To The Manor Born Again - 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 56. To The Manor Born Again

By the time Ronnie and Vinny left, we switched management again to none other than Don Arden. He hadn’t been interested in managing us without Ozzy, but he changed his mind, maybe also because he’d had a big blow-up with Sharon after she took off with Ozzy. And after the Sandy Pearlman disaster we welcomed Don back with open arms.

Don came up with the idea of us meeting Ian Gillan, of Deep Purple fame. He said: ‘See how you get on!’

I didn’t know Ian. We arranged to meet him at lunchtime in a pub in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, called The Bear. We had a drink, then another drink, and another drink, and another drink. The pub opened and closed and opened again and closed, and we were still there. And at the end of the night we had a band together.

The next day Ian apparently didn’t remember that very well, because his manager, Phil Banfield, said to him: ‘Next time you decide to put a band together, will you inform me? I just got this call from Don Arden about the band and I said: “What band?” And Don said to me: “Well, he just joined Black Sabbath!”’

There certainly was a buzz around the business. They were going mad about us teaming up. And even in the pub in Woodstock some fans came up to us who couldn’t believe they were seeing the three of us together. It was unusual, guys from two big bands getting together to start a new group.

Phil Banfield managed Ian and Don managed us (Phil would later introduce me to Ralph Baker and Ernest Chapman, who in 1988 took over my management). Back then we let Don handle it, because Phil didn’t want to get involved too much with him. Phil and Ian looked at him like: ‘Don Arden, he’ll cut your hands off!’

We weren’t going to call the band Black Sabbath. The idea was to have a supergroup of different names in one band and call it something else. But Don thought we should carry on with the name Black Sabbath, and so we finally went: ‘Well, all right then.’

Me and Bill Ward had stayed in touch and when we put the new band together I thought, let’s see what Bill is up to. We asked him to come over and he soon did. We thought it would be good for Bill to be playing, because that’s what he is, a player. He was doing well at that time. He was living in LA, where he had stopped drinking. He came over to England with this guy from Alcoholics Anonymous, a sponsor, so as far as we were concerned he was getting clean.

We went to The Manor, a studio in the Oxfordshire countryside owned by Richard Branson, to record Born Again. Ian said to me: ‘When we record I’m going to stay outside.’

I said: ‘Outside? What do you mean?’

‘Well, I’m going to have a marquee outside the house and I’m going to stay in there.’

‘Why is that then?’

‘It would probably be better for my voice.’

‘Okay.’

I thought he was joking, but when I arrived at The Manor I saw this marquee outside and I thought, fucking hell, he’s serious. Ian had put up this big, huge tent. It had a cooking area and a bedroom and whatever else.

We had all the pyro left over from the tour, so one night we put it all around the tent. After Ian had gone to bed, up it went: Boom! The whole thing just flew up in the air and he was on the ground, all bewildered, going: ‘What happened!?’

The worst of it was, he’d put his tent right next to the lake and Richard Branson had all sorts of prize three-foot-long fish in it. The concussion went all through the lake and killed some of the fish and stunned the rest, so they were all floating on the surface. Concussed carp: when Branson heard about it he was not happy at all.

While we were up at The Manor we thought that in the long run it would probably be cheaper to buy our own cars instead of hiring them for our upcoming tour, so we bought four new Fords. Bill especially was very pleased with his new wheels. One night we all went down to the pub and Ian went home to The Manor a little before us. There was a go-kart track that went around the swimming pool, and he decided to take one of the cars to race it around there. He lost control of it and, bang!, the car flipped upside down. He got out, but the car caught fire and he just left it. He got back in the house, threw the keys on the table and said he was going to bed. The next morning Bill got up and he said: ‘What happened to my car?’

We found it down the go-kart track, upside down and burned out. Bill hit the roof: ‘Who did this!’

Ian had his boat out on the Cherwell, the river that runs along the back of The Manor. Bill found out it was Ian who had flipped his car, so he got a chisel, went out to the river, smashed holes in the bottom of the boat and sank it. Then Ian came out: ‘Fucking hell, somebody’s stolen my boat!’

He drove up and down the river to see whether it had drifted off or if somebody had stolen it. He couldn’t find it and went completely potty. He reported his boat missing, but then found out that it was in the river, underwater. He had these two gigantic new engines on them and they were ruined. So Bill got his own back.

Ian had walked away from Bill’s crashed car unscathed, but he did injure himself when he tried to get into my room through the window. He climbed up a ladder, stepped over the window sill, got his foot stuck in the radiator, fell into the room and twisted his ankle. All because he wanted to put a fish under my bed.

Absolutely mad.

Richard Branson came to stay for a few days and him and Ian were smoking these huge joints. A right one he was. Don Arden and his son, David, came to see us at The Manor as well. To welcome them properly we put some bombs on the entrance gate. As Don and David drove in the bombs went up: Boom!

