Scott Ian: Speaking Words

Scott Ian - promo shotThe Gate, Roath, Cardiff, 25 May 2013

I’ve long thought that there’s a rich but seldom tapped seam of fan and musician experience linked to the music we love. It’s the motivation, indeed, for Words and Music, and it appears that Scott Ian has had a similar thought, or, at least, one very much like it.

Scott has embarked on his Speaking Words tour with the conviction that his stories, memories and reflections will strike a chord and be of interest “to a certain audience”. He is right, and for over two hours, one man, his microphone, and a well-chosen set of photos and comic strip overheads, keep an enthralled audience both entertained and on the edge of their seats.

The Gate - Scott Ian

Shot posted by Scott a couple of hours before gig time

The venue is perfect – a converted church, with most of the 120 or so present primed on Worship Music. We all know it’s a privilege to see and hear such a big name at such close quarters and in such intimate surroundings. And with the pre-gig playlist – touchingly triggered by Scott himself from his on-stage computer – including the likes of Judas Priest (‘The Hellion’/’Electric Eye’), Iron Maiden, Motorhead (‘Love Me Like a Reptile’), Thin Lizzy (‘Don’t Believe a Word’), Dio (‘Stand Up and Shout’) and Rainbow (‘Kill The King’), we just know it’s going to be a good night. So let us play …

The gig proper kicks off with a reading that appears to be about drug addiction. The well-chosen passage tightens the mood before a killer punchline releases the tension and sets the tone for the evening. Thereafter, we are treated to a well-constructed and quick-witted performance from a man who clearly has a lot to say and a lot to offer.

This may only be Scott’s fifth Speaking Words show, and he may “get more nervous at these shows than a Big Four or a stadium gig”, but he comes across as fluent, intelligent, confident and professional. He even takes it in his stride when, early in the show, a man collapses in the second row (the gentleman concerned received treatment and was thankfully ok). He may not be “a stand-up comedian” but he is also very, very funny.

Scott Ian tour promoThe stories come thick and fast: his upbringing in a Jewish family in New York; his experience of, and attitude towards, drugs; his first meeting with Lemmy (the moral of the story: “Don’t try to keep up with Lemmy!”); his meeting with a sinister-looking German doctor; his second meeting, and subsequent friendship, with Lemmy (“Why on earth would you try to keep up with me?!”); his memories of departed friends – Dimebag Darrell, Jeff Hanneman, Ronnie James Dio and Cliff Burton; his inopportune seizures; and how difficult he finds it leaving his two year old son to go on tour.

Some of the topics and reflections emerge from an open Q&A session, in which Scott honestly answers questions on everything thrown at him  – no sacred ground, not even in a church. He makes sure that everyone who wants to ask a question gets to ask one, and he even holds a free prize draw in which everyone gets a chance to win a tour merch bundle and a signed Jackson guitar.

I learnt some stuff too. Did you know that the Wales and British Lions rugby captain Sam Warburton named his book, Refuse To Be Denied: My Grand Slam Year, after the Anthrax track on the We’ve Come For You All album?

Scott ends the show with a list of things you are well advised NOT to say or do when you meet a rock star – a kind of top 10 compilation of things people say to him or shout at him as he goes about his business. You’ll laugh and maybe even cringe a bit as he runs through his list. You know the kind of thing:
Fan: “Hey, I know you, you’re the guy in that band.”
Scott: “Anthrax?”
Fan: “No, that’s not it.”

Throughout he is a warm and engaging host, and I came away feeling that I’d really seen something of the man behind the music, both in humorous and serious moments. “Music should be what you feel and what’s in your heart,” he says, to enthusiastic applause from all around the room. We sense there is something in this passionate statement that we share.

Scott reflects on Jeff Hanneman’s passing too, even though it is clearly (and unsurprisingly) still very raw.  It is the first time, says Scott, that he has really been moved to think about his own mortality. He has always taken the view that you should: “Play every show as though you’re going to jail the next day”, but Hanneman’s passing seems to have given his perspective a wider and more emotional significance.

As for the funny moments, well, Scott’s story about making Slayer smile onstage is hilarious, and I’ll never, ever be able to look at pictures of Sebastian Bach again (not that I make a habit of doing that) without giggling.

