Black Sabbath: 13

Black Sabbath 13

The announcement that Black Sabbath’s 13 was Classic Rock magazine’s ‘Album of the Year’ for 2013, its appearance at or near the top of many other end of year lists (including a very creditable fifth place in Über Röck’s albums of the year) , and news of multiple Grammy nominations, was greeted with great joy by many but a sense of incredulity by others. Of course it’s great that Sabbath (in whatever form) can top the album charts in 2013, but are the journalists, critics and punters letting their hearts rule their heads? The album’s been with us a while now, so perhaps it’s a good time to take stock and engage in a little sober reflection.

First, by way of context setting, some points to note:

  • Black Sabbath (by which, for purposes of this article, I mean Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osbourne) are not angry young working class men anymore. Not that I’m suggesting they’ve forgotten their roots – there remains something very grounded and earthy about all three of them – but they’re older now , experienced, successful and much better off. They don’t need to worry about factory (or burglary) jobs anymore, nor where the next pay cheque is coming from.
  • The members of Black Sabbath are no longer wide-eyed ‘innocents abroad’, stumbling (snow) blindly into the hitherto unknown joys, dubious or otherwise, of substances that do funny things to you. (Ozzy might have regressed a little, temporarily, but he’s more likely to have fallen off a Bentley than a wagon.)
  • It is no longer possible for a new Black Sabbath album, however good, to have the same kind of effect on me now as it did when I was a sensitive Catholic teenager almost 35 years ago. The same will hold true for many other fans. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, for the band and for the listeners.
  • There is no way the element of mystique and sense of danger that once characterised Black Sabbath can hold in the current age. Ozzy, for example is a household name now, with The Osbournes TV series finally putting paid to all that ‘Prince of Darkness’ malarkey. Bat and dove biting incidents have now very much been superseded in the public psyche (fairly or otherwise) by the image of the doddering joker, a comic book rocker at best.
  • And without wishing to restart old discussions or open old wounds, the absence of Bill Ward, replaced here by ‘young’ Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave), is significant. While Wilk does a fine job, Bill’s absence has made a difference to the way some fans have responded to the album.

The  first thing to say about 13 itself is that it’s a serious attempt by the band, all these years on, to rediscover their mojo. This is no exercise in treading water. It’s over 35 years since Never Say Die! and a near miracle that a new album has been recorded and released at all. Taking everything into account, including the age and health of the musicians, I guess they all knew that it was probably a case of ‘now or never’. Even if everything goes swimmingly well – and so far, the Bill Ward situation aside, it has – their track record suggests that 13 could be Black Sabbath’s last album. In the circumstances the choice of Rick Rubin as producer appears to have been a smart move, with Rubin having built his reputation on helping artists to rediscover and express the essence of what they’re about.

Consequently, and unsurprisingly, 13 leans heavily on Sabbath’s past. There are plenty of trademark Iommi riffs that hark back to the early Sabbath period. We are not just talking the first five albums though. Many of the vocal melodies are reminiscent of the Never Say Die! era, and, I would suggest, the musicians have drawn on experience from across their careers to create an album that sits comfortably  alongside others in the Sabbath canon. Ozzy’s performance, for example, sometimes seems to reference his solo work as well as his previous work with Sabbath, and is often punctuated with a range of trademark ad libs:  “Alright”, “Ok”, “Alright Now”, “Oh Yeah”,  and so on.

The lyric booklet is littered with M8s, Bridges, Outros, Swing Riffs, Fast Riffs and Pre-Choruses – proof positive that considerable thought has been given to the songwriting, with frequent twists and tempo changes keeping the listener guessing. One of the most pleasing features of the album is Tony Iommi’s performance. His furious soloing towards the end of ‘Damaged Soul’, ‘Age of Reason’ and ‘End of the Beginning’ suggest that he was on fire at the recording sessions and has put heart and soul into the project.

Across the album the lyrical themes (presumably Geezer has again contributed significantly here) are also ‘typical’ Sabbath fare – metaphysics, science fiction, personal estrangement, alienation, mortality and religious hypocrisy.  Curiously, ‘Satanic’ imagery didn’t feature as much in early Sabbath as is often supposed (if this matter interests you, check out my analysis in Words and Music). But it is re-introduced here (see ‘Damaged Soul’, ‘God is Dead?’) – presumably as part of the regression and self-rediscovery process Rick Rubin seems to have put them through.

So, what about the songs?

  • ‘End of the Beginning’ opens proceedings with an excellent and characteristically doomy riff. Many will point out the early structural similarities to ‘Black Sabbath’. Iommi’s solo is superb and arguably it’s his playing here that keeps this track’s head above the waters of self-imitation.
  • ‘God is Dead?’  I can’t make up my mind whether it’s brave or foolish to pin a lyric on an oft-quoted but little understood Nietzschean concept, and I’m not sure that the lyric contributes greatly to Nietzsche exegesis. All the same, it’s a decent track, given a real edge by Butler’s bass, and it’s not without its lyrical charm as Ozzy, with “God and Satan” at his side (my emphasis) ponders “holy fairytales” and the death of God. (Ozzy’s performance reminds me of his Bark at the Moon/Ultimate Sin period.)
  • ‘Loner’ hints at the monster riff to ‘N.I.B.’ before slipping into ‘Never Say Die! era melodies (think ‘Johnny Blade’). Ozzy chips in with a few ‘N.I.B’ ad libs and a passionate “Come on now!”
  • ‘Zeitgeist’ has a much gentler vibe. It shows the other side of early Sabbath and, in style, at least, is reminiscent of ‘Planet Caravan’ and ‘Solitude’. Great band performance. I love this track.
  • ‘Age of Reason’ is the second track that seems to draw from existentialist philosophy, this time utilising the title of a Jean Paul Sartre novel (though the phrase is less distinctive than “God is Dead”, so there could be other sources). It has a great riff, but also one of the album’s least memorable melodies. There is, however, a fantastic solo to fade, with warm almost ‘choral’ accompaniment (à la ‘Children of the Sea’).
  • ‘Live Forever’.  People have often said how much early Budgie sounds like Black Sabbath noting the production work of Rodger Bain for both bands. Here though, the wheel turns and Sabbath produce a riff which is very much like Budgie’s ‘In For The Kill’. I also hear points of contact with ‘Zero The Hero’ from the much maligned Gillan-fronted line-up. Ozzy’s melodies again put me in mind of his Never Say Die! contributions.
  • ‘Damaged Soul’ has a wonderful, swinging, bluesy riff.  This and ‘Zeitgeist’ have slowly emerged as my favourite tracks, and, indeed, they are perhaps the two tracks that sit most comfortably with the band’s early repertoire and sound most ‘authentic’. Geezer’s bass is suitably moody and the harmonica playing – credited to Ozzy – is a wonderful touch and a tip of the hat to ‘The Wizard’.  There’s a passionate, raw sounding solo from Iommi, and a great band effort to fade (as Satan waits “for the righteous to fall”).
  • ‘Dear Father’ is, lyrically speaking, the album’s most grim track. Musically it’s a rag bag of all sorts of Sabbath-isms that are somehow combined to produce a coherent and worthy album closer. I hear ‘Megalomania’ style melody at the start and a ‘War Pigs’ like riff around the 3 minute mark. I like the shift in pace thereafter … the uptempo romp into yet another doomy riff.  Thunder, rain and church bells see the band going out of this one as they had come in on the mighty title track of their debut an incredible 45 years ago! Have they completed the circle? Is this a kind of goodbye? Perhaps.

