Things go horribly south up north - Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers 

Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)

Chapter 11. Things go horribly south up north

After The Rest fell apart I got this offer to join a band called Mythology. They were from Carlisle, then a town of maybe 70,000 people on the border with Scotland, about a three-hour drive from Birmingham. I went up there and Chris Smith came as well, as Mythology also needed a singer. The band had been reduced to Neil Marshall, the bass player and band leader, and a drummer who soon left, so I thought, well, I know a drummer! Enter Bill Ward. Then most of The Rest moved to Carlisle and became Mythology. It was a logical step for us. In Birmingham there was a limit to what we could do, but Mythology was the biggest band up there, so there were gigs to be played.

I’d never been out of bloody Birmingham before, where I was still living with my parents. To move out and live up in Carlisle with the rest of the band was a big step. I didn’t know anybody, so having Chris there, and Bill a little later on, was great. We lived in Compton House, a big place that was divided up into flats. We had a lounge and a little kitchen on the top floor, and a bedroom underneath that we all shared.

The landlady and her daughter also lived in the house, but they weren’t the only ones there. One day we were about to order fish and chips and we counted out how many portions we’d need: ‘You want chips, you want chips, you want chips . . .’

We counted one more than we actually needed, because there was a young boy there who we took into account. I said to Bill: ‘Hang on, did you see that?’

‘Yeah, a boy.’

Blimey, that was weird. It was really puzzling who this lad was. I said to our landlady: ‘It sounds mad, but we think we saw a young boy upstairs.’

She said: ‘Did he look about seven or eight years old?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Oh, he died in the house many years ago.’

She was completely aware of it. He’d had a bad death right there. But he wasn’t the only one. We saw this young girl there as well. Apparently she had drowned in the bath . . .

It didn’t frighten us. If it had been ghosts jumping at us, screaming, we’d have probably shat ourselves, but they were just young kids.

We were fairly careful with what we did there, with the noise and stuff. We got drunk on cheap wine a few times, for which we duly got told off, and we weren’t allowed to bring girls in. No way: women in there? You couldn’t do that! I was twenty years old, and Neil was about twenty-four at the time. His claim to fame was that he used to play with Peter & Gordon. Neil was leading a much more grown up band than The Rest had been. Mythology had its own style. We played more guitar stuff than I was used to, blues with lots of solos. It gave me the opportunity to really start playing, to actually learn to play solos. And as we gained more popularity, I gained more popularity; people liked what I played.

Mythology had a great agent, Monica Lynton, who used to get us quite a bit of work. Of course she would always go: ‘You could play a bit more popular stuff, you know.’

We rehearsed in the lounge, just quietly, to put a song together. But most things we played were covers. We extended them or changed them around a bit, so that we could put a solo in. We’d try it out in the house and then do it during the gig the next night.

We had some blues and rock albums. One record we played a lot was The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed, even though we didn’t play any of the songs ourselves. And we had Supernatural Fairy Tales, an album by a band called Art. Their singer, Mike Harrison, later became famous with Spooky Tooth. We certainly played a couple of tracks off that in our set, because they were big up there, so people wanted to hear that.

We played places like the Town Hall in Carlisle, one of those horrible sounding buildings; the Cosmo, the biggest club there, like a big ballroom; and the Globe Hotel on Main Street, a place we later played with Sabbath as well. We did about two or three gigs a week, not just in Carlisle but travelling to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and all the little pockets and places in between. We had tough audiences up there. They could drink like Scotsmen and shout like them as well: ‘You know any Rolling Stones? Play some Rolling Stones!’

They fought all the time; that was their night out. Bottles came flying in, but if you stopped playing that would be it: they’d smash your stuff up. So you had to play on, no matter what. It was just like that movie The Blues Brothers: you’d dodge bottles galore. All the audience were fighting and it’d be really ridiculous. Then the next week they’d all be back and everything would be right as rain and they’d be talking and then it would all start over again. It’s weird to see everybody fighting and the girls screaming and girls fighting!

Living away from home, we were free to do and look as we pleased. I started to grow my hair and it just went mad. People would actually be frightened of us, because nobody had long hair like that. Also I had this buckskin jacket that I lived in. I was proud of it and wore it everywhere. Bill Ward took that one step further: he’d wear a T-shirt for I don’t know how many days and go to bed in it. He was a dirty bugger, and he hasn’t changed much since. We actually called him Smelly for many years. We even bought gas masks and wore them when he was there. And Bill went: ‘Hang on a bit!’

The joke backfired on us when we got stopped by the police in Hartlepool. They spotted these gas masks in the back of our van and thought we were going to do a robbery. We got arrested and were hauled off to the police station. Imagine that happening in Park Lane: they would have talked about it for ages.

Up in Carlisle I smoked my first hashish. It made me go weird, almost paranoid. I thought, oh God, I don’t know if I like that. And I sure didn’t like what it would lead to in the end. This dealer came around to the house maybe three times, because Neil would buy a little bit of hash off him. One day this guy, who was from out of town, turned up with these suitcases. He said: ‘Can I leave these here, because I’ve got to do a bit of running around.’

We said yes and never saw him again.

The next morning, around seven o’clock, bang! The police busted the door down and came into our room. They found these suitcases, full of dope.

We were shocked: ‘It’s not ours!’

They locked us up and there was all hell to pay. I was petrified. Oh no, what are Mum and Dad going to think now!

It was actually the first time I had some of my own and it was maybe the third time I had ever smoked it. We tried to explain that the suitcases weren’t ours. They knew that, because they’d been following this guy. That’s what led them to our house. They arrested him but they were still trying to charge us with it, saying: ‘If you don’t tell us what’s going on . . . all this was in your possession, you know!’

They really laid it on and frightened us to death. They separated us and asked us all questions. Of course we were thinking, I wonder what the others have said? Very awkward.

It was splashed all over the newspapers, because it was a big thing then: ‘Band caught with drugs’. It made the national news and also reached Birmingham, so my parents found out. Imagine the neighbours: ‘That Iommi boy is a drug addict!’

I called my mother and she went absolutely potty at me, crying and screaming and shouting: ‘You brought disgrace to this house!’

Sergeant Carlton was the one who busted us. He found out soon enough we weren’t the hardened criminals they were looking for. He helped us sort it out.

The drug fiasco was the main reason Mythology broke up. Getting gigs became difficult, so me and Bill just came back to Birmingham. I had to live at home again. It was embarrassing, but I had nowhere else to go.

Bill and I stuck together. We wanted to start another band, so we looked around for singers. We went into a music shop and we saw this advert saying: ‘Ozzy Zig requires gig, owns his own PA’.

I said to Bill: ‘I know an Ozzy, but it can’t be him.’

We drove around to this address, knocked on the door, his mother answered and we said: ‘Is Ozzy in?’

She said: ‘Yes. Just a minute.’

She turned around and shouted: ‘John, it’s for you.’

And when he came to the door I said to Bill: ‘Oh no, forget it. I know this guy.’