Interview: NAZARETH – Metropolis Studios, London, 14 November 2014

Nazareth - Metropolis Studios, London, 14 November 2014Pete and Lee Agnew with artist Rodney Matthews

Andy Nathan took time out to chat to founder member Pete Agnew, vocalist Linton Osborn and guitarist Jimmy Murrison prior to the band’s DVD recording at Metropolis Studios in front of an invited audience.

GRTR! – What’s behind the DVD recording and tell us a bit about the set up?

Pete: There’s a guy that works with us and does business for us who was approached by Metropolis who run this studio, to do this bunch of DVD documentaries, mainly seventies classic rock bands, that means old people.

When asked if we were interested, obviously we jumped at the opportunity as it was a great idea and here we are. So far we’re having a lot of fun though we haven’t played yet! When we were recording in a studio we often talked about how it would be nice to have some people in there so this is pretty much what we’re doing.

GRTR! – For most people this will be the first time they have seen Linton fronting the band. Linton, how did you get the gig, as it were?

Linton: A lot of these guys will probably have seen me because we have quite an international audience tonight.  I got the gig through good luck and chance. I bumped into their road manager on one of my rare nights out, who said put your name in for the job as lead vocalist. I didn’t even know there was a job going.

When I got home I emailed Pete,  put my hat in the ring, got an audition and a few weeks later they told me told I got the job. Also I was the closest and it was easier for sharing taxis!

GRTR! – Have you played in professional bands before?

Linton: Yes I’ve been a professional musician for 21 years and sung for a long time.

Nazareth - Metropolis Studios, London, 14 November 2014

GRTR! – Going back to the old days of the seventies, Nazareth were unusual in that you were a hard rock bands who also had hit singles and were on Top Of The Pops.  What was that like in terms of how you pitched yourselves and reputation in the business?

Pete: We just thought of ourselves as a rock band then they called it hard rock which meant you played loud. When amplifiers and speaker stacks got bigger it was hard rock.

We could have played tunes loud,  we had a few riffy things, but most of the things we did had melodies. We went into the  studio and sometimes the singer would jam along over some riffs,  but most of the stuff we did were songs that were  ‘written written’.

We always had that – we always wanted to have a melodic sound. Hard rock was playing ‘song songs’ loud.  Pop means popular and we were lucky enough to get things that were played on Radio 1. You had to have something that was Radio 1 friendly enough to get yourself established and we had that a few times.

Most of the world thinks we wrote ‘Love Hurts’.   If I had written it, I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you. I would be at my gaff in the Caribbean.

GRTR! – Some of the best known ones were covers like ‘Love Hurts’ and ‘This Flight Tonight’; would you have preferred that the ones everyone knows were your originals?

Pete: As far as we were concerned a lot of people think they are originals. We had the biggest hits with them  and turned them round and did them so differently.

The secret is always to make it yours. If you listened to our version and Joni Mitchell’s ‘This Flight Tonight’ you wouldn’t recognise it was the same song.  Most of the world thinks we wrote ‘Love Hurts’.   If I had written it, I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you. I would be at my gaff in the Caribbean. I could have retired a long time ago if I’d written that one .

Nazareth - Metropolis Studios, London, 14 November 2014

GRTR! – You established a distinctive style and left a legacy and lots of bands, most notably Guns n Roses, cite Nazareth as an influence. What do you think was so special and unique about your sound that people still pick up on to this day?

Jimmy: It’s been touched on already – you’ve got this hard rock, heavy rock band and yes you get that it’s definitely a rock band, but you’ve also got the more poppy singles type of thing, the ballads which  are a very big part of the band and there’s a large spectrum of light and shade there.

The band, certainly in its original incarnation, had a very distinctive sound in the way Dan sang and the way everybody played.

People who lived in the eighties … they thought that was the most wonderful period but rock bands thought it sucked big time.

Pete: We have a very Tesco approach and try and please everybody. We serve caviar but we still serve cornflakes. We’ve always had a big spectrum there.

GRTR! – Moving forward into the eighties – I saw you at the Town and Country Club in 1992 but I got into Nazareth  seven years before and you had never toured the UK in that time. Then you didn’t tour much in the nineties- was that a  lean time or were other overseas markets better for you?

Pete:  The eighties was a very lean time for rock music. I think they called it new romantics, all that electronic stuff. People who lived in the eighties never liked anything else -  they thought that was the most wonderful period but rock bands thought it sucked big time.

