Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

Have you heard the news today [oh, boy]? Vinyl’s making a comeback! Hurrah! “But Hugh, it’s only 1% of the market-share!” A detractor hollers. “Well, hey. Give ME that 1%, as I’m not about to sniff at it!” There may have been a few choices of format for your sonic pleasure in the 1970s and early 1980s, but cassettes were a utilitarian carrier for music suitable for cars and later Walkmans, and though those chunky 8-track cartridges held a certain kitsch appeal even then, the vinyl LP reigned supreme, and with a 12” square cover, walking into a record shop (remember them?), the album jacket was its own, nice big advert. Much has been discussed about the “death” of the LP sleeve. The recent(ish) dominance of the iPod reduces your beloved sleeve art to a thumbnail, and 25 odd years before that, the compact disc reduced the LP sleeve to a mere 5 inches. At around the same time that the compact disc was making itself the dominant format, the advent of MTV in 1981, and the absolute necessity of having a new fangled “pop video” to promote your record managed to slash the budget/importance of the LP sleeve. I even read one article which reckoned that punk rock killed off the big budgets once afforded the album jacket. How can you charge megabuck$  for an LP cover when one of the band’s spotty mates can knock up something as equally effective for 50 pence and some sticky tape?
Anyhoo… I miss the LP, and glad it’s making a comeback, no matter how reticent. One LP sleeve a million or 40 of you might own is Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell”, but unless you pore over the credits (as I do) after poring over every details of the front cover (as I do), you might not be aware that this album cover, and its belated, would-be “follow-up”, Jim Steinman’s “Bad For Good” in 1981, were painted by famed graphic artist Richard Corben. Richard Corben made a name illustrating titles such as Heavy Metal and Metal Hurlant, as well as his own “Den” and “Neverwhere” series. Along with Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Roger Dean and Derek Riggs, Richard Corben’s illustrations and artwork were a huge influence and inspiration to me, so I felt very privileged to have Mr Corben agree to being interviewed about the artwork for “Bat Out Of Hell” and “Bad For Good”, two of my favourite LP sleeves.
HUGH GILMOUR: How did the original commission to design the cover for Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” in 1977 come about?
RICHARD CORBEN:  I received an unexpected phone call from Meatloaf’s New York agent , who asked me if I knew anything about record covers. I answered  that I thought they were generally square shaped. Apparently this answer was good enough, and he outlined the project.
HG: Did it come from the record label or the musicians?
RC:  It was from their agent, although I suspect the musicians were present when the call was made.  I found out later that I owed this opportunity to the influence of Jim Steinman.
HG: Was it based on any ideas or paintings you had already?
RC:  They needed the final art within a week, so there was no time for preliminary sketches.  The only pre-existing  image to be used was a panel of a bat that I had drawn in my Den series that was running in Heavy Metal Magazine at the time. The concept of the guy on a motorcycle was all Steinman’s.
HG: Some of Meat Loaf’s albums from the 1980s would definitely have benefited from one of your iconic images. As one of the biggest selling albums of all  time, how important do you think the cover image of “Bat Out Of Hell” was to the album’s success?
RC:  We all do the best we can. If by chance, cosmic influences come together in a miraculous way, something beyond expectation can happen.  I’m just glad I happened to be in the right place at the right time so I could be a part of it.  I must admit, I had no idea that the album would be so popular, or why one image should become “iconic”.
HG: Who commissioned you, and how exact was your brief?
RC:  As I said the business was done with one short phone call, and I proceeded based on Steinman’s instructions.
HG: Had you designed any LP jackets before, and did you find that a particularly different experience when compared to your more usual background in graphic novels and comic art?
RC:  Amazingly enough, “Bat Out Of Hell” was my first record album cover.
HG: Did you have any involvement with the logo and typograpy?
RC:  No.
HG: What was your brief for “Bad For Good” in 1981?
RC:  Again, most of Jim’s ideas were conveyed by telephone, except this time they sent me a tape of the music, and I was able to do some sketches.
HG: Did you hear any music, or meet up with Jim Steinman to discuss the project?
RC:  It was all done by phone, and I did hear the music.
HG: Did you have any specific perimeters for what needed to be produced, or were you given a free reign?
RC:  Jim had specific ideas about the album cover image and I tried to carry them out.  I think it was kind of a rock angel with a guitar.
HG: Were you originally approached to design this for a proposed second Meat Loaf LP, or at this stage, were you always aware that this was going to be a Jim Steinman solo album?
RC:  When I became involved it was already established that it would be Steinman’s album.
HG: Were any other themes or concepts under discussion for the cover? Did you produce some initial sketches or drawings for approval? Were you satisfied with the cover, or were there any compromises with regards to working for the music industry?
RC:  I guess there was a conscious effort to make the image different from “Bat Out Of Hell”. I think I had to make one change in the art at Jim’s request. I remember the original angel’s costume had a long loincloth which Jim wanted to change to a brief “jockey type” covering.  I saw immediately that this change was for the best.
HG: The working title for the proposed second Meat Loaf album that became Jim Steinman’s “Bad For Good” was originally “Renegade Angel”, and although the male figure has the final album title on his arm, the image could quite easily fit the “Renegade Angel” theme. Was it originally painted with this title in mind?
RC:  The title was already established when I was contacted.
HG: Whereas “Bat Out Of Hell” is a warmer red and “Bad For Good” is a cooler blue, both paintings complement each other. Were they meant to be, or do you feel they are, thematically linked?
RC:  I’m afraid I don’t remember if there was any discussion about the color scheme.
 HG: What medium was used to produce the actual illustration, and did it differ in any way to how you had previously developed your paintings?
RC:  The art is basically an oil painting, or more specifically, oil painting over an acrylic under-painting.  The size was twice the dimensions of the printed cover, about 24″ by 24″.
HG: After the monumental success of “Bat Out Of Hell”, did you expect to design the follow up cover, and were you disappointed that you didn’t paint Meat Loaf’s actual second LP “Deadringer” in 1981 (painted by BernieWrightson)?
RC:  Yes, that was kind of a deflating experience.  Apparently they wanted a different look for the second album.  Of course I accept the decision. This is all part of being a freelance artist.  Bernie is a friend of mine, and he did a fine job.  I’m just happy that I was able to do the “Bat Out Of Hell” cover.
HG: Did working on these LP sleeves lead to any further specific design or illustration commissions, in or out of the music industry?
RC:  Yes, I did a cover for a Kansas City band, Morning Star I think. And a European band used  a piece I all ready had, Blue Dragon.
For more information on the work of Richard Corben, please visit

