The Wizard

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One of the wonders of memory recall (for me, at least) are those flashbacks of a incident or a feeling from years gone by, that momentarily render all other things you are doing or thinking mute, for just a fleeting couple of seconds.

When this happens, I tend to drop out of the present moment and gawp pathetically out of a window, allowing the sensation to take hold. The kind words of a teacher, rain on tarmac, the excitement of passing your driving test, scoring a goal, watching live music…

I’m in Dubai airport – again – and all abuzz at Costa Coffee having just watched the last ever live show of Black Sabbath on the plane. Musical memory recall of the sharpest and sweetest kind.

The Sabbath were not quite on the plane. That would have been too spectacular, even for the stuff of dreams – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, bobbing in the aisles, whilst deftly plucking out the chords to Paranoid, and dividing the collective musical tastes of the passengers in a bizarre, stratospheric instant.    

For sure, the proverbial creators and masters of “heavy metal” jamming at 38,000ft would have had me up on my toes, clutching a miniature bottle of tear-inducing chardonnay and punching the air with gusto.

Because, if Black Sabbath had played a live set on our plane this morning, one thing is for sure, they wouldn’t have played to the business class section, tucked up front in their comfy slippers, sipping breakfast OJ and watching Dr Zhivago.

From their first gigs in their local Crown pub in Birmingham, in 1968, Black Sabbath spent large chunks of their early years shunned by the London press, class victims of a time when music was uniting as much as it was disenfranchising parts of society.

In any case, it was a documentary on Sabbath’s last ever gig (The End of the End) which I watched on the plane. Filmed last year from their home town, celebrating 50 years of a band’s journey together, complete with the inevitable excesses, losses, blunders, triumphs, and above all else, capturing brilliantly the legacy of one of the most decorated and influential of all British bands.

Ozzy Osbourne’s son, Jack, briefly went to my old primary school in Great Missenden at the end of the 1980’s. I wasn’t there at the time, however my Dad will tell you that the annual school fetes were always much more fun on the occasions when Ozzy and Sharon turned up. It might have been corroborated as an anecdote over the years, but I think it was a “splat-the-rat” stand that Dad manned one year, at which Ozzy took great delight in frequenting. If only we had a photo of that.

Black Sabbath are not the only band to have been down the road of accelerated celebrity and fame, before splitting up, and putting up with what we’ve come to expect as the normal persecuted behavior which envelopes high profile figures.

Their anthem songs have ensured their hall of fame position, above most, and, in what was their last live performance, with their own 70th birthdays imminent, the on-stage formula looked pretty similar to their early years sets. The pairing of Iommi and Butler offers a unique sound, and Osbourne’s front manning – excited bouncing up and down, encouraging the crowd to hand clap for every song, and then routinely standing with arms out in a crucifix position – is like nothing you’ll ever see again.

On any other singer, the jittery, gawping routine wouldn’t cut it – but Ozzy Osbourne produces almost god-like status from his persistence and his child-like glee. His jet black eye-liner, nails and matted locks magnetize the audience’s delirium still more and, when he sings, there can be no doubt that Ozzy Osbourne is a one-off species. His fans are spell-bound. Elderly grandmothers and teenage boys stand together, tears cascading down their faces.

Aside from the super-natural chemistry of what Black Sabbath are able to embody on stage, is the equally illuminating and refreshing reality that Ozzy Osbourne has such a deep felt commitment to it all: to the song, to the lyrics, to the fans, and to the very simple adage that he offers up in the documentary, namely that “if you’ve got a dream, you’ve just got to keep doing it, and never stop, because dreams are the only things which make life happen, for good or for bad.”

Following your dreams. All too often a clichéd call to action.

Hats off, and raised arms, to Ozzy and team Sabbath, for espousing this throw-away line and turning it into their signature reason for living.

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