In a perfect world Vivian Campbell would not be a member of Def Leppard. On 8 January 1991, while on a six month sabbatical from the group, their much loved guitarist Steve ‘Steamin’ Clark succumbed to his addictions and died as a result of a cocktail of alcohol and prescription drugs, leaving the band facing yet another personnel dilemma.
Def Leppard – McGonagles Dublin – 15 April 1992
Words: Brian Boyle
But as Leppard have proved in the past, especially in the aftermath of Rick Allen’s near career ending accident, they have always returned a stronger animal.
Having only layed down demos for the upcoming ‘Adrenalize’ album, the other half of the ‘Terror Twins’ Phil Collen took sole guitar duties, to which he said when learning Clarks parts was “like playing along to a ghost”.
But since their inception Leppard have always traded as a five piece and especially a twin guitar harmony sound, so the hunt was on to fill one of the most sought after vacancies in music at the time.
Massive rumours began floating about when Collen was spotted with former Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy man John Skyes at Heathrow Airport, during the Adrenalize sessions, but Joe Elliott was insistent that Skykes done “diddly squat” on the album.
But he did eventually do a ‘informal’ audition, but to no avail.
Also tried out was Iron Maiden’s departed guitarist Adrian Smith which might have seemed a complete mismatch considering his Metal association. That said, he is a very melodically conscious guitarist, so it might not have been an odd appointment after all.
A little known Birmingham guitarist named Huwey Lucas was given a run out, but his vocal ability just did not make the grade, which is a must with Leppard’s harmony packed catalogue.
But the answer to their problems lay in the wizardry of Northern Ireland’s Vivian Campbell, a man whose scintillating talents graced such bands as Dio, Whitesnake (the nut bursting spandex version) and Thin Lizzy.
Despite fractious relationships with Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale and Adrian Vandenberg, his time with Def Leppard thus far has been quite the opposite, or in Campbell’s words “we have a squishy vibe going on”.
He had to wait till 1996 to mark his studio debut, that was on the very left field ‘Slang’ album, which was more like a baptism of fire considering the very mixed media reaction.
His first worldwide introduction with Leppard came four years previous when he stepped out in a shocking red jacket in front of 72,000 people at Wembley Stadium at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Robert Plant, David Bowie, Elton John and Liza Minnelli for his troubles.
But five days before that 600 lucky Dubliner’s (including yours truly) got to witness his very first live blooding at the gloriously shabby McGonagles, a venue Campbell had graced before with one of his fledging bands Sweet Savage.
What follows is my experience of a very unique night.
“I was excited, but I wasn’t at all nervous. That show was absolutely steaming. The band was really, really good. I’m really going to enjoy this tour.
“Def Leppard plays good music. The band feels good. The songs too…they feel very fresh on it.
“I feel that no matter what happens that this will be the last band I play with.” – Vivian Campbell (1992)
“When we played our first gig, it was like Vivian had always been in the band – Def Leppard Mach II.
“It was very strange in fact, because I didn’t expect it to be that comfortable, especially since we were replacing a guy who died, not one we fired and all hated or something.
“I would be very surprised if the fans didn’t accept Vivian. I mean, what do they expect? We can’t bring Steve back.
“Steve was loved very much by everyone in the band, but we had the advantage of having 18 months since he died, so time had healed some of the wounds.” Joe Elliott (1992).
I’ve witnessed Def Leppard in some strange concert situations over the years.
The first one was in 1986, while on holidays in a seaside resort called Ballybunion, on the south west coast of Ireland.
The Leps were doing a live rehearsal tour of the country in preparation for a series of Monsters Of Rock shows. And also to get drummer, Rick Allen, back up to speed after his horrific car accident.
They played the local hotel, a run down little dump called the The Atlantic. This place was a complete throwback to the 70’s, with a nicotine stained glitter ball swinging precariously from the roof.
The second was a year later, on the opening night of the Hysteria world tour. This time the venue was a local bingo hall on the north side of Dublin, called the SFX. Nothing special, just four beer and piss stained walls and a gaping hole in the roof.
Fast forward five years, it is Wednesday and I am in work getting lacerated with paper cuts. I get a phone call around noon, it’s my buddy.
