Meat Loaf, a flying wheelchair, and the greatest story ever told

Meat Loaf onstage in 1989
Meat Loaf onstage in 1989 (Image credit: John Atashian / Getty Images)

In the late 1980s, a good pal of mine worked for a well known music pro­moter and for­mer Euro­vi­sion star. One of his spe­cial­i­ties was to bring in stars either past their prime, or on the skids, for Irish tours. The Irish would never give up on a star was this pro­mot­er's mantra: The hits will keep them com­ing to shows.

One such act was Mar­vin Lee Aday, a.k.a. Meat­ Loaf. As well as being wheel­chair-bound for a spell in the 1980s after breaking his leg jumping off a stage in Ottawa, Meat­ was to all intents and pur­poses immo­bile in every pos­si­ble musi­cal sense. A few years ear­lier he had “embraced” the 1980s' power-pop-rock sound with the abysmal, Blind Before I Stop album, a disc produced by German Boney M mastermind Frank Farian. The album's mas­tur­ba­tory title did lit­tle to hide the mess within, and even a crowdpleaser like David Has­sel­hoff would have strug­gled with songs such as Rock ‘N’ Roll Mer­ce­nar­ies, Spe­cial Girl and Rock ‘N’ Roll Hero

One possible sal­va­tion appeared in the shape of a new musi­cal foil, John Parr – the pair duetted on Rock 'N' Roll Mercenaries – but Meat made a balls of that one, allegedly falling out with Parr on stage in Lon­don. With his record deal about to go too, old Meat was a goner. He was reduced to touring ‘inti­mate’ venues — the types he would have ignored long before Bat Out of Hell broke. But he still had pock­ets of fans in Ire­land and the UK he could depend on. 

The rural rock­ers of Ire­land, in par­tic­u­lar, are the type of loyal fan every star craves. So long as there’s a fella throw­ing shapes with a loud gui­tar and an act who’ll play the hits, they’ll go for it. And so, in 1989, Meat­ Loaf was booked on a ram­shackle tour of some of Ireland’s worst com­mu­nity cen­tres, ball­rooms, hotel func­tion rooms and other assorted sheds sud­denly deemed good enough to host rock roy­alty. He even turned up in a few fields. 

The pro­mot­ers were so con­fi­dent that this tour would be a hit that they booked Status Quo for the same one the fol­low­ing year. Nei­ther act refused the itin­er­ary (or the money).

With such an iconic star as Meat­ Loaf in town, the peo­ple of rural Ire­land came out in their droves. Prac­ti­cally every show was a sell-out with the door­men more than happy to ram a few more heads into each gig if the price was right. 

Bar sales rocketed as every­one in town got pissed in advance of hear­ing Bat Out Of Hell on their doorstep. The shows were rowdy and rock­ing, the band were just fan­tas­tic, and the tour per­son­nel were enjoy­ing their brush their star­dom. But, a cou­ple of over­stuffed gigs in, Meat­ Loaf was begin­ning to crack. 

There were too many peo­ple at each ‘inti­mate’ show, and for a man who had been play­ing sta­di­ums a few years back, this wasn’t what the dream had mapped out. The tour reached its nadir when it pulled into Moate, a town in Co. West­meath famous not only for being the birthplace­ of one half of folk duo Fos­ter and Allen, but also for hav­ing the widest main street in Ire­land at the time.

Two or three songs into the gig, and the pres­sure was build­ing up at the front.

“Please guys, can you move back a cou­ple of steps?” pleaded Meat as he fin­ished You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, to an audi­ence on the move, hor­i­zon­tally and ver­ti­cally. "Someone’s gonna get hurt."

About six peo­ple heard him. The rest of them were either scream­ing for the hits or try­ing to fin­ish their cans of Fos­ters which, along­side Harp, Hoff­mans and Furstenberg, was the sta­ble tinned lager at Irish gigs of the time. I was being crushed down the back, my pre­vi­ous gig­ging expe­ri­ence lim­ited to see­ing Mamas Boys, Christy Moore and, of course, local entertainer Joe Dolan.

The gig car­ried on, and more and more peo­ple swelled the already packed Community Cen­tre. As this was a local gig for the tour pro­moter, there was no way he was refus­ing any­one from his neck of the woods, par­tic­u­larly if they arrived at the door bran­dish­ing cash.

