THE EYES of the world will be on Birmingham next week as the UK’s ‘Second City’ hosts the 2022 Commonwealth Games – and Black Sabbath guitar hero Tony Iommi is bursting with pride in his hometown.
The Brummie rock star is helping spearhead a high-profile Opening Ceremony for the Games on Thursday in front of a 35,000 crowd and an estimated global television audience of ONE BILLION.
The spectacular show, written, produced and starring an all-Brummie cast of singers, musicians, dancers, poets and actors, is designed to showcase Britain’s most multicultural city.
Tony says he is “bursting with pride” to be part of the production but admits there will be more than a hint of nerves as he steps out onstage at the Alexander Stadium, home of UK athletics.
It will be the guitar hero’s first major appearance since Sabbath played their final farewell more than five years ago at Birmingham’s then Genting Arena on the National Exhibition Centre campus.
“A billion people tuning in is a huge figure,” Tony tells me as we catch up for a chat. “It’s going to be seen not just across the Commonwealth but throughout the world. We really have to do Birmingham proud.
“Representing Brum is a great honour and I’m bursting with pride to be doing it. I’ve flown the flag for Birmingham all of my life because it’s my city and it’s given me wonderful opportunities.
“I like to think that Black Sabbath helped to put Birmingham on the map musically, and it’s great now that the Games ceremony will feature so many talented people from the city.
“It means a hell of a lot to me. But I have to admit, there’ll be a bit of stage fright on the night. I haven’t played onstage at a big show for five years since the final Sabbath show in February 2017.”
Tony and renowned city saxophonist Soweto Kinch will lead a dream sequence entitled Hear My Voice, based on the title track from 2020 film Trial Of The Chicago Seven.
The soulful song, originally by Celeste, has been re-imagined by Brummie R&B acts Indigo Marshall and Gambimi, who will also join the Sabbath icon onstage.
But that’s not even the half of it.
After Tony and Soweto play an extended instrumental lead-in, they will be joined by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, a 700-strong community choir and ballet dancers splashing in a specially created canal.
“It’s a very big production,” he says. “We start full rehearsals on Monday, then we’ll do it live in front of an invited audience in a dummy run on Tuesday. There’s a day off – then it’s showtime.”
The gig will be Tony’s biggest audience since Sabbath played at the California Jam in 1974, a festival headlined by Deep Purple and Emerson Lake & Palmer, with more than 250,000 fans in attendance and beamed across the US on television.
But it’s not actually the first time heavy metal founder Tony has played with a saxophonist.
“In the early 1960s, when we we going by the name of the Polka Tulk Blues Band, we had a sax player,” he recalls. “There was Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler, the sax player and a slide guitarist.
“But it didn’t last five minutes. We decided that we were better as a four-piece and carried on from there. I’ve not performed with a sax player since then so it’s going to be quite an experience.”
Plans for the performance were drawn up in secret during a series of meetings chaired by Broad Street boss Mike Olley in the city centre. “They already had the song they wanted us to perform,” says Tony. “I had to learn it, and I’ve been practicing it ever since.”
Back in 2017, Tony wrote a choral piece entitled How Good It Is for Birmingham Cathedral, and performed it with a small choir “but I never imagined ever playing with an orchestra and 700 voices,” he admits. “That’s going to be something!”
Also appearing at the Opening Ceremony will be Brummie chart stars Duran Duran, Birmingham Conservatoire graduate and mezzo-soprano Samantha Oxborough, Birmingham Royal Ballet and musicians from The Royal Marines.
There will be a huge cast of dancers, including 200 members of inclusive disability dance company Critical Mass and a parade of iconic Birmingham-made cars in red, white and blue.
The show is set to start at 7:15pm and gates to the Alexander Stadium will open at 5pm. It will be televised on BBC One and iPlayer, with none other than Brummie Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight CBE as executive producer.
The opening ceremony is scheduled to finish at 10:30pm. For more news on Brum’s Commonweath Games visit the official website. To learn more about big city Brum and its many attractions, head to visitbirmingham.
Meanwhile, you can hear Tony’s latest guitar performance on Ozzy Osbourne’s Degradation Rules, a new track which recalls early Sabbath, released today from Ozzy’s upcoming Patient Number 9 album.
Main Tony Iommi image by Ross Halfin. Alexander Stadium image courtesy Birmingham City Council. Critical Mass image by Graeme Braidwood.
Read all about it! A version of this post also appears in today’s Birmingham Mail newspaper, by the way.