Andy P, guitarist and one-time Johnny H cohort in ‘The Wild Family’ says, “Tonight Matthew I’m going to be…Gene Simmons.”
It was a hot summer’s day in August as I stood on the back of a roofing lorry - our makeshift carnival float - our stage. I was standing tall in my homemade dragonboots, face paint on, bass guitar strapped around my neck and a bottle of Heinz ketchup at the ready for the obligatory blood fx. My brother and his friends were beside me. We were ready to go. “YOU WANTED THE BEST AND YOU’VE GOT THE BEST…”
As 1979 drew to a close, my passive interest in music had burgeoned into an active participation. For too long I’d heard my older brother talk about Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, The Police at Cardiff’s Top Rank and seen his friends sat around the stereo, kowtowing to ‘Van Halen I’, Gillan’s ‘Mr. Universe’ and ‘Fireball’ by Deep Purple.
Thus in 1980 I fell headfirst into my first year of gig going and serious album buying. I started eagerly snapping up Alice Cooper’s back catalogue and obsessing over new album releases. On one occasion I got my dad to drop me off in Newport on the way to work. It was 7am. I was questioned by the police for hanging around the streets at such an ungodly hour. I must have sounded insane, you see, I thought that if I didn’t get to the record shop early enough that the limited edition version of Gillan’s Glory Road would be sold out and I would never get to hear the free bonus LP ‘For Gillan Fans Only’.
On the bus journey home, I would hold my new albums reverentially, scanning over the covers and inner-sleeve artwork as if to glean some new insight into the artist’s mythical world. It would be a rare sight indeed to actually see your favourite band on the TV or hear them on the radio - save for Tommy Vance’s ‘Friday Night Rock Show.’ All you would get was an occasional appearance in ‘Sounds’ magazine or, God forbid, maybe Top of the Pops. There was no MTV (that came in 1981), no Kerrang! (first published in June 1981) and of course no internet so intently reading the record sleeves was the only information to be had.
For my first few years of buying albums I can remember it as being an event. I recall the anticipation, what the weather was like that particular day and I also remember the first spin on the record player - the sound of the needle hitting the vinyl and the excruciating wait for the needle to get intimate with the dense grooves.
Places like ‘Hot Rocks’ on Stow Hill and ‘Roxcene Records’ became my meccas. I recall Hot Rocks as especially cool with its coloured vinyl discs adorning the walls, its iron-on glittery transfers, badges and patches. It was the place I first laid my eyes on Alice Cooper staring out from the cover of ‘From the Inside.’
Me and a few friends managed to persuade one of the cooler teachers in school to allow us to have a lunch-time headbanging club, after all there was a computer club and a chess club. So we proceeded to lose a few brain cells out-headbanging each other to AC/DC and Motorhead. I can’t see that flying with today’s crazy Health and Safety regulations.
Notable albums released (at least for me) included AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’, Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, Van Halen’s ‘Women and Children First’, Alice Cooper’s ‘Flush the Fashion’, Kiss ‘Unmasked’, Iron Maiden’s debut, Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Blizzard of Oz’.
I remember playing ‘Kiss Alive II’ and ‘Back in Black’, over and over again while I toiled on my Gene Simmons costume. Two solid chunks of wood screwed onto a pair of Dr. Martens served as the basis of the dragonboots. The dragons and the teeth were fashioned using papier mâché and spray paint. To finish them I begged, borrowed and stole - quite literally - the top part of the boots were built using some builder’s material left out in the open.
It was a time when I almost believed the rumours of Gene Simmons having a bovine-enhanced tongue and also that he was some kind of demon-magician. I wanted to know the answers to many questions: How the hell did he spew so much blood? How did he fly? What did he, and the band, look like without the make-up?
So, for an hour or so, on a Summer’s day in August 1980 Jason, Stephen, Russ and myself slowly prowled the streets of Newport on the back of Jason’s Dad’s lorry, with ‘Kiss Alive II’ blasting out of a tiny cassette player, pretending to be Kiss. We didn’t win first prize. Or come anywhere in the top three. Most people didn’t know who we were supposed to be. And yes, the drum kit needed work. But hell it was fun.