TV: BBC Arena: “Heavy Metal”

Back in the day, as a young pup just discovering the exciting and engaging world of heavy metal, it was rather hard to actually SEE it on the TV. Sure, there was the occasional clip on Top Of The Pops, later there would be the Sky satellite dish that brought Headbanger’s Ball to my living room but before that, at the formative stage of my love for this music, there was very little to view. Until one day in 1989 when the BBC broadcast a whole show dedicated to it. And let me tell you, my VHS that had this show recorded on got a LOT of use. In fact so much so, that I think it eventually snapped.

You see, when I was young, in our house, everyone had a VHS tape that was theirs. You could record whatever you wanted (if you could use the timer system correctly). My Dad had a tight grip on who used what, each tape was labelled with your name on it and woe betide anyone who used the wrong one. They were all housed in some rather charming, faux-book cover type boxes. In fact, I still have one somewhere, I’m sure.

It was on this tape that I had a two things that stand out. The first one was an episode of The Sooty Show with Nicko McBrain (that’s a future post right there). The other was a recording of a BBC show called ‘Arena’, its featured topic was “Heavy Metal”. Well obviously I was going to pour over this for many moons. And I did so much so that the tape eventually snapped

Although the show is etched on my brain, it’s been an number of years since I actually watched it, so what I thought I would do is provide a sort of commentary for the whole thing, including time codes! The full show can be found below so feel free to watch it and then read my ramblings of vice versa. Shall we begin? Oh, by the way, I’ve chosen a somewhat irreverent tone for this piece. But rest assured, I’m joking (for the most part)….

00:00 – 00:07
Loving the RP continuity announcer there. Also, could you hear the sound of my eye rolling at the “ignore the decibels” comment?

00:11 – 01:14

I still think this piece of music is haunting. But fear not, the calm is rudely interrupted by Motorhead. Lemmy’s eyes always freaked me out a bit here. The lighting makes him look like a wax doll or something

01:15 – 02:38
Ahhh pastoral England. Rocks. A burnt cardboard box. A tent! Uh oh… here’s Black Sabbath lumbering over the hillside. Cue some archival footage of a knackered British city (presumably Birmingham?). Ahhh bless, look – it’s a Co-Op milk float. Thems the days. And Ozzy peeking through some net curtains. It’s extremely weird to be able to actually understand what Ozzy’s saying.

02:39 – 03:30
YES! Maiden’s Rime of The Ancient Mariner from the seminal ‘Live After Death’ VHS. I’d been given this tape a year or two before this show was broadcast so it’s safe to say I knew this bit back to front. Still love the way the lighting rig lowers to the stage and you can’t go wrong with knee-high dry ice. Theatre, darlings.

03:31 – 04:02
Terry Butler. TERRY Butler. Brilliant.

04:03 – 05:04
Leave it to metal journos to make metal actually sound academic and dull. There’s a fantastic scene later in the show where Malc gets quite snarky about how metal fans are portrayed. Very amusing how defensive he gets. Whoever called Bon Jovi ‘heavy metal’ needs a good talking to.

05:05 – 05:57
NICE! A slice of the Purps for us all. So far this is actually a pretty good narrative in terms of demonstrating the roots of metal. Keep any out at 05:39 for drummer Ian Paice not giving a damn about actually miming to the drum fills.

05:58 – 06:44
It’s Lars and his mullet (spandex trousers just out of shot) in the Intrepid Fox pub in London. Fun fact: the girl sitting on the right, behind him, I would later meet and have a relationship with for a couple of years.

06:45 – 10.23
Watching the Jimmy Page segment again reminds me that I need to learn that opening melodic chord sequence. It’s beautiful. And the main ‘Kashmir’ riff sounds AWESOME even acoustically. I wonder how much of this that Jimmy remembers now? He’s clearly a little bit tipsy. Sneaky product placement for Marlboro Lights too. And we get a bit of live Zeps footage from 1969 which is always welcomed, Bonzo almost putting his sticks through his drums. Interspersed with some lovely footage of the Eddie head in Steve Harris’ driveway, Lemmy in an armchair by a river, some…. dancing??… at Nottingham Rock City and Axl Rose looking like he needs a slap. Then the aerial shot of the Donington 88 Monsters of Rock festival both awesome and sad.

10:24 – 11:08
Here we go!! Malcolm Dome getting huffy at how metal fans are portrayed. This makes me giggle. Listen to the suppressed outrage in his voice! “Dante and I have degrees. In fact most people on this magazine have degrees of one sort or another.” All he needed to do to cap this segment off was to remove his microphone and flounce out of shot in a huff. The less said about his “third degree burns” joke, the better.