A lot of the bands that went under went under in that period. Then you got them reforming in the nineties, saying ‘have the eighties finished ?  Thank fuck,  let’s get some guitars back on the stage’.

The Eighties was thin on the ground, definitely for radio.  You couldn’t get yourself arrested if you were playing in a rock band then, and a whole decade when rock was not being played.  That’s when, especially in the USA, classic rock stations  started. They were saying  we don’t like what’s coming out, so we’ll do this stuff and they made it classic.

Once in the nineties things started picking up. The great thing was the introduction of CD’s – I thought we’d done something magic as we suddenly started making lots of money. People were replacing their collection with CD’s and started buying records again.

In the nineties you had bands like Oasis and you heard guys again with guitars and drums and the electronics  thing went away again and we thought “we’vv got a chance” and it started to happen for rock bands again and the 2000s were a free for all…

Nazareth - Metropolis Studios, London, 14 November 2014

GRTR! – You have so much material after 40 years plus and numerous albums. How hard is it to pick the right songs for live set and does feedback and requests from fans come into it?

Jimmy: Feedback from the fans comes into it.  Part of the burden if you like – though it’s not a burden – of the fact the band has been around so long and has 20 odd albums is that it leads to a situation where the set pretty much picks itself.

There is a bit of leeway and we try and keep it fresh by  changing things around. There are so many songs that people ask for money back if they don’t get them – ‘Love Hurts’, ‘This Flight Tonight’ and ‘Razamanaz’, I could go on for ever.

We have to put in those songs, and that takes  up two thirds or three quarters of the set. Then it’s just a case of how can we keep fresh by changing round the remaining quarter or third.

Nazareth - Metropolis Studios, London, 14 November 2014

GRTR! – Presumably that doesn’t leave much space for what some bands have done on recent tours – to do a classic album in its entirety – is that something you’d consider?

Pete:  It’s funny you should say that – we were just approached yesterday to do exactly that by our agent. We have talked about it but whether it will happen I don’t know.

Jimmy: The handy thing about it is that the album they want us to do is Hair Of The Dog and we do most of it anyway.  In the past we’ve done everything off it. It contains so many of those songs like ‘Hair Of The Dog’, and ‘Beggars Day’ which are in anyway, so you could definitely do that and still give everyone what they wanted in terms of songs that are not on that album.

Pete: We can get through an album very quickly and just play it very fast anyway! We have talked about it but mates of ours are doing it, Big Country.  Bruce (Watson) lives in the same town as us and they’re doing Steeltown. I told him he’s doing it because they don’t know any other songs. It’s an interesting thing, though, but whether it will come to it…

GRTR! – Obviously your son Lee has played drums in the band for some time. Does that create any different band dynamics?

Pete: No although I suppose there’s probably something in the genes with the rhythm section. But he is just a hell of a good drummer and I have always enjoyed playing bass with him and he likes me playing bass with him.

Jimmy: Within the context of band its not Lee and his Dad, its Lee and Pete.

Pete: When he’s hitting me up for money, that’s when he calls me Dad.

GRTR! – Moving forward to the present day, you have a new studio album, Rock n Roll Telephone, which also has Dan singing on it. Tell us a bit about that -  is that Dan’s farewell in a studio sense or do you see yourself possibly doing other stuff in future ?

Pete: He might do something in the studio but he’s not in Nazareth any more. This is Nazareth as it is and if we recorded that would be the line up.  I don’t know if he has any plans to do anything (solo) but you never know.

It was a great effort – as far as Nazareth was concerned it was his swansong and the guy is fantastic on the album. Making records has never been a problem for him, doing it live has become harder.

Dan cannae play the paper and comb. He never played the bagpipes. It’s a voice box connected to a guitar.

GRTR! – Have you found one of you to play the bagpipes on Hair Of The Dog on stage?

Pete: No he never played the bagpipes either.

GRTR! – You have shattered my illusions…

Pete: We read things:  I read one in Russia, ‘Dan learned to play bagpipes at a very early age’. Dan cannae play the paper and comb. He never played the bagpipes. It’s a voice box connected to a guitar.

Jimmy: Also that was very much his thing so we thought we will stop using the gimmick and it’s own up time.

Pete: It would have been nice to put an advert in music press – ‘Nazareth require singer – must be bagpiper!’

GRTR! – Thank you and we are looking forward to the gig this evening.

Pete:  So are we!

Interview and photos by Andy Nathan

Gig review (DVD recording)
Album review (Rock ‘N’ Roll Telephone)

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