Back to Home Page
Home

DEF LEPPARD

def

The Early Years

Copyright © 1992

by Steve Drury

CONTENTS

FOREWORD

From `Pyromania' through to `Retroactive', Def Leppard have left an indelible paw print on Rocks golden landscape. Through their sheer determination, they have moved swiftly from the working mens clubs to the grand stadiums of today building upon their successes. However, their initial rise was caught in the full glare of an inconsistent music press, and Def Leppard were far from becoming a protected species.

They came together, each with desires and ambitions to fulfill. The dark spectre of tragedy that was far away in to the future. First however, five fresh faced teenagers had something to prove to themselves.

Line

IN THE BEGINNING

My first contact with the embryo that was to be Def Leppard was in September 1977. Richard Savage, Tony Kenning and I had just started working for British Rail, as Trainee Technicians in the Signal and Telecommunications department. This mutual move from the security of the school yard into the working world produced a camaraderie between us, which was re-enforced with our interest in music (from the likes of Queen, UFO, Thin Lizzy .......).

Initially, Sav and Reuben (Tony's nickname because of his classical looks) were a little reluctant to talk about the band that they were putting together. This was partly due to the falling interest in Rock music (the media was currently obsessed with Punk) and also their modesty.

Sav liked the energy and the rawness of Punk, but had no intention of following the bands that had sprung up in its wake. For him Punk music was too limiting to last and the bands rose like skyrockets, only to fizzle out, but nonetheless it was also a welcome breath of rancid air to the sterile disco oriented charts. Sav's self confidence made you realise that if anything was going to happen for them that he was strong enough to wait for the right opportunity. For the time being, he was content to watch the other bands just come and go with varying frequency.

One day in the works mess room, Sav told me that they had finally come up with a name that they all could agree on. "Def Leppard," the name was ridiculous! It was certainly different and very distinctive. The name may have been an unconscious reference to Led Zeppelin, but its misspelling also showed rebellious punkish roots. In effect, 'Def Leppard' symbolised a merger of the great rock traditions with youthful vitality.

The winter of '77 passed Def Leppard by, as they were content to forge out their brand of music through intensive rehearsals. During this time, Sheffield was awash with talented local bands but Def Leppard were in no immediate hurry to play alongside them. Any thoughts of performing publicly were suspended until their confidence and skills grew.

The following summer finally brought them out of their lair, but only for a few small gigs to test the waters. The response from these initial dates was quite encouraging. They even received a return booking at the newly opened Limit Club (which usually played host to the punk movement). As their popularity began to rise, their fortunes however were headed off in the opposite direction. After receiving a fee of 5 for their debut gig at Westfield School in July, the 'Young Kings of Rock' as they were later billed, played their second night at the Limit club two months later and finished up out of pocket. But their enjoyment couldn't be measured in money alone.

GETCHA ROCKS OFF

Joe the man
Struttin'Joe
In November '78 during one of the many BR Training courses at York, Sav told me about their impending studio visit. After many months of endless rehearsals, Def Leppard were now ready to jump into the fray with their own single. For sometime now this had been a frequent topic amongst them, as it was a known short-cut for recognition, but one more usually punk bands associated with rock bands.

Now they were booked into Fairview Studios in Hull, which boasted a sixteen-track capacity and a vast pedigree of Yorkshire bands to its name. There was only a handful of good studios outside London at the time, and Sheffield didn't gain a commercial recording studio until 1984. The current personnel crisis (Reuben's swift exit) and the recent disjointed rehearsals due to Sav's constant long days of travelling to and from York, would be forgotten in all the excitement. Def Leppard had a full weekend to prove themselves and were now more than ready to do so.

The following Monday Sav came into work completely worn out, after having lived the whole time on adrenaline, but the joy of a successful weekend was there too, in his broad smile.

Due to their limited budget they quickly pressed up 1000 copies hoping that they'd get a chance to have a second pressing, so that they could at the least break even. If anyone was dreaming of an instant hit, they were certainly keeping it to themselves. Once the vinyl was in their hands, those little quirks from its recording rose to the surface. After several run-throughs, Joe had sung "Time is on 'arr'side" in his best Sheffield accent, which now bruised his own professionalism. Also by the time Pete came to over dub the acoustic guitar onto 'The Overture' the day was already long. Nobody had noticed his guitar was going out of tune towards the end of the song. These quirks however had given the EP its personal touch, full of fond memories and the promises of tomorrow.

However, the weekend had also been tinged with sadness, as Reuben had been forced to leave the band the previous week. During this period at BR, an imaginary barrier separated Sav and Reuben, which was affecting their close friendship, and if it wasn't for Reuben's diplomatic and unselfish approach they could so easily have parted under a cloud. For his part, Sav reluctantly accepted the band's democratic decision for the need of total commitment.

