Michael Schenker – new interview

Michael Schenker

It hasn’t been the happiest of New Years for rock fans, with longstanding icons apparently going down like nine pins. An enthusiastic and energetic Michael Schenker, however, is always a mood lifting joy to the ears, as much when he converses, I’m starting to think, as when he picks up his famed Flying V and solos with a melodic fluidity and emotional depth that in the world of heavy rock is still without equal.

It was an absolute pleasure, therefore, to find Michael in such fine form as we picked up the threads of a previous interview and he gave me a progress report on the ongoing construction and continuing ascent of his Temple of Rock and Temple of Rock’s world tour.

Read the interview in full here as an Über Röck interview exclusive!

Schenker, Buchholz, Findlay

Photos provided by Noble PR

(Top photo by John Bull, bottom photo by Adam Kennedy)

Read some of Michael Anthony’s other interviews in the Words and Music Q&A Series.



Fireworks, Rocktopia and Uber Rock

Regular readers may have noticed the relative paucity of new interviews and articles on this site recently, for which I apologise. This is partly due to general busy-ness (work and play) but mainly due to the increase in time I’ve devoted to reviews and interviews for other publications, most notably Fireworks Magazine and Über Röck.

Uber Rock logoWith regards to Über Röck, it’s a pleasure writing for a magazine which prides itself on devoting column inches to bands who fly below the radar, as it were, bringing great new music to your attention without pandering to PR companies and major record labels. Better still is working with a group of writers who do it purely and simply for the love of the music. If you want to know more, joint-founder of Über Röck, Gaz, tells it like it is here:

Those interested can read my Über Röck reviews here:

Recent reviews include (among others) albums by Yes, Vertica, Dead Shed Jokers, Neal Morse Band, Agent Philby and the Funtans, Jouis, Amberjacks, Lande and Holter, Beardfish, Corvus Stone, Pain of Salvation and Martin Barre. You can also check out interviews with the likes of Neal Morse, Adrian Belew, Graham Bonnet, Robbie Cavanagh and Michael Schenker.

Fireworks Magazine CoverFireworks Magazine is published every other month and is available in the UK in all high street branches of W.H.Smiths. it is also now available in the United States and Canada. Most Fireworks reviews and interviews are subsequently made available on the Rocktopia website. You  can access the site here: http://www.rocktopia.co.uk/

My recent contributions include reviews of albums by Von Hertzen Brothers, Anathema, Curved Air, Voyager, Perfect Beings, The Answer, Starset, Blitzkrieg, Meat Loaf, Arcane, Man and Melissa Etheridge (to name a few), and interviews with Cormac Neeson of The Answer and Brian Ross of Blitkzkrieg.

Prog fans might also have noticed Michael Anthony’s Prog Magazine article on Twelfth Night’s excellent ‘Fact and Fiction’ album (in ‘The Albums That Saved Prog’ series) a while back. More information about that is available on the Twelfth Night official website.

Look out too for Michael Anthony’s occasional appearances on BBC Radio Wales on The Alan Thompson Show. Recent chat and music has included features on AC/DC, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Prog Rock, Bob Dylan and Jon Lord.

Rock ‘n ‘Roll!

Prog Magazine Cover July 2013

Read Über Röck’s review of Words and Music

Read Fireworks/Rocktopia’s review of Words and Music

Read Prog Magazine’s review of Words and Music

Michael Schenker (Über Röck interview)

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Schenker about his new album for the Über Röck website. I reproduce the interview below with grateful thanks to Johnny H and the Über Röck boyz. Kick Ass Rock ‘n’ Roll!

With his latest studio record Bridge The Gap being rated as one of his best in many years (you can read my Über Röck review of said album right here). I thought it was about time that I finally caught up with the six string legend that is Michael Schenker ahead of the album’s release to find out just what it is about Temple of Rock that has got the man from Hannover playing and writing better than ever before …

Michael Schenker photo by Diana Fabbricatore

Photo by Diana Fabbricatore

Hi Michael, it’s good to be speaking with you, especially at a time when you’re on such a fine run of form. The new album sounds great! You must be very pleased with it?
Yeah, you know it was very difficult, actually, because we finished touring the first leg of Europe with Doogie [White, vocalist] and Francis [Buchholz, bassist] October 2012, and then I saw that there was a six month gap before the continuation of the European tour, and so I decided to make a record. But the problem was that we got it done on 31st March and on the 4th April we already had the first concert in Russia, so it had to sit there all this time. I just put it away because I didn’t want it to interfere with the tour, plus, you know, when you’re making a record on a daily basis, you kind of lose a little bit of the perspective when you’re ‘in it’ rather than looking from the outside in. So by having it lying there for a while, when I played it and we listened to it together in July, we knew what we could do better – that was the good thing. And so we remixed it and remastered it and added other parts to it and made it more complete. The difficult thing was to let it sit there and not listen to it, because, you know, you don’t want to overexpose yourself with your recording so by the time it’s released you’re already kind of done with it, you know. That was the difficult part, but it all turned out good.