Pete Way…right from the start

The first time that I heard UFO would have been the live single version of ‘Doctor Doctor’ included on the 1980 K-Tel compilation “Axe Attack” (I did have other LPs, honest!). I would have been around 11 or 12 years old, and have been a huge UFO fan ever since. I genuinely believe they are not only one of the best, but also most underrated, hard rock bands that this country has ever produced, and deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those other great British rock legends Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Even after a career that goes back almost 45 years, the show I recently caught at London’s Kentish Town Forum is a testament to the fact that this band can not only still cut it with regards to producing fresh, original new material, but are most definitely a vital and impressive band on stage.

I recently put together a 5 disc set of UFO’s recordings for the BBC, made during their tenure on Chrysalis [“On Air”] covering their studio sessions and live concert recordings from 1974 until 1985’s appearance at Knebworth. When writing the liner notes for this collection, Phil Mogg, who had been very helpful on two previous UFO collections I’d compiled for Chrysalis, was able to offer many interesting insights into those recordings. Likewise, Paul Raymond, whose latest album “Terms & Conditions Apply” I’d released on Hear No Evil Recordings [], was also happy to give me a few firsthand accounts. One massive oversight was not seeking the input of the bass playing legend that is Pete Way. Despite a long and colourful career, what is often overlooked is Pete’s contribution to rock music; not just as an influential musician, but also as a gifted songwriter too. I was lucky enough to play a short tour supporting Waysted in 2008, and as much as I wanted to pick his brains for tales of derring-do on rock ‘n’ roll’s bitter highway every night, I just felt privileged to share a stage with him, everywhere from Milton Keynes to Glasgow.

Pete was kind enough to take some time out from finishing off his new solo album, currently being overseen by “Appetite For Destruction” producer Mike Clink no less, to answer a few questions for about his time as a founder member of UFO, and the band’s recordings for the BBC. In case you can’t wait to hear Pete’s new album, Hear No Evil have also recently reissued two of Waysted’s albums, “Vices” (1983) and “Save Your Prayers”(1986) []. For more information, go to:

According to the BBC’s records, UFO’s first visit to the BBC would have been in 1970 when the band featured Mick Bolton on lead guitar. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any audio record of that session. Do you have any memories of appearing on the BBC for the first time? The band had only recently formed after all.

PETE: Yes most definitely.  We were late having been held up by traffic and were told by the jobsworth in charge (not the producer), “This show can make or break you and, frankly, I feel it will be the latter!” He got that a tad wrong, eh?

You made two studio LPs and one Japanese live album with Mick Bolton, before he left to be replaced by Larry Wallis and then Bernie Marsden. According to legend, it was Bernie forgetting his passport, meaning he was unable to travel to Germany for the next show, which directly led to Michael Schenker joining the band, on permanent loan from the Scorpions. What are your memories of that night and what songs did you play? As UFO knew little German and Michael knew even less English, this was a brave move without any time to properly rehearse any material.

PETE: In Germany we already had two or three hit singles, and the albums sold well.  I’m not sure whether Bernie actually did lose his passport or whether we drove him mad with our general outrageous behaviour, but the upshot was we were left in Germany without a guitarist. The promoter said unless we played there would be a riot. So we only really had one option. We asked Rudolph Schenker, from support band the Scorpions, if we could borrow his brother Michael, and he replied, “No problem.  We’ve been trying to get rid of him for ages!” So Michael played two gigs per night for the majority of the tour until Bernie had his passport replaced.  Michael knew the hits, but not all the songs, so we made the hits longer with lots of guitar solos.  We had to communicate one word at a time in German which was difficult, but music is an international language so we got there eventually.

Despite the language barrier, Michael appears to have perfectly slotted into UFO; he could play like a demon, he was an accomplished songwriter and he even looked great on stage. It must have been a huge relief to find a stable line-up on 1974’s “Phenomenon”?

PETE: It was, because with Michael we realised his potential very quickly, and we took a lot of pride in our live performance. He was an excellent guitarist, and looked fabulous, so it was a perfect fit. He soon became a band member and a friend. 

One of the interesting aspects of the BBC collection is that it features the only known official recording of the dual guitar line-up of Paul “Tonka” Chapman and Michael, for a BBC “In Concert” recorded at the Golders Green Hippodrome whilst touring to support the “Phenomenon” LP. How well did the dual guitar line-up work for you, and why did that version not last beyond that first tour?

PETE: The two guitars worked well for us; as the bass player I could relax a bit.  They were both very good, but very competitive, and Michael found sharing the lead guitar slots didn’t work for him

How exciting were these early radio in concerts and sessions for you? They were an important stepping stone in the early careers of like minded contemporaries like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin after all.

