Belfast Telegraph

Def Leppard's Joe Elliott: Playing footie with George Best one my proudest memories

By Martin Breen

Def Leppard front man Joe Elliott makes a proud boast that few other rockers can — about playing football with George Best.

In an exclusive interview with Sunday Life, the 56-year-old singer spoke proudly about being part of a celebrity team alongside the Man United and Northern Ireland legend in a testimonial match for Sheffield United star Tony Currie in 1986. Also on the team captained by Dennis Waterman was Paul Heaton, then of the Housemartins and later Beautiful South.

Speaking backstage at the SSE Arena before his band took to the stage last Monday night, the rock star said: “I played in the same team in September 1986 and he passed to me and I passed back so I like to tell everyone that.

“It was a Dennis Waterman 11 and that’s why I knew I could get in. I rang a guy I knew and said if it is a celebrity team and I’m from Sheffield I want to play.

“A lot of Manchester United and Northern Ireland footballers can obviously say they also played with George Best but it was great for me. I am a real armchair fan now, like to watch the replays, the chatter at half time and all that.”

One of the few bands who constantly returned to play Belfast during the Troubles, Def Leppard has built up a huge following in Northern Ireland, which seems to be growing 38 years on from when the band was first formed. In fact last Monday’s almost sold out gig at the SSE Arena was the biggest audience the Hysteria hitmakers have ever played to here.

Asked about any special memories of Northern Ireland, Joe Elliott replied: “Yeah weird ones. You remember the funny stuff or the bad stuff. In the Ulster Hall in 1983 someone passed a toilet seat up onto the stage. I seen it coming like people bodysurfing and it ended up on the stage.

“In 1987 we played there on the Hysteria tour, we had just released the album and I did a splits jump off the drum riser and I dislocated a rib. I couldn’t move and was in so much pain that to get me on for the encore they had to put a bottle of brandy into me.

“I can’t remember but I am told I did a seven minute intro for Photograph!

“We played here a lot in the 80s and the kids seemed to really take to us because back in those days there was still trouble and a lot of the bands with bookings cancelled.

“We used to come and the kids would corner us when we were outside to thank us for not cancelling. I have always found us and soccer players get a free pass because we are not political, we are here to entertain your kids.

“We have always had a good relationship with Belfast and were always glad we came because they were totally into it.”

With a new self-titled album (the band’s 11th studio one) climbing high in the charts, the band is enjoying a new surge of success. Recorded in Joe’s home studio in Dublin, Joe’s Garage, many reviews have said it is one of the band’s best since the 1980s heyday of multi-platinum albums such as “Pyromania” (1983) and “Hysteria” (1987).

“It has charted in the top 10 of nearly every country it has been released in, top five in a lot of them and number one in other countries. It has been well received which in this day and age is more important.

“You used to tour to promote a record and now you put a record out to promote a tour. Everything has gone upside down,” the charismatic singer said.

The new Def Leppard album contains tracks such as Let’s Go which is already receiving a lot of airplay as well as a powerful closing track called Blind Faith.

Described as a “psychedelic rock song” by Northern Irish band member Vivian Campbell, it addresses abuses of authority including clerical sexual abuse.

Joe Elliott said: “I am not a preacher and that is why if you read the lyrics they are questions. Everything is a question so you can make your own mind up. But if you picked the papers up, 10 or 15 years ago, every single day there seemed to be an article about some kiddie fiddling priest.

“All these people got brave enough to say that guy abused me as a kid but he said I would burn in hell if I told anybody. I just thought, ‘wow, this is getting crazy’.

“It is a dark moody piece of music. It is not me pointing a finger but let’s just think about this thing, the futility of organised religion. Everybody needs a higher power. I have got one and everyone should have one. It can be in any form you want. The idea that you put these people in these positions of power and they abuse them when they are supposed to be there for the good of humanity, it’s a fantastic juxtaposition to use as a writing tool. Politicians do it, priests do it and I am sure vicars do it, I am sure rabbis do it.”

With the band’s 40th anniversary coming up in 2017 there is no sign of Def Leppard hanging up those microphones any time soon as they still truly love performing for their millions of fans.

“The Stones and The Who are at 50 and we are at 38. Aerosmith and AC/DC have probably just gone over the 40 mark. It could end in 20 minutes time, it could end in 20 years time,”  said the frontman.

“There is a lot less left than there has been. We couldn’t be around for another 38. While the sun shines make hay. We are having a good time and we are having a good laugh. We get on well and we are happy with the direction that the band is going in. It seems to be an upward projectory at the moment and that in itself after 38 years is quite a phenomenal achievement.

“I am happy to think that in two or three years we will get back together and make another record after we tour the life out of this one.”

With three weeks break coming up at Christmas he is looking forward to spending the festive season at home in Dublin with his wife Kristine and six-year-old son Finlay before a busy 2016 which begins with a week long “Hysteria on the High Seas” Caribbean cruise with fans and then a US tour.

And fingers crossed they could be back in Belfast in 2017 for a 40th anniversary tour!

Def Leppard’s new album, Def Leppard, is now on sale.

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