© Dave Ling - June 2004
previously published in Classic Rock magazine
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remember the exact date that we turned full-time,” reminisces
Nazareth bassist Pete Agnew. “It was the first of July 1971 and
our manager told us, ‘Turn pro, and I’ll pay you the same
salary as you’re earning now’. We were all married at the
time, so although it wasn’t much money it made things a lot easier
for us to get really started.”
Classic Rock is at the Pitfirrane Hotel in Fife to hear the story of an extraordinary band. Nazareth have triumphed against all the odds, experiencing glory and tragedy along the way, continuing to tour to the present day. Like the Pitfirrane Hotel itself – which even extends an offer of loyalty cards to its regulars – the group have patently seen better days and were never really too glamorous in the first place. But there’s something reassuring about the continued existence of these old warhorses. We’ve always known where we stand with good ol’ Nazareth, who in pure entertainment terms have rarely let us down.Daniel McCafferty and Peter Agnew actually met on their very first day at school, aged five. Asked to share a double-desk together they’ve been best friends ever since. For the overwhelming majority of that time they’ve also liked the same music and been in bands together.
“We were just like Deep Purple, only with
“I can’t even remember not knowing Dan,” Agnew smiles.
“I’m 57 now, so that first meeting was more than 50 years
ago. It’s a bit like being a married couple; if one of us is late
to the restaurant, each can order exactly what the other would like
Till McCafferty arrived a year later, Agnew had been one of the band’s two vocalists. Dan became a Shadette under fairly similar circumstances to the way that Bon Scott would later join AC/DC. “I was the band’s roadie,” he confirms. “When one of their singers decided he was leaving on the day of a gig the boys decided to give me a try. They’d heard me singing in the van, but it was a case of straight in and with no rehearsal. The yellow suit of Des, the guy who’d left, almost fitted me.”
“When everybody came in after the opening chords of ‘High Heel Sneakers’ [originally by Tommy Tucker], Dan froze for what seemed like an hour but was probably only ten seconds because he’d never heard a band in full flight before,” smiles Pete. “But after that he took to it like a duck to water.”
McCafferty’s vocal trademark has always been his gruffness. He’s
smoked for all his life, and Nazareth have cancelled a mere four shows
in more than three decades of touring, but Dan has no real explanation
for the abrasiveness or fortitude of his larynx. “The only thing
I can think of is that I’m a blue-collar guy,” he offers.
“If you think about it, Bon Scott and Brian Johnson [of AC/DC]
had both worked hard all week; maybe like me they took all that aggression
out onto the stage with them.”
The final piece of the jigsaw turned out to be Manuel Charlton, a guitarist
that the band had known for many years, but whose appointment in 1968
spurred them to discard the straightjacketed Top 40 mentality of the
In 1968, the four-piece opted to call themselves Nazareth, taking their
name from The Band’s song ‘The Weight’ (‘I pulled
into Nazareth feeling ’bout half past dead’). On occasion
it has caused them to be mistaken for a religious band, and it certainly
brought some hate mail at first but it was a memorable enough moniker.
That they had a sound financial backer in the shape of bingo hall entrepreneur
Bill Fehilly, the manager mentioned at the start of this feature, also
The band’s extensive gig schedule brought them to the attention
of Pegasus Records, home of Atomic Rooster, who released a respectable
debut album in late 1971. Featuring a cover of Tim Rose’s ‘Morning
Dew’, ‘Nazareth’ caught on in Germany but wasn’t
as successful at home. For the following year’s ‘Exercises’
album, Roy Thomas Baker (who would later work with Queen, Alice Cooper
and Foreigner among many others) was promoted from engineer to producer.
An early version of ‘Woke Up This Morning’ – a song
that Nazareth revived for their next album – and the highland
fling of ‘1692 (Glencoe Massacre)’ were the highlights of
‘Exercises’, but more than three decades later, the pair
agree that it sounds lightweight and directionless.
