It was a sweltering hot day in 1981 when North Staffordshire hosted its equivalent of the Castle Donnington Monsters of Rock Festival. Although heavy rock and metal had existed since the beginning of the 1970s it had now become almost fashionable. The charts were regularly peppered with Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon (whose lead singer Biff Bifford had been born in Hanley) and Motorhead (with Burslem-born Lemmy).
But the ‘Heavy Metal Holocaust’ festival, held at Vale Park on August 1st, almost did not take place. After the council granted permission for the event some local residents took out an injunction to have the show stopped. It was only with the intervention of the promoters by providing a free day-trip to Blackpool (on the same day as the event) for those residents concerned that the injunction was dropped.
Originally Ozzy was not billed to appear at the event. The festival was to be co-headlined by Black Sabbath and Motorhead. However, less than a month before the event Sabbath cancelled due to ‘recording commitments’, provoking the promoter to announce that their next UK appearance would be in court! Ozzy stepped in to fill the gap left by his former band which must have brought a few wry smiles to those Sabbath fans who now had an opportunity to see the singer who the band had sacked a couple of years earlier.
Lemmy introduced Ozzy as “a good friend of mine who tells a good joke and sings a good song.” After a set composed of songs from his first two solo albums Ozzy asked the audience “I understand that Black Sabbath promised to make this gig but then ****** you people over by not turning up, is that true? Well I’m going to give you my part of Black Sabbath” before introducing “a little sentimental song I wrote many years ago called ‘Iron Man.’” His set ended with the Sabbath classic ‘Children of The Grave’ before returning for an encore of his trademark ‘Paranoid.’
Ozzy was not a stranger to North Staffordshire. During the 1970s he, along with his first wife Thelma, lived at Ranton near to Eccleshall. His neighbour at this time was Noddy Holder, singer with seventies glam rockers Slade. An often-recited tale is that of Ozzy blasting some chickens belonging to his wife with a shotgun in his garden. Noddy lent on the fence to find out what was happening to which Ozzy replied that he was just rewinding after touring! Until the mid-1980s there were two framed gold Black Sabbath discs on the wall of Ozzy’s local, the Red Lion at Sutton.
At the time of the Port Vale festival Ozzy had separated from his first wife and was already in a relationship with Sharon Arden, who he would marry the following year. At this time Ozzy set up home on the other side of Eccleshall at The outlands near to Bishops Offley. Also living in close proximity was Glen Tipton, guitarist with Judas Priest. Although Ozzy spent most of the early 1980s touring, when he was at home he would regularly patronise the Brown Jug at Bishops Offley. North Staffordshire appears to have been attractive for some heavy metal heroes, both on- and off stage.