Black Sabbath’s farewell tour, The End, wound up in the band’s home city of Birmingham on Saturday, February 4, a little more than a year after it had begun in Omaha, Nebraska. Streamed live on the group’s Facebook page, the 15-song performance was their second at Birmingham’s 15,700-capacity Genting Arena, bringing to an end an 81-show tour around the globe that also visited North and South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
After the final notes of show closer Paranoid faded away, guitarist Tony Iommi read out a simple statement to the audience: “Thank you, goodnight. Thank you so much.”
Photographer Ross Halfin was at many of the shows, and here we present a selection of his photos. A few days after the second Birmingham show Iommi called Classic Rock to talk about the tour and also tackle the rumours concerning the futures of himself and Sabbath as a band. Touchingly, he also greeted us warmly with the words: “I’m so glad Classic Rock has started up again. Without a doubt that’s the best magazine out there.”
Apart from Birmingham, which we’ll talk about later, which for you were the standout shows on the tour?
All of them were pretty special, so that’s a hard question. It was a fantastic tour. Right from the start there was a feeling of it being very special and that built all the way through.
Did the mood change as the end of the tour drew ever nearer?
I guess so, slightly, though we tried to go on as normal. But deep down inside you’d think: “Christ, there are three gigs to go. This is one of the last times I’ll play that song.” That realisation was sometimes pretty hard.
How was the mood backstage before the Birmingham shows?
Well, we did try to keep things normal, but finishing things there really turned up the pressure. In your home town you want everything to be as good as it can possibly be. But once we got out there on the stage the welcome was so warm those nerves disappeared. The fans were incredible. Quite few of them cried. It was quite sad.
Was there an intimate group hug before the lights went down?
Yeah, we really… It’s really difficult to explain those feelings. I don’t think any of us really knew what to do.
During the build up to Birmingham, Ozzy had admitted he was afraid of bursting into tears once it was all over. In the end did any of the band have a quiet cry?
Not in front of me, and I didn’t in front of them. It almost seemed surreal – is this really happening. You know? Only of course at the end we wouldn’t be saying: “Alright, see you again next time.” Afterwards, nobody knew what to say to each other. A couple of days later we got back together to do some filming of documentary-type stuff.
So the final show was filmed?
Yeah. And we did some interviews [for that]. But even then it still felt really weird: “All right, then?” “Yeah, I’ll give you a call.”
How did your health hold up? It must have made touring difficult in some ways.
Actually, it was okay. But my illness is the bloody reason why I have backed off from doing long tours. All of the flying, the late nights and being away for six or seven weeks at a time were starting to get to me. However well you travel, and even if you stay in the best hotels, it’s still very tiring. Since I got ill I get really exhausted. But mostly I held up okay. I’ve been going for my regular check-ups.
You had the latest all-clear before Christmas, right?
I did, yeah. They found something – a lump – in my throat and cut a bit of it out. Luckily it wasn’t cancerous. I went yesterday for some blood tests and I return today [February 15] for the results, so we’ll see. But since I got home I’ve felt much better. The most annoying thing is people asking: “How’s retirement?” I have to reply: “I’m not bloody retiring! We’ve stopped touring, that’s all.’”
Have you started thinking about what you might do next?
Yeah, sort of. But it’s still very early days and a lot of good things have been offered. The only criterion is that it cannot involve being away for seven or eight weeks at a time. Unless it’s in one place. That’s fine.
Your pal Glenn Hughes is still at the top of his game. Do you still have unfinished business with him?
I’m open for all sorts of stuff. Glenn, Kenny Aaronoff [drums] and myself have talked about doing another album, but we’ll see.
Geezer Butler was quoted as saying he was against following up Sabbath’s 2013 album 13, and then changed his mind. And Ozzy believes that nobody listens to new music any more. Where do you stand on the idea of a new Black Sabbath album?
It’s always possible but we haven’t spoken about it. My own future is fairly open and I’m keen to explore whatever’s around. I’d be up for doing a whole lot of stuff… provided it’s not touring.
The laminates on the last tour said: ‘Black Sabbath – established 1968’. Which of course reminds us that next year is the fiftieth anniversary. Touring is out, obviously, but what about signing off at Villa Park, in Birmingham where it all began, next summer?
It would be nice, wouldn’t it? But again… there’s nothing planned. Not to my knowledge, anyway, but if we were offered something like that I think it would be great.
You’d have to call it The End Of The End.
[Laughs] That’s the problem, you see. We don’t want to call it The End and then go off on another tour. One-off events? Yeah, I’d have no problem with that. I don’t think any of us wanted Sabbath to stop, but it got to the point where, for me, I needed it to.
If 13 does turn out to be the band’s swansong and February 4, 2017 really was the end of Sabbath, how would you like the band to be remembered?
We started this form of music, basically, and I’m really happy that the fact has been recognised for many years. And I’m very proud that we helped to put Birmingham on the map. In a lot of countries people thought it was part of London or something. I’m very glad we were able to put that straight.