In the late 1980s, a good pal of mine worked for a well known music promoter and former Eurovision star. One of his specialities was to bring in stars either past their prime, or on the skids, for Irish tours. The Irish would never give up on a star was this promoter’s mantra: The hits will keep them coming to shows.
One such act was Marvin Lee Aday, a.k.a. Meat Loaf. As well as being wheelchair-bound for a spell in the 1980s after breaking his leg jumping off a stage in Ottawa, Meat was to all intents and purposes immobile in every possible musical sense. A few years earlier he had “embraced” the 1980s’ power-pop-rock sound with the abysmal, Blind Before I Stop album, a disc produced by German Boney M mastermind Frank Farian. The album’s masturbatory title did little to hide the mess within, and even a crowdpleaser like David Hasselhoff would have struggled with songs such as Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries, Special Girl and Rock ‘N’ Roll Hero.
One possible salvation appeared in the shape of a new musical foil, John Parr – the pair duetted on Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries – but Meat made a balls of that one, allegedly falling out with Parr on stage in London. With his record deal about to go too, old Meat was a goner. He was reduced to touring ‘intimate’ venues — the types he would have ignored long before Bat Out of Hell broke. But he still had pockets of fans in Ireland and the UK he could depend on.
The rural rockers of Ireland, in particular, are the type of loyal fan every star craves. So long as there’s a fella throwing shapes with a loud guitar and an act who’ll play the hits, they’ll go for it. And so, in 1989, Meat Loaf was booked on a ramshackle tour of some of Ireland’s worst community centres, ballrooms, hotel function rooms and other assorted sheds suddenly deemed good enough to host rock royalty. He even turned up in a few fields.
The promoters were so confident that this tour would be a hit that they booked Status Quo for the same one the following year. Neither act refused the itinerary (or the money).
With such an iconic star as Meat Loaf in town, the people of rural Ireland came out in their droves. Practically every show was a sell-out with the doormen more than happy to ram a few more heads into each gig if the price was right.
Bar sales rocketed as everyone in town got pissed in advance of hearing Bat Out Of Hell on their doorstep. The shows were rowdy and rocking, the band were just fantastic, and the tour personnel were enjoying their brush their stardom. But, a couple of overstuffed gigs in, Meat Loaf was beginning to crack.
There were too many people at each ‘intimate’ show, and for a man who had been playing stadiums a few years back, this wasn’t what the dream had mapped out. The tour reached its nadir when it pulled into Moate, a town in Co. Westmeath famous not only for being the birthplace of one half of folk duo Foster and Allen, but also for having the widest main street in Ireland at the time.
Two or three songs into the gig, and the pressure was building up at the front.
“Please guys, can you move back a couple of steps?” pleaded Meat as he finished You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, to an audience on the move, horizontally and vertically. “Someone’s gonna get hurt.”
About six people heard him. The rest of them were either screaming for the hits or trying to finish their cans of Fosters which, alongside Harp, Hoffmans and Furstenberg, was the stable tinned lager at Irish gigs of the time. I was being crushed down the back, my previous gigging experience limited to seeing Mamas Boys, Christy Moore and, of course, local hero entertainer Joe Dolan.
The gig carried on, and more and more people swelled the already packed Community Centre. As this was a local gig for the tour promoter, there was no way he was refusing anyone from his neck of the woods, particularly if they arrived at the door brandishing cash.
Earlier in the tour Meat had assigned a new role to my tour managing pal Marty – to protect him, to be his bodyguard. Marty told us he’s “take a bullet” for Meat, such was his love of the big man’s music.
As the Moate gig stepped into gear, Meat Loaf’s new bodyguard sensed that the man himself was about to explode. He had erupted a few times over the past few nights. Marty moved into position on the side of the stage to reassure Meat that everything was O.K. He liked reassurances, did Marvin, and my friend Marty was just the man to give them to him. But the crowd was far from reassuring. Empty beer cans began to be hurled around the venue. Some clanged off the side of the stage.
With the gig still building momentum, a lone Dr. Marten boot broke the imaginary wall between performer and audience and landed on stage.
Now, in his previous arena-filling life, Meat Loaf was more accustomed to frenzied females feverishly whipping off their panties before launching them towards the stage. He was no stud, but as his sweaty arena show reached its peak there seemed to be no stopping more excitable female audience members. But there was none of those in rural Ireland tonight.
A few moments later another item of men’s footwear landed on stage, followed intermittently by several other items of clothing, none of which resembled silk panties. Meat Loaf was having none of it.
“Stop fucking throwing things!” he roared, the glare in his eyes adding the necessary ‘or else’. The crowd didn’t care. Beer cans, glasses, bottles and whatever else was getting in the way of the increasingly crushed audience began to arrive on stage at various intervals before, during and after songs. The odd unfinished cigarette also came up. As a junior smoker at the time who was well accustomed to sharing cigs with my pals (in fact it was the norm) I thought this was an affectionate gesture for Meat Loaf to take a drag. Not so.
“I’m fucking leaving here man,” Meat Loaf roared, to Marty by the side of the stage.
“No way! You can’t,” Marty told Meat. “They’ll fucking kill you.”
A white runner boot, its path to the stage illuminated by the arc of a spotlight, then hit the star turn.
