Birmingham’s St Luke’s Church was transformed into the Temple of Black Sabbath this weekend as several hundred fans joined Tony Iommi and other VIP guests for a triple celebration to mark the bands legacy. In an event hosted by renowned comedian and Walk of Stars Chairman Jasper Carrott, Tony unveiled the uniquely designed ‘heavy metal’ bench which will eventually be placed on the renamed Black Sabbath Bridge across the canal on Birmingham’s Broad Street.
The event also saw Sabbath drummer Bill Ward awarded his own star on the city’s Walk of Stars, which honours famous people from Birmingham, along with another that was awarded to the band itself that will be realigned in the shape of a cross in front of the bench when it is in place later this year. As Bill was unable to travel to Birmingham for health reasons a specially recorded video message was shown and it was left to the bands original Manager Jim Simpson to accept the award on his behalf which was presented by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Yvonne Mosquito. The Mayor confessed she was not a long-time Sabbath fan but had been doing her homework by listening to some of their music in the days leading up to the ceremony.
Jasper then invited Tony to the stage which saw a long standing ovation from the fans, some of who had travelled from countries including Israel, Sweden, Italy and various parts of the United States such as Philadelphia and San Francisco. The pair then sat down for a conversation that included topics such as when Tony and Bill first called around to Ozzy’s house after spotting his advert in a local shop, and also Tony’s brief stint with Jethro Tull which convinced him that Sabbath needed a very different work ethic if they were ever to be successful. Ozzy, of course, was due to be in Birmingham over the weekend for a show but his health issues meant his entire UK and European tour has had to be postponed and with Geezer busy with his new band Deadland Ritual, Tony was the only one of the famous four able to attend.
Finally Tony revealed the bench itself and was joined by his wife Maria and his daughter Toni Marie and the fans had an opportunity to take photographs and also enjoy a pint of the specially brewed Black Sabbath IPA from Solihull’s award winning Silhill Brewery and take home a commemorative pint glass.
We were also delighted to be able to have a few words with Jim Simpson and started by asking him about accepting the award in Bill’s absence:-
“It is a great pity that Bill couldn’t be here today; I feel a little bit sorry for Bill as he always seems to be on the outskirts of the band. But I’m pleased to be able to accept the award on his behalf and as long as it’s not too heavy for me to carry I should be alright.”
Did you manage to get to any of Sabbath’s final shows on The End tour?
“I was around for the last shows although I didn’t go in to see the performances. I did however get along to the International Black Sabbath Convention which didn’t take place in Nice or Miami but over in Dudley. People travelled from many different countries…Peru, Japan and lots of others…all to meet up at a little pub in Dudley and talk about Black Sabbath. If you look at the people who are here today they are all ages and span generations, all of them are fans of a band that is fifty years old. I always contend that Black Sabbath is the most influential of rock bands, not just for inventing Heavy Metal but more importantly because Heavy Metal spawned so many other different styles. And all of those different styles that are around today are because of Sabbath.
What is your earliest recollection of seeing Sabbath perform?
“When they were called Earth; they were not very well rehearsed, no stage craft but a tremendous vitality…they had a drive, they had a push that made you stop and listen. And I managed to get them a spot opening for Ten Years After at Henry’s Blues House and soon they became the resident support and their audience visibly began to grow. And so when that happens to a band, common sense suggests they have something very special which of course Sabbath did.”
You mentioned Henry’s and I know you are soon to be launching a new Henry’s not very far away from where we are today…
“Yes we are opening on March 5th at a place called The Bulls Head, so it is Henry’s Blues House at The Bulls Head. It’s smaller than the old Henry’s which as you know we tried for years to wrestle out of the hands of the Japanese property developers who now own it but without any success. And a bit like the old Henry’s it won’t just be live music there will be lots of other things happening. There will be movies, interviews, workshops all taking place before the live music and so it really is aimed at regenerating interest in the Blues and we already have the first six weeks booked. We will be free to get in as we have the support of the brewery so I hope many people will come along and enjoy what we have on offer.”
Thanks to Jim for taking the time to speak with us and Mohammed Osama, Mike Olley and the team at Westside BID for inviting Midlands Rocks to cover the event.