As I noted in this piece from last December, in my teenage years I often had front row seats for gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon. By the age of 15 I had moved on to smaller venues and venues without seating, from tiny pubs and clubs to places like the Lyceum and the Roundhouse. The last time that a group of us were gathered at the front of the stalls for an old-style heavy rock gig at the Odeon was a few weeks before our O-Levels: Black Sabbath supported by Van Halen.
I hadn’t been to the Odeon for a few months but had been to the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, the Rainbow in Finsbury Park and the Marquee in Wardour Street a few times, seeing bands like Blondie, Generation X and Buzzcocks. That spring there were semi-secret gigs by the Kinks at the Roundhouse and Tom Petty & the Hearbreakers at the Marquee, and the Damned played the first of their Farewell Gigs at the Rainbow. My listening habits had changed. I wasn’t listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin so much. John Peel on Radio 1 was my radio show of choice, rather than Tommy Vance or Nicky Horne on Capital Radio. I traded in my Genesis records to buy debut albums by little-known bands who would never reach the top 20. I never traded in my Sabbath albums and still had a soft spot for them.
It was a hot day. We were off school in that pre-exam time and the venue was hotter than I was used to. I realize now that most of the gigs I had been to at the Odeon were in the autumn and winter. I had seen Sabbath twice the previous year, in February. We all went in our winter coats and kept them on for both gigs. This one was different. By the end of it we were all covered in sweat, deafened, blinded by the stage lights. This was the classic Black Sabbath line-up, the original quartet with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. When he wasn’t singing Ozzy would regularly drink from a large Evian bottle.
When it was all over and the house lights were up I noticed that the bottle of Evian was still there. A team of roadies was clearing the stage. I went up to one of them and asked for the bottle of water. He wasn’t sure. He asked another roadie who went up to someone else who clearly wasn’t a roadie. It was Harvey Goldsmith, the promoter who would go on to promote Live Aid a few years later. The roadie pointed and Goldsmith looked towards me. I made gestures to indicate that I wanted the bottle of water. He motioned for me to climb up on the stage and get the bottle myself. I did. I stood on the stage of the Hammersmith Odeon, ten minutes after the band had finished their set, and looked out at the departing crowd. I swigged from the bottle of Evian until it was empty. It was lukewarm water, I’m sure it was. Knowing what I now know, draining the bottle that Ozzy had just been drinking from could have been the most dangerous thing I had ever done. As things stand, more than three decades later, it’s still the only time I’ve shared a drink with Ozzy Osbourne.