This section looks at the band's first ever public live concert which took place in July 1978 at a school dance event in the Mosborough district of Sheffield, England. Included ar excerpts from the official 1987 'Animal Instinct' biography book plus various band member interview quotes and memories of the start of Def Leppard's live career.
in the beginning
The band's incredible 40 year long live touring career started at 9pm on Tuesday 18th July 1978 in the Mosborough district of Sheffield.
The band had formed from the ashes of Pete Willis and Rick Savage's band Atomic Mass in November 1977 and soon adopted the name Deaf Leopard.
Joe Elliott had dreamt up the band name in art class in 1975 which was later changed to "Def Leppard" after a handful of shows in late 1978.
For this first show "Deaf Leopard" played a school disco event on the outskirts of Sheffield which had been arranged by a promoter called Bootleg Bill. Their only previous "show" was a small rehearsal concert at the Spoon Factory near Bramall Lane at Christmas time in 1977 for around six friends. They played five songs and got an encore.
In late June or early July 1978 the band took a holiday on thein East Anglia (Southern England). The location of this trip could have been influenced by Joe's love of David Bowie and the 'Life On Mars' lyric "From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads'.
Whilst there they decided to travel to nearby Ipswich and saw a concert by U.F.O. on Monday 3rd July at The Gaumont. This show inspired Steve Clark to demand that if the band did not stop their months of rehearsals at the Spoon Factory and play an actual concert he would quit.
Sure enough upon arriving back in Sheffield the band would make its public debut later that month. The number of audience members has been mentioned at various times to be between 50 to 150 students and they were paid five pounds by a teacher.
Featuring the early line-up of Steve Clark, Pete Willis, Joe Elliott, Rick Savage and original drummer Tony Kenning. They played six songs starting with the unreleased track 'World Beyond The Sky' and encored with a cover of Thin Lizzy's 'Jailbreak'. They have since gone on to play over 2,100 concerts in more thanaround the world.
Joe Elliott is pictured below at Westfield School in the Mosborough district of the city in 1989 for the Rock Of Ages documentary. Sitting in front of the stage area. The school has now closed down. For more photos visit the 1978 show page.
Read a collection of show stories below including many from Joe's recent interviews and his own Planet Rock radio show.
Animal Instinct 1987 Biography - Show Story
With Steve ready to jump ship any day, Joe asked Bootleg Bill if he could round up a gig for Def Leppard, pronto. Amazingly, Bill delivered. He booked a show for them at Westfield School. located in a suburban area of Sheffield. There was no money in it (a teacher later paid the band £5 out of his own pocket) and Leppard only had three days to rehearse. Still, it was a gig.
On the surface of it, Def Leppard's public debut at 9pm July 18th, 1978 was a modest affair. They smuggled beer into the school in Tony Kenning's drumkit. The show was held in a small auditorium for a crowd of about one hundred and fifty schoolkids, mostly fourteen - and fifteen - year - old girls, and the band's dressing room was a classroom. It took three trips in Andy Smith's father's car to get all of Leppard's equipment - including a borrowed PA - from Bramall Lane to Westfield, a forty minute drive each way. And the opening was a disaster.
"What happened was that just as we were about to go on, we realised we hadn't tuned the guitars, So we had to get one of the guys helping us bring Steve's Marshall amp into the dressing room - he left the switch on standby."
"So we had to get one of the guys helping us - I think it was Russell Major - to bring Steve's Marshall amp into the dressing room. We tuned up on that. But when Russell set it up again on stage, he left the switch on standby.
"Steve plugged in and walked to the front of the stage, looking brilliant in his tight jeans and long blond hair. All ready to go into the first song, 'World Beyond The Sky', he did his windmill arm motion, just like Pete Townshend, for the big opening chord and nothing happened. No power. Everybody in the audience was laughing. After a few seconds, we started all over again."
Steve wasn't the only Leppard with problems. Halfway through one song, Joe forgot the lyrics and began singing about carpet slippers, belting out the first thing that came into his head.
Despite Steve's technical difficulties and Joe's memory lapse, the Westfield show was a memorable beginning. All but one of the songs they played during the fifty-minute set were originals; they saved Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" for the encore. The audience demanded one too. Andy Smith recalls that a number of schoolgirls in attendance fell in love with Joe, who dazzled the dolls in his tight white jumpsuit (on which his mother had embroidered the name "Zeff," short for Joseph, above the breast pocket).
After the show the Leppards plucked roses from a small garden outside the auditorium to give to their girlfriends. Someone took a photo of everyone together, the girls clutching their roses in celebration.
By the time Joe Elliott finally got home that night, his Mum and Dad were already in bed. "I was sneaking past their bedroom. Unfortunately, our floorboards creak and I woke them up. My Dad came out and said 'How did it go, Lad?' And I just went crazy, 'Oh, it was great! They were cheering for us, it was like a real band. They all clapped and came down to the front of the stage, just like they do on TV on Top of The Pops'
"He was real happy for me, too. From then on, I had their blessing to go out and play rock & roll."