Sav was living on instinct and knew where he wanted to go. Reuben though was confused about his commitment, was it a hobby or more? He didn't know. He was having problems trying to balance the band, home and his social life. But the punishing routine of continually rehearsing themselves into the ground week after week (an intensity that most working bands wouldn't agree to) finally saw Reuben going AWOL. Def Leppard were eager to succeed and this was all part of the `blood, sweat and tears' price that each entrant has to pay. Time off from rehearsals usually came in the form of going to gigs, after all they were still fans. Reuben promptly left BR to become a Technician Officer with British Telecom.

Without a drummer just days before the recording, Frank Noon agreed to help them out. As Def Leppard saw themselves as a guitar-orientated band, being temporarily drummer-less caused them no obvious problems. It was only later with the arrival of Rick Allen that they found out what the true worth of a strong and powerful drummer can add to the whole sound.

As for the EP, it was a brilliant first attempt in a studio. Def Leppard had mastered the sixteen track with ease, whilst keeping a check on their heady mix of enthusiasm and nerves (which most young bands would fall foul of). They had literally thrown themselves into the recording, and had succeeded in producing a live sound that belied their inexperience and age. Those long evenings of rehearsals had paid off with abundance.

Sav was able to sell quite a few copies of the EP at work, even autographing them when asked to and was genuinely embarrassed by the commotion caused. He was already quite a 'star' there due to having once been signed on with Sheffield United Football Club, while still at school. As with most workplaces soccer was the main topic, and Sheffield was a city torn between two teams. Now he was further elevated, as making a Recording was quite an achievement!

With the swift arrival of Rick Allen, Def Leppard's foundations became rock solid and they were now ready to venture forth onto the live circuit heralding their EP's arrival.

SHEFFIELD POLYTECHNIC

Their first major gig was the Polytechnic in February '79, secured by the EP's success, which was by now selling extremely well by word of mouth around the city. This prestigious date (previous Wednesday night offerings that month had included Ian Gillan and Cheap Trick) was well attended, partly because of the fairly cheap student bar, but mainly due to the large crowd at the front waiting in anticipation.

They came onstage at 11 pm opening up with the thunderous 'Glad I'm Alive'. Joe, seemingly relaxed, was strutting around in his skin tight black PVC trousers and raising 'Casual jacket rock' from its grave! Although in his quieter moments when his confidence faltered, amongst the sea of familiar faces, he clung to the band for support.

For their part the band initially hid behind their tight sound, and only with growing confidence did they relax enough to come forward, throwing themselves into guitar hero poses (which would later become the staple fodder of their stage show). Def Leppard were unconcerned by the wrath they were incurring from the local New Wave bands. They were here to play Rock at its most vibrant, displaying a heady mix of originals alongside Thin Lizzy songs to great effect.

Although the drunken element of the crowd was shouting rip-off, they'd proved that the EP was only a starting point and by the end of the gig, many new converts were left wanting more. After their previous sporadic gigs, they had now arrived as a tour-de- force, which they would continue to build on.

THE REFORM CLUB

It was quite a surprise to find out that Def Leppard were playing at a Working Mens club. This was a venue that usually played host to failed hopes of times gone by. But here in the middle of nowhere, twelve miles from Sheffield and five from Barnsley, they came to play at Wombwell in March.

Thanks to the cooperation of the landlord, they were allowed to play one set rather than the customary two short sets that band's normally had to do. Their only concession though was that Rick Allen, being underage, had to stay inside the dressing room before they played (this was to be a fairly common frustration for Rick to overcome).

They disappeared from the bar twenty minutes before stage time, to change clothes and psyche themselves up. Def Leppard enjoyed wearing extravagant clothes onstage and ignored the 'street-look' trend that most current bands adhered to.

The Set included powerful versions of Thin Lizzy's 'Boys are Back in Town', 'Jail-break' and UFO's 'Doctor, Doctor', these crackled with vibrant electricity. Their bounty of original songs stood their ground amongst these, occasionally eclipsing as happened with 'Getcha Rocks Off'. Although some of their songs were quite derivative, they soared with high bursts of energy. The fairly small crowd was suitably impressed and were eventually drawn towards the dance floor.

After the gig, their dressing room door remained open to everyone. They were only too happy to make new friends. If their music was firmly rooted within the rock tradition, then their attitude was of the day, as captured within 'It Could Be You'.

They also did a roaring trade selling the EP's. The first pressing had now dwindled down to a handful, and thanks to their newly acquired management team MSB, its second pressing was very imminent.

Another successful evening and all that was left was to re-pack the transit van. An hour later and with Joe at the wheel they sped off homeward bound, exhausted.

THE SPOON FACTORY

My first visit to their rehearsal room was on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon in early June. I met Sav as arranged outside the Virgin record store at the lower end of the Moor shopping precinct (now relocated). From there we both walked to the rehearsal room in the nearby district of Attercliffe.

Leppard Line-Up (size= 82KB)
Leppard Line-Up
[Mouseover to change]
Def Leppard's home, which was on the second floor, was very precarious to reach due to its steep narrow metal stairway entrance. On opening the door, the distant rumble became an explosion of sound, as everyone else was already there and warming up.

