Published On: Fri, Jun 3rd, 2022

Deff Leppard singer Joe Elliott discusses all things heavy metal to heavy parenting | Music | Entertainment


With a new album and US gigs, Def Leppard returns to former glory

With a new album and US gigs, Def Leppard returns to former glory (Image: Anna Webber/Getty Images)

Elliott – who is backing the Daily Express‘s Strike A Chord campaign to protect music education in schools – is just as keen for the band’s music to be played on Radio Two as in heavy metal clubs. And many of his latest tracks, he reveals, were written not on the road or in the studio, but while he was waiting for his son to finish his homework.

The dad of three says: “I wrote lyrics sitting in a car waiting for my kid who was doing homeschooling. I’d sit outside with my lyric book listening to the music on the car stereo. It wasn’t like one of those castles with a desk and an ink well and candles and a skull!”

Elliott, 62, whose band formed in 1977 – the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee – firmly believes now is “the right time in history” for rock’n’roll to put a smile back on faces for the Platinum Jubilee.

 In 2019 the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in New York

In 2019 the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in New York (Image: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

In 2002, Def Leppard were part of a free show during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee tour of Britain, helping to celebrate her 50 years on the throne. Almost 40,000 people attended the performance at Temple Newsam Park in Leeds, but the band cut short their set to meet the monarch.

“As regards 2022, it’s wonderful we’re still around and it’s wonderful Her Majesty is still around,” says Elliott.

“And wonderful for the entire nation we have come out of this pandemic – or are learning to live with it – and everyone will be having street parties, from John O’Groats to Land’s End. God bless them all and God bless the Queen.”

Elliott believes that major shifts in music and culture follow big world events and he hopes that after two years of pandemic misery, people are keen to enjoy themselves again. That’s why music education is so important, he says, and why he is supporting the Express campaign.

“There is still a feeling that music is not seen as a real job – if you want to be an artist do it in your spare time. English and maths will always have top standing on the educational podium, but art and music should be next place.”

Elliott hopes “getting back to real life” post-Covid will include a new electric guitar-led revolution.

Joe Elliott is backing the Daily Express's Strike A Chord campaign to protect music education

Joe Elliott is backing the Daily Express’s Strike A Chord campaign to protect music education (Image: Denise Truscello/Getty Images)

With 14.2 million social media followers, a huge US tour and a new album, Diamond Star Halos, their highest charting in three decades, a new generation of fans have discovered Def Leppard.

“Timing is everything in music. We’ve had three of our biggest selling records during recessions,” he says.

 “It’s no coincidence, people need to be happy. If they are going to spend cash on something they are not going to spend it on Leonard Cohen – they want cheering up.

Joe Elliott believes that major shifts in music and culture follow big world events

Joe Elliott believes that major shifts in music and culture follow big world events (Image: JB Lacroix/WireImage/GettyImages)

“Minor chords and introspection are all very good but there comes a point where Mumford & Sons and all the beards and that kind of stuff doesn’t cut the mustard.”

“You watch some of these acts at Glastonbury and then you look at old footage of Bowie and Queen and think, ‘Which do you really wanna watch?’

“Sadly there’s a generation of kids who only know the current music scene. They are used to seeing one guy or girl with an acoustic guitar. Can you imagine their reaction if they saw Kiss?”

Def Leppard's Diamond Star Halos, their highest charting song in three decade

Def Leppard’s Diamond Star Halos, their highest charting song in three decades (Image: Anne Barson/FilmMagic/GettyImages)

That said, Leppard are not averse to adapting their style. Their new album includes two songs featuring US country star Alison Krauss – an unlikely fan of the band – which came about following a conversation about football between Elliott and Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant.

Guitarist Phil Collen, 64, explained: “Joe was talking to Robert about their soccer teams. Robert’s a Wolves fan, and Joe’s a Sheffield United fan. Robert says, ‘Alison will be so thrilled to hear you’re doing a new album because she’s a huge Def Leppard fan’. And Joe’s like, ‘Well, hang on a minute – I wonder if she’d sing like even a line on a Def Leppard song’.And it went from there.”

The resulting songs, This Guitar and Lifeless, have been described as Queen-like. “She’s such a fantastic singer, but she’s a fantastic person too,” says Elliott.

“She says, ‘Well listen, I’m not precious. If there’s anything you don’t like, just take it out’. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, it’s all staying in!’ ” For David Bowie superfan Elliott, the album also includes the late star’s keyboard maestro Mike Garson on two tracks.

