Joe Elliott talks Def Leppard, Mott the Hoople and the Down 'N' Outz
He's played the planet's biggest venues and travelled worldwide as part of the rock 'n' roll jet set, so it seems faintly absurd that Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott is quite so familiar with, er, Gornal and Bilston. Ian Harvey finds out more.
He's played the planet's biggest venues and travelled worldwide as part of the rock 'n' roll jet set, so it seems faintly absurd that Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott is quite so familiar with, er, Gornal and Bilston.
But there are good reasons for both, as he explains.
"A good friend of mine lives in Gornal. He's the keyboard player for the Cybernauts and he plays piano on any Leppard stuff that needs piano. He's called Dick Decent and he plays with people like Steve Gibbons. He does the Robin and places like that."
And talking of the Robin: "I went to the Mott the Hoople convention in 1999 at the Robin 2 in Bilston. They showed loads of movies and had a Mott tribute act and then Ian Hunter came on and headlined in the evening. I was there for, like 12 hours. I was hanging out at the bar with Jimmy Lea from Slade."
Ah yes, Mott The Hoople, Joe's favourite band of all time bar none, and the reason for this chat as he prepares to hit the road with the Down 'N' Outz, his "Mott tribute band" for want of a better description.
Joe and the band, made up largely from members of The Quireboys, hit the road this month when they support former Free, Bad Company and Queen vocalist Paul Rodgers on his solo tour, which calls in at Birmingham NIA on Thursday, April 28, 2011.
Was it true that Rodgers had insisted on getting the Down 'N' Outz to open for him?
"Well, I wouldn't say he insisted, it's not like he's going to beat me up if I didn't do it but yeah, he did ask for us. And I thought that was really sweet.
"I don't know Paul like as best friends but we e-mail. We first met in 2005 when he was with Queen and I went to see them in Dublin. Brian May, who I've known for years, said 'Have you never met Paul?'
"So he took me in to see him and of course I'd done the sneaky, I'd taken my iPod with me because we'd just finished recording Little Bit Of Love, the Free song for the Yeah! album and I took it in and said 'Here, have you got any headphones?'
"And he was really impressed, he said 'This sounds great, I never thought I'd hear anybody cover this song.' That was like a kind of bonding moment."
"He must have heard the album, I don't know. Until I see him I won't be able to ask him. I was quite flattered that he did actually request us."
The album Joe refers to is My ReGeneration, the debut album from the Down 'N' Outz, which consists of 10 songs drawn from the period after Mott The Hoople, fronted by the irrepressible Oswestry-born Ian Hunter, split up.
Joe's side project – his main band Def Leppard are still very much in action - was formed when Mott The Hoople reformed for a series of landmark concerts in 2009 at London's Hammersmith Odeon.
Joe says: "It was Trudy Hunter, I believe, who said to Ian 'You know you really need to get Joe involved as he's been an ambassador for this band for 35 years'.
"Here's me thinking they'll get me to say 'Hello ladies and gentlemen, please welcome on stage Mott the Hoople' but they said "No, something a little bit more substantial if you don't mind.
"They said 'Why don't you open for them?' And I said 'What? Leppard? It wouldn't work, it's completely wrong.'
"And they said 'Oh no, just you and the Quireboys. And I went 'Oh, well OK'."
"They were the perfect band to do it. They grew up on this stuff too. They're maybe three years younger than I am, maybe four.
"Mick Brown is their agent and he was promoting the Mott The Hoople shows and he put me in touch with my wingman in this, Paul Guerin, representing the whole band, and I said right, these are the 10 songs we're going to do. And I'd pick all these things that they did within two or three years of splitting first time round in '74."
"And they just learned them all. So then when we got together for the first rehearsal, after the first two hours we went down the pub because everybody had it down. By the end of the third day we were, like, getting bored and it was 'Can we play in front of other people now?' It came together very easy."
Joe is already looking forward to doing more with the Down 'N' Outz.
"We're six songs into the next album," he reveals. "That's the beauty of the whole thing with the second album, 'The Further Adventures Of', if you like. We're not writing (original songs for) this one. We're just cherry-picking all our favourite ones.
