Most of you who are serious rock music devotees will have read Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward’s recent statement about his contract wrangles over the band’s proposed reunion album/tour and gently shaken your collective heads in sorrow
I just pissed myself laughing.
Mainly because it proves what an accurate tribute band “Ian The Goat Sings Black Sabbath” really were. Astonishingly accurate, to the point that such a statement from Bill sounds just like the kind of thing I’d have been asked to perform onstage with Goat et al as part of the comedy theatre…whilst wearing a pair of ridiculous red lycra tights like the ones he wore on the cover of ‘Sabotage’ of course. Things got THAT surreal sometimes in ITGSBS (which shall be the accepted abbreviation from now on to save time and any confusion over too much use of the word Ian).
Now firstly, I wasn’t the ‘Ian’ in ITGSBS – that was Ian Kay, a big, stocky veteran of the Birmingham music scene who was best known in the 80’s & 90’s as singer with ‘Goat’s Don’t Shave’ – hence the ‘Ian The Goat’ name to which he swiftly and inexorably became attached. He’s still known as simply Goat or Goatie even now.
Goat’s partner in crime was a man about whom I’ve waxed lyrical in a previous blog (go look for it) – guitarist extraordinaire Stu Clarke. Once of Cryer and Korea (and possibly any other band names that sound as similar as those two – maybe Career or Cornea? I could go on) he was a truly gifted rock axeman, if a little on the short side.
What they concocted between them was pure genius – Goat would play the part of Ozzy Osbourne, cleverly sidestepping the issue of his slightly larger frame by simply wearing the black shirt with the white tassles and a decent wig (which deteriorated over the years, adding to the hilarity), whilst Stu would be his ‘Tony Iommi’, replete with Gibson SG, his mate’s mum’s black curly wig, Cuban heels as to try and make himself look bigger than he actually was and a painted on moustache in a Groucho-Marx-meets-Pancho-Villa kind of scenario.
By the time they got the band started in the mid 90’s, there’d been many column inches devoted to Ozzy’s acrimonious departure from Sabbath in 1979, and there’d also been a seeming revolving door policy on Iommi’s part since that date in his attempts to keep the Sabbath name alive. Countless singers, bassists and drummers can lay claim to have been in the Sabs as the law of diminishing returns kicked in during the 80’s, whilst Ozzy’s solo career scaled the very heights everyone thought Sabbath would without him.
This was the backdrop to ITGSBS - a very simple concept, but one played out with such comic zeal & timing as to make it an idea of great genius. As Ozzy, Goat would start the show trying to be the centre of attention; the people’s champion. All the time, however, he’d be looking onstage for where he’d put either his massive bottle of vodka or his giant spliff (both huge comedy props that got a huge laugh when they were just placed on the drum riser by our roadie prior to showtime) and looking bored at the many many instrumental/solo sections in Sabbath songs like War Pigs etc.
As Tony, Stu’s job was to be as irate as possible with Ozzy over everything from the get go – his weight, his drinking, his smoking, his attitude, even his very position on the stage (Iommi famously put himself centre stage on later Sabbath tours, putting lead singer Ozzy stage left – one of Stu’s fave lines used on occasion was “I should be in the middle!”) and would regularly berate him down the microphone in the early stages of a show.
Symptoms Of The Universe was usually the opener-with Stu, myself on drums and redoubtable bassist Gary Latham as Geezer Butler (he too had a painted on tosh and long curly wig which made him more Jason King-esque in a way) pounding out the intro. Another great element of the comedy was the keyboard player we always had stationed at the side of the stage, just visible to the audience. “There ain’t no keyboards in Black Sabbath” Stu would exclaim from time to time, just to keep said pianist on his toes – and true to the Sabbath name we had LOADS of keys players over the years
Goat’s years as a stand-up comic and entertainments manager at holiday camps oop North were another potent weapon we had in our armoury. You knew he could hold an audiences attention and draw them into the pantomime unfolding before them – usually after Symptoms had finished, Goat would lap up the applause with a signature “AAAAYYYYYYYY!!!! THE MADMAN IS BACK!!!!!!” before Stu cut him off in his prime, laying into him furiously for ‘ruining my band’ in a 30 second tirade that would tell the unwitting audience member that this was to be no ordinary Black Sabbath tribute show. “These are my songs, my solos, my riffs, me me me – so do the job properly or you’re finished!” would be Stu’s last line.
