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 Bat and dove biting incidents have now very much been superseded in the public psyche (fairly or otherwise) by the image of the doddering joker, a comic book rocker at best.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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Fifteen Songs That Rocked My World in 2013

2. Evie and the Essence of Rock and RollAt this time of year everyone and his dog is publishing a list of something.  It’s dreamtime for those who like to catalogue, rank and review.

I had a lot of fun pulling out and revisiting the 2013 releases in my collection (and trying to remember the gigs I’d been to) for the  Über Röck website and Fireworks magazine end of term exercises.

Those interested can check out collective and individual lists in the January/February 2014 edition of Fireworks (Issue 61) and the Albums of the Year and Gigs of the Year features on the Über Röck website.

Rather than simply reproduce those exercises here, I thought I’d do something different. It’s true that in the introduction to Words and Music, I note that rock fans generally buck the modern trend for downloading single tracks and prefer to experience music through bands and albums. However, in thinking about my favourite albums of 2013 for the aforementioned exercises, I was troubled by the huge amount of good music I’d had to omit. It’s also true that you can cast some light on bands and albums by drawing attention to particular songs. I thought, therefore, that I’d compile a list of fifteen tracks that made a particular impression on me last year – an entirely arbitrary number, of course, but I guess you have to stop somewhere!

So, in no particular order, here are some tracks that rocked my world in 2013. Some are from my top twenty albums of the year, and some aren’t. Where I can I’ve added links to the music. Obviously (it almost goes without saying) I don’t own the copyright to any of the material, but I direct you to it in the hope that you’ll find something you’ll enjoy and will want to add it to your own collection. Here goes …

1. Deep Purple – ‘Above and Beyond’ (from Now What?!)
As a long-term fan of the Steve Morse-era, I was absolutely delighted that Purple came up trumps with what most commentators agree is their best album since 1996’s excellent Purpendicular. The quality and success of the album was tinged with sadness, though, as the band paid tribute to friend and former bandmate, the great Jon Lord. The album as a whole was dedicated to Jon, though ‘Above and Beyond’ is a very poignant and more direct tribute.

Rest on your sadness
And tomorrow we’ll find
That souls, having touched, are forever entwined

You Tube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyNDlr-u6U0

Deep Purple Now What?! cover

2. Von Hertzen Brothers – ‘Flowers and Rust’ (from Nine Lives)
Here’s a great band who really should be as big all over the world as they are in their native Finland. The flip side of their crawl to international recognition is that it’s still possible to see them ‘up close and personal’ in small venues in the UK.  ‘Flowers and Rust’ is one of the stand out tracks from their magnificient 2013 album Nine Lives and earned them the ‘Anthem of the Year’ accolade at the 2013 Prog Awards. Check it out people. Hopefully 2014 will be their year!

You Tube link to official video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tAYCTZt6bA

VHB -Nine Lives cover

3. Riverside – ‘We Got Used to Us’ (from Shrine of New Generation Slaves)
Gutsy, modern prog rock from Poland. Riverside are a band I already loved, and they didn’t disappoint with 2013’s Shrine of New Generation Slaves. In amongst the now customary psycho-drama and the intense and compelling musical passages, Mariusz Duda sure knows how to pen a great melody and strong lyrical hooks. I’ve gone here with ‘We Got Used to Us’ (with an honorary mention to ‘The Depth of Self-Delusion’) but could really have picked any of the album’s eight tracks to illustrate the quality of the band and the pull of the album.

Hear it on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuBvF3fZUi4

Riverside - Shrine of New Generation Slaves cover

4. Steven Wilson – ‘Drive Home’ (from The Raven That Refused To Sing And Other Stories)
Considered by many to be the master of modern progressive rock, Steven Wilson was on fire in 2013. He released the astonishing The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), having assembled an all-star band who proved as effective live as they were in the studio. He followed up the album and tour with the Drive Home video EP, which came complete with live and previously unreleased bonus tracks.  ‘Drive Home’, the track, was a compelling tear jerker and benefitted from a quite superb animated video, directed by Jess Cope. (Honorary mentions too, to ‘The Raven …’ itself – another stunning video – and the acerbic and punchy ‘The Holy Drinker’.)

