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 Bat and dove biting incidents have now very much been superseded in the public psyche (fairly or otherwise) by the image of the doddering joker, a comic book rocker at best.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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Bernie Tormé (Gillan, Tormé, Ozzy, GMT)

Bernie Torme

Bernie Tormé is an Electric Gypsy, a rock ‘n’ roll pirate and a “psychedelic blues shredmeister” of the highest order. In its ‘100 Wildest Guitar Heroes’ feature (March 2007), Classic Rock Magazine referred to his “cosmic tones and glam punk squiggles”, and likened his appearance at times to that of a “dandified Dracula”. He plays guitar like a man who’s controlling and harnessing chaos, with passion, soul and joyful abandon.

Like many other fans of the NWOBHM generation, my first taste of Bernie Tormé came via his work with Gillan. Quite possibly there has never been a more colourful, engaging, and madcap rock band. Over a run of three studio albums (Mr. Universe, Glory Road and Future Shock) and numerous singles, including the stunning ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, Tormé’s playing, and particularly his interplay with keys man Colin Towns, was integral to the development of Gillan’s unique sound.

Beyond Gillan, Tormé has fronted his own band, and played with the likes of Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Clive Burr (Iron Maiden) and Phil Lewis (Girl, L.A. Guns). He is also, famously, the guitarist who first stepped in to help Ozzy out after the tragic death of Randy Rhoads. He is currently plying his trade in GMT, with drummer Robin Guy and former Gillan colleague bassist John McCoy: still colourful, still engaging and still a bit madcap!

So Bernie, what does rock music mean to you?
The blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll …the daddy was country and had a nasty accident and drowned in whiskey somewhere down the holler. It wasn’t called ‘rock’ when I was young in this neck of the woods, it was ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, and later in the sixties, ‘pop’. I loved it, meant everything to me, music and words you could express anything in – sadness, anger, joy, love, frustration, subtlety, anything, and you could dance to it too. Lyrics are a big part of it for me. I never really got much into that modern guitar electro whizzo jazz-metal instrumental thing. But ‘rock’ is just a name too, it’s all just music. Sound and music is what I love. It’s the thing that keeps me sane … and drives me insane.

Bernie TormeWho was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Elvis Presley, followed very quickly by Chuck Berry.

An album, band or song that means a lot to you?
A song and can I have two? Bob Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom’ from Another Side of Bob Dylan … and ‘Strawberry Fields’ – what a track! I’m happy to dream on to either or both of those.

An artist or album that has stayed with you over time?
I change from time to time, but Hendrix Are You Experienced always stays. The whole album was so shocking, grindingly ugly and beautiful at the same time. I bought it the day it was released in ’67 as an eager young schoolboy blues purist Clapton fan, having saved up my pocket money pennies. I took it home and … completely hated it! It took me quite a few days to appreciate it. It remains an unmatched template, though many have tried. I think the Pistols and Sabbath came closest in sheer pretty ugly. I was interested to find out that Are You Experienced was mostly recorded in De Lane Lea Studios in London, which Ian Gillan bought in the ’70s and renamed Kingsway Recorders and where we recorded all the Gillan albums. I did not know that at the time. Wish I’d got half as good a guitar sound! Another obsession is Exile on Main Street.

Dylan or Morrison?
Funny that, my kids have the Doors’ Waiting for the Sun and Dylan’s Highway 61 in the car as standard listening at the moment. Presuming you mean Jim as opposed to Van, I would have to say Dylan. That first bunch of albums from Bob Dylan’s first to John Wesley Harding are just incomparable. They changed the world. Without Dylan no Beatles epics, no Hendrix, no Pistols,  no ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, no ‘Subterranean  Homesick Blues’ no ‘One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)’. I just love him. And ‘Gates of Eden’, ‘Times They Are A Changing’, ‘Tambourine Man’, ‘All I Want To Do’, ‘Just Like A Woman’, just so many spine-chilling moments. Even up to the latest ‘Duquesne Whistle’, love that too, when he opens his mouth it’s like dropping an electric sander on your bare arm.

Bobby has for me this ability to get the note, but make it sound as if he hasn’t, and, more important, hit the heart and the head. Appears simple, but is very, very difficult: often imitated, but never equalled. I love his voice; it’s real.

In these operatic and auto-tuned days of technical ability with sod all content, many people I know don’t like him, but then a lot of them think every singer should sound like Bruce Dickinson or the Mariah Carey template. Bruce is a mate so I shall make no further comment on that one … other than saying that one Bruce Dickinson is definitely enough! As is one Bob Dylan. One Mariah Carey was way too much for me; give me back Aretha anytime.

