Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 1. The birth of a Cub
Of course, I wasn’t born into heavy metal. As a matter of fact, in my first years I preferred ice cream - because at the time my parents lived over my grandfather’s ice cream shop: Iommi’s Ices. My grandfather and his wife, who I called Papa and Nan, had moved from Italy to England, looking for a better future by opening an ice cream business over here. It was probably a little factory, but to me it was huge, all these big stainless steel barrels in which the ice cream was being churned. It was great. I could just go in and help myself. I’ve never tasted anything that good since.
I was born on Thursday 19 February 1948 in Heathfield Road Hospital, just outside Birmingham city centre, the only child of Anthony Frank and Sylvie Maria Iommi, née Valenti. My mother had been in hospital for two months with toxaemia before I appeared; was this a sign of things to come she might have felt! Mum was born in Palermo, in Italy, one of three children, to a family of vineyard owners. I never knew my mum’s mother. Her father used to come to the house once a week, but when you’re young you don’t hang around sitting there with the old folks, so I never knew him that well.
Papa on the other hand was very good natured and generous and as well as giving money to help the local kids he’d always hand me half a crown when I came to see him. And some ice cream. And salami. And pasta. So you can imagine I loved visiting him. He was also very religious. He went to church all the time and he sent flowers and supplies over there every week.
I think my nan was from Brazil. My father was born here. He had five brothers and two sisters. My parents were Catholic, but I’ve only seen them go to church once or twice. It’s strange that my dad wasn’t as religious as his father, but he was probably like me. I hardly ever go to church either. I wouldn’t even know what to do there. I actually do believe in a God, but I don’t go to church to press the point.
My parents worked in a shop that Papa had given them as a wedding present, in Cardigan Street in Birmingham’s Italian quarter. As well as the ice-cream factory, Papa owned other shops and he used to have a fleet of mobile baking machines. They’d go into town, set up and sell baked potatoes and chestnuts, whatever was in season. My dad was also a carpenter and a very good one at that; he made all our furniture.
When I was about five or six we moved away from ice-cream heaven to a place in Bennetts Road, in an area called Washwood Heath, which is part of Saltley, which in turn is a part of Birmingham. We had a tiny living room with a staircase going up to the bedroom. One of my earliest memories is of my mother carrying me down these steep stairs. She slipped and I went flying and, of course, landed on my head. That’s probably why I am like I am …
I was always playing with my lead soldiers. I had a set of those and little tanks and so on. As a carpenter my dad was away a lot, building Cheltenham Racecourse. Whenever he came back home he’d bring me something, like a vehicle, adding to the collection.
When I was a kid I was always frightened of things, so I’d get under the blanket and shine a little light. Like a lot of kids do. My daughter was the same. Just like me, she couldn’t sleep without the light on, and we’d have to keep her bedroom door open. Like father, like daughter.
One of the reasons I grew a moustache in later years was because of what happened to me in Bennetts Road one day. There was a guy up the road who used to collect great big spiders. I don’t mind them now, but I was very much afraid of them then. I was eight or nine at the time. This guy was called Bobby Nuisance, which is the right name for him, and he chased me with one of his spiders once. I was shitting myself and running down this gravel road when I tripped, so all the gravel went into my face and along my lip. The scar is still there now. The kids even started calling me Scarface, so I got a terrible complex about that.
I did have another scar there as well, because not long after the spider thing somebody threw a firework, one of those sparklers, and it went straight up my face. Over the years the scars disappeared, but the one on my lip still stuck out when I was young, so as soon as I could I grew a moustache.
Still living in Bennetts Road I joined the Cubs. It’s like the Scouts. The idea was that you’d go on trips, but my parents didn’t want me to go away. They were very protective of me. Also these trips cost money and we didn’t have that; they earned a pittance in those days. I did wear a Cubs uniform: little shorts and the little thing over the socks, a cap and a tie. So I looked like a younger version of Angus Young.