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Interview: NAZARETH

Rock Stars...  

Scottish rock band Nazareth have just issued their 21st studio album, The Newz, their first in 10 years, and 2008 sees Nazareth celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Nazareth formed in 1968 when vocalist Dan McCafferty, bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet were joined by guitarist Manny Charlton. The 70s saw Nazareth record with producer Roger Glover (Deep Purple bassist), and several hit singles ensued. These included "Bad Bad Boy", "Broken Down Angel" and covers of "This Flight Tonight" and "My White Bicycle".

Nazareth's version of "Love Hurts" was world-wide the most successful. Albums such as "Razamanaz" is a staple in any hard rock collection, and "Expect No Mercy" saw the first album cover ever to feature the work of fantasy artist Frank Frazetta. "No Mean City" is one of the band's most popular, both musically and artistically, featuring the work of Rodney Matthews.

In various stages the band were joined by Alex Harvey Band guitarist Zal Cleminson, young Glaswegian guitarist Billy Rankin and the late Spirit pianist John Locke.

Charlton left in 1990, and the band recorded 2 albums with a returning Rankin.

1998's Boogaloo featured guitarist Jimmy Murrison and pianist Ronnie Leahy. Since then Sweet died while on tour, to be replaced by Pete Agnew's son Lee, and Leahy left the band too, retiring from touring.

With The Newz doing well, and trying to keep up with a busy schedule, Dan McCafferty and Pete Agnew were able to spare me a little time. I'd last met them properly at Darrell's funeral, with brief catch-ups at gigs at Sinky's and The Astoria. I'd since then stopped running the fanclub, but any nerves were quickly settled by hugs from them both.

Hi guys, thanks for sparing me some time

Pete (sarcastically) This is Mr McCafferty and Mr Agnew sitting down with Mr Geesin (laughs)

You've just got back from Brazil, how was it?

Pete Oh it was fabulous. We got in yesterday afternoon, pretty knackered. Couple of beers and crashed out really.
And one of the things we did, just to show how big the band is there in Brazil, we're really big in places that people don't think about, but the biggest gig they'd had at this place we did, in Curitiba, was 14,000, with Iron Maiden. We did 22,000. That just gives you an idea of how big we are there. We recorded a gig for a DVD there, and we've just got back.

The kids in the audience hold up all this stuff during the gigs, including all these records by us we've never seen before.

Well I'm still discovering stuff, including EPs from Brazil, even the Philippines.

Pete WOW

Dan It got really cold there though.

Pete Yeah for most of the time it was really hot, we're in t-shirts, but on the last day it was really really cold. I could hardly play, and we're all out there in shirts and jackets.

You still got that Alembic bass?

Pete Yes, it was fine though, but it was so cold I just couldn't get my hands round it (laughs)

Metal's quite big in Brazil isn't it?

Dan Yeah, Megadeth were going in soon after us, and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. There's about 150 shows in one month there.

The album's just come out there, hasn't it?

Pete Yeah about 3 days before we left. Great timing, eh?

The new album's come out really good.

Pete Yeah we've had some great reviews, but then band's really come together with Jimmy and Lee, and Dan and me of course, and it sounds like Nazareth. We're getting some of the best reviews, not just in the last 10 years, but in our life. Except for Classic Rock of course (laughs). You'd think they'd give it to someone who was a fan.

Joe I think the biggest thing he (Geoff Barton) missed, the biggest constant, was Dan's voice, it's hardly changed in 40 years.

Dan Oh aye!

Pete I tell you something, it'll make you laugh. Dave (Ling), he's a mate of ours, and in the March issue, Dan's one of the best singers in the world, then you get that review from Geoff Barton. I mean, come on guys, make up your mind.

Basically, what we're saying, is that the new album has been received very well, and one reason is that the four of us have all written together. I mean, we've recorded a couple of tracks with Lee, and some live stuff, but we did a couple of tracks some years ago for a compilation.

Dan But they were old tracks, we'd demoed them years before, you've probably got the tapes (which I do and the band don't seem to mind)

Pete Yeah, but this is the first time the four of us actually did an album together

Dan And it was just so much fun, we all are playing different stuff so everyone brought in fresh ideas. And by the way, we must say how much of it was down to the producer...

Pete Yeah - the boy producer (laughs)

Dan He wanted to keep the sound of, well, today, did a really good job.

Pete You know you're getting old when the producer says "My dad really digs you" and we go "Woa Woa hold on there"

You've got quite a metal sound to the album?

Pete Aye, it's like, well Zal came in to the band he had that effect (on No Mean City), and with Jimmy and Lee it's gelled the same way.

So does it feel good to be working as a four piece again?

Pete Yes it does. I love Ronnie (Leahy, pianist on Boogaloo) and I'm sorry he left, he couldn't really tour. We never fired Ronnie, he left, and we just didn't replace him. We're still good friends. The fans had been on about it. When he left we were going to get another keyboard player, but Jimmy and Lee said "Can we try it as a 4 piece and see how it goes".

Dan It worked well with Ronnie

Look at what John Lock brought to the band in 1981!

Pete Exactly. But when we had Ronnie, Jimmy was playing with him, not quite restrained but you know what I mean. When Ronnie left, Jimmy was like "Okaaaay, that's mine....". So now you ask him to do something and he can really go for it. And you bring a sing in and he likes it then that's fine.