But hey, I don’t want to give out too many spoilers. If you wanna hear Scott’s stories, you’ve gotta see the show. And really, you’ve got to see this show.

In these days of carefully-packaged, superficial talent show bullshit, the words spoken by Scott Ian were very refreshing. Catch this tour if you can – you will not regret it.

Scott Ian

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Joel McIver

Joel McIver

Joel McIver has been described by Classic Rock magazine as “by some distance the UK’s most prolific rock/metal author”. (“Dashed kind of them,” he says.) Indeed, if you are a reader of rock and metal biographies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid Joel McIver’s books. Not, of course, that you’d want to. Readers of Words and Music will have noticed references to both  Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica (a best seller widely regarded as the leader in its field) and Joel’s Black Sabbath biography Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. He has also written books on Cliff Burton, Randy Rhoads, Motörhead, Machine Head, Slayer, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Sex Pistols, to name a few, and he co-wrote Glenn Hughes’ recent autobiography  (see my Voice of Rock blogpiece for more on the latter). Read ’em All – that’s what I say!

Joel edits Bass Guitar Magazine, and contributes regularly to a range of other music and film magazines. Chuck in his media activity and his liner notes for CDs and DVDs and you clearly have one busy man. It was dashed kind of him, therefore, to agree to take the Words and Music Q&A.

Hello Joel, can you tell us what rock music means to you?
Music of all kinds, not just rock, is a medicine for the brain, an outlet for the soul and the best possible drug ever.

Joel McIver Machine Head book signingI’ve heard people say that working full time in the music industry and being surrounded by music all the time has stopped them enjoying it. Have you found this as a writer?
No, because I haven’t allowed this to happen. It’s perfectly possible to let yourself forget why you started doing this in the first place, but I take the time to remind myself on a daily basis why I devote my time to music, the greatest of all human achievements.

Does researching and writing about artists ever change the way you feel about their work?
Yes, sometimes. Naming no names, I have discovered certain personal things about musicians which have diminished the enjoyment of their music. The opposite is also true, fortunately.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
The Beatles, when I was seven. I became obsessed with certain guitar lines, drum patterns and vocal harmonies and was a pre-teen geek before I knew it. I’m still a geek, and proud.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
‘Tree Of Pain’ by Soulfly. Max Cavalera, whose autobiography I am currently co-writing, put everything he had into that song: you can hear his inner agony.

The Truth About Metallica Book CoverAn artist who has stayed with you over time?
Metallica. I have never fallen out of love with their Cliff Burton-era material even though it’s 25 years since I first heard it.

Dylan or Morrison?
Neither. If you want 60s names that mean a lot to me, I’d go with Hendrix or Cream.

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
“Are they working you hard today?” That is their cue to laugh and say no, or frown and say yes, either of which is a way into a personal connection.

Your best encounter with an artist?
Joel - mad monkLemmy, 1999, drinking Jack Daniel’s in a London hotel and arguing about Tony Blair.

Your strangest encounter with an artist?
Jon Bon Jovi, 2001. I had a seven-minute interview slot with him on his tour manager’s cellphone, and his attention was clearly elsewhere.

What makes a rock gig special?
At this stage, if I’m backstage with the artist, enjoying a medium level of debauchery and not standing in the crowd.

Your most memorable gig?
Donington, 1988; Clash Of The Titans, 1990; Slayer, 2004. And lots more.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Neither, just a lifestyle that some people choose to pursue. It’s not necessarily positive or negative; it’s merely one of many options.

You’ve written about Sabbath and Slayer, and know a thing or two about extreme metal. So tell us, is rock music the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
A force for good, because all music is exactly that. Anyone who thinks otherwise is uninformed, mistaken or just a fool.

Rock music – music for the masses or a tribal affair?
Both apply, surely?

Italian launch of Joel's Cliff Burton book 2008How do you view the role of the rock writer?
We are chronicling our culture for future historians, and having more fun than the average human while doing so.

Of everything you’ve written, is there one thing of which you are most proud?
My Cliff Burton book, which came closest to my objectives as an author of the 21 books I’ve done so far. Also, interviews with challenging people such as Femi Kuti.