Jim Morrison was a bit more in the Pavarotti direction. Great voice.  I love the Doors, awesome stuff, but would they have done ‘The End’ or ‘Horse Latitudes’ or ‘Not To Touch The Earth’ without Dylan having broken the ground beforehand? I kind of think not. So for me it’s got to be Dylan. He ploughed the wilderness first, and planted the seeds.

Speaking of “Morrison” though, again for me two of the greatest albums ever are Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Moondance. Maybe they don’t beat Bobby –though the tracks ‘Astral Weeks’ and ‘Sweet Thing’ come close. Maybe I am biased because I’m Irish …

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
Personally not too much. I’m not much of a conversationalist, and I like to try to let people have their space, I like people giving me my space. I  don’t like to talk about what I did or do, my musical life or my music, I just like doing it, and I think a lot of people are like that. So I like to give them space. “What plectrums do you use”? Who cares! “What’s it like playing with Ozzy?”Actually much the same as playing with anyone else – I plugged in and hit the strings and the bum notes were probably the best bit, as usual. Satan did not materialise, Mr. Devil’s representative on earth’s head did not spin around, and he did not speak in any tongues stranger than a thick midlands accent.

Anyway, I don’t really understand this weird cultural celebrity thing that people have that rock stars are more interesting than plumbers or anyone else, for example. I’ve met some very entertaining plumbers in my time and most people have got to admit that having running water, central heating and a nice flushable comfortable place to have a shit, is much more important on a daily basis than being able to listen to the latest Metallica album.

What is any rock star going to tell you that is more interesting than a plumber? Mr. Plumber man might have just done the most mind-blowing bit of plumbing in the solar system, you know, the plumbing equivalent of ‘Strawberry Fields’ rolled into Beethoven’s Fifth. What are you going to say to this genius? “How much did it cost mate?” You are not going to say: “What was it really like when you slipped the pipe into the connector and whacked a lump of gunk on it?” Or “Man, were you on acid when you did that? Were you at one with the universe?”

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
Nodding at Keith Richards at a little pub in London and letting him get on with bopping up and down to the band, drinking his beer in peace and enjoying himself without me banging on endlessly and spitting on his neck about ‘It’s All Over Now’ or ‘Rip This Joint’ or ‘Hand Of Fate’ or something he can’t even remember. I felt justified!

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
Well some of Ozzy’s and Ian’s could/can be a bit weird and obsessive and judgmental in their different ways, but never anything really strange that I came across. When a few of my biggest fans used to dress as clones of me in the ’80s, that sort of bothered me – looking off the stage and seeing a few me’s in the audience was most weird. It made me feel as if I had to dress differently all the time just to be different.

What makes a rock gig special?
The audience, the music, the band and the link between them. But, if you are onstage, most of all, for ever and ever, the audience.

Bernie Torme on stageYour most notable gig as an artist?
Really the bad ones are the most memorable: Gillan, Nuremburg festival 1980 was the worst ever, unforgettable. We had just done Reading the night before, special guests to one of my heroes, Rory Gallagher. Great gig, very late night, far, far too much alcohol and all the usual bad habits. So we got to bed about 4am and with our usual genius management on the case we had to catch a small private plane to Nuremburg at 6am. We all made the plane. Just. Ian looked like death. The plane was a small propeller job, no toilet, 4 hour flight to Nuremberg, you had to drink bottles of beer to be able to piss in the bottles, not much fun …

The gig was about an hour and a half drive at the other end. We were opening, so we got there about a half hour before our stage time. All our gear was in England, so we had hired gear to be there, and the truck with the hired gear was waiting at the back of the stage. A half hour before stage time the truck was opened … and all the gear was completely wrong.

Instead of two Marshall 200 major bass amps as promised, McCoy had a clapped out Fender Bassman. Colin had a Yamaha organ and a Hammond Lesley on a multicore as an amp, absolutely no way at all to connect the two without major cable surgery, and no chance to do that without tools in 20 minutes. I, at least, had an amp and two cabs.

We had just had the Glory Road album go straight in the UK charts at number 2, so backstage we were surrounded by photographers and people trying to interview us, knowing we have no gear to play with, and feeling very, very fragile … it’s a bad situation. The only answer to any question any of us can think of is to grunt.