Ronnie was quite funny, Jimmy got married 2 or 3 years ago, and we got together for gig. And Ronnie ended up playing. And Ronnie goes "You never replaced me!", so we told him he was irreplaceable (laughs).

Now the track "Liar" is quite political?

Pete Yes, now that's about George Bush, although could be applied to most of the western world. It meant a lot to Lee and he said "I'm gonna write a song about that". He brought it in and said "Do you like it?" and we did. Now, not that I'm defending Saddam Hussain, something had to be done, but they (the West) got it totally wrong. We didn't want to go back to the 60's or 70's protest song, there's no humour in them, we really went for it to make a point. You sort of smile when you listen to it. The guy's a moron.

Dan I'll tell you something, when we did the album, I think it was "Gloria", Lee brought a tape in, and said "There's a bit of disturbance in the background". The house had been flooded so they're living in the kitchen, and the guys are in there working. He's doing it on the kitchen sink, on this little Casio thing, and he's saying "That's the washing machine, that there's the dryer". We were going to put that version on the album.

Pete There's tracks on the album where we can say, whoever brought it in, that Dan did something, I did something, we all got together on this. So where Boogaloo was more individual songs, this was a real band album. And we all you "Yeah!" It makes all the difference.

So how did the deal with Edel come about?

Pete We were in Switzerland, which is where we recorded it, and there's another company that's involved, a lot of politics, but the guy from Edel got to hear it, and came to us. It's not like "Give me the album I can put it out for you" it was like "I Love the album, I've got to put it out" and he's going through the individual tracks with us. They're a big company and he was really enthusiastic. It's nice to have a record deal, it's what records are for, not like putting it out on the internet.

Dan It's all downloads now, which is fine if you're into that.

Pete For information too. 10 years ago we got these interview requests from so called websites, we were really sceptical, they were just kids who wanted to get in to chat with us.

But now it's as important outlet as magazines.

Pete Right.

Dan Yeah

Pete Jimmy's a real technophobe. He's like "Where's the on switch". I think he's only just got a computer, or is it his wife?

Dan The Murrison household have a computer now (laughs).

Pete But when someone comes to you and says the love the album, you know? I've got a phone message from Mick Box of Uriah Heep, I've still got the message, and he says you've got to listen to our new album. Haven't yet, have you?

Yes, really worth checking out

Pete Good to know, because Mick's a liar (laughs). They were going to put their album out last year, on Sanctuary, but it got held up because Sanctuary got bought by Universal, and the guy who had it took it with him there, so it's out on Universal.

It's 10 years since both you and Uriah Heep released a new CD

Pete Yeah it's good to be back with this one. But we've been touring a lot. We're a hard working band, it's the only way to really keep going. We've been all over the place.

Yes, touring and live DVDs

Dan All the older bands do it. Look at AC/DC and The Rolling Stones. The records chart, but nothing like Back In Black. But if you can fill out stadiums across America, that's where the money is.
You get all these old guys coming out, who've stopped recording, but they do a tour.

10 years on the road must be hard though?

Pete As we said we work hard. The tour bus has two sections, for me and Dan, and for Jimmy and Lee. When we venture back we get to hear what they're listening to, or see what films they're watching.

Dan, you're down here for a show with Ken Bruce on Radio 2, how did that go?

Dan Great. It's where I talk about some of my favourite songs. They phoned me in Brazil for the list so they could get all the records out of the archive. I think it's broadcast in 10 minute slots over a week.

(Dan shows me the schedule and swears me to secrecy)

Cool, I like the Presley track "That's Alright Mama". Did you ever hear the Foghat version?

Dan Even better, I saw them play it live. Shame about Dave (he died around the same time as Darrell Sweet). They thought he was getting better too.

(mobile goes, I cut it off)
Sorry, that was Mark Brennan

Pete You should take it.

It's ok, I'll catch up with him later. We've been discussing options on the Nazareth catalogue. We thought it would be good to get "Crazy (A Suitable Case For Treatment)", or try, it on the same CD as "Morgentau" as they're the first things you did as a six piece.

Pete It's a good track, but we had a bum deal. We couldn't use it at the time, don't know if you could or not now.

Dan It fun to do the German version, we were over in Germany to do it and they talk funny, you know, put the verbs at the end of the line and stuff, so when I'm singing a more literal version they're all thinking "What is this gibberish?"

Is it safe to ask about the Manny Charlton situation?

Pete We've not really been talking about it, thought it was best just to put the statement up on our website and say nothing. I can't understand why he's doing it, people go to see Nazareth you expect to hear Dan's vocals and nobody's going to match that.

He's still a director of Nazareth (Dunfirmline) Ltd, so we used to talk about business stuff.

It's a bit like the Saxon situation...

Dan Aye, we've not got a problem with him earning a living, or playing music, just don't confuse who's in the band. They've been using the new photo of the band (picks up the CD and points to that), it's incredible.

Also with Geoff Barton's review, there's a lot more to Manny leaving Nazareth than he says, like not seeing eye to eye with the producer.

Dan But Manny brought in that producer. There's a lot of things, so sometimes it's better to say nothing, but the Manny Charlton Nazareth situation is ridiculous.

Hope to see you soon for a proper catch up, we could do with a whole evening.

Dan+Pete Definitely

Interview © June 2008 Joe Geesin

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