"See You At The Bar!"
Heavy Metal Kids drummer Keith Boyce remembers Gary Holton
It was the beginning of October 40 years ago that I first met Gary. I thought he was real character and we hit it off straight away. Me and Ronnie Thomas were heavily influenced by soul music, we loved nearly all Tamla Motown and Stax and a lot of other soul music as well as bands like the Small Faces the Who and the Stones. Nothing really has changed there for me as that is still what I mainly listen to.
Gary was more into other types of music. He liked people like Anthony Newley and other kitsch show tune novelty sort of stuff. He always used to say "I don't like music" and to an extent I think that was true as he was more into theatre and spectacle and found most bands boring. Thinking about it, he wasn't that wrong at the time as there was a lot of boring bands making pretty dull music around at the start of the 70s. We also all liked ska and reggae a lot back then. I took Gary to a few blues parties which would be in empty houses or flats where everyone would be black apart from a few of us and you payed 50 pence for your can of Red Stripe or Special Brew and you danced to reggae and ska playing on a deafening sound system. Gary really used to love that.
Thinking about it, he was quite shy offstage then compared to how he would be later, but to me that was the real Gary underneath all the showbiz front. To start Gary was fairly polite with the audience. I think he soon realised this wasn't getting HMK much attention, so after a while when he sensed the audience getting restless he started to shout at them and take the piss and get more rude and crude. This sometimes resulted in a hail of bottles and glasses and Gary hiding behind the amps! Once or twice we even managed to clear a few rooms in record time as well! After a while I guess word got around that we were pretty hard core and Gary was soon in his element as the audiences seemed to love having the piss taken out of them and be abused which he became a master of. This all started about 3 or 4 years before punk so Johnny Rotten and all those not so young pretenders eat your hearts out! They were in the front row anyway taking notes but they should give credit where it is due!
There’s so many stories about Gary, but our girl Sally Newhouse just reminded me of one where we were at some college or university and Gary climbed into a glass specimen cage for a lark and one of us locked him in! He was then banging on the glass trying to get out for ages while everyone including the public had a good laugh! Or how about when he set the fire alarm off at some hotel for no reason other than pure devilment. The fire brigade and the police turned up and all the guests were out in the car park at 4 AM in their pyjamas and dressing gowns and soaking wet as it was pouring with rain while Gary run around laughing his head off. The Police questioned Gary and me as we were sharing a room and the alarm was broken outside our room!
In the beginning Gary was fairly quiet offstage but once the ball got rolling he was the same offstage as on most of the time. I don't think he knew how to switch off that stage persona after a while as everyone was expected it.
He was a very funny guy and him and Ronnie Thomas always had us in stitches. Gary would do stupid things like falling over into doors and pretending he'd injured himself in front of people just to make us laugh. It was terrible as people would really think he was injured and he'd play it up no end while we were all trying not to laugh. Things like that and a stream of one-liners kept us all laughing. We had our own sense of humour and language in the band then and not a lot of outsiders got it.
I don't think Gary thought he was a really great singer, but he knew he was in charge up on that stage. Like I say a big influence for him (and David Bowie) was Anthony Newley. You can hear Gary trying to sing like him on some of our early tracks. I guess as Gary had been in Hair and Oliver and other stage productions, a lot of those over the top stage show tunes appealed to him. He also used to listen to bands like Zeppelin and the Stones, Bowie and Mott the Hoople and he got into Queen before anyone had heard of them. I remember he told me he had met this bloke Freddie who had a stall in Kensington Market in London at the time and he was quite taken with him. Freddie told Gary he was getting a band together called Electric Church and they were going to be big. This Electric Church soon changed their name to Queen so Freddie wasn't wrong! I would say that Gary was more studying the frontmen in these bands and the image and show rather than really getting into the music.
