"In those days, the mid 70s, about the only thing I remember listening to is the Heavy Metal Kids"…
Formerly with the progressive rock band "Biggles", Gary met Ronnie Thomas and Mickey Waller of the band "Heaven" during their bands' rehearsals in the summer of 1972. They all soon became friends, and with Gary becoming disillusioned with Biggles' ambitions, they joined forces and the first incarnation of Nova Express inspired "Heavy Metal Kids" was formed in London in the Autumn of 1972. Keith Boyce arrived following his tour with Long John Baldry and guitarist Mickey Waller played alongside both Barry Paul and Cosmo Verrico, although they both would leave and return later in the decade. The band came into public awareness conveying a strong cockney image; HMK were young, raw and played no-nonsense and straightforward punk-rock music.
1973 saw Danny Peyronel arriving from "The Rats", former "Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich" front man Dave Dee signed HMK to Atlantic Records and 1974 saw the band in London's Olympic Studios recording their debut album, "Heavy Metal Kids". HMK's debut was released after being recorded in just eight days and it captured much of the band's live persona with the tracks "Rock'n'Roll Man", "Ain't It Hard" and the splendid ballad "It's the Same". It was well received and after an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test a loyal live following began to form at London's "Speakeasy" club, run by co-manager Laurie O'Leary, who booked them as the regular house band.
The venue was well known as a late night drinking club, popular with customers associated with the music industry, but if you were in the audience and weren't paying attention then Mr Holton would attract your gaze by shouting "Oi! Fucking listen!". Keith Boyce recalls, “One of our managers, the late Laurie O’Leary, managed the Speakeasy club, so we played there every few weeks at the start of the band. It was a great club to go to, but it was a really tough audience to play to, and mainly full of older serious musos, some of them big names, and music business types. Most bands died a death there, and we had a hard time at first. But Gary became more lippy and funny with the crowd as the weeks went on, and pretty soon we were going down a storm there. So I think that sold Dave Dee on us, because if you could go down well there then you could pretty well be sure go down well anywhere. Atlantic were right behind the band, and they did splash out a lot of money on promotion, which led to some people were saying we were a hype. I guess because we had these full page ads in all the music papers, and we were on the TV and stuff like that. But we had been building up to it since late 1972, so it wasn’t an overnight thing, although it might have looked like we just burst onto the scene to some people."
Relentless live shows and solid performances saw their hard work pay off and HMK headed out for their first American tour in early 1975 with the likes of Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, ZZ Top, KISS and Rush, however conflicting signals lead to the band dropping the "Heavy Metal" from their name, and they gigged as "The Kids" alone. Gary's showmanship wasn't lost on Alice Cooper who booked HMK and the sharp, wise-cracking Holton to open for him during a tour of the States and would often watch Gary's performance from the side of the stage. ”I think we watched the show every night for weeks, and never got tired of it,” recalls Keith Boyce. “Likewise, Alice would watch our show from the wings most nights. By now Alice was a solo act and I think he could see that we were very much a band, and a gang much as the original Alice Cooper were. I think Alice dug that.”
The Kids played a memorable show in front of 82,000 fans, playing some shows with Rush, though a run of dates as support for Kiss ended abruptly. "We were kicked off that tour, but we didn't regret it for one moment." admitted Danny Peyronel. "There were two incidents that they took objection to. We arrived early at the gig and talked to some kids who'd been hanging out and buying us drinks; Kiss later claimed that we'd pretended to be them, because nobody knew what they looked like at the time. What they really objected to was when Gary and I stood at the side of the stage, and Gene's hair caught fire whilst doing his fire-swallowing routine," smirked Peyronel. "he dropped to his knees and whacked his head against the floor to put it out. We were in hysterics...who wouldn't have been?" The tour ended with Gary performing on crutches after falling from the stage and breaking his leg, but he carried on playing the remaining shows with his leg in plaster. Danny Peyronel concedes that Gary's presence overshadowed the bands music: "It detracted from the fact that we were an exciting rock'n'roll band. Gary went so far over the top that his outrageous behaviour was all you could see. It was a drag, but you couldn't really complain because that's what the Heavy Metal Kids were all about."