Ear­lier in the tour Meat had assigned a new role to my tour man­ag­ing pal Marty – to pro­tect him, to be his body­guard. Marty told us he’s “take a bul­let” for Meat­, such was his love of the big man’s music. 

As the Moate gig stepped into gear, Meat Loaf’s new body­guard sensed that the man him­self was about to explode. He had erupted a few times over the past few nights. Marty moved into posi­tion on the side of the stage to reas­sure Meat that every­thing was O.K. He liked reas­sur­ances, did Mar­vin, and my friend Marty was just the man to give them to him. But the crowd was far from reas­sur­ing.  Empty beer cans began to be hurled around the venue. Some clanged off the side of the stage.

With the gig still building momentum, a lone Dr. Marten boot broke the imag­i­nary wall between per­former and audi­ence and landed on stage.

Now, in his pre­vi­ous arena-filling life, Meat­ Loaf was more accus­tomed to fren­zied females fever­ishly whip­ping off their panties before launch­ing them towards the stage. He was no stud, but as his sweaty arena show reached its peak there seemed to be no stop­ping more excitable female audi­ence mem­bers. But there was none of those in rural Ire­land tonight. 

A few moments later another item of men’s footwear landed on stage, fol­lowed inter­mit­tently by sev­eral other items of cloth­ing, none of which resem­bled silk panties. Meat­ Loaf was hav­ing none of it.

“Stop fuck­ing throw­ing things!” he roared, the glare in his eyes adding the nec­es­sary ‘or else’. The crowd didn’t care. Beer cans, glasses, bot­tles and what­ever else was get­ting in the way of the increas­ingly crushed audi­ence began to arrive on stage at var­i­ous inter­vals before, dur­ing and after songs. The odd unfin­ished cigarette also came up. As a junior smoker at the time who was well accus­tomed to shar­ing cigs with my pals (in fact it was the norm) I thought this was an affec­tion­ate ges­ture for Meat­ Loaf to take a drag. Not so.

“I’m fuck­ing leav­ing here man,” Meat­ Loaf roared, to Marty by the side of the stage.

“No way! You can’t,” Marty told Meat­. “They’ll fuck­ing kill you.”

A white run­ner boot, its path to the stage illu­mi­nated by the arc of a spot­light, then hit the star turn.

“Fuck you!” Meat­ Loaf roared back, and he promptly stormed off stage, micro­phone drop­ping to the floor in a screech of feed­back. The band – a bunch of hired hands most likely on wages as poor as the food through­out the tour – were not yet fully com­pe­tent in read­ing Meat Loaf’s sig­nals, and they played on. Was this a cos­tume change? “I dunno, I’m only the drummer.”

Back­stage in the nar­row hall­way which tre­bled as dress­ing room, load-in point and back­stage area, Meat­ Loaf was fum­ing. Like the band, the crowd hadn’t yet realised he’d stormed off stage so not only did his grand exit not achieve the desired effect, but most peo­ple there thought it was part of the show.

Supremely pissed off, he reluc­tantly went back on to about a thou­sand roars for Bat Out Of Hell.

As more debris rained on stage, Meat­ Loaf warned the crowd that he would “walk out the fuck­ing door” if they con­tin­ued this sort of carry on.

“I’m fuck­ing warn­ing you,” he roared as the band broke into Dead Ringer For Love, one of Meat’s biggest Irish hits and one guar­an­teed to send the crowd doolally, “one more thing lands on this stage and I’m leav­ing.” 

A cou­ple of cans flew around the venue, but none landed on stage. They were joined in their flight by a cou­ple of shoes and sneak­ers, only one of which landed on stage. But, fair play to him, Meat Loaf held firm, though the threat of storm­ing off stage was still very real.

Attempt­ing the unen­vi­able task of pro­tect­ing Meat­ Loaf from debris and hold­ing the crowd back was my pal Marty. He was stand­ing in the pit directly on front of the stage, swat­ting beer cans when sud­denly, every­thing in the com­mu­nity cen­tre went into slow motion.

Marty recalls: “The lights caught some­thing shiny and a sec­ond or two later I saw it. I thought ‘oh no… this is it… show’s over’…”

Fly­ing through the air was… a wheelchair.