Here’s a link to the official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycYewhiaVBk

You can hear Jess speaking about the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUUaAV_4lgs

You can read my own Über Röck review of the Drive Home video EP here:
http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/31-november-cd/9937-steven-wilson-drive-home-kscope.html

Steven Wilson - Drive Home cover

5. Spaceport Union – ‘Minnow’ (from Flirting With The Queen)
‘Minnow’ is a superb piece from the debut album of a Canadian band who will be unknown to most in the UK.  One of the pleasures and privileges of writing for Über Röck is that you do sometimes come across rare gems from talented emerging artists . In my review I said:

“Checking in at a cool 14 minutes and eight seconds, ‘Minnow’ is a modern prog classic in the making. Ethereal and dreamy, edgy and experimental, and “recorded live off the floor,” its emotional weight is carried by Spence’s haunting vocal. “Do not go gentle into that dark night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” says the Dylan Thomas quote in the album credits. ‘Minnow’ is not always gentle and does not always rage, but it does induce a sense of melancholy and quiet torment throughout. It’s beautifully sad. It’s how things might turn out if Wilson and Åkerfeldt in Storm Corrosion mode ever collaborated with Kate Bush. But there’s still room for the guitar dominated final section to pick up the pace and really drive the track home.”

I stand by those words – and by my overall review of the album. It made my top twenty!

Check out the track and the album here: http://www.spaceportunion.com/

And here’s my full Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/27-july-cd/8720-spaceport-union-flirting-with-the-queen-groove-riot.html

Spaceport Union cover

6. Blitzkrieg – ‘V’ (from Back From Hell)
I reviewed the new Blitzkrieg album in Fireworks (Issue 61) and regarded it as a qualified success. Why “qualified”? Well, because it largely plays to an old-school NWOBHM audience and in that sense pigeonholes itself. ‘V’, however, has a great blend of power, drama and melody and had me reaching for the repeat play button. (An honourable mention too to ‘Complicated Issues’ – the other stand-out track on the album.) “An idea cannot be killed by bullets.” Great stuff!

Check out ‘V’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPyCGkteyPw

Blitzkrieg cover

7. The Lidocaine – ‘Life is Beautiful’ (from The Road To Miero)
Another Finnish band, and probably one of the more obscure artists to make an impression on me last year. The Road to Miero is their second album. It’s not bad at all, and despite some of the album’s relatively grim lyrical themes, opener  ‘Life is Beautiful’ struck me as a reaffirmation of the beauty of life despite hardship and struggle. This track has stayed with me all year.

There’s a ropey recording of ‘Life is Beautiful’ on You Tube that doesn’t really do it justice, so you might be better advised to check them out via their website: http://www.thelidocaine.com/

Here’s my Über Röck review of the album: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/25-may-cd/8031–the-lidocaine-on-the-road-to-miero-inverse-records.html

The Lidocaine Road to Miero cover

8. Gate 6 – ‘God Machines’ (from God Machines)
Top notch stuff from a Dutch band I hadn’t heard of before 2013. Although I was sent God Machines to review in 2013, it was actually released in 2012 – otherwise it would certainly have made my top 20 albums of the year. The title track is one of its stand out moments, and again, has stayed with me since the review. (An honorary mention to ‘Casualties of War’ too.)

Track samples are available on the Gate 6 website: http://www.gate6.nl/album/

Über Röck review here: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/29-september-cd/9327-gate-6-god-machines-self-released.html

Gate 6 album cover

9. Tipsy Road – ‘Wraith’ (from Somewhere Alive)
Tipsy Road are a young Swiss band with a less than convincing name but an album full of heavy rocking tracks that just keep comin’ atcha. ‘Wraith’ is one of the tracks that pulled me into their Somewhere Alive album and made me think that these guys have something special.

There’s a very nice four minute album preview on the band’s website: http://www.tipsyroad.com/tipsyroad.com/Home.html

And here’s my Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/32-december-cd/10076-tipsy-road-somewhere-alive-rockarchive.html

Tipsy Road cover

10. Split Sofa – ‘She Really Moved Me’ (from Coloured Dream)
Split Sofa, led by frontman and songwriter Lewie Docksey, are a band with a recording history. (Coloured Dream was, in fact, their sixth album.) They play a slightly anachronistic and very English brand of psychedelic rock, of which ‘She Really Moved Me’, with its early Pink Floyd and Satanic Majesties-era Stones vibe, is a prime example. I fell in love with this track on first play.

