Graveyard / Photo courtesy of Nuclear Blast
The fashion world and the music industries have been gloriously shagging since time began. When rave culture was still gurning behind closed warehouse doors in the early 90s, fasion retailers were dressing us up like teenage pill-poppers in Lycra hot pants and neon bomber jackets. The 2000s saw emo subculture spill onto the high street, and at the turn of this decade, when heavy metal stopped being seen as the sole domain of overweight LARPers in all-over-print dragon T-shirts, the ease in which you could find imitation leather biker jackets and denim vests at the mall was alarming (and admittedly useful). This year's UK fashion trend has been dominated with suede fringing and bell-bottoms; in fact one Buzzfeed article went as far to suggest that ASOS was conspiring to make us look like Cher, which is no bad thing at all. Forever21 must have got the memo and stocked up on their dress-like-Stevie-Nicks-for-under-$20 line, it was fringed kimonos and floppy fedoras as far as the eye could see.
This sartorial shift directly correlates with the fact that the 70s owned 2015 in musical terms too. With Closer To Home just a mere click away it's possible to reach the end of 2015 having heard not one iota of music from Adele, Beach Slang or Ghostpoet, and as such can we really define what the stand-out bands of 2015 really were when streaming sites can take us down the rabbit hole of whatever wonderland we choose? The truth of the Spotify boom is that we hardly need new music at all. What we will remember 2015 for is that it was the year that everyone started wearing flares and listening to Grand Funk Railroad. Again.
Annoyingly for Rise Above Records, who released a boxset of their music to little more than a “Who? Whatever” fizzle back in 2010, bands like Philadelphia's Bang (i.e. America's answer to Black Sabbath) are now a hot ticket, touring America this year with Pentagram and heading to Europe in 2016 to tread the boards at the always-on-trend Roadburn Festival. Led Zeppelin cannily chose 2015 as the year to dig out some rarities from their archives in a drool-worthy collection of remastered reissues, Deep Purple reminded everyone that they were still alive with a European tour and in June, just outside of London, 20,000 people gathered to witness the inaugural Ramblin' Man Fair, boasting an impressive amount of revellers under 30 hip-swinging along to Scorpions, Greg Allman and Blue Oyster Cult.
It was apt then that 2015 was the year that saw albums from a newer flock of fresh-faced flared rockers, some of whom—like Yorkshire's Gentlemans Pistols—had been previously minding their own business by sounding like a cross between The Sweet and Sir Lord Baltimore for a decade to little or no fanfare. “I'd walk around Leeds with long hair, a beard and flares and I'd just get laughed at,” their amiable founder and frontman, Atko remembers. “Now it seems fine.”
Signed to heavy metal powerhouse Nuclear Blast (who have been collecting these vintage sounding bands like POGs), their third album, Hustler's Row, came within weeks of groovy 70s-inspired releases from Sweden's Graveyard, Germany's Kadavar, and an announcement that Witchcraft, the overlords of the new blues rock boom, would return in 2016. Rise Above, the Gents' former label, also made sure they stayed in pole position of rock's revival race with albums number three and four from Horisont and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, while Earache Records turned their attention away from extreme grindcore to the hard rockin' likes of Rival Sons, The Temperance Movement and Blackberry Smoke.
“There is definitely a growing market for what I call 'retro rock', which is a genre led by bands influenced by the hard rock bands of the late 60s and early 70s,” Monte Connor, president of Nuclear Blast suggests, himself a self-proclaimed crate rattler and vintage rock fetishist. Often found sharing bands you've never heard of on proto-metal's little corner of the internet, The Day After The Sabbath's Facebook group, Connor's day job might be championing the likes of Blues Pills and The Vintage Caravan but his hobby is to make sure we all know the hidden gems of Josefus, Hairy Chapter and Atomic Rooster. “For every Black Sabbath, there were 30 bands that didn't make it,” he says. “The retro rock bands today are largely comprised of fans of this 'proto-metal' and these bands actively promote their discoveries to their fans. Consequently, many of those bands now have cult followings. I would cite the popularity of both retro rock and proto-metal down to modern musicians eager to spread the word of the unsung heroes they unearth, and to their fans who are lapping it up. In addition, fans of proto-metal can also find modern bands creating the real music they love. It all goes hand in hand and explains the popularity of bands like Graveyard as well as the resurgence of Sir Lord Baltimore.”
“I think a certain number of people have always appreciated these bands, but since the advent of file-sharing it has snow-balled,” says Richard Sheppard, 70s rock enthusiast and Day After The Sabbath owner. “The internet has also enabled the guys who were actually in these bands to see the increasing interest, and for them to be found by labels and other fanatics. Often they are completely shocked to see this interest in music they made 40 or more years ago and have almost forgotten about themselves. Some of these bands have even got back together, which again I believe is directly due to online exposure. Some of these bands like The Vintage Caravan probably only exist now because of this renewed interest, and others that have been around for a while are finally enjoying the benefit of the increased interest in retro rock. The recent proliferation of independent festivals and labels that deal in this music are picking up on it, too, which is awesome.”
Barcelona's '77 think so too. Brothers LG and Armand Valeta have been doing their old-school rock thing for 10 years and getting nowhere, until this recent resurgence got ears pricked over at heavy metal stable Century Media. “I don't consider it a bad thing.” LG says of the current trend in bands who sound like they could have been on the soundtrack to Almost Famous. “Some people think that bands should create something completely new and I respect that, but I don't think anyone has created anything innovative in 15 or 20 years. Just listen to old stuff—back then, music was good, and the music industry worked. Labels could spend a lot of money on recording so the bands were free to spend one month or two, or three, in the studio creating. Everyone was trying new things, and technology was evolving at the same time as the music was, so one inspired the other. The revolution was so fast that by the 90s, everything was done; almost everything was discovered, people went as far as they could in every style, so we just look back and we do what we like, which is to play rock'n'roll.”
But why start a band at all then, if all the good records have already been written? In 2015, do we actually need bands like Graveyard at all? “If you think of us as just a throwback band, then yes,” Graveyard frontman Joakim Nilsson says, “but we don't consider ourselves being that. We consider ourselves playing new music for a new generation, not just the ones who like 70s classic rock music, so no, we're not unnecessary. We've never tried to be a 70s band, we try to be a contemporary band. I want to play now—it's never been more fun playing music than right now.”
Louise Brown is too busy dressing like Cher to be on Twitter but you can follow her anyway.