How two former coal miners from Killamarsh launched the 'air guitar' phenomenon - and counted David Bowie amongst their biggest fans

Sheffield is well known for its association with heavy metal, but two lesser-known Killamarsh brothers launched the ‘air guitar’ phenomenon and counted David Bowie amongst their biggest fans.

Tuesday, 17th November 2020, 10:56 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th November 2020, 10:56 am

It was all part of an unlikely rise to fame for two former miners that went on to present the first ever rock show on MTV.

Whilst most of their peers were either fans of disco or punk in 1976, Mick and Dez Bailey were hooked on heavy metal from an early age.

Their first gig as fledgling DJs was on May 13, 1977. They hired Killamarsh Village Hall and went under the name ‘Mick & Dez Bailey’s Heavy Metal Road Show’.

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Mick and Dez Bailey with David Bowie

They would DJ anywhere they could get a gig – from youth clubs to pubs – and a couple of years later their tenacity paid off, they secured a residency at Retford Porterhouse, a northern stronghold for the rock scene in the late 1970s.

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But it was the day they decided to give away imitation guitars coupled with their first DJ spots in London that set them on the road to fame – and ‘air guitar’ infamy.

Mick said: “My friend Brian Frost was a joiner and he made about 100 plywood guitars and painted them up. We gave them away as people were coming in. And the whole place was rocking with these guitars. Nobody had seen anything like it.”

Everything changed when the Bailey Brothers found themselves on the front of Time Out magazine in 1980

It was finding themselves splashed across the front cover of Time Out magazine under the headline – ‘Why are these men playing cardboard guitars’ – in 1980 that secured their status as ‘air guitar’ originators.

The Bailey Brothers went on to front the first ever rock show on MTV, pulling in 15 million viewers a show. They helped to break bands including Bon Jovi and Metallica in the era.

And one of their biggest fans, unbeknown to them, was David Bowie.

Mick said: “I had a call to see if we’d introduce a band on stage in Bradford. I thought it was a wind-up. They said they were the Tin Pot Men or Tin Men or something. I never even bothered writing down the number. I mentioned it to Dez later that day and he said, the only act with a name like that are Tin Machine, David Bowie’s band.

The brothers on the set of MTV with rock act Vixen

“I nearly had a heart attack, I’d just turned down an invitation from David Bowie.”

An hour later they had another call – from David Bowie himself.

Mick said: “I knew it was him, no mistaking that voice. He said,‘Mick its David, I know you think it’s a wind up but we’ve been recording our album in Switzerland, and every week we stop for an hour and watch your MTV show. We love it. My grandparents are from Doncaster and it’s great to hear a Yorkshire accent on the TV. We are playing up north not far from you guys and we would love you to come and hang with us, introduce us on to the stage’.”

Author Neil Anderson with the new book.

The rest, as they say, is history. They introduced David Bowie and Tin Machine and partied with the band back at the hotel.

A new book, ‘Signing On For The Devil – the Rise of Steel City Rock’, lifts the lid on the story of the Bailey Brothers.

Author Neil Anderson said: “Sheffield has had some amazing stories relating to its contribution to rock music over the years but few are as jaw-dropping as the Bailey Brothers.”

‘Signing On For The Devil – the Rise of Steel City Rock’ is available from here at £19.95 (signed collector’s edition) or £13.95.

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