Members of the original Dio band come home, as Vivian Campbell returns to Belfast.
Photo: Jimmy Little Jnr
At the end of tonight’s blistering set something unusual happens. After taking his bows, drummer Vinnie Appice willingly takes an LP sleeve from a fan, signs it for him and proudly holds it aloft, showing it to the crowd before leaving the stage. It’s a fitting end to an evening that has seen the band that he is part of, the suitably monikered ‘Last In Line’, lay claim to their part in one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time; Dio’s Holy Diver.
Of course Vinnie was part of the Dio band for many years. As was keyboardist Claude Schnelle, and, on and off, bass player Jimmy Bain, both of whom are present here tonight. But it’s Belfast’s prodigal son Vivian Campbell that is most welcomed. Not only is tonight a return to the City that he used to call home, but it’s also a return to the music that he for years shunned. For there was no love lost between him and his former employer, the vocalist that lent his name to the band, the late Ronnie James Dio. The guitarist left (or was fired, depending on who you believe) in 1985, following a business disagreement, and a bitter fallout followed. Relations between the two never recovered, and so disgruntled was Campbell that he turned his back on this part of his life completely, until now.
Last in Line then, are what is left of the original Dio band, fronted by the likable and talented Andrew Freeman. He’s got big (surely small?) shoes to fill, however, Vivan Campbell is clearly the main focus tonight. For some detractors, his motives remain unclear, but there’s no questioning his commitment to the music. Not only is he playing these songs exactly as they were recorded (he can be heard earlier in the day practicing the intricate guitar solos), but he has also brought the original guitar he recorded them with out of retirement especially for the occasion. There’s that much attention to detail, but then again, he is the boss now, and presumably he knows the scrutiny that he is under.
Opening with, naturally, Stand Up And Shout, the band are on top form from the off, and it’s immediately clear just how much fun everyone is having up on stage. The atmosphere is more akin to a bunch of school friends assembling for a school reunion than a live gig. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t playing well. Despite a slight hiccup during Last In Line, they’re as tight as on the records that are held in such high esteem. The set list reads like a ‘Rough Guide To Heavy Metal Songbook’; Rainbow In The Dark, Holy Diver, King Of Rock And Roll, We Rock, they’re all here. As are more choice cuts such as Gypsy and the menacing Shame On The Night. In fact, the band play the entire Holy Diver album during the course of the evening. There are no new songs or attempts to veer off-road. This is purely a celebration of the music that these men had a hand in creating.
There were no winners in the Dio / Campbell feud, but surely the victor here is the great legacy of music that the band left behind. It’s a pleasure to hear these songs played as they should be, perhaps for the final time, and in his absence, surely even Ronnie himself would begrudgingly agree that these are the men to do it. We’ll never know if the original band could have reunited for one last victory lap, and this is close as we’ll ever get. It’s a damn fine way to throw the horns one final time.