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 [http://www.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=3974], 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 www.GilmourDesign.co.uk 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) [http://www.cherryred.co.uk/shopdisplayproducts.asp?Search=Yes&sppp=10&page=1&Keyword=waysted&category=ALL&highprice=0&lowprice=0&allwords=waysted&exact=&atleast=&without=&cprice=&searchfields=]. For more information, go to: www.hearnoevilrecordings.com
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!