First Gig – Dio and Denzil the Dragon at The Hammersmith Odeon: May 1986

Dio encourages his scary looking keyboard player to cut short the ten minute long keyboard solo…

I’m sure we all have memories of our first time…the butterflies in your stomach, the nervous feeling as you wondered what it would be like, would it go well, would it be fun? Would you be “safe”…

First gigs are A Big Thing in your life after all.

My first gig was to see Dio at Hammersmith Odeon (now Apollo) in May 1986. I was sixteen. I had just finished my O levels (GCSEs for the youngsters). The ticket was £8.50.  Cheque in the post. I pay more than that in booking fees half the time nowadays.

I had been to London a couple of times before – I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Young Vic, and the Paul Daniels‘ Magic Show at The Dominion Theatre a few years before, but this was something else. Watching a small elf-like man perform magical effects onstage would be completely different to having seen  Paul Daniels..

I caught the smell of marijuana in the air whilst sitting in the balcony seats for the first time in my life. You didn’t get that at the Paul Daniels magic show. Or even at the Young Vic.

For the uninitiated, Ronnie James Dio sung with Rainbow and Black Sabbath before striking out solo cleverly calling the band “Dio”. He released a few decent albums in the early eighties, perhaps the best of which was the first – Holy Diver. In keeping with the fashion of Daft Album Covers by Heavy Metal Bands, this featured a painting of a demonic creature throwing a chained-up vicar into the sea. Not the easiest of covers to talk about when your dad’s a vicar, it must be said…(“What’s that picture son? Why is that demonic figure violently hurling a bound and chained vicar to an early grave? Can we have a little chat..?”)

Try explaining this one to your dad if he’s a vicar…

The lyrics of his songs were heavy on the following interchangeable items: Rainbows, Demons, Dreams, Evil, Hearts, Fire, Rock and the occasional Wolf. All a bit Lord of the Rings, which did little for me but the music was fast and heavy, and that did appeal.

Dio was a powerful singer, and aside from this was perhaps best known for his “devil horn” trademark finger sign. In the eighties, it all felt rather subversive. It is now flashed by six year olds having their photos taken. Dio was also famously somewhat diminutive. When he was in Black Sabbath, the roadies once put a box in front of his microphone stand at sound check “for him to stand on…”

The tour I went to see was in support of the Sacred Heart album, which had benefited from a Top 30 hit single: Rock and Roll Children. Dio’s show had an elaborate stage set incorporating, for some reason, an animatronic Dragon. This was the ’80s so you can imagine how life-like it was. I think you could even make out the gaffer tape keeping the neck on…

The British Music Press – including Kerrang! – found Dio’s imagery rather pompous, and thus did what the British Music Press do best, and took the mickey – christening the dragon “Denzil”.

At the climax of the show, Ronnie James Dio waved his (presumably magic) sword around and “slayed” Denzil, which was supposed to emit flames from it’s mouth. On the day, Dio appeared to me to get his sword stuck, or was possibly struggling to reach the right button at the back of Denzil’s throat despite the added reach that his sword and high platform heels gave him. After a rather long pause and no little fumbling around, Denzil eventually rather awkwardly coughed up a few sparks to tumultuous applause, and the enormous relief of everyone concerned. If you have ever tried to burp a fractious 6 month old baby at 3 in the morning you’ll know what I mean.

The set featured not just an extended guitar solo and drum solo (pretty standard for metal bands) but also a bass solo and keyboard solo, both of which had all the sustained dramatic interest of watching sheep eating grass in a field.

Most memorable of all, however, was the incredible, ear-splitting volume of the band. I had never heard anything like it. The wall of distortion pinned me back, even in Row K of the balcony, vibrating through head and body. That doesn’t happen to me now. Either I have been deafened (probably), PA systems have improved (definitely), or Health and Safety has intervened, and amps are no longer turned up to “eleven”.

Dio bounced around on his heels with energy to spare, threw his devil horn finger signs prolifically and sang his biggest hit “Long Live Rock and Roll Children of the Rainbow’s Sacred Heart”.

It was a wonderful evening and a great first time….

Record #31: Dio – Stand Up and Shout

RIP Ronnie James Dio: who sadly died almost 24 years to the day after this gig on May 16th 2010.

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Categories: Heavy Metal, Live Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

19 replies

  1. what a great show to have seen as your first. who opened?

    my first metal show was Stryper in 1985.

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  2. Dio!! That´s hardcore! lol… I think my first proper concert was Eurythmix back in their glory years… Annie and Dave all dressed in black leather- Sweet Dreams are made of this… indeed they are.

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  3. Saw Dio twice on that tour, both times at the Philadelphia Spectrum (torn down in 2009). First time was Sept 85 and the second was June 86. Both times Dio was amazing and that dragon totally blew me away. Great memories.

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  4. For me it was Quiet Riot at Hammersmith Odeon in 1984. Supported by British attempt at glam metal, Roxx. Completely agree with you on the nervous anticipation ahead of concert….just how loud was it going to be?! And then the volume! Concerts today just aren’t as loud as they used to be.

    I never saw Dio on stage…..I saw most of the metal greats, but never managed that one!

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  5. Finger NOT on the pulse – I had no idea that Dio had died. God. That is so incredibly sad!

    I love your retelling of your first gig. What did you think of his appearance/performance in ‘Tenacious D, the Pick of Destiny’? I know I’m making an assumption that you’ve seen it…

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  6. Thoroughly enjoyed this. I was at one of these Hammersmith shows too, having been gifted tickets by RJD himself – I’d won a trip to see and meet him the week before in (oh yes) Belgium. He was the nicest celebrity I’ve ever met, and went out of his way to make me (just another 14-year-old fanboy) welcome. I also had my photo taken with Keel, whose Ron Keel tickled me so that I smiled in the picture. I’d bought their two Gene Simmons-produced albums so didn’t object.

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  7. £8.50. Wow.

    And you saw Claude’s moustache take a keyboard solo. Awesome!

    Amazing to think of that today, a band of that stature with (even then) so many great tunes to pull out live, and having four solos!

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  8. I went to the Hammersmith show as well and was in the balcony. I seem to remember enjoying Dio (despite the dragon part) but not Keel (whose name I had completely forgotten about).

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  9. This was also my first concert I was 15 and I also saw Paul Daniels a couple of years earlier!! My memories of this concert were counting the towers of speakers on either side of the stage and my cloths vibrating as they were testing the drums prior to the start, the following day I lost my hearing for about 20 minutes. I was only into metal for a couple of years but I always listen to Dio from time to time Ronnie had such a great voice.

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