11:09 – 14:40
MUH-TAL-LICKER! This was a huge deal for me, back in the day. In 1989, live footage of the band was non-existent in my world. It would be a couple of years until I would see Cliff ‘Em All so this was gold dust. It does make me wonder whether there is a full show of this in Lars’ Vault somewhere. The sound is raw and dirty, the camera angles low and close – it’s like being there. And my god, look at how close the stage the fans were!!! You’d never get that these days. I think it’s now mandatory for the front row to be 34 miles from the stage. Jason still had the coolest hair in the band.

14:41 – 17:28
Now let’s leave these scruffy American oiks and head back to the 70s with some Sabbath and ‘War Pigs’. Nice flub of the lyrics Ozzy. Again, it’s weird seeing Ozzy actually move on stage instead of shuffling 3 feets back and forth from his mic stand. It’s very sweet though listening to Oz and Geezer reminiscing about their youth in the blues and soul clubs of Birmingham.

17:29 – 18:49
‘Born To Be Wild’, a song that you are guaranteed to find on EVERY one of those 3 CD sets you find at motorway service stations, usually called ‘Greatest Rock Anthems… Ever’ or ‘Rock Jukebox’ or ‘Dad’s Rock’ etc etc. But never mind all that – where can I get a leather tee shirt with a picture of Jupiter on it. Nothing screams fashion like leather and astrology. (Still love this tune, though).

18:50 – 20:33
Anyway enough of these American oiks, let’s head over to the more cultured tones of Bruce Dickinson. He went to a private school, y’know. His voice over is backed with shots of the stage prep for the Donington 88 gig which is awesome. What’s NOT awesome is that god-awful MTV hat Bruce has one. Seriously, Maiden offstage during the late 80s is like a walk through a nightmare.

I remember taping the Friday Rock Show hour long broadcast of that show back in 88. For years I wished I’d still got it. Then, thanks to the internet, I was able to download the entire thing. It still sounds great and brought back a lot of memories. It’s just such a shame that the crowning achievement of 80s Maiden, their first headlining of the festival ended with such tragedy.

20:34 – 21:39
Well I’m surprised it took almost 20 minutes before the Satan/devil worship theme decided to rear its head. Bonus points for using a Hammer Horror Film though. Who else wants an alternate mix of ‘Black Sabbath’ with the lyrics “Love grows where my Rosemary grows”?? I’d pay good money for that.

21:40 – 23:33
SLLLLAAAAYYYYEEERRRR I know they have a reputation as one of the darker, more vicious bands in metal. Their fans have a reputation that precedes them too. But c’mon… that synchronised ‘walk to the front of the stage’ by Hanneman, Araya and king was PURE Rogers and Hammerstein. It’s no wonder Araya’s neck is knackered now too, that’s some intense whipping of his hair back and forth. ‘Raining Blood’ still rocks hard. And then little-gentle-voice Araya tells us all about the song lyrics. The fact that he can’t not smile whilst he talking makes me believe his attitude is ‘Look. We know this is all a bit silly, lyrics about Satan being formed out of blood, but go with us on it’.

23:34 – 26:55
Hi Napalm Death! This segment is soooooo cute. Look at the location of the interview! I’m pretty sure that’s Shane Embury’s bedroom in his mum’s house. Bless his little cotton socks. Earlier, we saw he lying on a Superman pillow. D’awwwwwww. Random shots of festival fans. Lots of leather and denim. And then we get the VERY un metal-named Maurice Jones (that’s pronounced “Morris” by the way) who gives us a little backstage tour of the Donington 88 show. Giggling to myself at the casual way he says that David Lee Roth arrived the night before on Concorde. As you do. Points to the film crew for making Mozza look like an idiot when he says they should walk over to the Iron Maiden dressing room and the camera stays firmly in it’s place. Mozza clearly doesn’t know what to do so just sods off on his own. Cut to the inside of the dressing room and I think it says a LOT about Mozza that his definition of “nicely furnished” consists of a mirror, some leather sofas and a couple of pot plants. And look at his little face when he cracks a gag about the difficulty of getting Kosher salami in Leicestershire. Bonus points for the mention of Stilton though.

26:56 – 29:29
The first Marshall amp. COOL! Looks a bit ropy though. How erudite does Jim Marshall sound?!? You can just picture him in his shed, tinkering away with his electronics. And then as counterbalance we have Hendrix doing unspeakable things to his guitar. What did that guitar ever do to him? And to cap it all off he then throws it at his amps. Cheeky scamp. Sorry Jim, but your claim that amplifiers damage hearing is over exaggerating isn’t really true, is it? And just in case you couldn’t guess Bruce Dickinson was from a fairly middle-class upbringing, barrow boy ‘Arry ‘Arris lets us all know that Bruce has dodgy hearing from grouse shooting. Grouse. Shooting. I bet he had a butler called Smythe too. Toff.