It’s interesting hearing you say that, because it sounds very fresh, I think. You’d never know it had been in the can, as it were, for so long.
Yeah, well, by the time we finished it on the 31st March, it was basically more or less there. We added additional things wherever we thought we could improve it, but the basics were there. And so, the freshness, I think, comes more from something like writing music from within rather than sticking with a particular trend which is out there or, say, having a particular kind of system for how you do things, or always getting it from an external source so you are exhausted or overexposed or tired out. But if you get your inspiration from within and you’re just being yourself, it’s like an endless combination lock – you can always add new sparks because if you write from within you’re presenting a colour to the world that nobody knows about and that is the trick. Because each person has got something within that nobody externally knows about until you express that particular colour. I do that with lead breaks, that’s what I’m fascinated by, and I play and discover on a daily basis. And so, after one year you make a new record, you have put to the foreground new developments that come from within yourself that haven’t been exposed to the world anywhere because nobody else can do it other than you.

That suggests that Michael Schenker’s inner life is very positive at the moment because your playing sounds really free and unfettered, those are the terms that came to mind for me, listening to the album.
Maybe what happened too is that, you know, if I look at my whole life it appears to come in three stages. The first stage was developing as a musician, focusing on pure self-expression and putting what was inside of me to the outside. Obviously, in the beginning I got inspired by people like Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple etc. etc. but when I was seventeen I went my own way. I always knew it was all about self-expression for me, but I had to develop, which happened all the way up to Strangers in the Night. Then I rejoined the Scorpions, and that wasn’t the right thing to do, so I was kind of in limbo. I didn’t know what to do, so I formed my own band. MSG was designed for experimenting and to create all sorts of music without being a machine and being restricted. It was basically for freedom, you know, and personal development. And so I disappeared from the loop, basically, from the machine, from the loop of rock and roll and just did my own thing for musical and personal development. And then somehow, I don’t know how it works, but somewhere around the time of the Michael Schenker and Friends tour and In the Midst of Beauty, I started to develop an incredible liking for playing live on stage, which I never had before. I never liked to be on stage before, and so I couldn’t understand why that was happening. And, if I look at it, it could simply be because this is my third stage, you know, and I’m coming back into the loop of rock and roll to celebrate the roofing of the era of ‘hand-made rock’.

It’s a bit like, the way it all started with Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, a particular kind of building was created, you know, a temple of rock, with those bands of the late sixties with the distorted guitar sound and playing really heavy, hard rock, they laid the foundation for what I fell in love with. Then bands like UFO and Judas Priest and Rush etc., they did the seventies and created the pillars. Then the eighties were like the bricks and the clay needed to build that building, and eventually we get to the roof, you know, when all these people who started this particular style of music, once they are gone – and some of them are already gone, you know, Gary Moore, Alvin Lee, Lou Reed just recently, so many people – at some point it will just be a memory how those bands created music, which is very different from how it is being done today because of technology. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be worse, it’s just going to be different, the way people put together music today, the young generation. The way it used to be done, because of the circumstances, people had to learn their instruments in a particular way but today people can make music by pressing a button or whatever. It’s just a different era, you know, and I’m in the mode of celebrating the era of ‘hand-made rock’. And so that’s, I think, what called me back to being in the loop.

Michael Schenker photo by Steve Brinkman

Photo by Steve Brinkman

I wanted to ask you about the choice of Doogie White as your songwriting partner and vocalist, particularly in the light of what you’ve just said. I hear quite a strong Ronnie James Dio influence on Doogie’s work.
Doogie, he loves Ronnie James Dio. He’s another. I mean one of my favourite singers of all time is Ronnie James Dio, you know. And so, yeah, I know Doogie loves his voice. It’s that particular style, like Bruce from Iron Maiden, he sings like that. It’s a particular style that was created by Ronnie James Dio, and people who fell in love with that voice did something similar, I guess.

For me it puts the album very much in that ‘classic rock’ tradition …
Yeah, it’s incredible how what a singer does makes a difference, you know.

Are there any particular tracks on the album that stand out for you?
That’s always a question I can’t really answer that easily, because I look at a whole album, I don’t look at particular songs. I am always more fascinated by what I can do with a single string and for me the adventures on an album are the lead breaks that take it out of the song and put it in a completely different place, and then it comes back and it carries on with the song. So for me it’s like a whole picture, the whole album is one complete picture, very balanced, with highlights, dramatics, melodies, you know, putting lots of elements in from the feeling point of view, not overly happy, not overly dark, but with a healthy balance of emotions. With this one I did make an effort to focus on keeping it exciting, not too much mid-tempo, but having the balance between heavy, hard, fast, mid-tempo, dramatic and melodic, and not ending up somewhere where it just keeps repeating itself.

How about the title of the album, ‘Bridge The Gap’? That sounds like quite a thoughtful title.
Yeah, I had the album title before I wrote the album, before I even started actually. It happened when Francis joined. I went: “Wow, this incredible!” And, Francis and Herman, they also have been out of the loop of rock and roll for quite a while. And so, it’s kind of weird, you know, all of a sudden here we are all together. The last thing we did together was Lovedrive, so it felt like ‘bridge the gap’. Also, the other thing is that Wayne plays seven strings, so another element on this album that has been added, which we didn’t do so much in the past, was to add in more of Wayne’s seven string and heaviness to it, to combine the old with the new a bit more. So it created a unique type of chemistry. Then also, what’s happening today in general with poverty, you know, it’s time to bridge the gap of things that shouldn’t really be there or don’t need to be there. There are certain things in life or on this planet that are there for no reason and so there are a lot of gaps to be bridged.

