Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen says Abu Dhabi F1 is 'another level to step up to'

The British group are enjoying a tour playing the biggest shows of their four-decade career

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In a saturated concert market, one particular tour is a resounding success.

British band Def Leppard's trek with fellow rockers Motley Crue has been slaying US stadiums throughout the summer, selling 1.3 million tickets and earning $173.5 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.

Four decades into their career, not only is it Def Leppard’s biggest tour, but it has set the stage for a run of further stadium concerts in the UK and Ireland next summer.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will experience the hype on Sunday, when the group perform the prestigious race-day concert.

In an exclusive interview with The National, guitarist Phil Collen says the band will arrive in the UAE capital a well-oiled machine.

As a fan of boxing, he uses former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson as an analogy to explain the band’s durability.

“He was the most dangerous fighter in the world and he really only lost when he stopped training and putting the work in that was required,” Collen says.

"This is how we always approached it as a band and why we are still here. You need to keep up with the work you do, otherwise it will slip away."

Another reason why Def Leppard’s star remains bright, Collen says, is that they are part of a handful of groups delivering the kind of anthemic and guilt-free rock thrills increasingly missing from the current generation of guitar bands.

"It's about celebration. This means loud guitars, big lyrics and everyone chanting along," he says.

"We came from that era and it is hard to find that now because many haven't got that kind of endurance.

“And that's really the trick: It's about coming from the other side singing and playing better."

'A cross between AC/DC and Queen'

Formed in Sheffield in 1977, Def Leppard built a profile as leaders of a movement dubbed the "new wave of British heavy metal" and found success through a series of well-received early albums, including 1981's High 'n' Dry, whose single Bringin' on the Heartbreak became one of the first rock videos played on the fledgling music channel MTV.

Then with the release of 1987 album Hysteria, Def Leppard became global stars.

Their energetic blend of rock muscle and euphoric hooks resulted in half a dozen hits, including Pour Some Sugar on Me and Animal, and the album sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.

In addition to releasing “the rock version” of Michael Jackson's blockbuster 1982 album Thriller, Collins says Hysteria is the realisation of Def Leppard’s career mission.

“We wanted our music to be a cross between AC/DC and Queen,” he says.

“It’s about having that powerful sound with great melodies.”

It was an approach that initially didn’t go down well with the harsher sounds of UK’s metal communities.

"We realised early on that we mustn’t worry about that and the objective is to create stuff that we love with the hope that somebody else loves it as well," he says.

"Since we loved the bands, we thought 'wouldn’t it be great to create a hybrid of both'.

"We wanted to create music that we personally can be fans of."

And that meant overcoming challenges in and outside the studio.

The recording of Hysteria was beset with struggles, including a cost blowout that made the release, at an eye-watering $3.5 million, one of the most expensive rock albums ever recorded.

Even more impressive were the dynamic tracks being performed by drummer Rick Allen after losing his left arm in a horrific car accident just before the first batch of recording sessions in 1984.

Then there were the songs themselves, such as Love Bites and Gods of War, all immaculately produced by band Svengali Mutt Lange and featuring complex three-part harmonies and interlocking guitar arpeggios.

"Love Bites is essentially a studio song because it has all these interesting vocals and it became number one on the Billboard charts before we even played it live," Collen says.

"So we had to go back in the studio and basically learn how to play it live in concerts. It was really scary at first, but eventually it worked out and now it’s a major part of the show."

Ready for the challenge

Phil Collen of Def Leppard on stage during The Stadium Tour at Truist Park in Atlanta, Georgia in June. Photo: Live Nation

An interesting aspect of the Abu Dhabi concert will be the songs performed from new album Diamond Star Halos.

Released in May, the group’s first album in seven years finds them channeling the heady sounds of the Hysteria era with tracks bombastic in scope and good humoured, such as the churning Liquid Dust and tongue-in-cheek U Rock Mi.

More than an hour long, it is one of Def Leppard’s longest albums and was born out of the monotony of Covid-19.

“We were really supposed to do only an EP of four songs and just go on tour, but with the tour constantly being delayed we just kept writing,” he says.

“There was a lot of inspiration. We were all apart, we just kept sending parts of songs to each other and we found a way to create something good out of the whole Covid experience.”

With the album cracking the top of 10 of the US charts and new songs slipping easily into a set list full of greatest hits, Collen is confident Def Leppard’s Abu Dhabi show will leave the crowd smiling.

"We all feel good, sound great and we will put in that extra effort. I know I will be in the gym and kicking the boxing bag on the morning of the show," Collen says.

"It was massive ambition that got us where we are today and I feel we still have that. We have played stadiums before but not with this consistency and quality every night.

“And with the Formula 1 in Abu Dhabi, this is just another level for us to step up to and we are looking forward to it.”

Def Leppard performs on Sunday as part of the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix. Access to the show is exclusive to Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ticket holders. Tickets are available online at www.yasmarinacircuit.com and through the Yas Marina Circuit Call Centre on 800 927 or +971 (0) 2 659 9800.

Updated: November 18, 2022, 6:02 PM
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