By STEVE MASCORD
MIDDLE age can bring lots of unexpected things. There is, hopefully, a modicum of wisdom. There’s also a degree of perspective; old insecurities and enmities fade and disappear like melted ice.
But there’s also an intense feeling of romantic, positive nostalgia. It’s not a desperation to go back to your salad days – you don’t want to – but there is a powerful desire to embrace them, to make them who you are today.
This website is a reflection of that for the writer. You no longer want to be 2017 you. You want to be the full you, representing every one of your rapidly multiplying years.
I recognised in Vivian Campbell, the 54-year-old Def Leppard guitarist, all these things when we met before a gig with side project Last In Line in Sheffield. And I also realise these emotions have probably been intensified by a cancer diagnosis and ensuing successful battle with the disease.
Listening to Campbell interviewed by others about Last In Line, I had felt morally skeptical about the project. It was an assembling of musicians involved in the original Dio band but many of them had felt antipathy towards Ronnie James Dio.
They seemed, from a distance, a tribute band who were enemies of the guy they were paying tribute to. A guy who is dead.
Campbell, standing in a cramped backstage area at the Corporation in Def Leppard’s home town, put that one to bed pretty quickly.
“When we first starting doing this, Vinnie (Appice) and Jimmy (Bain) and I, some people referred to it as a tribute,” Vivian says.
“That is actually incorrect. It can’t be a tribute because it’s 75 per cent of the original band. It’s a completely different thing and it’s taken on an entirely different level of importance now we’ve released our own album (Heavy Crown).
“There’s absolutely no comparison between Last In Line and Dio Disciples. Dio Disciples is a revolving door of people who were never really in the original Dio band.
“I was fired from Dio and it was actually misrepresented for years that I turned my back on the band, that I left which is completely untrue.
“It left a very, very bad taste in my mouth and I wanted nothing to do with Dio, the band, the music and even the genre of music. I left all of that behind me.
“A number of things happened, one of which was the passage of time obviously and another was that Ronnie passed away six years ago.
“After that, it caused me … it gave me the chance to reflect on a lot of things and I look at that time in my life and that music very, very differently now.
“For years and years and years, I denied that it was part of my legacy. It’s as much my legacy and Vinny Appice’s legacy and Jimmy Bain’s legacy as it was Ronnie’s because we wrote those songs with Ronnie.
“But we weren’t allowed to have ownership of them. I still haven’t been paid for them and I never will but that’s beside the point.
“No-one will play them better than the original people.”
Bassist Jimmy Bain was so proud of the Heavy Crown record, a collection of new songs “in the style of” Dio, that he got the band’s logo as his first tattoo at the age of 67.
Then, on the Def Leppard cruise in early 2016, he died of lung cancer he didn’t know he had.
“The thing about Jimmy, Jimmy couldn’t really cope with life very well,” says Vivian, when I ask about his earlier comments regarding the health care system in America and how it may have contributed to Bain not knowing the extent of his illness.
“If he would get a parking ticket, he would tear it up and throw it in the bin. If he got a bill from the tax man, he’d do the same thing.
“Jimmy didn’t really have much money. He didn’t have a pot to piss in to be honest with you. He wasn’t really very good at managing his money and to be honest he was short-changed by a lot of the people he worked with in his career.
“But he’s also the kind of person who would have ignored things. He would have just put his head in the sand.
“Jimmy died with his boots on. We knew he was ill about a month before he died. We offered him the week before (the cruise), we said ‘Jimmy, we don’t have to do this, we can cancel, your health is more important’.
“But Jimmy wanted to do it and he he must have known he was that ill. He must have felt it in his body.
“We knew he had pneumonia but it turns out that was a by-product of the lung cancer that actually took his life. He was a trooper, he was a rocker and he died doing what he loved.”
True to form for a middle aged man seeking to embrace his own legacy, Campbell has re-animated the metal band, Dio, and his folky commercial rock act, Riverdogs, from his past during a lull in Def Leppard activity. He could easily sit back and live comfortably.
“Its really aggressive guitar music,” Campbell said of Last In Line, “and it’s a long time since I had to exercise that muscle.
“I’m really, really enjoying it.”
This at first seems a controversial comment. Def Leppard were once a hard hitting quasi-metal band, so much so that they named their in-house record company Bludgeon Riffola after critic’s missive.
The production sheen of 1987’s Hysteria, however, has lingered ever since. Some fans are comfortable with that; others yearn from the uncomplicated days of High and Dry and On Through The Night.
Campbell says: “Def Leppard is a band that has evolved over the years, over the decades. Def Leppard covers a lot of different genres of music, particularly on the last album.
“In fact, there’s some styles on that record that we’ve never done before. The album closer is a psychedelic track. We’ve never done anything remotely like that before.
“Through the years, we’ve grown and developed.
“I think when Def Leppard started, you know, the first record On Through The Night, it was a very, very interesting debut.
“But it was the second record that really started to bring notoriety to the band. That was High and Dry and it was very in the mould of AC/DC, who the band had toured with at the time.
“I think a lot of hard core, long-time Def Leppard fans long for that sort of thing again but I’ve got to tell you, that’s never gonna happen.
“We’re never going to make an album that’s solely like that. There’s too much diversity within Def Leppard now, there’s too many miles under the wheels, too many different genres have been sampled.
“The band couldn’t really go back to making an album just like that. We can do tracks like that by all means but there’ll never be an album that’s so rock focused as that.”
Campbell says singing is “the muscle that I exercise in Def Leppard, There’s two guitarists so I don’t have to do all the heavy lifting.
“You don’t find us playing a lot of guitar before a Def Leppard show but you’ll hear us doing vocal warm-ups. I refuse to sing in this band (Last In Line) because I get enough of that in my day job.
“The guitar I use in Last In Line is the one I bought when I was 15. It’s the only guitar I know the serial number of, because I had to work so hard to buy it.”
Once more, the powerful impulse to reclaim and connect with one’s past, to complete narrative circles.
“I’ve always been a very positive person but when I got my cancer diagnosis, back in 2013, it really did kind of heighten that emotion in me,” he explains.
“I do realise, moreso than ever, how fortunate I’ve been in my life and how fortunate I am still. Each and every day is an absolute joy.
“We’re here and this is not the most luxurious surroundings, particularly by Def Leppard’s standards but I still take great joy out of it.”
It is not necessary, then, for any member of Last In Line to mention Ronnie James Dio’s name during a show if they don’t want to. Their own relationship with him, and that of the crowd, do not matter. Separating art from the artist is only achieved when your fandom matures.
It often doesn’t happen until middle age.
“I’ve always subscribed to the notion that you should never meet your heroes because you’ll only ever be disappointed,” Vivian offers.
“And I’ve got to say that most of the time, when I have met people whose music I have admired, I have been disappointed.
“And not because of anything they’ve done … probably, more likely, because of what I’d built up in my imagination as what I thought they should be or could be.”
Art and the artist, he says. “are two very different things. You should never try to look beyond what is the immediate and gives you pleasure.
“It’s my own fault for wanting, expecting, hoping that person is going to fulfil my expectations of them.
“If you enjoy someone’s music, just take it at face value.”