You can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jae_cMgriSg

And here’s my Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/30-october-cd/9512-split-sofa-coloured-dream-self-released.html

Split Sofa cover

11. This Devastated Fan – ‘Contingency Plan’ (from Plot and Debauchery)
TDF are a young band from the North West of England who in 2013 decided to “reboot” their debut album. It’s a good, solid, well thought-out affair that boasts some great tunes and deserves some attention. ‘Contingency Plan’ was one of the catchiest tracks I heard all year. I’ve been walking around singing it for months!

I can’t find a decent, available version online, but please do check out the band’s website: http://www.tdfhq.co.uk/

This is what I wrote about them at the time: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/29-september-cd/9123-this-devastated-fan-plot-and-debauchery-tired-eyes-productions.html

This Devestated Fan cover

12. Primitive Instinct – ‘Solitary Man’ (from One Man’s Refuge)
Primitive Instinct are a somewhat older band, who produced a thoughtful ‘Sort of Rock’ album likely to provide comfort and succour to those of a certain vintage in particular. It didn’t make it to my top twenty list, but there are some very classy tracks here, of which ‘Solitary Man’ has become my favourite.

Check out the band via song samples available on their website: http://www.primitive-instinct.com/

Here’s my Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/26-june-cd/8404-primitive-instinct-one-mans-refuge-hidden-charm-records.html

Primitive Instinct - cover

13. Dyscordia – ‘Ache of Hearts’ (from Twin Symbiosis)
“And here come the Belgians …” with their loud heavy metal guitars and their growling vocals! Twin Symbiosis was another album I reviewed for Über Röck, and yet another album that was a very pleasant surprise. About ‘Ache of Hearts’ I said: “Stand out track for me is the beautifully sung ‘Ache of Hearts’, the album’s ‘resting point’ and a chance to come up for air after a storming run from the creepy ‘Dreamcatcher Tree’, through ‘The Empty Room’, ‘From Sight to Black’ and “the meanest motherfucker on the album” (it sez ‘ere) ‘Rise to Perception’. In a perfect world, ‘Ache of Hearts’ would win the Eurovision Song Contest every year, and everyone would have progressive metal for breakfast.”

You can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4wAEd-kmTg

Here’s my full Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/30-october-cd/9698-dyscordia-twin-symbiosis-road-mark-productions.html

Dyscordia - Twin Symbiosis cover

14. Inner Odyssey – ‘Light Years Away’ (from Have a Seat)
Have a Seat was the very strong debut album from a young Canadian progressive rock/metal band with bags of talent and seemingly unlimited potential. ‘Light Years Away’ is a 3 part suite that, for fans of the genre, has everything.

When I reviewed this album, I wrote: “The band set out their stall early with the three part epic ‘Light Years Away’. Part I (‘Tides of Fate’) is dominated by the atmospheric keys of Mathiau Chamberland. Part II (‘Shades of Heaven’) showcases Leboeuf-Gadreau’s precision soloing and the smooth vocals of Pier-Luc Garand Dion. The raging riffola and occasional full band thrashes of Part III (‘Distant Illusion’) show the band’s modern metal influences and put drummer Étienne Doyon and bassist Simon Gourdeau in the shop window before reaching a wonderfully melodic conclusion.”

You can read my full Über Röck review here: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/27-july-cd/8662-inner-odyssey-have-a-seat-unicorn-records.html

Expect to hear more from this band in 2014. In the meantime, the band has made the full album available online and I most heartily recommend that you check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgztcvjfGE0 ( ‘Light Years Away’ is the opening track.)

You might also like to know that Have a Seat made former Fireworks Reviews Editor Paul Jerome-Smith’s 2013 top five albums of the year!

Inner Odyssey - Have A Seat cover

15. Karelia – ‘Bill For The Ride’ (from Golden Decadence)
Karelia’s album Golden Decadence was another surprise. I know you can’t always judge a disc by its cover, but having seen the ‘bling’ and the ‘chicks’ I was expecting an album full of grimy sleaze rock. Having said that, I knew that they had supported the Scorpions and Michael Schenker, so on reflection probably should have expected a band with a bit more class. I was on my way to Wolverhampton to see Marillion when I first played it, and album opener ‘Bill For The Ride’ blew me away. It ‘benefits’, I’d say, from a misheard lyric – something about a “mother-loving Mars Bars”. I call it the ‘Mars Bar song’ now.

