Vivian Campbell, guitarist with British rock band Def Leppard, chats with Kevin Cooper about being fired by Dio and Whitesnake, playing fourth album Hysteria in its entirety, Def Leppard’s latest album The Story So Far…The Best Of Def Leppard and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Vivian Campbell is a rock guitarist from Northern Ireland. He came to prominence in the early 1980s as a member of Dio. He has also worked with Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Sweet Savage, Trinity, Riverdogs, and Shadow King but since 1992 has been a prominent member of English rock band, Def Leppard.

Formed in 1977 as part of the British heavy metal movement, Def Leppard’s strongest commercial success came between the early 1980s with the release of their 1981 album, High ‘n’ Dry and 1983’s Pyromania which was certified Diamond in America making them one of the most popular music groups at the time.

Def Leppard’s fourth album Hysteria was released in 1987 and it topped the album charts selling over twenty five million copies worldwide. The album spawned seven hit singles including Love Bites, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Hysteria, Armageddon It, Animal, Rocket and Women, but its creation took over three years and was plagued by delays, including the aftermath of the 1984 car accident that cost drummer Rick Allen his left arm. Lasting one hour and two and a half minutes, the album is one of the longest ever issued on a single vinyl record. It is the band’s longest album to date.

Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour, Viv Campbell took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Viv good morning how are you?

Not too bad thank you for asking Kevin. At the moment I have a bit of a sniffle but otherwise I’m fine.

Before we move on let me just thank you for talking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure.

And other than having the sniffles how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is good, I really can’t complain. Well I could but who would listen (laughter).

We should talk about the latest album, The Story So Far…The Best Of Def Leppard which has a release date of November 30th. Are you happy with it?

Yes I am, in as much as I know about it (laughter). Believe me I am the last person to know anything about what is happening in Def Leppard (laughter). Let me just say that information trickles down very slowly believe you me (laughter). To be honest with you, I have generally been happy with the entire year with what has been happening with the band. There really does seem to be a strong resurgence for Def Leppard this year. We have recently completed a massive American tour where we played sixty shows in North America with Journey opening for us. Most of the shows which we played in, huge iconic baseball stadiums sold out. The surprising thing, well it was to me anyway, is that thirty to forty percent of our audience are now young enough to be our children (laughter).

The great thing was that we sold over one million tickets on this American run of shows plus we have recently been nominated for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. So all in all I would have to say that it has been an amazing year for the band. It seems quite fitting that we can now put a cherry on that cake by releasing The Story So Far…The Best Of Def Leppard because it really does feel like it is an ongoing journey so it is sort of an apt title because it really is just the story so far. Especially when you consider that we have finally managed to cross over that generational thing with our audiences; they are not just our own age anymore. All of this really does bode well for the forthcoming tour of the UK.

On the subject of the North America tour, how do you manage to keep going knowing that you are going to be playing sixty shows?

(Laughter) well let me just say that it is a good job that I don’t have a show tonight as I am seriously losing my voice. First and foremost is the fact that we all really do love our work. We genuinely feel humble about what we do and there is a very deep sense of gratitude amongst the members of the band. We don’t take any of it for granted. There is also a very high work ethic in Def Leppard and I have always noticed that from right back in the early days with the band. You have to remember that I am still the new guy in the band despite having been here now for almost twenty-seven years (laughter).

I was with Dio and Whitesnake before I joined Def Leppard but I most definitely noted from day one that the work ethic within Def Leppard was ingrained into every single aspect of what the band does. Whilst we don’t take ourselves very seriously we do take our work very seriously and as I have said before, none of us take it for granted. We have worked very, very, very hard over the last quarter of a century to get to exactly what Def Leppard is today. Whilst I wasn’t in the band for their first run of success back in the Pyromania and Hysteria days so I really can’t say if the other guys took it for granted but I know for sure that we don’t take for granted what we have today in 2018.

