Book review: On track…UFO (Every Album, Every Song) by Richard James

On track...UFO (Every Album, Every Song) by Richard James

Sonicbond Publishing [Release date 26.02.21]

It was a sad day when UFO announced their ‘Last Orders’ tour in 2018, even sadder when a couple of weeks after the UK leg long-standing keyboard/guitar player Paul Raymond died of a heart attack.  And then, in 2020, Paul Chapman and Pete Way passed away. It sort of underscored the end of an era.

James emphasises that the band should have got more recognition, suggesting they were never quite in the first division, compared to say bands like Led Zeppelin or Sabbath.  In this respect they were not unlike Uriah Heep and, in similar fashion, they were sometimes inconsistent.  Differing line-ups and bust-ups didn’t help matters.

At their hard rocking best UFO were one of the best, although to be honest the 1978 live album ‘Strangers In The Night’ defined their live setlists for four decades.

James traces the albums from tentative beginnings in 1970, with guitarist Mick Bolton getting an early drubbing from the author.  It was only with ‘Phenomenon’ (in 1974 and with Michael Schenker) that the band found their true mettle including soon-to-be hardy perennials ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ whilst the following ‘Force It’ yielded ‘Shoot Shoot’.

1977′s ‘Lights Out’ is regarded as one of the band’s best but soon after a combination of touring, personal pressures and drug abuse took their toll.  The band’s USP Schenker left, although he returned to make the excellent ‘Obsession’.

It is perhaps no surprise that Schenker’s next return to the band – in 1995 – marked another of UFO’s finest offerings although often overlooked, ‘Walk On Water’.  Thankfully James recognises this album’s merits.

The 1980s was marked by four albums featuring Paul Chapman on guitar (ex-Lone Star) and during this period Neil Carter replaced Paul Raymond on keyboards.

The band weren’t able to sustain the success of the previous decade and James describes ‘Mechanix’ (1982) as “uninspiring”.  With the band struggling in all aspects – including musically and production-wise – bassist Pete Way became another casualty.  He left to form Waysted.  Soon after – with Phil Mogg in bad health – they annouced a farewell tour in 1983.

The band returned to the fray in 1984 with ‘Misdemeanour’ but it foresook UFO’s gritty hard rock style for heavy use of synthesisers and seemed pointed more towards the U.S. AOR market along with its successor ‘Ain’t Misbehavin”.

As the band entered the 1990s normal service was to some extent resumed with ‘High Stakes And  Dangerous Men’ now with Laurence Archer on guitar and Clive Edwards on drums but with Pete Way back in the fold.

It was only when Vinnie Moore joined in 2003 that the band would enter a period of sustained stability.  I think James is particularly harsh on the latter day UFO albums, ‘The Visitor’ and ‘A Conspiracy Of Stars’.  Looking back, GRTR! rated both highly.

Richard James’ summary of “every album, every song’ is the usual subjective critique and there’s little if any obvious use of even secondary sources.  As with similar tomes, you are not going to agree with every opinion.  At their best many of these volumes might start a fight in the pub.

It’s a shame too, as with nearly all these titles, there is a lack of band/associates input.  I am sure the producer Ron Nevison could have been tracked down to answer James’ own queries in the section on ‘Strangers’ and would have provided further insight to studio work.  As ever, a frustrating missed opportunity combined with – for some – excessive subjectivity.  ***

Review by David Randall

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