Hear the track (and mishear the lyric) here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-Op0qU2koo

Über Röck review here: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/24-april-cd/7961-karelia-golden-decadence-rocksector-records.html

Karelia - album cover

So there you are. I’ll still probably agonise about the bands and good music I’ve still not managed to represent on any of my lists … Solstice, Legend, Corvus Stone, Mindwork, Nik Turner, Hammerforce. But hey, you have to draw the line somewhere! It’s a new musical year now and there’s already so much to look forward to.

Onwards and upwards, eh?!

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Steve: ‘Every Record Tells a Story’

Every Record Tells a Story logo

When I embarked on what I now like to refer to as ‘the Words and Music project’, I did so with the dual conviction that: i) a lot of human experience in relation to rock music, and fan experience in particular, is neglected and under-described; and ii) such experience is both valuable and entertaining and ought to be captured.

It’s always a joy, therefore, to come across writers and other fans who’ve been inspired and motivated by broadly similar thoughts.

One particular joy is Every Record Tells a Story, a website/blogsite that is maintained and populated with considerable dedication and aplomb by a gentleman we may refer to as ‘Steve’.

Steve’s frequent, informative and humorous articles have not just provided succour to his regular music-loving readership, they have also caught the eye of national newspapers, rock magazines and television documentary makers. He also recently put rock music on trial! Want to know more? Then please read on, and check out the first Words and Music interview of 2014 …

Hi Steve! “Every Record Tells a Story”– excellent name, and very true, what can you tell us about it?
Chuck Klosterman - Fargo Rock City book coverI started writing Every Record Tells A Story a couple of years ago, but the genesis of the whole thing came in 2001, when I stumbled across the newly released book Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman. Here was a guy who grew up in the middle of nowhere, listened to a derided genre of music – heavy rock – and could still talk about it with enthusiasm and with his critical faculties intact. It was brilliant. Wouldn’t it be good, I thought, if I could do something like that, but talking about life in the UK? There were similarities: Klosterman lived in a part of the world that I pictured as a wilderness, whilst in the UK I grew up in a cultural wilderness, musically speaking, thanks to the national radio stations that played non-stop Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Of course I did nothing about actually writing a book, but the idea remained. I can’t review new records as well as Pitchfork or Drowned In Sound and I can’t approach an artist and say: “I’m from Rolling Stone and can I have an interview?” But not many people write about heavy rock, and those that do tend to (rightly) take it quite seriously, and tend not to write about other genres. So I had something different, because all I want to do is make stupid jokes and write about Jack White as well as Whitesnake. The Blogs-With-Stupid-Jokes-About-Heavy-Rock-And-Indie-Bands-niche is not a large or particularly strongly contested niche in the blogosphere, so I think I have a free run at it. I am trying to make a virtue of a lack of focus.

I like to think that blogging is to writing what punk was to music – a DIY ethic – that whole “here are three chords, now go form a band”, only with words. It isn’t of course – it’s basically me, typing into a computer, which is about as far removed from punk as you can imagine. However, my blog is the culmination of years of  just being a fan of music, reading countless music biographies, storing up all these ideas and events – things that happened at gigs for example, and then gobbing them, carefully, onto the page.

I still have doubts about the name, but you have to call it something – and you should have seen the other ideas – they were far worse.

I’ve been following your blog now for about 18 months, and you’re pretty prolific – it must be quite a commitment?
I post something new every three days. It’s always fun, but the family and day job come first (I have a wife and a couple of young kids). I work in London and work long hours, but I write it all whilst I am travelling on the train.

Motivation is rarely an issue – it’s fun to do. Music is full of quirky things – from the idea of playing Dark Side of the Moon alongside The Wizard of Oz, to the daft song titles in Blue Oyster Cult records, so there’s never a lack of inspiration. It’s even better when people leave comments – it’s great to hear what people think. My favourite page on Every Record Tells A Story is something I wrote about the much missed heavy metal record store Shades, in Soho. Not so much because of what I wrote – the article is okay and The Guardian published a shortened version online on Record Store Day 2012 – but more the comments that people have left – including guys who worked there, former owners, people like me who visited to buy records and a former Kerrang! magazine scribe. It must be approaching fifty comments and has become a mini-shrine to a much missed record store.