We get to going onstage in no time at all, opening with ‘Unchain Your Brain’. McCoy hits the first note on the bass and the Fender Bassman blows up. He is a bit pee-d off and is never someone to go quietly, so he picks the amp and cab and drops it off the front of the stage, and then proceeds to chuck his fender precision straight up in the air where it tangles with the lighting truss, hangs there, and then comes down neck first and splits in half. It was like slow motion.

At this the PA crew decide we are very naughty anarchists and actually not real musicians at all, so they turn up the monitors so all we can hear onstage is this deafening scream of feedback. This really gets to Ian, who has a BAD, BAD hangover. Ian turns around and swings his mic a la Roger Daltrey and then chucks it at the monitor man at the side of the stage. He misses, and hits the only keyboard Colin has managed to get working, his ARP, which goes flying and dies.

Song 2: ‘Sleeping On The Job’. The feedback gets worse. McCoy starts chucking the monitors off the front of the stage to make it stop … unfortunately on top of some photographers who thought it was all part of the act. By now Ian and I are also chucking monitors into the audience, side fills next …

Song 3: ‘Mr. Universe’. Well, we get through that one with guitar, drums, vocals and no monitors, but that’s as far as we got. As I leave the stage I look at the mixing desk about 100 yards away in the middle of the audience and I can see another of my heroes, Ted Nugent (who was headlining), stood there with a look of complete disbelief and incomprehension on his face. I’ll never forget that one. We got a lot of press in Germany out of it, but it wasn’t all that good.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
Stones at Wembley in ’82 and Skid Row (Dublin variety: Gary Moore, Brush Shiels, Noel Bridgeman) at the Mansion House in Dawson Street in Dublin in ’68 or ’69, can’t remember exactly when.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Boring cliché. It’s just a marketing phrase. Why not ‘sex and drugs and banking’? They probably had more of the sex anyway (money, money, money) and undoubtedly more of the drugs. The only part that ever mattered to me anyway was the rock ‘n’ roll. The other two just come and go if that’s what you are into. No big deal and about as interesting as the office party.

Bernie Torme and GMTRock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
All music is good. Better than most other things anyway.

Rock music – music for all or a tribal affair?
Music is for everyone.

How do you view what you do as an artist?
No view at all. Just hope to be able to keep doing it.

How is your music most often labelled? And do you think labels are helpful or limiting?
Usually labelled ‘rock’, sometimes ‘heavy rock’, sometimes ‘hard rock’. All ok. Hey, I just play guitar and shout a bit. That’s my identity. I hate labels anyway. I don’t think they help. It just provides people with a safety blanket; they then don’t ever have to hear anything new or different. Personally, I like hearing different.

Is there a particular piece of music, or album or performance for which you would most like to be remembered?
No, I would not know. I just hope the people who knew me remember me kindly.

Bernie Torme Turn Out the Lights album coverWhat would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
It is possibly true, and that makes me sad, and I truly hope not. But everything changes. You have to accept that. There are some good young bands doing good things around but it’s very difficult to be new and different and successful these days. There is hardly an industry anymore.

It’s difficult to set the world on fire when it has just stopped burning and all the fuel is gone. It’s tough for young bands.

When I started out it was very difficult to hear anything. You heard very little pop music, you copied it from memory and it often became something completely different, through incompetence, inability, and downright ignorance. Now everyone seems to learn the same things to the nth degree. They study it at college, and it all has this terrible sameness – it all has to be 100% RIGHT. The resident gurus tell them that’s what’s important. Played properly in tune. Click tracked. The same as.

I think that’s all bollox, It would be better off if it was wrong and different, and,therefore, maybe original. It’s not about perfection. The flaws and the difference are the perfection.

There is no right way, just do it any way you want, but do it the way you want, not the same as someone before – that’s pointless.

And finally, what are you up to at the moment?
Insulating my loft! I’m having a bit of a holiday at the moment … but in the course of which I just found the tapes of an album that I had almost completed before I moved house 10 or 12 years ago … got lost in transit. Some very cool stuff there, in various stages of unfinished, but I really have had a few fun days ploughing through it. I had forgotten almost all of it, and it was so nice to hear something from the past I had done that really made me think “Hey, that’s pretty good!” So that’s a must do before too long! Also been recording and producing tracks for my boys’ band, Jimi and Eric. Their band is called The Gang: http://www.thegangband.co.uk/. The first of those has just come out. It’s on You Tube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EHOdJqR_d9I#!
It’s good stuff; good rock ‘n’ roll.

