Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 65. Taxman!
I tried on a few occasions to get Geezer back. It was a bit of an up-and-down thing where one minute he wanted to do it and the next he didn’t. He came to London one time while we were recording there and we all went out to Trader Vic’s, the restaurant below the Hilton. We didn’t eat anything, we just drank. We had all these exotic bloody rums and while I was trying to talk Geezer into coming back we got paralytic. Geezer’s wife, Gloria, came to pick him up and, as we walked out of Trader Vic’s, Geezer gave the guy at the door a £50 note as a tip. Gloria came flying past, and whoosh, she snatched the £50 out of the guy’s hand, put Geezer in the car and off they went.
He didn’t want to come back. Management would certainly be one reason for Geezer saying no, because he didn’t want to have anything to do with Meehan. He was quite right, of course.
I was at an all-time low, but I did pull myself out of it. Once Meehan was out of the picture things started getting better. The last thing he did for us was send us off to Sun City by way of Athens, playing a couple of weeks for a lot of money. We really needed that at the time, because with the band changing constantly we hadn’t done any shows.
These people came over from South Africa and they said to me: ‘What can we do for you to make you believe that this is going to happen? What would make you happy?’
Out of the blue I said: ‘Buy me a Rolls-Royce.’
As you do. But they said: ‘Okay. Which one do you want?’
It was as simple as that. They said: ‘You pick it, we’ll pay for it.’
I picked it, they paid for it, and then I knew they were serious about it.
Before going to South Africa we went to Greece. It was the first time we’d played there and also our first gig with Tony Martin. It was in the huge Panathinaikos football stadium, so Tony must have shat himself. While we were doing our sound check there the promoter let the kids in. I was livid. I grabbed him and pushed him up a wall, going: ‘You fucking idiot!’
Afterwards he took us out to dinner anyway. I thought, oh dear, I called him all the names under the sun and threatened to kill him, and here I am, sharing a meal with him.
It was 21 July, the height of summer, so it was roasting when we did the show. Fans were climbing up the bloody lighting rig at the side of the stage. It got really dangerous, so we were told to get off the stage and we had to cut the show short. So that was a nice start for Tony Martin.
One of the first things we did when we got to South Africa was go to Johannesburg to do some press. Right in the middle of doing that, somebody let a bomb off down the road. That was the only sign of any kind of trouble that I noticed. It wasn’t connected to us, it was just one of those things. Well, I hope it wasn’t to do with us.
The promoter took us out on a safari. We left at five o’clock in the morning in a couple of open-topped Land Rovers, and all I saw was the dust from the car in front. We’d stop for a bit, look into the distance and everybody would go: ‘No, I can’t see anything.’
We saw nothing, absolutely fuck all. Great safari!
Sun City turned out to be a good place to play. We did six shows in the three weeks, playing Saturdays and Sundays. During the week it was as dead as a doornail there, but at the weekends, when we played, it was packed. The promoter was black and we were playing to audiences just like everywhere else, black and white. They’d never seen us and we did a couple of great shows. To me it was another gig. Why not branch out? I never thought about the political side of it. I was a bit blind to all that, I didn’t really know how bad it was. I just thought, I’m a musician, I want to play and get my music around wherever I can. But, boy, did I get some stick for playing Sun City.
When I got there I saw all these pictures on the walls of all the bands that had played there before us, like Queen and Status Quo, so I wonder why it was me who got all the shit then. They really came down on me hard back in England. But I can’t say I regret doing it. Fans are fans and it seemed a shame that these people shouldn’t be able to hear our music.
In November and December 1987 the Eternal Idol tour went through Europe. The last gig was in Rome, where we played at the same venue as the Pope. He was appearing there the day before us and he had this light and sound system. After his thing was over we tried to get rid of his stuff, so we could get ours in.
‘Can you ask the Pope to move his gear, please? For Black Sabbath?’
That didn’t go down very well.
It was around this time that I started having problems with the taxman, and it was then that I got in touch with Phil Banfield, basically looking for help. As well as having his own agency, Phil continued to manage Ian Gillan and he told me about Ernest Chapman, who was Jeff Beck’s manager. I met up with him and the first thing Ernest said was: ‘You don’t do drugs, do you?’
I said: ‘No, no!’
‘I don’t want anything to do with anybody doing drugs.’
‘Oh. No, I don’t do them!’
Lying through my teeth. A really good start to the relationship.
I was amazed at how straight he was. We started talking about stuff and I said: ‘What about commissions?’
We had nothing signed and he just said: ‘Don’t worry about anything like that. When we’ve sorted it out, I’ll take a percentage. What do you need now?’
There was nothing in it for him except grief, but I think he liked a bit of a challenge. Ernest and Phil Banfield worked a lot of things out, and then Ernest said: ‘Ralph works with me at the office and he does a lot of my stuff as well.’
I met Ralph Baker and then Phil gradually moved out. And Ralph and Ernest have been my managers ever since.
The first thing they helped me with was this big tax situation that I went through after the break-up with Meehan. The tax people came on to me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t go bankrupt, but I did become insolvent. The taxmen said: ‘You have to sell your house.’
They came to my house and looked around at everything. They saw all the guitars and all the equipment, and they jotted it all down.
‘Right, how much will we get for this and how much for that?’
I couldn’t believe it. They were willing to rip everything from under me.
I phoned Ernest up and he got them off my back for a bit. But I still had a huge bill to pay.
They asked: ‘What has happened?’
I started: ‘Well, the accountant’s …’
They said: ‘This is not the accountant’s problem, it’s your problem.’
I thought, wait, the accountant was taking some of my money and putting it to one side for tax! When I spoke to him he said: ‘Well, I did, but you wanted this and that, so I used the tax money.’
‘Oh, that’s just great!’
My income was frozen during the investigation, but Ernest got it sorted out for me. He managed to work a deal out and got my royalties coming in properly as well. And he sorted the Meehan thing out.
We were back to square one. There was me, Tony Martin and Geoff Nicholls. It was time to leave all the ugly business behind and rebuild the band.