One of the most fascinating books you are ever likely to pick up regarding the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (or NWOBHM) is John Tucker’s fact packed “Neat & Tidy – The Story of Neat Records”. Granted it might just focus on the evolution of one of the scene’s many influential players during the dawn of the 1980s, but what a player Neat Records were. The Northeast of England based label provides us denim and leather clad rockers both here in the UK and worldwide early exposure to such seminal names as Tygers of Pan Tang, Venom, Raven, Tobruk, and err Crucifixion, all supported by their groundbreaking (for the time) mail order business.
It’s perhaps no surprise then that HNE Recordings have asked Tucker to not only annotate but also compile this outstanding 4CD salute to the label, ‘All Systems Go – The Neat Singles Volume 1’.
Kicking off with Tygers Of Pan Tang’s 1979 debut ‘Don’t Touch Me There’, and taking us through to Venom’s mighty ‘Warhead’, released in 1984, this set takes in the 37 singles label boss (and studio owner) David Wood’s unleashed on the world during that timeframe (he also released 20+ albums in the same period). Which is an incredible amount of new music from an independent record label, and one that earned Neat Records the tagline of ‘Allegedly Britain’s No.1 Independent Heavy Metal Label’.
My first experience of the label came via a then mate of mine who had picked up a copy of Venom’s classic debut ‘Welcome To Hell’ upon its release back in 1981, which promptly confused the fuck out of us teenage rockers all crammed into his bedroom trying to get our heads around, and not really getting to grips with, just how much of a landmark recording that album actually was, and still is to this very day.
The likes of Tygers Of Pan Tang, White Spirit, and Fist – the first three NWOBHM bands to release singles via Neat (and all captured back to back here as the introduction to the set’s first CD) – had already been snapped up by MCA by this time, so for us, we were immediately playing catch up via records by like likes of Raven, Blitzkrieg, and of course from the very depths of hell, the mighty Venom.
It’s the lesser-known bands such as (the surprisingly very good, and Celtic Frost approved) Aragorn, Bitches Sin, and Raw Deal (again, all captured on the set’s first CD) that have me taking that same voyage of discovery all over again, albeit four decades on. Plus, as this set progresses it also throws up such other lesser known names (well they were to me anyway) as Steel (who somehow manage to blend Maiden riffs with KISS-like melodies and are fronted by a Jon Deverill wannabe), Valhalla, and the aforementioned Crucifixion, so there’s plenty to get stuck into within this set even if you consider yourself to be something of a die-hard (see what I did there?) fan of Neat Records.
If you have been around the NWOBHM block more than once or twice you may notice that this set is actually very similar to Sanctuary Records’ long since deleted ‘The Neat Singles Collection’ volumes one and two (both of which command an eye watering price on online auction sites right now), however, what this set does that those didn’t, is run the singles’ A and B Sides concurrently, so you’re not having to flip CDs or create playlists simply to play all of Venom’s ‘Warhead’ for example (sadly though the 12” extended version of ‘Warhead’ is once again missing here), plus with ‘All Systems Go – The Neat Singles Volume 1’ you also have a glorious 20-page booklet with John Tucker’s excellent sleeve notes expanded to forensic levels to completely fill in any knowledge gaps you might have regarding the releases.
If you were too young to experience the NWOBHM first time around, this 82-track collection (which hits the shops on 16th February 2024) is as fine a place as any to visit to inspire you to construct your first denim cut-off, or perhaps step out wearing a bullet belt or studded gauntlet, whilst for those of us with slightly more faded denim cut-offs (that no longer fit us) this is a most welcome trip down memory lane, one that stinks of fags, patchouli oil, Newcastle Brown and is the very birthplace of Black Metal.
Author: Johnny ‘Double Denim’ Hayward