“Fuck you!” Meat Loaf roared back, and he promptly stormed off stage, microphone dropping to the floor in a screech of feedback. The band – a bunch of hired hands most likely on wages as poor as the food throughout the tour – were not yet fully competent in reading Meat Loaf’s signals, and they played on. Was this a costume change? “I dunno, I’m only the drummer.”
Backstage in the narrow hallway which trebled as dressing room, load-in point and backstage area, Meat Loaf was fuming. Like the band, the crowd hadn’t yet realised he’d stormed off stage so not only did his grand exit not achieve the desired effect, but most people there thought it was part of the show.
Supremely pissed off, he reluctantly went back on to about a thousand roars for Bat Out Of Hell.
As more debris rained on stage, Meat Loaf warned the crowd that he would “walk out the fucking door” if they continued this sort of carry on.
“I’m fucking warning you,” he roared as the band broke into Dead Ringer For Love, one of Meat’s biggest Irish hits and one guaranteed to send the crowd doolally, “one more thing lands on this stage and I’m leaving.”
A couple of cans flew around the venue, but none landed on stage. They were joined in their flight by a couple of shoes and sneakers, only one of which landed on stage. But, fair play to him, Meat Loaf held firm, though the threat of storming off stage was still very real.
Attempting the unenviable task of protecting Meat Loaf from debris and holding the crowd back was my pal Marty. He was standing in the pit directly on front of the stage, swatting beer cans when suddenly, everything in the community centre went into slow motion.
Marty recalls: “The lights caught something shiny and a second or two later I saw it. I thought ‘oh no… this is it… show’s over’…”
Flying through the air was… a wheelchair.
The chair flew directly over Marty’s head. He turned just in time to see Meat Loaf’s eyes swell with an unusual mixture of both fear and wonder. The burly singer put out an arm and attempted to step back. The stage was so small he stumbled into the drum riser just as the wheelchair crashed onto the boards in front of him. In slow motion the big man appeared to fall, the empty wheelchair bouncing to his left, one wheel comically spinning.
Marty remembers the crowd cheering. He was sure he could make out someone screaming, but by the time he could react Meat had gotten to his feet, grabbed the mic, roared at the audience and hurled it at them as he stormed off.
However, the lead of the mic was too short and it hit the advancing Marty, whose own incredulity at what had been launched onto the stage had prevented him from getting up there sooner. As he climbed onto the stage the band were already leaving it. The show was not even a half an hour old.
As he arrived backstage to find Meat Loaf ablaze with swearwords, anger and American hand-gestures, Marty decided to let the concert promoter do the talking. There was no way Meat Loaf would return to the stage. “No fucking way!” said the big man. “Not after what they did to that poor kid in the wheelchair.”
“Christ!” thought Marty. “Who was actually in the wheelchair?” There was no way of knowing if there was a poor kid, such was the volume of people within the Community Centre, and there was no way Meat Loaf was going back in front of them to find out.
They lairy audience began to get even more restless. A riot – unheard of in rural rocking circles, though another pal of mine swore blind his emigrant brother was at a Dio-era Black Sabbath gig in the states when one broke out – was almost certainly on the cards.
Despite pleas that returning to the stage would calm the restless natives, Meat Loaf stormed out of the venue towards his bus, his band and entourage close behind in a show of solidarity and strength. The promoter, his entourage and my pal Marty tried to reason with him, but to no avail. Out of the blue, an angry man in a denim jacket appeared.
Could he be linked to the wheelchair? Er, no.
“Get back on that stage ya bollocks,” he roared at Meat Loaf, as he stormed over to him, arm coiling up to his side. “We paid good fucking money to see you!”
The man went for Meat Loaf. Would Meat Loaf go for him? The man’s fist looked deadly. He raised it back and pushed it out. Acting on instinct, my pal Marty dived in to protect Meat Loaf. He was, after all, on security detail.
Again, everything suddenly went into slow motion. Marty’s feet left the ground as he launched himself into the air. As his face flew into view and blocked Meat Loaf’s head, the irate audience member’s fist stuck, connecting with his nose. Blood spurted loose as Marty completed his dive and landed on the tarmac.
Meat Loaf’s own people managed to get their man out of the way and within seconds he was on a bus, bound for the hotel. My pal Marty lay on the ground, his nose broken, but no injury could dent his pride at ‘taking a bullet’ for Meat Loaf.
“It was like a Presidential movie,” he recalls.
The tour resumed in Carlow the following night, where Meat Loaf personally thanked Marty for intervening the night before. Security was tightened up considerably, with a load of army and hardy FCA (local defence force) boys drafted in on the promise of free tickets, a couple of cans and a few bob, and for the first time on the sold-out tour, ‘house full’ signs were erected and the doormen said no.
Security was even tighter when the Quo did the same tour (minus a few of the sheds) a year later. 20 years later and my pal Marty’s nose is a crooked broken mess, a sideways Manilow, but he’s a proud man and to this day he calls the nose ‘Meat Loaf’ in honour of the man for whom he took a bullet.
A little over a year later and Meat Loaf was back in the arenas. He rekindled his partnership and friendship with Jim Steinman and together they penned Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, an album which spawned I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That), a song which got to number one in 28 countries.
My pal Marty likes to think that the unspoken ‘that’ in the hit song refers to stealing someone’s wheelchair, and throwing it up on stage.
This feature was originally published by Ronan Casey in 2017. Ronan is the author of Joe Dolan: The Official Biography, and owns three cats: Ronnie, James and Dio.