Download 2011: We thought we were out of place – but we left feeling ten feet tall, says frontman Elliott

Joe Elliott

Big and tall: Joe Elliott

Joe Elliott admits Def Leppard felt like old men out of place when they attended the Kerrang Awards in London on Friday.

But by the end of the night, when they’d been given the Inspiration Award, they felt right at home.

And Elliott says one of the things that keeps the band going is the ability to keep playing massive shows – accepting they might not feel like continuing if they were forced to downsize.

He tells Kerrang: “We were sat at the table watching these bands come and go: ‘I’ve heard of them, I’ve not heard of them, I’ve heard of them but I haven’t heard them…’

“The young bands were making their comments on stage and we were going, ‘We’d have said that 30 years ago – we wouldn’t say it now.’

We were wondering if we belonged in the environment. But then they have Ozzy Osbourne his Legend Award and as we went into the older category, if you like, the mood changed in a good way.

“The Darkness got up to introduce us and there was a minute-long compilation of our stuff. Everyone started singing the songs. We were thinking, ‘Wow, this is a bit weird.’ Then we got a standing ovation – I wasn’t expecting that.

“By the end of the night we really belonged. Bring Me the Horizon namechecked us and all they wanted to do was have pictures taken with us. We must have done something right in our 34 years to get that respect. It was very flattering.”

Def Lep have achieved a level of respect which keeps them returning to large-scale events like Download. And Elliott admits there’s a possibility they wouldn’t still be together if that wasn’t the case.

He says: “If we were one of those bands who ended up playing little clubs because that’s all we could do, the buzz would go away, yeah.

“We did a warm-up show at Islington Academy in London in 2008. A review said, ‘Joe Elliott looked completely out of place – he was staring into the middle distance like he didn’t know where he was.’

“For the first two songs that was right. I had no idea: ‘Wow, I can see the whites of their eyes… at the back!’ You have to change your persona. You can’t swing the mic stand about – you’d have somebody’s eye out.”

But fans who fancy seeing Def Lep in an intimate space don’t need to give up hope. “I can’t say we won’t do it again,” Elliot says. “You’re asked, ‘Do you want to play some radio station’s Christmas party?’ And you say, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it.’ You never know.”

Last night was the band’s second appearance at Download in two years, after they closed what’s regarded as one of the best-ever events at Donington in 2009.

The singer accepts there will always be a level of criticism over the songs they choose to play, but insists a festival set has to be aimed at the general listener.

He tells RockAAA: “A minority of our fans tweet things like, ‘Why don’t you play the whole of On Through the Night?’ Because no one will know it, that’s why. If I go to see the Rolling Stones I’d want to hear Brown Sugar.”

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