Born in London in 1955, Londoner Gary Holton was a child star with the Sadlers Well Opera Company, and a graduate of both the Old Vic Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Just 17 when he joined the touring company of Hair, in 1972, it was there that he began making the contacts which would serve him in such good stead when he left, two years later, and formed the Heavy Metal Kids with Mickey Waller (guitar), Danny Peyronel (keyboards), Keith Boyce (drums), and Ronnie Thomas (bass).
A raucous blend of streetwise rock, reggae, and balladry, permanently wrapped up in a Dickensian image of street urchin chic (homage to another of Holton's childhood gigs, playing the Artful Dodger in a production of Oliver), the Heavy Metal Kids cut two albums, with their eponymous debut ranking among the finest LPs of 1974. Certainly the follow-up, Anvil Chorus, could never match it for sheer maverick brilliance, and Holton quit the band in late 1976, amid a tidal wave of drug-tinged accusations. He was always a drinker, but drugs brought a new, and troubling, influence into play. Friends blamed the American tour, where the very nature of the venues where the Kids were booked lent themselves to such introductions, but whatever the cause, the rest of the group couldn't deal with it.
Holton spent the next two years cleaning up and concentrating on his acting career again; by the time he rejoined the Heavy Metal Kids in 1978, he had landed roles in both the disco movie Music Machine and the upcoming film
version of the Who's Quadrophenia epic. The band's rebirth, however, was doomed. The group played a string of increasingly disheveled gigs around London, then retired to the studio with producer Mickie Most, to record their
much delayed (and mostly disposable) third album, Kitsch. The band then broke up.
Holton continued to record sporadically, most frequently alongside Casino Steel of punk power poppers the Boys. He also played a handful of gigs with the Damned (subbing for an absent Dave Vanian) and was one of the leading contenders to replace the late Bon Scott in AC/DC. But he was
more interested in acting again, taking well-received roles in the movies Breaking Glass and Bloody Kids before finally grasping stardom in 1983, as Wayne in British TV's Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. A light drama conceived by Quadrophenia director Francis Roddam, the weekly episodes of Pet established Holton as a British household name. He returned to the stage, in the London cast of Pump Boys and Dinettes, and was just completing the much-anticipated second series of Pet when he died from a drug overdose on
October 25, 1985. He left behind him one of the most enduring characters in British TV history, some truly memorable movie roles -- and one of the greatest unknown albums ever made.