"When we started, there was no template for heavy metal. Nobody understood what we were doing, because it was so different": Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi on the birth of heavy metal

Black Sabbath, 1970
(Image credit: Randy Bachman/Getty Images)

On September 23, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, under the watchful eye of its director Carlos Acosta, will premiere the much-talked-about Black Sabbath: The Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, for one, is intrigued and excited to see how it will be received.

“I’ve said to Carlos, look, if our fans come, there might be shouting and standing up and singing,” Iommi tells The Telegraph. “And he went ‘Oh great!’ But who knows? If they’re the original fans, they’ll be 75 or 80 now. So they might like a chance to sit down at the ballet!”

“We’re here to celebrate the legacy of Black Sabbath as a band and the world of rock,” Acosta explained back in June as the project was unveiled for the press. “I wanted to celebrate all the things this city has brought to the world, to have something that could represent Birmingham and open new doors for us.” 

“He said, ‘What could be more Birmingham than Black Sabbath?’” Iommi recalls to The Telegraph, but the guitarist is also keen to remind people that the band weren't always the city's most beloved musical sons, despite how it may appear five decades on since their inception.

“Birmingham didn’t want to know us,” Iommi states baldly. “We got slammed by the press. In America, they called us satanists. Nobody understood what we were doing, because it was so different.”

“When we started, there was no template for heavy metal,” he reminds Telegraph readers. “We didn’t even call it that. We liked blues, jazz, dramatic horror movie scores, even a bit of classical, Holst’s Mars, when it gets really dum-diddly-dum, I love all of that.”

While Iommi freely admits that ballet is something he knows precious little about, he's understandably keen to see how the project will come across next week, particularly after watching early rehearsals. 

“I’d never really seen anything like that before, and it was really, really good,” he told Metal Hammer's Rich Hobson in June. “We’re mixing two very different audiences – our own and ballet audiences. I think that’s great, and I know from our fans there’s a lot of excitement to see what the show is like.” 

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.