PETE: They were very nerve wracking because being totally live there was no room for mistakes. We always enjoyed them, but were terrified of the BBC engineers playback as they didn’t always capture the essence of the band live, which was what we were known for.  We were always lucky that it came out well, which I put down to the band’s quality.

Keyboards became a feature of second Chrysalis LP “Force It”, and Danny Peyronel joined on a permanent basis in 1975 in time to record third Chrysalis effort, “No Heavy Petting”. How did Danny join the band, and why did he only last one album?

PETE: Danny was a great friend to the whole band, and he always wanted to play with UFO, but it only lasted for one album because we didn’t really like keyboards live, because they weakened the guitar. Danny always played loud, and then Michael would kick up a fuss because he couldn’t hear himself.  We were really a four piece band, and went back to our basic structure. Having said that, Danny was truly an excellent keyboard player.

Looking at the dates on this set, you appear to be doing less radio sessions throughout the 1970s. No slouches when it came to gigging and recording, managing to release a killer LP every year, I can only assume UFO were touring the States. How important was breaking America to the band?

PETE: Everybody wants to break the US, so even on the first tour when we were playing small clubs, we were overjoyed when they sold out because we knew that next time we’d play to a bigger venue. We played clubs, theatres and arenas on our first tour. We supported some famous names on that tour; Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf, Rod Stewart and the Faces to name just a few.

UFO were joined by Savoy Brown’s Paul Raymond(e) in 1976, making his recording debut with the band on 1977’s “Lights Out”. Paul seemed a more versatile fit, being able to switch from keyboards to rhythm guitar as required.

PETE: His versatility was perfect for us. Michael could put up with him playing keys, but he could also pick up rhythm guitar too. It gave us the option to try different structures. His experience in Savoy Brown was very valuable to us.

Michael quit the band on the eve of the 1977 US tour, to be temporarily replaced by “Tonka” Chapman. Why do you think Michael quit? Do you think there were personality issues within the band which were exacerbated by the language barrier?

PETE: No, the problem wasn’t really the language, but Michael lived with his own demons which he still fights, as we all do. The actual story is that Michael and Phil had an altercation… that was the end really.

Michael rejoined for 1978’s “Obsession” LP, which became UFO’s most successful LP to date. Did you get a sense that the band had finally “made it”, or was the process more of a gradual one?

PETE: Michael rejoined when “Lights Out” went into the US Billboard chart and decided to give it another try. We were happy he came back, and the fans were delighted, although Paul Chapman did an excellent job, as Michael’s shoes were hard to fill. We felt that we had already made it because we were selling out everywhere we played, and record sales had begun to rise before “Obsession”.

The 1978 tour was not only the basis for the breakthrough double live LP “Strangers In the Night”, making the UK top 10 in 1979, but was also the last hurrah for Michael, who quit for good at the end of the tour. Was it a sad end, or was it a case of “business as usual” and carrying on?

PETE: We never knew what to expect with Michael, so it didn’t come as a particular shock, but because he left the band before, it was really business as usual. Paul Chapman was recruited and became a permanent member of the band. Because we were so busy at the time we didn’t really have time to mourn his loss.

‘Doctor Doctor’ was lifted from the double live LP as a single, making the UK top 20 and giving the band its first appearance on Top of The Pops. Bands like the Clash were “too cool” to appear on pop programmes like this, but UFO had no such qualms.

PETE: We didn’t mind appearing on such programmes because we all knew the importance of promotion. Perhaps not the coolest thing we had ever done, but it helped sell product and heighten our profile, as we hadn’t spent much time in the UK

The DVD on the recent BBC box set shows the band making a handful of TV appearances in a short time during the late 70s and early 80s, for the Whistle Test, Top Of The Pops [three times], plus the Oxford Road Show. Like the earlier radio In Concerts, were the TV appearances an important step up for the band?

PETE: We saw these appearances purely as promotion for our tour and albums. They did help our profile in the UK, and although these shows are often hard work, we all thoroughly enjoyed them.

The received – and ill-founded – wisdom was that UFO were never the same again after Schenker quit to form MSG, but the Tonka-era In Concerts and TV footage from the “No Place To Run” and “Mechanix” tours demonstrate a band on top of their game, easily able to consistently produce powerful material and successful albums year in year out. Was there a point to prove, that the band did not need to rely on Schenker, then enjoying substantial success with the first Michael Schenker Group album?

PETE: When Michael left for the last time it was sad, but again Paul Chapman did an excellent job in reducing the damage done, and we went on to have our most successful period. As far as MSG was concerned, whilst we were all happy for Michael, we also felt that it only worked because of Michael’s time with UFO. It was also a talking point for the press, which didn’t hurt either band.

The “Mechanix” tour was also your last with UFO, for a decade at least. What led to your departure from the band? UFO were still putting out good LPs and drawing impressive crowds on tour.

PETE: I think, if I’m truthful, we were all fed up with touring, and there was a lot of friction within the band at that time. Tiredness effected my decision, but I never regretted giving myself the chance of trying something new. 

You initially recorded with Motorhead’s “Fast” Eddie Clarke for an abortive first version of Fastway, before forming Waysted, and even finding time to produce Twisted Sister’s first record and play bass for Ozzy Osbourne. Did you just need a change?

PETE: I did need time out to think about things. I was asked not to say anything to the band at the time as it would affect the UFO record deal. I think the band felt I should have told them, and I would have preferred to, but I didn’t want to mess up their contract with Chrysalis. I had known Eddie for years, and he asked me if I wanted to be involved with his new band, Fastway. It was as much a friendship as a band at the time. I co-wrote all of the songs with Fastway, and they even used some of my songs on the second album. Just as we were putting the final touches on Fastway, and had been offered a deal with CBS, I was told by Chrysalis that no way would they let me out of my contract, and even went to the trouble of taking out an injunction to stop me. Luckily, Ozzy called me and asked me to play bass on the “Bark At The Moon” tour whilst Chrysalis offered me a deal for a new band I was putting together called Waysted.