29:30 – 30:36
Bit of Motorhead for ya. Just to completely undermine the argument about loud volume does not = knackered hearing argument. FFS the sound is so loud at that gig the audio is peaking and crackling over the place. We all know that the peak meter is so far in the red its snapped off.

30:37 – 34:52
Oh god. It’s the fencing segment. Alright, we get it. Brucie’s posh. Bloody hell. It’s nice that he takes a bit of the sting of it all with those ludicrous trousers though. Take note here: Bruce has got his lovely Errol Flynn shirt on, swashbuckling trousers. His opponent? Shirtless wearing jeans. You see what we have here right? The gentleman versus the working man. Ha! I’ve only just twigged to that now. COME ON WORKING MAN! FIGHT FOR THE UNWASHED MASSES!! RISE UP AGAINST OUR OPPRESSORS! POWER TO THE PEOPLE! Oh… bugger.. Brucie’s lunged to camera. Presumably the working class is now dead, slain by the powerful. Damn. It’s ok though – look at the outfit Brucie has on now. That’s a tye-die t-shirt and some sort of velvet velour jacket. No. I don’t know why either.

This is actually a cool bit even if Bruce’s narration just drips with sarcasm. First up: Jimmy Page’s trousers. It’s riveting stuff. Apparently, a jacket is romantic. Gene Simmons’ boots should be in a fireplace too. Preferably one that’s being stoked by a peasant from the local village, right Bruce? Hahahahahahahah Gene’s stuffed cod-piece! Look at the smile at the edge of Bruce’s mouth, the cheeky scamp. Shots fired! And just before you got comfy, Bruce gives us a lecture on the history of the cod piece. I so want the Blackie Lawless story to be true. A firework to the crotch is VERY metal. Let’s cut Brucie some slack for not knowing how a coat hanger works, in his defence his clothes are usually laid out on his bed every morning for him but his butler, Smythe.

34:53 – 35:55
In another masterstroke of editing we go from the studs and black leather of Kiss to…. Gene Simmons in a grey suit jacket, looking bored out his mind at soundcheck. Genius. Paul Stanley appears to be playing guitar on a yellow shovel. Then we have David Lee Roth doing his bit to reinforce UK stereotypes “There’s a lot more castles here!!!!1!!11!!” as well as submitting his entry for the 1989 Statement of the Bloody Obvious with the gem “There’s a lot more history on this continent than there is in the United States”. Thrilling. And as a counter to Brucie’s history lesson we get DLR’s American History 101 class. To be fair, with that tied back hair and tan waistcoat, he does look like a high school teacher.

35:56 – 38:29
Ahhhhhh Axl Rose at his snot-nosed best slagging off Kiss and then when asked if they (GNR) have anything in common with Iron Maiden he says “I hope not”. Listen carefully as he starts to say “They’re not a r…”. Presume he was going to say ‘rock and roll/rock band’. Then compares being a band to a political organisation. Presumably the political organisation he’s comparing GNR to is one where a ruthless dictator ousts all his allies to gain unilateral control. I mean, I’m not saying Kim Jong Un is his template, but you never see them in the same place at the same time, do you? Genius editing part 2: just to cement Axl’s take on things, we cut to Brucie on an exercise bike with, there’s no other word for it, PHENOMENAL hair. I’ve got photos of me with that hair cut as a baby, after my mum cut my hair with a bowl. Does Joe Elliott know that Brucie’s nicked his hotpants? !!DATED REFERENCE ALERT!! Interviewer brings up pop act Bros. Brucie chooses his words wisely before roasting them with “As far as I can see, they don’t actually do anything… apart from stand around and look suntanned”. *mic drop*

38:30 – 44:20
Back to Drunk Jimmy and his acoustic. Marvel at his pull-offs. Get queasy at the fact that he lists from front to back. At one point I feared for his life, I thought he was going to just go face first into the floor. YAY! Megadeth and thrash classic ‘Peace Sells’. Still a ripper of a tune. Napalm Death discussing the ins and out of the Royal Mail now. Who knew that getting letters from Poland was “quite strange”. Suppose it depends on what the contents are I guess. So whilst we’ve got our maps out, let’s see what’s kicking in Tokyo. Well, by the looks of things it’s a big bag of mosh. Whatever happened to Outrage? Apparently, having long hair in 1989’s Japan meant people thought you were gay. Hmmm.