Guy, McCoy and Torme

CHEERS BERNIE!

For more about Bernie please visit his website: http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/

For more on GMT visit: http://www.gmtrocks.com/

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Relics 2: Programmes That Can Be Read

Following on the heels of Relics 1, welcome to the second post in the ‘Relics’ series. This one focuses on some tour programmes of note, most of which have been in a box in the attic for over 25 years, and most (though not all) of which are from 1982-83.

I don’t tend to buy tour programmes these days. As a rule I think they are overpriced and uninformative, but back in the day I did purchase them from time to time, and occasionally I managed to get them signed.

The Eagle Has Landed

Saxon’s Bristol Colston Hall gig on The Eagle Has Landed tour was the first gig I went to outside my home town. I loved Saxon in those days. They were the first band I ever saw. They were a fantastic live act and, in fact, I saw them on every tour from Strong Arm of the The Law through to Crusader and they never failed to deliver. (For an amusing Crusader story, check out the Dobby’s Shoelace blog.) On this particular night they played to an ecstatic and appreciative audience. In the words of the tour programme: “They took no prisoners.”  They were touring their live album The Eagle Has Landed and used the tour to debut a new song of the same name. It sounded great and augered well for the next album – though when it came I didn’t think the studio recording quite captured the power of the live performance.

Cheetah supported. Man, did I over-fixate on Chrissie Hammond. “I just wanna spend the night with you,” she sang. As a horny 15 year old, I felt the same way.

The only slight mystery here is how I managed to get the programme signed. If I recall correctly, we left the gig in  a rush to get the train back to Cardiff (a prelude to the shenanigans described in Words and Music).  Though I don’t remember with any certaintly, I suspect I took it along to the HMV signing session (described in Relics 1) on The Power and The Glory tour. I notice, flicking through it now, that Nigel Glockler and Steve Dawson signed the back as well as the front, and Graham Oliver also signed his portrait inside! Overkill, you might say!

A Light in the Black

The music of Ronnie James Dio has played a significant part in my history as a rock fan. I loved the Dio-fronted version of Rainbow and his involvement in other Deep Purple-related projects, such as Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball album. As readers of Words and Music (and, indeed, Relics 1) will recall, I saw the Dio version of Sabbath live on the Heaven and Hell tour early in my gigging history and was blown away. I was greatly excited, then, when Dio emerged with his own band and a new album – Holy Diver – which proved to be one of the three greatest studio albums he recorded. I saw him on the Holy Diver and The Last in Line tours, both fine performances. This programme is from the Holy Diver tour. The fact that Ronnie has passed away makes this signed copy all the more special to me.

MSG: Re-Armed and Ready

There’s surprisingly little in Words and Music about Michael Schenker, save a short section in which I suggest that his playing “takes you as close to the Platonic Form of beauty as a heavy rock guitarist possibly can”. A slight overstatement? A touch pretentious? You’d only think that if you’ve never heard or appreciated Schenker at his best! He’s a great talent and his playing is truly sublime. Soulful, melodic, controlled, chaotic, cutting, frenetic, soaring … just go listen!

This particular programme is from the Assault Attack tour, November 1982. The tour was notable for the suprising return of original MSG vocalist Gary Barden. Gary had been replaced for the Assault Attack album by former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet, in  a line-up shuffle that also saw Ted McKenna replace the late, great Cozy Powell on drums to team up with his old mucker from the Alex Harvey Band, bassist Chris Glenn. Assault Attack was a cut above. It had a crisp, clean production that gave it a unique sharp and fluid sound, and, arguably, the Schenker/Bonnet songwriting partnership threatened to eclipse the work of the earlier line-ups. All looked as rosy as the flowers on one of Bonnet’s shirts. Then he got pissed and disgraced himself at a warm-up gig, and that was that.

These were pre-internet days and information travelled less quickly than it does now. Rock fans relied on Sounds, Kerrang! and Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show for their news. I didn’t know that Gary Barden was back in the band until he bounded onto the stage! But his return went down well with the faithful and a great evening was had by all. I particularly remember Schenker crouched over his guitar, almost statue-esque, delivering a note perfect rendition of the extended solo in ‘Rock Bottom’. Great stuff!

