Ronan Casey has a great story about Meatloaf playing a tour of rural Ireland when he was down on his luck in the late ’80s.
All the gigs were stuffed and over-capacity such was the local excitement of having a major star in the town to perform.
One gig in Moate in Westmeath was particularly rowdy and things got heated….
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 Meatloaf 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 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.
The 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 that 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.
Niall Byrne is the founder of the most-influential Irish music site Nialler9, where he has been writing about music since 2005 . He is the cohost of the Nialler9 Podcast and has written for the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Cara Magazine, Sunday Times, Totally Dublin, Red Bull and more. Niall is a DJ, founder of Lumo Club, event curator and producer of gigs, parties & events.