These are the words of Gary Holton lead singer of the Heavy Metal Kids - painting a picture of the #AGGRAVATION that ruled the streets of Britain in 1974. According to legend, the nation then was a landscape of smashed phone boxes and angry sprawling graffiti. The youth crime wave got so serious the BBC TV program Panorama ran a report on the problem, and in it they quoted Gary Holton - “in the sixties it was all beads, peace and pop. What the kids want now is Boots, Bovver and Booze.”
Bovver Ruled OK. From the school playground, to the football terraces, to the pub saloon bars - the words AGGRO and BOVVER was as ubiquitous as the DM boots that would swing in your direction at the slightest provocation. But there was no actual scene called Bovver Rock - you couldn’t go to a venue that advertised Bovver Rock bands and there was no section in the record shops labeled Bovver Rock. Just like the genre Film Noir was an invention of French film critics like Trufffuat and co., (no one called them Film Noir films when they were making them), Bovver Rock is a term attributed after the fact to a set of pre-punk records and bands that reflected the hooligan street fashion of Britain of that era.
While big time bands like Slade and Sweet are most certainly of this genre, the true purpose of creating the term Bovver Rock is to shine a light into the glam rock goldmine and discover some lost gems. The Pink Boots & Lipstick Compilation album series have been doing for Bovver what the Nuggets series did for 1960s US garage punk, and demonstrating that Bovver Rock is more than just an hors d’oeuvre to the punk explosion of ’77.
So hitch up your braces and lace up your DMs, I am taking you on a hike back to the 1970s
to learn wot’s wot in the world Bovver Rock.
The Heavy Metal Kids
Watching the footage today of the Heavy Metal Kids on Panorama feels like a sketch from the Mighty Boosh. Gary Holton adopts the persona of the Folk Devil - a psychopathic scooter-hating rocker for the track The Cops are Coming, encouraging the audience to sing along to the refrain “his head fell off.” The posh-speaking bloke on Panorama failed to see the humour, but the kids down the Fulham Greyhound got it.
After Panorama screened, the Heavy Metal Kids got banned from half the venues in the country. It could have gone off for them like the Sex Pistols - but it didn’t.
You would have thought that endorsements by legends like Keith Richards would have helped but - perhaps it would have been better if he had slagged them off, as he did with the Pistols a couple of years later.
With a frontman as charismatic and intriguing as Gary Holton, the Heavy Metal Kids seemed destined for rock superstardom, but a huge dedicated live following could not be converted into record sales, and friction within the band and - that old rock’n’roll cliché - drug problems ripped them apart. Rock’n’Roll loss was TV’s gain when Gary Holton went on to find stardom in Auf Wiedhersein Pet.
In a previous ZANI article, Jook were described as the missing link between The Who and The Jam - and, while wearing a suedehead boover boy look, they certainly carried the baton for mod style guitar music. In the band were Chris Townson and Trevor White, two ex-members of controversial sixties combo John’s Children, but Jook were all about the songs of Ian “Ralph” Kimmett. And he wrote some blinders. Jook’s legacy is to give us the greatest song to go under the banner of Bovver Rock - the mighty emotional tour de force that is Aggravation Place.
Sadly this song was not released while the band were in existence. Their record deal with RCA Victor was geared towards pop hit singles - and even though they built up a fan base from a year long residency at the Sundown, Edmonton (now a LIDL supermarket) no hits came after 5 attempts between 1972 and 74. So the band were eventually dropped.
A cancelled tour with Sweet certainly hurt Jook’s promotional chances, but the A&R department of RCA Victor must shoulder a lot of the blame. Rather than release singles that were derivative of Slade and Sweet - they should have let Jook be Jook and released Aggravation Place. In the end the song had to wait until 1978 to see a release when Chiswick put out a Jook retrospective EP.
The Hammersmith Gorillas
By every account Jesse Hector of three piece Hammersmith Gorillas was the ultimate showman. Enthusiastic eye witness accounts are legion, telling of him playing his guitar while hanging upside down from ceiling beams and forward rolls on stage, all while never missing a chord.
Sadly none of these people captured any of this footage on their phones - but what we do have are plenty of photographs - and his recordings – imagine Bo Diddley with a buzzsaw guitar - high energy rock’n’roll at its finest.
TV presenter Caroline Katz made an excellent documentary bio on Jesse Hector called Message To The World. It maps out a musical journey that began in the late 1950s at the tender age of 8 playing skiffle at the 2is, the Soho caff celebrated as the cradle of British rock’n’roll.
The music press got behind the Hammersmith Gorillas and gave them a fair amount of column inches. “Wot we’re about is violence, we’re the most violent band in Britain,” proclaimed Jesse Hector in June 1974. He went on to talk about reviving the mod scene - which is a bit puzzling today because looking at Jesse’s stage look of mutton chop side burns and flared trousers is like a vision from a bizarre alternative universe.
Jesse got estranged from his record company Chiswick who put out their 1976 single Gatecrasher. Roger Armstrong of Chiswick cites this as a major reason the Gorillas didn’t break it big - he had lots of press and shows lined up for them, but by the time the Gorillas album finally came out in 1978 on Raw Records, it got lost in amongst all the cacophony of punk.
I spotted Jesse Hector at a Record Fayre recently, he looked trim, healthy and fully fit. Some one should persuade him to start playing live again because the world needs as many Bona Fide performing rock’n’roll legends as we can get.
