Mikko von Hertzen (Von Hertzen Brothers)

Von Hertzen Brothers live at The Fleece, Bristol

I’ve been much taken with the music of the Von Hertzen Brothers, ever since seeing them at the first High Voltage Festival at Victoria Park in London back in 2010. Three brothers (Kie, Mikko and Jonne von Hertzen), two others (Mikko Kaakkuriniemi – drums, and Juha Kuoppala – keyboards), as they say.

Back in Finland they play huge festivals and their albums routinely shoot to the top of the charts, but here in the UK, they remain something of a well kept secret. It’s a fate, perhaps, to which original, genre-spanning bands are more prone, with no one quite sure what to do with them or how best to introduce them to a new market. They rock too hard for some proggers, while their albums contain too many progressive rock diversions and left-field influences for a mainstream rock audience. But talent, and good songs, will always out, and it’s great to see their UK audience building.  If you don’t know this band, what on earth are you waiting for? You’ve got some catching up to do!

I recently saw the band at both the HRH Prog Festival in Pwllheli, and in Bristol on their March 2016 UK headline tour and caught up with middle brother, vocalist and guitarist Mikko. I was delighted when he kindly agreed not only to a long awaited Über Röck interview but to the following Words and Music Q&A session. So, with only minimal duplication, here goes …

Hi Mikko! Is it possible to say what rock music means to you?
It means everything; it’s the love of my life.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Elvis.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
I would say the Beatles albums: ‘Abbey Road’, ‘The White Album’, and ‘Sgt. Peppers’.

Mikko von Hertzen live at The Fleece, BristolWe were talking earlier (pre-interview) about the 1970s influences on the Von Hertzen Brothers’ music, but you’re going back beyond that in the answers you’re giving.
When I think about the pivotal moments that sealed our destiny, it must have been our father bringing home, when we were small kids, all these LPs. He was a businessman, and he was bringing home Lynyrd Skynyrd from the States, the Eagles from the States, and then from England the Beatles albums and a Queen box set with 16 LPs in it. It was like heaven for us.

So the three of you shared tastes right from the start?
Oh yeah, though of course we had our own favourites. My big brother Kie was a guitar player so he was into Ritchie Blackmore and Brian May and all that. I was more into drumming, so I was more, like, ‘Bonzo is my god’ [laughs], and my little brother, Jonne, was into pop.

Is there an artist who has stayed with you over time?
I would say Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd has had, for me, personally, the longest influence. Since hearing the first Pink Floyd album that my father brought – I think it was ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ – up to the later ones like the live album ‘Pulse’, it has had a huge effect on me.

There was a famous book written by a psychiatrist called Eric Berne called ‘What Do You Say After You Say Hello?’ I like to ask people what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
If I met a rock star? [laughs] I would say “Hello, I’m a really huge fan and I just want to express my appreciation for what you are doing.”

Von Hertzen Brothers live at The Fleece, Bristol

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan? There are so many. Like when I met Jónsi from Sigur Rós. It was one of those moments. I remember being in North India and sitting on a hill – not on top of a mountain, but just there meditating – and I put on a Sigur Rós album, the second one, and you know … how it felt. And when I met Jónsi, I tried to describe to him what it actually meant to me, and that was a beautiful moment because, you know, there was no bullshit. There was no ‘you’ and ‘me’.  It was just, like, the music has its role. So that’s one thing that I really remember. That’s one of the most precious interactions with somebody else who writes. And then meeting Steven Wilson for the first time, telling him how much I appreciate what he is doing. And also, I am a huge fan of the Cardigans, the Swedish pop band, a huge fan. So Nina [Nina Persson, lead singer] was one of the girls I was always in love with, always. And when I met her, and I could say this aloud to her, that was beautiful. [Laughs]

How did she react?
Well, she was like her usual self: “Oh thank you, that’s so sweet of you.” Can I have a photo? “Well, ok.” [Laughs]

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
Wow! My strangest? Well, I have to say, we were playing in the States at a prog festival of sorts, called RoSfest. We played a 90 minute set. The next morning I was just walking in the hotel area, outdoors, to the restaurant to have my breakfast, and I was all drowsy, I’d just woken up, and we’d had a bit of a party, and there was this huge pick-up truck coming behind me, like really roaring, and this massive guy, who must have weighed 300lbs, shouted out right into my ear “You guys fucking rock!” [Laughs] And it scared the shit out of me. I was in a panic. I thought someone was attacking me. But he just wanted to show his appreciation. That’s the one that just came to my mind now, but there are so many weird happenings with the fans, you know, some telling you their life stories, and thinking that I’m next to God and all that stuff, you know. But that one was funny.