“We’d seen Lynyrd Skynyrd’s
plane which looked like Gaffa Tape Airlines…”
McCafferty and Agnew were despatched to a pub in London’s Fleet
Street, then the hub of music journalism, to drum up some much-needed
publicity. Whilst awaiting the journalist that would interview them
they struck up a conversation with two other longhaired herberts.
Nazareth’s own lack of image complicated things further. A mess
of loon-pants, corkscrew curls, moustaches and beards, they had been
furnished with £100 by their management and told to buy some glamorous
stage clothes at London’s Kensington Market. Yet still they felt
unable to fully embrace the glam explosion that was going on around
The four-piece toured with Rory Gallagher and then Atomic Rooster, both experiences proving memorable. At one Atomic Rooster show when the headliners failed to turn up, few refunds were demanded when Nazareth closed the show. However, an early show opening for Gallagher in Nuremberg – ironically now one of the band’s strongholds – was less well received.
“Compared to Rory, we were dressed up like bloody Christmas trees,” guffaws Agnew. “The crowd were booing us even before we started. They absolutely hated us. A year later when we went back, they remembered us and were even throwing knuckle joints from some scaffolding at us. We still finished the show, in fact we did an extra couple of numbers just to piss them off!”
Years earlier Nazareth had alerted Scottish promoters to a new young
band called Deep Purple, and there was payback when they were invited
to accompany England’s newest superstars on jaunts to Europe and
America. The two bands struck up a mutual appreciation, and in some
cases close friendships. Indeed, the headliners’ guitarist Ritchie
Blackmore was so impressed by McCafferty that he invited him to join
Purple – making the offer in front of the rest of Nazareth. “The
guys taught us so many important lessons,” enthuses Dan. “We’d
be stuck in scum class on the planes and they’d come and sit with
us, giving us the benefit of their experience. We were a band from nowhere
and there was no need for them to be so generous, so it’s something
we try to do with young bands now.”
Nazareth were already playing most of the songs that appeared on their
breakthrough album ‘Razamanaz’, and had considered approaching
Pete Townshend of The Who or Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to produce
it. Their dilemma was solved when Roger Glover offered his services.
The bassist was just about to leave Deep Purple, but his fame was enough
to quell Bill Fehilly’s worries.
To test the water, Nazareth and Glover worked on ‘Broken Down Angel’, a song initially written in a country and western-style format.
the full hard rock treatment, Fehilly gave the green light for an album.
Issued in late 1973, ‘Razamanaz’ was everything that its
predecessors were not. It was focussed, fiery and full of catchy, powerful
tunes. Aside from ‘Broken Down Angel’, which gave the band
their first Top 10 hit, its two finest moments were the raucous title
track and the slide guitar boogie of ‘Bad Bad Boy’.
With its lyric of ‘I’ve got tastes for fast cars, I don’t
wanna settle down/The good life sure comes easily, with all the mugs
around/The women they just come to me, I don’t have to look around/I
move into their homes with them, then I move on’, ‘Bad,
Bad Boy’ saw Nazareth playing up to the stereotype of the Scots
as hard-drinking, womanising brawlers. Dan and Pete are keen to draw
one major distinction. They saw a lot of fights – notably among
their audiences – and certainly wouldn’t back down if fisticuffs
came along, but didn’t participate in too many rumbles.
“I laughed when W Axl Rose asked my to
sing ‘Love Hurts’ at his wedding,
Glover remained in charge for the aptly titled follow-up album, ‘Loud
‘N’ Proud’, in early 1974. The sessions saw them bolstering
their own compositions with covers of Little Feat’s ‘Teenage
Nervous Breakdown’ and ‘This Flight Tonight’ by folk
music’s Joni Mitchell. Although the latter was omitted from the
album’s UK edition, their dramatic new arrangement of ‘This
Flight…’ became a huge international hit. Mitchell later
paid the band what they felt was the ultimate compliment by referring
to it as a Nazareth composition.