Ultimately, 13 is a solid and bona fide Black Sabbath album that is worthy of the Sabbath name. Is it as good as their early albums? You’d be hard pushed to find many older fans who’d say yes, but then I refer you back to some of my initial context-setting comments. It would be extremely difficult for Sabbath to produce an album now that had the same creative and psychological impact as their 1970s oeuvre. But it is a thoroughly enjoyable album with some great moments. Personally, I don’t begrudge them this album or its commercial success. And if it is to be their last, then it’s a fitting end.

So, given that it is a decent album which, astonishingly, went to Number 1 in both the UK and the USA album charts and picked up the ‘Best Metal Performance’ Grammy (for ‘God is Dead?’), why did I say at the top of this piece that some music fans have greeted its success with incredulity?

Jamie Richards is a fellow Über Röck scribe and manager of a very promising young band, the Dead Shed Jokers. He has an interesting take on the matter: “To me it was the greatest marketing campaign of the year,” says Jamie. “I love Sabbath, I just think people need to move on. I guess I see it as part of this enormous nostalgia wave that’s engulfing the genre. Nostalgia is being marketed to us and, by and large, I think we’re lapping it up. ‘Classic Rock’ was once a term for old rock bands, but the birth of Classic Rock magazine seems to have almost encouraged a whole generation of new bands to sound like old bands and become ‘classic rock’ by choice.”

In Jamie’s opinion: “classic rock fans, by and large, seem to only want old bands doing their thing, or, if it’s a new band, they want them to sound like one of the old bands.” Rock radio and magazines are both fuelling and pandering to this very limited and conservative take on what rock music is and what it has to offer. This makes life even harder for young bands who are influenced by the past but who are striving to be creative and original and are not so easy to pigeonhole.

“The Sonisphere announcement,” says Jamie,  [which has The Prodigy, Iron Maiden and Metallica headlining – Ed] “underlines to me that Britain hasn’t produced a rock band in 30 years who are capable of headlining a festival, Stereophonics and Biffy Clyro aside, and if we continue to go over the top about the likes of Black Sabbath, then it won’t change. I believe it’s foolhardy of us to think that Sabbath can really make a great album these days, simply because their creative peak has been and gone during the 1970s. Like I said earlier, it was the marketing campaign that was brilliant, truly great – there was massive coverage in all the major magazines, and it even came down to the album being released on the Monday immediately before Father’s Day in Britain. Dads got Sabbath instead of socks! That, to me at least, is why it was well received, because it hit a market that is bathed in nostalgia, and it reached people who rarely buy a record these days.”

On a more positive note, he adds: “I do feel that this is a step in the right direction though, away from the tribute band infestation!”

Jamie, does I think, have an excellent point or two, especially in relation to some media attitudes to young bands and new music. I’ve no doubt he is right too about the focus and reach of the marketing campaign, and similar comments could be made about the success of AC/DC’s Black Ice album a few short years back. However, I really would like to think that the success of 13 is built on the quality of the music and the enduring legacy of early Sabbath rather than just nostalgia.

Ultimately, I can’t see having a Sabbath album sitting at number one in the charts as anything other than a very positive thing.  It has raised the profile of Black Sabbath, classic rock and heavy metal beyond all expectation. Perhaps it will encourage the dads who “rarely buy a record these days” to dig out and dust off their original albums and start listening to music again, and perhaps it will encourage younger fans to check out the great albums and great bands of the late 1960s and 1970s.  At the very least, it shows that when presented in the right way, there is still a market for heavy rock and that this sort of music still matters to people. Perhaps …

Mohammed Osama 13

Artwork courtesy of Mohammed Osama

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Joe Siegler (Black Sabbath Online)

Joe Siegler and Geezer Butler

At eighteen years young, Black Sabbath Online is one of the best known and most well-established fan sites on the web. But to say that it’s a rich source of information on all matters Sabbath, would, if anything, be an understatement. You want to know dates, venues and support bands from any particular Sabbath tour? Interested in album catalogue numbers? Trying to get your head around all the comings and goings of the sometimes bizarre line-up changes in the 1980s? Want up-to-date information on what’s happening now? Want to be part of a thriving online forum? You’ll find all of that here, and more.

The man behind the site is Joe Siegler, and his work is held in such high esteem by the band themselves, that although Black Sabbath Online is not an official band site, several past and present members of Black Sabbath have asked him to make sites for them too!

As readers of Words and Music will know, my own experiences of Black Sabbath’s music feature prominently there, both in the gig chapter (‘This One Sacred Hour’, you can read an extract here) and in the chapter called ‘God and the Devil’. It was a pleasure and a privilege, then, to be able to catch up with Joe and find out a bit more about his own experiences of running such a popular website and being a Black Sabbath fan.