What would you say makes a rock gig special?
The audience. It’s the audience that always makes a gig special. If there’s a good audience that’s what makes a rock show for me.

Mikko and fan

Do you have a particularly memorable gig, or gig moment, either as a fan or as a musician?
Well, as a fan, I remember when AC/DC were touring ‘For Those About To Rock’, and they had the big canons. I was about 12. I went to the Ice Hall, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever! “For those about to rock …” and then the loud bang!

And as an artist?
As an artist, we were playing this famous Finnish festival, Pori Jazz, maybe five or six years ago. And it’s a festival where people are out on an island, with an outdoor stage, and there’s all this cool jazz going on the whole day. And then, on the way back to the city, we were playing in a tent that took maybe 3,000 people. So everybody had been outdoors for the whole day, picnicking and listening to jazz, and all these people then jammed into the tent, and the sun is setting and coming from beneath the roof of the tent and lighting everybody with a golden colour. We were playing ‘Kiss a Wish’ or something, you know, one of the instrumental things, and I just remember that moment. That was beautiful because everybody was sick of hearing something very sweet, and they wanted to rock out, and they all wanted to come to the gig, and it was the best gig ever. It was such an amazingly, beautiful, Finnish sunset. You know, Finland can be beautiful too. There are a few months of the year when it’s exceptionally beautiful.

Yes, I am wary of telling a Fin how beautiful parts of Wales are.
Oh yeah, yeah. We drove to the HRH Prog festival last weekend, and it was absolutely stunning. Really, really stunning. But the thing that we have which is very special is the archipelago. There are tons of islands, beautiful, beautiful islands. So in the summertime people go sailing there. It’s so beautiful. But yeah, nothing compared to Wales [laughs].

Last question: sex, drugs and rock ʾn’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Well, you know, maybe when you’re a kid, all those things mean a lot. But when you get older and you do this more, for me, like I said, the love of my life is not cocaine or sex. I tend to be more towards the rock ʾn’ roll side of things. [Laughs] So, in moderation, everything. I don’t do drugs. I never did. But I did have … um … I got laid a few times, let’s put it that way! [Laughs]

Is there anything else you’d like to say?
No, I’m just grateful to those reading this and I think people should give us a chance. We’re a good band and we do it with a big heart. Von Hertzen is German and it means ‘from the heart’. And we always try to remind ourselves that as long as we do this from the heart, without any pretence, just being true to ourselves, it’s the most beautiful thing that we do and offer to the world.

Mikko von Hertzen

 

Cheers Mikko!

Live photography courtesy of Mike Evans. See more at Mike’s blog.

More on the Von Hertzen Brothers on their official website and Facebook page.

Check out the band’s ‘New Day Rising’ video on You Tube

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Neil Jenkins (and his Randy pics)

Ozzy Osboure with Neil Jenkins

Regular visitors to the Words and Music website may recall my post about the ‘disputed’ Cardiff gig on Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman tour. There are those who believe that the entire UK leg of the Diary tour was cancelled. Neil Jenkins is not one of them. Neil Jenkins was there, and has provided me with some extremely rare photos of Ozzy and the late, great Randy Rhoads to prove it. In fact, Neil Jenkins is possibly one of the most experienced gig-goers I have ever met. He is an intrepid gig-goer par excellence. If Neil was a footballer, his fans would sing: “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every f****n’ where!” with both fondness and admiration.

This is clear Words and Music territory, especially given that I met Neil at a Magnum gig, and that the title of the gig chapter in Words and Music (‘This One Sacred Hour’) is drawn from a Magnum song. I spoke with Neil to find out more about his love of live music, his Randy Rhoads photos, his Blizzard of Ozz signatures and his Randy Rhoads portrait. Check out his stories and his Randy pics (you know what I mean) below.

Hi Neil, when we met at a recent Magnum gig you told me that you’d seen them 63 times, but I get the impression you’ve seen a lot of other bands too?
I’ve seen every band I’ve ever wanted to see except one – ELO. I would have loved to have seen ELO. Magnum, yes, I’ve seen them 63 times. I have been a huge fan since my school days. I still have the Kingdom of Madness tour programme!

What was your first gig?
The first gig I went to was Rainbow at the  Capitol Theatre [long since demolished – Ed] in Cardiff, on the Long Live Rock And Roll tour. Of course, Ronnie James Dio was in the band then. I still have the scarf.

What are the best gigs you’ve been to?
Well, it has to be the Ozzy gigs at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff on the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman tours … and the Donington days and Reading Rock, if they count!

