Side one of our double A side on HMCC and The Heavy Metal Truants we meet up with Alexander Milas, long time former editor of the magazine Metal Hammer, star gazer, keen cyclist and general all round hero on a recent HMCC ride to chat about Heavy Metal Truants and the work they do.
Heavy Metal Truants are a charity formed back in 2013. Formed initially between Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood and Alexander Milas. HMT has grown into a large entity that has raised nearly £1.4 million for four kids charities with an annual ride from their London base to the home of metal, Donington, and Download Festival. We got to know Alex through his associated club The Heavy Metal Cycling Club and this year we have been able to produce some very special and limited edition caps to support the charity. See the link at the bottom of the article.
The whole thing you have going here seems really special. How did Heavy Metal Truants begin?
It was in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains…No really. Let me explain. After leaving archaeology and academia I returned to one of my other passions, which is a lifelong adoration for music. I stumbled into life as a music journalist, eventually writing full time for the mighty Kerrang! before taking up the mantle of Hammer as its ed-in-chief, which I did for about ten years. You simply can’t be in that world without crossing over into the world of Iron Maiden – their influence is monumental. Lucky for me I’ve been a lifelong fan, they got me into it in the first place. As it happens I now run their official fan club among other travails!During that time I eventually got to know their celebrated manager Rod Smallwood pretty well. Anyone who’s familiar with the legend of Maiden knows that he’s a force of nature, and to head up one of the most successful artists of all time you’d have to be. He’s just as inspirational in other pursuits, too.Rod had started a wonderful group of cyclists, his close friends and work associates, into a charity fundraising group called the Truants, all based on the idea of truancy – having fun when you’re supposed to be working. They weren’t happy to just have fun though, and what began as a quiet fundraising activity grew into a monster. The Truants is now a foundation, but back then it was a bunch of like-minded people piling in and raising a bundle of cash for kids charities, which makes sense as the welfare of kids seems to be the one thing everyone agrees on. In the beginning, they’d do it by doing organised charity rides abroad – Cuba, then Egypt, and Rod asked me to join them for their Morocco excursion and we had the most brilliant time, and it was a true test as I’d not cycled in years, but it was an unforgettable adventure and I made friends for life. It’s an important theme in the story.So there I was in the desert of Morocco between Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains, and I sit down with Rod for a beer and, and we started spinning up ideas for a ride that’d be more local and accessible but could also really harness the power of the metal community. It was the birth of the Heavy Metal Truants, and a great sense of purpose for me.The next thing I know, we’re talking to the excellent Andy Copping at Download Festival, and here we are going into our 12th year with £1.35 million raised for Teenage Cancer Trust, Nordoff Robbins, Save the Children, and Childline.
That's a pretty great story. So what causes do you support and why do the Heavy Metal Truants exist?
One thing everyone can agree on is that kids are the future, and they’re also the most vulnerable part of our society – all of the four childrens charities who we support do incredible work to that end but their efforts rarely get the headlines they deserve, and when you see that work up close it’s incredibly motivating. The people who work at these organisations are really inspirational to be around, so it creates a real sense that too much is never enough.I also think it sends a really brilliant message about heavy metal fans, too – it really is a community, and it’s often theorised that it’s linked to the working-class roots of the music itself – I think there’s weight to that. When you look at Birmingham or the East End of London in the late 60s and 70s, you’ll see the origins of an art form that’s now found in every time zone. Metal is like a worldwide family – and when asked there’s a definite sense that we can pull together when we want to, and HMT is about more than just riders – it’s the industry: labels, artists, a top to bottom effort, including auctions and other activities like Heavy Metal Curries: our version of a charity gala dinner that you can wear jeans to. We’ve run huge online auctions, we’ve put on gigs, and we’ve had some of the biggest artists of our world join in the fun.That doesn’t answer your question though – all of the above is a consequence of the reason why: it’s because metal attracts great people, and it’s that community cohesion that keeps people coming back to this year after year.
Is that then what makes Heavy Metal Truants really special?
Yeah, it’s the friends you make along the way - whenever we gather now there’s this incredible sense of family. Anyone who cycles in groups knows what a bonding experience it can be, and oftentimes with HMT you’ve got people who’ve not cycled or done any physical activities in years (re)discover the joy of the outdoors: as a peripheral benefit to funds raised, it’s been a catalyst for a lot of positive change in our ranks. It’s also a very important thing in our lives: knowing you’ve done one good thing as one year passes to the next is a really valuable thing. For me, it’s a sense of purpose. I’m not alone there.
What is the relationship between HM Truants and The Heavy Metal Cycling Club?
As everyone who cycles knows, it can really be like being a kid again. Back in 2014 a few of us decided we didn’t just want to cycle once a year, and we wanted a way of kinda keeping the band together year-round. It started very loosely, but the last year or so has seen us getting a little more focused and organised as a club. The Heavy Metal Truants is our mothership, and I think what sets us apart is that we’re a social club who enjoys cycling and so we’ve got people who are just starting out all the way up to maniacs planning London-Edinburgh-London. That’s very reflective of the spirit of HMT - we go together.
When does your main event happen then?
Our main fundraising activity is our ride from London to Download Festival which always takes place in June. This past year was notable because the club also undertook a group challenge to raise money in addition to that, and we cycled from London to Calais to London - two ferry rides, two hours of sleep, 40 hours. It was memorable! We also invite people to walk, run, and ride virtually alongside the main physical events so literally anyone in the world can join in the fun, and we’ve had people from the States, Peru, and Japan all join our efforts.
What famous names do you have amongst your ranks?
Rider-wise? Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, Johan Hegg from Amon Amarth, Paolo from Trivium, Ben from Orange Goblin, James from Tesseract, Rob from Enter Shikari, Luke Morley from Thunder, Nick and Aaron from Paradise Lost, Andy Sneap from Judas Priest, Biff from Saxon – the list goes on and it’d be hard to go without acknowledging people who’ve supported us in other ways, auction donations, etc - Queen, KISS, Metallica, Bon Jovi, Guns n Roses, Queen – it’s really quite something.
Well that's quite a list! How do we get involved?
You can sign up right now at www.heavymetaltruants.com – we’ve just launched year 12: The Dirty Dozen, and this year we’re going to be camping along the way to live up to the nickname. And you can join any Heavy Metal Cycling Club ride year round at www.heavymetalcycling.com – we’ve got London, Sussex, Midlands and Dutch chapters and people from all around the world have joined in.
Any plans to shave your legs?
Yes, for a £50 donation to Heavy Metal Truants! :)