We had some great shows in the 70s, but I guess the tour we did with Alice Cooper takes the biscuit. It was a fantastic show Alice put on and we were rockin' and I think very complimentary to Alice as we were very theatrical as well. We did a month or so in the States with him and then the tour came over to Europe and Scandinavia and every night was an event. Alice really liked us and would watch us most nights from the side of the stage. I also loved the tour of the UK and a few gigs in Germany we did with Humble Pie. I am a huge fan of Steve Marriott and the Small Faces and Humble Pie so to be on tour with Steve and the Pie was a total honour. Steve even jammed with us at a rehearsal one time which I will never forget. He was a great guy to be around and very funny.
Where our songs are concerned Gary really liked "Would You Cry For Me" from Kitsch which is a great song and he also loved "Situations Out Of Control" from Anvil. He wrote the lyrics for both of those songs and I guess it was what he was going through at the time so it was very personal. Some of the songs were just jammed until they developed into a song, for instance a song like "Crisis" just came about while I was playing that drum pattern and the others joined in. Sometimes someone would come in with a fragment of a song idea and we would all knock it into shape and then other times someone would have a fully formed song. We didn't really have a leader as we all seemed to have a million ideas in those days and we weren't afraid to experiment. This probably went against us at times as people didn't understand what we were doing on some of the songs but we were having way too much fun to think about that. For me, I love most of the songs still, but onstage today we can't go wrong with "Chelsea Kids", "Squalliday Inn", "She's No Angel", and "Delirious".
Speaking of Kitsch, I think the repackaging with all the new artwork and sleeve notes is really great. I'm really pleased with Dave Ling's sleeve notes as well as he stuck with me and as we ironed out his drafts and we finally got the history of the band straight. You gotta remember I was there right from the word go and my memory is pretty much intact thankfully unlike a lot around me! Up until now there has been a lot of mistruths written about the band which are repeated everywhere in the press and on the net so it's good to finally get the story straight.
About the re-master of Kitsch, I think it is really good but I don't think this came from the half inch master tape. I would love to see the actual 2" 24 track tapes remixed and then re-mastered for the best result. Joe Elliott has said he'd love to do it so who knows? It may happen eventually. I wouldn't mind having a go myself come to that as I've got a fair bit of experience mixing and mastering now.
I don't think Gary would think much about any of today’s Rock Stars. I mean who is there now? There are no new Mick Jaggers, Freddie Mercurys, Iggy Pops or Gary Holtons are there? All very sad that the rebellious nature of rock has gone and everyone is so polite and boring and the music is dull! Probably the only thing that Gary would get a kick out of would be someone like Lady GaGa, who incidentally loves us, or maybe Marilyn Manson a few years back but other than that I can see him laughing at it all and still playing his Anthony Newley records! You know I'm sure Gary would have despaired at all this X Factor bollocks that’s going on today as well as I do. That and all these silly tribute bands are killing music.
When I came back from the States in ‘85 after living there for five years Gary was a big star. We went out a fair few times at that point and he seemed to relish being recognised and being stopped in the street every few minutes. Saying that I'm sure it wasn't all fun. I've been around enough famous people to know that the pressure can be intense and not all it's cracked up to be. People say, well if you don't want to be famous don't do it sort of thing, which is a bit silly as they don't know what it is like to be under a microscope with your every move being weighed up and judged.
All musicians and actors want recognition and success but most can do without all the craziness that goes with it. I don't think most normal people couldn't handle that level of fame without going off the rails. To me he wasn't really acting in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet as he was like that most of the time. I think he was great in the show. It was good casting and great scripts that made that show and Gary was perfect for his part. I'm pretty sure he would have gone on to be an even more acclaimed actor and I'd like to think he'd also had kept his hand in with music. Who knows he could be with HMK right now and we would still be having fun and making music!
HMK are alive and kicking today and I think Gary would have loved Justin's voice which is pretty raucous and not totally unlike Gary’s back then. I know we've had a lot of ups and downs and line-up changes in the band over the years, but Gary was a trooper and I think he would be pleased to see the band still going after all this time and he would have liked Justin's energy and ambition. As for plans for the band, well, immediately we are going to revive some of the old songs we haven't attempted yet.
We may then soon play a whole album at a show from start to finish which we have never done before. Then we are hoping to make a new album in 2013 and to keep on gigging and rockin' till we drop!
Huge thanks to Keith for taking the time to speak to me, cheers mate!