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Tony's new song, a choral piece of music for Birmingham Cathedral, premiered today!

 

The heavy metal guitarist has recorded new choral music with Birmingham Cathedral. 

He is known as the man in black, the inventor of heavy metal. He might be more famous for the iconic riffs of metal overlords Black Sabbath, but guitarist Tony Iommi has revealed a more classically-inclined side to his output.

So it will come as a surprise when Tony Iommi’s worldwide army of die-hard fans hear his first new music outside of the band he has led for close on half a century. Because the 68-year-old Black Sabbath guitarist has recorded a haunting CHORAL work with the Birmingham Cathedral choir and cellist George Shilling. The five-minute-long How Good It Is, inspired by Psalm 133, will premiere at the Cathedral tonight (Thursday, January 5), in front of a specially invited audience.

Iommi, who plays acoustic guitar on the track, says modestly: “They’re a fantastic choir but the guitar player’s crap!”
There’s a proud smile on his face, though. Because this has been a labour of love.

“It’s a bit different to Sabbath!” he says. “We’ve done instrumental work before with orchestras and it’s something I enjoy doing – but this is completely different. It’s something we have started from scratch, a completely new piece of music unlike anything I have done before.” 

But is there not a sense of irony that a guitarist once accused of espousing black magic should write for the church?

“No, not at all,” he laughs. “People used to think we were Satanists but we weren’t. The songs were the opposite – they were all about the dangers of Black Magic. The closest we came was Black Magic chocolates!”

The Black Sabbath guitarist says that How Good It Is will be just the first of many new challenges he hopes to explore after Sabbath play their last-ever shows at Birmingham’s Genting Arena on Thursday February 2 and Saturday February 4.

“I like new challenges,” he admits. “Things that are a bit out of the ordinary. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved my time in Black Sabbath but the constant touring has worn me down. I want to work at home now – anything without all that travelling. I will still be making music, and I have a number of interesting offers and projects that I will look at in good time. I would like to do some film soundtrack work, maybe something else for TV (he has already written for CSI in the States), and I would like to resume my mentoring work.” 

Iommi worked with his friend, the Dean of Birmingham, the Very Reverend Catherine Ogle, on the work which celebrates peace, harmony and the Cathedral’s role in the heart of the city.

“We met through our mutual friend Mike Olley,” he says, referring to the Broad Street manager. “He suggested that we should work on something for the choir together. Catherine and I gave it a lot of thought, then I recorded the tune on which the piece is based at my home recording studio. I sent it to Catherine, she liked it, and came up with the words, which are based on the Psalm. Then we recorded the choir inside the Cathedral, which has gorgeous acoustics. The whole process took around nine months because I was out on Black Sabbath’s final tour, and there were lots of things happening at the Cathedral, where work was being done. We called in cellist George Shilling, and invited him to work his magic, too, and we’re all very happy with the finished result.”

Shilling, who studied with John Sharp of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Stefan Popov, has a Royal College of Music pedigree.

“It’s great to be involved with the Cathedral and doing something for it,” adds Brummie Iommi. “It’s good to be able to give something back to the city after everything the city has given me in terms of a career in music, and a place I am proud to call my home.”

Catherine, who will soon be leaving Birmingham to become Dean at Winchester Cathedral, played a pivotal role during the Cathedral’s recent 300th anniversary celebrations with community, art and heritage projects to tell the story of ‘the church that became a cathedral in the town that became a city’.

“We had been introduced by a friend then, when Tony was unwell, we got to know one another better when I began to pray for him,” she says. “I kept in touch with Tony and his wife about his health. This is a most wonderful gift Tony offered to the Cathedral. He has a huge fan base in the city. The Cathedral is here to serve everyone so we want to connect with them, too. The words come from scripture and are really positive about people living together in peace and harmony. This is what Birmingham is all about.”

In recent years Iommi has worked with students at Coventry University, passing on his experience in the music industry, and has also mentored contestants in Sky Arts show Guitar Star. So does he have a choral album in his record collection, something he listens to when he chills out?

“I don’t think I have,” he admits. “Although I do have a recording of the Birmingham Cathedral Choir that they gave me before we started out on this project. I have albums by Frank Sinatra; there’s quite a bit of jazz music; I like The Carpenters, that sort of stuff.”

And, no, he’s not joking. “I don’t listen to Black Sabbath albums,” he confides. “I’ve been playing those tracks for most of my life. I don’t need to play them at home. At the moment I’ve been listening to a lot of Doris Day after taking a liking to her music. My pal Bev Bevan, from ELO, was round for dinner the other night. We were listening to Doris Day. How on earth did she get away with Move Over Darling back in 1963? “It’s such a steamy, suggestive song. And they think that they’re daring these days...”

"How Good It Is" is available on iTunes

Tony Iommi (guitar) with boys and men of Birmingham Cathedral Choir, George Shilling (cello), David Hardie (organ), directed by Marcus Huxley. Music by Tony Iommi, words selected by Catherine Ogle (Dean of Birmingham), choral arrangement by Paul Leddington Wright. Engineered, edited and mastered by Mike Exeter. Choir produced by Gary Cole.

Lyrics (inspired by Psalm 133)

How good, oh how good…

How good it is

Where friendship dwells

How good it is

When kindred live

In peace and love

How good it is

When strangers meet

And find a home

How good it is, so good….

This is home, this is home...

Our city, God’s city, our home…

So good, so good, together, so good…


Paul Cole for Birmingham Mail, 5 January 2017

 

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