Back in the days of old I must admit to having a serious gig addiction, living in a major city in the UK with a legendary venue on the doorstep made it rather difficult not to. Going through a box of old tickets the other day I realised that I had actually seen Dio the band play the three times rather than to two I can remember, First when it all began on the Holy Diver Tour in Leicester at the wonderful De Montfort Hall. Even in those teenage days for me Dio was huge and Rainbow and Black Sabbath loomed large, yet that first tour and first album from Dio seemed somehow bigger than it all. It was Rock and Roll Heaven and one of those moments in time you never forget. A year later we were back at the same venue for ‘Last in Line’. The gig I’d forgotten was a few days later at the Concert Hall in Nottingham. Inexplicably I wouldn’t see Ronnie on stage again until 2007 – a massive 23 years later! That was with Heaven and Hell when the played Perth – that’s what moving to Australia does – some artists just leave it late to visit!
Judas Priest on the other hand I never saw as a kid and are a band I’ve come to appreciate much later. The first time I saw Judas Priest was in Perth Australia in 20001 on the ‘Demolition’ Tour and a guy called Tim Ripper Owens was singing for them. I saw the band in 2009 with Halford at the helm in the US when they played with Whitesnake, but nothing made an impact like that first time.
In October we get to hear the wonderful music of Dio and Judas Priest when Simon Wright (Dio and AC/DC) and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens bring the music of both bands to Australia under the ‘Metal Gods’ banner. I caught up with Simon to talk about the show and memories of both AC/DC and Dio.
Mark: Hi Simon.
Simon: Hello Mark!
Mark: How are you today?
Simon: I’m good, how you doing mate?
Mark: Not too bad. I must admit I’m pretty excited that you’ll be down to see us in October for ‘Metal Gods’ with Tim playing the music of Judas Priest and Dio. The world could do with a bit more Dio I reckon.
Simon: I couldn’t agree more. We’re looking forward to it. We did a run with Tim a while back now before Covid shut everything down ad it was great, it went down really well. It was great playing the Priest stuff, it’s amazing to think Tim was in the band 7 or 8 years.
Mark: He was singing for them when I saw them Downunder for the first time on teh ‘Demolition’ Tour. You can’t go far wrong with Judas Priest but Dio has to be one of my absolute favourite bands, I know so many people who knew Ronnie and there’s never a bad word said. Your own story is an amazing one too. I was leafing through my vinyl and I actually have, and I don’t know how I got it, a copy of a record called ‘Rough Justice’.
Simon: Oh Tytan yeah, with Kevin Riddles (Angel Witch bassist).
Mark: I guess that’s sort of where it began for you?
Simon: Yeah there was a band I was in from Manchester before that called A II Z they had an album, and EP and a single – I played on the single. They toured with Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden and then I joined and we went on a tour of England with Girlschool, a great bunch of gals, and that was my first initiation – it was great. The Tytan album – a lot of that on drums is Les Binks from Priest, I only did like two tracks, they were finishing up the album when I stepped in. Les was just doing the album, he wasn’t going to join the band. We did one show with Tytan in Belgium in the space of a year and a half, so I thought (laughs) “This ain’t gonna work.”
Mark: And then the next thing you know, you’re 19 years old and applying to an ad in Sounds, a wonderful magazine I just to devour as a kid ever weekend.
Simon: Me too!
Mark: And you end up in AC/DC!?
Simon: Yeah, I had no idea who it was for, it didn’t say in the ad, it just said “Drummer wanted, if you don’t hit hard, don’t apply”. So I went down and auditioned and I had no idea who I was auditioning for. But they asked me back the next day and I got to meet the guys and they were just great, they were so low-key, so ‘not’ Rock Stars. It made the whole thing a lot easier to deal with and digest and next thing you know they said “Well, it looks like you’re in the band then!”
Mark: That must have been like a whirlwind, coming from a band like Tytan to an already established band like AC/DC who were just about to put out what I consider some of the best albums of the Brian Johnson era. What was it like stepping into the studio with them for the first time?
Simon: Well it was a bit daunting in some ways but in other ways it wasn’t because we were all getting along and we all liked the same things – simple stuff like having a beer and stuff. And rehearsals, you know, were never very serious, we’d just be jamming along to stuff and figuring out parts between Mal and Angus. I remember the studio was in Switzerland near Lake Geneva so that was a little bit of an eye-opener as I’d never really travelled much and next thing you know I’m in a hotel overlooking Lake Geneva. But then we got down to it, and it was just a case of getting the right ‘feel’ for the tracks which didn’t take too long as we’d been rehearsing. But all in all it was a great experience, surreal – at times I couldn’t believe I was there doing it.
Mark: I’ll bet the touring was interesting – you’d have got to see a lot of the world doing that.
Simon: Oh yeah.
Mark: So how hard was it to then step away from all of that?