Henry - Sabbath flying devil

So Joe, how did you get involved with Black Sabbath Online?
Well, it’s something I just ‘started’, the term “get involved” doesn’t really apply. Anyway, back in 1995, we were in the wild west of the World Wide Web, as at that point it was only a year or so old. Granted the web back then was little more than single pages with the occasional picture. It wasn’t the multimedia extravaganza that the web is in 2013. Back then everyone and their mother didn’t have a website. I was getting into website stuff for my former company (in fact, the original incarnation of my site had no domain name, it was just a few pages on my former company’s website as a hidden page. Heh.)

Anyway, I took a look around, and there wasn’t much of anything out there for Black Sabbath.  What was there was pretty banal, and I thought, “Well, I can do better than this”, so I got started on my site.  Even so, it was pretty basic, though I still had more info out there than anyone else at the time, so I just went for it.

In short order, I needed a domain name, and I looked around.  Blacksabbath.com was taken (although then it was just owned by another fan – who wasn’t using it).  When he wouldn’t respond to my queries, I looked around, and took inspiration from one of the only two bands I knew of then that had any internet presence, which were Megadeth and Deep Purple.  Then, Deep Purple ran with a URL of deep-purple.com – and I thought if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.  So black-sabbath.com was born as a domain name.  I’ve held it ever since, despite blacksabbath.com changing hands a few times since those early days.

I wrote about some of the history of my site when I launched the current incarnation in early 2012.  You can read about that here:  http://www.black-sabbath.com/2012/01/welcome-to-the-new-site/

What sort of things do you do, and how much of a time commitment is it?
That really varies. The year of 2011 was taken up mostly with a total overhaul of the site. Mostly it’s spent on maintenance. With the new album out, obviously more is happening. The big advantage here is this is a FAN site, and since I created it, I can 100% dictate what goes on it, and when it happens. Obviously some events (concerts, album releases) are more time based, but ultimately I work on it when the mood strikes and I have time.

Lately I’ve taken to updating with small little things on Twitter a lot.  I’ve built up a nice following on my site’s Twitter feed where I talk to other fans about any number of things Sabbath related.   They’re also a good source to ask questions of too.

Time is a big deal for this, because in the last eight years I’ve been a parent, where as I wasn’t before, and of course that makes for a big change in patterns and behaviours. I squeeze in work where I can, and keep the essentials moving forward, but I don’t have the time I used to have in my “no kids” area. Ultimately though, family will always come first, and the site can go rot if family concerns need to be dealt with.

Black Sabbath Mob Rules album coverWhy Sabbath? Is it possible to say what their music means to you?
Well, I got into them when the Mob Rules album was the then ‘new’ album. Back then it was about the guitar sound of Tony, and the voice of Dio, who was my original introduction to the band. Over the years, I’ve continued to enjoy them, and to be honest, my “onramp” as such was right before the band started on its, well, fiasco of line-up changes through the 8os. Through that all was Tony, so he for me is more Sabbath than anything else. 

What does the music “mean”?  That’s kind of a philosophic question. Ultimately it doesn’t. I enjoy it. I stomp my feet, and I enjoy it, but it is just music. There are more important things in life than music. That’s probably an odd stance from a guy who runs a successful fan website, but in the end, I see music as something disposable. ENJOYABLE of course, but it doesn’t “mean” anything beyond the immediate joy of listening to it.

Ever meet the band?
Yes, several times face-to-face, but a lot more via email and phone calls. I’ve written about the face-to-face meetings on my website in the past, but here are a few tidbits. First time was in 2005 backstage on an Ozzfest date. The first time I met Tony Iommi, I saw him about 2 minutes or so before he was close enough where I could talk to him. In those two minutes, my entire time as a fan flashed before my eyes, and all the things I thought about saying to him if I met him went out of my head, and I was left with “WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO SAY?”   Ha, ha.  In the end, we exchanged some pleasantries, and it went well enough. I got an email back from one of his assistants a week or so later saying he wanted to apologise to me for not having more time to compliment me on my website, which was a heck of an ego stroke.

My favourite story comes from a backstage stint at a Heaven and Hell show in 2007.  I was with Tony and Geezer in Geezer’s room (when Geez invites you into his room to raid his cooler for beer, you take that invite). Anyway, we were talking, and I mentioned something on my website I did earlier in the year – it was an April fool’s joke where I said that Ronnie had quit the Heaven and Hell tour, and been replaced by Ian Gillan – and that they had renamed themselves  “Born Again”. We had a laugh about that, and mentioned the next year and if they were doing anything with Ozzy. Tony said “Well, you haven’t heard what’s happening next year”. I forget the exact words, but it was something about reunion with Ozzy and a new album and all that (this would have been 2008). I apparently fell for it, and went “REALLY?” with an appropriate open mouth look. Tony and Geezer just looked at each other and both of them pointed at me and started laughing, with Geezer saying, “Look at his face”.  When the guys are playing practical jokes on you, you know you’re accepted. That was a great moment for me.

Heaven and Hell 25-41NOTE: The April fool’s Joke post is still online here:  http://www.black-sabbath.com/2007/04/dio_out_ian_gillan_back_in/

They say it’s often a mistake to meet your heroes. Presumably your experience with Sabbath has been different?
Well, yeah.  That all started back in 1997 when Cozy Powell rang me up on the phone at my day job, and asked me about doing a website for him. Outside of my own fan site, he was the first. That blew me away because honestly, at that point, I hadn’t built up much of anything (my Sabbath site was just two years old then). But I guess he saw something in what I was doing. Sadly, Cozy died before we got much of anywhere with his site, but I’ll never forget that moment.   

With all of them, a trick I found when we get to talk is to say something along these lines: “Look, for a lot of my life, I’ve been a fan.  Can we talk about {insert fan stuff} so we can get that out of the way?” That trick seems to have worked. I also know David Gerrold, the author, and when I first touched base with him, I said the same thing … “Can we talk about Tribbles for a minute?  Otherwise they’ll be in the back of my mind”. Maybe it was the presentation, or the tone or whatever, but that trick of ‘getting that kind of fannish crap’ out of the way early on so we can have a relationship (either personal or professional) has gotten the job done. But you have to have a hook. Gerrold has talked to numerous people about Tribbles over the years, and Iommi has talked to people about his music a shit load of times over the years.  So it’s not just my trick, I suppose.