Kerrang! WASP cover 1985You pointed out to me that we seem to have “ploughed similar furrows, musically speaking”. Tell us more about your own route into rock fandom.
The blog started with my looking back at early musical memories, which made it one of the few Status Quo-heavy blogs out there. Quo were my gateway drug to heavy rock. I also remember seeing Wham! and Queen on Top of the Pops once and telling a friend at school how great Queen were, whilst Wham! just left me cold. Buying my first copy of Kerrang! magazine in 1985 was what confirmed my interest in all things rock. It was all downhill from there …

So, is it possible to say what music means to you?
I’m part of a club of people who seem to be into music more than “normal” people. I have found a few of us. Music can be a pick-me-up or a calm-me-down, a thirst-quencher or a hangover-cure, an ice-breaker or a solo-pursuit, a mood-setter or merely background noise.

Has your taste changed much over time?
It has widened. In his book 31 Songs, Nick Hornby wrote that Led Zeppelin and loud music generally is something you grow out of. I disagree. I now find something to enjoy in most genres, but there’s still nothing quite like the sound of a Gibson Les Paul plugged into a Marshall Stack.

Three bands, three albums and three (music) books you rate highly?
Difficult to narrow it down … of bands around now, I really like Queens of the Stone Age – I think Josh Homme has built up an amazing body of work, including Kyuss and Them Crooked Vultures. Of bands from the last twenty years I think The White Stripes were outstanding. Jack White and Josh Homme together saved rock ’n’ roll in the last couple of decades, if it ever needed saving. And from the Sixties, it’s hard to look beyond The Beatles.

Masters of Reality - Blue Garden album coverAlbums-wise, my all-time favourite record is Blue Garden by Masters of Reality, although the follow-up Sunrise in the Sufferbus had Ginger Baker on drums and was quite brilliant. My favourite album of 2012 was Crown and Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim – it’s a great record and deserved more attention. This year, I have chosen Drenge by Drenge – they’re a two piece from Derbyshire and make a great noise.

Ian Hunter - Diary of a Rock 'n' Roll StarBooks-wise, I have a list of fifty great rock biographies on the site but three of my favourites include: Ian Hunter’s Diary of a Rock ’n ’Roll Star, which is a journal of a slightly bewildered Englishman Abroad on a tour of the USA. It paints a great picture of the US in the early Seventies; STP: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield which is superb throughout and just pips Keith Richards’ bio for the best book on The Stones; and Billion Dollar Babies by Bob Greene – about a young Alice Cooper – which is  similarly close to its subject although is out of print and hard to find. On my “to read” list is Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah, which was released this year and is a history of the UK charts.

What, for you, makes a rock gig special?
Getting down the front, in as small a venue as possible. The best gigs are the ones where you are closest to the band, and you get the feeling of a communal spirit, everybody’s jumping up and down and singing along.

Your most memorable gigs?
There are many. Kings X played The Marquee a couple of times and absolutely blew the roof off the place on both occasions. In the second show the boys from Anthrax were in the audience, stage-diving into the crowd. Badlands at The Astoria was incredible because they were amazing, but had already split up acrimoniously before going onstage. Jimmy Page’s solo show at Hammersmith Odeon in ’89 stands out also when he played ‘Stairway …’ with just a spotlight focused on an empty microphone stand, and the crowd just sang along. Then there was Robert Plant playing a warm-up show at a tiny basement at Colchester University and I missed my last train home, sleeping overnight at the station on a cold January night covered only by jeans, denim jacket and a t-shirt.

They say never meet your idols. What are the best and worst encounters you’ve had with an artist?
I have had very few encounters to speak of. I think I have only ever met three or four musicians. I interviewed Will Rees from Mystery Jets last year. It was a cold day, I was the last of a dozen people he had met, and he was freezing cold – literally shivering. I had a quick chat – he was very nice – and let him get back into the warmth.