Michael Schenker photo by Steve Brinkman

Photo by Steve Brinkman

So do you already have an idea for where you might push the music in the future having ‘bridged the gap’?
I already have an idea to have this band, after this album has been released and after we’ve done the touring, to sit together and to write an album collectively, you know the whole band, with Wayne, Doogie, Herman, Francis, myself – and then give the whole thing from that moment on the name ‘Temple of Rock’ as a band name. So, basically, this album is Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock but we’re bridging the gap to the next album when the band’s name will be Temple of Rock and we collectively write an album. That’s gonna be interesting, to see what comes out of that.

Yeah, it will be, though I think on this album there’s already a really strong band feel.
Yeah, right. And it’s gonna be exciting to see what comes out, when you put five heads together and you bounce ideas off each other in the moment. That’s going to be exciting.

I love Doogie’s line in ‘Rock and Roll Symphony’: “It’s the music we live for, the music we love”. I suppose in some ways you’ve already partly answered this, but is it possible to say what music means to you?
Music to me, what it means … well, first of all I feel like who I am is a spirit on a mission, spreading the joy of music from a place of pure self-expression, so that’s what I do. You know, music is pure joy, it does a lot of good, it unites people, takes away borders, makes everybody speak the same language or understand everybody all around the world. It’s a feeling that can be communicated without words; it’s a different dimension of our being. Very often it’s difficult with words to really describe certain things from the more spiritual world, so music can do that better for me and I’m better with music than I am with words. I fish for words very often trying to extract something very deep but I don’t know the words for it.

You mentioned playing live earlier. I saw you play at the High Voltage Festival and again at the Steelhouse Festival and on both occasions I thought the band were superb. At the High Voltage Festival my feeling was that you drew one of the biggest and most enthusiastic audiences of the entire festival. It struck me then that your playing clearly means a lot to a lot of people.
Well, you know, the thing about my guitar playing is that I was never really aware of what I was doing. It was always the fascination of the single string that I was focusing on and I was having fun with it, and I just kept doing it over the years regardless of what was going on around me. And somehow I just automatically developed something that people liked. I guess, it was maybe different from what other people were doing, and the reason probably is that I was just simply being myself. And as I said earlier, every person can do that, it’s just a matter of choice – if we want to express from within or take something from the outside that already exists and make a different combination of it. The difference is that you will automatically do something unique because it’s a colour that only you have, so if you choose to express that colour and you keep doing it, you will design consistently a combination of colours that have never really been expressed in the first place or, of course, never been combined either. So I can do that, and after so many years I have combined so many different colours that were coming from a source that can’t come from anywhere else, and the consistency of it develops a particular style or sound that somehow has an impact. That’s how I see it. It just develops by itself. It’s to do with consistency and it’s based on pure self-expression as much as possible. I mean, I stay away from music, I’m basically a monk, you know. I know that if I focused on music I would probably not be that fresh, because I know that listening to music and consuming music also drains and takes away energy for creating. So I’ve always made a conscious effort to stay away from music, external music, as much as possible and focus on creating more than consuming so that keeps you fresh and it also makes you create fresh stuff.

Michael Schenker photo by Tallee Savage

Photo by Tallee Savage

I think it shows in what you produce! It was great, by the way, to see you picking up the Vegas Rock Magazine Award in 2012 (‘Rock Guitar Legend’) and the Marshall 11 Award (November 2010). It must have been very gratifying to get that kind of recognition?
Again, it’s kind of a shock almost, because you don’t expect anything. I never expected anything to be honest. When I was with UFO I was developing very fast, and I came to the end of 1979, Strangers in the Night. I experienced a very fast step-by-step [development] in just a matter of six albums or six years, you know, from nothing to the peak. Basically anything after Strangers in the Night with UFO would have been more or less the same – it would have been bigger, and there would have been more money and more fame etc. etc. but I didn’t need any of that at that point because I already understood where this leads to and I was never really that desperate for that kind of stuff to be honest. Actually, when Lights Out became a success I got scared [laughs], I sold everything and ran away, and two months later I came back again, so that’s the kind of effect those things had on me. So I never expected anything. But, of course, it’s the icing on the cake, to be honest. You know, when you do get awards and recognition for something that you’ve been doing because you believe in it and you have fun doing it, it’s icing on the cake. It’s great, of course.

We’ve been talking about the new album a bit. In the context of everything you’ve done how would you place it? How good do you think it is?
Well, it reflects the now of my personal development. And, you know, I think there is more than meets the eye, that things happen for a reason, that things are predestined, that the script is already written and we’re just living it, just as a movie, you know? So, I personally am not the driver of the Universe, I’m just doing my part, and I just let everything happen. And to me it feels like it’s basically a reflection – my part of the album – of the present, of the now of my own development. People who have followed my career since the beginning, they probably understand what I’m talking about, and they probably hear it too.