So, in your experience, what should you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I don’t think there is a stock answer. What works for me may not work for you, because I don’t know how you are with people, what your body language, tone of voice is like. I guess one thing to suggest would be to assume that anything you can think of they’ve probably heard before. Don’t think you’re the first person to think of something. I wouldn’t spend a ton of time thinking of the most obscure question to ask, either. Just be honest and forthright with what you’re saying.

Black Sabbath Born Again album coverYour first Sabbath gig?
November 5, 1983 at the now demolished Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA. When I first got into Sabbath, they had just been through Philly on the Mob Rules tour, so I had to wait for the Born Again tour. Quiet Riot opened for them. That was when Quiet Riot were literally EXPLODING with their Metal Health album.  

An interesting fact about that Sabbath gig. You remember that show in Cincinnati back in the late 70s by The Who where some kids got trampled to death? Well, that was due to what was then called “open seating” or “festival seating” (meaning no seats on the floor). After that show by The Who, that kind of concert was stopped everywhere in the United States – UNTIL that Black Sabbath concert I went to in Philly. Much was made on local radio about that, and I got there hours before doors opened. I was there early enough to get all the way down the front, and I can see why people were hurt before. It was about an hour and a half until Quiet Riot went on, and I was already being crushed by people pushing forward. I eventually bailed out of there before Quiet Riot came on, and hung out about halfway back on the floor, and enjoyed it a lot more. That was my first gig.

Your best Sabbath gig?
Black Sabbath Cross Purposes album coverI’d say probably the Cross Purposes shows in 1994. The reason is twofold. First, I think they had the most inclusive set of the entire run of the band’s history that tour. Ozzy only does Ozzy era songs.  Dio just did Dio and Ozzy era songs.  Tony Martin did ’em all (although they didn’t play anything from Born Again, he did sing some stuff from Seventh Star on a tour once).  Second, they had some stones and tried to drop ‘Iron Man’ from the set list. Ultimately they failed, and it came back, but I gave ‘em props for trying to move past that.

There’s other moments I liked.  The time I was on the actual stage in Ozzfest 2005 when the band were taking their bows, and the time in 2008 when Ronnie Dio remembered my name from having met me once previously a year ago. Was blown away by that. 

Your top five Sabbath albums?
Ooh, that’s tough. My opinion changes over time on that issue. The other problem with a question like that is that when you list the five, some fan who looks at what I’ve said will go “Well, what the fuck about such and such an album – you’re an idiot”.  Questions like that are polarizing because people translate your answer into “Just these five are good, and the others aren’t,” which is obviously not the case.  Doesn’t mean I like just five Black Sabbath albums. I like ‘em all. Even the lesser Sabbath albums (none are truly bad) have gems on them.  

Having said all that, here’s five – and why.  AND in no particular order …

Black Sabbath Heaven and Hell album coverHeaven and Hell – a brilliant masterpiece of an album that literally brought the band back from the dead.  Honestly, if Ozzy was still vocalist on this album’s final version as he was when it started, does anyone think they’d still be together now? Doubt it.

Cross Purposes – I’m partial to the Tony Martin era, and this one had Martin, as well as Butler & Iommi on it. Didn’t realize until sometime later how much stronger this album was with Geezer Butler on it. That’s no slight on the other bassists in the fold (and I’m friends with Neil Murray), but Geezer fucking made this album, in my opinion.

Black Sabbath The Eternal Idol album coverThe Eternal Idol – given the absolute clusterfuck its birthing process was (two singers, two producers, two credited drummers, two recording studios, two credited bassists), it was one of the more solid albums put out under the Sabbath name in the 80s from front to back.

Born Again – for any number of reasons, this project was never going to last long, but the album produced had some of the best songs by any incarnation of Black Sabbath.  Really, REALLY loved this.

Black Sabbath album coverBlack Sabbath/Paranoid/Master of Reality – I know it’s a bit of a cheat, but to me, I view the first three Black Sabbath albums as a trilogy of sorts. After the first three, the sound started to change. But in this time, they were as fucking solid as any band could EVER hope to be. These three albums were the foundation not for a single band’s career, but an entire genre of music spanning decades and multiple bands. So yeah, you can’t talk about the best of Black Sabbath without talking about these albums.

Black Sabbath Never Say Die! album coverHonourable mentions to Mob Rules for being my first ever Sabbath album, and to Never Say Die!, which I really love for the musical experimentation. Have told Geezer on many an occasion I’d PAY to see them try ‘Air Dance’ live.

What do you make of the current reunion?
I’m excited for new music by them of course. I don’t think any Sabbath fan wouldn’t be. However, I also work for Bill Ward – and I think I’d prefer not to answer this question because of that. I know people are going to translate that into “Joe thinks it sucks”, but I’ve had conversations with Tony and his manager as well as Geezer and Gloria Butler, as well as Bill Ward and his people (not to mention his wife) about all this. It’s a weird dance I do, running the fan site, as well as the websites for Bill Ward and Geezer Butler. I’m bound to respect their opinions and stances they take – which is their right as I work for them – but all those parties agree with my stance of trying to not take a stance on that, because ultimately most questions about the reunion come back to the “Bill Ward thing” at some point.

So while I’m excited about the music, I, like most people, wish they could have worked it out with Bill Ward. That makes me sad.

Black Sabbath Paranoid album coverSome (not me, obviously) might say running a fan site is an unhealthy obsession. What would you say to that?
I’d say it depends on how you balance the rest of your life around it. If it’s the only thing you do, then yeah, it’s bad, but I see the rest of my life as far more important than the website. The website is fun. Heck, next month (July 2013) I’ll have been doing it for 18 years.  You don’t do something for 18 years if you don’t like it. But I know the proper place in my life it holds. The website doesn’t dominate my life – it’s the other way around.

