“We had the time of our lives making that album. We were young kids – Rick Allen was 15, I was 19 – and we were recording our first record at Tittenhurst Park, where John Lennon lived before he sold it to Ringo! And I drew the long straw, so I got Lennon’s old bedroom with the amazing view. By the time we got there, December ’79, the place had changed. The white room where you saw John and Yoko doing Imagine, there was a pool table in there now.
"When we moved in, Dr. Hook were moving out, and Ray Sawyer, the guy with the eye-patch, challenged me to a game of pool and introduced me to my first smoke of weed. And I beat him! I rang a mate and said: ‘I just beat the guy who sang Sylvia’s Mother at pool!’ But my mate pointed out that Ray Sawyer hadn’t sung that song, and he also pointed out that Ray only had one eye, so beating him at pool couldn’t have been that difficult…
“We had Tom Allom producing us. We’d had three producers up for grabs. Chas Chandler, who’d worked with Slade and Jimi Hendrix. Roy Wood, who I really wanted cos I loved Wizzard. And Tom Allom, who’d done Judas Priest, which sealed it for Pete [Willis, guitarist]. Back then, Pete was to Def Leppard what Brian Jones was to the Rolling Stones – he thought he was in charge but ultimately he wasn’t. During recording I got into a fistfight with Pete because he knelt on three of my Subbuteo players on purpose! But Pete was adamant about getting Tom Allom, and to be honest Tom was a great guy.
“Tom’s whole thing was to keep the gang spirit up. I’ve got some great photos of him with rosy cheeks popping another cork. But we worked fast. We did all the backing tracks in a day. Then we spent three weeks completely ruining that record with unnecessary overdubs."
“In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been a boys’ own holiday where an album came out of it at the end (which is what happened) – it should have been like boot camp. But it’s a great record for what it was. Rock Brigade’s kinda cool, if a bit daft. Overture is very Rush but it has its moments. And we stole a lot from UFO on When The Walls Come Tumbling Down.
“Some of the songs were quite dark, like Answer To The Master, very Black Sabbath-like. But one song, It Don’t Matter, really shows where Leppard were going. That could have been on Pyromania. But when we recorded it, the cowbell didn’t sound like a cowbell, so we took the kettle out of the kitchen and used that. We put a big dent in it, and when Ruth, the cook, saw it the next morning she went ballistic. Oh well – needs must!
“On Through The Night did pretty well for us. It gave us a tour where we sold out Sheffield City Hall. It went Top 20 in the UK. But it got okay reviews – and I agree with them. We were still a work in progress. Compared to the first Boston album, the first Led Zeppelin album, the first Van Halen album, it’s Wycombe Wanderers to their Chelsea.
“Yes, we were too full of ourselves, but who wouldn’t be at that age? We were staying at John Lennon’s mansion, drinking too much and hanging out with Dr. Hook!”
This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 141, in December 2009. Joe Elliott was speaking with Paul Elliott.