Week 7 : 13th February 1970 : Sabbath debut and Heavy Metal turns 47


Accompany music : Black Sabbath

As week 7 takes in Valentines day, so let’s start with a beautiful love poem ‘NIB’ courtesy of Geezer Butler.

‘Some people say my love cannot be true, Please believe me, my love, and I’ll show you
I will give you those things you thought unreal, The sun, the moon, the stars all bear my seal

Follow me now and you will not regret, Living the life you led before we met
You are the first to have this love of mine, Forever with me `till the end of time

Your love for me has just got to be real, Before you know the way I’m going to feel
I’m going to feel I’m going to feel

Now I have you with me, under my power, Our love grows stronger now with every hour
Look into my eyes, you will see who I am, My name is Lucifer, please take my hand’

Ahh it must be time for Paganism, with a powerful clunking steel background wrapped up in a Brummie accent. Welcome to Heavy Metal.

img_2120So does where you come from affect who you are and what you do? I was born and brought up in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. A large town on the southern bank of the Tyne. Perpetually overshadowed by the neighbours across the river. Historically seen as an underachieving place, sometimes a backwater and worse. Even in literature, the view of Gateshead is not favourable. The site Study.com wrote an excellent piece on such a work. In “Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, ….  Jane learns at Gateshead the terrible power of economic and social status, or the expectations, opportunities, and restrictions placed on people based upon who they are and what their background is. ” But this only tells a very small part of the story….

Gateshead is a resilient place that has went through many changes, from forest and fields to industrial heartland, from the destruction of medieval structures through the Great Fire to the destruction of 60-70’s town centre. Gateshead always evolves. In my lifetime alone Gateshead adopted different styles. First becoming a centre for sport through the development of the International Athletics Stadium, which encouraged my generation to get fit. Later they would embrace art, with statues popping up around the town, building a sculpture park and culminating in the erection of Gormley’s Angel Of The North and the establishing of the Baltic modern art gallery. All these inspire the art I do. Growing up within this, I was inspired by the green spaces and ‘faux’ structures of Saltwell Park and fascinated in the Brutal Architecture of the Multistorey Carpark and Dunston Rocket. All of which I’m sure are homaged in my doodles. Growing up in the area, there was a real shared experience, of community, of being fair and friendliness (which I hope I bring to my work and life). There is also a determination to be better, to strive forward and look to the future… Just walking along the Gateshead side of the Tyne and seeing Baltic, Sage and Millennium Bridge is testament to this. I hope I have got a few of these qualities. Gateshead has had many great people residing here and who were hopefully inspired in the same way, among them Writers (Defoe), Artists (Bewick), Inventors (Swan) and footballers (Gascoigne). Although there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of Musicians, bar the excellent ex-ACDC vocalist Brian Johnson and the Blaydon Races Geordie Ridley. At no point did my home town become a centre for a musical style.

img_2118If you were Memphis in 1950’s you were most probably playing Rock ‘n’ Roll. In Liverpool in 1960’s you were part of the mersey beat, In late sixties California you were probably grooving to flower power/psychedelia. In late 70’s New York you were either at the epicentre of Punk, New Wave, Disco and Hip Hop or in the 1990’s Seatle you would be part of the grunge movement. Assume if you are based in California in 1970 you will probably create sunshine music like the Doors. Whereas if you are in a dark working class city in Britian away from the streets of swinging London you will create something very different. A band based in the Midlands in 1970 are surrounded by Steel Works, imagine the affect of heavy industry on the sound, the clanking and vibration of machinery, the dust in the air, the darkness and elemental forces. It’s not hard to see where Heavy Metal evolves from. How this environment affects the people mentally and in belief is one thing but when it physically changes your life is another different matter.

Tony Iommi on his last day at work before joining a band, has an accident at a steel works cutting the tips of two of his fingers. With extraordinary resilience, Iommi finds a way for him to continue his career, by creating metal finger tips, loosening strings and detuning his guitar. Thus creating a distorted, powerful, droning effect which becomes the template for metal bands to follow. After numerous bands, Iommi finally joins Ward, Butler and Osbourne and forms the band Earth. Because of another band of the same name (or as Ozzy explained once that Earth sounds like someone vomiting), they change their name to the title of a film playing across the road staring Boris Karloff… Black Sabbath.