You put heavy rock on trial recently, tell us more about that.
I had been building up to those articles for a while. Heavy rock is an odd genre, and splits opinion like no other. I wanted to deconstruct rock’s appeal and work out why people like or dislike it. Why did I like it so much when I was growing up? Why do I look back at some of it with fondness and at other bits with embarrassment? I loved heavy rock when I was a teenager. Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi – all those guys. But for many it’s just noise, or stupid, or sexist.

Maiden's Maiden

Maiden’s Maiden. What’s wrong with being sexy?

I wanted to work out why the genre splits opinion, and came up with ten reasons why people dislike heavy rock. These included the way bands dress, the way they sing, the propensity of guitarists to show off, the sexism, the possible lack of innovation. I mean, look at the way Manowar present themselves. It’s ridiculous. But I had a couple of their albums, and I overlooked their farcical dress sense. Other questions asked include: Are you more likely to suffer a nose bleed listening to Mariah Carey or Geddy Lee? Were Kingdom Come influenced by more than just the sum of Led Zeppelin’s quiet songs, plus Led Zeppelin’s louder songs? And does David Coverdale really have to be such a dirty old man? Using the pretext of a “trial” allows me to present the arguments for and against in an engaging way, and lets readers be judge and jury by voting.

So, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Somewhere in between. There has been some great music inspired by the first two – Appetite For Destruction is a good example – but also some pretty dire stuff too.

How do you view the role of the rock writer, and the ‘blogger’ in particular?
If I have a role, it is to entertain people with the writing, make people laugh and hopefully get them to dig out a new or old record. That’s all. Every Record Tells A Story will appeal to gig goers, vinyl lovers, and fans of indie, rock and metal. It’s like a poor man’s Mojo Magazine, only not as well written, but with (hopefully) better jokes.

There are many very good music blogs out there, much better than mine, a lot of which tell you about new music and new bands, and they play a great role in promoting new bands. Well, that’s not the kind of blog I write. Who wants to only listen to new stuff when you haven’t heard all the old stuff? It gets exhausting to keep up with. I start to doubt someone when they recommend their eightieth new band of the year as being something special. So I’ll write about say, six new bands a year, and I’ll really like them all.

Of everything you’ve presented on the site, is there anything of which you’re particularly proud?
I once took on a bet that I could buy all the Beatles albums on vinyl in a limited time and budget – that was a good series and was as much fun to do as it was to write. I had to do a fair bit of research, which I enjoyed. It ended up being part record collecting, part Beatles history and part comedy caper. Well, I thought it was funny anyway. I enjoyed it so much I did a follow-up with Bowie’s records six months later. As a consequence, I now own a lot of Beatles and Bowie vinyl. Which is no bad thing.

Has the Every Record Tells a Story site led to any other opportunities?
One of the first pieces I wrote for the blog was a jokey thing about my memories of taping the charts off the radio. Somehow a BBC researcher found it and invited me to take part in a BBC documentary called Pop Charts Britannia: 60 Years of the Top Forty. They found a boom box and got me to tape a recording of the top forty countdown from the early Eighties. It was a lot of fun.

More recently the editor of Classic Rock magazine got in touch to ask if they could publish one of the ‘Rock on Trial’ articles about sexism in rock. I pulled together a few Pie Charts to illustrate the point, so it had a quirky visual element to it. There are very few Pie Charts in music criticism, I find. It was very flattering to rub shoulders with “proper” writers. It was encouraging. Maybe, I thought, I should carry on doing this blogging thing just a little bit longer …

I had no expectations or ambition that blogging would lead to anything else, so these things are nice to do when they come up.

Are you involved with music in any other ways?
I play guitar at a rudimentary level – I can manage the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ on a good day. But I’m no Jimmy Page. Or even Patti Page for that matter.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Dick Rowe of Decca Records said that guitar bands were a passing fad back in 1962, just after he passed on signing the Beatles …

Manowar Into Glory Ride

Manowar: “farcical dress sense”, and records, one suspects, that have many stories to tell!

CHEERS, STEVE!

Please check out the excellent Every Record Tells a Story blog and Facebook page

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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!

Visit Black Sabbath Online: http://www.black-sabbath.com/

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Scott Ian: Speaking Words

Scott Ian - promo shotThe Gate, Roath, Cardiff, 25 May 2013

I’ve long thought that there’s a rich but seldom tapped seam of fan and musician experience linked to the music we love. It’s the motivation, indeed, for Words and Music, and it appears that Scott Ian has had a similar thought, or, at least, one very much like it.