The chair flew directly over Marty’s head. He turned just in time to see Meat Loaf’s eyes swell with an unusual mix­ture of both fear and won­der. The burly singer put out an arm and attempted to step back. The stage was so small he stum­bled into the drum riser just as the wheel­chair crashed onto the boards in front of him. In slow motion the big man appeared to fall, the empty wheel­chair bounc­ing to his left, one wheel com­i­cally spinning.

Marty remem­bers the crowd cheer­ing. He was sure he could make out some­one scream­ing, but by the time he could react Meat­ had got­ten to his feet, grabbed the mic, roared at the audi­ence and hurled it at them as he stormed off. 

How­ever, the lead of the mic was too short and it hit the advanc­ing Marty, whose own incredulity at what had been launched onto the stage had pre­vented him from get­ting up there sooner. As he climbed onto the stage the band were already leav­ing it. The show was not even a half an hour old.

As he arrived back­stage to find Meat­ Loaf ablaze with swear­words, anger and American hand-gestures, Marty decided to let the con­cert pro­moter do the talk­ing. There was no way Meat­ Loaf would return to the stage. “No fuck­ing way!” said the big man. “Not after what they did to that poor kid in the wheelchair.”

“Christ!” thought Marty. “Who was actu­ally in the wheel­chair?” There was no way of know­ing if there was a poor kid, such was the vol­ume of peo­ple within the Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, and there was no way Meat­ Loaf was going back in front of them to find out.

They lairy audi­ence began to get even more rest­less. A riot – unheard of in rural rock­ing cir­cles, though another pal of mine swore blind his emi­grant brother was at a Dio-era Black Sab­bath gig in the states when one broke out – was almost cer­tainly on the cards.

Despite pleas that return­ing to the stage would calm the rest­less natives, Meat­ Loaf stormed out of the venue towards his bus, his band and entourage close behind in a show of sol­i­dar­ity and strength. The pro­moter, his entourage and my pal Marty tried to rea­son with him, but to no avail. Out of the blue, an angry man in a denim jacket appeared.

Could he be linked to the wheel­chair? Er, no.

“Get back on that stage ya bol­locks,” he roared at Meat­ Loaf, as he stormed over to him, arm coil­ing up to his side. “We paid good fuck­ing money to see you!”

The man went for Meat­ Loaf. Would Meat­ Loaf go for him? The man’s fist looked deadly. He raised it back and pushed it out. Act­ing on instinct, my pal Marty dived in to pro­tect Meat­ Loaf. He was, after all, on secu­rity detail. 

Again, every­thing sud­denly went into slow motion. Marty’s feet left the ground as he launched him­self into the air. As his face flew into view and blocked Meat Loaf’s head, the irate audi­ence member’s fist stuck, con­nect­ing with his nose. Blood spurted loose as Marty com­pleted his dive and landed on the tar­mac. 

Meat Loaf’s own peo­ple man­aged to get their man out of the way and within sec­onds he was on a bus, bound for the hotel. My pal Marty lay on the ground, his nose bro­ken, but no injury could dent his pride at ‘tak­ing a bul­let’ for Meat Loaf.

“It was like a Pres­i­den­tial movie,” he recalls.

The tour resumed in Car­low the fol­low­ing night, where Meat­ Loaf per­son­ally thanked Marty for inter­ven­ing the night before. Secu­rity was tight­ened up con­sid­er­ably, with a load of army and hardy FCA (local defence force) boys drafted in on the promise of free tick­ets, a cou­ple of cans and a few bob, and for the first time on the sold-out tour, ‘house full’ signs were erected and the door­men said no.

Secu­rity was even tighter when the Quo did the same tour (minus a few of the sheds) a year later. 20 years later and my pal Marty’s nose is a crooked bro­ken mess, a side­ways Manilow, but he’s a proud man and to this day he calls the nose ‘Meat Loaf’ in hon­our of the man for whom he took a bullet.

A lit­tle over a year later and Meat­ Loaf was back in the are­nas. He rekin­dled his part­ner­ship and friend­ship with Jim Stein­man and together they penned Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, an album which spawned I’d Do Any­thing for Love (But I Won’t Do That), a song that got to num­ber one in 28 coun­tries. 

My pal Marty likes to think that the unspo­ken ‘that’ in the hit song refers to steal­ing someone’s wheel­chair, and throw­ing it up on stage.

This feature was originally published by Ronan Casey in 2017. Ronan is the author of Joe Dolan: The Official Biography, and owns three cats: Ronnie, James and Dio.

Ronan Casey