Of everything you’ve done with Black Sabbath Online, of what are you most proud ?
Black Sabbath Master Of Reality album coverThat’s easy: my site’s timeline page. Nothing else I’ve ever done comes close. In a way, that started the site. Back in the days before I started the site, I used to keep a text file list of the band line-up changes. I hung around the music forums on CompuServe in the late 80s, and used to maintain the text file there. I’ve always cared about GETTING IT RIGHT. When I don’t, I want to know, and I’ll fix it. But the timeline page grew out of that original ancient text file. I’ve done a lot for the site over the years, but the timeline page is all written by me. It chronicles all the changes in line-ups there have been since the earliest days of the band, AND THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT. I’ve gotten a few compliments on it from band members.

One goal I still have is to be able to sit down with Tony Iommi and go over the bloody thing, as I really want it to be RIGHT. I’m fairly confident it is, but there are some obscure bits that could use some fleshing out (the time after Born Again before Seventh Star comes to mind).

Note: Check out Joe’s Sabbath Timeline here: http://www.black-sabbath.com/theband/timeline/

Are you involved with any other bands or offshoots or in music in any other way?
There is the Cozy Powell website which I mentioned above. When Cozy died, I kept it going as a memorial, and for the longest time it stayed the way it was when Cozy was alive. But after a time that 1997 design really needed to go. It stays online as a tribute of sorts, but with Cozy gone now for 15 years, it’s hard to keep that as a living site. There’s also the Geezer Butler and Bill Ward sites. I was also officially the web guy for the Heaven and Hell website (still am I suppose), but with Ronnie being dead, and that band being inactive, that’s stagnated.

I’ve consulted and helped out on a few other band things. For example, Tony Iommi’s manager and I have worked on a few small things – but I don’t “work” for him.  But that’s pretty much it for me. I’ve turned down a few non-music related website projects, as my life is pretty full as it is.

In your experience, is it ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ that attracts rock fans or is it more about the music?
As I like to tell people, my celibacy in high school was definitely involuntary. The other stuff?  That lifestyle was never me anyway. I cared about the tunes. I can’t address the rest of that from personal experience.

How do you view the role of fan clubs and fan sites in the current era? And do you think they have a future?
I’ve been around long enough where the term ‘fan club’ to me means the kind of thing that you mailed in your money for, you got printed newsletters, a membership type thing, and that’s pretty much it. I’m not sure what the term ‘fan club’ means in 2013 when everything is about Facebook, Twitter, and stuff like that. I used to, for the longest time, run an email newsletter for the band, which I called ‘Pilgrims of Sabbocracy’ – that was a lyric written by Tony Martin lifted from the Cross Purposes album. It was a semi-regular email newsletter that survived for a really long time on email communication, but in the end that was replaced by Twitter/Facebook and the like.

I guess the question is how you define ‘fan club’. Is what I do on my site and my forums and Facebook page considered a fan club? If you view it that way, then yes, there’s a thriving future for it in this age of always connected social media. But if you view it the way I do, then the concept of ‘fan club’ is already dead.

NOTE: A little history about my email newsletter is here:  http://www.black-sabbath.com/otherstuff/

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Black Sabbath’s 13 is #1 on the charts in the UK in its first week of release. Suck it Justin Bieber.

Mohammed Osama 13

Artwork courtesy of Mohammed Osama

Black Sabbath 13

CHEERS JOE!

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Neil Jenkins (and his Randy pics)

Ozzy Osboure with Neil Jenkins

Regular visitors to the Words and Music website may recall my post about the ‘disputed’ Cardiff gig on Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman tour. There are those who believe that the entire UK leg of the Diary tour was cancelled. Neil Jenkins is not one of them. Neil Jenkins was there, and has provided me with some extremely rare photos of Ozzy and the late, great Randy Rhoads to prove it. In fact, Neil Jenkins is possibly one of the most experienced gig-goers I have ever met. He is an intrepid gig-goer par excellence. If Neil was a footballer, his fans would sing: “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every f****n’ where!” with both fondness and admiration.

This is clear Words and Music territory, especially given that I met Neil at a Magnum gig, and that the title of the gig chapter in Words and Music (‘This One Sacred Hour’) is drawn from a Magnum song. I spoke with Neil to find out more about his love of live music, his Randy Rhoads photos, his Blizzard of Ozz signatures and his Randy Rhoads portrait. Check out his stories and his Randy pics (you know what I mean) below.

Hi Neil, when we met at a recent Magnum gig you told me that you’d seen them 63 times, but I get the impression you’ve seen a lot of other bands too?
I’ve seen every band I’ve ever wanted to see except one – ELO. I would have loved to have seen ELO. Magnum, yes, I’ve seen them 63 times. I have been a huge fan since my school days. I still have the Kingdom of Madness tour programme!

What was your first gig?
The first gig I went to was Rainbow at the  Capitol Theatre [long since demolished – Ed] in Cardiff, on the Long Live Rock And Roll tour. Of course, Ronnie James Dio was in the band then. I still have the scarf.

What are the best gigs you’ve been to?
Well, it has to be the Ozzy gigs at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff on the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman tours … and the Donington days and Reading Rock, if they count!

Your most disappointing gig?
Sabbath with Ian Gillan. He forgot his words, and the lowest part of the night was when he swore at the audience for booing when they did ‘Smoke on the Water’.  

Best and worst venues you’ve been to?
Well, the worst venue for me is St. David’s Hall, Cardiff – crap sound, terrible acoustics for rock music, and security will chuck you out for taking pictures! The venues I’ve been to that I like best are the Hammersmith Odeon, Bristol Colston Hall, and Sophia Gardens [also, of course, demolished – Ed] which has legendary status. The old venues are the best, and I quite like venues like the Ponty Arts Centre – cracking sound.

Looking at your photo collection, you’ve met a lot of musicians. What’s your best experience of meeting a rock star? 
Ronnie James Dio - Rest in PeaceI met Ronnie Jame Dio. He was so kind and made sure everyone got an autograph. True gentleman. I told him how much I enjoyed his concerts and he seemed genuinely interested in my experience of seeing the band. I know it sounds corny but the guy said “God bless mate,” and “See you soon”. I think it will stick in my mind. It’s so sad that he’s passed away.