Like ‘Razamanaz’, ‘Loud ‘N’ Proud’
was recorded in two weeks flat, with the same amount of time for mixing
down. There were numerous connections to Deep Purple in May 1974’s
‘Rampant’ album. Like the latter’s ‘Machine
Head’ it was conceived in Montreux on the Rolling Stones mobile,
and mixed at Ian Gillan’s Kingsway Recorders. As well as being
overseen by Roger Glover, it included a guest appearance from Purple
keyboard maestro Jon Lord on ‘Glad When You’re Gone’
and ‘Shanghai’d In Shanghai’. As was the norm for
rock bands back then, Nazareth were working at an astonishing pace,
McCafferty even managing to lay down seven vocal tracks on one particular
day. ‘Rampant’ was Nazareth’s third album in a whirlwind
The bassist’s amnesia wasn’t caused by what you might expect.
Although their token road song ‘Jet Lag’ name-checked New
York City, Macon, El Paso, Detroit and Colorado, the band insist that
for them, groupies and drugs – commodities eagerly lapped up by
most of the US touring circuit – were off the menu.
Pete sagely adds: “Those guys were a pointer towards what not to do. Likewise, Keith Moon. We played with The Who and how they put up with his antics is something I’ll never know. If he was the drummer of this band it’d be a case of, ‘Auditions now, please!’ I did once try a hit of cannabis – all it did was make me was really dizzy and fuck up my playing,” he continues. “The only time this band made fool of ourselves was with the help of a bottle of whiskey. It’s true, we had a reputtion for that, but it was just because everyone else was stoned.”
When asked whether Nazareth at least eased their boredom by demolishing hotel rooms or TV sets, Agnew responds wearily: “Never. We knew all along that there are ‘off’ buttons. If the programme on there’s piss, that’s what you do. I’ve laughed at stories about other bands gluing the furniture to the ceiling, but if one of our guys filled in a hotel room… he’d have been filled in by the rest of us when the bill arrived.”
This anti-drug mentality was shared with Ted Nugent, somebody the band played with on many occasions, and that they retain a strong affection for. “The thing that you’ve got to understand about The Nuge,” offers Dan, “is that he just blathers piss [when he talks]. He’s still a great mate of ours. We’ve got a set of equipment that he still keeps for us at his farm in Michigan.”
‘Rampant’ may have been the last Nazareth album to make the British Top 20, but 1975’s ‘Hair Of The Dog’ tightened the group’s grasp on the American market. Their coffers were severely swelled by the next release, which had an in-house production from Manny Charlton and was completed in just nine days in an oast house in a remote part of Kent. The power-ballad treatment of Everly Brothers song, ‘Love Hurts’, propelled it to worldwide sales of two million (though, confusingly, it was left off the European edition till becoming an ‘extra track’ in Eagle Records’ 2001 catalogue revamp).
‘Hair Of The Dog’ is the sound of a stadium rock band in
full flight. The prodigious use of Darrell Sweet’s cowbell wasn’t
all that rendered its title track so memorable. The band had intended
it to have a far fruitier moniker, based around its infamously belligerent
refrain of ‘Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch’,
but couldn’t get it past the censors. That doesn’t stop
them from referring to the song as ‘Son Of A Bitch’ to this
Even the band are unsure what Dave Roe was trying to achieve with the sleeve of a bat-like creature with vicious teeth. “He was recommended to us by Storm Thorgerson [of Hipnosis], but he wouldn’t let us see it till it was finished,” says Pete. “In the end, he supplied the drawing at the wrong size for a 12-inch sleeve, and we had to fill the gap with the song titles and credits on a black panel to fill the gap.”
Having struck up a friendship with the show’s producer, Mike Appleton, Nazareth had become regulars on the BBC’s music show The Old Grey Whistle Test and would willingly act as last minute standbys for acts that cancelled. Agnew says that on one occasion he rounded up the guys, piled into somebody’s vehicle and steamed down the M1 in five and a half hours flat. “That was breaking a lot of laws,” he acknowledges shamefully. “But we were always available, and they knew that we could handle the pressure.”
Another non-original single, Tomorrow’s ‘My White Bicycle’, returned the band to the UK’s Top 20 in 1975, a year in which their record company went into liquidation and they accepted an invitation to open for Bad Company at London’s Olympia. While Agnew became a father, McCaffery used the break in Nazareth’s schedule to record a self-titled solo album. A collection of songs by Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Little Feat and the Rolling Stones, it was perhaps most significant in the Nazareth tale for featuring the Sensational Alex Harvey Band guitarist Zal Cleminson (more of whom later) among its contributors.
