Rock and roll in mid- to late ’70s England was in a strange place. The pomp and pageantry of “prog” and hard rock seemed at odds with the harsh economic recession that the Brits were living under. A national miners strike in 1973 and a painful three-day week had left the U.K. economy on its knees. Kids on the street were alienated from the flamboyant demi-god posturings of rock and roll’s superstars. It was a disaffection that would culminate in punk’s heady cocktail of minimalism and anger.

But what about those who liked music with a little more complexity, who didn’t hate guitar solos and liked to wear denim and long hair when everyone around them wore drainpipe pants, oversize sweaters, razor-cut hair and nose rings? The answer would originate not in the heavy metal bastions of the Midlands or northern England, but from a run-of-the-mill pub in London, a venue that would launch one of the more fascinating rock and roll movements of the ’70s and ’80s – the new wave of British heavy metal, or NWOBHM for short.

As punk took over the neighborhoods in London, Neal Kay’s soon-to-be-legendary Heavy Metal Soundhouse at the Prince of Wales pub played a heavy brew of Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath and Rush. As Paul du Noyer of the NME noted: “Under Kay’s benevolent dictatorship, the Soundhouse has become something of a heavy rock shrine.”

Starting with a one-nighter, the club was soon playing old and, significantly, brand-new metal, for the cardboard guitar crowd (punters made their own guitars out of cardboard to bring to the sweaty headbanging sessions) five nights a week. Eventually, they started putting on gigs by new, young bands at the Prince of Wales and other locations. It was a sea of long greasy-haired, acne-faced teenage boys in denim desperate to prove that metal had more to offer than David Coverdale’s OTT preening.

Inspired by both hard rock and punk to create a new kind of heavy metal, hard rock combos appeared all over England. Saxon came from Barnsley in Yorkshire, Def Leppard from Sheffield, Vardis from Wakefield and Diamond Head were based in Stourbridge.

Vardis hailed from Wakefield, Demon and Magnum came from the Midlands while the Northeast of England threw up a slew of bands: Fist, Raven, White Spirit and the Tygers of Pan Tang.

Legend has it that Sounds (a now-defunct music weekly)writer Geoff Barton coined the term NWOBHM at a Soundhouse gig in 1979 and the weekly paper certainly started using the term heavily, printing the Soundhouse heavy metal chart and creating the climate for a metal revival with metal reviews, news and features. Kay and Soundhouse branched out with nights in other pubs and clubs in London and even organized national Heavy Metal Crusade tours and put out the groundbreaking compilation album, Metal for Muthas. Barton himself would in a couple of years launch the U.K.’s heavy metal bible, Kerrang.

When a young, loud East End of London metal band called Iron Maiden wanted to be heard, they sent a demo to Kay, whose influence helped break the band into the charts. So influential was the Soundhouse on their career that Iron Maiden named their first EP The Soundhouse Tapes.

The music was fast and loud and motivated by the punk ideal of DIY music. Mostly, however, it was unassuming and not at all pretentious.

As Diamond Head’s Brian Tatler told The Guardian last year: “Punk rock was very exciting for us. You’d see the Sex Pistols on the television and think, ‘Oh, I can play that, it’s only got three chords.’ You ended up doing a lot of it yourself – like we did with our first album. The front cover was blank, but not because we were trying to be clever. Our manager owned a cardboard factory and he just thought it would be easier that way. You wouldn’t have any of the band saying, ‘Oh, no, I don't like that.’”

NWOBHM would boom until the mid-’80s launching Def Leppard and Iron Maiden onto global careers, reinvigorating older bands like Judas Priest, pushing heavy metal into the mainstream with bands like Saxon and Magnum and laying the groundwork for the glam metal orgy in America in the 1980s.

Barton, looking back 30 years on, was amazed at the impact British metal had on rock giants Metallica as well as the significance of NWOBHM in retrospect. He told Rockcritics.com: “In later years, I was astonished when Metallica’s Lars Ulrich told me he trekked over to visit Portsmouth on the south coast of England (presumably as a fresh-faced fan from Denmark), just so he could catch an early Diamond Head gig. It was only then that I was able to get a handle on things and realize that, yes, the NWOBHM was an indisputable grassroots revolution that deeply affected the lives of thousands of people – yours truly included.”