Has anyone you’ve met given you a really hard time?
Yes, one. Malmsteen – wanker! My wife and I had guest passes for Cardiff. I bumped into him in the corridor in St. David’s Hall, asked for a picture and autograph and he said, “For fuck’s sake fuck off”!

Tell us about the signatures you got on the Blizzard of Ozz tour and what happened to them.
I sold the signatures to a guy in Australia for £600 in a moment of madness! And I sold the programme too. I didn’t meet Ozzy then mind, and I never met Randy. Someone else got the signatures for me. I got more Ozzy stuff later, from the Ultimate Sin and Bark at the Moon tours.

Blizzard of Ozz signatures

You have some extremely rare photos from the Cardiff gig on the Diary of a Madman tour. What do you remember about that gig?
Well, mainly the excitement of Ozzy coming. I am a huge Sabbath fan. Musically the best part of the night for me was ‘Revelation Mother Earth’/’Steal Away The Night’.

Randy Rhoads portraitI’m impressed with your Randy portrait – what you can tell us about that?
Well, there’s nothing hard in what I did there. It was all done on Photoshop – send me a picture and I’ll do the same for you!

How do you rate Randy as a guitarist?
Randy is an amazing guitarist. I like his style of playing, with the selector switch and the way he fills the song with those guitar neck techniques. That’s his trade mark and he has a distinctive sound as well. I like Brian May too, he has a good sort of style, nothing too flash. I don’t really like guitarists like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and instrumentals bore me.

And you’ve kept up with Ozzy’s career since?  Which tours and albums have impressed you?
Besides the Blizzard and Diary tours, I’d say The Ultimate Sin tour – I had fun that tour! I’ve seen Ozzy driving around in a beat-up Capri a few times!

I finally met him in Wembley at a Brit Awards ceremony. Magnum, Thunder and the Quireboys were on the bill and played for half an hour each. I remember buying the Just Say Ozzy CD there. I think it was around the time No More Tears was released.

To be honest, I think Sharon took pity on me and my wife outside the gates. She came out in a car, stopped and asked us what we were waiting for. I told her I was waiting for Ozzy to sign my album. She went somewhere then came back for us and took us backstage. She took us to a room where we mixed with a lot of ‘big wig’ people in suits.

You also sing in a band. Tell us about that.
Well, at the moment I’m in a duo called 48 Crash playing a lot of fun stuff like Madness and Bad Manners, and some rock like Rainbow and Sabbath – arse-moving music as I call it! Until last year I was in a band called Belladonic Haze doing Queen stuff. The name comes from a line in ‘Keep Yourself Alive’. I had a good laugh in that band, and we even managed to play the Liverpool Cavern. We sound-checked with Neil Murray too, at the last Queen Convention – though I found him quite rude, actually. He was trying to tell us we were playing a song too fast and he got really funny about it! We did, though, get quite a following among Queen fans. I think there are some reviews on Facebook!

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Bollocks! I would ask them why they would say that and in what way they think it’s dead. I could understand a person saying that if they didn’t like the music but in no way has it died in my eyes. It’s been a big part of my life both in terms of playing and listening. I have made a living playing and still enjoy it today, so … yeah, I think I would say to them what I just said to you!

Diary of a Madman tour photos
Sophia Gardens Cardiff, 30 November 1981

Please note: Neil’s photos come from a time which pre-dates the widespread availability of mobile phones and digital cameras. In those days, you weren’t allowed to take cameras into gigs either. Getting close enough to take any kind of snap was some achievement!

Ozzy Osbourne Randy Rhoads - Sophia Gardens Cardiff 30 November 1981

Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads on stage, Sophia Gardens Cardiff, 30 November 1981

Ozzy-Cardiff

Ozzy on stage

Randy Rhoads rocking out

Randy Rhoads rocking out, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, 30 November 1981

Randy Rhoads on stage Diary of a Madman tour

Randy Rhoads on stage, Diary of a Madman tour, Cardiff, Wales 30 November 1981

Ozzy with bodyguard Cardiff 81

Ozzy with bodyguard, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, 30 November, 1981

CHEERS NEIL!

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Hywel Davies (Dead Shed Jokers)

Hywel Davies - Dead Shed Jokers

Discovering a new band is an exciting thing. In the last couple of years Big Elf, Von Hertzen Brothers, Rival Sons and The Treatment have become four of my favourite acts – all exciting bands, but only one of them is even from the UK.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, the language of rock is universal. It is, though, particularly exciting when you realise that a newly discovered band comes from your own neck of the woods, or near enough.

The Dead Shed Jokers are, in fact, from Aberdare in the South Wales Valleys – a part of the world that has long been regarded, by me anyway, as classic rock heartland. Readers of Words and Music will also recall the link between Aberdare and my liking of Bob Dylan. The DSJ’s debut album, Peyote Smile, made quite an impression on me, and seemingly on Classic Rock magazine too, as one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘Magic Teatime’, appears on Issue 183’s Unleashed: 15 of the Hottest New Bands in Britain covermount CD (May 2013).

Those attending Planet Rock’s Steelhouse Festival in July 2013 will be able to able to see and hear the Dead Shed Jokers for themselves. In the meantime, I caught up singer Hywel Davies to find out a bit more.

Hi Hywel, I’ve got to say that listening to Peyote Smile I struggled to find clear points of reference with bands readers would already know. (A good thing!) So how would you describe the kind of music you play?
Basically anything within the rock and roll spectrum, we have no strict template for what our songs or the band should sound like, we just get in the shed with a few ideas and see what happens, pretty much. Each song tends to be different from the next as we have three writers within the band, so more than anything we try to serve the mood of the song/lyrics best and make it as dynamic as we can. We’re pretty hard on ourselves when writing to not to trudge over the same ground but in turn it does lead to a more colourful song palate. However, whilst the songs are variable they do share a common feel/atmosphere, which is probably the hallmark of the band rather than a common influence. I think if you like rock, be it the softer or harder side you’ll find something to get you off on Peyote Smile.

