"Do you know Tony Iommi?" - asks our friend and fellow Iommifan Howie Jarrett: "Well if you were fortunate enough to have a ticket to 'An Evening With Tony Iommi' at Birmingham town hall last Saturday night then the answer would be a resounding yes!
He didn't play, but there were some really cool photos and rare footage displayed on the screen before he came out on stage. The second of these events I have been to, Tony was charming, funny, engaging, candid and Frank (geek pun!) as always and a pleasure to listen to. He told many stories and imparted details of events which are now firmly seated in the folklore of Rock and Roll history. He also answered questions that were sent in by the audience online in the days leading up to the show. The question master was his good friend and a familiar face to any sports fans among you, veteran TV presenter Gary Newbon. A very good night was had by everyone in attendance and all proceeds went to charities which Tony himself endorses. There are not many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame level celebrities that do this type of intimate event and I highly recommend going to one if you have the chance to do so."
Big thanks to Howie for the great review, and lets see what exactly Tony said that night in Birmingham. It started with a few questions about Black Sabbath...
“Who?” replies Tony Iommi dryly.
He may have a reputation as being the dark guitar icon of heavy metal legends Black Sabbath, who back in the day were rumoured to be linked to Satanism and the occult, but Tony Iommi certainly has a wicked sense of humour – and a brilliantly down-to-earth Brummie attitude. His endearingly playful nature has seen Tony spring all manner of pranks on his friends and bandmates over the years – some of which have gone terribly wrong, and others which are just plain hilarious.
Among those that went awry was when the band painted drummer Bill Ward gold, which accidentally caused him to have convulsions. He also set up pyrotechnics around Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan’s tent while they were staying at Richard Branson’s house, which, when they went off, did so with such a bang they caused a blast to travel straight through Richard’s lake – causing his prize fish to float to the top. One less unfortunate but very funny tale was when devilish Tony sent his friend, footballer manager-turned Sky pundit Trevor Francis, to see death metal band Lamb Of God, claiming they were similar to classic rock idols The Eagles.
“When I sent Trevor to see Lamb Of God, I was in stitches,” laughs the Aston-born star. “He came up to the show with me in the car. I said to him ‘you might like the other band – they’re like The Eagles’, as he’s a big fan of theirs. We were in the dressing room and I said to him ‘that band will be on in a minute’, so off he went. He came back looking like he’d been through a hurricane, with his hair all over the place. He said ‘blimey, they were swearing a lot’. He’s used to me though; I play him up.
There are hundreds of tales. So many I forget some of them. But I do love to wind up people like Trevor because he’s so gullible. I’ve got him time and time again.
“When we brought Cozy Powell into the band, we’d been friends for many years. He was as bad as I was for playing tricks on people, so we used to have so much fun together.”
Even without his interference, Tony and the band have some unbelievably comical tales from their days of touring as one of the world’s biggest rock bands which he fondly refers to as ‘Spinal Tap moments’. “The once, we were all due to come up through the stage using hydraulics. And Ozzy got stuck – all you could see was his head poking up above the stage,” chuckles Tony.
“We couldn’t get him up either, so eventually he had to be cranked up manually. So many things used to happen when we were on the road.
“I remember doing Madison Square Gardens with Dio. We had this big digital cross – it was a huge thing, which all lit up and would then set on fire at one point. Dio made such a big thing of it and it was the first time we’d ever used it. There was so much anticipation and then, when it lit up, there was just this tiny little fizz that came out instead of flames.”
Though he is no longer on the road with Sabbath after the band played their final live shows on The End Tour in 2016 and 2017, Tony keeps himself occupied saying he ‘likes’ to be busy. As such, the star has gone back to an old hobby many could only dream of – collecting cars.
“It’s almost like I’m making up for lost time now – my wife thinks I’ve gone completely mad,” quips Tony, - Back in the 70s, I used to collect cars but I sold them because I was working so much. It’s quite fun really. I’ve bought four or five new cars lately. I don’t know why, but I’m just fanatical over them. Maybe I’m just going mad.”
He’s also begun writing music again and, though he gave little away, said he has started ‘putting some ideas down with an engineer’. Tony also says a project with fellow rock icon, Queen guitarist Brian May could happen and hopefully will, - "He’s been up here a couple of times. Every time we talk to each other we discuss it,” he says, - "It’s something we’d both really enjoy doing, it’s just a case of getting round to it.”
Tony also says he’s been busy meeting up with friends for food, saying: “I’ve never been to so many dinners and lunches in my life. I’ll end up like The Blob this time next year.”
Life is far tamer for Tony now in comparison to the wild early days with Sabbath – not only when it comes to the lifestyle, but also the fans. As the band was widely believed to be involved with the occult, they would even get ‘witches’ and satanists at their shows, meaning Tony and the guys often got more than they bargained for.
“Some of the fans have been really weird,” laughs Tony, - "Over the years, we used to get letters sent in. One chap was especially weird – he used to send in pictures to me of himself naked. I couldn’t believe it had gotten through to me; it had gone through our office in LA. I thought ‘what is this?’. He was some fanatic satanist. Needless to say, that went straight in the bin. We got used to it over the years. We don’t get it now, it was mainly in the early days.”
And though the Aston-born guitar star says 'it's hard to say what the result would have been like without drugs', he admits the narcotics and alcohol certainly took a 'toll':
"With regards to the changes in line-ups, things may have been different if we’d not taken drugs," explained Tony, - "In Ozzy’s case certainly - and Bill of course had issues with alcohol. When the band first broke up it was because we couldn’t relate to each other any more. Everybody was on a different planet. It was hard. We also had bad periods with management."
The metal legend, who now lives in Worcestershire, also says he believes the band's music was influenced by his working in a factory; with the industry of the second city feeding into the group's sound. He says the disadvantaged area of Aston made the band work all the harder to succeed too - with the hopes of moving on to something better.
"The things that went on in Aston were things none of us wanted to be involved in, but it was where we lived and we couldn’t get out," added Tony, - "I worked in a factory and I think the industrial side of all that did have an influence on the music. It also made us work harder because none of us wanted to be there. We really wanted to pursue our passion for music. I won’t just accept things. I’ve had to battle all my life against different things."
The most recent battle Tony has been faced with was his lymphoma diagnosis back in 2012. And though he now says he feels a lot better, having kept on top of the disease with regular check-ups and treatment, it means the star struggles when it comes to touring: "I feel fine now. But I never like to say brilliant," said Tony, - "I do have periods in the day when I have to just stop for 30 minutes and have a sleep, which was difficult when on the road. But when you get to our age it does become difficult. That’s why I stopped; because it’s also not good for me to fly as it affects my cells, due to the blood cancer. I really liked playing with the band and I miss being on stage with them. But unfortunately things happen that way."
Tony’s tremendous tales of rock and roll in an intimate show at Birmingham Town Hall were great!. When asked about the event the day before, the guitar icon laughed: “Yeah, I’m not doing it.
“No, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be brilliant.“
That our Prankster!
Expressandstar.com, 26 June 2018