You have a US tour ahead, you mentioned it earlier. Are there any plans to tour the album in the UK?
Yeah. Basically Doogie and I, and Wayne, we are going to tour the States for the new album release promotion tour and we’re doing some concerts there, and after that, we go with the album line-up, we start our tour of Japan and, as we speak, we are booking tours all around the world. And, of course, somewhere after March we’ll be finished in Japan and I would guess that somewhere around April/May the next European tour would start, and we will put together a new set, we’ll do quite a few more new songs, and still the basic structure will be the most popular songs of my involvement from all the years plus maybe two or three new songs.

I was going to ask you about new songs, because as you listen to the album some of them sound like they would be great live.
Yeah, fortunately it turned out that way! All I said to Doogie was: “Think melodic!” [Laughs] He came up with some really good melodies and, of course, that makes the songs more recognisable and enjoyable because they have that particular type of something in them that’s melodic. And combined with the heaviness, it’s a really nice combination.

Is there any likelihood of a Welsh gig? (I’ve got to ask, writing for Uber Rock and being a Welshman)
Gigs in Wales? Like I said, we’re gonna be playing wherever there’s interest for us to play, period, so that will include wherever we can play. Wherever it makes sense to play, we will play.

I’m sure a lot of people will be looking forward to seeing you live again and hearing some of the new tracks too.
So do we! Like I said, Francis and Herman and myself, we have been out of the loop. I have never been a touring machine, that was not my place. I was there until the end of [my time in] UFO, and then in the mid-section of my life it was more about other things, experimenting – there was no mention of tour-album-tour-album, I never went through that. So I did everything at my own pace and I was never overexposed, I was never worn out by it because I never did it too much, and so the same goes for Herman and for Francis. It seems like everyone in the band is eager to be on stage and we really enjoy it. You know, there’s a difference between if you’ve been on road for forty years and you’re done with it and us. With us it’s the opposite; we haven’t been on the road for that long, so we can take it now, you know. It’s almost like we’ve been preserved to be fresh for the roofing for the era of rock. It’s not going to be over tomorrow, but it’s the next few years. It’s gonna be the time for us to celebrate that whole era from that great start with Zeppelin and those bands, coming all the way to this point. We’re all looking forward to actually releasing and touring the album now and hope that everybody enjoys it. Then we’re looking forward to the next one!

 Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock - Bridge the Gap album cover

Bridge The Gap is the new album from Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock. It is released by in-akustik on 2nd December 2013 .  Further info: http://www.michaelschenkerhimself.com/

Check out the official Bridge the Gap album trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPN6YHvN6hs

Read Michael Anthony’s Über Röck review of Bridge the Gap

Related post: Michael Schenker – Temple of Rock Live!

Mark Kelly (Marillion)

Mark Kelly - keyboard player with Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo

Despite a lengthy hiatus somewhere between Holidays in Eden (1991) and Marbles (2004), I regard myself as a longstanding Marillion fan. Their music meant a good deal to me as a teenager, and, since rediscovering their back catalogue just prior to the release of the aforementioned Marbles, some of their music has come to mean a great deal to me as an adult. No surprise then, that Marillion feature heavily in Words and Music, which attempts to explore the kind of significance that rock music can have for people.

It was great to see Marillion picking up the ‘Band of the Year’ award at the 2013 Progressive Music Awards – an accolade, which, from whatever source, many fans will argue is long overdue. It was also an absolute pleasure to  speak with keyboard player Mark Kelly recently about demons and wizards, notable gigs, sympathy for the devil and meaningful music. Read on to find out more …

Hi Mark, congratulations on the award, it must be nice to get the recognition?
Yeah, though it’s funny because we’d sort of got used to never winning anything! Even when we were in the charts, when ‘Kayleigh’ was a big hit and we were considered to be a big band, we never used to get invited to any of those award things like the Brits, so we just felt like we were not part of that thing, you know. Marillion picking up their Band of the Year at the Progressive Music Awards 2013Not that it ever bothered us much, but to finally win something was like, “Oh, we’ve actually won”. We were up for four awards and we won the band of the year, which was great because it’s nice to be recognised by your peers. And it was a good night out!

And, of course, it was a Prog Award, the ‘P-word’. It’s a perennial discussion among fans isn’t it, the extent to which Marillion are a prog band?
Well, things have sort of changed over the last few years, the fact that there is the Prog Awards for a start. This is the second year they’ve done it now, and I think Jerry Ewing with his idea of having a prog magazine … I think that was a stroke of genius because, you know, it sells well, there’s a lot of people out there who for years have been listening to progressive music, whether it’s the old stuff or more modern stuff, and there’s been no outlet or recognition of the fact that people do listen to this music. I don’t know what’s happened over the last ten years or so, but gradually … prog’s not such a dirty word anymore. People are happy to come out and say, “I’m a prog fan.”  I mean, even pop musicians or indie musicians or whatever will come out and say, “Oh yeah, I like Genesis” or Pink Floyd or whoever. And there’s no stigma attached to it anymore, which is great.

Yeah, I remember the Manic Street Preachers making public the fact that they were Rush fans.
[Laughs] There you go, yeah! And I think it’s a good thing.