It was an unusual match, that line-up, but we did have a lot of laughs.We produced the album ourselves. Ian had nodules on his vocal cords at the time. When we first met him, he said: ‘I’m not going to be able to sing too much because I have a problem with my voice.’

‘Oh?’

But we put down the songs without too many hitches. Ian’s lyrics were about sexual things or true facts, even about stuff that happened at The Manor there and then. They were good, but quite a departure from Geezer’s and Ronnie’s lyrics. There was a brick building at the back of The Manor, and it was close to a church. I had some gear set up in there because I wanted to try to get another guitar sound. The noise was deafening and all the locals complained. They drew up a petition against us and the priest brought it around. And that’s why one of the tracks from the album is called ‘Disturbing The Priest’. It’s a good example of how Ian wrote about real events.

In those days you had to make your own effects. Bill made this particular ‘tingngng!’ sound on ‘Disturbing The Priest’. He got this by hitting an anvil and then dipping it into a bathtub full of water, so the ‘tingngng!’ sound slowly changed and faded away. It took us all day to do that, because trying to lower the anvil gradually into the water was a nightmare. It took two people on one end and two more on the other to lower it, with somebody else hitting it. It was so heavy that we couldn’t speak or anything, just sort of nod to each other. It was a sight to see: if somebody had made a film of it, it would have looked absolutely ridiculous. But it worked. All this to create this one ‘tingngng!’, which nowadays you can get from a computer in seconds.

I thought ‘Zero The Hero’ was a good track, and apparently I’m not the only one who likes it. When I heard ‘Paradise City’ by Guns N’ Roses I thought, fucking hell, that sounds like one of ours! Somebody also suggested that the Beastie Boys might have borrowed the riff for ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’ from our song ‘Hot Line’. If it’s true let’s sue them. We won’t play any more; we’ll just make money from lawsuits! But needless to say we didn’t sue! ‘Keep It Warm’ was a riff that I’d had floating about since Mob Rules and I thought it was about time we used it. I have a habit of keeping my riffs; I’ve got thousands of them. You know a riff is good when you play it and it gets to you. You just feel a good riff. The one that might be the beginning of a new song is the one that jumps out and you think, that’s it, I like that! I found that while I’m still able to keep writing them, I usually don’t go back to the old ones, so I’m only getting more and more. Maybe I should sell riffs!

When it came to doing the mix, Ian played the stuff back really fucking loud. Supposedly he blew a couple of tweeters in the studio speakers this way. We did the mix not knowing that they had gone, and nobody noticed. We just thought it was a bit of a funny sound, but it went very wrong somewhere between the mix and the mastering and pressing of that album. We didn’t follow that through, and apparently when they tested the lacquers the sound was really dull and muffly. I didn’t know about it, because we were already out on tour in Europe. By the time we heard the album, it was out and in the charts, but the sound was awful. It sold really well, but we were very disappointed that it hadn’t come out as we all wanted it to. The original tapes sounded so much better.

Born Again was very different from anything we’d done before. Lyrically, because Ian’s points of view on things were different from those of Ronnie and Geezer. And sound-wise, because that got all pear-shaped somewhere along the line. But there’re some very good, heavy tracks on it. The cover was another matter. Ian couldn’t believe it when he saw it. He went: ‘You can’t do that. You can’t have a baby on the front with claws and horns!’

He absolutely detested it. Somebody had presented this thing to Don Arden: ‘I’ve got this idea for you . . .’

And Don went: ‘That’s great!’

He really pushed it on us: ‘I think it will cause a lot of problems, a lot of interest, people will talk about it!’

People talked about it all right.

I was in stitches when I first saw it, but then we ended up actually having it.

‘Who would have that?’

‘We would!’

During the recording Bill had some problem with his ex-wife. I think it had something to do with getting custody of his son. One day I bought Bill a plaque, because he’d been a year off alcohol. I went to give it to him and he was pissed as a parrot. It was such a downer, because it was all going so well and then, bang!, off the wagon and depressed again. I said to Geezer: ‘What’s happened? What’s going on?’

He said: ‘Oh, he’s had some bad news from LA.’

The sponsor from AA had gone by that point. We caught him stealing stuff off Bill, so we sent him packing. We tried to bring Bill around, but he went through a weird stage. Over the next few days he sat in the kitchen at The Manor. This lovely old house had all these original leaded windows and in a fit of rage Bill threw all these plates and crockery and everything through them. We had people come over to redo them all, put in other windows and lead them, and, would you believe it, the next day Bill did the same again. He was just really angry about it all and he wanted to go back to LA, to get himself into recovery again.

It was real disappointing for us. He had recorded the album, but . . . now what?