Simon: Well it was a gradual sort of thing, we did so much touring like you say, but I wanted to do other stuff. As far as the music went if you have other ideas about stuff that kind of music can be quite constricting. That’s not to take away from any of it – it’s a machine, it works, it’s fantastic, and long may it continue. But I just had to be honest with myself and stuff. I had to move on really because I wanted to do more with my playing. And luckily enough it wasn’t too long before I got to play in Ronnie’s band. So that worked out, there wasn’t this huge long wait to get in another decent band, so that worked out really well.
Mark: It’s a great break, in my opinion Ronnie James Dio was and will forever be one of the greatest voices in Rock. I sadly only got to meet him briefly the one time as you do when you are young outside a show, but over the years I’ve talked to a lot of members from Rowan to Craig and a few others. You were there for that magical period – I love the later Dio albums especially Magica. Did you have a favourite?
Simon: Not really, the albums that I did I think stand up well in the catalogue, I donlt have a favourite but there were certain parts of each album that I love, everything from ‘My Eyes’ on ‘Lock Up the Wolves’ which has some great lyrics and some incredible guitar from Rowan. Then there’s ‘Killing the Dragon’ which has some great moments when Doug came on board, and ‘Magica’ was great – working with Ronnie in his studio and figuring it all out with him and Craig, with me messing with the drum machine for the demos. We’d come up with all kinds of stuff and it was a great experience. Sometimes guitar players program drum machines and it turns out to be a real mess so you have to fix it like a drummer would play it! So I’ve no real favorites just great memories of them all.
Mark: You’ve played with some wonderful guitarists in Dio and I regularly catch up with Doug. I loved what you were doing with Craig in Dio Disciples. What’s happening there at the moment?
Simon: Well actually ‘Dio Disciples’ has kind of been put on hold. We switched gears a little in the middle of that and started doing this thing called ‘Dio Returns’ which was all about this hologram which we last toured with in 2019. We had lots of plans and then all of a sudden the world shut down, so we hope to get the Project back on the road again next year but I’m not sure that is going to be with a hologram. It will definitely have the LED screens and this 3-D technology that te guy who did the hologram has been working with. He showed me some of it and it’s great, it really comes out of the screen at you! It’s going to be great to get something up and running with that next year.
Mark: That sounds great. There’s always mixed feelings about things like that I guess but for me any opportunity to see the Dio material is not something I’m going to miss out on.
Simon: It’s that whole thing about people not liking what we’re doing. When we did those show in the US people were coming up and thanking us for doing it, they loved the shows as a lot never got to see Ronnie live. It’s great to see that. Ronnie was a family member and we are just paying our respects to someone we loved. We never saw a problem with that but if people do then just don’t go.
Mark: Well everyone I know who went loved it. It’s only those that would never have bought tickets that were complaining about it.
Simon: Ronnie was such an engaging guy, he had a great capacity for remembering faces and names and he would always listen, he’d bring you into his world. A remarkable man.
Mark: Sadly it was a long time between shows for me it was years till I saw him after the Dio days when he was doing ‘Heaven and Hell’. Who’s playing guitar on the Metal Gods dates?
Simon: Well there’s two – I’ve worked with Joel MacDonald before, he’s amazing, but I’m not sure of the other guitar payer r the keyboard player, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them yet. But James (Morley, The Angels) assures me everything is going great working out the songs and getting the show together.
Mark: I spoke to James the other day, he’s good value.
Simon: (laughs) He’s a good egg.
Tim 'Ripper' Owens who plays with Simon in Metal Gods
Mark: I read through your bio the other day and I must admit the one thing I didn’t know or had forgotten was that you played with UFO?
Simon: Yeah, that happened in 1995. For the longest time there – about three or four moths I was talking to Michael Schenker’s manager, a girl called Bella, who sadly isn’t with us anymore. And I thought it was going to be the Michael Schenker Group, so she sent me a set list to learn and then just didn’t get back for ages so I thought “Oh well”. Then she called and said “Well listen, things have changed it’s not Michael Schenker Group anymore it’s UFO! Are you OK with that?” (laughs) I just said “Well of course”. So we met up a few weeks after that in Arizona, I drove out with my drums and we got one straight away – they’re London, I’m Manchester so we understood each other! And we just started rehearsing and carried on with it for three and a half years. It was great.
Mark: And that was all the original members except you?
Simon: It was all the original members except me Michael, Paul Raymond, Pete Way, Phil Mogg.
Mark: UFO was the first band I saw, I was on a school trip in Greece and I saw that the band was playing the night we got in. That was the show where Phil just walked off stage about 5 or 6 songs in and didn’t come back,
Mark: It was a memorable first gig for a young kid! The locals proceeded to start ripping up the seats and I thought I better leave!
Simon: (laughs) There was a lot of substances and drinking going on back then I imagine!
Simon: There was a lot of drinking when I was in the band but no substances. We had some run-ins with Michael – he walked off stage a couple of times, when we were in Northern California he walked off and when we got to Japan he walked off stage in Tokyo there was a big fight and he smashed his guitar up. He had issues with things back then and I’ve since met him a couple of times since at Festivals and things and he’s always been nice to me. I never had a problem with him but I think there was bad blood between him and the rest of the band.
Mark: He’s always been great with him, but I must admit I was very nervous the first time I spoke to him.
