George Orwell got a lot of things right about 1984 in his book of the same name; but what he failed to predict was that the year would be absolutely titanic for ‘our kind of music’.
The metal day at America’s US Festival in 1983 had proven just how mainstream metal was becoming (some 330,000 fans turning up on the day to watch the likes of Van Halen, Judas Priest, Quiet Riot and Triumph play earth-shattering sets), and even in staid old England, where metal was still regarded as something of a retarded cousin to the more sophisticated world of ‘indie’ music, thousands turned out to the Monsters of Rock festival at Donington racetrack (not me though. I couldn’t afford it) to see AC/DC headline a bill that also featured Van Halen, Ozzy, Gary Moore (before he got the blues), Motley Crue, Accept and Y&T.
This really was a golden age for the genre, as seemingly anyone armed with six strings and a hummable tune committed same to vinyl in an orgy of creativity. 1976 may have been punk rock’s year zero, but there’s strong evidence to suggest that 1984 served the same purpose for modern metal, and thrash in particular... Anthrax, Destruction, Metal Church, Metallica and Slayer all churned out the good stuff at breakneck speed in ’84, whilst at the other end of the spectrum Autograph, Dokken, Europe, Kiss, Ratt and the Scorpions were bothering radios worldwide.
I’d dipped my toe into metal’s fetid pool in 1983, and I was sure as hell hoping to get wetter in 1984. After another trip to Hammersmith early on in the year (where Saxon were hawking their Crusader opus, ably supported by Battleaxe (who?) and former Argent alumnus John Verity), I experienced the excitement of being on my first guest list in 1984. My mate Patrick’s dad worked for the UK Customs office; whilst going about his business one day he happened upon a rather ‘refreshed’ Motorhead attempting to get through passport control at Heathrow Airport. Sensing an opportunity, he offered to wave Lemmy and Co. through with a minimum of fuss and no difficult questions if his son, who happened to be a big fan of the band, could have tickets for their next London show... and suddenly there we were, travelling up on the train, cans of Special Brew concealed about our persons, on the way to meet our heroes.
Nothing of the sort happened, of course. True, there were two precious tickets to the sold-out show waiting for us at the venue, but no desperately hoped-for backstage passes. The show was so loud and distorted I couldn’t actually tell what songs were being played unless the Lemster croaked some form of introduction, and the show ran so late we had to leg it halfway through the ‘head’s set to get the last train home. But I’d been on a guest list! And of course, I still have the ticket stub...
1984 also saw the debut full-length offering from American metallists Armored Saint. The ‘Saint just happen to have a new album out now, the slow-burning La Raza, and in one of those neat links for which this column is already getting a worldwide reputation, here’s AS vocalist John Bush, come for a bit of a Q&A on things metallic!
I do want to talk about the past – that’s what I do, just ask the lady wife- but first, John, La Raza. It’s immediately recognisable as an Armored Saint record. Were the songs from a stockpile built up over the years because of their sound or was everything written fresh for this album? And if so, how easy do you find it to switch to ‘Saint’ songwriting mode?
“As far as I know the music that Joey (Vera, Saint bassist and helmsman) wrote was fairly recent. As a matter of fact there was not a plan to make an Armored Saint record. Joey asked if I was interested in just ‘writing tunes’, without a tie to anything. That made it more fun because I felt unattached to any ‘band’”.
Despite the fact that it’s a very ‘you’ record, it’s got a very clean, modern edge to the sound. Was it important to not make a record that sonically sounds like it was hatched in 1986 or was that not a worry to you?
“I never want to walk backwards in life. Nor do I musically. We allowed influences across the board to motivate us but never specifically. That would be WAY too planned out and would be detrimental to what we wanted to create. We know where our roots originated but it’s important to not copy yourself.”
‘ Traditional ‘ heavy metal seems to have swung back into vogue of late, with many new, young bands taking the early eighties metal sound as a template – what, if any, impact does this resurgence in interest for a particular time in metal have on Armored Saint? Do you notice audiences getting younger for your shows?
“Things are always going to be cyclical. Fashion, music. Nostalgia is very ‘in vogue’ as you put it, that being said it wasn’t a motivator for us. We just did what we did. Usually it’s the new and younger generations who benefit from this. If somebody is inspired by what we do or did that’s flattering but once again it wasn’t the reason we did it”.
And now, as promised, to times past.
I first became aware of Armored Saint after an article in Kerrang! referred to you as ‘the headbangingest band in LA’... Can you remember who came up with that particular description? And was it true? I think you were probably the only band wearing stage armour at the time! Did you feel part of that nascent LA metal scene?
“I’m not sure who came up with that. It’s true in the sense that we were different than the majority of the L.A. bands in the scene at that time. We were primarily influenced by British (UFO, Priest, Thin Lizzy) and European (Scorpions) bands and modelled our sound after that, which naturally made us more aggressive. We wore the armour as a way to try and stand out from the crowd. It did eventually work against us. Although we felt we sounded different from other L.A. bands, we played shows with many of them and certainly didn’t have any negative vibes with them.”
I see. As an adjunct to that, did you ever believe, back in ’84, that you’d still be releasing albums as aband a quarter of a century later?
“I think we aspired to being around a long time and to have longevity. The path didn’t quite go the way we wanted but I’m super proud of the music we created. It stands tall on its own”.
I talked earlier about young bands using the sounds of the early eighties as inspiration today. Who inspired you personally, and the band as a whole, to take up the cudgels initially, beyond the names you’ve already mentioned? And how did you yourself get into metal?
“My brother played the first Black Sabbath record for me when I was nine years old in a darkened bedroom, surely to scare me. It did scare me but also left an incredible impression. Led Zeppelin, the bands I mentioned earlier, also R&B groups of the 70’s like Earth, Wind & Fire, BT Express and The Commodores”.
I always thought I detected a soulful element in Bush’s voice – and there’s the proof!I am again vindicated.
Now, Mr Bush, to perhaps the most important question... This column asks all our guest interviewees to give us their all-time dream festival lineup – we’re compiling our all time virtual festival bill for the ages- you’re the curator, and constraints of money and time travel are not important...which five acts would you have on your bill?
“The headliner would be AC/DC with Bon Scott. Then Obsession-era UFO, preceded by Motorhead from the Ace of Spades times. And a cloned John Bush who could sing for both Armored Saint and Anthrax to open!”
There you go, folks, another completely different list. Thinks to John Bush for taking part, and remember to tune in next month, when somehow the year will be 1985 and we’ll be having a chat with – wait for i t- Fast Eddy Clarke of Motorhead!