Are there any regrets about leaving UFO?

PETE: I have many regrets, but at the same time I felt that I did the best thing for me. I was bored, and wanted something fresh to work on, and Waysted provided that. Chrysalis were very enthusiastic as were their bank!

Support Your Local Record Store!

I can’t count the number of hours/days/years I’ve spent browsing record shops in the last 30 odd years, quite literally across the globe. It’s so sad to bound up to a much loved record emporium you’ve not visited for a while and find it’s closed. Since the Record & Tape Exchange in Camden closed, I have little reason to travel to NW1. Kingston still at least has Collectors, Beggars and an HMV, but twenty years ago it had these as well as a Tower megastore, a Virgin (then Zaavi) megastore, two Our Prices and a shop succinctly called “The Record Shop” (it clung to selling a lot of vinyl). Almost every town across the country had a small, independent music retailer in  their high street. Bexley Heath had two; one at each end of the high street, in addition to WH Smith, Woolworths, Boots and whatever other store deemed it profitable to sell new records and cassettes. Bexleyheath’s Smiths is where I bought Iron Maiden’s ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’ on 12” and Marillion’s ‘Punch And Judy’ on 7” in 1984. Every purchase has its own memory. So now every time I pay a visit to Rebound Records in York or the Rock Box in Camberley,  I make sure I find something to purchase to close that ever narrowing gap in the “A” section of my CD collection, or fill up the “M” section. I’m sure I could find the release cheaper online, but I can’t express the despair I’d feel if I walked up to their doors to found they had closed. So a fiver or £6.50 for a copy of the first Allman Brothers CD I don’t have, or “Dirk Wears White Sox” by Adam And The Ants, an album I didn’t buy when I was a huge pre-teen Ants fan, but now feel I really do need, are small prices to pay.

Sooooo. Here’s my penny’s worth about HMV. The high street is suffering, OK? You can go on and on about poor management, a failure to move with the times, high price for CDs when times were good, but look at Borders. Look at Jessops. Did you ever think Woolworths would just disappear? WH Smith or Boots could just as easily go the same way, and then what would we end up with in our high streets? Coffee shops and charity shops? Don’t get me wrong, I like coffee, and I also like a good old rummage through the dusty old CDs and even dustier vinyl (latest “find”: This Is Your Bloody Valentine for £3 in Oxfam), but I also like browsing through Waterstones, and HMV and Smiths and wherever… Music still represents value for money. Looked after, it will last forever. An unwanted CD or LP can be sold if not liked or loved anymore, but it can also be returned to your deck or CD player (if you still own one) for Proustian reminders of times gone by, happier or sadder. You can’t do that with a download on a trashed, recently made obsolete hard drive, can you? I taught at university for a few years, and most of the students felt that £10 was too much to pay for an album. I pointed out that if you went back 40 odd years or so, that new album would cost you around £3. Fair enough, they shrugged, but they looked a bit shocked when I pointed out that in contrast and by comparison, a packet of cigarettes at the same time would cost around 27p, a pint of beer 11p and  a ticket to the Wembley Cup Final a mere £2. A ticket to see Led Zeppelin in 1971 would set you back 75p. 75p to see Led Zeppelin promoting their fourth LP! So that £3 record in today’s terms should cost you anything between £25 and £40, the same amount that people are prepared to pay for a new computer game.

Yep, CDs were a bit steep when they first came out, quite possibly artificially so, and who was happy to find out that their £15 CD from Our Price would set you back a mere $15 Stateside? I can recall an article where it calculated that if you wanted enough CDs it was cheaper to fly to New York and buy them there, flight included an’ all.  But what business chooses to sell its produce deliberately cheaper than the market is prepared to pay? I don’t see Rolls Royce or Rolex selling cut rate cars or watches.

HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC. Except it didn’t. I used to borrow friends’ LPs and copy them to cassette, but I really wanted the actual vinyl, the artefact, and any tapes that got spun more than two or three times usually resulted in a legitimate purchase of the album. Cassettes offered a large degree of portability, especially when I was a student and the relative transience that engenders, but deep down I really wanted Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP ON VINYL, with the gatefold sleeve and the inner bag that had the lyrics to ‘Stairway…’, and the distinctive green and orange Atlantic labels on the vinyl itself. I wanted the gatefold version of Black Sabbath Vol 4 with the glued in inserts and the swirly, spiral Vertigo logos on the labels. I can’t express the despair felt on finding an original Mushroom pressing of Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” in Camden that had a gatefold jacket with lots of vintage shots of Ann and Nance inside. Sure, my box fresh, mint Arista copy had an inner bag, but sadly it only had a single LP sleeve to hold it. Of course, I eventually bought a gatefold version too (and a picture disc), which went a long way in assuaging my pain. My point is, I needed the object itself, which in a way was half of the medium – the other half being your record deck. And here’s my point; the death/dearth of the stereo system, supplanted by iPods and iPhones and whatever new gadgets and what-have-you is available for you to listen to your sounds on, means that not only is the artefact not really needed, once you have transferred it to your hard drive or your listening device, especially in this modern world where space is becoming a much sought after luxury, but that big ole 12” LP, or even its 5” CD counterpart, just takes up too much room. I can remember sometime around 1986 being invited round to the friend of a friend’s apartment (this was in Hong Kong) to hear one of these new fangled compact discs on a new fangled CD system (probably “Dark Side Of The Moon” or “Brothers In Arms”). Yeah, it sounded pretty cool. It sounded pretty clear and loud, but the truth is, I’ve never listened to an MP3 on a modern device and went, “wow, that sounds amazing! Really toppy and tinny, the way I like it!” in quite the same way as when I listened with headphones to my first ever cassette Walkman (which actually did sound amazing). Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that I can carry around what might amount to someone else’s large or even entire music collection in a small electronic box the size of a cigarette packet, but not at the loss of the artwork and lyrics and credits and photographs and cryptic messages and all the little things that make the package more interesting.

