Ozzy Osbourne, Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone
Al Green, The 02, London

Considering all he's been through, Osbourne makes a decent job of resurrecting the old hits

One unshakeable fact emerges as I revisit Ozzy Osbourne's back catalogue while the train rolls on towards Folkestone: I bloody love Black Sabbath.

It's all too easy to caricature Sabbath as pseudo-mystic dumbos, a Led Zeppelin for CSE kids, all upside-down crosses and Aleister Crowley, but find the footage of their early TV appearances and you'll see a straightahead, speed-freak, gonzo garage rock band, essentially a British Stooges, right down to their "motor city" origins.

When they came into their own, however, was when they killed the speed and locked into a sludgy, dinosaur-footed groove, like a diplo-docus wading to its slow death through the La Brea tar pits, as exemplified by "Sweet Leaf", sampled by the Beasties, Buttholes and countless others.

Sabbath exuded a specifically working-class strain of youthful nihilism, mistrustful of the treachery of the adult world, cynical about the employment conveyor belt, concerned only with making the rent, smoking weed and waiting for the apocalypse: "Hole in the sky, take me to heaven ..." And, in the forlorn, woe-is-me voice of Ozzy Osbourne, those sentiments had the perfect vehicle.

Taking the Ozzy Osbourne of 2010 seriously, however, is a challenge. It wasn't The Osbournes that blew Ozzy's gravitas: he'd already done that himself with his campy 1980s persona. But since that series, he's become a nationally treasured, substance-damaged jester, shouting "Sharooonnn!" in novelty greetings cards, rerecording "Changes" – Sabbath's suicidal end-of-relationship lament – as a soft-centred Father's Day gift, and appearing in the Beeb's appalling patriotic montage before England's World Cup humiliation.

He's got some ground to reclaim, and no mistake. And, to my mild surprise, the old man makes a decent fist of it. For starters, either I'm going blind, the make-up's thick, or the lighting's sympathetic ... or he really is looking relatively lean and healthy. Corpse-like pallor, black nail varnish, smudged eyeliner, maniacal grin: this is the Ozzy you want to see.

Admittedly, he does that doddery, confused walk familiar from his family's reality show. Admittedly, the guy sitting side-stage with the laptop, advancing the lyrics line by line for Ozzy's autocue, is a vital member of the crew. Admittedly, his slurring speech is difficult to decipher, besides a repeated "I can't hear you!" which, at his age, might be a genuine cri de coeur rather than showbiz banter. But his charisma is so strong it's ridiculous, and that voice is as magnificently mournful as ever.

Taking the stage in a diamanté-sleeved cape for "Bark at the Moon", he hurls bottles of mineral water into the crowd. Immediately, someone sprays the contents back at him, whereupon he roars "Let's 'ave a fuckin' war!", and retaliates with a whole bucketful, a stunt he repeats three times.

Solo hits such as "Shot in the Dark" and "Mama I'm Coming Home" are all very well, but I'm here for the Sab stuff, and tonight we get Beavis & Butt-Head favourite "Iron Man", "Fairies Wear Boots" (one of the brilliant Sabbath songtitles) and an encore of proto-punk anthem "Paranoid", whose opening line "Finished with my woman cos she couldn't help me with my mind" is a great blues lyric, never mind heavy metal.

It matters little that I'm not hearing it performed by original Sabbath personnel, nor even by long-time sidekick Zakk Wylde. Ozzy has easily as much right to these songs as Tony Iommi, who sullied the band's reputation in the 1980s by putting out "Sabbath" albums featuring just one original member: himself. These days, Oz is backed by three tattooed longhairs of above average competence, and a drummer whose riser, hilariously, is half the height of the room. And they're perfectly adequate. What's a guitarist anyway, except a hired hand?

He promises more songs if we "go wild", and I'd have sold my soul for "War Pigs" (if only to bellow along with legendary non-rhyme "Generals gather in their masses/Just like witches at black masses ..."), but the lights come up, so Folkestone must have failed to go wild enough for Ozzy's liking. Then again, maybe he just didn't hear us.

Of the great smooth soul lovermen, who have we got left? Marvin, Barry, Isaac, Teddy, all departed. Only two of the true giants are still standing: the divine Smokey Robinson, and the Reverend Al Green.

Nearly four decades after his commercial peak, the sharp-suited Rev, holding a rose in one hand and using the other to issue subtle fingerclick cues to his band, has apparently added telepathy to his talents. "I bet somebody here is wondering if the Reverend's still got it," he thinks aloud during "Let's Stay Together", and he's not wrong. To answer the hypothetical doubter, he effortlessly hits that "aaaaah!!!" top note, rips off his tux, tosses the rose aside and slays the place.

Religious conversion is often the result of trauma, and Green's own 1976 rebirth is said to have occurred after a girlfriend emptied a pan of hot grits over him in the bath, then shot herself in his bedroom. You know, therefore, that you're gonna get excerpts from the great God-bothering songbook ("Amazing Grace", "Nearer My God to Thee"), but nowadays Green wears his faith lightly, with humour even.

It's the immortal Willie Mitchell-produced classics such as "Tired of Being Alone" that we godless Brits long to hear, however, and Al obliges, inadvertently providing the answer to his rhetorical "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" Listening to Al Green ain't a bad place to start.

Next Week:

Simon Price watches Arcade Fire launch their third album The Suburbs in inner-city Hackney

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions