Forty years since their formation Def Leppard are still going strong and head to Sheffield next week. Andrew Steel reports.
When asked how he is finding his graceful blossoming into middle age, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen chortles, before tampering down any further snickers.
“I think I’ve bypassed that entirely!” he laughs. “I think I’m a senior. I’m 61 next month so yeah, I’m an old man now. I remember when my dad was 61 and I thought that was getting on a bit.”
The wrong side of his diamond birthday or not, it’s hard to fault Collen – and by extension, his bandmates’ – energy. Def Leppard were, at the height of their powers, arguably the biggest rock export from the UK since David Bowie, a towering metal-tinged behemoth that new their way around a hooky lick or six.
Even three decades on from those halcyon days, they’re still a stadium-filling act stateside, having trekked across the USA and Canada on a mammoth, 60-date jaunt earlier this year with Journey.
Now they’re back on British soil, following an Australia and Pacific leg, playing their seminal best-selling album Hysteria in full to arenas around the country. Amid the current crop of nostalgia-leaning tours, the Sheffield five-piece’s decision is – curiously – not so much motivated by band decisions but by savvy management instead.
“Someone requested it, actually, the promoters,” Collen notes. “It wasn’t even us, it was them. They asked if we would play Hysteria in its entirety. We’d done that before, at a residency in Las Vegas, and that time, me and Joe had always wanted to do an album in full live, as people we admired had been doing it for years. We hadn’t thought of dusting it off until a promoter asked us to do it this year over here.”
The guitarist notes that there were some concerns on how to structure such shows around Hysteria as an album however, given that much of its wildly successful singles are frontloaded on the first side of the record.
“It’s really weird playing Animal or Pour Some Sugar On Me or Love Bites very early on in a performance for us,” he concurs. “The latter songs though, like Run Riot or Don’t Shoot Shotgun or Excitable, they’re even more taxing to perform as individual pieces. We’re having a really great time trying to pull that altogether on stage.”
He pauses for a moment. “The album has been with us for 31 years now, yet it’s amazing that we’re still discovering new things about it. Now that we’re doing the record as the centrepiece of a touring show, it takes on a kind of different element, if you like; it’s got a different kind of identity. It’s exciting to us that we’re throwing away our regular set closers inside the first half-hour and following it with a stretch of material we would never normally do these days live.”
The album has been with us for 31 years now, yet it’s amazing that we’re still discovering new things about it.Phil Collen
Hysteria forms the bulk of Def Leppard’s current show, filling a main set all on its own – and Collen stresses that a subsequent five-song encore has to satisfy a certain amount of criteria. “I mean, we can’t not play When Love and Hate Collide or Let’s Get Rocked, they were massive singles for us in Britain. We have to do those songs. I remember years ago, I went to see The Waterboys and they didn’t play The Whole of the Moon, which felt a bit weird. I mean, why would you do that? We’ll playing all the big hits but we’ll change it up a little every night for something extra.”
Would they ever consider playing another album in its entirety? Collen thinks. “Hysteria is the best album we’ve ever done. It was the most popular we’ve released and it was a climax of sorts, the highest points of our career.
“You can put that album on anywhere and people will recognise it as Def Leppard. It really influenced a lot of other people too, and people that you wouldn’t expect at that.
He’s quiet again for a moment. “It had a lot going for it, it had a lot of fans, and admirers and imitators. Pyromania didn’t have that. It was great and it was a new sound for the band, but with Hysteria, that kind of pushed the boat out, it didn’t sound like anything else.”
Def Leppard play at FlyDSA Arena, Sheffield on December 14. Def Leppard: The Story So Far and Hysteria: The Singles 7in box set are out now. www.defleppard.com