Maybe folks today don’t quite see the value in music. Certainly, with regards to the high street, what’s good for the consumer (buying cheaper online or cheaper at the out of town superstore) is bad for the consumer (see high streets full of coffee and charity shops). I kind of respect Prince’s right to have given away his last album free with a Sunday paper. In one quick transaction, he made as much out of the album in one go as he might of over the whole lifetime of the release, if issued commercially. Covermount CDs (the ones often given away with music magazines such as Uncut, Classic Rock and Mojo) usually highlight new releases and are aimed at consumers who like and regularly buy music, and quite often in a physical format. But giving away a classic album on CD with a Sunday paper will merely place the idea in the head of the consumer that music can be free, should be free and certainly isn’t worth paying for. Sure, it will generate a lot of licensing revenue in one go, and there’s mechanical royalties on top of that to consider, but I would use the analogy of the farmer who slaughters all his cattle in one season, makes a huge profit at market in one go, then has nothing to sell the following year. The NME during the 1970s would occasionally give away flexi-discs with excerpts from new albums ( “Exile On Main Street”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, “Brain Salad Surgery”), and it was a BIG DEAL. Today, if you get enough free CDs or free downloads, you will eventually see no worth in them at all. When I bought records as a teenager, the purchase had to be very carefully thought out and considered, and after investing that pocket money, I then had to invest time in listening to the thing. I WANTED to like my new purchase that I’d invested a whole £4 or whatever in. I’d persevere with new purchases in a way that I don’t with albums that I’m given. At least I could swap or sell a real dud I was misled by Kerrang! or Sounds into buying (stand up Tony Macalpine’s “Edge of Insanity”).

So support your local record store. You’ll miss it when it’s gone. And so will I.

HEAR NO EVIL recordings (26-11-2012)

Monday 26th November sees the launch of the new hard rock and heavy metal label, HEAR NO EVIL recordings. Distributed by Cherry Red records, the first batch of releases will include three long out of print albums from the McAuley Schenker Group, plus the brand new album from London’s Pig Iron (featuring yours truly on bass guitar).

PIG IRON: IV (2012)

Pig Iron: IV

Pig Iron’s 2010′s “Blues+Power=Destiny” CD was described as “Bloody brilliant… simply a great album” by Powerplay magazine, filled with “Glorious riffage… crushingly heavy” according to KERRANG!, and by Classic Rock magazine as “Biker Metal Extraordinaire”, which they were able to demonstrate in front of 10,000 Hells Angels at last year’s Bulldog Bash festival. Pig Iron return with a new studio album; ‘Pig Iron: IV’, now featuring new axe-slinger Dan Edwards (on permanent loan from Sons Of Merrick), it heralds a return to their bluesier roots, with more wailing harmonica and a “Plant-esque howl” from singer Johnny Ogle, with a sound that Classic Rock described as “Big Rock… It’s no surprise the band look every inch the scary-ass cowboys they sound like.” With songs such as ‘Horseshoes & Hand Grenades’, ‘The Tide Within’ and ‘Low Grade Man’, this album is a definite progression from the previous three records, but also showcases a mellower side, with shades of Zeppelin’s acoustic moments on ‘The Curse Of An Aching Heart’ and the instrumental ‘Chapter 6′. The band are due to hit the stage at 2012’s Hard Rock Hell to showcase the new album, and plan to tour the country in 2013 to support its release. To quote Jerry Ewing in Metal Hammer: “Someone like Lynyrd Skynyrd should take these boys out on tour – they’d clean up!” For fans of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin Down and Black Sabbath.

McAuley Schenker Group (1987-1992)

McAuley Schenker Group "Perfect Timing"

After making his debut at a mere 17 years on the Scorpions first LP “Lonesome Crow” in 1972, guitar maestro and mad axe-man Michael Schenker spent five years as lead guitarist with the inimitable UFO, before forming the Michael Schenker Group (MSG for short) with singer Gary Barden in 1979. With four studio albums and two live records under his belt, released on Chrysalis Records between 1980 and 1984, Michael returned in 1987 for the “Perfect Timing” album, now with former Grand Prix and Far Corporation singer Robin McAuley, and a change of name to the McAuley Schenker Group, but still conveniently shortened to MSG.  The new look MSG recorded a total of four albums, starting with the melodic “Perfect Timing” (1987), “Save Yourself” (1989), “M.S.G.” (1992) and finally with “Unplugged – Live” (1992). “Perfect Timing” from 1987 features three singles; ‘Love Is Not A Game’, ‘Follow The Night’ and the US Hot 100 Hit ‘Gimme Your Love’, and is certainly the most melodic and AOR-friendly of this batch of CDs. 1992’s “M.S.G.” is certainly a harder, grittier affair than the previous McAuley Schenker releases, and includes the single, ‘Never Ending Nightmare’. “M.S.G.” had a much harder, guitar driven sound possibly as a reaction to the grunge that was very much in vogue at the time, whereas “Perfect Timing” was a good reflection of the more commercial “hair-metal” that was the height of fashion in the mid-late 1980s. Thanks in part to MTV’s popular “unplugged” series of TV broadcasts and subsequent albums and videos, going acoustic was certainly very much de rigueur in the early 1990s, which leads us to the fourth and last album by this pairing; 1992’s “Unplugged  Live”.  As well as key McAuley Schenker songs, recorded live in Los Angeles in 1992, the album features three UFO classics; ‘Natural Thing’, ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Lights Out’. The bonus tracks are unique acoustic studio versions of ‘Anytime’,  ‘We Believe In Love’, ‘What Happens To Me’ and ‘Bad Boys’, all taken from the “unplugged in the studio” Japanese only mini-album “Nightmare: The Acoustic MSG”. All three McAuley Schenker Group releases features 16 page booklets, each  with  new essays from Classic Rock’s Malcolm Dome based on new interviews with Michael Schenker and Robin McAuley, conducted especially for this release.

