In the early 1960â€™s there were many fledgling Scottish bands struggling to create a unique sound of their own. A major factor holding them back was their remoteness from the main hub of the UK music business. London was where you had to be and frankly nobody was interested in what was happening north of Watford let alone in Scotland. In a gesture of defiance, and self-publicity, guitarist Manny Charlton and The Mark Five, emulated the Jarrow Marchers by demonstration marching all the way from Edinburgh to London. By the time of reaching Market Harborough Fontana offered a â€œrecord dealâ€. However following the release of ‘Baby What’s Wrongâ€™ Manny Charlton explains, in the end this only aggravated Jock/Sassenach music-biz tensions even more: “We made a record and came against the machine in London. The people just cashed in on the publicity we had and after the record was made we were forgotten.”
Matters were made even worse by Scottish promoters and ballroom managers who insisted that Scottish groups limit their set-list strictly to covers of singles in the UK top thirty. In other words, performers like Agnew, Charlton, singer and front man Dan McCafferty, and drummer Darrell Sweet were excluded by ‘the machine in London’, and yet trapped into mimicking its often dire output as well. So, yes, it did really happen that soon-to-be hard rockers Naz were forced – in their original incarnation as the Shadettes – to perform tongue-in-cheek versions of ‘Simple Simon Says’ if they wanted to get paid after the gig. It was enough to make this group of angry young musos from Dunfermline tell the Brylcreemed Locarno ballroom brigade to stuff it, and instead they went out and conquered the world. What follows is the story â€“ mostly told by Pete Agnew and Dan McCafferty, and possibly in greater detail than ever before – of how Nazareth did just that.
Dan now fondly remembers returning from yet another gruelling tour and, ever the dutiful husband, he offered to accompany his wife to the supermarket to do the shopping: ‘Not dressed like that you won’t!’ or some such jokey comment was her reply. Dress codes on stage were also an issue back in the 1960s. The Shadettes got no hassle from ballroom managers when they were all kitted out bright yellow suits â€“ regulation show-biz uniforms were fine. But as the progressive rock thing took off in the late-1960s and musicians dressed more to express individuality, some ballroom heavies didn’t like it at all: for instance, the thought of someone trying to stop Pete Agnew going on stage because the manager didn’t approve of his buckskin jacket seems crazy now but it did happen because that was how things were back then.
And then there were times in the very early Nazareth days when Naz’s glitter jacket, proto-heavy metal image earned them some scary â€“ even life-threatening â€“ crowd disapproval: like when they supported the seriously dressed-down Rory Gallagher on his late-1972 European tour. Yet, weirdly, all those Shadettes apprentice years as a pop-covers band in Dunfermline’s Belleville Hotel and Kinema Ballroom played a big part in Nazareth eventually finding their own formula for international success. How? Well, each and every week without fail during their Belleville Hotel residency they had to learn three new hits from the charts â€“ they’d rehearse them on a Sunday afternoon and perform them that same night. Now how many semi-pro bands these days could cope with nailing down that amount of new repertoire in just a couple of hours, week-in week-out? But maybe that was how Dan, Pete, Manny and Darrell developed the knack of stamping their very own identity on somebody else’s hit song, something which for Nazareth in the mid-1970s proved to be the key to the world highway. Whereas their breakthrough in Britain was down to the strength of their own original songwriting on the Razamanaz album – especially Broken Down Angel it was their knack of coming up with totally fresh covers of strong songs written by other people that broke them abroad. They became huge in Canada after This Flight Tonight soared up the singles’ charts there, whilst reaching number 11 in Britain. Taken from Joni Mitchell’s 1970 Blue album, Nazareth’s version â€“ produced by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover as part of the Loud’N’Proud sessions – is more than a re-working. What they’ve done is taken the song from its folk-ballad roots right through to heavy metal.