“Guess what”, he says, “Def Leppard are playing McGonagles tonight.” F**k off I say. “Tickets just went on sale”, he continues.
“We haven’t a f**kin hope”, I say, defeated. The 400 tickets sold out in point four of a second.
The band were doing a warm up show for The Seven Day Weekend Tour, in support of their latest album ‘Adrenalize’.
It was also Vivian Campbell‘s first gig with the band.
He was replacing long time guitarist Steve Clark, who sadly passed away the previous year. Vivian was to be presented to the world the following week, at Freddie Mercury concert, in Wembley Stadium.
Despite not having tickets, we meet that evening anyway and make our way to the venue, with the faint hope of scoring tickets outside.
Let me describe McGonagles for you. It is a legendary club on South Anne Street, just off the very posh Grafton Street, on the south side of Dublin.
It had hosted bands like Nirvana and U2 in their infancy, and was a well known venue for up and coming Thrash Metal bands.
And the interior, well, it was like a large toilet, with a hole in the wall for a bar and box for a stage. It smelled of damp leather and Spanish onions.
Two hours to doors and we get approached by a suspicious looking character. But, he was a suspicious looking character, with tickets.
This guy had a massive scar from his neck to his cheek with one eye facing north and the other facing west.
His breath smelt like he had been French kissing a chain smoking camel.
With tickets at £8 face value, we offer £15 each. “Ah! Will ya f**k off lads.”
“Dirty, dirty” (he meant thirty), was his response.
After about a half hour of this, we eventually agree on £50 for two tickets. And he even had the good grace to escort us to the ATM.
The word “forgery” crossed my mind as we approached the door. I nervously hand over my ticket, and just as I was preparing myself for the worst, there it was, stub ripped off and I was in.
Everything looked normal, drums, amps, lights, but I still had a nagging suspicion we had been, monumentally, had.
That was until Leps manager, Peter Mensch, walked in my direction. I greeted him like a long lost friend – he looked at me like I had Bubonic plague. Despite my embarrassment it confirmed to me that this was no hoax, this was very real.
Def Leppard, one of the biggest bands on the planet, were playing this shit hole.
And on they came. “I said welcome to my show,” Joe Elliot screams, as they launch into a hair raising ‘Stagefright’. They do not let the crowd up for air as ‘Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)’ keeps the place shaking.
The mid tempo thud of ‘Women’ lets us draw breath a little.
Just two songs off the new album, ‘Adrenalize’ were played, lead single ‘Let’s Get Rocked’ and the reworked ‘Tear It Down’. The main bulk of the set consisted of the ‘Pyromania’ and ‘Hysteria’ albums.
The last hour of the show was the most memorable for me. With classics like ‘Foolin’’, ‘Rock Of Ages’ and ‘Armageddon It’, all following each other.
Vivian Campbell Introduction, before Armageddon It
“Thank you very much. You probably read in the music press.
“It’s been pretty much, pretty well documented over the last few months. What’s happened to us over the last few years. And we lost a very good friend.
“And I don’t know how to say this but I guess as one flame dies, another one rises.
“We’d like you to welcome to our family Mr. Vivian Campbell.”
I was in Hard Rock heaven. 1987’s comeback single ‘Animal’, was followed by a blistering version of Queen‘s, ‘Now I’m Here’, due to be performed with Brian May at Wembley Stadium the following Monday.
New guy Vivian Campbell, on home soil, fitted effortlessly into the band.
He traded licks with Phil Collen like he had been in the band 20 years.
Joe Elliot gave him a “welcome to the family” introduction, much to the delight of the sweat soaked crowd.
After the encore of ‘Photograph’ and ‘Tear It Down’, the band exited and the “house light” came on.
And that was it.
Bar witnessing the birth of my two children, this was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
I have yet to be at a gig that had as much energy and intensity. I actually saw Ozzy at the same venue a couple of years later, great gig, but not a patch on Leppard.
Sadly, McGonagles has since been demolished. I like to think that the wrecking ball that was Def Leppard,on that Wednesday in April, cast the first blow.
Rock Rock (till you drop)
Too Late For Love
God’s Of War
Die Hard The Hunter
Rock Of Ages
Pour Some Sugar On Me
Let’s Get Rocked
Now I’m Here
Tear It Down