Their debut album is recorded in one 12 hour spell in mid October 1969, with only the sound effects and the odd guitar solo re-recorded and overdubbed. This cleverly captures a live feeling and the band being in unison. It seems that this is an elongated jamming session, which allows Iommi to be impulsive with his style and solo. As discussed above, the changes to his playing the heaviness, the distortion and the use of power chords define the style of the band. Butler’s bass following suit being detuned and following Iommi’s lead, makes the album heavier. Ward’s drums uncompromisingly boom out during the heavy elements but also utilises space with delicate jazz-like fills. Ozzy, even at this early stage is the performer, with his vocal performance moves from the innocent to the deranged. The album itself feels like two distinct sides, the second side is more of a heavy blues rock album (like Cream, Led Zeppelin 1) whereas side 1 is the template for Metal to come. Heavy elemental music, distortion, power chords with lyrics leaping from Horror to Fantasy.

img_2119In one opening track Black Sabbath, the genre is defined. From the thunder, pouring rain and desolate bell to the opening power chords and loping menacing drums and bass. Ozzy’s first words boom out ‘What is this that stands before me, figure in black, that points at me’ are stunning, followed by the first melodramatic screams. The power chords are interspaced with enough space to give tension, the final speed up is a release with drums, bass and guitar in unison, moving towards the dark mystical pagan imagery.

The Wizard, moves the subject matter from Dennis Wheatley/Boris Karlov to Tolkien. A few blows of Harmonica quickly forms the basis and riff of this track joined by bass, guitar. Rolling drums and bass set the pace. Ozzy’s delivery plays alongside Iommi’s power chords exchanging couplets, with the interspersed harmonica and odd cowbell.

Behind the Wall of Sleep, is a far more spaced out track. Initially jarring almost progressive and then power chords return for verses with Ozzy’s responses. There is a far more relaxed experimental approach to solo’s with fills from bass and drum.

Butler’s Bass solo at the start of the NIB, is iconic along with this sublime off kilter love song lyrics seen from the side of the devil. What is immense about this, is Ozzy’s innocent delivery and the great structure of the track. Relatively straightforward with a killer riff, meandering solo and Iommi’s spiralling solo at the end of the track.

img_2112Evil Woman, a cover version of a track by Crow. It’s very blues rock which heralds side 2’s approach. It’s structured almost like a pop song with a very accessible chorus. The detuned acoustic start to Sleeping Village, and Ozzy’s paired back single verse of lyrics are reminiscent of the Doors, but quickly moves to a number of styles, some very Zeppelin, old elements of Cream, The Who, some older blues and other bits are what will define Sabbath. Dark, doomy power chords which seem to shake the earth.

The 10 minutes of the Ainsley Dunbar Retaliation band song Warning flies by. I love Ozzy’s singing/talking over some blues standard. Solid bass and drums allow Iommi to creating slow soulful guitar. Ward’s drum solo, changes the song and pace where Butler’s bass takes a more prominent role alongside Iommi’s guitar, which now has been released throwing fills at every opportunity. An experimental solo takes the track via delicate acoustic elements to blues power chords finally dropping back to the original blues riff and Ozzy’s last desperate verse of lost love.

Wicked World, initially feels like the band trying to find their way, experimenting with starts from sixties TV shows. From snare drum shuffle, jingle like riff on guitar to cliffhanger stop/starts. Again a drum solo heralds the proper start to the track, grinding dark verses in which Ozzy sings about the ills of the world, war, poverty, to family values.  It feels downtrodden with only little flourishes as we return to the 60’s theme music. Finishing with a final distorted chord.

img_2117And so Heavy Metal starts… well it probably started before this. The first song to mention Heavy Metal, Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’ was out in 1968. I see discussions where the Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ is seen as the first song with distortion (although this is also disputed). The heavy sound of the album is not unusual either with bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Mountain and Hendrix all releasing albums by 1970, utilising loud blues like riffs. But Black Sabbath’s debut captures in one place, an elemental heaviness which with it’s subject matter becomes a template for Metal and inspiration for generations to come. Sabbath would build on this 8 months later with the album Paranoid and continue for the next 9 years together producing influential albums which continue to build the genre. Amongst them Vol 4, Masters of Reality, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage. Ozzy would get sacked in 1979, but then produce a stunning solo debut ‘Blizzard of Ozz’. Meanwhile Sabbath employed a very different vocalist, Rainbow’s Ronnie James Dio and they brought out 2 outstanding albums ‘Heaven and Hell’ and ‘Mob Rules’. The former is up there with the best of Ozzy. From the mid 80’s, they got a little lost with varying vocalists and they seemed to have been overtaken by the genre they had created. In the last decade or so, there has been a comeback with first reunion gigs, a tour with Dio and then a full comeback with Ozzy for one final trip around the block. The album 13, their last album is decent enough and has echoes of their debut. They embarked on a final world tour, finishing fittingly in the place that inspired them, Birmingham on February 4th 2017, a week before the 47th birthday of their debut.

