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 dressed in 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 on Trent.

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 Stoke 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 at the Bowl that year.

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

Sounds advert issue 11.7.81

A full page in Sounds had Black Sabbath and Motorhead advertised as double headliners at Port Vale on Saturday August 1st – 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 isn’t exactly the Ken Barlow of Metal so backstage refreshments with Lemmy and Ozzy might get messy. 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.

A week later Sounds ran a story that 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 the former Sabbath frontman, the band might have to rely on old Sabbath favourites to stop a (crazy) train wreck coming down the track ?

Why did Sabbath pull out ? Tony Iommi doesn’t talk about it directly in his biography, but 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 day was propped up by NWOBHM band Vardis, on stage they were hot, frustrated and looking for a groove. But as the gears began to click, suddenly it was all over, while out in the field the disciples gathered around the stage, sensing something special was in the air.

Then up came two Canadians and one American band fighting it out between each other. The slick American rockers Riot glide through their set with guile and finesse. Next up Triumph searched for magic only to get caught in the crossfire and manage to hang on bravely during the bottle wars. A solid performance from Frank Marino earned a glowing respect from the sweltering hordes gathering at the altar.

Lemmy & Ozzy backstage at Port Vale.

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, hot enough to light a bonfire.

Then an eerie silence falls and dark clouds gather overhead while lights spark in the night sky. Through the smoke headliners Motorhead arrive and steal the show opening with Ace of Spades – but the night belonged to Overkill.

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

Alikivi 2021.