Look out for new albums and classic reissues from UFO’s Paul Raymond Project, Thunder, Luke Morley and Uriah Heep, among many others, in 2013. For more information, press info and review copies, please contact Matt Ingham at Cherry Red:

My Top 10 Live Albums (Part 1)

QUO LIVE (Vertigo 1977)
Status Quo are one of the greatest… underrated… live heavy metal bands of all time, and “Quo Live” recorded over three nights in 1976 at the Glasgow Apollo, is a testament to this. Me: “Quo Live, If You Want Blood and Live And Dangerous are the holy scriptures of hard rock and heavy metal.” Rick Parfitt: “Holy Scriptures. I like that! Hugh, you’re a creative type. I want to call my new shampoo range Wash & Quo, but they won’t let me. What should I call it?” Quick brain, think of something witty. Me: “Erm… Barnet Fair!” Rick Parfitt: “Brilliant! Barnet Fair! That’s it! Write that down.” And as if 4 sides of classic, authentic, live hard rock, with the definitive version of The Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues’ isn’t enough, it also features one of the earliest sightings with the Mighty Quo™ of one of the nicest men in rock, Sir Andrew Bown. Check out his latest solo album, “Unfinished Business”. I’m in the video too:

The copy I bought in Aldershot in 1982 of AC/DC’s first [commercially released] live album contained a pale blue merchandise insert to buy t-shirts, posters and badges from their 1978 tour. If only it contained a time machine too, so we could all go back in time and see and hear firsthand the legendary talents of Bon Scott and the boys, just prior to the major breakthrough of 1979’s “Highway To Hell” opus. “IYWBYGI” [ah, how that rolls off the tongue] breaks one of the first rules of classic 70s live albums in that it; 1. is not a double LP and 2. doesn’t have a lavish gatefold sleeve with lots of cool live photos. You see, one of jobs that the double live EL-PEE was meant to do was transport 12 year old boys to the front row of sweat soaked, beer stained venues such as the Hammersmith Odeon or Marquee Club. Although a live album (and this is very much a LIVE album), the versions of the songs on “IYWBYGI” actually sound better produced than their (consistently great) studio counterparts. I mean, ‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’ [some of Bon's finest poetry], is actually IN TUNE. Despite this, “IYWBYGI” still manages to crank out a satisfying noisy racket that will make you want to go to the back of the cupboard to find that tennis racquet in order to jam along to the likes of ‘Riff Raff’, ‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’, and a particularly rude version of ‘The Jack’ that I still don’t fully understand. I’m not sure my ears would have withstood a whole 2 vinyl records of this, though the addition of 1977’s promo only “Live At The Atlantic Studios” would have made a nice inclusion. [I did see a copy of the latter for sale in a market in Norwich around 1987, but couldn’t afford the fiver they were charging for it]. To see footage of what  a powerful live act AC/DC were in 1978, unfettered by any special effects, check out the BBC’s “Rock Goes To College” filmed at the University of Essex, Colchester. Magic stuff.

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Tony Visconti claims everything but the audience and the drums were re-recorded in the studio. Some band members dispute this. Neither matters, as Thin Lizzy’s “Live And Dangerous” should stand proudly in the pantheon of classic live rock albums. I have to admit, having been to an awful lot of live gigs in the last 29 years, and having heard a few “unofficial” live albums in that time too, the rock concert experience is rarely a perfect one once recorded. Bum notes can be played. Amps can break down. Audiences may heckle. Guitars may need to be swapped over. Lead guitarists may refuse to perform encores. If you’re actually THERE MAN, then that’s all part of the experience. Sitting in the audience at televised events such as the Brits can be an interesting experience if you’re there, where you are able to see firsthand how things happen “behind the scenes” so to speak, but I really wouldn’t want to watch all the goings on in their dull minutiae on television, in real time. “Live And Dangerous” also features the near definitive versions of Lizzy’s pre-1979 catalogue, with killer outings for tracks such as ‘Suicide’, ‘Emerald’, ‘The Rocker’ and ‘Are You Ready’. It doesn’t even matter that the cover photo is out of focus.

