"The prospect of rockers descending on Earls Court is too awful to contemplate.” How angry locals, a Tory councillor and a jailed Scott Weiland killed Ozzfest UK '99

Ozzy Osbourne performing live in 1999, and a poster for the cancelled UK Ozzfest that year
(Image credit: Ozzy image: Brian Rasic/Getty Images)

Ozzfest was great, wasn't it? Sharon Osbourne's decision to create her own festival after Lollapalooza's refusal to book her husband Ozzy back in 1996 ended up giving metal fans years of incredible line-ups, especially in the US.

The UK, meanwhile, finally got its own first iteration of Ozzfest at the Milton Keynes Bowl on one unforgettable afternoon in 1998, featuring an insane bill including Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, plus Foo Fighters, Korn, Pantera, Soulfly and many more. So, when the summer of 1999 rolled around, British metalheads were chomping at the bit for another Ozzfest to arrive. Sadly, we never got that immediate follow-up. Instead, red tape, a stuffy Conservative councillor and the incarceration of a grunge icon destroyed what could have been one of the best festival line-ups the UK had ever seen.

Fans rejoiced in May 1999 when news came through that Ozzfest would be coming back for an entire weekend that August at London’s Earls Court. Billed as ‘The Last Supper’, it was promoted as Black Sabbath’s last ever shows with the original line up of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. 

“Last year’s Ozzfest at Milton Keynes was so fucking great,” said Ozzy in a press release. “It was a special day that will remain with me forever. That’s why I think it’s right that we’re ending the whole Sabbath thing in England.”

If that wasn’t enough, the bill was rounded out with a mouthwatering main stage lineup of Machine Head, Type O Negative, Coal Chamber and System Of A Down and a second stage including Cradle of Filth, Backyard Babies, Static-X, Apartment 26, Godsmack and Breed 77. What a bill, right? Surely no one could complain about that.

Step forward Conservative councillor for the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Barry Phelps, who decided to attempt to have the event's license revoked mere weeks after its announcement. Phelps wrote a missive to the Board Of Local Hearings where he bizarrely described “Ozzie” (sic) as “A drug addict, or former drug addict, who used to bite the heads off live chickens onstage,” before referring to the Ozzfest-going crowd as “vulgar, ill-educated, loud-mouthed, selfish oafs with no consideration for anyone but themselves.”

It led to a war of attrition between metalheads and the local inhabitants of Earls Court, many of whom sided with the councillor and protested at the festival taking place. Coal Chamber bassist Rayna Ross called Phelps “terrible”, adding: “Doesn’t he realise it’s important for these kids to have an outlet?”. Phelps, meanwhile, doubled down on his opinion, telling The Evening Standard that “the prospect of thousands of ageing, tattooed and obnoxious rockers descending on Earls Court is too awful to contemplate.”

Soon, it was becoming clear that obstacles were being placed in front of Ozzfest to make the organisation of the event increasingly difficult; the festival was unable to obtain a license to start at 11am, making getting a decent slot for all the bands to play a logistical nightmare.

In the second week of July, two months after the festival was announced, it was confirmed that Ozzfest ‘99 was officially off; initially, it was announced as just a postponement, stating that the staggering success of Black Sabbath’s US shows meant that SFX Entertainment decided to take up their option to extend the tour until August. A week later, however, it was announced that there would be no replacement date. 

It turned out there had been other logistical issues plaguing the festival: Sharon Osbourne released a statement blaming “An unfortunate chain of events” which began when planned special guests Stone Temple Pilots had to pull out before even being announced, due to troubled vocalist Scott Weiland being sentenced to a year in prison after violating the terms of his parole for a previous charge of possession (he served five months). “We lost our second headliner and unfortunately no suitable replacement ever materialised," Sharon told Kerrang!

With political interference and angry locals trying to disrupt the event, the continuation of Sabbath's US tour, an unfillable gap in the line-up and an inability to find a suitable replacement venue, Sharon admitted that “It’s just not working. We certainly don’t want to do a half-hearted attempt. We would prefer to come back bigger and better next year. We are planning UK Ozzfest 2000 now, and we should be announcing a date very shortly.”

It robbed us of what could have been one of the greatest days of live heavy music in UK history, but it wasn’t all bad news: Sabbath played their 'Last Supper' that December over two spectacular evenings at Birmingham’s NEC, and, as it turns out, it wasn’t the last we saw of them at all. Though we did have to wait two more years, the original line-up was back at the Milton Keynes Bowl as Ozzfest UK came back bigger and better in 2001, with Slipknot, Tool, Papa Roach, Disturbed, Mudvayne and more. Good things, it seems, come to those who wait.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.