You’re well known and well established as a writer now. Would you give it all up for a crack at the big time as a musician?
Fuck no! I’m also a musician, and there is no way I would trade my life for a daily routine involving 22 hours of travel, 2 hours of live performance and no money.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
I wouldn’t say anything to them. They’re clearly not willing to make the effort to listen, and therefore they’re not worthy of my time.

What next from Joel McIver?
Eight books at various stages, detailed at www.joelmciver.co.uk, and I’m also the editor of Bass Guitar Magazine, www.bassguitarmagazine.com. Cheers captain!

Joel with Glenn Hughes

Joel McIver’s website: http://www.joelmciver.co.uk/

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Relics 2: Programmes That Can Be Read

Following on the heels of Relics 1, welcome to the second post in the ‘Relics’ series. This one focuses on some tour programmes of note, most of which have been in a box in the attic for over 25 years, and most (though not all) of which are from 1982-83.

I don’t tend to buy tour programmes these days. As a rule I think they are overpriced and uninformative, but back in the day I did purchase them from time to time, and occasionally I managed to get them signed.

The Eagle Has Landed

Saxon’s Bristol Colston Hall gig on The Eagle Has Landed tour was the first gig I went to outside my home town. I loved Saxon in those days. They were the first band I ever saw. They were a fantastic live act and, in fact, I saw them on every tour from Strong Arm of the The Law through to Crusader and they never failed to deliver. (For an amusing Crusader story, check out the Dobby’s Shoelace blog.) On this particular night they played to an ecstatic and appreciative audience. In the words of the tour programme: “They took no prisoners.”  They were touring their live album The Eagle Has Landed and used the tour to debut a new song of the same name. It sounded great and augered well for the next album – though when it came I didn’t think the studio recording quite captured the power of the live performance.

Cheetah supported. Man, did I over-fixate on Chrissie Hammond. “I just wanna spend the night with you,” she sang. As a horny 15 year old, I felt the same way.

The only slight mystery here is how I managed to get the programme signed. If I recall correctly, we left the gig in  a rush to get the train back to Cardiff (a prelude to the shenanigans described in Words and Music).  Though I don’t remember with any certaintly, I suspect I took it along to the HMV signing session (described in Relics 1) on The Power and The Glory tour. I notice, flicking through it now, that Nigel Glockler and Steve Dawson signed the back as well as the front, and Graham Oliver also signed his portrait inside! Overkill, you might say!

A Light in the Black

The music of Ronnie James Dio has played a significant part in my history as a rock fan. I loved the Dio-fronted version of Rainbow and his involvement in other Deep Purple-related projects, such as Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball album. As readers of Words and Music (and, indeed, Relics 1) will recall, I saw the Dio version of Sabbath live on the Heaven and Hell tour early in my gigging history and was blown away. I was greatly excited, then, when Dio emerged with his own band and a new album – Holy Diver – which proved to be one of the three greatest studio albums he recorded. I saw him on the Holy Diver and The Last in Line tours, both fine performances. This programme is from the Holy Diver tour. The fact that Ronnie has passed away makes this signed copy all the more special to me.

MSG: Re-Armed and Ready

There’s surprisingly little in Words and Music about Michael Schenker, save a short section in which I suggest that his playing “takes you as close to the Platonic Form of beauty as a heavy rock guitarist possibly can”. A slight overstatement? A touch pretentious? You’d only think that if you’ve never heard or appreciated Schenker at his best! He’s a great talent and his playing is truly sublime. Soulful, melodic, controlled, chaotic, cutting, frenetic, soaring … just go listen!

This particular programme is from the Assault Attack tour, November 1982. The tour was notable for the suprising return of original MSG vocalist Gary Barden. Gary had been replaced for the Assault Attack album by former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet, in  a line-up shuffle that also saw Ted McKenna replace the late, great Cozy Powell on drums to team up with his old mucker from the Alex Harvey Band, bassist Chris Glenn. Assault Attack was a cut above. It had a crisp, clean production that gave it a unique sharp and fluid sound, and, arguably, the Schenker/Bonnet songwriting partnership threatened to eclipse the work of the earlier line-ups. All looked as rosy as the flowers on one of Bonnet’s shirts. Then he got pissed and disgraced himself at a warm-up gig, and that was that.