Simon: He’s playing as well as he ever has at the moment.
Mark: Absolutely and producing some great new albums. It’s interesting how there’s always these connections. It must have been interesting to play with ‘Operation Mindcrime’?
Simon: I had a little bit to do with the albums but Brian Tichy did the majority of it as I was doing other stuff. I was there more for the Geoff Tate version of Queensryche with Rudy and Robert Sarzo and Kelly Gray, it was very difficult for Geoff as he was getting all this bad press, but there’s always two sides to every story. It just became one big slanging match and he was so relieved when all that got sorted out and he gave them the name and then moved on and did ‘Operation Mindcrime’ his band. So it worked out in the end.
Mark: So where did it all start for you Simon? I imagine it was all pretty early on, with you being in AC/DC before you were 20? When did you know that music was going to be so important in your life?
Simon: I just found it easy to play drums, I think it would have been different if it had been more difficult. By easy I mean I was watching Top of the Pops and all those bands on the Tele (TV) and kind of tapping along with me Gran’s knitting needles
Simon: I just really enjoyed it. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing I didn’t know how to pay a drum kit or how it worked at that point but I just found it easy to do. I can be a bit inpatient at times and so I don’t think if it hadn’t come easy I would have pursued it. So you get your first lit and you fix it up and then you get a cymbal, then there’s these two cymbals that go together with a foot pedal and you go What the fuck’s that?” (laughs)
Simon: You just sort of stumble your way through it. I’d just sit playing along with headphones after school. Playing along to records and just doing it the really simple way. I never had any lessons I just thought “I’m gonna do this.” But I wasn’t going to be told what to do – that never appealed to me the thought of being taught – so I just figured it out for myself. And that was when I was like 9, 10 and I got my first kit when I was 12 and just kept at it. And luckily my mother and father were nothing but encouragement. They didn’t mind the racket so I was lucky that way.
Mark: And amazing where it all led.
Mark: If you could have been a ‘Fly on the wall’ for the creation of any great Rock album from any point in history, and it’s interesting asking you this as you were of course on the AC/DC album of that name…
Mark: what would you liked to have seen coming together in the studio?
Simon: Well that’s just really hard to pin down if you think of all the great moments that have been on all those incredible albums. I donlt know why but for me ‘Deep Purple – Made in Japan’ – I would have loved to have been on teh side watching how all that went down. The thing is having played in Japan it can be a strange experience because you play and you finish the song and for a minute there there’s this silence and then there’s this huge amount of applause. The first time I went there I wondered what was going on, but it’s just because their audiences are very polite. So having listened to the tracks on ‘Made in Japan’ about 3000 times!
Simon: It is one of my favourite albums, and just the fury of the band at that time and the power you can feel – to get inspired to do that with it being kinda awkward, things like ‘Space Truckin” they really go for it I just wonder how they got that performance in front of that polite crowd.
Mark: I know what you mean it’s as if teh crowd waits to be completely sure the band has hit that last note.
Mark: One of the other great bands you’ve played for is Rhino Bucket, great band,
Simon: Yeah that was a great time in Rhino Bucket, I still keep in touch with George, he’s a good friend, we’re really close. It was a great laugh – we had a good time on the road.
Mark: I have a friend Mark Knight who plays with them occasionally.
Simon: I know Mark, he lives in the Valley, we just moved up into the foothills a couple of years ago. I see him every now and again at the pub.
Mark: Thank you so much for your time Simon. It will be wonderful to see you Sir when you hit Australia
Simon: Thank you Mark,
Mark: I’m just hoping that the set is skewed a little more to Dio than Judas Priest, but two very great bands that I know will bring a lot of people to the shows. How on earth do you choose what to play?
Simon: Well, you know we obviously do all the classics and it’s pretty even stevens. I’m looking forward to playing a couple of Tim’s tracks like ‘Burn in Hell’ and ‘One on One’ so those are the only I guess, newer ones, the rest are just the classics.
Mark: That’s sure to please the crowd! It’s going to be great!
Simon: Sounds good Mark, looking forward to seeing you man, all the best!
Judas Priest and DIO are arguably the seminal Godfathers of Heavy Metal. For the first time in Australia, two former members of these bands will come together to form Metal Gods, in what will be the ultimate ode to Judas Priest and DIO. Metal Gods will feature singer Ripper Owens – famed vocalist for Judas Priest after the departure of Rob Halford in 1992 – and Drummer, Simon Wright, who was a member of AC/DC between 1983 and 1989 before leaving the group to join Ronnie James Dio’s band.
Friday, October 14, 2022: Mansfield Tavern – BRISBANE, QLD
Special guests: Bon But Not Forgotten & Motorized
Saturday, October 15, 2022: Bridgeway Live – ADELAIDE, SA
Sunday, October 16, 2022: The Corner Hotel – MELBOURNE, VIC
Friday, October 21, 2022: Manning Bar – SYDNEY, NSW
Saturday, October 22, 2022: Badlands – PERTH, WA
Tickets are on sale from www.oztix.com.au.