Piece Be With You

What can you say about Iron Maiden that hasn’t already been said? They have always been an astonishingly hard working band and their tour schedules have, at times, been truly punishing. How amazing then that they came out to sign autographs for a small group of us who had gathered patiently at the St. David’s Hall cloakroom after the gig. They didn’t all come out together, not at first anyway, but Bruce sorted that out in a wonderful gesture of kindness towards my friend John.

John had broken his ankle not long before on a school skiing trip to Switzerland and attended the gig on crutches with his leg in plaster. We persuaded him to ask the band to sign his plater cast. Held up by friends, John stood with his ‘bad leg’ up on the counter. The first of the band to see him was Bruce, who had a towel wrapped around his neck and was signing and gesturing rather than talking, to rest his voice and keep it in good shape. Despite this, as soon as he had signed John’s leg he went off to get the rest of the band to come and do the same. Think of the kudos John gained, hobbling round the school playground with a plaster cast signed by Iron Maiden! My main memory of the rest of the band that night is that Nicko told a lot of jokes and talked very loudly. He also kept saying: “Well, fuck my old boots!” The next time I came face to face with Nicko, about 25 years later, he was no different! (For more Maiden-related gig memories, check out the Drawn By Quest for Arry! blog.)

Speak of the Devil

This was Ozzy’s first UK tour since Randy’s death. Brad Gillis featured on guitar, in an unusual line-up that also included Pete Way on bass and Tommy Aldridge on drums. According to the programme, Lyndsey Bridgewater played keyboards. The tour featured the full, theatrical stage show, with John Allen playing Ronnie the dwarf who was ritually hung during ‘Goodbye to Romance’. Mad times, but quite a show, and how Ozzy managed to keep going and maintain standards at the time is beyone me. Between album release and tour ‘Talk of the Devil’ had also become ‘Speak of the Devil’.

Support was provided by the Impeckable Budgie. Often touted as the ultimate arena support band, their presence seemed appropriate. Tommy Vance had played two Budgie tracks from their Nightflight album as a tribute to Randy on the night he announced his death to the UK rock community. I notice that drummer Steve Williams signed the back of my programme. I saw him wandering around during Ozzy’s set and duly popped down to say hello.

The Werewolf programme is from the Bark at the Moon tour, with Jake. E. Lee. I caught the Bristol gig. The remarkable thing about this gig was that no one left when the lights went on. The band were forced out of the shower for a second encore.

Damage Inc.

The second ‘untimely’ death (is there ever a good time to die?) discussed in Words and Music, another senseless tour accident, was that of Cliff Burton, the extraordinary Metallica bass player. As noted in my book, the UK leg of the Master of Puppets/Damage Inc. tour had been a total triumph, and the Cardiff show I attended was quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Tour t-shirts and programme alike feature a list of dates that sadly neither Cliff, nor the band, were able to fulfil. By then I had pretty much stopped buying tour programmes. It’s kind of odd that I bought this one. I reproduce Ross Halfin’s portrait here as my own tribute of sorts. (Hope that’s ok, Ross!)

Farewell to ’83

This was the first time I saw Marillion live. My friend Ray and I went on a Concert Travel Club trip to catch the Birmingham Odeon gig.

1983 had been a great year for Marillion – they had released and toured debut album Script for a Jester’s Tear. As they were readying second album Fugazi, they used a short Christmas tour to get out of the studio, maintain a bit of momentum, try out a few new tracks and ‘break in’ new drummer Ian Mosley. There was a wonderful celebratory Christmas vibe at this gig, well captured by the artwork on the front of the tour programme and the picture of the Christmas Jester into which it unfurled. I found the gig utterly engaging. I loved Fish’s between-song banter and our first taste of the new songs.

Support was provided by Pendragon. They were great. There was a real warmth to their music and performance that was also captured on the cassette tapes they were selling on the merch stand. I bought the ‘blue’ one; Ray bought the ‘pink’ one. These remain the best things I’ve heard from Pendragon. (There’s something here, I feel, about not overproducing music, but just giving it the space it needs to breathe.) One question: ‘Alaska’ – does Nick Barrett really sing about “kippers in the fridge”? (Or rather the lack of them.) I always think of ‘Alaska’ as the Eskimo fishing song! Pendragon also supported Marillion a few months later on the Fugazi tour – and were just as good then.

I’ve seen Marillion on numerous occasions since. There are other gigs I’d probably rate more highly in terms of both performance and set list, and, Script aside, I do have a preference for the Hogarth-era material. Nevertheless, there’s nothing quite like the first time you see a band live. The Farewell to ’83 gig will always carry special meaning for me.

Fish in Water

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