Def Leppard star all set to rock Birmingham

Def Leppard open their British tour at Birmingham's LG Arena on Tuesday, December 6. Ian Harvey talks to guitarist Phil Collen.

Def Leppard: Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Joe Elliott, Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell
Def Leppard: Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Joe Elliott, Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell

Def Leppard open their British tour at Birmingham's LG Arena on Tuesday, December 6. Ian Harvey talks to guitarist Phil Collen.

It sounds like something of a challenge but one that British rock legends Def Leppard are more than willing to rise to.

When they open their UK tour at Birmingham’s LG Arena on Tuesday, December 6, they are going to be coming on after Motley Crue’s set, which will feature the return of Tommy Lee’s 360 degree rotating drumkit during his solo – one of rock music’s most spectacular sights.

How on earth will Leppard follow that?

Full of the confidence of having been at the top of his game with the band for nearly 30 years, guitarist Phil Collen answers, cool as you like: “The same way that we've always done really . . . we're Def Leppard.”

The band is touring to promote their live album, Mirrorball, featuring classics like Animal, Pour Some Sugar on Me and Photograph.

Although there have been live discs as extras on special editions of studio albums plus a concert video, Mirrorball is the first official live album the band has released since forming in 1977 in Sheffield.

“A lot of people have been going ‘Oh it's taken so long’,” says Collen. “But we just really had never had the time. We were either touring or putting out a studio album and that was the priority for us.

“When we did put a live album out we wanted to do a really good one. The funny thing about this is that we didn't even realise we were being recorded. They recorded the whole tour, so there was no real stress on it, just great live performances without the worry of being recorded. So it turned out great.”

So are we likely to get much the same tracklist as on the Mirrorball album?

“We're trying to change the set a little bit,” says the guitarist.

“We did that in Japan. We actually had 10 songs some of them that we hadn't played for over 10 years. We added them and moved some around. I think that's the main thing we're going to do.”

The concert will also feature Def Leppard’s full US stage production. “You're going to get the whole nine yards,” says Collen.

As well as Motley Crue, Leppard will be joined in Birmingham by spoof glam rockers Steel Panther, famed for their pinpoint recreation of the whole 80s hair metal sound . . . and their deeply filthy lyrics.

“We've been listening to the Steel Panther album and it's hilarious. It's great playing, great singing and really stupid words,” laughs Collen.

“We've played with Motley Crue and obviously we've known them for years. Over the years we've just run into them now and then. We've done the odd show here and there but this is the first time we've ever toured with them.”

Three of the members of Def Leppard have also recently enjoyed separate careers with various side projects. Collen with his group Man-Raze, singer Joe Elliott’s Down ‘N’ Outz and guitarist Vivian Campbell enjoyed a recent stint in the reformed Thin Lizzy.

Collen says having other musical outlets is a necessity.

“The problem with being in a huge band that certainly pioneered a certain sound, certain recording techniques, is you kind of get painted into a corner a little bit because you can't stray too far from that formula.

“I think with any artist you want to do something different all the time and that's a nice problem to have, that everyone likes you and and you can't move too far from that, but the downside is that it gets a little frustrating.

“You come up with different types of stuff and you need an outlet. When I write songs they are either a Def Leppard song or they're not and if they're not I don't try to push it.”

When the band did experiment with a different sound, on the 1996 album Slang, it didn’t find favour with too many fans.

“Slang was a very raw album,” says Collen. We actually recorded a lot of that stuff live. The irony of it is that people go 'Oh, it doesn't sound like Def Leppard' and actually that's exactly what it sounds like, us playing live.

“People didn't really receive it well. They wanted all the stacked up harmonies and even lyrically for them it was a bit too dark in areas. We learned from that, I think. But I actually love the album. We're actually going to re-release it at some point. We did have a lot of songs when we recorded, different versions, songs that never quite got finished.”

Collen joined Def Leppard in 1982, replacing the sacked Pete Willis. Did he ever forsee how big the band would become or how long they would go on for?

”No, definitely not. I don't think you ever think of it – certainly back then – as a career. You just want to be in a band and you don't really think past that. That's the surprising thing about it, you look back and it's 30 years and we haven't stopped really. We took one year off, in 2010, and the rest of the time we were just in that cycle of touring and recording.

“It happens so fast, playing all the places you dreamt of playing as a kid – the Budokan in Japan, Wembley, Madison Square Gardens, all that stuff. You have like a bucket list. Before you know it you've played these places 10 times or something. Not that it makes it any less special. It just becomes part of the fabric.”

It was in 1999, when the band was presented with a Diamond Award for record sales in America that Collen realised just how big Def Leppard really were.

“That brought home the success that we'd had because the people that were in there with us - Elton John, Billy Joel, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd – were all in the same room and we're going 'This is pretty weird'.”

Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Steel Panther play the LG Arena on Tuesday, December 6, 2011. Tickets cost £45, plus booking and transaction fees, from www.theticketfactory.com or 0844 338 8000.

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