Your most disappointing gig?
Sabbath with Ian Gillan. He forgot his words, and the lowest part of the night was when he swore at the audience for booing when they did ‘Smoke on the Water’.  

Best and worst venues you’ve been to?
Well, the worst venue for me is St. David’s Hall, Cardiff – crap sound, terrible acoustics for rock music, and security will chuck you out for taking pictures! The venues I’ve been to that I like best are the Hammersmith Odeon, Bristol Colston Hall, and Sophia Gardens [also, of course, demolished – Ed] which has legendary status. The old venues are the best, and I quite like venues like the Ponty Arts Centre – cracking sound.

Looking at your photo collection, you’ve met a lot of musicians. What’s your best experience of meeting a rock star? 
Ronnie James Dio - Rest in PeaceI met Ronnie Jame Dio. He was so kind and made sure everyone got an autograph. True gentleman. I told him how much I enjoyed his concerts and he seemed genuinely interested in my experience of seeing the band. I know it sounds corny but the guy said “God bless mate,” and “See you soon”. I think it will stick in my mind. It’s so sad that he’s passed away.

Has anyone you’ve met given you a really hard time?
Yes, one. Malmsteen – wanker! My wife and I had guest passes for Cardiff. I bumped into him in the corridor in St. David’s Hall, asked for a picture and autograph and he said, “For fuck’s sake fuck off”!

Tell us about the signatures you got on the Blizzard of Ozz tour and what happened to them.
I sold the signatures to a guy in Australia for £600 in a moment of madness! And I sold the programme too. I didn’t meet Ozzy then mind, and I never met Randy. Someone else got the signatures for me. I got more Ozzy stuff later, from the Ultimate Sin and Bark at the Moon tours.

Blizzard of Ozz signatures

You have some extremely rare photos from the Cardiff gig on the Diary of a Madman tour. What do you remember about that gig?
Well, mainly the excitement of Ozzy coming. I am a huge Sabbath fan. Musically the best part of the night for me was ‘Revelation Mother Earth’/’Steal Away The Night’.

Randy Rhoads portraitI’m impressed with your Randy portrait – what you can tell us about that?
Well, there’s nothing hard in what I did there. It was all done on Photoshop – send me a picture and I’ll do the same for you!

How do you rate Randy as a guitarist?
Randy is an amazing guitarist. I like his style of playing, with the selector switch and the way he fills the song with those guitar neck techniques. That’s his trade mark and he has a distinctive sound as well. I like Brian May too, he has a good sort of style, nothing too flash. I don’t really like guitarists like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and instrumentals bore me.

And you’ve kept up with Ozzy’s career since?  Which tours and albums have impressed you?
Besides the Blizzard and Diary tours, I’d say The Ultimate Sin tour – I had fun that tour! I’ve seen Ozzy driving around in a beat-up Capri a few times!

I finally met him in Wembley at a Brit Awards ceremony. Magnum, Thunder and the Quireboys were on the bill and played for half an hour each. I remember buying the Just Say Ozzy CD there. I think it was around the time No More Tears was released.

To be honest, I think Sharon took pity on me and my wife outside the gates. She came out in a car, stopped and asked us what we were waiting for. I told her I was waiting for Ozzy to sign my album. She went somewhere then came back for us and took us backstage. She took us to a room where we mixed with a lot of ‘big wig’ people in suits.

You also sing in a band. Tell us about that.
Well, at the moment I’m in a duo called 48 Crash playing a lot of fun stuff like Madness and Bad Manners, and some rock like Rainbow and Sabbath – arse-moving music as I call it! Until last year I was in a band called Belladonic Haze doing Queen stuff. The name comes from a line in ‘Keep Yourself Alive’. I had a good laugh in that band, and we even managed to play the Liverpool Cavern. We sound-checked with Neil Murray too, at the last Queen Convention – though I found him quite rude, actually. He was trying to tell us we were playing a song too fast and he got really funny about it! We did, though, get quite a following among Queen fans. I think there are some reviews on Facebook!

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Bollocks! I would ask them why they would say that and in what way they think it’s dead. I could understand a person saying that if they didn’t like the music but in no way has it died in my eyes. It’s been a big part of my life both in terms of playing and listening. I have made a living playing and still enjoy it today, so … yeah, I think I would say to them what I just said to you!

Diary of a Madman tour photos
Sophia Gardens Cardiff, 30 November 1981

Please note: Neil’s photos come from a time which pre-dates the widespread availability of mobile phones and digital cameras. In those days, you weren’t allowed to take cameras into gigs either. Getting close enough to take any kind of snap was some achievement!