Scott has embarked on his Speaking Words tour with the conviction that his stories, memories and reflections will strike a chord and be of interest “to a certain audience”. He is right, and for over two hours, one man, his microphone, and a well-chosen set of photos and comic strip overheads, keep an enthralled audience both entertained and on the edge of their seats.

The Gate - Scott Ian

Shot posted by Scott a couple of hours before gig time

The venue is perfect – a converted church, with most of the 120 or so present primed on Worship Music. We all know it’s a privilege to see and hear such a big name at such close quarters and in such intimate surroundings. And with the pre-gig playlist – touchingly triggered by Scott himself from his on-stage computer – including the likes of Judas Priest (‘The Hellion’/’Electric Eye’), Iron Maiden, Motorhead (‘Love Me Like a Reptile’), Thin Lizzy (‘Don’t Believe a Word’), Dio (‘Stand Up and Shout’) and Rainbow (‘Kill The King’), we just know it’s going to be a good night. So let us play …

The gig proper kicks off with a reading that appears to be about drug addiction. The well-chosen passage tightens the mood before a killer punchline releases the tension and sets the tone for the evening. Thereafter, we are treated to a well-constructed and quick-witted performance from a man who clearly has a lot to say and a lot to offer.

This may only be Scott’s fifth Speaking Words show, and he may “get more nervous at these shows than a Big Four or a stadium gig”, but he comes across as fluent, intelligent, confident and professional. He even takes it in his stride when, early in the show, a man collapses in the second row (the gentleman concerned received treatment and was thankfully ok). He may not be “a stand-up comedian” but he is also very, very funny.

Scott Ian tour promoThe stories come thick and fast: his upbringing in a Jewish family in New York; his experience of, and attitude towards, drugs; his first meeting with Lemmy (the moral of the story: “Don’t try to keep up with Lemmy!”); his meeting with a sinister-looking German doctor; his second meeting, and subsequent friendship, with Lemmy (“Why on earth would you try to keep up with me?!”); his memories of departed friends – Dimebag Darrell, Jeff Hanneman, Ronnie James Dio and Cliff Burton; his inopportune seizures; and how difficult he finds it leaving his two year old son to go on tour.

Some of the topics and reflections emerge from an open Q&A session, in which Scott honestly answers questions on everything thrown at him  – no sacred ground, not even in a church. He makes sure that everyone who wants to ask a question gets to ask one, and he even holds a free prize draw in which everyone gets a chance to win a tour merch bundle and a signed Jackson guitar.

I learnt some stuff too. Did you know that the Wales and British Lions rugby captain Sam Warburton named his book, Refuse To Be Denied: My Grand Slam Year, after the Anthrax track on the We’ve Come For You All album?

Scott ends the show with a list of things you are well advised NOT to say or do when you meet a rock star – a kind of top 10 compilation of things people say to him or shout at him as he goes about his business. You’ll laugh and maybe even cringe a bit as he runs through his list. You know the kind of thing:
Fan: “Hey, I know you, you’re the guy in that band.”
Scott: “Anthrax?”
Fan: “No, that’s not it.”

Throughout he is a warm and engaging host, and I came away feeling that I’d really seen something of the man behind the music, both in humorous and serious moments. “Music should be what you feel and what’s in your heart,” he says, to enthusiastic applause from all around the room. We sense there is something in this passionate statement that we share.

Scott reflects on Jeff Hanneman’s passing too, even though it is clearly (and unsurprisingly) still very raw.  It is the first time, says Scott, that he has really been moved to think about his own mortality. He has always taken the view that you should: “Play every show as though you’re going to jail the next day”, but Hanneman’s passing seems to have given his perspective a wider and more emotional significance.

As for the funny moments, well, Scott’s story about making Slayer smile onstage is hilarious, and I’ll never, ever be able to look at pictures of Sebastian Bach again (not that I make a habit of doing that) without giggling.

But hey, I don’t want to give out too many spoilers. If you wanna hear Scott’s stories, you’ve gotta see the show. And really, you’ve got to see this show.

In these days of carefully-packaged, superficial talent show bullshit, the words spoken by Scott Ian were very refreshing. Catch this tour if you can – you will not regret it.

Scott Ian

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