Bands like The Clash were really sniffy about playing on “pop” programmes like Top Of The Pops, which I never understoof at the time, or now particulalry. Wasn’t cool, maaaaan. But hey, why don’t you move to America, hang around Studio 54, and get Blue Oyster Cult’s manager to produce you (which I don’t think is that bad a move, actually). Motorhead were on TOTP every week it seemed during my early adolescence. The Clash were not. Guess who I never got into and guess who I still don’t ever listen to. As a little kid, TOTP was my only vista on this rarified world or rock ‘n’ roll, and Motorhead were the first heavy metal band I decided I would like. I bought Motorhead’s “No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith” when it was the UK number 1 in June 1981, and probably the first heavy metal / hard rock album I ever bought, as up until then I’d only stretch to scratchy 45s from Woolworths and Martins in Camberley. I would have been too scared to actually go to a Motorhead gig in 1981 – as much as I might have loved to – and in many respects “No Sleep…” goes a long way to confirming this fear. The first time I entered the hallowed, sacred halls of the Hammersmith Odeon in 1983, the air rich with the fug of beer, cigarettes and most proustianly, patchouli oil, I was convinced that I’d be eaten by Hells Angels, but as soon as I walked inside, I knew I was home. Like many of these live album, and despite (or possibly because of) the attendant noise factor, “No Sleep…” features many definitive versions of Motorhead classics, from ‘Metropolis’, ‘Iron Horse/Born To Lose’ to the evergreen ‘Motorhead’, which even made an appearance on the aforementioned Top Of The Pops when released as a very fetching seven inch picture disc. This LP seems to be so ingrained into my DNA that I can fall asleep to it [and have]. I find it that comforting.

A bit of a weird one, this. Recorded in 1973 in Manchester and London on the 1973 UK Vol 4 tour, and evidently recorded at the time for commercial release, before being shelved, it did not gain an “official” release until 1980, by which time Ozzy had left, about to embark on a hugely successful solo career, and Sabbath had just released the brilliant “Heaven And Hell” featuring the talents of the late, great Ronnie James Dio. Although its top 5 placing (weirdly 4 places higher than “Heaven And Hell”) was testament to the demand for a live Sabbath album, a first listen to the odd, hollow, “whomping” production illustrates why  this was shelved in the first place. It wasn’t that the band weren’t on form, or an impressive live act, as I’ve heard plenty of live recordings made before and after this 1973 tour that would make far more suitable live offerings. As this was culled from two shows, we can only presume that enough material was at least committed to tape to fill a double LP, and instead of some classic, period live photos of the band in action, we get some odd photos, possibly supplied by NASA, with typography that may have looked futuristic if used on a 1973 episode of Tomorrow’s World, but by 1980 looked positively dated. Despite this, the LP contains plenty of period charm, including the rarely played ‘Cornucopia’, an early version of ‘Killing Yourself To Live’ with different lyrics, and a lengthy jam through early b-side ‘Wicked World’. Saw them back in May in Birmingham, and it was brilliant to hear them play stuff from this era and before.

“Axe Attack” (K-Tel 1980)

Axe Attack (© 1980 K-Tel)

If a band wasn’t on “Axe Attack” (K-Tel – 1980) or “Axe Attack Vol II” (K-Tel – 1981) –  or at least given a fair airing on Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show – then the chances are I would not have discovered them until much, much later. I never really got into Van Halen, or KISS, or even Deep Purple for that matter, until a long time afterwards as they weren’t featured on either of these collections. “Axe Attack” introduced me not only to acts I already knew and liked (AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Motorhead), but also to more exotic things I certainly would not have otherwise heard (Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent). Although the release was no doubt partly the result of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s, other than Iron Maiden, no other NWOBHM-era bands were featured on volume one; so no Tygers Of Pan Tang, no Angel Witch, no Diamond Head, not even the chart-friendly Saxon. The NWOBHM was slightly better acknowledged on “Axe Attack Vol II” with the inclusion of a track by Def Leppard and by Samson (featuring Bruce Bruce, soon to join the aforementioned Iron Maiden). With limited financial resources, my pocket money had to be carefully spent, usually on ex-chart 45s sifted from the bargain bins of Woolworths, WH Smith and Boots. LPs such as “Axe Attack”, for a reasonably small outlay, allowed you access to a wide variety of cool records that didn’t get played on the radio (in the UK, at least). Without an older brother, cousin or uncle interested in rock music, and in a pre-digital age, one would be negotiating the local record shop without a map, which leads me to…

As a designer, I’m always preaching the importance of the use of the right imagery and the decisions made for appropriate logotypes as an instant visual language to convey what music is held within the LP jacket or CD jewel case – and the subsequent reduction in the importance, or even need, or physical artwork is something else to lament in the digital age. I have often bought albums on the strength of the cover, and see nothing wrong with that. The logo design used for “Axe Attack” alone tells you that it’s a heavy metal album, and one I’d no doubt took time to copy into my sketchbooks and school diary. Likewise, the lone, long haired “axeman”, swinging his Stratocaster style “axe” into the logo instantly confirms that this is definitely a “rock” album, a “heavy rock” album, a “heavy metal” albums – which is certainly how you would have described the bands within (Whitesnake, Girlschool, UFO) at the time.

So if I don’t feel any great nostalgic kinship with KISS, Van Halen or a host of other contemporaneous bands, blame K-Tel records for never including them on “Axe Attack”.