Goat would respond with a couple of quips of his own about Stu being ‘Napoleon’ or ‘Italian’ and the lines in the sand had been drawn. It would be impossible to write down all the jokes & one-liners that used to fire back & forth between them at times like these – suffice to say that it was all to the benefit of the developing comedy.
For when the band then launched into ‘War Pigs’ you sensed in the crowd that ITGSBS would struggle to get through it without a row - and so it proved, as Goat literally grabbed the neck of Stu’s guitar as he started playing the riff into the final instrumental section and would bark down the mic “I’m bored of this – no-one’s come here to hear your stupid guitar – they’ve come here to hear my beautiful voice…(to random audience member) Shut up, you!”
Red rag to a bull. That was Stu’s cue to go into another high-pitched, blood-boiling anti-Ozzy tirade, ending with the immortal words which clued-up audience members happily joined in with: “Get OFF the F*****G stage…NOW!”
It was always a brilliant moment in the show. Goat would look aghast at being dismissed, Stu remained unrepentant saying “You’re finished in this business” etc etc and the crowd would all join in, some cheering the sacking, most booing at Stu for his dastardly decision – but by now, 10 minutes into our set, you knew you were going to have a laugh for your £3 entry fee.
Stu would then approach the mic, still being roundly booed as the villain of the piece “So you’re 2 songs into a set and the lead singer’s been sacked – normally end of show right? Not here - I’ll get John the agent on the phone. He’ll find me a singer” and after a pretend call on a kiddies mobile phone toy, Stu would announce that a new singer had been found (for a fee, of course), I started playing a drum beat and out would come…Tom Jones. Or, more accurately, Goat dressed vaguely as Tom Jones.
Now this to me was real genius. Back in the late 80’s Kerrang! Magazine ran a cover story claiming that Tom Jones was set to be named the new Black Sabbath singer and that a world tour dubbed the ‘Miner Tour’ was in the works. All hell broke loose. Sabs devotees went mental at the news – this was sacrilege wasn’t it? “As if Ian Gillan turning it into Deep Sabbath and Glenn Hughes eating too many Mars Bars wasn’t enough, we now have to deal with THIS???? This will not stand!!!” And letters of complaint were fired off at a rate of knots to Kerrang! Sabbath’s management and all points inbetween.
It was an April Fool.
So to have Tom Jones on singing It’s Not Unusual was the perfect way to take ITGSBS in a different direction – and we didn’t play it stupidly or for cheap giggles either. Stu Gaz myself and whoever was on keys played it straight and Goat gave it his all in a different black shirt and shorter black wig.
By the end of that song everyone was clapping, cheering and just enjoying the spectacle – Gary started quietly picking out the main bass riff to Sabs song ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ and Goat would go into about 10 minutes of stand-up comedy.
Yes - stand up.
His routine was very Mick Miller old school stand up, which always suited the night and the atmosphere perfectly. Even though you’d have expected Stu’s Iommi character to put a stop to the merriment instantly, this was instead the part where he just let Goat entertain-the pantomime could wait a while. I would sit behind the kit trying not to laugh but failing miserably every night – Goat would often turn to Gary/Geezer for example and spend a good few minutes convincing the audience he was gay (favourite line? “He’s that gay, he can sit on an ice cream cone and tell you what flavour it is”)
Eventually Goat (still as Tom Jones, remember) got round to the first verse of ‘Fairies’ and off we went careering into the song, only to stop after a guitar solo for another short bout of stand-up prior to verse 2. Once the song was near the end, Goat would make the internationally recognised gesture for “I’m off, this is rubbish” and he was gone.
Enter Act 3, as Stu decided this time that, rather than hire another singer, he was just going to play some of his favourite riffs – this he did with some flamboyant style, playing snatches of stuff like Into The Void, The Writ, Hole In The Sky, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and then going into a brilliant ascending solo riff that Gary, myself and Keyboard bloke knew was our cue to count in the next song – Heaven & Hell.
Brilliantly, Goat re-emerged as Ozzy as the main riff died down to the quiet bass/drum thing that preceded the 1st verse. “Hold the bus, hold the bus!” he’d bark down the mic “I’m not doing one of Ronnie Dwarfy Dio’s numbers, you can forget it!!” referring to the fact that Ozz famously had left Sabbath only for Dio to join and have a huge hit album.
