Constable Books [Publication date 11.05.17]
It is about time that someone wrote a book that gives the life and times of UFO an objective and entertaining airing from the inside. For about two-thirds of Pete Way’s autobiography, I was bemoaning him for not writing it. Then the yarn changes from one purely about self-obsession and destruction to something quite dark, disturbing and almost redemptive. This could never be that definitive book about UFO.
Like so many rock memoirs of late, this tome sets out to shock the reader with extravagant tales of debauchery, drug abuse and excess. Pete achieves this objective by about page 20 (and pretty much exhausts it, for my money, by about page 40).
The benchmark of the genre is surely Ozzy Osbourne’s hilarious ‘I Am Ozzy’. Way’s book follows that template closely, though without the same humour, self-deprecation and unique Ozzy-isms.
That said, ‘Fast Ride Out of Here’, co-written by Paul Rees, is far from a bad read. It is chock full of good anecdotes and touching remembrances. For instance, Way is clearly devastated at the loss of Bon Scott and later pays an honest tribute to Ronnie James Dio.
We learn a few nuggets about his formative years in Suburbia – who would have guessed that the Wildman of Rock was a model train enthusiast and later became a Civil Servant? There are also some revealing contributions about life in the Way household from older brother Neill.
The narrative is dominated by our hero’s compulsive behaviour, which inevitably has consequences for his career and personal life. There is searing honesty about the price he has paid, but it’s not until much later on that we discern any real regret that about the missed opportunities, stitch ups, let downs, flaky decisions, broken relationships and failed marriages.
Despite this, Pete comes across as a likeable, if gullible and easily distracted character. You wouldn’t rely on him to so much as post a letter, but he’d be superb company in the bar. He clearly inspires loyalty too. Maiden’s Steve Harris couldn’t have done more to get Way’s career back on track in his Waysted days.
The music of UFO is so close to my heart that I struggle with the way the legendary bassist downplays the output of the bands for whom he was the life force. For the most part, the book is too shallow to add any real insight about UFO the band and their music (let alone Way’s other projects).
Way is obsessed with describing the rock n roll lifestyle to the diminution of everything else. This leads to some exaggerations – either deliberate or unintended – about how big UFO were.
The first half of the book focuses on their American adventures and Pete compares the band to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin; and talks about stadium shows playing to 50-odd thousand people. But these were on support slots – admittedly, eye catching ones. UFO as a headlining act were not in that league. They were influential and popular and bloody brilliant. Never massive.
The book largely avoids talking with authority about how all those classic tunes came together, the inspiration for their unique sound, stand-out tracks, the way they gelled and grew on stage, how he felt about the albums, best places to played, memorable shows….
Some of this is covered of course, but it is often cursory and as a prelude to another story about drug consumption and groupie action. For instance, the entire musical output of Waysted is dealt with in a few dismissive paragraphs, amongst more stories of blowing large stashes of someone else’s cash. The balance is significantly out of kilter.
For much of the book, there is a sense that, despite the bassman’s gilt-edged rock ‘n’ roller credentials, his music doesn’t mean that much to him. Nor is there any acknowledgement – until the final chapters – of what it means to the fans. For someone who penned and played such great songs, this part of his consuming passion, and recognition of what it means to others, is massively disregarded.
It is not until Way describes his descent to rock bottom that the story lifts itself out of the ordinary. Through the death of two wives, pitiless near-death heroin addiction and then a fight with prostate cancer we start to see a man coming to terms with both his descent and his legacy.
Although there is, for me, too much of the sensationalist, tabloid-style shock and excess about the book, it is also an entertaining, eyebrow raising gallop. The shallow and gaudy finally gives way to some substance and pithiness at the climax of the yarn. It’s quite a story.
Review by Dave Atkinson
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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