Size matters - 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 57. Size matters

We wondered who we should get to replace Bill. I called Bev Bevan, who played with The Move and ELO, to see if he’d come along for a while. Bev was an old mate. He said to me: ‘I don’t know whether I can play it.’

I said: ‘Come and have a go.’

We rehearsed, he got used to the songs and he played better and better as it went on, and in the end he toured with us for as long as this line-up lasted. It was nice to have another old friend on tour. At first we didn’t even know how long Bev was going to be needed. We thought Bill would come back, but he just wasn’t capable.

When we were thinking about the stage set for our Born Again tour, Geezer said: ‘Why don’t we have something that looks like Stonehenge, you know, with stones and all that stuff?’

‘Hmm, that’s a good idea.’

Geezer jotted down what it should look like and gave it to the designers. Two or three months later we saw it. We rehearsed for the tour at the Birmingham NEC and we said: ‘Oh great, the stage set is going to come today!’

It came in and we couldn’t believe it. It was as big as the real Stonehenge. They had taken Geezer’s measurements the wrong way and thought it was meant to be life-size. I said: ‘How the bloody hell did that happen?’

‘Well, I put down the height in centimetres, but they must have thought it was in inches.’

We were in shock. This stuff was coming in and in and in. It had all these huge columns in the back that were as wide as your average bedroom, the columns in the front were about 13 feet high, and we had all the monitors and the side fills as well as all this rock. It was made of fibreglass and wood, and bloody heavy.

The tour continued throughout Europe. I suggested we play ‘Smoke On The Water’, because Ian was known for it and it seemed like a bum deal for him not to do any of his stuff while he was doing all of ours. I don’t know whether we played it properly, but the audience loved it. The critics moaned; it was something out of the bag and they didn’t want to know then.

Ian had all the lyrics written out as he had a hard time remembering them. He got to a point where he had them all over the stage. One time during ‘Black Sabbath’ they blew too much dry ice our way. Ian was standing there with his head down, hair in front of his face, huffing and puffing, furiously trying to blow the dry ice away from his lyric sheets.

I went: ‘You can’t have all those lyrics lying around, it looks a bit obvious.’

He said: ‘I’ve nearly got them. I’ll have them soon!’

But he never did, he just couldn’t remember them. Ian wasn’t very sure-footed either. He once fell over my pedal board. He was waving at the people, stepped back and, bang!, he went arse over head big time. He jumped up and tried to make believe it was part of the show. Ian was very funny. As a matter of fact, off stage Ian was a bloody lunatic. On stage he was quieter. Instead of being a lunatic on stage and quiet off!

Ian had these two big bongos on a stand when he joined us, like Edmundo Ross. I said: ‘You can’t use those!’

He said: ‘I always used them when I was with Purple.’

‘It won’t look right in Black Sabbath, having a set of bongos stuck right in front of you.’

‘Well, I don’t know what to do with my hands if I don’t have them. I’m so used to hitting them.’

‘It will look terrible, these bloody bongos in the middle of the stage.’

‘What if I put them on the side, by Geezer?’

So he put them by Geezer then. Him tapping his bongos.

One time the crew put some string on them. The idea was to pull them away while he was playing them, so he’d have to follow them. Unfortunately it didn’t work out very well. When they pulled on them, the bongos wobbled, nearly falling over. But he was still trying to hit them. We managed to get rid of them in the end, thankfully.

When Ian first joined us he said: ‘I don’t know what to wear.’

I said: ‘Everybody wears black or maybe leather.’

‘I don’t really wear leather.’

It’s a bit difficult singing in Black Sabbath with flowery shirts on, so we asked him to darken down a bit. Had about five or six waistcoats made, all black leather, and in the end he had some leather pants as well. We were actually getting him there bit by bit.

On 13 September we were due to play a bullring in Barcelona. We were invited to this really nice club the night before. The drinks were flowing and then Ian decided that he was going to set the waiter’s arse on fire. He got his lighter going while the guy was serving somebody else, burning him on the backside. I thought, here we go, and said to Bev: ‘I’m going to go back to the hotel now.’

He said: ‘I’ll come with you.’

But Ian went: ‘Just hang on, we’re all coming with you in a minute.’

‘Oh, fucking hell. Well, okay, all right.’

We had another drink and then the place closed, so we went. Ian walked out with his pint of beer and they said: ‘You can’t take that outside.’

He did anyway and then it was: ‘Don’t push me!’

And bang! A fight started and it was an awful one. They came from everywhere, all the kitchen staff, the waiters, the bloody lot, with knives and martial arts nunchucks and everything. We were just the band and two security blokes. We were fighting for our lives and Ian Gillan was nowhere to be seen. He later claimed he fell in a ditch, but I reckon he legged it. Geezer hit somebody with a glass and it cut his hand open. The police came and they arrested him and one of our security guys. They put them in jail and threw two people from the club in with them, who proceeded to beat our security guy up right there.

How on earth we got back to the hotel I don’t know. Then we tried to get a call out to Don Arden, but the hotel had been phoned by the club and they blocked our calls. We all went: ‘Oh, God. Now what?’