44:23 – 50:25
Pay attention class, there will be a test on the family tree of heavy metal at the end of the lecture. I’m extending a challenge to you all now, to try to insert, into one daily conversation the following phrases:

“What the hell’s that? Owooohhuuu dugga dugga dugga dugga dugga”
“You can’t play Iron Maiden at 400 miles an hour! Of course you can….”

Do this and you shall be the stuff of legend.

And now some longer footage of Nottingham Rock City. One guy is running around a circle in what I think is a tribute to the entrance moves of WWF wrestlers, The Bushwhackers. Another one seems to be double over with abdominal cramps with his hands tied behind his back. Not. A. Clue. Good on ya Penny for getting on the dance floor and giving it some. But I have to pick up on something she said about girls going around with thrash t-shirts on. Yes Penny, and do you know why? Because places like H&M now sell Slayer tshirts. SLAYER!  God hates us all, indeed. Speaking of Slayer, bask in the demented glory that is ‘South Of Heaven’. C’est magnifique. Synchronised Hanneman and King headbanging? Pretty sure they lifted that from ‘My Fair Lady’.

50:26 – 55:24
Back to Napalm Death’s bedroom now where they wax lyrical about speeds Slayer won’t go to, the squeaky tone of Anthrax’s guitars and how unintelligible their own lyrics are. Cut to sweaty club with Napalm Death dishing out a bit of tasty heaviness in the form of ‘Scum’. Part way through the drummer decides he’s bored and plays a different song altogether. Interesting. I’m sorry but I just can’t take this seriously. Lee Dorian is just barking into a mic, the playing is ramshackle and is about 2 bars away from collapsing on itself. But I suppose that’s the charm of it, really. It’s loud, raw and aggressive. It just makes me giggle. But not as much as the band shot in the back bedroom window of Shane Embury’s mum’s house. Heheheeeee Lovely pond you’ve got there, Mrs Embury.

55:25 – 55:49
Ozzy in shock revelation that he listens to Peter Gabriel. Sabbath fans the world over burn their copies of Paranoid in protest whilst others destroy them with a sledgehammer whilst completely missing out on the irony. Also, if any of you, like Ozzy, know of any bands or have heard music that falls into the category of “gay metal”, please do let me know it the comments (and no, posting the names of certain 80s hair bands does not count).

55:50 – End
And to the final segment of the programme. Little Thomas McRocklin. I never quite understood why this was in the show. The editing didn’t help either as some of the visuals don’t match the audio which made me think he was miming or something. Doing some research now I was amazed to discover that he was actually in a band that was formed an mentored by none other than Steve Vai! They were called Bad4Good (as far as band names go, VERY much the former than the latter) and they released one album in 1992 called ‘Refugee’ which you can listen to here. Considering that the oldest member of the band was 16, songs titled ‘Bangin’ Time Again’ and ‘Rockin’ My Body’ and ‘Slow and Beautiful’ seem a bit dubious. Fun fact, that 16 year old? Actor Danny Cooksey from Diff’rent Strokes. Speaking of little… in researching this, I happened across this “sketch” from UK “comedy” show, Little & Large. And I’m sharing it with you. I’m very sorry.

So yes. Thomas shows off his prodigious guitar skills to a pub full of drunk people. He’s also sporting a very fetching track suit top. And a fab mullet. Confession time: I had much the same look both clothing and hair at that time too. I was desperate for long hair but my hair only ever (and still does) grow up and not down. So for a period of time I had me some rats tails. There’s a photo somewhere. I won’t inflict it on you. You’re welcome.

And there it is. The show that was regularly watched in my house like it was a bible. It had tons of cool stuff in it from the backstage footage to the live clips a healthy chunk of Metallica. But more importantly, it was my first connection to the wider visual world of metal. up until then, it was gleaned from ‘Live After Death’ or ‘Animalize: Live Uncensored’ amongst others. The occasional snippet of a video on Top Of The Pops. But this was real. It was the first time I’d seen or heard Slayer or Napalm Death, the first time I realised that rock magazine journalists looked like Physics teachers… but joking aside, this is actually a really good overview of a number of different genres and aspects of metal. The lack of narration is a really effective tool to allow the viewer to impact their own feelings and thoughts to the subject matter. Whilst it occasionally treads a fine line between reinforcing stereotypes (‘The Devil Rides Out’ bits) and genuinely shining a light on a underground movement (Napalm Death), overall it’s a fun watch that, for me, evokes nostalgic memories of youth as well as they thought that I wish I’d been born 5 years earlier so I could have lived through the metal scene of the 80s.

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