The Kids are alright
"A noisy little bugger." That's what they say about Gary Holton, the prancing, preening, gesticulating ruffian who heads the ragged urchins of the (Heavy Metal) Kids. And it might seem from his stage appearances that Gary conducts all his communications with the world at the top of his voice.
I was half expecting to be deafened by the man in top ht and tights, whose stage presence arouses such a mixture of antipathy and horrified anticipation, when we met for a shout-up this week. "Hello Gary!" I bellowed as he was ushered into the palatial Atlantic record offices in London, "What news about the band!" I screamed, veins popping, face turning crimson. "I hope you are well!" I roared, gasping for breath and falling to my knees. (It's the only way these chaps understand you).
"Good afternoon," he responded soberly, taking a seat and quietly pouring himself a glass of wine.
Hollering Holton may well be one of the most ribald performers on the stage of rock, as we slip into the tail end of 1975, but beneath that tattered exterior beats the heart of a gentle soul whose love of theatre has impelled him to act out the fantasy of rock stardom. Like others before, his fantasy may well yet become reality.
Gary makes no secret of his admiration for Steve Marriott, and those who recall the early years of the Small Faces and Humble Pie may well observe the similarities. Both were child actors turned singer. And both have the East End roots and diminuative stature that combines to produce aggression tempered by an earthy humour.
Gary's on-stage violence, the faked fights with his fellow Kids, the shouting, posturing and backchat, may strike some as contrived. It is. But rock needs some exhibisionists, its occasional injection of nonsense and outrage, and in their own way Holton and crew are sincere. Their energy flies in the face of apathy. They are shouting for attention, and when they get it, they'll get better. The Kids are already a much improved band to the one that emerged last year.
They are due for more exposure from appearances with Alice Cooper on his British dates which follows the Kids' recent success at the Reading Festival. Says Gary: "We got much better billing at the festival than last year, but we were a bit disappointed with the sound. The monitors weren't working and the keyboards blew up. I just couldn't hear what I was singing. I think our act is a lot stronger and more controlled. It used to be 'anything goes' but remember, I'd not had much experience of performing with bands before Heavy Metal Kids. I'm the performer and they're the musicians - I'd be lost without them. All I can do is freak."
Like the time Gary stole a car and was escorted by the police wearing handcuffs. On that occasion he was succumbing to notorious East End tendancies, but at least it resulted in a song that has become something of an anthem for the band, "The Cops Are Coming."
Gary denies that they're gratuitously violent: "We did a BBC thing and got stitched up. It came out as if we were encouraging violence, and they concentrated on the most aggressive part of our act. But that's not fair. We're not into violence - we're into taking violence and showing people the humour of the situation. I like to make the auduences laugh! I still get bruises, but if the adrenalin is flowing we have a great laugh and feel so good."
"Me and the guitarist get a thing going - I swear at him and try to put him off playing. I trip him up then the others come and beat me up. It's not intended to start a riot. If that happened, I'd stop performing. We're not the world's best musicians, I admit, but we are trying to be entertaining and we play Heavy Metal music. I suppose really we are a bunch of overgrown adolescents - none of us passed our 11-plus - and a lot of kids can identify with us. I'm not a musician but I like to play with words. I play with the audience and I think a lot of the kids need the Heavy Metal Kids. I can remember when I used to go and see The Who and the excitement they caused. That was rock'n'roll for me, when I was a Mod riding around on me Lambretta. I know we're very crass, and sometimes we play badly, but we're getting a lot better and at Reading we were one of the few bands to get everyone on their feet, along with Dr Feelgood."
While some rock singers would like to get into theatre, Gary has already trod those boards: "I was trained as an actor until I got into this business. I got fucked about in acting and had to get into something else where I could perform. I thought I could use rock as a vehicle, but now I wouldn't want to do anything else. We like to take a song and act it out, and make a story."
"I don't idolise rock performers myself, although I've been influenced by them. Alice Cooper, I couldn't believe his shows. They're perfect. But I like Lenny Bruce, the way he'd take a point of view and deliver it with humour."
Gary actually started his career as an opera singer, which is somewhat stunning information, bearing in mind his present throat tearing style, but as he explains: "My voice broke. Then I did this child actor bit, with the National Theatre, and I was in Much Ado About Nothing when I was 14. But when I became 16 I was classed as an adult and still looked like a kid and it was difficult to get parts. But I joined 'Hair' in 1969 where I learned how to sing and project. Alex Harvey was in the Hair band then - I love Alex!"
The Kids on stage present a cross between Dickensian ragamuffins straight from the set of 'Oliver!' and a 1966 British beat group. Ronnie Thomas their bass player with jeans awry and exploding hair, eggs on Holton to fresh acts of lunacy as they stomp around the stage, while Barry Paul holds down the lead guitar work, attempting to solo despite repeated up-staging from Gary. Keith Boyce keeps his eyes on the drums, and welds the Kids together with a slogging beat and John Sinclair plays keyboards when they can be heard above the general uproar.