“We were skint, so I went in and did all the old favourites,”
shrugs the singer of ‘Dan McCafferty’, released in 1975.
“It was done with Alex’s band and Roger [Glover] on bass.
When Zal played the solo to ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ [originally
by Sam & Dave], everybody’s jaws were on the floor.”
In 1976, with a spiky-topped revolution on the horizon, Nazareth were
brave enough to release a rock opera called ‘Close Enough For
Rock ‘N’ Roll’ as their debut for new label Mountain
Records. With its artwork of fans’ faces pressed up the windows
against a limousine, it was far more subtle and varied than its predecessor.
And although it included another hit 45 in ‘Telegram’, the
critics found themselves with plenty of ammunition.
Nazareth somehow recorded and released another album before 1976 drew
to a spittle-flecked, bondage trousered conclusion. ‘Play’N
The Game’ was almost totally overlooked in the UK, but sold phenomenally
well in Canada and certain European territories. Being out of Britain
while presenter Bill Grundy was baiting the Sex Pistols to use four-letter
words on live TV was highly fortuitous on the group’s part.
“It was hard walking about in seven-inch
platform heels – we liked a game of football in those days”
The year of 1977 would present further hurdles still. The band were
distraught when manager Bill Fehilly perished in plane crash, and were
actually touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd when the latter’s 21-ton
Corvair turbo-prop plane plummeted into swampy woods near Gillsburg,
Mississippi, killing vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines
and his backing vocalist sister Cassie, road manager Dean Kilpatrick
and both pilots. In fact, had fate been a little different, Nazareth
themselves may also have become casualties.
“… Plus the pilot was at the party!” adds an incredulous McCafferty. Agnew now admits that the false excuse of “doing some promo” was used to get out of attending. They remain full of respect for Skynyrd’s music (and Steve Gaines in particular), but their self-destructive tendencies and general misbehaviour often reflected badly upon Nazareth.
“They’d break each other’s legs, just for a bit of fun,” relates an incredulous Pete. “We’d get banned from the bar, too. We’d have to say that although we looked like Skynyrd we weren’t like them – we could handle our beer. In the end we stayed in different hotels, and I still think that we had a lot more fun than they did.”On this occasion, though, Nazareth’s instincts paid off. That didn’t prevent Skynyrd’s road crew, who believed the band had gone to the barbeque, from telling the world that Nazareth too were dead. “At the next gig, when I phoned the wife she burst into tears with relief,” sighs Dan at the memory.
The band’s ninth album, ‘Expect No Mercy’, largely
retained its traditional elements, although songs like ‘Shot Me
Down’ gave Nazareth a chance to tap into the AOR market dominated
by the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.
However, the censor once again ruled that Frank Frazetta’s drawing of two sword-fighting demons should be cropped to prevent the showing of too much male anatomy.
At the suggestion of Manny Charlton, the group’s old friend Zal Cleminson was invited to join for arguably the heaviest Nazareth record of all, 1979’s ‘No Mean City’. The twin-guitar sound worked well on ‘May The Sunshine’ and ‘Star’, which both became hit singles, even in the UK. Cleminson also played a highly significant role in the next album, 1980’s ‘Malice In Wonderland’, but was to disappoint his band-mates by quitting when in Britain at least the album went (to use the group’s own vernacular) “nowhere, with a bullet”. With Mountain Records unexpectedly going bust, Zal was further exasperated by the group’s need to secure another new record deal.
Manny had by then handed his producer’s cap to Jeff ‘Skunk’
Baxter of the Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan for ‘Malice…’
for the first of two albums, later admitting that he wished they’d
hired future Aerosmith collaborator instead. Baxter certainly employed
unusual motivation techniques. “The song ‘Talkin’
’Bout Love’ had a discoey beat and I told Jeff, I’m
not playing on this shite’,” frowns Pete. “His reply
was what I couldn’t play it anyway, and that maybe he’d
get David Hungate [of Toto] in to do it. It was brutal, but it made
us re-examine the way we worked.”
