||HEAVY METAL KIDS, CAMDEN UNDERWORLD
By Pippa Lang; Photos by Keith and Sally Newhouse
4th June 2011
If I'd had my fishing rod tonight, I would've whipped it out and taken a long slow swing towards the stage, snatched Phil Lewis' syrup off his head and – tada! – what's wrong with growing old disgracefully?!
Doesn't seem to bother the core of the 'Kids' - Cosmo, Justin, Ronnie and Keith – and, frankly, I thought we were here to witness more of the ugly rock they've built their rep on, so ably displayed at the 100 Club in March. Then, it was John Altman fronting the grizzled legends and – acting or not – such a fine example of gnarlyness must surely have been endorsed by the ghost of Gary Holton (another thesp, God rest his soul, blah blah blah...)
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Phil Lewis' roots (and I didn't have my rod with me, so the wig question was never resolved) are more prettyboy sleazerock than warts 'n' all rock 'n' roll. At 53, thirty-odd years after releasing one of my favourite 80s anthems, Girl's 'My Number', he's looking fit, and is obviously keen to convey the illusion of youth. And that's the problem, in my opinion.
Swaggering onstage with yer typical sleazerocker's top hat and tails (yes, wig debate not opened yet), Phil opens his mouth and – what the-?! Tank's Cliff Evans and I lock eyes knowingly and chortle heartily as another illusory trick ech-ech-echoes through the Underworld.
Heavy on the reverb! This, however, is merely a brief hitch from the direction of the sound desk, because normal service is resumed less than halfway through the opener, a thumping little blighter by the name of 'Hangin' On'.
"We are Heavy Metal Kids!", drawls Phil after 'Blow It All Away', as if they needed an introduction and this was the Viper Room in LA in the 80s.
After taking his tails off to reveal some kind of see-through t-shirt, Phil looks like a hairdresser in a dockyard pub. Unlike Altman, he doesn't muck in much with the geezers behind him (apart from for the encore, where he dons a white jacket and guitar).
Just before 'Chelsea King', he introduces the band as 'John, Paul, George and Ringo', a 'quip' that prompts nothing but awkward laughter.
And on it goes: rampant rock 'n' roll tunes shackled firmly to the stage by the unshakeable foundation of the Heavy Metal Kids, with a singer intent on prancing about as if he wants to be in a younger, skinnier band again.
Although Phil's obvious enthusiasm and delight at fronting the Heavy Metal Kids has undoubtedly injected the band with a kind of youthful gusto tonight, his particular spirit seems to have been poured from a different bottle than the rest of the band's.
Don't get me wrong: may the Heavy Metal Kids kick out their sticky ol' jams for many years to come, but let's have a rougher, readier frontman next time. Or, Phil, just let it all hang out! The dead fox is a good start, love...