The constant touring schedule during Gary's time with Heavy Metal Kids was about to take its toll. In the space of just one year they played 300 live gigs and travelled an average 100 miles a day. Going from one gig to another all day, every day, Gary quickly began to hit the drink and at one stage was drinking a bottle of brandy a day. Gary recalled: "I was into booze in a big way, what else do you do in a van going from one gig to another? I was into drugs too, but almost by accident. What happens is that one morning you're knackered, so someone gives you something and you feel great all day. Next day you need it again, only you need more. That year we had been doing a gig a night and I was taking things to wake me up, taking things to make me sleep and boozing until dawn every day. Somebody looked at me across a hotel room and said "You look a bit queer". The next thing I knew I was staring at a hospital ceiling and I had been dead for two minutes. They only got my heart to work by punching me in the chest. My whole chest was one big bruise...” After touring France, Germany and Scotland, a tour of Scandinavia saw the band having a competition to see how many girls each member of the group could sleep with. Gary won the £500 prize money bedding 26 girls in 28 nights. Gary claimed that he would sleep with a girl-a-night whilst he was on a tour, and lost count after the 3000 mark! Although tragedy struck in 1977 when Gary's girlfriend, Tracey Boyle, died in his arms aged just 19 after choking on her own vomit after an alcoholic binge.
When they weren't on stage burning holes in their clothes and guitars with glow sticks, possibly for the sheer devilment of it, off stage the Kids garnered a reputation for rearranging hotel rooms. They were banned from the Holiday Inn, Trusthouse Forte and Ramada chains as rooms were flooded, furniture destroyed, kitchens and bars stripped of food and alcohol. "It was the 70s, so why not? In this country, you can't get a ham sandwich after 11 o'clock, and we'd all bowl back after a great gig high as kites," observed Ronnie Thomas. "We were raiding the kitchen one night when suddenly the lights went on. Gary overtook me on the stairs, with a string of raw sausages hanging from his pocket. When I got to the room he was trying to flush 'em down the toilet – hiding the evidence." But the Kids outdid themselves the time their road crew snaffled a 15-foot Christmas tree from the reception of Torquay's Holiday Inn. "They took it out of the pot and bent it in half to get into the lift, there were all these birds in our room so it was party-time," recollects Ronnie. "We'd plugged all the lights in when, 'Bang, bang, bang!', hotel security were knocking at the door and accusing us of nicking their tree. We tried to deny it, but there was a huge trail of mud from the lift to the door of our room!"
Following the US tour with Alice Cooper, HMK returned to the UK and soon after Mickey Waller left to join Steve Marriott’s All Stars. Former guitarist Cosmo stepped in on lead guitar and the band went to work in Basing Street Studios on their Anvil Chorus album which also appeared under "The Kids" abbreviated name. The Kids parted company with Atlantic towards the end of the year and then signed with producer Mickie Most's RAK label, but before work could begin on their next album "Kitsch", Holton was loudly sacked from the line-up amid a storm of drink and drugrelated headlines. The Kids sacked Gary after a gig in Madrid, Spain. By then he no longer attended rehearsals and the band felt he was dragging them down. The band broke into Gary's hotel room and found him naked and comatose in bed with a bottle of brandy in his hand. Keith Boyce recalled: "People had been telling Gary he was the band's star and that he didn't need us - he became too big for his boots. We covered his dick with some Uriah Heep stickers, wound toilet paper around his head and put some ladies' silver stiletto's on him. Then we carried him on the mattress down in the lift and left him in the lobby on a big round table." Discovered by hotel chambermaids the following morning, Holton was arrested.
The remaining members planned to continue on without him, this however, came to naught and three months (and countless singer auditions) later, in late 1977 Gary rejoined the band for a handful of live shows and the release of their long-delayed third album, "Kitsch". The album was recorded at the RAK mobile studio in Coye-la-Fret, France with the band making full use of Mickie Most’s hospitality. Ronnie Thomas remembers: “You know what the French are like, it was wine for breakfast, wine for lunch and wine for the evening meal…great fun!”. Mickie Most spent nearly four months mixing the album – it became almost an obsession for him. Keith Boyce remembers: “It was all done in secret, nobody else could hear it until he felt it was done. He practically wore the tapes out and one of the engineers said you could almost see through them because they’d been played so often.”
For the recording of “Kitsch” the band's line-up had changed yet again following the departures of Cosmo and Peyronel. Barry Paul (guitar) returned along with John Sinclair (keyboards). Success at last seemed to be within their grasp and the single "She's No Angel" secured an appearance on Top Of The Pops, but without warning Gary decided to form his own band, "Stick Up" "That really fucked us off," recalls Ronnie Thomas "Gary had been a good mate, but he was doing more drugs than ever and becoming obnoxious. He'd asked me to be best man at his wedding, but he was turning into a nasty little bastard. On stage it all went out the window; he'd just sing whatever song came into his head." John Sinclair's stay with HMK was short and guitarist Jay Williams was then brought in to provide the band with a twin-guitar attack. The "Delirious" single was recorded and further live shows followed, most notably with HMK breaking Jimi Hendrix's crowd attendance record at the famous Marquee club. Ronnie Thomas remembers one infamous incident at the club where it all began; The Speakeasy: "As Gary was getting ready to go on, he was wearing white cowboy boots, no trousers and a pink posing pouch. Across his chest he had two bullet belts. Gary was completely out of it trying to load a Smith & Wesson revolver and bullets were scattered all over the floor, people were trampling over live ammunition.”
