Def Leppard's Joe Elliott has sold millions of records - but is happy to be back in the Limelight Belfast
Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott has sold 100m records, but is happy to be back playing the Limelight in Belfast with his Mott the Hoople tribute act.
Joe Elliott is a global rock superstar. As the frontman of Def Leppard, he has sold 100 million records worldwide, including the twin diamond-selling Pyromania and Hysteria albums. The Sheffield-formed outfit continue to sell out massive shows, with support acts on recent tours including Kiss, Motley Crue and Whitesnake.
It's fair to say the 55-year-old vocalist could never leave his Dublin mansion - where he lives with his US-born wife, Kristine, and their young son, Finlay - again.
But Joe's passion for music is such that when the time came to launch a solo career, he eschewed the usual easy option of booking arenas and trotting out his main act's hits alongside a series of identikit sidemen.
Instead, Joe is hitting the road with the Down 'n' Outz, a ragtag assembly of himself and members of 1980s blues-rock stalwarts the Quireboys, playing Mott the Hoople covers.
It's a niche sell for sure and as the group prepare to embark on their debut tour - including a date at Belfast's Limelight on December 17 - Joe isn't sure who'll be at the gigs.
"I have no idea," the singer admits with a laugh. "But that's the beauty of it. I think you'll find there's going to be a few Quireboys fans, a few Leppard fans, some older Mott fans and people who will just go to every gig because it's the Limelight, rather than going to the Dog and Duck or something.
"Some of them will have bought the albums, and some of them won't. And some of them might once they've seen us."
Modest ambitions, but then, the Down 'n' Outz began life as a one-off project to open for the reformed Mott the Hoople at Hammersmith Apollo, in 2009. Five years later, they've released two studio albums - 2010's My ReGeneration and this year's The Further Adventures Of … - and are about to hit the road, and Joe puts it all down to the songs.
But as for what makes the now-defunct 1970s glam-rock combo so special that Def Leppard's leader would dedicate a significant chunk of his time to keeping their back catalogue alive, it's simple. Mott the Hoople have been Joe's favourite band since he was a kid.
"There's this whole thing - love is blind," Joe offers as explanation. "Sometimes, you see two people together and they both look like a bulldog chewing a wasp, but they love each other and you can't explain the attraction.
"For me, with Mott, it was probably the right place, at the right time, at the right age. I was an 11-year-old kid with no brothers and sisters. I had an entire life in my own head.
"I got into music at the age of about four, so by the time I was 10 or 11, I was schooled in British pop music, from the Kinks and the Who to the Beatles and the Stones.
"I started getting into the more Whistle Test-like music from a friend who lived down the road, who was four years older than me. He tolerated me, because I was interested in music. His record collection was ridiculous.
"I heard this song called Original Mixed-Up Kid on one of his Island Records compilation LPs, which I later found out was on Mott's third album.
"And then I heard more of their stuff on Radio Caroline. I liked the name of the band - it was weird - and I liked the pictures of them on the LP sleeves. There was just something about them and I liked that Ian Hunter wasn't a classic singer in the vein of Paul Rodgers, or Lou Gramm. He had his own style."
It's certainly an unprecedented situation, for the singer of a massive band to be fronting a tribute act to his childhood heroes. With numerous Def Leppard tributes also doing the rounds, has Joe checked out the likes of Deft Leppard, or Leppardmania?
"I've heard of some of them, but I don't get out much," he chuckles. "I suppose I'm flattered, but if I'm going to go out to see a band, I go to see a proper band."
As for the future, the Down 'n' Outz have spoken about writing original material "in the spirit of Mott", though Joe rules out working with any of the surviving members on the songs. That's not to say the '70s rock veterans are unsupportive of Joe and Co. Indeed, the Def Leppard man has become very good friends with the surviving members over the years, notably frontman Hunter, who has given the thumbs-up to the Down 'n' Outz.
"Ian loves it," Joe says. "He rang me up when he got the second album. He said, 'I've got the champagne out and I've got the album up at warp 10 in my basement.'"
It's a long way from Joe's first meeting with his hero, at the Doncaster Gaumont in 1977. "He doesn't remember," smiles Joe. "Why would he? I was 16 and I'd sneaked into the dressing-room to get an autograph and a picture.
"The second time I saw him, Leppard were a band and I went to see him at the Ritz in New York on one of our days off. He was very accommodating, very nice - just a decent guy."
As for Leppard themselves, they've been working on a studio album since before this summer's North American tour with Kiss. "We're back on it now and hoping to get it finished by early spring," reveals Joe. "I was in the studio last night, actually, and I'll be in again tonight, if I don't wear my voice out. I've got four hours of Press this afternoon."
And Joe isn't the only Def Leppard man with a hectic schedule. Guitarist Phil Collen has been playing with Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook in the band Manraze, while the band's Ulster-born axeman, Vivian Campbell, has toured as member of the rejuvenated Thin Lizzy and is currently back with the remnants of his pre-Leppard band, Dio, under the name Last in Line.
Belfast native Vivian has also been battling Hodgkin's lymphoma in between shows and recording sessions and Joe is happy to report he seems to be winning.
"He's just out of hospital. He had stem cell surgery and he's home about 48 hours. From what I gather, it all went really, really well. He has to stay away from pretty much everything, especially people, because his immune system's going to be zero right now.
"But we don't start work again until April, and he's done all his stuff for the album, so it's a good time for him to recuperate and get his strength back together."
And while Vivian is taking a much-needed rest, Joe will be treading the boards of the country's rock clubs. The golden-haired rocker is under no illusion about the Down 'n' Outz place in the grand scheme of things, and is even relishing the opportunity to play smaller venues for the first time in decades.
"The Down 'n' Outz don't belong on the stage of an arena," Joe says. "You've got to be realistic - and I am. I don't imagine for a minute that we're going to be playing the Odyssey anytime soon.
"If this band takes off in any way whatsoever, it might be six or seven albums down the road. Slash just played the arena in Dublin. He's been doing this 20 years out of Guns n' Roses and he doesn't have another project like I've got Leppard.
"When I went to see Vivian play the Limelight with Last in Line, it was a ready-made audience of Dio fans. This is totally different. We all know we've got to do something to get people to pay attention. This is not going to be a walk in the park, by any means. They're not coming to hero-worship. But we can handle that.
"We're going out there to enjoy ourselves, and hopefully convert some people - not even to the band, but to these amazing songs. We're just going out there and having fun, and hopefully some people in the audience will hop onboard the train."
Joe Elliott's Down 'n' Outz play the Limelight 1 in Belfast on Wednesday, December 17. For details, visit www.limelightbelfast.com
From rock gods to so-so solo careers ...
Other musical superstars with low-key solo careers:
- Jon Bon Jovi: Bon Jovi the band may sell out stadiums and top charts, but Jon Bon Jovi the man has a more modest reach. The world has yet to put in an order for a follow-up to 1997's ill-received Destination Anywhere opus
- Bruce Dickinson: Away from Iron Maiden, the British icons' frontman is perhaps better known for being a semi-professional airline pilot and an erstwhile BBC 6 Music DJ than for chart-untroubling releases such as Accident of Birth or Tyranny of Souls
- Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley: Larger-than-life rock gods Kiss have arguably the most successful merchandising operation in music, but what frontmen Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley haven't seemed able to sell is their solo albums, which came and went in 2004 and 2006