They don’t rely entirely on original material â€“ in fact it’s probably true to say that their best numbers â€“ with one possible exception â€“ are their adaptations of other writer’s material. They crack away happily at ‘Morning Dewâ€™, which they have probably played at every gig since they turned pro three years ago. It’s changed a lot in that time but it’s still a good song. Perhaps more groups should realise that someone else’s song well played is often a more uplifting experience than an original that’s mediocre.”
And, as Manny Charlton told fanzine Razamanewz, this kind of pressure just went on and right through to the recording in 1977 of album number nine Expect No Mercy: “It was more metal. Not intentional, we didn’t go into the studio planning a change in direction. We were under a lot of pressure, and doing a lot of touring at that point. We’d be on tour in Canada and the record company wanted to know where the next album was coming from. We had to get our heads down, eventually we’d get into the studio andâ€¦”What’re we going to do?” Some albums were written and recorded very quickly, and when you consider that, it’s great. Razamanaz was the start of three albums in 15 months, plus tours. It’s a lot of work.” Dan McCafferty’s take on pressures in the music industry was characteristically blunt and to the point: “It’s a funny business because you’ve got to work your balls off for two years to get there, and when you get there you’ve got to work even harder to make sure the next one’s an even bigger hit.” And in year 2000 Pete Agnew reflected during the interview how this kind of time pressure in fact stayed with them right through to 1980s releases such as Sound Elixir: “When we did that album – our last with Billy – the material had a lot of promise but I don’t know what we were doing production-wise. The album never ended up sounding good. And I’ve always thought what a shame we didn’t have more time.
What is typically music-biz about The Nazareth Story, though, is how serious pressure was put on them once Broken Down Angel and its follow-up single ‘Bad Bad Boy’ charted â€“ reaching 9 and 10 respectively – in 1973. Their record company Mooncrest (a subsidiary of B&C â€“ as was their first label Pegasus) wanted the hits to keep-a-coming. You can see it from B&C’s point of view â€“ the company didn’t lose faith even when Exercises – their second album, in parts inspired by Grateful Dead’s American Beauty classic – stiffed, and now it wanted a return on that investment. But what this did was to put ridiculous demands on the band to deliver. You get an idea of just how ridiculous these demands were by these extracts from press interviews with Pete Agnew and Dan McCafferty just after their first run of chart success:
The other thing that Nazareth were about to discover was funny about the business, and their path to success on a global scale, was that there’s no accounting for different tastes in the singles’ market from country to country. For instance, at the end of 1974 with a further two successful albums out, Loud’N’Proud and Rampant, Mooncrest were eager for more singles’ sales. A cover of the 1966 Yardbirds hit Shapes Of Things (from the Rampant album) might have made a good single, but in spring 1974 they chose the self-penned ‘Shanghai’d in Shanghai’ as a follow-up to September 1973’s ‘This Flight Tonight’. It failed.
Britain in 1973 most definitely was the year of Nazareth, a year when Melody Maker readers voted them Brightest Hope. But if you look at the UK chart placing of follow-up albums to Razamanaz â€“ which reached number 11 â€“ from 1974 what looks like a gradual decline here is more than offset by a series of breakthroughs on the international scene. Whereas Loud’N’Proud reached number 10, Rampant charted with sales nowhere near as strong, and album six Hair Of The Dog failed to chart in Britain but notched up massive sales world-wide.
Close Enough For Rock’n’Roll – Naz’s seventh album – came out in early 1976 and was their first on the Mountain label, as well as the first to be recorded in Canada. The opener ‘Telegram’ is a musical diary entry by a successful hard rock band who are growing a tad weary forever slogging it out on the road. The album achieved little in Britain – no big surprise there – but helped to consolidate Nazareth’s hold on Canada where they became one of the biggest British acts ever, notching up no less than fifty gold and platinum albums there during the 1970s. America also beckoned, big time, as their US label A&M Records increasingly regarded them as a priority act. Mountain had the rights to the old material and naturally was determined to milk it for what it was worth. The Greatest Hits album was out in the shops in time for Christmas ’75 but didn’t chart.
