The moment Def Leppard saved their future

Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen recalled the moment he grew tired of the band’s career path, which led to a sea change in their fortunes.

He was performing at a state fair in 2005 when he told his bandmates, “Fuck it! We’re better than this,” he told classic rock in a new conversation.

“It was like a fairground, if you can imagine doing a performance at a fairground,” he said. ‘They put out damned lounge chairs! It was completely on Spinal Tap. Such as: ‘Are we going for the puppet show?’ I was so angry. I just thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’” He stated that he never considered leaving the band, but added that “what I thought is that we’re in a rut and we need to change. And everyone supported me in that.”

Singer Joe Elliott explained: “In a way, state fairs are like any other performance: a big stage, a big audience. But there is a stigma attached to it. It’s the difference between an ’80s performer like Madonna doing six nights at Wembley and an ’80s package holiday… at Butlin’s. And at a state fair, you’re just one of the attractions, along with a big wheel and fireworks and a juggling pig or whatever. It’s not exactly Madison Square Garden.”

The band’s decision involved leaving the management of Q Prime and the record label Universal. “If I saw those guys now, it would be all high fives,” Elliott said. “Q Prime was failing and we needed a little more inspiration around us. Howard Kaufman had a different mindset and when he took over, everything changed.”

With the help of Kaufman’s HK Management company, most notably the boss’s chief assistant Mike Kobayashi, Def Leppard started to revive their career. While still in demand as a live act, Universal was no longer interested in them, so they relied on their position to independently release two albums. Eventually their reputations recovered, Universal invited them back and the band is currently part of the Stadium Tour with Motley Crue, Poison and Joan Jett.

“We’ve re-signed with Universal because new people have come in and they see the value in Def Leppard,” Elliott said. “Some of these people bought our records in the ’80s. They understand. This business is all about perception. To get out of that rut we were in, we had to get people to look at the band in a different way, and that was largely thanks to Howard and Mike.

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