There was a time, wasn’t there, when the band were a bit wary of the prog label?
Well, only because of what it stood for really, which was, you know, dinosaurs and stuck in the past and all the rest of it, but we didn’t see ourselves like that. What’s weird, I suppose, is the association with demons and wizards and fantasy and fiction. I think part of the blame for that has to lie with some of the very early prog bands, the innovators , like King Crimson – their lyrics were quite demons and wizards weren’t they? And then you’ve Yes, whose lyrics you can’t make head or tail of, and, you know, even Genesis had a kind of fantasy slant to their lyrics, so you can see why that association is there. Of course, calling ourselves Marillion … [Laughs].

But because we came along after punk had happened, and, you know, lyrically bands were being much more down to earth and gritty, and singing about real life, that was part of our heritage, if you like. Fish’s lyrics tended to be more like that and less … well, apart from ‘Grendel’ I can’t think of anything else that he ever wrote in that sort of vein really.

So is it a sensible question to ask how you do view what you do as a band?
Well, I’d like people to approach our music with an open mind, obviously. Personally I think we’re definitely in that area – prog, if you like, or progressive music – though there’s a lot of cross-over with pop music for some of our songs and heavy rock for some of the others. I’d just like to think that we’re covering new ground with the stuff that we do and that we’re not just churning out rehashed chord progressions from other songs, and that we’re moving on in what we say, musically and lyrically. But it’s not a good thing to pigeon-hole things, that’s what I’d say.

How about your own route into music, then?  Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
I started off listening to music when I was about nine or ten, and the stuff I listened to was, I suppose, what you’d expect a pre-teen to listen to in the early ʾ70s – Slade, Sweet, T-Rex and stuff like that. So I was a bit of a music fan but not really into it, you know, and it was only when I heard Yes for the first time, and Rick Wakeman in particular, that I was suddenly hooked on music in a way that I hadn’t been before and decided that I wanted to learn to play the keyboards. So I suppose that was the turning point for me, where I went “I’m really into this”, and then from there I discovered all the other bands that were playing in the same genre like Pink Floyd and Genesis and so on,  so that was what I grew up listening to in the ʾ70s.

Mark Kelly - Marillion keyboard player

Photo by Joe del Tufo

You were self-taught weren’t you? I always think that’s impressive with a keyboard player.
Yes I was, yeah. But like I said, it was just because I heard Rick Wakeman playing and thought, you know, that’s what I want to do … and I’ve never had the same feeling about the guitar or the drums or whatever. I suppose everyone has their own reason for starting playing and for me it was that.

I had a keyboard for my eighteenth birthday, and the inspiration for that was the Script for a Jester’s Tear album and Jon Lord’s playing with Deep Purple but … I didn’t get quite as far as you!
Funnily enough, I was having this conversation when I met Rick Wakeman. I have met Rick before, but I was chatting with him and his son Adam at a Travis gig. Adam was playing keyboards with Travis and Rick was there backstage. And because I’ve never really spoken to him properly I went up to him and I said, “Look, I just wanted to say that you’re the reason I started playing keyboards.” And Adam, his son, said to me, “You’re the reason I started playing keyboards; I didn’t listen to my dad at all!” [Laughs] That was quite cool.

Jon Lord? Yeah, again, for organ playing you couldn’t touch him really. The sort of bands that I started off playing in tended to be on the heavier side, and so you had to do that distorted organ thing to get heard, you know, up against the guitars. So Jon Lord definitely showed the way – how to play keyboards in a hard rock band.

Can you tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Joni Mitchell - Blue album coverI suppose for lyrics it has to be Joni Mitchell and the album Blue. It’s purely about the lyrics really, and what she’s saying in those songs. The music’s quite simple and nothing gets in the way. They’re great songs.

But as a personal thing, funnily enough, the album Beautiful Freak by Eels. I was just getting together with my current partner, Angie, when it came out. We’ve got three kids together and have been together now for, what is it, about 14 years, so that album for me was quite a personally important album. I’m sure everyone’s got the same story – the album you were listening to when you first got together with your ‘significant other’. So, that’s the one I’d pick out for that reason. Though it’s an interesting album in itself, a bit retro sounding, and it’s got some interesting songs on it.

Beautiful Freak album cover -EelsI don’t know it actually.
Ah ! Well, they’ve done a few albums, but I think, sadly for them, that was probably the high point. It was their first album and I don’t think they managed to do anything that was as good as that.  And it did stand out at the time as being quite different from what else was going on. Yeah, check it out, it’s good.

Do you remember the first gig you went to?
Yes, I do. It was at the Marquee Club in London and it was a band called The Loving Awareness Band. I went to see them because Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station, were promoting the band and an album they’d put out which was very Beatle-esque sounding. They were just playing it to death! I’m not sure what the connection was between the band and the radio station, but it was one of those things where I got into the songs and heard they were playing at the Marquee. I’d never been to the Marquee Club before – I was about fifteen – and I went to see them play and they were great. But what I found out a few years later was that the entire band was The Blockheads. It was basically The Blockheads without Ian Dury, before they got together with him.

What’s the most memorable gig you’ve been to as a fan?
Well, probably, because at the time it had such a big impact on me, Pink Floyd, The Wall, 1980. I was still quite young, hadn’t been to many gigs, and that was a huge spectacle, really. Roger Waters has just been out with it recently. Ian [Mosley], our drummer, went to see it and said it was amazing. It sounds like it was exactly the same show as they put on 30 years ago. At that time it was just head and shoulders above everything else that was going on at gigs. And it really did make a big impression on me.

