“He’d go to the pub, come back at 9 o’clock, out of it, and go, ‘Right, let’s start’”: the story of Ozzy Osbourne’s forgotten 1970s “prog rock” solo band

Ozzy Osbourne onstage in 1978
(Image credit: Gus Stewart/Redferns)

The resurrection of Ozzy Osbourne after he was fired from Black Sabbath in 1979 is one of rock’n’roll‘s great redemption stories. Despondent and in a permanent haze of alcohol and cocaine, he spent months holed up in a Los Angeles hotel room as he tried to work out if he even had a career left.

It was only when he was introduced to hotshot guitarist Randy Rhoads that Ozzy realised that maybe did have a future after all. The album they recorded with bassist/co-songwriter Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake, 1980’s Blizzard Of Ozz, helped pull the singer back from the brink of oblivion and turn him into one of the biggest stars of the next decade and beyond.

Except that wasn’t Ozzy’s first attempt at launching a solo career, nor were Randy Rhoads and co the first people he’d tried it with. A few years earlier, during a previous (temporary) split with Sabbath, he had attempted to put together a brand new band using the members of an unknown group once managed by Tony Iommi.

Necromandus were a bluesy proto-metal band from Cumberland in the North West of England. Their drummer, Frank Hall, had first seen Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward playing with their previous band, Mythology, at a local pub.

A while later, Hall’s then-band, Heaven, supported a band named Earth at a local pub called The Tow Bar. Earth featured the two guys Hall had seen from Mythology with a new bassist and singer, Geezer Butler and Ozzy Osbourne.

“I met John at a soundcheck,” Hall told Classic Rock in 2017, referring to Ozzy by his birth name. “He didn’t have any shoes on, he was a right state. And he was rude. Rude and pissed. But he had stage presence. I couldn't take my eyes off him, shaking his head up and down. He used to sing with his finger pressed into his ear.”

Earth soon changed their name to Black Sabbath, while Hall left Heaven and formed Necromandus with singer Bill Branch, bassist Dennis McCarten and hotshot guitarist Barry ‘Baz’ Dunnery. Their friendship with Sabbath counted in their favour when Tony Iommi came onboard as co-manager. Yet even that couldn’t help them break through - while they recorded an album in 1972, it was shelved after the band fell apart in 1973 when Baz Dunnery left suddenly on the eve of a US tour opening for Sabbath.

But that wasn’t the end of Necromandus’ connection to Black Sabbath. Frank Hall and Baz Dunnery eventually began playing together again in a covers band. Then one day in 1977, Hall returned home to find an ex-Necromandus roadie who was now working for Sabbath waiting for him.

“He was driving Ozzy’s Range Rover,” Hall told Classic Rock. “He said, ‘Get a bag packed, Ozzy’s been kicked out of Sabbath and he wants to put a band together with you and Baz and Dennis.”

And so Hall and his former Necromandus bandmates – minus singer Bill Branch – found themselves holed up with Ozzy at Bullrush Cottage, the home he shared with first wife Thelma in rural Staffordshire. According to Hall, Ozzy had a name in mind for this band: Blizzard Of Ozz.

A typical day at Bullrush Cottage was chaotic. “We’d wait for him to get up, which was around three in the afternoon,” Hall recalled. “You’d think, ‘For fuck’s sake, John’, and try to sober him up. You’d shove him in the shower, he’d come out wrapped in towels and collapse on the floor. Then he’d go, ‘Thelma, what time do they open?’ And then he’d go up to the Hand & Cleaver [pub] and come back at 9 o’clock, out of it, and go, ‘Right, let’s start.’”

They managed to pull it together for long enough to began working on songs, written by Baz Dunnery. “But the stuff that was coming out of us was prog rock,” said Hall. “You can’t imagine Ozzy singing prog rock.”

According to the drummer, some of the songs were recorded. “God knows where them recordings went,” said Hall. “He probably lost them when he went down the pub.”

Hall said they knew it was never going to work out. “I said to Baz, ‘This is never going to happen – he just wants to drink.’ Dennis and Ozzy were drinking buddies, where me and Baz wanted to do the music. We were serious.”

The sessions inevitably amounted to nothing. Shortly after, Ozzy returned to Black Sabbath, recording the Never Say Die! album before departing for a second time. His subsequent attempt at a solo career was much more successful than his first. The Blizzard Of Ozz album – which, according to Bob Daisley, was initially the name that was given to the band that recorded it – resuscitated his career, seeing him become far bigger as a solo artist than he ever had with Black Sabbath.

Necromandus weren’t so lucky. While they’re beloved among proto-metal connoisseurs, they never achieved the breakthrough they deserved. Frank Hall is the only surviving member of the band. Bill Branch died in 1995 and Dennis McCarten passed away in 2004. Barry Dunnery, who briefly joined ELO offshoot Violinksi, playing on their 1979 hit single Clog Dance, died in 2008 (his younger brother is Francis Dunnery, best known as the frontman of prog band It Bites).

After years of being bootlegged, Necromandus’s debut album was eventually officially released by Rise Above Records in 2010 as Orexis Of Death. Frank Hall released a brand new, self-titled Necromandus album in 2017, featuring snippets of Baz Dunnery’s guitar playing on some songs. As for the songs they are rumoured to have recorded with Ozzy? They’ve never been heard in public, though somewhere a pub in the West Midlands may be sitting on a goldmine.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.