“Ronnie Dio, right, was a brilliant vocalist of mine in Blacl Sabbath” Stu retorted, “and we recorded 2 quality albums with him after you fucked off. This song is a classic of its kind, so you’re gonna sing it, and you’re gonna sing it properly this time – I’m not haing you making those ridiculous chicken noises like you did last night”
Cue Goat apeing Ronnie Dio in a henhouse “BWWAAAAACK – BOK-BOK-BOK-BOK-IN THE WIND AND –A- RAIN, WITH WHIPS AND CHAINNNS BOK-BOK-BOK-BOK-BWAAAAAAAAAAAAWWK”
He did start singing the song before long and we played a pretty faithful version of it, or at least up until the point where the song goes “And it goes on and on – on and on and on…” just prior to Stu’s extended solo. Goat would quickly follow up that line by announcing “And I’m going off and off and off (points at Stu) so you can take your balsa wood guitar that you stole from Musical Exchanges, your 99 pence cross from Bobangles, your mother’s wig and shove them up your Eye Tie arse, cos I’ve had enough…” and he disappeared to a HUGE cheer having prevented a certain sacking by quitting.
“Don’t tell anyone you left this band!!” Stu cried after him “Cos I was gonna sack you anyway – you’re finished!!!... Soundman? Turn the guitar RIGHT up, because everyone’s come to hear me…” and he duly performed the delay guitar solo from H&H quite brilliantly, which drew applause at its climax as well as boos from those still enjoying themselves enough to keep the pantomime in mind.
From that point on in the show, ITGSBS went in one of several possible directions. We would either have Alice Cooper, Tina Turner or Liam Gallagher join us as Black Sabbath’s new singer, and in less contentious times, Gary Glitter was the next frontman to ‘try out’ for us. And of course, it never quite worked out…
It always ended up with Ozzy & Tony burying the hatchet as Goat put the Ozzy clobber back on once again for our final flourish of ‘Black Sabbath’ ‘NIB’ and an encore of ‘Paranoid’ of course. We did ‘Singalongasabbath’ for Black Sabbath itself (everyone sang the rejigged line “Sid James sitting there he’s smiling” so so loudly)and I remember some gigs where we even dressed up as the Village People to do a karaoke version of YMCA apropos nothing before we plunged into ‘Paranoid’ to wind things up.
I could go on about special/different things that happened on certain nights to take the show to new places we’d never been; surprise costume changes by Goat; where else would you get random appearances by Osama Bin Laden, Rolf Harris, Kelly Osbourne & Errol Brown at the same gig within 10 minutes? Even ‘Prince’ joined us a few times ;o)
One incredible show at the Railway saw EVERYONE sacked, including me as drummer (only to come on as another ‘Ozzy’ to sing Dirty Women, only to ruin it with Stu’s character by talking to the audience in that American accent Ozzy uses on stage “I love you people!” etc etc) Gaz was sacked for playing the intro to NIB without permission, and so Fat Baz who depped for Gary occasionally came on. Original drummer Tim replaced me, but the coup de grace came when Goat came back on as Ozzy and sacked Stu saying he’d got the REAL Tony Iommi to replace him. Up went a massive cheer…as I came on in all Black with an SG guitar & painted on tosh pretending to be the real Iommi. It all ended with everyone onstage playing Paranoid. That was a really wonderful gig – utter madness, but wonderful.
Truthfully, whilst I’ve given you a gist of what went on, it was never the same show twice, but always a brilliant show regardless. It’ll never happen again, now that Stu is sadly no longer with us, although we did salute his memory with that tribute performance to him at the Cryer reformation gig a couple of years back.
Goat has become one of my closest confidants over the years – a truly fantastic bloke with an infectious sense of humour – even he has seen that sunny disposition tested by health problems of his own in the last couple of years, but thankfully he appears to be on the road to a full recovery. He & Stu came up with something truly unique in ITGSBS – it deserved to go nationwide – if they were just starting it up now, it would coin it in on the tribute circuit…particularly when you see how ridiculous the real Sabbath look just now with a ‘reunion’ that isn’t.
One of these days I’m going to find those VHS tapes I have of an ITGSBS gig and stick it on youtube – I’ve been smiling the silliest smile as I’ve typed this and thought back to great nights at The Railway, The Robin, the Lion Farm estate in Oldbury, The Bear in Bearwood and many many more venues that took a chance on a pantomime tribute.
They, the audiences that came, and I for that matter, were all richly rewarded
All hail Ian The Goat Sings Black Sabbath!!!!