That links quite nicely with a question I have about the relationship that Marillion have with their fans. That whole ‘alienation’ thing with The Wall
Yeah, Pink Floyd went like that … I don’t know really what was going on with Roger Waters, but I did read that there was some horrible incident at one of their gigs where the fans were all fighting and some people were killed and it made him not want to play gigs anymore. And of course, his whole life story about his father being killed in the war, and growing up with an ‘over-smothering mother’, which seems to be what comes across in the lyrics as the inspiration for that album.

Marillion and fans

Photo by Joe del Tufo

But yeah, our relationship with our fans obviously is totally different to that. Some bands just have that thing where they go, “We don’t want anything to do with our fans.” I’ve spoken to quite a few people about that. Rush, for example – they get up there, they do the gigs, and they don’t really want to have any social interaction or talk to their fans, you know. Pink Floyd are the same. Tony Hadley, from Spandau Ballet, I was talking to him a couple of months ago and he said, “I don’t ever spend time with my fans.” He said, “I was with Fish and he invited loads of fans back to his hotel. I couldn’t believe it! ” [Laughs]

So it’s just, you know, that people are different. I can respect the fact that if you’re a musician or an artist, and you just want to make music, you might not want to deal with everything that goes with it. That’s your choice, but for us … we’ve got great fans, so why wouldn’t you want to get to know some of them? Why wouldn’t you want to hear what they’ve got to say? Why wouldn’t you want to interact with them? And the internet has made it so easy for that to happen. Surprisingly, we don’t get hassled by people. I don’t think we do, anyway. I think we’re at the stage or the size where it’s not such a problem. I can understand if you’re Madonna or Robbie Williams or somebody like that, there’s no way you can just open your doors to people or let people get access to your phone number or your e-mail address or whatever, because there would just be too many. But for us it’s not such an issue.

Mind you, I can’t think of any other group of people in their forties and fifties who are so fanatical and so attached to a band as people are to Marillion.
I know, and I’m very grateful for it. We all are. We all think it’s amazing and we never take it for granted. But on the other hand, it’s really hard to explain. We don’t know the reason. We just write the best music and lyrics that we can and we just go out there and play it as best we can and everything seems to follow on from that, you know. But to be able to say okay, if you’re a band this is what you need to do to have a fan base like Marillion … I wouldn’t know what to tell you. It’s something for which we’re very grateful. We’ve got a cult following, we’re a cult band if you like, and we’ve managed to maintain a level where it’s still working for us and our fans are still there coming to see us play, which is great.

Have you had any particularly strange encounters with fans?
[Laughs] I’m trying to think of something and I can’t think of anything to tell you … um, no … there’s nothing that springs to mind … no. There’s probably something, but right now I can’t think of anything.

What’s the best or most notable gig you’ve played as an artist?
That’s quite tricky, actually. I suppose the stuff that sticks in my head would be when we did South America for the first time and we were playing football stadiums. It wasn’t just us, it was a huge line-up. We were second on the bill to Bon Jovi when they were really huge, and Bob Dylan, and just because of the sheer size of the gigs, they were really memorable. And the audiences were really enthusiastic as well – they tend to be in Latin countries, quite hot blooded! Mexico City, we’ve done some really great gigs there as well. Closer to home, from the early days, I always loved doing the Hammersmith Odeon, as it was then. When Fish was in the band we used to play there quite often, and the early Marquee gigs were great as well. So, you know, throughout our careers really there have been so many really good ones. We’ve played probably a few thousand, so I suppose there’s going to be some in there. Although most of the time we come off stage going, “Aw, that was terrible.” [Laughs]  It’s quite rare for it all to come together, but when it does, when we all feel that we’re on top of it, when we’re all playing well and working well together, and the audience is great, you know, then it’s really special.

Marillion on stage, Montreal 2011

Marillion on stage, Montreal 2011 – Photo by Joe del Tufo

Gabriel or Collins?
Gabriel, definitely. There’s just something more interesting about Gabriel. Collins? I dunno. As a drummer he was great – it’s a bit sad he can’t play anymore – but as a singer he never really moves me, you know. There’s something about the quality of a voice that’s really important to me, even more than the words, actually.

Schenker or Rothery?
Schenker or Rothery? [Laughs] I used to think UFO were … did Schenker even play on that live album, Strangers in the Night?

Yeah, he did
Yeah? Then I’d have to say Schenker! [Much laughter] I do love playing with Steve because he is a really great guitarist. But they’re totally different to be honest, as players, so that’s how I’d put that one.

That was a ruse really. In the back of my mind I remember you saying something once before about Michael Schenker or Strangers in the Night.
Well, funnily enough I listened to that album again recently on Spotify. And that’s why I mentioned it again. Not that I’m listening to it constantly, but it’s one of those albums you come back to now and again and think, “That’s a bloody great album!”