These were pre-internet days and information travelled less quickly than it does now. Rock fans relied on Sounds, Kerrang! and Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show for their news. I didn’t know that Gary Barden was back in the band until he bounded onto the stage! But his return went down well with the faithful and a great evening was had by all. I particularly remember Schenker crouched over his guitar, almost statue-esque, delivering a note perfect rendition of the extended solo in ‘Rock Bottom’. Great stuff!

Piece Be With You

What can you say about Iron Maiden that hasn’t already been said? They have always been an astonishingly hard working band and their tour schedules have, at times, been truly punishing. How amazing then that they came out to sign autographs for a small group of us who had gathered patiently at the St. David’s Hall cloakroom after the gig. They didn’t all come out together, not at first anyway, but Bruce sorted that out in a wonderful gesture of kindness towards my friend John.

John had broken his ankle not long before on a school skiing trip to Switzerland and attended the gig on crutches with his leg in plaster. We persuaded him to ask the band to sign his plater cast. Held up by friends, John stood with his ‘bad leg’ up on the counter. The first of the band to see him was Bruce, who had a towel wrapped around his neck and was signing and gesturing rather than talking, to rest his voice and keep it in good shape. Despite this, as soon as he had signed John’s leg he went off to get the rest of the band to come and do the same. Think of the kudos John gained, hobbling round the school playground with a plaster cast signed by Iron Maiden! My main memory of the rest of the band that night is that Nicko told a lot of jokes and talked very loudly. He also kept saying: “Well, fuck my old boots!” The next time I came face to face with Nicko, about 25 years later, he was no different! (For more Maiden-related gig memories, check out the Drawn By Quest for Arry! blog.)

Speak of the Devil

This was Ozzy’s first UK tour since Randy’s death. Brad Gillis featured on guitar, in an unusual line-up that also included Pete Way on bass and Tommy Aldridge on drums. According to the programme, Lyndsey Bridgewater played keyboards. The tour featured the full, theatrical stage show, with John Allen playing Ronnie the dwarf who was ritually hung during ‘Goodbye to Romance’. Mad times, but quite a show, and how Ozzy managed to keep going and maintain standards at the time is beyone me. Between album release and tour ‘Talk of the Devil’ had also become ‘Speak of the Devil’.

Support was provided by the Impeckable Budgie. Often touted as the ultimate arena support band, their presence seemed appropriate. Tommy Vance had played two Budgie tracks from their Nightflight album as a tribute to Randy on the night he announced his death to the UK rock community. I notice that drummer Steve Williams signed the back of my programme. I saw him wandering around during Ozzy’s set and duly popped down to say hello.

The Werewolf programme is from the Bark at the Moon tour, with Jake. E. Lee. I caught the Bristol gig. The remarkable thing about this gig was that no one left when the lights went on. The band were forced out of the shower for a second encore.

Damage Inc.

The second ‘untimely’ death (is there ever a good time to die?) discussed in Words and Music, another senseless tour accident, was that of Cliff Burton, the extraordinary Metallica bass player. As noted in my book, the UK leg of the Master of Puppets/Damage Inc. tour had been a total triumph, and the Cardiff show I attended was quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Tour t-shirts and programme alike feature a list of dates that sadly neither Cliff, nor the band, were able to fulfil. By then I had pretty much stopped buying tour programmes. It’s kind of odd that I bought this one. I reproduce Ross Halfin’s portrait here as my own tribute of sorts. (Hope that’s ok, Ross!)

Farewell to ’83

This was the first time I saw Marillion live. My friend Ray and I went on a Concert Travel Club trip to catch the Birmingham Odeon gig.

1983 had been a great year for Marillion – they had released and toured debut album Script for a Jester’s Tear. As they were readying second album Fugazi, they used a short Christmas tour to get out of the studio, maintain a bit of momentum, try out a few new tracks and ‘break in’ new drummer Ian Mosley. There was a wonderful celebratory Christmas vibe at this gig, well captured by the artwork on the front of the tour programme and the picture of the Christmas Jester into which it unfurled. I found the gig utterly engaging. I loved Fish’s between-song banter and our first taste of the new songs.