A couple of years later in November 1977 they released an extended-play 45 called the Hot Tracks EP which featured ‘Love Hurts’ ‘This Flight Tonight’ ‘Broken Down Angel’ and ‘Hair Of The Dog’ as well. Reaching number 15 it would be Nazareth’s final 7” top twenty hit. Play ‘N’ The Game was album number eight (not counting Greatest Hits) and released in November 1976. It continued the pattern of doing next to nothing sales-wise in England (where, for a couple of years to come, punk rock’s cut-throat irreverence eclipsed most acts who dared to take their own music seriously) and yet sold shed-loads abroad â€“ breaking Nazareth in South America.
Sadly, it was around this time that the band lost their manager Bill Fehilly â€“ killed in a plane crash. Bill, a Scottish bingo millionaire, was never a music-biz mentor and hustler in the Andrew Loog Oldham/Peter Grant mould, but from their 1971 debut album Nazareth onwards he kept on coming up with the readies â€“ and even during the band’s tricky Exercises phase Bill remained unfazed. Pete and Dan are the first to acknowledge that without Bill Fehilly, Nazareth would never have crossed the border to England â€“ never mind the world.
Guitarist Zal Cleminson (ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Zal, and Tear Gas) was asked to join, and as Manny Charlton told Razamanewz, he brought a lot of energy and ideas with him: “Getting a second guitarist was pretty much my decision, I think. I told the guys that I’d asked Zal to come along and play on the next album. I felt at that point that I was getting kind of stretched as a guitarist, and wanted someone else I admired and inspired me. I learnt a lot from Zal, a great player. From what I read he loved it. It was a brave decision to leave, to do what he wanted to do. When he came into the band he was real enthusiastic. I really enjoyed working with him and was disappointed when he left.” Cleminson joined in time to record Nazareth’s tenth â€“ No Mean City out in January 1979.
After The Fool Circle a respected young guitar slinger and songwriter from Glasgow who had played in Cleminson’s band Zal, of five months, was recruited. His name was Billy Rankin and around the same time John Locke was keen to join up, and so the next album release â€“ the very high energy live double-album ‘Snaz recorded in Vancouver in May 1981 – featured what Dan and Pete now call the Nazareth 6-piece orchestra. As before, it was Naz’s take on rock classics such as J.J. Cale’s ‘Cocaine’ and Z.Z. Top’s ‘Tush’ that helped to make the album a massive international seller.
The band also recorded a live video in Houston Texas on the tour, a great live show, with added interviews from the band. 2XS sold well in the States and Europe extending the band’s already extensive touring schedule even further. 2XS amazingly wasn’t even released in Britain thanks to legal hassles with their new label NEMS. With Locke out, the 5-piece produced Sound Elixer another eclectic set taking in soul and funk as well. After the tour to promote the album ,Billy decided to leave the band to persue a solo career, he released two solo albums ‘Growing up to fast’ featuring the US top forty hit ‘Baby Come Back’ single. and Crankin’.
With the departure of Manny the band agreed there was only one logical choice to fill Manny’s post Billy Rankin. Billy accepted and rejoined Nazareth as Lead guitarist. After Rehearsals and a few warm up gigs in Scotland the Band were back on the road, with tours in America, Russia and Europe. Soon after they entered the studio and began writing new material for the new album that was to become NO JIVE.
Touring throughout 1992 to promote the album, including their first UK dates for 8 years, The album sold well, with virtually no airplay! NAZ was back and stronger than ever. In 1994 the band were back in the studio again to record MOVE ME, with a new deal with Polydor things were looking good. During that year Billy, Pete and Dan undertook 2 short unplugged tours of the UK,where songs like ‘Simple Solution’ and ‘Shapes Of Things’ were given the acoustic treatment. These shows are particularly memorable for their intimate nature and humour content. Unfortunately as the band were due to start rehearsals for the forthcoming Move me tour, Billy once again left, due to band politics. A young Scots Guitarist by the name of Jimmy Murrison, who was playing with Pete’s son Lee in the band ‘Trouble in Doogie land’ was contacted by Pete and asked if he would like to join the band, (Pete had seen Jimmy play Many times and was very impressed) Jimmy accepted’ and became the new Guitarist for Nazareth.