So cheers Sabbath for the memories and this landmark album in Metal. Happy Retirement

Always thought that this card would have to reflect the industry and workmanship that created the influences for this album. I wanted this to be tooled, but I really don’t have any skill in metalwork or woodwork. In fact the only chisel type tools I have are for lino-cut and it just so happens that the week before I had attended a lino cut course.

img_1796I had tried lino cutting before, I was given a set for Christmas 2 years ago which included a handle with the various blades, some lino, some ink and a blotter. There were very few instructions, so I had a play and made one card of a penguin. In the process, I had a few slips, one of which sliced my finger… luckily it wasn’t too deep. A year later, I got a japanese wooden block printing set with 5 separate tools but didn’t dare touch them until I knew how I could do this safely. So this Christmas, I asked for Art classes and got two courses, a screen printing one I will do in the summer and a lino cut course which I did in February.

The course was delivered at the excellent Northern Print in the Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle. They state on their website ‘At the heart of Northern Print is a printmaking studio that anyone can register to use. It’s a welcoming space with professional facilities and technical support. For those that want to learn printmaking or develop their skills we have a programme of printmaking classes and courses. Our gallery showcases the very best in contemporary printmaking with a huge selection of prints to see and buy. We love printmaking and are passionate about sharing our enthusiasm, knowledge and skills….’. We have regularly attended Northern Print activities on art open days in the area, and they always have fun activities for kids (and adults) ranging from block and Letter prints, embossing, printing etches and screen printing. All free and always cool works of art to take away. They also have some stunning old printing presses which you sometimes get to use.

img_2085So I sat at the studio with another 6 pupils with little or no experience of the medium. The first hour was spent learning about the process, how the tools are used and how to do it safely. I quickly realised where I had went wrong the last time, I needed a non-stick mat so I could control the tools with 2 hands. We produced a small test piece trying out the tools and learning about cutting pressure and then printed using this test. We then went onto our main piece of work. We were all asked to bring an A5 picture which we would like to reproduce. When this album project arose, I had decided to incorporate the design around the album that week, but I realised for a first attempt, a complex image was a little mad. So I went for something I am very comfortable with, doodles of boxes. The design was traced and then copied onto the lino. It took at age to cut out the lines and using the other tools to create patterns within. My first print was pretty good but had too much ink in one section. Removing the excess allowed me to work of the design a little longer and produce a print I was happy with. This was done on a old press with a large wheel which was turned to push the inked design with the slightly wet paper through the roller. It gives a real embossed effect to the print. It was great to see everyone else’s designs and what they could create in a couple of hours, birds and flowers seemed very popular. Most of all it felt so traditional, kind of industrial to do and gave me a lot of confidence in trying it again.

img_2113I said above the Black Sabbath Cover is a little daunting to make as a whole lino cut. So I blew up a black and white version, and picked a 8cm square close up of a particular scene. The obvious bit is the watermill and the woman standing in front. this was traced and then transferred onto the lino. And I started cutting safely on my newly acquired mat. To be honest after a couple of hours, I feared the worst as it didn’t look great. I couldn’t visualise what it would look like and I thought I had mucked up the figure at the front. I did a test print, and I was pleasantly surprised that the print looked vaguely like the cover. There were a few little elements to cut back, and by the third attempt had a folky resemblance. I particularly like the lines on the mill, giving detail and even the figure looks good (although it’s very Spirited Away). I tried printing onto different media and in different ways (no 19th century press in the house). Once dry, the print was cut and placed onto a slightly larger white card square. Then both were attached with raisers onto the front of a black card. Finally the words from NIB were placed inside to create a sort of gothic Lovecraftian valentines card.

Billy (aged 2 at time of album release)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s