Support was provided by Pendragon. They were great. There was a real warmth to their music and performance that was also captured on the cassette tapes they were selling on the merch stand. I bought the ‘blue’ one; Ray bought the ‘pink’ one. These remain the best things I’ve heard from Pendragon. (There’s something here, I feel, about not overproducing music, but just giving it the space it needs to breathe.) One question: ‘Alaska’ – does Nick Barrett really sing about “kippers in the fridge”? (Or rather the lack of them.) I always think of ‘Alaska’ as the Eskimo fishing song! Pendragon also supported Marillion a few months later on the Fugazi tour – and were just as good then.

I’ve seen Marillion on numerous occasions since. There are other gigs I’d probably rate more highly in terms of both performance and set list, and, Script aside, I do have a preference for the Hogarth-era material. Nevertheless, there’s nothing quite like the first time you see a band live. The Farewell to ’83 gig will always carry special meaning for me.

Fish in Water

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‘In The Evening’ … Rock on the Radio

“Roc, Roc, Roc ar y Radio” went the old air-punching anthem from Welsh language New Wave of British Heavy Metal-era band Ceffyl Pren. (The bands name means ‘Wooden Horse’ in English; I don’t imagine I need to translate the song title!)

Those were the days of Tiger Bay Rock with Steve Tupper (Cardiff Broadcasting Company), Al Dupree’s rock show (when CBC became Red Dragon Radio) and the BBC Radio Wales show Rockpile with Richard Rees. It was Steve Tupper, in fact, who turned me on to David Coverdale’s post-Purple solo work and bands like Shiva, V8, Persian Risk and Stormqueen – with a great mix of ‘metal’ chart and local rock action! And it was Richard Rees who got me listening to Metallica when the heavier thrash bands started to emerge. I also won a ‘mystery voice’ competition after listening to a Rock Goddess interview on Al Dupree’s show. The voice belonged to bass player Dee O’Malley, and I knew it was her because I’d heard the original interview just a few weeks before (and remembered Jody Turner coughing in the background). The station expected the competition to run and run, and were amazed that someone recognised Dee’s voice within a day or so.

Since then, I’ve always had a secret ambition to somehow get on Welsh Radio to talk about and play some rock music. Well, just recently that ambition was realised, courtesy of Alan Thompson and The Evening Show on BBC Radio Wales. It’s a great show, with an excellent mix of chat, old music and live sessions. It’s always entertaining … though Alan doesn’t, truth be told, play a great deal of rock music. I was absolutely delighted, therefore, to be asked not only to talk about my book (Words and Music) but to choose some tracks to go with the interview.

I went in through the in door at the appointed time, and left through the out door an hour or so later having throughly enjoyed the experience. I  chatted to Alan about all manner of things rock (the influence of Snowdonia on the songwriting of Plant and Page, the Welsh liking for heavy rock, the dangers of meeting your hero, and lots more besides) and got to witter on about some of my favourite bands and artists including Deep Purple, Marillion, Bob Dylan, the Doors, Twelfth Night and Geoff Mann. I was even able to give a bit of plug for the High Voltage Festival and some new(er) bands like The Treatment, the Von Hertzen Brothers, The Reasoning, Rival Sons and Bigelf.  (As for the music: ‘Tangerine’, ‘When A Blind Man Cries’, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’, ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, ‘The Honeymoon Is Over’ … not bad eh?)

The show was broadcast on Friday 22 June 2012. You can see the full show playlist, with links to information about the artists, here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jvh2j

As rock fans we often complain that our music is neglected and even ridiculed by the mainstream media. This interview, however, went out at 8:30pm on a Friday night on what is BBC Radio Wales’ flagship evening show. So thanks to Alan and producer Llinos for taking a punt on me, and all kudos to the Welsh Beeb!

Meanwhile, the prospect of a further radio slot has emerged, this time for a Valleys rock show. More ambition fulfilment … and a request for a 10-12 track playlist that has got me positively salivating. This time it’s a full-on ROCK show, so regular listeners will expect to have their heads filled with heavy metal thunder. I’d hate to disappoint them!