"The Kids are all right..."
...says Gary Holton of the Heavy Metal Kids.
And the reason for Sinclair's departure? It was the classical case of musical differences, muttered Holton. Before Holton announced eight months ago that he was quitting Heavy Metal Kids to form a band with former Boxer musos, Tony Newman, Keith Ellis and Ollie Halsall, it was generally regarded that he was the main man in the band, the musical and theatrical director, if you like.
Watching the band go through their paces, it seems little has changed there. Holton stands facing the band as they play, occasionally lifting his hands to conduct them, telling them to go faster, and they usually go along with the instructions.
Today, Holton's garb is a parachutist's outfit, donned to run through a recently written song called "New Wave" and you-know-what (Who said "Not another one"?) With the rest of the Kids splurting out the riff, Holton, his voice something of a compromise between a full-blooded scream and what is commonly regarded to as singing, delivers the lyrics that appear to pout vitriol on the punk movement.
"What's so new about it?" he demands as the song winds to an end. "Ya shoulda heard the Stones and the 'Oo ten years ago. Now that was new."
Hardly an anthem to the glories of the new wave, more another boring put down, I felt, from the man who, more than any other hard-rock singer, could be positively identified as a punk. Perhaps he thought that the likes of Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer were all pretenders attempting - succesfully as it happens - to take over his territory.
On putting this to Holton, he aggresively denied the song was a put down. He was, he added, all in favour of the "Punkipoos" (how's that for condescension?)
"It's not a negative reaction" he insisted "We sort od wanted to write a story about the things the mums and dads would say about it. You know, it's like the reaction there was to the mods and rockers. It's not anti-new wave. No Way. Actually I think the whole punk scene is the healthiest thing that's happened for years. It doesn't really matter whether the music is good or bad. I mean, I've never heard Johnny Rotten sing, but I love 'im".
Heavy Metal Kids have been together for about four years now, and without too much success. They were hammered originally for their title. It was, many complained, too pretentious and that the band could never live up to it. They recorded two albums for Atlantic Records, "Heavy Metal Kids" and "Anvil Chorus".
The latter was publicised as by "The Kids" in a move calculated to remove the catagorising connotations of their name. But although the band seemed to be cutting it on the road, and particularly in America, where they apparantly gave Alice Cooper a hard time when they supported him, their records were precious short of identity.
Dave Dee, general manager of Atlantic, sussed that the Kids needed something a little special to put them on the right track, so to speak, and he placed them with with Mickie Most's RAK label in Britain, astutely retaining their signature for the States should the magical Mr Most work wonders. The band went to France to record their first album under Most's production, and everybody seemed pleased with the results.
Then Gary Holton decided to embark on an ego trip, and intended to form a band called Stick Up with Newman, Halsall and Ellis. The plan came badly unstuck.
"I just went brainless. Totally over the top. As they say 'the young man went ape'. It reached the stage where I didn't know why I was doing it any more. Then when I left it got even worse trying to form a band. There were so many legal problems".
Unable to even form a band, Holton was left redundant. And Holton-less, little was heard of Heavy Metal Kids. In fact, between the time he left the band last September and his return last month, they didn't play a solitary gig. Not a one.
Holton, in the meantime, worked occasionally in his father's pub and did a few voice-overs for radio commercials, hardly the pastime for an aspiring rock star.
He saw the error of his ways eventually, realised that he needed Heavy Metal Kids as much as they needed him, and laid the fact on the line to the rest of the band. Ronnie Thomas acted as mediator, and the way was open for Holton to rejoin.
"Of course there had been a lot of friction before I left" Holton said "I was totally concerned about myself and not the band".
When the band got back together again, they already had an album in the can and it was decided to release it. "Kitsch" it easily their most succesful recorded work to date, with Most succesfully giving their hard rock a very commercial edge, best emphasised on songs like "She's No Angel" and "Squalliday Inn".
"We've got a direction now" explained Holton "We're a fun band, a giggle-and-booze band. Before we were becoming a parody of ourselves. I mean, I'd love to be a street punk, but I'm not really. We seem to suggest everything to everybody. Maybe the lay off did us some good, because it has given us the chance to sit down and think about what we've been doing and what we should do. For four bloody years we worked really hard. It was getting to the stage where we were the best support band in the world...but now we're gonna blow people's brains out. This show will be so dynamic".
Tourists mill around this part of South-East London, gathering useless information, snapping shots of the historical surroundings: dungeons where prisoners were agonisingly tortured; the Tower, where they subsequently lost their heads; and of course, the Base Studio, where the notorious Heavy Metal Kids are currently in captivity.
It seems strangely appropriate that a band such as the Kids should choose to hold their rehearsals amid such gruesome reminders of the past. It's not hard to imagine Gary Holton as a torturer or executioner from the 18th century. He would wear those roles quite well.
The Heavy Metal Kids, it was announced in a spark (hardly a blaze) of publicity recently, are back, having resolved internal differences, with a new album and a major British tour (six dates), and are practising like mad to get a tight set off before they hit the road again.
The band remains the same apart from one change. American slide player Jay Williams joins vocalist Holton, Keith Boyce (drums) Ronnie Thomas (bass) and Barry Paul (guitar). Williams takes the place of keyboard player John Sinclair, a surprising substitution in view of Sinclair's immense contribution to "Kitsch", the Kids' new album (It was recorded a year ago), but Holton said that the new man gives the band a more meatier sound.