Mark and Steve on stage -not exactly Strangers in the Night Photo by Joe del Tufo

Mark Kelly and Steve Rothery – not exactly Strangers in the Night!
Photo by Joe del Tufo

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Who was it who said, “Well, I could do without the rock ‘n’ roll!” [Laughs] I think it is a bit of a jaded stereotype. It was Ian Dury who said it originally. Or maybe it wasn’t him, but he wrote the song. For some people I suppose it is the meaning of life, but maybe not all three, and maybe not all at once. Next question!

I don’t know if you’ve seen these documentaries that the BBC roll out about progressive rock every now and then, but they trot out a few generalisations, you know, that it’s all about dragons and wizards, and that progressive rock musicians are frustrated jazz musos who should have kept away from rock and roll. What do you say to that?
Well, I think I know what you’re talking about, where they get a few people on to be talking heads going on about it, and, you know … Ian Anderson talking about how he wore a cod piece and all that. And yeah, it’s all a bit too … I dunno … prog rock for people who know absolutely nothing about music! I have to disagree with the “frustrated jazz muso” thing though, because, well, for me certainly, jazz was never anything that interested me. I think it’s probably people that get bored with your standard pop songs, or even your standard rock songs, people that have a low attention span or people who don’t like repetition too much, you know. So you sort of go, that’s fine, we can do these three chords again and again, but why don’t we try some others, you know, or we can do it in 4/4 but it would be good if we switched the time signature half way through. I mean I’m definitely of that side of things rather than being into jazz at all. Steve Hogarth takes the mickey out of me if I mention that we need to put a change in there. He goes, “You get bored with things so quickly, why do I have to change it?” [Laughs] So there’s definitely a bit of that, certainly for me anyway. I just think it’s about making music that interests you really, and, you know, for some people the music can be just about the feel, so they can just play the same thing over and over again, and do stuff that’s very repetitive and, you know, dancey or trancey or druggy or reggae, whatever it might be. Personally I can’t understand why people would want to play, you know, boogie woogie piano, for example … because isn’t it just the same thing over and over again, variations on the same thing? So whilst it’s clever and probably fun to play, it doesn’t really interest me, you know.

I’ve got a question here – rock music: a force for good or the spawn of the devil? That’s more relevant really to the kind of rock music where you sometimes get supernatural or devilish themes. It wasn’t something I was going to ask you at all until I noticed that someone had got to my website via the search term ‘Marillion devil’s music’.
Funnily enough, I saw that question on your sheet, and I entered that search term into Google just before this interview. It took me to a website that had an interview with Richard Stanley, who was the director of our Brave movie. I didn’t know this, but apparently he basically said, “I disown that piece of work because they took what was a short piece of film and turned it into something much longer.” I suppose there is some truth in that, in the sense that he was working with a very small budget – I say “small budget”, it was about £100k – to try to make a movie that covered 70 minutes, which is the Brave album. It was more than the budget could cope with, if you know what I mean. But anyway, I think working with Richard Stanley is probably the closest we’ve ever come to devil’s music [Laughs] – he’s definitely got a bit of the devil in him, cos he’s made some really dark films. He did a movie called Dust Devil – that’s probably why the search took me to that site, actually, the word connection there – which is just horrible. And he did another one called Hardware, which again is horrible. So yeah, quite a dark person and that’s the closest I think we’ve come to the devil … we’ve got nothing to do with devil’s music …

… No! Actually, there was a book in the ʾ80s, called Paint It Black, I think, that was written about rock and roll being the devil’s music, and there’s a whole chapter dedicated to Marillion, because around about the same time – it was when we were on tour in America in about 1986 – there was a case in the UK. They called it ‘The Vicarage Rape’.

Oh yeah, yeah, I remember!
The story was, from memory, some guys broke into a vicarage, tied up the vicar and raped his daughter in front of him and her boyfriend. What happened was that the daughter who was raped said that one of the guys had a tattoo on his hand with the letters ‘MAR’ and a web between his thumb and his index finger. Some bright spark journalist put two and two together, came up with five, and said, “Ah, it’s probably something to do with Marillion.” So, the papers ran a whole story about it. We were contacted by the police and they said, “Look, we don’t think it’s anything to do with Marillion, but if the press contact you and ask you about it please talk to them because the more it gets written about, the more likely it is for somebody to read this who knows who the tattoo belongs to.”

So that was what happened, and obviously because of that story the guy who was writing this ‘devil’s music’ book said it was something to do with Marillion, and they’ve got a song called ‘Assassing’, and all that sort of thing. We got a whole chapter because of that very weak connection to that terrible case, which of course was nothing to do with us or our music. It was just bad journalism, basically, scraping together some stories that they could use. They’ve got this premise and then they try to find evidence to back it up, you know.

Mark Kelly - Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo

Is the rock era dead? A lot of people have said that, including Paul Gambaccini quite recently.
Um … and then punk came along and turned everything on its head for a few years. No, seriously, I can remember having discussions when I was a teenager, you know, when I was 14 or 15, with other kids at school, me saying rock music’s sort of at the end, and then what’s happened, you know, is you had all these different changes. I think it’s certainly quite stagnated at the moment. Whether it’s dead or not, who can say? When you look at it, music, especially Western music, looks pretty unpromising in terms of what you can do with it, if you just break it down and look at the number of notes which are available and the instruments that are available. You’d think that you’d soon run out of things to do – and quite a lot of people have run out of things to do but haven’t said that. But actually, the possibilities are almost infinite, so who’s to say what’s round the corner? Rock music could quite possibly end up in the same niche area as, say, jazz is now, or even classical music to a certain extent, where it’s a historic thing rather than an evolving and modern thing. But right now it’s difficult to say how it’s going to go. There’s definitely some merit in saying that rock music is dead.