Def Leppard’s origins stretch back to 1977 when Elliott, then an 18-year-old glam-rock addict from Sheffield, missed a bus home but struck up a conversation with fellow teen Pete Willis, the guitarist in a school band called Atomic Mass.

They had bass player Rick Savage but needed a singer. Elliott joined and following the fledgling band’s first gig a few weeks later in the dining hall of a local school, he proposed the name, “Deaf Leopard”. It was changed to Def Leppard to “sound less punk”.

ivian Campbell, Phil Collen, Rick Allen, Rick Savage, and Joe Elliott of Def Leppard

ivian Campbell, Phil Collen, Rick Allen, Rick Savage, and Joe Elliott of Def Leppard (Image: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

The following year guitarist Steve Clark and drummer Rick Allen joined and the band gigged furiously around working men’s clubs in the North of England before releasing a self-titled EP financed by a £150 loan from Elliott’s dad.

It proved to be one of the best investments in music history. John Peel played it on Radio One and Phonogram pounced.

Still fresh-faced teens, they went on tour in 1979 to support AC/DC with drummer Allen, just 15 at the time, only allowed time off school if he took a tutor on the road.

The band’s debut album, On Through The Night, recorded at John Lennon’s former Ascot home Tittenhurst Park, did well, but by the time their third studio album, Pyromania, was released in 1983, Willis had an alcohol addiction and was replaced by Phil Collen.

Vivian Campbell, Rick Savage, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen of Def leppard performing live.

Vivian Campbell, Rick Savage, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen of Def leppard performing live. (Image: Anna Webber/Getty Images )

Leppard’s most famous line-up was complete and they were catapulted into the big time with the smash single Photograph storming the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. It even overtook Michael Jackson’s Beat It as MTV’s mostrequested track.

With the world seemingly at the band’s feet, disaster struck on New Year’s Eve 1984 when drummer Allen lost his left arm in a car crash.

Incredibly, he learnt to play again through a combination of foot pedals and astonishing righthanded technique and remains the band’s powerhouse to this day.

The accident caused significant delays to their next album but the wait proved worthwhile when 1987’s Hysteria went on to sell 20 million copies worldwide. Further tragedy hit the band in 1991 when guitarist Clark was discovered dead of alcohol poisoning.

Def Leppard new album includes two songs featuring US country star Alison Krauss

Def Leppard new album includes two songs featuring US country star Alison Krauss (Image: JOCE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/GettyImages)

Ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Vivian Campbell took his place and while the line-up has remained static ever since, the band’s fortunes have not. The arrival of grunge in the early ’90s hit classic rock bands and Leppard found themselves swimming against the tide.

Possibly their lowest point came in 2005 when they performed at a state fair on the banks of the Mississippi river – the sort of gig musicians perform when their careers are over. Elliott admits: “It might be a big stage and big audience but they have deck chairs out front.”

This led to a band meeting with guitarist Collen leading the demand for a change.

“Everyone was stuck in a bit of a rut,” Elliott admits now. “It happens to every band if you are around for a certain period of time. You will also hit a drift period, the wilderness years.”

“But if you manage to hang in there, then there’s a chance you can emerge the other side – and that’s where we are at now.”

This summer the band will undertake their biggest world tour in 45 years, playing 31 stadium dates across America.

They have already sold more than a million tickets for the shows, which also include Mötley Crüe and Joan Jett. But will it come to Britain next year?

“We’ll have to see how the album does but there is no way we wouldn’t play Britain,” says Elliott, who lives an idyllic life on the outskirts of Dublin with wife Kristine, home-schooling their children Finlay, 12, and Lyla, five. Their latest arrival Harper was born in February 2020 – a month before the world went into lockdown.

Def Leppard meet the Queen in Leeds during her Golden Jubilee tour in 2002.

Def Leppard meet the Queen in Leeds during her Golden Jubilee tour in 2002. (Image: Anna Webber/Getty Images)

Elliott adds: “The omens are looking good. It’s the best reaction to our music we’ve had for decades. The first single Kick was instantly A-Listed by Radio Two – that’s never happened before – and we are getting a huge number of plays on rock stations.

“It’s doing really well in America too, we’ve been number one in the rock charts amidst huge competition over there which is just phenomenal. The whole album is a ’70s sort of vibe, it could definitely have been in the charts in 1973. Glam is what introduced us to music so it’s gonna leak into our DNA at some stage but we hope it’s got lots of modern appeal too.”

He adds: “I really believe it’s our defining album.”

Diamond Star Halos is out now



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