They threw us out of the hotel, because they had ties with this club. The Mafia were involved in that; it was a heavy scene. We got on the tour bus and tried to find somewhere to stay, but nobody would have us. We drove for ages and ages and somehow we ended up staying about a hundred yards from where we were originally. We managed to get Don on the phone and he said: ‘I’ll send somebody over.’

He arranged this team of eight German heavies to come over. And, sure enough, in the middle of the night, straight away, boom, there they were. The head guy was older, grey hair, glasses, very well dressed, and he said: ‘Just stay in the rooms and don’t move. I’ll go and see them.’

Don had told me: ‘This man is very serious.’

Supposedly he had killed such and such a number of people and I thought, oh fuck, we don’t want to get into that! So I said to him: ‘God, sort it out but don’t go there. Please don’t make it any worse than it already is.’

He said: ‘They’ll listen to me.’

He was a lovely guy and I got along fine with him, but it was like something you’d see in a movie. We played the bullring on the night and I thought, oh dear, we’re in the open air, we messed with the wrong people, we’re going to get murdered! But the Germans went around all the entrances and all the dressing rooms and secured the whole place. They were real professionals.

The worst of it was, we had a guy from the Daily Mail travelling around with us. He saw all this and reported it all in the paper. He came in to do some photographs and a little story about playing in the bullring, but he got a lot more than that.

In October we took the whole Stonehenge thing to America. We had carpenters on it and a big crew to set it all up, but on most gigs it just wouldn’t work. The columns at the back were too high and we ended up just using the ones that held my and Geezer’s cabinets, but even those were massive. At the end of the tour we tried to give it all away to the people who had bought London Bridge and reassembled it in Arizona, but they didn’t want it. We couldn’t take it back to England, so the crew dumped it off at the docks somewhere and left it. Just ridiculous. We abandoned Stonehenge right there in America.

I didn’t see the movie Spinal Tap until later. Don Arden said to me: ‘We’ve got a front cover to do tomorrow.’

I said: ‘Okay. Me and Geezer?’

‘With Spinal Tap.’

‘Spinal Tap? Who the bloody hell is Spinal Tap?’

I don’t think even he knew at the time.

‘I think it’s some up-and-coming band and they have a movie coming out.’

‘And we are doing a front cover with them? We’ve never heard of them!’

Me and Geezer did the shoot with them anyway, which was funny, but I still didn’t have the faintest idea who they were. It was only later when I saw the movie that I realised what it was all about and where they got the idea for the scene with the tiny Stonehenge from.

And they had a midget as well.

Because the Born Again album cover had a picture of this red baby with claws and little devil’s horns, Don Arden’s idea was to recreate this baby on stage. So one night at a gig he said: ‘I want to show you something.’

‘Okay.’

He made Ian and me wait outside this room and finally said: ‘Okay, you can come in now.’

We went in, it was dark and we just saw these red eyes, peering at us.

‘Blimey!’

We put the light on and there was this midget in a rubber outfit who looked like the baby on the cover. We thought, fucking hell, Don’s gone over the top! He said: ‘It’s going to be a great addition to the show!’

The idea was that the midget would climb up the 13-foot-high columns, run across them, and then jump off them on to the drum riser, which was about halfway down the stage. And then he’d jump off the riser to the front of the stage, look at the audience, cry, and his eyes would light up and the show would start.

The midget was a bit of a pop star, because he’d been one of the little bears in Star Wars. Ozzy at the time also took a midget out on the road; I think he called him Ronnie. I don’t know who had the first one, really. It became a thing. Midgets were in demand. But we had the most famous midget because ours was in Star Wars.

‘Who’s got the most famous midget?’

‘We have!’

He kept ribbing the crew with it: ‘I’ve been in the movies!’

They really didn’t care about that at all, so they did all manner of things to this poor guy. One night they locked him in a flight case.

‘What’s happened to the midget?’

Nobody could find him. The little guy nearly suffocated.

Then another day I went down for a sound check and I could hear: ‘Help! Help!’

I looked up and they had him hanging over the stage on a chain, upside down. The poor bugger, he really took some stick. It was becoming a real thing for the crew: ‘What can we do to him next?’

We finally decided it was best for all parties concerned if he left, especially after the crew decided to put the lights out on him at the very moment that he jumped from the columns on to the drum riser. He went: ‘Aaaaaah!’

Splat!

He caught the edge of the drum riser and nearly broke his neck. Meanwhile, we were backstage waiting to come on and it just blew the show. We said: ‘That’s it, he’s gone!’

They would have killed him if we hadn’t fired him.

Up until that point I had always worked with people who were completely committed. Looking back at it now, it doesn’t look as if Ian was. I think he had a ball and did his best, but he knew all along that he was going to get out. And we never thought, oh, he’s going to be here for ten years. With this line-up we just set out to see where it was going. We did one album, toured for a year and that was it. We didn’t know until the very end that Ian was going back to Deep Purple, but it had run its course by that point. Being with Purple, that was his gig. We didn’t really think about doing another album together, we never had fights, we got on great and we still do. We had a fantastic time and more laughs than ever. We just took it day by day. And the last of those days came in March 1984, when we had our final gig together in Massachusetts.

That was the end for Ian, and for Bev as well.