The name of the band is a reference to the political song Hammersmith Guerillas by Third World War which gives us a nice segue into the next band :-
Third World War
My vision of Third World War is of a bunch of geezers hanging out in 1971 in a smoke-filled West London boozer, sipping pints - decked out in the de riguer long stringy hair and Afghan Coats of the day, but instead of talking about cosmic forces and the quality of the latest Black Leb - the talk is about the violent overthrow of the capitalist system. Yes - Third World War are a gang of Wolfie Smiths with guitar, bass and drums. Now who wouldn’t want to see a band like that?
"It's like a bottle through the window of a chip shop,” is how underground magazine OZ described their album. While Friends magazine said - “This is class resentment, class rage, class anguish.”
Third World War set out with the noble ideal to capture the hooligan spirit of the time and channel it into something positive - like raising a people’s army to bring down Ted Heath’s Tory government. Certainly there is no mistaking their political leanings when you listen to their lyrics :-
“Now when we rise, Power to the people
When we rise, Power to the poor
When we rise, Power to the workers
When we rise, Power to us all.”
Set to a heady soundtrack of scrap metal guitar and Terry Stamp’s five packs a day voice. It is claimed that Johnny Lydon-Rotten and Joe Strummer were ardent fans and were inspired by TWW’s no-compromise aggressive stance.
The band were actually born in the studio and their eponymous debut album was released without them playing a single gig. So Third World War were then dispatched to the frozen wilderness of Finland to play a tour and give them a crash course in stage craft. They then came back to London to play a string of shows like a Young Socialists Ball, a sit-in at North London Poly and a benefit for a couple of members of the Angry Brigade. That sort of thing.
Third World War put out two albums, their first came out in 1971 on Fly Records - who also had T Rex. Co-incidentally Preachin Violence the last track on TWW’s album has a riff very similar to T Rex’s Children of The Revolution, which Marc Bolan released a year later when he switched record labels.
Portsmouth band Hector gave us one of the few contemporary documented uses of the term “Bovver Rock”. It was in 1973 when Music Week magazine described their single Wired Up.
This record came out on DJM Records who had much success with Elton John, and listening to the Wired Up single now, with its heavy powerful driving intro, it’s almost impossible to understand why this record wasn’t a massive hit when it first came out. That is until you see the pictures of the band. Hector wore a Dennis The Menace look - stripey t shirt, comedy platform boots, dungarees, catapults in their back pockets and even painted freckles. I mean - come on. Great record - shame about the image.
To back up their cartoon bovver boy image, one of Hector threatened to throw a music journo out of the window when he mocked their stage look. If they are reading this, I am hoping they have mellowed out now.
Iron Virgin and more bovver
Also in the canon of Bovver Rock are these notable singles:-
• Hobnail with She’s Just A Friend of Mine (1972) (Bell Records)
• Crunch with Let’s Do it Again (1974) (Young Blood International,
• Angel with Good Time Sally (1974) (Cube Records)
But the big stand out is the tribal drum thudding, rabble rousing anthem that is Rebel Rule from Edinburgh band Iron Virgin. A record that Alice Cooper would be proud of.
A retrospective 6 track LP from Iron Virgin was released by Rave Up Records in 2007 in Italy, where they seem rather interested in this stuff. Which takes us to :-
The Italian Connection
Now Italy may seem like an unlikely nation to be pre-occupied by this hooligan music, but it is precisely here where you will find the vanguard of the new Bovver Rock. Because Rome based bands Giuda and Faz Waltz have turned Bovver Rock, a musical genre that never actually existed, into a living breathing 21st Century phenomenon. Giuda’s Punch-the-air football chant, big beat hand clapping brand of rock’n’roll has won them many fans and admirers world wide. Joe Elliot of Def Leppard said that Racey Roller, Guida’s first album “caused me to piss my pants laughing because it was so brilliant, so exhilarating and fun.” Thankfully most people express their appreciation in more sanitary ways.
In interviews, Giuda will enthusiastically name check Bovver Rock obscura– sending their fans searching on Discogs and Record Fayres. So why are these Romans so obsessed with British Bovver? Is it something to do with the Lazio Ultras’ obsession with British Football terrace culture? But maybe the Italian connection isn’t so strange. It was in fact an Italian – the electro-disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder who wrote Son of My Father - a massive hit in the UK in 1971 for Chicory Tip. While strictly speaking it isn’t bovver - it was very popular with the skinheads of that era. In fact Giorgio originally recorded the song sung in Italian under his own name, before moving to the UK.
So why bother about all this bovver? Because it’s fascinating - that’s why.
Like many people my age who first got into music through punk, the common conception among us kids at the time was that everything was really boring until Johnny Rotten bellowed “Get Off Your Arse” into a microphone. In the mid-seventies we thought the kids had nothing to do but a choice between sitting around at gigs listening to prog-rock like Yes, or getting molested by seedy old men down the Walton Hop. But it’s enlightening to discover that if you scratch beneath the surface of the mainstream music scene you will find there was lots going on. If you lived in a northern town you could dance till 6am to Northern Soul at places like the Wigan Casino. If you were into the counter culture you could freak out to groups like Hawkwind, the Pink Faires and the Edgar Broughton band. If you liked to dress up you could get down the Speakeasy and jump around with Keith Moon to the Hollywood Brats – and bubbling beneath the Top 40 there was a whole raft of magnificent records we now call Bovver Rock.
Punk wasn’t born out of a vacuum and the scene was set by Bovver.