One of the most spectacular, if sadly neglected, British bands of the mid-'70s, the Heavy Metal Kids straddled the eras of glam and punk with such effortless ease that neither genre has ever seemed entirely comfortable with them. Not for the Kids the succession of compilations and tributes with which the CD age has gifted so many of their peers; not for the Kids the awed accolades of a generation of future stars, raised on their high energy rock and dazzling visual flash. But for anybody who is in on the secret, the three albums which the Heavy Metal Kids unleashed between 1974-1977 represent the missing link in the story of Brit-pop, the bridge which links the Small Faces to Oasis, the Action to the Jam, and any other two points you care to mention.
As an accomplished child actor, vocalist Gary Holton first came to attention as a protégé of the Sadlers Well Opera Company during the early '60s and also played the Artful Dodger in an acclaimed production of Charles Dickens' Oliver. From there, he moved on to regular performances with the Old Vic Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company, before joining the touring company of Hair in 1972, aged 17. It was during this period that he began making the contacts which would lead him to form the Heavy Metal Kids two years later, with Mickey Waller (guitar, and no relation to the Jeff Beck/Rod Stewart drummer of the same name), Argentinean-born Danny Peyronel (keyboards), Ronnie Thomas (bass, vocals), and Keith Boyce (drums). The group's name, incidentally, was taken from William Burroughs -- naively or otherwise, the band members never dreamed people might draw other, musical, conclusions from it.
Fronted by Holton's raucous Cockney accent and visually steeped in the paraphernalia of his theatrical upbringing, the Heavy Metal Kids made an immediate impact. Singer/songwriter TV Smith, whose punk-era band the Adverts would play several gigs with the Kids, recalled, "they cared about their look, wearing makeup on stage, dressing up special for gigs, which was the kind of stuff we were looking for before punk. Silly lyrics, funny, energetic on-stage." Guitarist Brian James (the Damned/Lords of the New Church) agreed. "The Heavy Metal Kids were great fun. Gary used to take the piss out of himself so much and they kinda filled a little bit of a gap, amongst all that pomp of the early '70s. You had the hippy side, you had the glam thing that was taking itself so very seriously, and then there was Gary and his boys, just being silly." He, too, was adamant, "they were ahead of their time."
Discovered by former Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich frontman Dave Dee, the Kids were signed by Atlantic Records and went immediately into the studio to record their debut album, Heavy Metal Kids. It was well received, but did little, a fate which many observers put down to the conflicting signals sent out by the band's name. Heading out for their first American tour in early 1975, the group dropped the Heavy Metal from their name, and gigged as the Kids alone. Recorded with new guitarist Cosmo replacing Waller, Anvil Chorus, their sophomore album, also appeared under this abbreviated name. It fared no better than its predecessor and, following a U.K. tour with Alice Cooper, the Kids parted company with Atlantic towards the end of the year. Further personnel changes included the departures of Peyronel and Cosmo, to be replaced by John Sinclair (keyboards) and Barry Paul, guitarist on the group's original demos two years earlier.
In December, 1975, the Kids signed with producer Mickie Most's RAK label, but before work could begin on their next album, Holton was loudly sacked from the lineup amid a storm of drink- and drug-related headlines. Plans for the remaining members to continue on without him, however, came to naught and, in late 1977, Holton rejoined the band for a handful of live shows and the long-delayed third album, Kitsch. But by mid-1978, he had departed once again and, this time, the band broke up.
Returning to acting, Holton landed roles in the disco movie Music Machine, the Who's Quadrophenia, and alongside Hazel O'Connor in the hit Breaking Glass. He also starred in the British TV movie Bloody Kids. His musical endeavors were now confined to strict one-offs: in December, 1978, Holton stood in for Damned vocalist Dave Vanian on a short Scottish tour, he also recorded a solo single, a stunning punk-country version of Kenny Rogers' "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" with the Boys' guitarist Casino Steel. But even the opportunity to replace the late Bon Scott in AC/DC could not lure him back to full-time rock & roll.
In 1983, Holton landed a starring role in British television's Auf Weidersehn, Pet, a light drama conceived by Quadrophenia director Francis Roddam and one of the surprise hits of the 1983-1984 season. He followed up with a memorable role in a Pilsner lager commercial and, in September, 1984, Holton returned to theater, appearing in the London cast of the 1950s Americana musical Pump Boys and Dinettes.
The following summer, he traveled to Spain to work on the long-awaited second series of Auf Weidersehn, Pet. It was there that he died, on October 25, 1985, the victim of a heroin habit which even the gossip-ridden London underground scarcely remembered. ~ Dave Thompson