So whilst it is a very gruelling schedule, we look after ourselves, we travel really well, we spoil ourselves to a certain extent, we make it as comfortable as we can possibly make it for a bunch of old guys who are still out there on the road doing it (laughter). Let me tell you that we really have slowed down a bit. When I first joined the band we played a lot more shows per week but definitely in recent years we have slowed it down a little bit to enable us to maintain the integrity and the quality of the shows and to make sure that we are still fresh enough to do it. None of us are in our twenties anymore so we have to make sure that we are physically able to do the show and take it from me, it really is a physical show.

The music is very high energy, which requires a high energy performance from us to go along with that. We are not like The Eagles, we don’t just sit up there on five stools and play our greatest hits. It is a very high energy, dynamic, production intensive rock show. I would say that we probably have the most dynamic hard rock show in the world at the moment. We are very fortunate that we also have the catalogue of hits to back that up. It all makes for a good evening (laughter).

Twenty seven years is a long time, longer than most marriages in fact. Have you enjoyed the ride so far?

Very, very much so, yes. I particularly like it now that we all appear to be more focused; when I first joined the band I couldn’t believe just how much time off we took. To me that was kind of crazy. There were a couple of years, not concurrent, when the band didn’t do anything and I have to say that I had a hard time getting my head around that because I like to stay busy. During those times I would go off and do other projects. I still to this day have other projects; I have a band called Last In Line and we have our second album coming out in February 2019. We will be touring to support that from 17th January next year, so as you can see I like to keep busy as I believe that you are what you do.

But in answer to your question, I have very much enjoyed being a part of Def Leppard. It really is the most bespoke of bands. There is no other band on the planet like Def Leppard. Everything about the band, the work ethic together with the way that the band creates is utterly unique in the world of hard rock. There is no other band that writes and records in the way that Def Leppard does. Don’t get me wrong, at times it can be frustrating, but overall I think that it has obviously paid dividends for Def Leppard over the years. There is a certain method to the madness (laughter).

You have mentioned Last In Line and the forthcoming second album. Will you be touring the UK to promote the album?

I hope so. We don’t have plans in place at the moment so it could be towards the end of next year. It could be November of next year before we manage to get to the UK but I most certainly want to do it. I have made a request with a couple of grown-ups to see if it is possible to have Last In Line added to the Download Festival next year. I believe that I am going to be there anyway with Def Leppard so that really might be a possibility as a one-off. However, looking beyond that, it would be later in the year before we get a chance to get over there to the UK. We are currently booking shows in North America starting 17th January and the album drops on 22nd February I believe.

I have to say that it is an exceptional record; I am so very pleased with it. As I have said before I really do genuinely like to keep busy. I seriously do believe that you are what you do. Whatever we do defines who we are. I have been very fortunate in that I have had this very long and colourful career having been able to have worked with so many great and talented musicians and bands. As you know, a few years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and I don’t think that I have been so busy in my life since then (laughter). I have really focused on doing not just my work with Def Leppard but also my work with Last In Line.

Going back to the album, I have been listening to the Christmas song, We All Need Christmas and I have to say that it took me back to the 70s when there was always a fight and a real sense of pride in having the Christmas number one.

I know, that is a thoroughly English thing isn’t it (laughter). That song is very much a reflection on us, the band, and the era that we grew up in when we were kids. Like you quite correctly say it takes you right back to the 1970s. We all remember Slade, we all remember Wizard, we remember the late John Lennon, we all remember Greg Lake, we remember all of these great Christmas songs. So yes, you are right, and I would have to be honest with you and say that it’s not exactly rock (laughter). I find it very hard to imagine that it is going to feature in the live shows (laughter). Having said all of that it is a very nice thing and a very timely thing to add to The Story So Far. The album is being released at Christmas time and the song makes a nice tie-in with all that is happening.

You auditioned for Def Leppard in 1992 following the death of Steve Clark who had passed away from alcohol poisoning the previous year. When you got the call asking you to join the band, how long did it take you to decide?

Well I have to say that it wasn’t as immediate as you might think but that had nothing whatsoever to do with Def Leppard. Up until that point I had had a lot of bad experiences with other bands. My first major band was the original Dio band. I played on their first three albums and tours and then I suddenly got fired from Dio. The way that went down and the way that it was portrayed after I had left the band, which was totally untrue, really did leave a bad, bad taste in my mouth. After that I was fortunate enough to join Whitesnake version 37A (laughter). I was with that band for about a year and a half; we did one massive world tour, but unfortunately when it came time to record with the band I realised that it was not going to be a democratic process if you like.