The 40 min LP Vs the 79 min CD

I finally finished “No Regrets”, Ace Frehley’s account of his time in KISS, on the District Line this morning. Although it didn’t really spill any particularly surprising beans over its 299 pages – even if it does include a colour photo of what purports to be Rush’s Alex Lifeson with a bag on his head – it was entertaining enough to inspire me to dig out my KISS CDs. No slouches when it came to their release schedule, KISS issued four hit studio albums and a double live LP in a little over two years. Closer examination reveals that these albums, though crammed with classics, were often rarely over 32 or 33 minutes in duration. In the pre-digital age, bands could release albums as short as 28 minutes, but as long as they had around 5 or 6 songs per side, that was enough material to constitute an album. Slayer claimed that there was just as much music on their 1986, 28 minute long “Reign In Blood” opus as any of their other LPs, it’s just by the time they’d come to record this one, the songs were so much faster, resulting in less than half an hour of music. When launched in 1982, did Sony vice-president Norio Ohga’s suggestion to extend the capacity of the compact disc to 74+ minutes in order to accommodate Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, foresee every future album release potentially being essentially a “double length” album? Often, double albums were not fully understood or appreciated upon their initial release (The White Album, Exile On Main Street) as four whole sides of vinyl is quite a lot for a music journalist to take in and absorb on a tight deadline. I think this is one of the drawbacks of the digital age, when at a glance you can see how long each track is and what the overall time is just by slotting the disc into your computer or CD player. Sure, you could see track times sometimes printed on the artwork, more often included on single labels for the benefit of radio programmers and DJs, but you rarely saw the words “beware, this LP is only 34 minutes long” on the back of a record. And here’s my point; did I ever listen to “Rainbow Rising” and say to myself, “those 6 tracks are great, but what I really need is another 40 minutes of filler”? No. Likewise, bands like UFO managed to record a killer LP of classic songs, year in year out, throughout the 1970s. But what if they’d been compelled to come up with closer to 79 minutes per release? I’ve known bands sign deals where they were contractually obliged to supply a master featuring at least 50 minutes of music, and that doesn’t include the obligatory bonus versions and exclusive tracks. Who could listen to such a classic as “A Farewell To Kings” and feel it would be better “value for money” if its 35 minutes were augmented by a further 15 minutes of contractual filler? On the other hand, a 79 minute space to fill could well have inspired a band like Rush (highly prolific through the 1970s) to extend a track like ‘Hemispheres’ beyond its single side of vinyl. Of course, there was another imperative to a shorter running time on vinyl, as the more music on an LP the quieter the pressing was and subsequently a reduction in sound quality; ideally, a 12” vinyl’s running time shouldn’t exceed 22 minutes per side. There’s also another aspect to consider. I don’t want to sound like an analogue geek or nostalgia obsessed curmudgeon, but the sequencing, and what now feels like a ritual of having to flip an LP over, was part of the whole way you experienced an LP. ‘Stairway To Heaven’ belongs at the end of side one of Led Zeppelin IV when experienced on vinyl, not somewhere around the middle of a compact disc. I actually applaud bands for making their new albums around 40 minutes or less. Of course, this only applies to original albums, as I like my reissues to be crammed to the gunwales.

If you’re a KISS fan, the Ace’s book is recommended, but for a more detailed and entertaining insight into the legendary label who’s first signing was KISS’s debut in 1974, I can thoroughly recommend “And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records” by Larry Harris and Curt Gooch, which I bought in Book Soup on Sunset a couple of years back.



Pig Iron – Powerplay review (2012)

Big thanks to our friend Chris Kee from Powerplay magazine form having the good taste to review our last show at The Peel, in Kingston.

Box O Snakes – 8th Best Box Set of 2011

Whitesnake’s ‘Box ‘O’ Snakes’ has been made the 8th Best Box Set of 2011 by Germany’s Eclipse magazine.

Master Of Reality – variations (1971)

Black Sabbath 'Master Of Reality' remaster (Universal)

I’ve written a lot about Black Sabbath. Here’s some more.

The original UK pressing on Vertigo is a relatively straight forward, simple design, but this record certainly has the most alterations and variations in comparison to any other Sabbath LP cover. The original UK pressing has a black sleeve, with “Black Sabbath” in purple, and then “Master Of Reality” embossed below it. The UK edition was housed in “box” style sleeve with a flap at the top, and as if to add some much needed colour, also came with a very nice poster of the band standing in a forest or wood, taken by Keef (who was responsible for photography for the first four Sabbath LPs). An alternative take from this photo session appears on the 1982 picture disc release of Paranoid. Unsurprisingly, few copies survive with posters intact, and can attract high prices when they are included. European versions also featured the same black and purple embossed cover design, but with more conventional sleeves. Original Japanese editions of the LP had the same design, but with the band name and title printed in white on a black background. These variations may have been due to production limitations in different territories, or possibly deliberate decisions made in these countries, but in my opinion it was simply due to misunderstanding or miscommunication between different countries. Now, virtually all design work is produced and supplied on computer, more often than not via an Apple Mac, but up until the early 1990s, designs were supplied to and by record companies as “flat artwork” with instructions for layout and colour added in writing on overlays of tracing paper of clear acetate. As artwork was often the last thing to be produced, after the record was in the can, it was regularly rushed to meet deadlines, then would have to be dispatched across the globe to different territories. Today, when artwork can be supplied on disc or via the internet, created using universally used programs, the room for error is small, and because of emails and the internet, approvals can be instant. This would not have been the case in 1971. In 1973, Black Sabbath’s catalogue moved from Vertigo to the new WWA Records imprint. Evidently, it was still manufactured and produced by Phonogram (who also released Vertigo), as it was common to find old Vertigo sleeves with new WWA pressed vinyl, but with new WWA catalogue numbers stickered over the old Vertigo catalogue numbers. WWA’s Master Of Reality still came with the poster, but the glossy sleeve was no longer embossed necessitating the title to be reproduced as an outline, otherwise it would not be visible. Original Brazilian pressings has the title in orange (and black, purple and orange is not a complimentary mix of tones), and later Brazilian pressings included an even more lurid mix of colours. Other variations include the title in white outline and the whole cover printed in black and purple (in US) and black and blue (in Canada). When I came to design the recent remasters for Universal, it was the non-embossed purple band and title in Purple on a black background we went for. Korean pressings featured the poster photo on the front, and apparently Master Of Reality was also issued as a gatefold sleeve in New Zealand, but I’ve never seen a copy.