Why Def Leppard Was Paid Only Five Pounds For Their First Concert
By James Dinh
May 15, 2018
Tour Book is a reoccurring feature, where we talk to your favorite stars about all there is to their on the road lifestyle. We touch on their first performance, tour rider, dream collaborators and everything in between. Throw in some film from Instax, markers and you have an inside pass into what it would be like to be the road manager of some of your favorite acts!
After years of touring under their belt, Def Leppard will make '80s rockers' dreams come true (once again) when the English band reunites with Journey for their second collaborative trek across North America. It may seem like an overwhelming task to handle, but for the iconic band, who have infiltrated the world of rock n' roll for the last four decades, it's just another bullet on their long-standing resume.
Ahead of the extensive 58-city venture, which will kick off next Monday (May 21) in Hartford, Connecticut, frontman Joe Elliott took to iHeartRadio HQ in New York City to discuss all that there is to touring. From the band's first-ever show in 1978, which saw them receive a whopping five pounds in compensation, to their upcoming reunion with Journey, the frontman offered a no-holds-back commentary to his life on the road. After all, what better person to talk about live sets than one of rock's most recognized performers of all time? Scroll on below to read Joe Elliott's installment of iHeartRadio's "Tour Book."
iHeartRadio: What made you wanna reunite with Journey?
Joe Elliott: It wasn't that we wanted to it. It was suggested and we jumped at the chance. We haven't thought about it and wasn't sure they'd wanna do it. We were kind of going our own way and they were going their own way. Well, both bands have been very successful doing what we've been doing for the last 12 years since we last toured. We share a booking agent and they just said, "What about some big arenas and stadiums with Journey?" We went, "Oh, that sounds interesting". Both managements are kind of tied together as well so the negotiation part of it was pretty simple. From a musical point of view, it was a no-brainer.
As you mentioned, you're playing stadiums and you also have some iconic arenas like MSG on the trek. Is it more difficult to achieve the sound that you want in a stadium versus an arena?
No, not really. We deliver what we deliver into the amplifiers and the microphones and when one comes out the other end it's pretty much down to how good your sound engineer is. We've got one of the best in the world and I'm sure Journey do, [too]. The guy that we use for our outboard sound is also the guy that co-produces our albums. He knows the sound of this band. He knows how we can perform. He knows how we should sound. Given the right equipment, obviously, just by virtually the fact that it's a stadium, you just need bigger and more of it compared to say an amphitheater or an arena but it's not too difficult. The only factor in stadiums can be the weather. If it's really windy, there's nothing anybody on Earth can do about the sound blowing around.
Do you happen to remember your very first show with the band at Westfield's School?
Yeah, it wasn't exactly touring. That was just the first gig we ever did and then we didn't do another one for weeks. Yeah, I remember it very well. I don't think anybody ever forgets their first gig. There's something wrong with them. It was June of 1978.
That's the same year the EP was released, right?
We hadn't even recorded. We recorded in November that year and it came out January '79. The four of us formed in August. We didn't even play until late September/October. We didn't have anywhere to play or any gear. It was just the idea of being in a band. We were a four-piece and then Steve joined and then we were a five-piece. We rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. Then we went on holiday during the summer of '78 and Steve Clark got drunk and said, "I'm quittin' unless we do a gig!" Because he was just sick of rehearsing. We rehearsed five or six days a week for apparently, as far as he was concerned, no end. We just wanted to get better. He just wanted to play live.
The compromise was our high school gig. A friend of ours hastily arranged this gig at a school, which when I think back now, it was in June, so school was probably shut down. I don't know how they got it out but they did. I remember lots about it. We were very nervous so we took the bass drum out of the bass drum case and filled the bass drum case up with beer to smuggle it in and had a few cans before we went on. Then we went on stage and Steve threw this fantastic pose, did the windmill for the opening chord and forgot to turn the amp on. So complete silence.
We turned it on and do it again. We were off. He was great. We played and sang okay. I remember it was just like a glorified rehearsal really. There was a bunch of kids that sat right on the outside of the perimeter of this gym, wouldn't go anywhere near us. Thought we were like from Mars. Didn't like the music, but they tolerated it, for some strange reason. Then when we went off, we went back into this classroom and we could hear "more, more" and clapping. They want another one. We came out, and we played the only chord that we didn't for the night because we'd just played 45 minutes of original material, so there's no wonder they weren't very into it. We played a song called "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy and they went mental. We realized they were rock fans. They just didn't know the music. We said, "Okay, we need to write more songs like this." That kind of pushed us towards that commercial direction I think or at least it was a contributing factor.
I read you were paid five pounds for the appearance.
Five pounds out of a teachers pocket. It was weird because we just gave the money to the crew. They were friends of ours who happened to have a [car]. None of us could drive. I think I could drive but I didn't have a car and my friends borrowed their parents' station wagons, so we threw the kit in the back of one and the amps and guitars in the back and crammed in everything. We gave them money for gas.
The next gig we played was about a month later in a field. We'd been promised it was gonna be this big festival and it just turned out to be a wire running out of somebody's house with a spare plug going on it. There was nothing. There wasn't even a stage. We set up on grass. It went dark and we didn't know what to do, so our friends drove their cars in front of us and just turned their headlights on. We finished the set and we got paid three pounds for that.
The next gig we did was in a club in Sheffield called The Limit Club. We frequented this place for years as punk nerds just going out to watch other bands and drink. They have these once a month "Free Festivals." Well, you didn't get paid to play but they let everybody in for free, so you were guaranteed a full house. We were the opening act for The Human League, which was odd 'cause this was pre-successful Human League. This was the craftwork version of Human League, which was five guys behind plexiglass and keyboards just doing, you know. Welcome to the sound of Buda and all this kind of stuff, you know? . . .We had a kind of a fan base of friends that came down and just took over the front and made noise and made us feel important.
We went from five pounds to three pounds to nothing and, of course, the in-joke was the next gig we're going to actually have to pay to play and technically we did. We got a real gig but they paid us 20 pounds but it cost us 35 to hire a van. We were 15 in the hole. It's like, 'This is not worth it.' Which is what encouraged us to go to the studio and record the EP.
Speaking of your music, your whole catalog is now available on streaming services. Do you have any plans to perform or release unreleased material?
Well, not really. We don't have any unreleased material. We've literally given everything that we are aware of. I say that because it is possible when I go home I'll root through the shelving and go, "Oh, I forgot this one." We found this lost sessions, this six-track lost sessions from about 10 years ago. To this day, I can't figure out why on Earth it never got broadcast or I don't even know who we made it for. We went into this studio for 2 days and did 6 classic songs and then shelved it. So that's come out and that's about all I'm aware of.
You're not contractually obliged to record a new album, but are you guys slowly working on something?
Well, we're always thinking. There's a moment in time where it's total back burner. I mean, the fact that you're aware of it just means you're aware that next year's 2019 and you don't think about it. When I get home from doing all this promo, I'm going to straight to work on my Down 'n' Outz album, which is my side project. We're making our third album, which we've written and I've gotta kinda finish that off. It's about halfway through.
Phil's just released his Delta Deep thing and I know Vivian's still working on Last In Line. We're all doing side things that we're working on. When this tour's done and we've got a bit of downtime, we'll probably have all collected, individually written bits and bobs for what will be the next Def Leppard record. We share them with each other and go "Oh. Alright. What would happen if we do this with that one and blah, blah, blah" and all of sudden we'll have every bit of half an album written.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Photo: Katherine Tyler for iHeartRadio