The glory days of rock legends Nazareth
The amazing story of Nazareth told by founder members Pete Agnew and Dan McCafferty.
Back in 2014, a year after Dan had to retire because of health reasons, the two pals, who met on their first day at school, spoke about five decades on the road.
Revered around the world by devoted fans from Russia to Brazil to the United States, Nazareth have been great ambassadors for Dunfermline and Scotland.
Dan and Pete said the band had always trusted their own musical instincts and stuck two fingers up to anyone who tried to interfere.
Throughout their career they have gone their own way rather than have record companies dictate to them.
Dan: They think they know better but they don’t. We had one attempt to please management but they hated it so that was it for us.
Pete: It’s when a record company says to you, ‘You should do one like that again’. ‘You should do another ‘Love Hurts’ maybe’.
Well no, we did that one and we don’t want to another one like that, we’ll do something else.
Dan: We just never gave into that. We just said ‘no’.
Pete: It works for some bands to do the same kind of thing.
Pete: There you go, that’s the biggest example in the world. They got a number and they’ve played it ever since.
Dan: I’m not knocking that because I think they’re great and I buy their albums. That’s what they do though.
Pete: You could never imagine them doing an acoustic or a three-piece harmony, say. That’s not their thing. You see, I would be bored to suicidal lengths playing in a band like that – except when I was counting my money! I love the Quo and when they did that song ‘In the Army Now’ I thought it was brilliant.
Dan: And that’s the one they got slagged off for. ‘Trying to change the character of the band’.
Pete: Aye, ‘You can’t play that’. I think the diversity that we had was one of the reasons that kept us…
Dan: Why the band stayed together so long.
Pete: Then again it could be another reason why we never actually became, what would you say, up in the Premier League. We were always famous as a band but never that size. I think it’s because we didn’t follow up with the same. When people said, ‘That’s great, can we get more like that?’ we said ‘Naw’. They’d say, ‘Well I’m not going to buy your next record’. (Laughs).
How did they avoid the obvious dangers of partying to excess during years touring and joining the burnt out rock and roll debris lying at the side of the road?
Pete: It’s a lot of fun but it is your job.
Dan: We always had the survival instinct. Maybe because we had families or whatever.
Pete: Things would get a bit mental especially in the younger days and management would remind you, ‘This is your job. That means we’d like everybody sober on that stage tonight’. You know, ‘I hate to spoil the party but you’ve got a gig to do’. Most of the bands we knew were all pretty sensible anyway.
All these incredible stories you hear about the nutcases doing this and that – well there were nutcases. They liked to get noticed by breaking and smashing things but most of the bands played a gig, went out to a club afterwards, had a few pints then went back to their bed, got up and travelled to the gig the next day.
All the bands we knew, I never, ever saw anybody who threw a TV out a window. I always knew where the off button was.
Dan: The media gets a hold of stuff. For example, what was the first punk band? The Sex Pistols. They were like an X Factor band. They were put together by a management and told ‘You can’t play but you little boy can make a right tit of yourself and probably kill yourself, which would really help a lot.’ And that’s exactly what they did. This is not a new thing, putting bands together.
Pete: You get all the stories about Keith Moon doing this, blowing up stuff. Keith was a f****** idiot. I wouldn’t have let him anywhere near my house. He was a simpleton but other idiots thought ‘Oh this is what you do, you smash things up, I’m a pop star now.’
No, you’re an idiot and you’re not getting a job with this band. The worst of the lot were the road crews. If they worked for Led Zeppelin, they thought they were Led Zeppelin. You’d have to say, ‘No, no son. You’re a slave, you just do what you’re told.’ They thought if the band had a reputation the roadies had to live up to it.
We had a couple of them working for us but not for long. They were told, ‘If you break that, you’re paying for it’. It’s amazing how little gets broken where you tell somebody it’s coming off their wages. They don’t want to be big rock and roll idiots any more.
So we’d hear about all that nonsense and we knew some of them that did get up to that but 90 per cent of the bands out there were just interested in playing the gig and we played with people like Rory Gallagher, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Status Quo, Eric Clapton.”
Having released 23 studio albums, the Naz set list can be a thorny issue with fans.
Pete: If we were putting together a set list that would please everybody we’d have to put five hours aside for the gig.
The stuff that we’d really like to play is the new stuff. I think material wise, song wise, that some of the best stuff Nazareth’s ever done has been on the last three albums, ‘The Newz’, ‘Big Dogz’ and ‘Rock n Roll Telephone’. When I listen back to the early stuff it sounds really old-fashioned and I’m thinking, ‘Did I really play it like that?’
That last album was so much fun making and I think it’s one of the best Nazareth albums of all time. A lot of people would agree with me as well. The pity is that people who had your big hits like ‘Hair of the Dog’ will never hear that new record.
The other thing is: how much Nazareth can somebody take? I love The Band and have four of their albums. I love bands like Little Feat but I wouldn’t want 20 albums of them. So you just wonder how much people can take. But people don’t realise with us that we’ve changed so much over the years they wouldn’t be buying the same thing.
Dan: There’s a lot of bands who got into it to be famous. Naz got into it to make good music. That’s the difference I think.
Pete: Although Nazareth have continued right through the years we’ve had different line-ups, different musicians playing on the records and you can hear a big difference between the individual players. That’s always been quite exciting actually.
Bands have a lot more fun when they’re making records than people would expect. With us our attitude is – how would I put it – it’s not a serious thing, it’s a f*****g record. That’s all it is and you want to have a good time playing it. When you get a really great take, you look around the studio and you see people are smiling when they’re playing it because you’re actually having a good time.
So it doesn’t feel like work but it can become a bummer sometimes. I remember how long we spent on ‘Bad Bad Boy’ just to get the feel we wanted on it. It’s one of the simplest songs you could ever think of – 12 bar blues basically – but we recorded the backing track of that more than any record we ever made. We did 25 takes before we got one we settled on.
That was like work but more often we would settle on the first one we played right through to the end. A lot of bands do take after take but you can disappear up your own arse.
We recorded Malice in Wonderland in the Bahamas then did the over-dubs in the Cherokee Studios in Holywood. I remember one of the engineers there had packed in the whole thing after spending ten months working on Art Garfunkel album. He’d gone stir crazy. You hear bands saying ‘We spent six years working on this album’. Our guys would have walked out.
Dan had a quick word of advice for young bands starting out today.
“Rock and roll is about right now and it has to have an instant impact. Rock and roll is now, not a year from now. So it’s a case of ‘We’re doing it now, let’s get the excitement in there’.”
*As told to Gary Fitzpatrick over a few pints in Dunfermline, October 2014.