Tell us about the band
The Dead Shed JokersThe band consists of Nicky and Kristian on guitars, Ashley on drums, Luke on bass and me, Hywel, on vocals. We’re based in the Aberdare/Merthyr area and have survived a total of six years now, four originally as The Gubbins and then the last two as Dead Shed Jokers. We released our debut album, Peyote Smile, at the tail end of 2011 as Dead Shed Jokers and are currently in the process of writing our second, which is going quite well.  

Tell us about your influences as a band
They’re quite varied for each member to be honest, which probably accounts for the variety of sounds on the album. The Doors, Sabbath, Dead Kennedys, Dylan and modern acts such as QOTSA, The Stone Roses, the Black Keys and NOFX are just a few. We all come from different musical backgrounds, listening-wise, and have turned each other onto our own preferences over the years, or at least tried to.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
The first band was probably Led Zep when I first really got into them in my second year of university. The riffs, the vocals and just the whole band dynamic blew me away and I bought their whole back catalogue within a month or two. Did my mates tits in probably, because that’s pretty much all I played for a year. At the time I remember thinking to myself that surely there can be no band better, and maybe that’s still true, but some strong contenders like QOTSA and Soundgarden have come forth in the meantime. Singing along to Led Zep I discovered that I could actually sing, and then at the tail-end of university started singing with my old man’s covers band, where Nicky spotted me and asked if I fancied forming a band. So without Led Zep I wouldn’t be doing this.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
When it comes to lyrics, it’s Neil Young every time for me and whilst often simple they really hit home if you’re exposed to them at the right time. Hywel Davies - Dead Shed JokersMy favourite album is probably On the Beach just because of the darkness pervading the music, but he has countless lyrical gems. When I was younger and started singing and writing songs for the first time I was already 22 and it worried me considering a lot of bands were in their prime in their late teens and early twenties and I was just starting off and didn’t have a clue what I was doing and whether I even could write anything decent. Later on that year, I discovered Neil Young and everything changed for me. In the track ‘Old Man’ he sings “24 and there’s so much more” which is such a simple line, but hearing it was a massive sigh of relief for me. Knowing he hadn’t written this classic song until that age, and continued to write countless classic songs and albums after that, catalysed me into getting into my writing and learning guitar too. I swore I’d learn the song myself before I was 24 but I still can’t play it!

What does rock music mean to you?
It’s more music in general than a single genre. Don’t go a day without it and don’t intend to for the rest of my days. No better feeling than when you discover something new that makes your hairs stand on end and you can’t believe that you’ve been living without it. That’s the beauty of it, the likelihood that you may never hear a band/artist that could be your favourite of all time. The exploration never ends.

What do you want from rock music?
It’s not about what you want from it, it’s more about what you take from it and every artist offers something different.

Where do you see the Dead Shed Jokers in five years time?
Well, there’s not many bands that last six years these days so unless anyone dies (which is a possibility!) hopefully we’ll be doing what we do now but on a bigger stage and with a bigger fan base. The same thing any band wants. We have no delusions of grandeur, but we’ll take what we can! The music is only getting better and to have a fan base that appreciates that and not the pointiness of our shoes or the rigidity of our quiffs is a great thing.

I asked you to describe your music earlier. Do you think musical labels are helpful or limiting for bands trying to make it?
Obviously helpful in the sense that if you can find someone to fund what you do and put your music out there and that’s your job for the rest of your life, fucking epic where do I sign. However, on the other hand if it means dictating your musical output once signed and moulding you into the most palatable product for the public’s ears, well what’s the point, you’re not better off.

These days I don’t think it’s as important. Many bands (Enter Shikari, for example) have proved that success is possible without one. It’s all down to the music at the end of the day, if it’s good enough it will out and with Soundcloud, Bandcamp etc., you can easily stream it into the earlobes of the world. Everything is so accessible these days so you can develop a fan base without the distribution power of a label, which was essential, say, 15-20 years ago. A multi-million pound contract would be nice, mind.

DSJs on stage

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
See the shed commandments; they’re on there along with the instructions for the Hadron Collider and a detailed explanation of how Sky Plus is a form of time travel.

Dylan or Morrison?
The frontman part of me says Morrison, but you can’t deny Dylan as a songwriter and lyricist. They’re both legends and will continue to be. As far as music I listen to most that would be The Doors. L.A. Woman, from start to finish, is the canine’s testicles and in my top 10 albums of all time.

What makes a rock gig special?
Apart from the obvious things, probably a good sound on stage. It makes a hell of a difference when the band can actually hear each other and are actually playing in the moment rather than playing blind and hoping that everyone else is playing the same bit. Changes the vibe of a gig completely; you get off on each other.

Your most notable gig to date as a band?
Hywel - DJs on stageAs mental as it sounds, it’s probably the smallest one we’ve played in a mate’s house party. Black bags were stuck to every wall in the house to try and save them from getting trashed and there was glow in the dark shit everywhere. We played in the living room and it was packed, just chaos. We went back the next day and the place looked like a Tsunami had hit it, ceilings on the floor, baths full of cans, shit everywhere! Awesome night, you’ll struggle to re-create an atmosphere like that.

The best gig you’ve been to as a fan?
It’s a toss-up really between Neil Young at the Hammersmith Apollo (2008) and QOTSA at the O2 in Bournemouth (2011). The first time I saw Neil Young was just mind blowing, throughout grown men turning to each other jaws to the floor, shrugging in disbelief and in shear awe of one old geezer and a bunch of songs. He played acoustic for an hour and half and even the songs I hadn’t heard before made an impact, which is rare. He ended the set with the killer blows of ‘Don’t Let it Bring You Down’, ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’ and ‘Old Man’ and sure enough the tears came. To this day no solo artist has topped it.

QOTSA were something else entirely, a band free of touring an album just playing a greatest hits set for fans in a cracking venue. This was the fourth or fifth time I’d seen Queens and me and my mates were saying beforehand “we’ll take this one easy, just listen from the back” like a bunch of boring nans. But then they opened with ‘Regular John’ and straight away the place just went bat shit crazy. We all looked at each other and just said “fuck it” and were straight in the pit. The set list was immense.