In the front row of the gig was Johnny Rotten, who loudly and theatrically pronounced "Boring, boring" to anyone within earshot. But the Kids had already made an impression on the Sex Pistols' front man which was proved when he passed on his approval in more private circumstances one night in the Roebuck pub in the Kings Road. Keith Boyce remembers “I heard Gary had a right go at Johnny. He told him to stop ripping him off, and a lot more so people told me. For once, I heard that Rotten was speechless!”.
A hush had descended as Gary and Rotten spotted each other in the snooker room. Ronnie Thomas recalls "Gary was holding court with me and a group of others by the fireplace when the atmosphere suddenly changed. Rotten had walked into the room with two big bouncers - he always had to be protected because he was an obnoxious little cunt. There was this deathly silence when finally Rotten undid this huge gold safety pin and put it on Gary's lapel. He then patted Gary's cheek and said "You've been ripped off Holton, how does it feel?". Even though Danny Peyronel felt he was forced to quit the band that he loved, he still thinks that he and the Heavy Metal Kids were cheated. "What happened to the Pistols in 1977 should've been us. We were one of the first bands to have the term "Punk Rock" used to describe us."
In 1978 after a gig on the Isle of Man - the proceeds from which were squandered by Gary in a casino - Keith Boyce decided that enough was enough. He left the band just before the Kids went on their ill-fated tour of Germany (with Ricky Squires on drums) but came back and did one last gig at The Music Machine.
Older, wiser, and over twenty-five years later, the Heavy Metal Kids were back in the studio in 2003 to record their perfectly titled album "Hit The Right Button". Just like the title says, they did exactly that and proved to be a superb return. The stand-out tracks being "Message", "Girl of my Dreams" and "Whisky".
Seven years after "Hit the Right Button", the HMK were in Milan's "Massive Arts" studio recording the ill-fated "Uncontrollable" album. With the drum and bass tracks put the down, tensions within the band led Danny Peyronel, Marco Baruso and Matt Salvadori leaving the band. Sadly we'll never get to hear tracks such as "London Sleeps No More" and "Living the Life of Charlie", but original members Keith Boyce and Ronnie Thomas were quickly re-joined by Cosmo and newcomer Justin McConville. John “Nasty Nick” Altman left Albert Square behind and also joined the HMK fold. Altman's stay with the band lasted just over a year and in 2011 guest vocalist Philip Lewis from the LA Guns stepped in to lend a hand on the live circuit and he looked every inch the rock star in black leathers and top hat. Lewis was the new HMK ring leader. If you squinted and tilted your head, it could well have been Gary up on stage...
After live shows in the UK and Croatia, Phil went back to his full time employers, the LA Guns, which lead to Justin McConville stepping up to the mic. "I came into the HMK to beef the sound up and do backing vocals..." explained Justin. "The idea in the first instance was to rejuvenate the band and to get it running again properly. The guys wanted to get someone who could front like Gary which is difficult. Playing beside Phil Lewis was 'kin killer, if there was someone who could fill Gary Holton's shoes, Phil Lewis is the man."
Justin's also quick to praise the other Kids. "Keith Boyce is great to play beside. He's loud, a power house, bang on time and very much so passionate about the contingency of the HMK. Ronnie Thomas is possibly the funniest, most charming, literary articulate, warm, dearest and cunning fox I've met. Great with words and a laugh a minute with Ronnie. Whilst Ronnie Garrity is solid and has done a fantastic job of coming in and picking up the songs and playing as if he's always played them. Cosmo has been musical inspiration, a mentor, a great axe buddy, a great friend and has looked out for me. If it wasn't for Cos I wouldn't be here now and it's clear to see Cos' musical shaping and influence throughout the hay day of the band. The way I see it there are two ways to go with a band, stick or venture forward and either option has pro's and con's. I'm different from Gary in that I have a guitar on and that is part of my act. I play guitar and sing. The HMK is about mischief, fun and a leaning to disorder. You can't not have fun in this band! We're a very loud and very fun band to rock out to!"
She's No Angel
HMK perform live on Top of the Pops!
Part-time HMK front man, and full-time Gary Holton fan, Phil Lewis belts out this classic!
We Gotta Go
The classic track with archive photos.