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Why NWOCR is a community, and why that makes a difference

Massive Wagons, Elles Bailey, Jack J Hutchison and Mason Hill
(Image credit: John McMurtrie/Elles Bailey/Jack J Hutchison/Mason Hill)

We’ve watched NWOCR – or the New Wave Of Classic Rock to give it its full title – grow with interest. What started, in 2017, as a Facebook group has developed into a sprawling grassroots collective with T-shirts, streamed gigs, dozens of championed bands and, now, their own compilation album. Featuring 42 tracks from 42 rising bands, The Official New Wave Of Classic Rock - Volume 1 is released on 23 July.  

What better way to mark the occasion, we thought, than to lure the journalist who coined the term it derived from – NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) – out of retirement to give his verdict? And so we did. In this month’s Classic Rock magazine you can read the inestimable Geoff Barton’s review of The Official New Wave Of Classic Rock - Volume 1 in full.

Spoiler alert: it’s not a rave. Not a kicking mind you, achieving a respectable 6/10, but not a glowing report either. While we’re not about to overturn this result, reading Geoff’s review did get us thinking about the nature of the whole NWOCR idea, which is what we wanted to talk about.

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Because ‘Knocker’ is the product of a such different time – and, crucially, such a different platform – to those that gave us Nerwobbum, glam-metal, krautrock, crunkcore, skunk rock, bonk rock (hey, no one’s saying these were all credible…) and other scenes that Geoff’s review cites, it’s automatically a very different beast. 

Where those scenes and acronyms mostly referred to new (or at least newly mashed up) styles, NWOCR is something of a nostalgia ghetto; albeit an unusually friendly, safe one, with no strict entry criteria aside from basic decency, mutual respect and appreciation for a healthy percentage of the bands that raised hell at Monsters Of Rock, Isle Of Wight and the like. Compton, this ain’t.

A key question Geoff raises is the legitimacy of ‘Knocker’ as “a genuine, cast-iron, actual, er….thing”. Is it actually a new strand of ‘classic rock’ (as defined in the 70s), or something else entirely? In other words….what the flippin’ hell is it??

That’s a bit rich coming from him. ‘Nerwobbum’ was, after all, cooked up by two blokes (the late Alan Lewis being the second), making it a much more nebulous proposition than ‘Knocker’ – which was at least devised by a group of like-minded people and has, to its credit, evolved organically.

But, organic team effort or not, we’re left with the same question. What is NWOCR? Is it a scene? A genre? A bunch of bands and their mates? The heady future of rock’n’roll? Or something else?  

In truth it’s more appropriate to regard it not as a movement or a scene, or even a sub-genre (in the way that NWOBHM, Kawaii Metal or any of the others Geoff lists can plausibly be called), but as a community. A community created online. A community of actual friends – not two media pros with sharp, experienced eyes for a story, a selling point and, yes, a new musical movement.

So how and why did NWOCR become A Thing in the first place? It was born as a response  to a perceived lack of new rock music. The NWOCR founders knew, as Classic Rock knows, that this was clearly a complete load of old bollocks and set up a Facebook group to affirm that – and, we’ve been told, to fly the flag for bands that we weren’t covering in the magazine (some of these we had overlooked; others simply hadn’t made the cut because they were outshone by groups elsewhere). NWOBHM was created by the industry. NWOCR was created by the people, for the people.

This goes some way to explaining Knocker’s ‘problems’, such as they are. Looseness of definition is one that Geoff points out (“Elles Bailey’s Woman Like Me sounds like Shania Twain singing Black Velvet,” he says, not unreasonably). But hey, no two NWOBHM bands sounded exactly alike either, did they? And yes, quality control is another. 

So let’s look at some hard truths (because, as we often say at Classic Rock, friends tell friends the truth): With the very best will in the world, the all-are-welcome nature of NWOCR doesn’t always reap good music. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s poor. There are 42 bands on the NWOCR compilation. They can't all be the Future Of Rock.

At its worst there are bands who come across more like they’re ticking stuff off a classic rock checklist (denim, check; leather jacket, check; guitar sound, check; lyrics about women and whiskey, check) than focused on writing killer tunes. The songs themselves have to come first, and for our money that gets overlooked more often than it should. (And while we’re at it, if you are going to present yourselves as four blokes in a row peddling that much-trodden, resolutely retro style, in this day and age, your tunes had better be absolutely shit-hot). Weekend warriors or not, we expect the goods. 

So that’s the downside. But it’s the upside where Knocker really comes into its own. 

NWOCR offers a wide platform for new rock, and its many friends. Contacts and friendships have been made here. It’s a safe space where a range of ideas can be shared. If more of its compadres really ran with that spirit of openness – amping up their unique attributes, being themselves instead of what a rock band ‘should’ look and sound like – the diversity of the collective could be compelling and deliberate, rather than a bit vague.

And in the midst of all that, some legit first-rate records and artists have emerged. Bands like Massive Wagons, The Dust Coda, Mason Hill, SKAM, Wolf Jaw, The Hot Damn!, Thundermother, Gorilla Riot, Jack J Hutchinson, Blackwater Conspiracy and more do a brilliant job of helping kick the old ‘rock is dead’ chestnut further down the road – as do their counterparts in the US and beyond.

We’re still scratching our heads a bit at some of the bands Geoff singled out for a kicking. Massive Wagons? Jack J Hutchinson? Phil Campbell & His Bastard Sons? Are you high, Mr B? Massive Wagons had a Top 10 record with House Of Noise last year, they’re as close to a bona fide breakout success of any rock band of recent times! Are they the Iron Maiden of the NWOCR? Who knows?! They might be, given their rapturous reception at Download a few weeks ago. Time will tell.

Rock is in a good place today, and NWOCR is definitely a part of that. But what do you think? Ultimately it doesn’t matter what Geoff says, or what we say here – it’s the fans, the people who go out and buy the records and go to the show, who decide who the next Motorhead, Iron Maiden or whoever is. You’re the ones who get to choose what the rock landscape looks like, and The Official New Wave Of Classic Rock - Volume 1 reflects that. 

The new issue of Classic Rock Magazine is out now. This Is New Wave Of Classic Rock - Volume 1 is released on July 23.

Polly Glass

Classic Rock features editor Polly is an all-round editor, organiser and writer of regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage). Loves cooking, southern rock, Steven Wilson, and reading about unusual people.