The small room was bulging with their equipment. Nearest to the door was the mixing desk, where Rob Allen was sorting out the sound levels. Next to him was Pete Martin, who was overseeing the day's rehearsal. Beyond them to the left was Steve Clarke, opposite him was Joe Elliot framed by the 'stained' glass windows! Pete Willis was preoccupied with replacing a broken string. Finally, and behind a sound dampening wall of Polystyrene was Rick.

The room's only source of ventilation was the far door which led out onto the roof, this was kept open. The amenities there were non-existent except for a sink next to the far door. During the previous winter, its lack of heating had made it unbearably cold on numerous occasions. The small portable heaters that they'd brought in were more than useless, and rehearsals had to be reluctantly cut short once their frozen fingers could no longer dance around the fret boards. At least the Sheldon Hotel bar was nearby!

After a few pleasantries, they set to work firstly by running through the current Set. Joe crosschecking his notebook, led the way. They stopped only to fine-tune a chord sequence, or to try out a different solo pattern (their completed songs were always undergoing reconstruction). Being at this epicentre was quite a spine-tingling experience, as these now so familiar songs were bursting forth around me.

Once they were happy with the Set, they would then play around with new ideas and the rumblings of half-finished songs. Here Steve and Pete would jokingly battle for that mega-solo run. Within all this cacophony was the recently completed 'Heat Street', which sounded like another barnstormer of a song and reminiscent of 'Getcha Rocks off'.

As the day progressed I was most struck with Joe's down-to-earth honesty, although this would later cause him problems in interviews. Joe was full of confidence and had no doubts that Def Leppard were the best thing to come out of Sheffield since Joe Cocker, not counting Sheffield Steel. Even though Sheffield at the time, was a boiling cauldron of strong Indie bands, of the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, Human League, The Comsat Angels ..... Joe had realised that the teenage rock fans could no longer relate to the dinosaur bands like Black Sabbath, Yes... and now they wanted a band to call their own, and he saw this as Def Leppard's rightful place.

The general opinion of themselves was that they were a bloody good group, but lacked originality. They knew that their main strengths lay in the level of competency and technique they had so far accomplished, which was already far superior to many fresh bands. As for their influences, these disappeared into a large musical melting pot. The resultant brew tasted unique with a hint of familiarity. Also built into the band's character, was a levelheadedness not normally found in ones so young. This would become their guide line as they broke out of the music jungle.

On the Roof (size= 49KB)
On the roof of the Spoon factory

At my next rehearsal visit, Joe was playing with his newly acquired toy, a Wasp synthesizer. This gadget was generally favoured by Indie bands. As noise boxes go it was very limited, but it was ideal for the rumbling intro of 'When the Walls Came Tumblin' Down'.

The Music Press that week had announced that singer Graham Bonney was to join Rainbow. On reading this article, Joe was very surprised to find out that Bonney had a four-octave range and exclaimed "Fuck me, I've only got a 3/4 range...... but then at least I know what to do with it." Joe's rasping vocals certainly knew how to hit the spot, and what he lacked in range he made up for in presence.

The rehearsal ended with a photo session out on the roof, while Rob was busying himself by painting a new poster for the next gig. Later on the way to the Wapentake, the group stuck up a few posters on the building site opposite the Virgin record shop. These boards were already full of other hopeful bands vying for space and success.

NEW WAVE OF BRITISH HEAVY METAL

Two days later, Lady Luck was to show them her favours during their interview with Geoff Barton (for Sounds) which became their grand entry into the music papers. With Barton's adoration, Def Leppard found themselves not only part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal Movement, but also its spearhead! This was to be a constant source of amusement for them, but one that they graciously accepted whilst also being wary of any movement trappings.

Although generally pleased with the interview (who could not be in the face of a centre spread feature heralding your arrival), a few of the quotes had bruised their modesty. Sav couldn't believe that he'd been quoted as saying, "Basically it's just down to the fact that we're all fucking posers ....... we like showing off, we're arrogant Bastards. How can I show that to my mum!" was his main worry. It seems that several tongues had kept up the pace with Barton's rampant enthusiasm.

As the media interest increased around the band, then so did the workload, as they began long night hauls around the country. They were now playing several times a week, which was not so much a tour as frequent jaunts. The gigs soon began to take their toll on them during the day. Sav would just about get to work on time, but looking like an extra from a George A Romero film. Once inside the mess room he'd collapse into a chair. His head buried in his folded arms on the table trying to catch a few more winks of sleep. During these times Sav's conversation was minimal - "Newcastle, OK" described the previous nights' events. This pattern would continue for the next few months, only changing once the ink had dried on their contract.

Return to the top

Line

Back to Home Page
Home
That was the first section. I hope you enjoyed it. Now onto Page Two . . .

To Page Two

Page Two