It’s been a busy year for Sheffield’s biggest rock export, the quintet filling stadiums with Mötley Crüe, releasing a phenomenal orchestral album, announcing a very special hometown show in the intimate Leadmill venue and now the release of the career-spanning Definitely: The Official Story of Def Leppard book.
A lush coffee table tome, Definitely is filled with first-hand memories from their head-spinning career and illustrated by shots from THE rock photographer Ross Halfin amongst others, the band had drawn everything from their substantial vault of information. As well as a recent London book signing, the band were back in the capital to do an extended Q&A in front of a legion of fans at the South Bank’s huge hall.
Def Leppard – In Conversation
Royal Festival Hall, London
Words: Paul Monkhouse
A little after eight pm, Joe Elliot, Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Phil Collen, and Vivian Campbell strolled onto the stage and, for the next ninety minutes, captivated those there with tales about their relentless rise. Helmed by journalist and author Michael Hann, the evening sparkled with a peek into the lives of the quintet that showed the very human faces of the men behind one of the biggest bands in the world.
Throughout the night, what struck the most was the natural ease and friendship between the five, a warmth and honesty that’s surely been the glue that’s kept them together. As with all sets of friends, there was a certain amount of leg pulling, but when a band member made themselves vulnerable, others weren’t shy in offering support and validation.
Considering just how huge Leppard are and the temptation to display planet-sized rock star egos, their obvious delight at their success is leavened by a down-to-earth ethos that has seen triumphs worked incredibly hard for.
Whilst the darker moments in their journey were certainly touched on, the mood was kept more buoyant, the evening a celebration and time to delve deeper into their story.
Steering clear of most of the common knowledge about the band, Hann could draw out revealing insights and tales as one question often led to a string of answers that saw the five musicians bouncing off each other. The relaxed atmosphere saw some gems as Savage admitted, “sometimes the thought of going on stage terrifies me”, a tongue in cheek Campbell stating, “I’m anxious that I don’t get fired as I’ve had a history of that,” and Elliott’s admission that he was practically hired by the band even before he’d sung a note. “They saw my record collection and said, ‘you’re in’!” (his later audition performance of the Bowie classic Suffragette City sealing the deal).
From the economics of recording and producing the vinyl for their breakthrough first EP, support from two legendary figures from Sounds magazine after a boozy night in a Sheffield club gig, the pronunciation of Mutt Lange’s name and Collen turning down job offers from both Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden, the night was peppered with great tales from the Leppard frontline.
One of the most shocking moments was the revelation that Phil Lynott told both Elliott and Savage that hearing Pyromania made him want to split Lizzy as he felt they were “irrelevant” after hearing it, a tale that still makes the band blanch with the thought of having that effect on much-loved heroes.
There are though smiles a plenty, Allen blushing slightly at Elliot’s revealing that U2 sticksman Larry Mullin Jr is a huge fan of the drummer and the tenderness of the singer reassuring Campbell of his rightful place in the band when the Irishman states, “I still feel that Steve [Clark] is part of the band.”
As a taster for the book and forthcoming tour, the night is perfect, and many must have put on an album or two as they headed off into the night and home. Before they stopped to sign books, CDs and records for the crowd at the front of the stage, Elliott summed up the central core of why the relationship between Def Leppard and their audience has remained so strong throughout the years, saying, “It’s always been about the music and the connection with our fans.”
The fact that this passion has seen the band rise from gigs in school halls to the biggest stages in the world is testament to just that.