I guess the whole way people are consuming music is different. That’s a change I think a lot of traditional rock fans have found it difficult to adapt to.
Yeah, although while I’m sceptical about whether or not we’ll be able to make a living from streaming services like Spotify, as a listener, as a punter, I think I listen to more music than I used to, and I listen to more new music as well because it’s very easy to do so, and you go exploring … “Oh, let’s just check out this guy” … and that leads to that album … “Oh, I’ve never heard them before, let’s have a listen to them”, you know. It’s all so easy to do. Of course, the downside to that is that back in the old days when you bought an album and you spent all your money on it, all your pocket money or whatever, then even if you didn’t like it the first listen, you were gonna give it a bloody good go, because that was all you had for the week you know. So stuff that you might have gone, “Nah, don’t like that” on first listen, by listen 10 you’re going, “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard!” So there’s something to be said for that investment in it making you give it a proper try, whereas if it’s all free and freely available the tendency is just to jump from one thing to the next thing and not really delve in deeply to anything.

And I suppose music that’s more in the progressive area does benefit from repeated listens?
You’re going to benefit from listening to any good music more than a few times because there’s got to be hidden depths that’ll reveal themselves to you after you become familiar with the more obvious parts of it. And that’s not going to happen instantly, because anything that appeals to you instantly is going to get old fairly quickly because it’ll be fairly simple, generally.

Of everything you’ve done so far, is there anything you’re particularly proud of – a song, an album, a particular performance?
Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made coverAt the risk of being clichéd, I have to say that the most recent album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, I’m particularly happy with that. And that’s not my standard answer. I don’t usually say that whatever album we’ve just made is the best thing we’ve ever done, because we have made albums and I’ve gone, “I don’t really this album” or, “I don’t really like this song”. [Laughs] And ‘Gaza’, the song … I’m very pleased with how well that’s turned out. If you go back previously, the Brave album, I think, has got something going for it, and while I think it might have lost us quite a lot fans because it was quite “dark and impenetrable”, as it was described by one journalist, the ones who did get it have been more inclined to stay with us. So, yeah, I’m very pleased with what we’ve just done … I say “just”, but I mean the most recent album. It seems like “just” because we’re so slow these days at making albums that if an album’s a year old it’s still quite new. [Laughs]

When I first got into music, albums did seem to be annual, you know, tour … album … tour … album …
Well, for a short period we were making one a year, round about the late ʾ90s. But even back in our early days, it was still two or three years between albums for us. We just tend not to work at a very fast pace. And that might be a good thing, because we’re still here!

I suppose the end justifies the means, as it were?
As long as people like what we do at the end of it. I suppose if it takes two or three years rather than a year, then as long as people are still there after two to three years has elapsed, I don’t think we should complain.

And finally, what next?
Well, probably another Marillion album in the next two or three years! [Laughs] Outside of Marillion I started a little project a few weeks back with a couple of guys, a bass player called Steve Lawson and a drummer called Roy Dodds. You probably haven’t heard of either of them, but Steve is a solo bass player – he plays a six string bass and uses a lot of different loops and effects and stuff like that – and Roy was the drummer in Fairground Attraction years ago and plays quite jazzy, with a really nice feel to his drumming. The three of us have never worked together before. It was a chance meeting and we said let’s do something together. We just jammed for three days, came up with a load of material, and so between the three of us and Mike Hunter, our producer, we’re going to put together an album from it which, because of other things, we haven’t looked at since. It’s instrumental stuff – it’s not pop music, that’s for sure. Some of it’s a bit weird [chuckle] but some of it is very musical as well. So we’ll see what happens with that.

It was quite nice to do something that was quite instant, more improvising rather than constructing songs, which is where most Marillion music starts off anyway, so I felt quite at home doing that. But rather than going, “Ok, we’re gonna turn this into songs”, it’ll sound more like a soundtrack than a bunch of songs.

On the Marillion front we’ve got some gigs coming up in November [2013]. Just a few shows, about eight or nine shows around Europe … one in Manchester and one in Aylesbury, which is sold out. And then next year we’re doing a cruise with Yes – the ‘Cruise to the Edge’ – which will be interesting, with some other bands as well. It’s like a progressive rock cruise around the Caribbean next spring. In between these things we’ll be starting writing the next Marillion album, but I’ve no idea when it’ll be ready. We might be doing some summer shows and we’re probably going to go to South America in May as well for a few weeks. So yeah, it’s just business as usual in a way, getting out there, doing some gigs, and looking towards writing the next Marillion album while everybody is doing other things on the side.

Mark Kelly - Marillion

Photo by Joe del Tufo


For up-to-date information on Marillion gigs and releases, please visit the official Marillion website.

All live shots of Mark Kelly and Marillion courtesy of Joe del Tufo. Please visit Joe’s photography website.

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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

Read Relics Part One

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