I realised that I wasn’t going to be participating creatively in the band and that to me made me realise that my days in the band were numbered. From that and between one thing and another that led to me being politely asked to leave the band. After that I started a band called Riverdogs and we went on to record one album for Epic Records called California which on its release it just fell off the cliff (laughter). We totally ran into record company politics when a new Managing Director came in who decided that because he hadn’t overseen this project he wanted us to go back to the drawing board and start all over again. That again left a really bad taste in my mouth.

So at the time that Joe (Elliott) called me I had been working with multiple song writers and quietly building up a catalogue of songs. I had also been working on my voice; I was signed to CBS Records, I was very, very much along the path towards doing a solo record and I was very happy with it. I had invested a certain amount of time and effort into that but it is not every day that you get a call to join one of the world’s biggest rock bands. Also going in favour of me joining Def Leppard was that I didn’t know any of the guys except Joe who I knew to be a very down to earth kind of guy. He certainly wasn’t like the lead singers that I was used to working with; he was not like David Coverdale, not like Ronnie James Dio, Joe was very much a team player.

When they auditioned me I was also auditioning them (laughter). That process was very much all of us simply getting to know each other. We spent several weeks over in Los Angeles playing music together; we would go into a rehearsal room for a couple of hours at a time. Having said that they knew that I could play a guitar and I knew that they were Def fucking Leppard so that really was a moot point (laughter). However, what they didn’t know about me musically was the fact that I could sing. They obviously knew that I could play but I think that they were genuinely impressed with my vocal abilities. It was more about getting to feel each other out; we played football together and once we even went to the movies together to see The Rolling Stones at the IMAX Theatre in Los Angeles (laughter).

After that we would go back to the rehearsal room where we would sit and talk and I have to say that it really did feel like a courtship. They wanted to make sure that they were making the right decision. Let’s not forget, they were having to replace Steve (Clark) who was not only a founder member of the band, he was also the principal songwriter and lead guitarist. For me, after many bad experiences with bands, I wanted to make sure that this was somewhere I could really have a home. Now after almost twenty seven years that has proven to be the case so I am glad to say that things are working out. Done get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy for them or for me (laughter). We did have a lot in common and I think that is what we were searching for during that courtship.

Joe and I both realised that seeing Marc Bolan performing on Top Of The Pops was the thing that had triggered it for us when we were young. During one of the very first interviews that I was doing with Joe, they asked me what it had been that had made me realise that I wanted to do this as a living and I said “seeing Marc Bolan on Top Of The Pops in 1971” to which Joe shouted out “me too”. So it really was one of those moments. Even though I grew up in Belfast, Phillip (Collen) grew up in Hackney, and the rest of the guys grew up in the Sheffield area, we all grew up in the same era, on the same diet of Top Of The Pops, Alan Freeman, The Friday Rock Show, Sounds, NME, Kerrang!, we all grew up on that same musical diet. So we have a lot that we can relate to. Having said that we all really do have very different musical influences, but there are still certain areas where all of our musical tastes overlap. I think that is what makes it possible for us all to work together.

On the forthcoming tour you will be playing the Hysteria album in its entirety to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. How will the show shape-up, will you play the entire album first and then move onto a greatest hits set or will it be mixed in with the rest of the show?

(Laughter) it’s funny that you should ask. We didn’t really know how to approach it ourselves. We started this part of the tour where we are playing Hysteria in its entirety in Honolulu, Hawaii about a month ago now. On the first show we decided that we would open with some of the greatest hits and then proceed to the Hysteria portion of the show. And I have to be totally honest with you and tell you that it really didn’t work (laughter). So it took us just one night to realise that people are expecting Hysteria in its entirety so we therefore have to lead with that. So that is how the show runs, we play the entire Hysteria album in sequence and then after a very short break, we will play a greatest hits section.

On that note Viv let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great.

It’s my pleasure Kevin, you keep well and I will see you in Nottingham. Bye for now.