27 November 2012

Hungry years

An excerpt from Biff Byford and John Tucker’s Never Surrender:
I have to say that I hated the Thatcher years. I think Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet of yes-men totally destroyed the country. She certainly completely wiped out whole communities. I feel really sad about it, actually. I hated her for it. I thought she was an absolutely evil bitch. The whole thing around the Miners’ Strike, and her determination to crush it and the people who worked the pits… I was involved in the first miners’ strikes when I was at the mines – back in the late Sixties, I think – and it was horrendous. I mean, I wasn’t a fan of Arthur Scargill either, I thought he was a Communist stooge, but even so a lot of my friends were still coal miners, and a lot of people died in the mines, and their memory, their contribution to the country, was just being discarded by Thatcher and her Government. I don’t think you can overstate it: Thatcher destroyed the country. The coal mining industry, the steel industry too, all over South Wales and the North East. She had this stupid advisor who told her to let it all go, with a mantra that the free-market economy will look after itself. Madness really; absolute fucking madness. Everybody was encouraged to set up their own businesses, and then they failed. And it’s in this period of economic doom-and-gloom that Saxon became popular.

All the “Stand Up And Be Counted” songs, “See The Light Shining”, all those early songs, the lyrics I wrote were about standing up for your rights and being strong, never giving up, never surrendering… All of that was based on the early Thatcher years when she destroyed the North of England and South Wales. But they are all songs of hope – stand up, stick together, be strong, get through it – they’re all based on that mentality really. And we were having massive success in the early Eighties when all this was happening so we were very lucky really. To my mind, the country was going down the pan and all we – the people – had was music, and I think a lot of people got into Motörhead and Saxon and Iron Maiden and Def Leppard because it was a release from real life.

I think back then that people did think that music was a way to get off the dole queue. A lot of music came out of the industrial Midlands and North, a lot of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal came from those regions. But I don’t think it’s the ‘industrial towns’ thing; I just think that a lot of young people were into music and rebelled – rebelled against everything through music because there was nothing else for them. And some of our popularity stems from that because we too were rebels in those days, rebellious against the police and every form of authority. We were just ‘fuck you’ basically. Going to the Dole Office to sign on for unemployment benefit used to be horrendous. They’d have a concert poster or flyer there and when we went to sign on they’d say, ‘oh, I see you played last night. How much did you make?’

‘About a quid each.’

‘No, you didn’t. You’re lying. How much did you get paid?’

So we’d go, ‘OK, stick your money up your arse then’ and walk out. People thought we were sponging off the state but we weren’t actually – we did try but they wouldn’t give us anything! So it was quite a sacrifice. Now it’s much easier; in the digital world it’s easier to access music and to record, and there are more outlets at school and college for music. It’s also seen as a massive export too and a legitimate profession to be a musician. But in those days it was horrendous. You were considered to be an absolute bum and a drop-out hippy, which was awful because we hated hippies. When punk came along we liked it because it was aggressive rock music against the system, and we were against the system as well, we just weren’t fashionable at the time (and didn’t like being spat at). We hated the police because we saw them as an extension of Thatcher. And that was the environment we were in and the backdrop we became successful against. We were lucky; for many people it was a horrendous time.

It is always worth remembering what heavy metal was to the working class back in an era when the working class didn’t have much hope, and moreover when they kept being told by the same people robbing them of hope that they had never had it better. Ronnie James Dio had it right: heavy metal is a distorted form of music because it reflects the social distortion around it. It isn’t brainless the way so much pop is brainless, and it isn’t glib and hypocritical the way mainstream rock-and-roll has pretty much always been.

EDIT: It strikes me that I would be highly remiss if I didn’t include this!

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