British honour to Tony Iommi

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Guitar hero Tony Iommi mobbed by fans in city church

 

Fans travelled from all over the world to see the long-awaited unveiling of the unique Black Sabbath bench - in a Birmingham church. Band worshippers came from as far afield as San Francisco, Oregon and Philadelphia in the United States as well as from Norway, Sweden and Italy in Europe and Israel in the Middle East.

Even at 71, guitar legend Tony Iommi was literally tickled pink by the reception.

The celebration of the band's 50-year history was held at St Luke's Church, Gas Street. The event was attended by 350 fans who sat in the three wings of the church facing the central stage.

One of the day's highlights was watching city-born comedian Jasper Carrott interviewing Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi for 20 minutes. Jasper, 73, quipped: "I knew Tony before I was born." 

After they formed in 1968, Black Sabbath’s final world tour reached the end of The End on Saturday, February 4, 2017 at the NEC’s then Genting Arena (now Resorts World Arena). Lead singer Ozzy Osbourne, who turned 70 in December, was due to play a solo concert at the Resorts World Arena on the same night of the bench unveiling on February 9, 2019.

But days after his entire UK and European tour was cancelled in late January with a view to rescheduling the dates to September, he was then hospitalised with flu. Speaking as he began a tour of the fans who had been queuing down Gas Street for hours, Tony had a special message for the stricken star.

"I've been in touch with Ozzy's wife Sharon on a regular basis," said Tony. "I hear he is doing OK. But get well soon Ozzy. And quick."
When fans entered the St Luke's Church the heavy metal bench was under wraps beneath a black cloth sporting the band's logo in purple lettering. Tony Iommi received a Broad Street Walk of Stars award for the whole group, presented by Birmingham Lord Mayor Cllr Yvonne Mosquito (Lab, Bordesley and Highgate). With Tony having already received a personal award for himself on November 23, 2008, Jasper joked that the guitarist was the only person to receive the honour twice.

Sabbath's founder manager Jim Simpson took the band to No 1 with the album Paranoid in 1970. He received another star on behalf of drummer Bill Ward. Bill's thoughts were relayed in a video message, having been unable to fly from the US. Lead singer Ozzy Osbourne received the first Broad Street Walk of Stars award on July 6, 2007. Geezer Butler received his at Villa Park on February 3, 2018.

Jasper made the most of the chance to interview Tony on stage in front of such an international audience. The Funky Moped star was so funny, you've never seen an interviewee who only ever dresses in black turning so pink with such a degree of rib-tickling. Jasper told so many jokes about Tony, the axeman kept visibly wondering what he had let himself in for. A specially-made video montage, featuring Tony's classic riffs beaming out of the PA, soon brought the extraordinary sound of Sabbath back to the fore to remind everybody why they were really there. The film detailed the band's birth and subsequent evolution into what Jim had called 'the world's most influential rock band... powered by Bill'.

After the whole event had been underway for an hour, Tony finally unveiled the extraordinary tribute that everyone had come to see - the world's first 'heavy metal bench'. The godfather of the genre then posed for photographs by becoming the first person to sit on the bench and then by standing behind his own image. Wife Maria Sjšholm then joined in the fun, too.

Almost 6m long, the bench has been made by Gateway Steel Fabrications from Tyseley where brothers Ben and Phil Lungley worked tirelessly for six weeks to bring the vision to life. In the city of 1,000 trades they proved that anything is still possible when craftsmen are given the chance to put their minds to something truly creative. At the same time they also turned Black Sabbath's history full circle. And that's especially for Tony, who worked in a sheet metal factory before going full time as a musician. 

The bench was designed by Westside BID manager Mike Olley in conjunction with Dubai-based architect and Sabbath superfan Mohammed Osama. That the artwork for the etches of the band's four members was drawn by Mohammed's fellow Egyptian Tarek Abdelkawi simply offered further proof of Sabbath's extraordinary global appeal. It was only completed on Friday, February 8, with manufacturer Ben Lungley saying:  "We thought we would have had it finished days before the event. But making it was even more challenging than we thought with the sub-frame, galvanising, kilning and all sorts really. We are delighted with how fans have enjoyed seeing it today."

If Saturday's post-event photo frenzy is anything to go buy then the bench is going to be yet another massive Black Sabbath hit. Heavy metal lovers will be able to sit and enjoy taking photographs of themselves next to the etched images of their heroes. The bench will be installed on Broad Street in about six weeks' time once the tunnel below has been strengthened for the Midland Metro Tram. 

It will be positioned on the pavement overlooking the canal which leads towards the Arena Birmingham. Forklift truck driver Ian Hall from Rowley Regis said it was wonderful to see one of Birmingham's finest bands being recognised in this unique way. "We have statues for famous people but this is something really tangible for fans of Black Sabbath to interact with," he said. All of those present received a free pint of Black Sabbath ale in a commemorative Black Sabbath pint glass they could keep. The beer was made by Mark Gregory from Silhill Brewery in Solihull. Bromsgrove-based superfan Chris Hopkins was among those eager to enjoy the unique present. He has seen Black Sabbath more than 70 times and made five trips to the United States to watch them.

Tickets for the unveiling of the bench were just £12, with all proceeds being donated to the Westside Charitable Endeavour, dedicated to recording the area’s historical attributes.

 


Graham Young for BirminghamMail.co.uk, 10 February 2019

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