"This time round we don't have to avoid Hoople. Last time we did because we were going to be opening for them. That's why I went for the stuff they did after they split up – Mott, British Lions and Ian's solo stuff, which we're going to still raid but we're also raiding Hoople's stuff as well. It'll probably be a longer record, more songs. So far we've done Rock and Roll Queen, Whiz Kidd, One Of The Boys, Crash Street Kids, Violence and Stiff Upper Lip. We'll just see how it goes."
But eventually the Down 'N' Outz will record their own original songs, in the "Mott" style?
"Yeah, I've already got a couple of things on the go. I've kind of honed in on a Down 'N' Outz sound. I've not written them to even be considered for Def Leppard. With a band like Down 'N' Outz it's intentionally meant to be sloppier than Leppard, it's in that mock Faces/Stones sort of vibe, where it's tight but loose.
"It's not terribly technical. It's a great outlet. It's a little bit like stepping out of a soap opera you've been in for 30 years and going to make an indie movie, and then you're back in the soap opera again."
It also gives Joe an opportunity to strap on a guitar on stage.
"I play guitar all the way through this one. I play rhythm guitar. I play occasional guitar for Leppard. I'm not widly-widdly-widdly, I play acoustic, I play rhythm guitar, that's all I ever wanted to play. I learned at a very early age that I didn't have the patience to play lead.
"It's great 'cos on a small stage where there's nowhere else to move you're better off having a guitar round your neck. And it's fun. I'm doing it because I can.
"I'm enjoying it because I have a very limited ability on the guitar. I don't pretend to be a good guitarist I just pretend to be a guitarist. And I'm having fun with it because these songs allow me to do that and I'm still singing anyway, so I'm doing double shifts."
Talking of double shifts, things are starting to gear up for the latest chapter of the Def Leppard saga, with a live album, coffee table photobook and tour about to kick off.
Joe explains: "The Leppard activity only really started to kick back in around September. Leppard had finished touring in September '09 and we were going to be taking a year off is what we said.
"So we kind of started again last September more by accident than by design. We were always going to be putting this live album out. We'd just leisurely listen back through various performances. We recorded between 30 and 40 gigs and we stopped when we knew we had enough.
"In the old days you'd get the mobile in, park it outside Madison Square Gardens and hope to God you don't screw up. But we were recording onto hard drives about the size of a novel. And we'd just literally going into a room five minutes after coming offstage and go 'What do you think?' and we would prioritise each gig with a mark out of 10. And so we just went through the top numbers first.
"We didn't listen to the same song 15 times to decide which was the best, as soon as we heard a good one we just said 'That's it'.
"We weren't going for perfect performances we were going for the perfect atmosphere because we recorded the audience as well. So on Bringing On The Heartbreak if we could have played it or sung it better I don't know but the audience couldn't have. That's the reason that one's in there."
Big news for fans though is that there will be three brand new Def Leppard studio recordings on Mirrorball.
"We started putting the live thing together but by then having had the year off, everyone was saying 'Well, I've got this song' . . . "So have I" So somebody suggested that we put one new song on the end of the live thing, and that one went to two and that two ended up three.
"We would have had four if we hadn't stopped it there. But at some stage the next Def Leppard studio album will feature these three tracks."
At this point Joe's PR agent interrupts to say there's time for just one more question.
So, can Joe remember the first time he heard Mott The Hoople and what his reaction was?
"Yeah. It was Radio Luxemburg, it was some time round about 1971 and it was record of the week and it was Downtown, their cover of a Danny Witton tune which was done by Neil Young's band.
"And I don't know what it was. I can't explain to you why this little song written by some unknown guy performed by this English group with a funny name meant so much to me.
"Maybe it was I'd just got my transistor radio that day and I was listening under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep.
"And then when they had the hit with All The Young Dudes, I was the one in the playground jumping up and down going 'I told you so'!
"I've been with them ever since and it's just a passion I just can't lose."
We joke that it's like sticking with "your" football club, that you support come rain or shine.
"Absolutely right," says Joe Elliott. "And it doesn't matter if they're Wycombe Wanderers . . . or the Bilston Dynamos!"
- Joe Elliotts Down N Outz support Paul Rodgers at Birmingham NIA on Thursday, April 28, 2011. Tickets cost £34.50 plus booking fees.
- Def Leppards live CD/DVD Mirrorball and photo book Def Leppard The Definitive Visual History, featuring pictures by legendary rock photographer Ross Halfin, are released this summer.
- See www.defleppard.com and www.downnoutz.com
By Ian Harvey
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