Westfield School, Sheffield 1978/1989
18th July 2018 - Joe Elliott Quote
"WOW It’s 40 years today since we played our first ever gig at WestField school in Sheffield! Holy crap !! Our 50 minute set list was all originals until we encored with Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" !!!! We were paid approx. £5 from a teacher and we also smuggled beer in via the bass drum case to calm our nerves.. Steve’s amp was also on "standby" when we first went on so when he threw the big opening Pete Townsend windmill at the top off the set, nothing came out !!! …. whoops !!! …"
BBC Radio Sheffield - Joe Elliott Interview Quotes September 2013
The First Show
"We kind of hurriedly arranged this gig through a friend of ours called Bill Cooplin or Bootleg Bill we used to call him cause he had this great collection of bootleg records. And he says I've got you a gig at. So we had this gig the following Wednesday. We got back on the Saturday night and we had a gig on the Wednesday so frantic rehearsals Monday and Tuesday. And then how are we gonna get there? We didn't have any transport so all my friends got their Dad's cars and we chucked the drum kit in one of the back of these like saloon cars and the guitars on the back seat of another and crammed ourselves in and we drove over to Westfield School. We were so nervous that we stopped off somewhere - took the bass drum out of the bass drum case and filled the bass drum case with beer because we knew we weren't going to manage this unless we had a little bit of Dutch courage."
"We set up and there we were in front of about 85 kids maybe who all sat on the edge. Right round as far away as possible from the stage because they obviously wanted some kind of - it was '78. They probably wanted the Bee Gees. And they got us playing kind of I don't know a cross between Sabbath, Rush, Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, UFO. This just commercial-ish rock music with very loud guitars and big drums and stuff. And it went down OK for us it was just an excuse to play you know. But when we went off and back into this dressing room behind the stage. I say stage a bunch of tables shoved together, they started cheering for more and we were like really? we haven't got any songs left. So we had been doing a few covers just t keep our - you know to learn how to play you know six, seven months earlier."
"So we came out and we did a song called Jail Break by a band called Thin Lizzy and by then they all came down the front and they knew this song. So they all started bopping up and down and we were looking at each other and going OK we need to write more songs like this. And that was really where it all kind of kicked off."
16th July 2016 - The Joe Elliott Show Quotes
"As I've no doubt told you dozens of times in the past. They were absolutely the launch pad for Def Leppard. We saw them when we were on a holiday on the Norfolk Broads. We took a trip out to Ipswich. To The Gaumont and Steve Clark demanded if we don't start playing gigs he was gonna leave the band. So we rapidly arranged a gig at a place called Westfield School in Sheffield where we got paid the paltry amount of five pounds straight out of a teachers pocket. But it was the beginning of a very long career."
20th July 2013 - The Joe Elliott Show Quotes
The Def Leppard tour is over. We finished on Wednesday night in Canandaigua, Upstate New York which was one day short of the 35th anniversary of the first ever Def Leppard gig at Westfield school in Sheffield. A gig attended by all of 50 people maybe who stood as far away from the stage as they could possibly get compared to last weeks gig in Quebec where an astonishing 85,000 people came. A bit of a contrast. Talking of first ever gigs we weren't really going down that well until we played this song for an encore."
Thin Lizzy/The First Def Leppard Show
"I think it's safe to say that it was a bit of a learning curve for Def Leppard when we played that song in front of about 50 kids at Westfield School. They hadn't been remotely interested in anything that we'd play before because we'd written all these weird songs, actually pretty much everything that ended up on On Through The Night, weird to them at least. But when we came out and played that song, that song being Jailbreak."
Westfield School, Sheffield 1989
Rock Of Ages Documentary 1989 - Steve Clark Interview Quotes
The First Show
"Well the good thing about Def Leppard when I joined is they were the first group. I'd been trying to find other musicians that had the same enthusiasm as myself. And they were very determined from day one. They didn't just sort of wanna go to the pub and then rehearse for 30 minutes. They made it quite clear that every night we'd rehearse for three hours then we'd have a drink after."
"And they were really enthusiastic about writing their own songs. They never just wanted to be a club band coverig Thin Lizzy songs or Top 20 hits to make a little bit of money on the side other than their day job."
"So it was very, the goals were set from day one."
"At one point it got very desperate because I wanted to play so bad live. And these guys. Well the rest of the guys in the group they just wanted to keep rehearsing and polishing. And I said well I could be here in ten years time and still be rehearsing in this bloody Spoon Factory."
"So one night I probably had one light ale too many and I said Joe if we don't do a gig soon that's it I'm gonna find another group. And he was very good about it. He said alright I guess that's it we're gonna do our first show which turned into the Westfield School (show)."
Rock Of Ages Documentary 1989 - Joe Elliott Interview Quotes
The First Show
"And this, amazingly, is it. The very hall. Of course it's changed a little bit since we played here. The stage was actually here. And beyond this wall are the class rooms which we used as dressing rooms."
"We played for approximately 50 minutes I think it was. Which was helped a little bit by the fact that we smuggled in some beer in a bass drum. And one of the teachers that was overseeing the whole thing paid us out of his own pocket five pounds."
"And it was after doing about half a dozen shows in places like schools, pubs and clubs we decided that we wanted to make an E.P. So we beg, borrowed and stole about 150 quid and we went off to Hull and recorded three tracks."
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