I wish I was lucky enough to be active in the music scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s and to be inspired by the new British heavy metal craze. This was called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) and was primarily confined to the UK. Coming out of the ashes of the much-lauded punk rock movement, musicians were determined to kick out the punk ethos and replace it with a more traditional acclaimed sound. Some had help with this, getting a hold of dj equipment finance options to get their instruments and other music equipment, but this was not universal across the scene.
What Was the NWOBHM?
Groups began to form in the late 1970s to perform heavy metal music. They started their own record labels and released their music on them. This was self-promotion at its best. Many people consider that there was a distinctive sound to this genre of music, and I must agree with them. Many groups had low-budgets and could not afford elaborate artwork for their singles and albums. As such, many were self-designed and could be somewhat naive, and the music shared this lack of finance. As such, the bands in the NWOBHM who were not signed to the big labels decided to release their own material on a shoestring budget. I was in such a band and can remember how difficult it was to get a great sound without spending large sums of money. As such, the records were often self-produced and were usually paid for by the band members. The recording process created a unique sound that was by necessity cheap but was totally original. To the trained ear, it is usually easy to recognize the sound of the NWOBHM. I played in one of these bands at the time, and we paid for the recordings ourselves and often created the artwork using talented friends or band members. We formed our own label and got a publishing deal, and the rest is history. This same process took place in all four corners of the UK, and its popularity soon attracted a dedicated following of loyal fans.
Famous Bands from the NWOBHM
Perhaps the most famous band that was spawned by this movement was Iron Maiden. Still, some, including me, consider that they predated this movement along with another renowned group called Saxon. Since both bands were signed almost immediately, they quickly became disassociated with the NWOBHM movement. One subsequently famous band that was around at the start was Def Leppard since they formed in 1977. I remember seeing the group at a local venue way before anybody had heard of them, and one of my friends is the proud owner of a signed copy of “The Def Leppard EP.” This was self-recorded and financed, and it soon enabled the group to come to the attention of the big labels, subsequently releasing “On Through the Night” in 1980. This featured the classic NWOBHM track “Wasted.” The band went on to become the most successful group to have been spawned by the NWOBHM.
Not So Famous Bands from the NWOBHM
For every successful band, there were probably at least 100 unsuccessful bands that sank without a trace. Notable mentions go to Vardis, Diamond Head, Fist, Vixen, Savage, Sparta, and Raven. Although these bands achieved a limited degree of success, many groups folded after just a short space of time due to lack of funding. Nowadays, collecting rare releases from this mostly underground movement is big business. For example, an original copy of “Fast Lane” by Sparta can command a price in excess of $100. I remember the movement fondly since I was involved in it, and I can safely say that it was self-generated by the musicians themselves.
The NWOBHM is still popular in many European countries, most notably in Germany and Holland. I know of groups that are still playing today, and they are much more popular in Europe than in the UK. The vast majority of the movement was essentially underground, and it was an exciting time to play in a rock group. We felt that our destiny was in our own hands, and as such, we had complete control of the musical and promotional processes. Some labels, such as High Roller Records in Germany, actively seek out old bands from this era. Sometimes, the old material is re-recorded. Overall I think it served its purpose and came up with several world-famous bands that are still around today.