture of yourself staring seriously into the camera of the photo booth at the Train station.

One thing you notice reading through the entries is how many of the folk suffered from the "only headbanger in the village" syndrome, evident as you read things like "Lonely HM Freak" and "Wales is crap for what I call decent long-haired blokes". The last one seems to suggest that Wales was ok for indecent long-haired blokes. Which sounds about right, to be honest.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In League with Venom

Back in the days before music magazines felt any obligation to stick free music to the cover of their publications, I sent off 2.99 plus p&p (allowing 28 days for delivery) to sounds or Kerrang! (can't remember which, Sounds I think) for a sampler tape for Neat Records. That's right, I, and who knows how many others, effectively paid for Neat's marketing budget. When it arrived, it had tracks from all kinds of NWOBHM bands on the label's roster. All of them rubbish. Apart from one. It didn't sound like anything else on the tape. The drums sounded like knitting needles being struck against pillows (a sound I knew very well) and the quality of the production sounded as though the entire recording budget had been 2.99 plus p&p. It was, of course, Bursting Out by Venom.

It's easy to forget what a stir Venom caused when they first came out. Kerrang! never really knew what to make of them, giving them bad reviews one issue and then putting in weird (and silly) 3D photosets of them in the next one. They made two albums and built up such a following (despite never touring) that Neat expected their third album to make the Top 40 of all places. Something that Tommy Vance practically guaranteed. On the Friday Rock Show, he described their single Warhead as one of these songs that comes along every so often that changes music. Or similar words. He also bet the then Radio 1 Breakfast Show DJ Mike Reed 100 pounds that he wouldn't play it on his show. Which of course he then did ("He's got a lotta bottle" said Vance afterwards).

The success went to their heads. Third album At War With Satan had a pretentious cover, and - uh-oh- the title track was a 20 minute concept piece. Venom and 20 minute concept pieces made uneasy bedfellows if you ask me. I prefer to remember them via this story from Kerrang! no. 24 from September 1982.

(Cronos) had been unable to contain himself from pawing the unfortunate females at his local Mecca Centre. He was hastily ejected after numerous complaints to the management and aided by two fellow rogues-in-arms proceeded to repleat his revenge on some innocent, unsuspecting campers on a nearby holiday camp, by donating them a sound kicking for their troubles. However, Cronos was given away by the motif etched into his jacket ... VENOM, and was brought to his just deserts. 

Thrown out of his local Mecca Centre, eh? Lay down your soul to the gods Rock & Roll!