It was also decided to add a keyboard player to the band once again, so they contacted their old friend Ronnie Leahy . Ronnie had played with Pete and Dan in The Party Boys from time to time. Ronnie accepted the offer to join. So now back as a five piece, the band started rehearsing for another world tour to promote the Move me Album. Revitalized and rocking’ 1995/96 saw the band touring the world in support of MOVE ME. The tour has taken the band to Russia (twice), Europe, Brazil, USA, and Canada. Upon returning from their RussiaManaz Part I Tour, the long awaited break Naz had been looking for happened, a signing to a major label! SPV has picked the band up for a three record deal! It seems both SPV & CASTLE recognised the fact that NAZ still draws well at concerts and that their back catalogue has sold well, not to mention their two latest CD’s kick some serious ass. After the MOVE ME World Tour ended, the boys headed home to Scotland for a well-earned rest. The band didn’t rest too long before they began rehearsing new material for their 20th studio album! They began recording in March of 1997. Darrell said “the new stuff is heavier than No Jive, but it wouldn’t be a Nazareth album without a ballad.” The band began a world tour in July of 1997 to Sweden, Czech Republic, Canada and US.
As the Naz machine began climbing to the top again, tragedy struck! On April 30, 1999 founding member and drummer Darrell Sweet died suddenly from a major heart attack. The band had just arrived at the venue for the first show of their Boogaloo Tour when Darrell fell ill. As Darrell stepped off the bus with paramedics – he collapsed and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Shattered – the band understandably cancelled the tour and headed home to Scotland. The future was in limbo for a few months as the families, band, and crew tried to digest what had happened.
But after several band meetings, it was decided that Darrell would have wanted them to continue on. In fine tribute to Darrell, the band selected Lee Agnew, Peteâ€™s eldest son, to fill the drumming duties for Nazareth. Lee was a natural choice as he is a very talented and accomplished drummer, already knew the music, learned tips from Darrell and he knew all the guys already. After a few months of rehearsing – the band got ready for their first ever tour without Darrell. They amazed everyone – they played better and stronger than ever. Lee had won the hearts and support of Naz fans everywhere. The band enjoyed how well they were playing and the audience acknowledged this everywhere they played! (Darrell is surely smiling with pride!).
Over the last few years Nazareth have carried on touring around the world, A UK tour with their old mates URIAH HEEP, in March 2001 saw the first British shows for many years,and ending with a great gig at the Astoria in London to a sell out audience. On October the 20th 2001 Nazareth Played to a sold out crowd at the Garage in Glasgow, the show was recorded for a new live album and DVD titled Homecoming. It was a great night of rock’n’roll and one the fans will treasure forever! 2002 was yet another busy one for the band, with extensive tours of the States and Europe and ending up with a triumphant show in Dunfermline at Christmas when they topped the bill at their annual charity concert.
Sadly that was to be the last time keyboardist Ronnie Leahy appeared with the band, Ronnie had decided to hang up his road shoes and retire from touring. So, once again Nazareth were back to being a four piece again, They took hold of the challenge that change brings, regrouped, and filled 2003 with a live schedule, which would leave many new bands gasping. the set list was changed with some old favourites being brought back, including ‘Witchdoctor Woman’ from their very first album NAZARETH way back in 1971.
2004 saw the band head out to the USA, Russia ,Israel and Europe, plus a welcome return to the UK for some shows at the end of the year..
2005 saw the band on the road for most of the year again, but during the summer they did find time to Record a new DVD at Shepperton Studios, Titled ‘Live from classic T Stage’ it sees the band run through their most recent live set, the DVD also features film of the band on the road.
To Be Continued!
FRIDAY 8th FEBRUARY â€“ SPRING & AIRBRAKE, Belfast
Tickets Â£20.00 from venue / Ticketmaster outlets