Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Behind The Wall Of Sleep

     Long ago when the earth was new and dinosaurs roamed the earth, I worked as a postman,delivering parcels via an aged on-hire motor coach. I was based at West Norwood Sorting Office in South-East London. It is now a Wetherspoons, which tells you how long ago this all was. After, or between shifts, we'd rest up nearby in a Greasy Spoon Transport Cafe. Tobacco smoke hung in the air so thick you could mould shapes in it. There was also a classic old jukebox which was kept busy playing stuff by Jim Reeves, Cliff, Elvis, Frank and Cilla. But by a divine error of judgement the Payola staff had also loaded Black Sabbath's first hit single onto it. This of course was “Paranoid.

     As there were a few younger, long-haired posties (like me), it got a few airings. But by a further divine error, the jukie also contained the “B” side. Which was “The Wizard.” It began innocuously with some mournful tootings on a harmonica, and for a few brief seconds, the hubbub, nay uproar in the “caff” continued unabated. Then the thunderous power cords of Messrs Ward, Butler and Iommi kicked in, and shortly afterwards, Ozzie would begin his nasal caterwaulings.

  I've always been a Rock and Metal fan. Black Parrot Seaside began life as a rock band, with the stacks, columns,hair and all. At that time, if I was feeling occasionally homesick for the Industrial Midlands, a little blast (literally) of Sabbath often did the trick. Plus, “ The Wizard” also visibly annoyed a roomful of old bastards instantly. This tickled me immensely, as “Paranoid” never seemed to have the same effect on them.

   Initially, the culture shock in the dining area was palpable. And then the rage was, too. After the first dozen or so complaints, the proprietors cleverly learned to recognise that distinctive intro to “The Wizard,” and they turned it down a little each time. So as to protect the delicate senses of the fag-smoking, tea-swilling, sausage-munching hordes. But they couldn't undo the multi plays I had inserted before leaving, and they could not ask for the disc to be removed from the playlist until the next time the Rep. turned up to service it. (I was an awkward young sod like that!).

    This reaction endeared me even further to Sabbath. I had first heard them performing their eponymous second album on an aged green Dansette record player, bequeathed to me for solace whilst I was in exile. This was the album with a spooky cover and with the opening track beginning with a thunderstorm and a tolling bell. It still sounds pretty good on Volume control 11 pumped out through four speakers and a specialised amp. at home. Better than on the Dansette, in fact. Even though it does shake the windows. (Detached house-neighbours can't hear it). On the strength of hearing that album I bought the first Sabbath Album, secondhand from the brother of a College friend. It contained the wondrous “War Pigs” and “ Iron Man.” I wasn't lonely, depressed or devil-worshipping. I just liked enormous, Gothic power chords. And I thought Tony Iommi was a cracking guitarist. (Still do!) I went on to purchase several other Sabbath albums. One of my favourites remains a 12-inch Limited Edition  E.P. called "Feels Good To me." One of the tracks is a towering live version of “Heaven and Hell. “ It was recorded live in Moscow, in 1989.  The band was falling apart, and Iommi was the only original Sabbath member featured on the recording. Vocalist Tony Martin introduces each member of the band including the late Cosy Powell on drums, as they all bash out a little solo in turn. “ And the man who needs no introduction,” he growls, ” the one man who keeps the Black Sabbath legend alive-Tony Iommi!” Moscow then goes mad as Iommi rips into a gargantuan solo. I often wonder what Putin would have made of all that degeneracy. Shot them, I suppose?

   Better times today of course, for Sabbath, with most of them cleaned-up and even recording together. Their downloads and albums remain popular and their trail-blazing contribution to the genre of music now known as Heavy Metal is fully acknowledged by old and young rock fans alike. T.V. Programmes on worthy Culture Channels have analysed their songs and proved that some are actually well-written. Few if any endorse the dark arts, and a couple are actually credible political statements. (I told you War Pigs meant something).