THE NIGHT BELONGED TO OVERKILL: Port Vale’s Heavy Metal Holocaust at 40

My ticket no.27,070 from the day with original headliners Black Sabbath on the bill.

A dozen teenage metallers from South Shields wearing bike jackets, denim and long hair jumped on a coach to travel 200 mile south of Tyneside. In honour of our Viking ancestors we burned down the highway, raised mighty hell and invaded… Stoke.

Before the driver put his pedal to the metal a shout went up from the back ‘Me ma washed me jeans last night and I think me ticket was in the pocket’.

The Heavy Metal Holocaust was on 1 August 1981 at Port Vale football ground, but from the off the neighbours tried to get the festival banned. The council gave the go ahead after the promoter offered a free coach trip to Blackpool for elderly residents.

In the first issue of Kerrang, the all-day metal extravaganza was originally planned for Milton Keynes Bowl, in what would have been the first of two shows that year.

The year previously, UB40, Squeeze and headliners The Police were on the bill. Later years saw Queen, Genesis and Bowie headline the bowl which became a regular on the festival circuit.

Rock at the Bowl on 8 August ’81 featured headliners Thin Lizzy, the Ian Hunter band, the mainstream sound of Judie Tzuke and Q Tips. Reviews say the gig was poorly attended.

Sounds advert issue 11.7.81

In 11 July issue of Sounds it was full steam ahead to Port Vale with Black Sabbath and Motorhead advertised as double headliners – with a monster PA in tow.

A ‘major band’ was to be announced with rumours circulating that Ted Nugent was being added to the bill – now Ted as we know isn’t exactly the Ken Barlow of Metal, so this might get messy.

A week later in Sounds, Sabbath had pulled, and a full page advert read Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz had stepped in. No surprise a deal had been struck as that summer Motorhead were opening for Ozzy on a North American tour.

But with only one album behind him might the band have to rely on old Sabbath favourites to stop a train wreck coming down the track ?

Why did Sabbath pull out ? Tony Iommi doesn’t talk about it in his biography, he mentions that summer the band were in Los Angeles recording new album Mob Rules, the follow up to the very successful Heaven & Hell.

The Nugent rumour appeared in the first issue of Kerrang, but it was just that, a rumour, and the eventual axeman who played on the day was Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush.

The day was propped up by NWOBHM band Vardis, who were hot, frustrated and angry, and looking for a groove. As the gears began to crunch and click, suddenly it was all over. Out on the field the disciples were still gathering around the stage, sensing something special was in the air.

Up came a middle order of two Canadians and one American fighting it out between each other. The slick American rock band Riot glide through their set with guile and finesse. Next up was Triumph who searched for magic only to get caught in the crossfire, and manage to hang on bravely during the bottle wars.

A solid performance from Marino, not giving up or giving in, earned a glowing respect from the sweltering hordes gathering at the altar.

As the sun set the High Priest of Rock n Roll, Lemmy, invites Ozzy and Randy Rhoads to plug in for the ride and amp it up high and loud. They leave no room for doubts delivering a blistering set, a crazy train rumbling down the line, just hot enough to light a bonfire.

Then an eerie silence falls as dark clouds gather overhead, lights spark in the night sky and through the smoke headliners Motorhead in all their glory, own the stage. Gun’s blazing it’s a lightning strike as they look to steal the show opening with Ace of Spades – but the night belonged to Overkill.

Research: Sounds, Set List, Kerrang & UK Rock Festivals.

Gary Alikivi 2021.

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