Ozzy Osbourne Randy Rhoads - Sophia Gardens Cardiff 30 November 1981

Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads on stage, Sophia Gardens Cardiff, 30 November 1981

Ozzy-Cardiff

Ozzy on stage

Randy Rhoads rocking out

Randy Rhoads rocking out, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, 30 November 1981

Randy Rhoads on stage Diary of a Madman tour

Randy Rhoads on stage, Diary of a Madman tour, Cardiff, Wales 30 November 1981

Ozzy with bodyguard Cardiff 81

Ozzy with bodyguard, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, 30 November, 1981

CHEERS NEIL!

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Paul Crook (Meat Loaf/Anthrax/’We Will Rock You’)

Paul Crook Meat Loaf guitarist

Paul Crook needs little introduction from me. The opening sections of his own website tell you all you need to know about his pedigree, experience and commitment to rock  ‘n’ roll.

“Paul Crook is an internationally acclaimed guitarist and highly sought after songwriter, producer and engineer. Known for his stints as lead guitarist for metal pioneers Anthrax, vocal icon Sebastian Bach and currently performing with the legendary Meat Loaf, Paul has established himself as one of the world’s premier rock and metal guitarists. It is that reputation that has Paul contacted for studio session work with famed producers including Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Dave Matthews Band) and Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin) as well as being personally selected by world renowned Queen guitarist Brian May to perform those classic Queen licks in the Las Vegas version of the smash hit musical We Will Rock You.”

He has played rock ‘n’ roll all over the world, performing on gold and platinum albums and taking music to the masses. Want to know what rock music means to Paul? Then read on …

So Paul, what does rock music mean to you?
It’s my every ounce. It’s a part of my DNA. There is no separation.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
I’ll take JADED STEREOTYPE…

You can often catch the Meat Loaf band backstage, talking about anything/everything except this cliché. We’ll discuss lower-back pain, health insurance, college tuition, mortgage rates as we’re sticking veggies and fruit into a juicer… Hmmmmm, so rock ‘n’ roll…

First artist to make an impression on you?
Gene Simmons. KISS is the reason I started playing the guitar.

An album, band or song that means a lot to you?
KISS: Rock And Roll Over. It was the first album I ever owned.

An artist or album that has stayed with you over time?
There are several. The ones I’m still learning from:

  • VAN HALEN
  • AC/ DC
  • BLACK SABBATH
  • LYNYRD SKYNYRD
  • QUEEN
  • KISS
  • PAT BENATAR
  • IRON MAIDEN
  • JUDAS PRIEST
  • NIN

Dylan or Morrison?
Morrison = Cool & Dangerous

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I’m trying to think what I said to Gene Simmons when I first met him… Probably “HELLO” then “THANK YOU”.

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
That would be Brian May…

I auditioned for the Las Vegas version of WE WILL ROCK (The Musical). To make a long story short, I was playing the song ONE VISION. As the guitar solo was getting close, Brian May got up from his seat and approached me. I remember thinking: WHAT IS HE DOING??? HE’S WALKING OVER TO ME!!! WTF???!!! Brian then stood directly in front of me and looked at my hands as I hit the solo. I shit my pants… Thankfully, I nailed it and got the gig.

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
There are several… Let me just say that I find it strange to be approached while eating dinner.

What makes a rock gig special?
ROCK!!! It’s an event. The energy in the room is like nothing else.

Your most notable gig as an artist?
Meat Loaf, 2003 in Hyde Park with 200,000 people

Your most notable gig as a fan?
KISS, 1979 at Madison Square Garden

Rock music – music for all or a tribal affair?
I’ll take TRIBAL. Rock music is rooted in loyalty. It’s a revolution!!!

Rock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
I’ll take SATAN… It makes me feel harder/ tougher when I walk on stage, especially after just having a discussion with the guys about my mortgage rate while drinking a shake made of celery, carrots and various fruits.

How do you view what you do as an artist?
I’m very hard on myself. I’m always looking for ways to improve every aspect of my being. My artistry morphs into my everyday lifestyle. Again, I can’t separate…

Is there a particular piece of music, or album or performance for which you would most like to be remembered?
At the moment it’s MEAT LOAF: HELL IN A HANDBASKET but I like the thought of getting better, stronger with every step. Meaning, I’m always looking to outdo myself. There is no room for complacency in my head.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
ROCK IS DEAD??? I like this!!! That means it’s back underground? It’s cool again??? Wooooo!!! Keep saying it, B-holes!!!

Paul Crook onstage

Paul Crook onstage (photo courtesy of PurpleBean)

THANK YOU!

Visit Paul Crook’s official website at: http://www.paul-crook.com

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