‘The guitar is my passion and my life’s work’

Vivian Campbell
Vivian Campbell

Northern Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell is still rocking out with Def Leppard after 25 years. The guitar virtuoso talks about living the rock dream

The Belfast-born rocker, 54, who has played with new wave heavy metal act Def Leppard since 1992, will be presented with the Oh Yeah Legend Award this November.

The star’s meteoric career has seen him scale the dizzying heights of rock having also played with a string of other big name acts including Whitesnake, Dio, Thin Lizzy, Sweet Savage, Trinity, Riverdogs, and Shadow King.

“The guitar is my passion and it’s been my life’s work,” says the rocker from his home in Los Angeles. “They always say do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life and that’s how I feel.

“It’s a great pleasure to be able to follow that dream. Usually I don’t put much stock in awards but it’s fulfilling and heart-warming to be recognised by my fellow countrymen.”

Vivian, who first picked up a guitar at the tender age of 12, moved from Belfast to LA to initially play with heavy metallers Dio and proceeded to join them on three albums and world tours. Dio was very guitar focused and gave Campbell the opportunity to fully showcase his virtuoso ability on the instrument.

Vivian went on to perform with Whitesnake on their 1987-88 world tour before joining Def Leppard after the release of their Adrenalise album in 1992.

“Playing with Leppard is a lot of fun and I still love it - next week we’re off to another music festival in Rio. We’ve got a great, great collection of songs. None of us take ourselves too seriously but we take the music very seriously. We all show up on time sober and there’s no mad partying on tour as people might think. All I’ve ever wanted to do is play guitar in a rock band and here I am.

“I’ve played Def Leppard’s biggest hits literally thousands of times since joining them over 25 years ago and it never gets old. The extra band member is the audience and when they are appreciative the whole thing is just electric. Anytime we play Pour Some Sugar On Me in front of an audience it’s a unique experience – it’s never the same as it was before. The audience makes the show.

“Even after all these years playing with Leppard is still a hoot.”

Campbell looks back on his formative years on guitar when he wanted to be like Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops and Rory Gallgher and Gary Moore were both his guitar heroes.

“I feel very fortunate in my life and I have a lot to be grateful for,” says the rock guitar whiz.

“I’ve been very lucky and very committed to my craft since I was a kid.

I had that epiphany lightbulb moment watching Mark Bolan on Top of the pops in 1971 or something like that when I was nine years old. I wanted to grow my hair, wear my sister’s clothes and play guitar. I was about 12 or so when I managed to convince my parents to give me an old beat up guitar. Rory Gallagher was a guitar player who majorly inspired me, one of my first concerts was going to see Rory at the Ulster Hall. Gary Moore probably influenced and shaped me the most. To this day I’d say he was my ultimate guitar hero.”

Besides rocking out with Def Leppard and heavy metal act Dio, Campbell has consistently pursued other musical projects; in 2005 he released a solo album produced by Tor Hyams called Two Sides of If, which features cover versions of his favourite blues tunes. In 2011 while Def Leppard were on hiatus, Campbell agreed to join his favourite band Thin Lizzy on tour.

“I’ve been very fortunate in being able to play with so many great musicians and friends. I’ve been able to rock and see the world on tour. I’ve done thousands and thousands of concerts during my career.”

He’s rocked out in innumerable destinations with Def Leppard and other acts but Vivian can’t wait to play Belfast where he says the audiences always know how to appreciate a good show.

“You notice certain cities have really great and appreciative crowds. Montreal is one of the best cities in the world for a rock concert. I’d also put Belfast in the top three and I’m not saying that just because it’s my home city. Belfast audiences really go for it. There’s always a real energy about the gig with a Belfast crowd - there’s a lot of passion.”

A truly hardcore rocker and gung-ho performer, Campbell loves playing rock guitar on tour so much he even continued to gig with Def Leppard during summer 2013 despite his treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He and the rest of the band returned to the stage in summer 2014 as co-headliners with Kiss.

In addition to his commitments with indefatigable rockers Def Leppard, Vivian also tours with Last in Line, a new incarnation of heavy metallers Dio following the death of its titular frontman Ronnie James Dio in 2010. They released album Heavy Crown in 2016 and continue to produce a heavy rock sound full of primal energy and abandon.

Campbell will play with Last in Line at the Oh Yeah awards ceremony during a special gig at Belfast’s Mandela Hall at which he will receive the Legend accolade.

“We started playing songs from the older Dio albums with a different lead singer and it was a lot of fun. Last in Line developed from there. Ronnie was a very unique voice and one of the best in the genre so we had to find somebody with a lot of passion in their voice. Our new lead Andrew Freeman is equally powerful but really very different. It’s an interesting project that I hope the Belfast crowd will enjoy. Our sound is between hard rock and heavy metal.

“The original Dio band had really great chemistry and that’s what we’ve tried to recreate here.

“We’re planning to play lots of songs from early Dio as well as material from our album Heavy Crown. We’ve just started recording our second album so we’ll try to play some brand new songs too.”

Coming home to be crowned a legend, rocking with Def Leppard and Last in Line, soaking up the Californian sunshine, Vivian Campbell is riding high.

“I’m looking forward to playing the Mandela Hall and then heading off for a few weeks to Donegal. It’s an honour to be recognised for my work – it’s still a dream come true.”

Vivian Campbell will be presented with the Oh Yeah Legend Award at the

Mandela Hall on Saturday November 11. The presentation - which will mark the end of this year’s Sound of Belfast festival - will be followed by a live performance from Vivian with his current band Last in Line. Tickets available from Eventbrite at nimp.eventbrite.com.