Def Leppard singer Joe Elliot hasn’t changed his spots

Joe Elliot’s side project, Down ’n’ Outz, is a sort of tribute to his boyhood heroes, writes Ed Power

JOE Elliot wishes the Bono haters would ease up. “Here’s the thing. U2 did not give their album away,” says the Def Leppard frontman, fairly fuming. “They sold it to Apple — it was Apple that gave it away. For me, that was one of the most astute pieces of business ever done by a rock band. I’m sorry. I don’t care who you are or how credible your music. If someone like Apple says ‘Here’s $70m for your album’, what manager is going to tell a band to turn that down?”

Elliot (55) beat U2 to the punch by several years. In 2010, he and his side-project, Down ’n’ Outz, gifted their debut album, ReGeneration, to fans via Classic Rock magazine. He didn’t conceive of this as an historic gesture or a grand statement about the music industry. Down ’n’ Outz had come together largely by accident and it seemed appropriate to Elliot that their LP should be distributed by similarly unconventional means.

The origins of Down ’n’ Outz, who are shortly to embark on an Irish and UK tour, lie in Elliot’s life-long admiration of Mott The Hoople. Hairy Herefordshire crew Mott the Hoople are best known for their relationship with David Bowie: he championed them in the early 1970s, and wrote their most enduring smash, ‘All The Young Dudes’. As a youngster in Sheffield, Elliot worshipped Mott — it was in emulation of those glam trailblazers that he picked up a guitar and formed Def Leppard.

Elliot’s relationship with Mott the Hoople took a twist in 2009, when the band got in touch. They were booked for a string of nights at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. They wanted Elliot to play the support slot: he was flattered, but flummoxed.

“I was thinking… ‘Well, Def Leppard can hardly open for them?’ That would be ridiculous. What am I doing to do’?”

He was put in contact with British heavy rockers, The Quireboys, who agreed to be his backing band. He would perform songs associated with Mott the Hoople, yet not part of the classic catalogue: tunes from frontman Ian Hunter’s solo career and from spin-off projects, such as Mott and British Lions.

“It was as if The Beatles had reunited and, as the support act, someone was performing ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘Imagine’,” says Elliot. “We didn’t even have a name until about a week before. I was reading a newspaper article about Alex Higgins, the snooker player: the phrase ‘down and outs’ was used. I put a ‘z’ on at the end, the way Slade might have. It was a very 1960s kind of attitude: you know, ‘Any old name will do’. It was only supposed to be for 45 minutes — we rehearsed, did the gig, enjoyed it. Then, we went to the bar before Mott’s set and were nearly knocked over by all these kids rushing up. They couldn’t believe what they’d just heard. We realised their might be legs in the project.”

The Down ’n’ Outz, who earlier this year released their second album of Mott-related covers, co-exist with Def Leppard.

Elliot is in the middle of writing a new Leppard album, which will be the first the 100m-sellers have released without a record label. The freedom is incredible, says Elliot.

“It’s the best feeling ever,” he says. “Twenty years ago, if someone said that you’d have called them a liar. People wanted the security of having a record deal — if you had a deal in the 1970s, 1980s, even the 1990s, you were looking at three, four albums. You had a security blanket for five or six years. Nowadays, you get one shot — if your album doesn’t sell, you are dropped. You might as well do it yourself.”

Whatever other grumbles he may have about the music industry, Def Leppard never had to worry about external interference. So long as the band were churning out mega-hits such as ‘Animal’ and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, the label was happy to leave them to it.

“Of all the rock bands, apart from Bon Jovi, perhaps, I don’t think there’s anyone more commercial than us. We always had a ‘hit’ — the song that was the obvious single. Whether it actually turned out to be a hit or not was another matter: they had the potential to be hits. What we had trouble with was coming up with what people called ‘the credible album tracks’. We wrote really, really catchy choruses — it’s what we did,” Elliot says.

In the mid-1980s, at the height of Leppard’s popularity, Elliot relocated to Stepaside in Dublin, where he still lives. Many wondered why one of the world’s biggest rock stars would wish to put down roots in grim, recession-becalmed Ireland. Elliot never saw it that way.

“Dublin wasn’t grim in the ’80s. Sheffield — now that was grim. The part of London where I lived… that was grim. OK, so things were different from now: but you can say that about anywhere. From the moment I laid eyes on Ireland, it struck me as special. There was something about the scenery. I never regretted moving here.”

Down ’n’ Outz play Academy, Dublin, Thursday, Dec 18. The band’s new album is The Further Adventures Of...


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