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
When I went to see Neil Young for the first time, Thom Yorke (Radiohead) was sitting a couple of rows behind us. So after the support band had played, a few friends and I went to say hello to Thom on the way to the bar. The first two boys said they were fans and shook his hand but when it came to me instead of shaking his hand for some reason I just winked at him. Later on, I was thinking about it and remembered he has a bonky eye, so he probably thought I was taking the piss!

Blagging my way backstage with QOTSA was pretty awesome too, barrels of free beer, tumps of grub and mingling with the band steaming. Unfortunately Josh was feeling a bit under the weather so wasn’t present, which was a shame. Had an opportunity to steal one of Troy’s suits too, which was hanging in the cupboard, but resisted.

So, what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I’m polite, so I’d say their name.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
That’s bollocks, locally there’s amazing bands that will kick the balls off most bands live and that’s just in our small pond. It’s just the fact that people are not hearing the music, or supporting the local music scene to get a chance to. There’ll always be rock music and people will always want it. Scientists have proven that listening to Justin Bieber will reduce your sperm count, so when global infertility dawns people will be playing Stooges albums in assembly to save mankind.

And finally, what are you up to at the moment and what’s next for the band? 
Things are on the up at the minute, ‘Magic Teatime’ (off Peyote Smile) is on the new bands CD in the May edition of Classic Rock magazine, which is great, and then this summer we will be playing Planet Rock’s Steelhouse Festival, which is probably the best opportunity we’ve had to date. We’re also writing our second album and are about eight songs into that. We’re really excited about what’s coming out in the practice room at the minute and it’s a step forward from Peyote Smile. We’re considering recording the album ourselves and are excited about getting into the process, and striving to get the raw sound we want to hear from the music. However, we have had some interest from some notable producers so that may change if we can find the right guy for the job.

Dead Shed Jokers - the shed

CHEERS, HYWEL!

Check out Peyote Smile on the DSJ’s bandcamp page

Live shots of Hywel and Dead Shed Jokers: Paul Scott Thomas Photography
Paul Scott Thomas Facebook page

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Dead Shed Jokers: Peyote Smile

Dead Shed Jokers - Peyote Smile landscape

I’ve heard it said that the mark of any decent festival is the quality of its undercard. And while the likes of Saxon, Michael Schenker and Magnum are (quite rightly) generating a lot of excitement about the Planet Rock Steelhouse Festival 2013, it’s well worth taking a closer look at the rest of the emerging line-up. Lurking modestly, somewhere on the undercard, you’ll find the Dead Shed Jokers.

Never heard of ’em? Well, to be honest they’re new to me too. But reading up on some of the other bands on the bill (including The Temperance Movement, Snakecharmer, Heaven’s Basement, Fighting Wolves, Skam and Buffalo Summer) I noticed that the DSJs were from my neck of the woods (South Wales) and that they had a debut album – the intriguingly titled Peyote Smile – under their belts. I just had to check ’em out!

Dead Shed Jokers - Peyote Smile album coverSelf-released in December 2011, Peyote Smile instantly picked up a clutch of good reviews, impressing critics from Über Röck, Rock Re-generation, The Fly/NME, Room Thirteen, Miniature, and Music Press, and receiving a stunning 10/10 from Temporarily Available.

When the webzine Über Röck reviewed the album, they called it a “standout debut” and said: “When a young band can soak up as many influences as these boys obviously have and process them in such a way that they can deliver a sound as individual as this, then that’s a great thing.” (For more on Über Röck, see the recent Q&A with Über Röck Gaz.)

I must confess that on first hearing the album, I did struggle to find clear reference points for readers. It’s not that Peyote Smile hits you from leftfield, exactly – it’s not a paradigm shifter – but the Dead Shed Jokers have managed to create a sound and style that is distinctively their own. And that is, indeed, a great thing.

That said, there are hints of influences if you strain to hear them. One senses a Neil Young influence on singer Hywel’s vocal style, evident, for example, on the wonderful ‘Jack The Lad’. The bubbling bass on ‘The Knot’ and the bass/vocal synchronicity on ‘Monkey Song’ suggest an early Sabbath influence. One can also hear the quirkiness of Queens of The Stone Age here and there, and vocal melodies that are occasionally, particularly in quieter moments, reminiscent of the Doors. I also hear touches of early Budgie now and then. But whatever their influences, they are presented in modern and original garb, much in the way that Opeth’s Heritage plundered the past while still sounding like an album for the present and the future.

Dead Shed Jokers - alternative Peyote Smile imageThere are some rollicking good tracks here. Opener ‘Is This Your Life?’, ‘Jericho’ and (my personal favourite) ‘Interesting Point But …’ gallop along in raucous and robust fashion. ‘Served’ features a wonderful, knowing riff and some great driving drumming. But if the DSJs are at times bombastic, at other times they are subtle and yearning. There’s plenty of light and shade here, both across and within the album’s 13 tracks. ‘Magic Teatime’ is a prime example, blending heavy riffs with a dark and gentle psychedelic folky vibe. ‘Too Quick for Comfort’ (or ‘Two Quid for Comfort’ as I initially misread it) brings all the album’s twists and tricks together in impressive fashion, while the untitled track 13 turns out to be a beautiful little acoustic reprise of the album’s heaviest track, ‘Means To An End’. The lyrical style too, is intriguing, with choruses often culminating in questions (if I’m hearing them right) rather than answers: “What are we all trying for?”, “Where did it all go wrong for you?”, “Where is the stardom that you crave?”

I’ve got a lot out of Peyote Smile and find myself playing it with alarming regularity. There’s a pathos here that’s utterly compelling – like ‘Planet Caravan’/’Solitude’ era Sabs or perhaps the edginess of Nirvana.  There’s a depth too that suggests a wisdom beyond the band’s years and a wellspring of experience, thought and musical knowledge that will stand their songwriting in good stead in the future. There is, I believe, a second album on the way.

Peyote Smile is available to stream on the DSJ’s bandcamp site, and to buy in various formats, including CD, for just a fiver. Have a listen and take a punt. It might just be one of the best fivers you’ll ever spend! Oh, and don’t forget to catch them at the Steelhouse Festival.

Shed use

Read the Words and Music Q&A with vocalist Hywel Davies

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