Arts

Def Leppard's Viv Campbell on Radio Ulster rock show and upcoming Irish gigs

David Roy speaks to Def Leppard man Viv Campbell about the Lisburn-born guitarist's new rock-orientated Radio Ulster series

Viv Campbell's new radio show starts on Radio Ulster next week

WHILE he's become well used to appearing on the radio during his lengthy musical career, Def Leppard guitarist Viv Campbell admits that making the move from performer to presenter for his new BBC Radio Ulster show has proved trickier than anticipated.

"It's a lot more work than I thought it was gonna be!" reveals the Lisburn-born axeman, who joined the Sheffield rockers in 1992 following the death of original guitarist Steve Clarke.

The six-part series is simply titled Viv Campbell, with the first of the hour-long shows set to air on Tuesday September 18. Episode one features the LA-based musician waxing lyrical about some of his earliest musical favourites when growing up in 1970s Northern Ireland.

"Joe [Elliot, Leppard frontman] has been doing a radio show for years so he was the first person I went to for some pointers," continues Campbell (56), who has been enjoying some time off with his family in LA this week between Def Leppard's touring commitments.

"Joe's the biggest music fan I know – he's like a walking encyclopaedia of music from our youth. So he was very helpful, but you think, 'how difficult can it be – you turn on a recorder and you talk to yourself for 57 minutes'.

"But when I first did it, I realised there was all this dead air where I was going 'er... ah... um...' because I was trying to make it up as I was going along. So I had to actually start again and write things out with bullet points so it didn't sound totally scripted.

"Then there was the technical aspect of it. I'm doing it on my laptop on tour, and you quickly realise that there's noise everywhere you go. I have to find a quiet hotel room and turn the air-conditioning off.

"It's America in the middle of the summer so it's about 90 degrees and I'm sitting there sweating, talking to myself and looking like a f***ing lunatic!"

He adds: "So the first show took a while but I think I'm over the hump – I'm on a bit more of a roll now."

As mentioned, the series begins in autobiographical mode, with Campbell taking listeners on a musical tour of his youth featuring tracks by Rory Gallagher ("My first, second and probably third, fourth and fifth gigs", he recalls), Thin Lizzy and Gary Moore.

 

In between, he explains how these formative influences filtered into the playing style he brought to Belfast proto-thrashers Sweet Savage, Ronnie James Dio's post-Black Sabbath solo project Dio, veteran rockers Whitesnake and eventually Def Leppard.

"There's a little bit of a loose narrative in there about my musical history and how I connected the dots from Marc Bolan on Top of The Pops in 1971 to Rory, and leading on to Thin Lizzy and stuff like that," says Campbell, who collected an Oh Yeah Legend Award in Belfast last November at the NI Music Prize bash before performing with his Dio-based 'side band' Last In Line.

Being recorded on the hoof means that Campbell can't just dip into his record collection – although he admits he's always been more into playing music than amassing vinyl.

"I never had a record collection," he tells me. "That's why I turn to people like Joe and my best friend Raymie Haller [Sweet Savage bassist/singer], who's also a mad music fan and collector.

"I used to skip off school when I was about 15 to go round to Raymie's to drink coffee, eat Kit-Kat bars and listen to albums all day. He turned me on to a lot of music for the first time.

"So my musical education was vicarious. My big sister Fiona also turned me on to stuff, indirectly: it's not like she would say, 'hey, listen to this' because we were teenagers – she hated me and I hated her.

"You'd hear something through the bedroom door and think, 'wow that sounds pretty good', then sneak in and listen to the album when she wasn't around."

Indeed, Campbell claims he was always more focused on trying to make his own music than following the fortunes of others, but admits that certain records from his teenage years did have a profound impact on him.

"I just wanted to play guitar," he explains, "so I would obsess on something like Emerald by Thin Lizzy.

"I would sit with that for two weeks and try to learn every note exactly as opposed to listening to other Thin Lizzy tracks.

 

"I would only take what really really spoke to me. So that's why I never had a record collection – and I'm kind of s***ting a little bit about the later shows.

"I'm really going to have to dig deep, because there was a very limited amount of music that really spoke to me as a kid. Once I came here to Los Angeles when I was 20 and started working with Ronnie Dio, that's when my musical tastes changed dramatically.

"I started opening up to a lot of different kinds of music. I started listening to a lot of singers and soul music and pop and all these other genres that I'd shut out in my teen years.

"But I don't know if the Beeb are going to let me play Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, because they did tell me they want it to be more of a rock show – but I might be able to touch on it a bit."

Appropriately, radio also had a key role in shaping the young rocker's tastes: BBC Radio One's Friday Rock Show was required listening for any self-respecting 1970s 'hairy'.

"It was massive," Campbell tells me. "In terms of rock music on the radio, Tommy Vance and the Friday Rock Show was it. That's where I first heard Def Leppard, as well as on John Peel's show."

The guitarist also vividly remembers the first time he heard one of his own compositions on the wireless: "It was on a Sunday afternoon and it was Take No Prisoners by Sweet Savage on Downtown Radio," Campbell recalls of the first spin for his band's 1981 debut single, the B-side of which, Killing Time, would be covered by Metallica 10 years later.

 

 

Naturally, the guitarist is already looking forward to Leppard's pair of Irish shows in December, which will find the Sheffield-bred outfit performing their classic 1987 LP Hysteria in full at 3Arena and the SSE Arena, with support from Cheap Trick.

"It will be a lot of fun," enthuses Campbell, who is also set to release a second LP with Last In Line next year.

"I do consider Belfast one of the best rock audiences in the world and I'm not just saying that because I'm from Belfast – I've played around the world and I know what I'm talking about!"

:: Viv Campbell, Tuesdays at 10pm on BBC Radio Ulster. Def Leppard play Dublin's 3 Arena on December 1 and SSE Arena in Belfast on December 2; tickets via Ticketmaster outlets.

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