Returning to a four-piece, 1981’s ‘The Fool Circle’ was muddled in the extreme, so it was no surprise when Nazareth tried to steady what was beginning to resemble a sinking ship. Swelling to a six-piece with the addition of young Glaswegian guitarist Billy Rankin and ex-Spirit keyboard player John Locke (who’d been a guest on ‘The Fool Circle’) perhaps wasn’t the easiest of ways to achieve it, but the double live ‘Snaz’ album confirmed that they still had a fire in their collective belly.
The new line-up officially debuted on ‘2XS’ in 1982, a more lightweight album than expected. It sold well in the States, but poorly at home. Sensing hard times ahead, Locke returned to the West Coast to join Randy California in a Spirit reunion.
However, the quintet continued to work steadily throughout the early
1980s. Flying to Australia, they were supported by the fledgling Rose
Tattoo. In the dressing room, a fierce-looking skinhead enthusiastically
wrung McCafferty’s hand and proclaimed: ‘Hi Dan, I’m
Angry’. Not recognising whom he was addressing, Dan casually responded:
‘What about, son?’ I didnae know his name was Angry Anderson,
but they were a great band.” Nazareth also literally hit the headlines
following a televised show in Chile.
The group switched to MCA for 1983’s ‘Sound Elixir’,
which didn’t even receive a UK release, though some Naz aficionados
still believe it could have been the band’s equivalent of ‘Eliminator’
by ZZ Top. The constant touring and business problems were too much
for Rankin, who quit. Once again back to a quartet, 1984’s ‘The
Catch’ continued the slide in popularity, though it at least came
out in the UK, unlike the underrated ‘Cinema’ two years
later. Ted Nugent’s manager Doug Banker hawked ‘Cinema’
around the US labels on the band’s behalf, neglecting to inform
A&R men who they were listening to. One liked what he heard and
began putting together a business plan. However, learning he was being
sold a new album from Nazareth, Banker was bluntly told: “Forget
it, they’re dinosaurs.”
Nazareth had been spending nine months of the year in USA, Canada,
South America, Scandinavia and Europe, and in 1984 became the first
Western band to take a full stage production behind the Iron Curtain,
playing to 150,000 people during a tour of Polish ice hockey stadiums.
On their second visit to Russia, they played 12 sold-out shows at Moscow’s
Olympic Stadium to 264,000 fans. The UK, however, was studiously ignored.
Indeed, when McCafferty’s second solo album, ‘Into The Ring’,
emerged in 1986 its list of mainly German players confirmed the band’s
market switch. In 1989, following a lengthy tour to promote the ‘Snakes
‘N’ Ladders’ album, Manny Charlton decided he’d
endured one fire-fight too many. Coming after more than 20 years his
departure was a wrench, but the entire band were frustrated.
“The Darkness are a lovely band because
I think they’re taking the piss.
Against the odds, Billy Rankin was persuaded to return. ‘No Jive’
was Nazareth’s 18th album, but their first to reach the UK market
in seven years – they even played a handful of British gigs. It
helped that the band had gained considerable kudos and publicity from
patronage of Guns N’ Roses, whose singer W Axl Rose actually asked
McCafferty to sing ‘Love Hurts’ at his wedding to Erin Everley.
Before that, the band had begged Manny Charlton to produce an album
for them. He actually attempted to do so, throwing in the towel when
a maximum of two band members at any given time turned up to play. In
1993, GN’R would show the extent of their appreciation by recording
a by-numbers version of ‘Hair Of The Dog’ for their covers
album, ‘The Spaghetti Incident?’.
Things were looking up until Billy Rankin once again opted for a solo
career, leaving after the release of 1994’s ‘Move Me’
album. Rankin had brought them a poppier edge than they were used to.
Some reference books state that he resigned, others that he was fired.
For the first time in the conversation, Agnew becomes a little coy.
So it was mutual agreement, then?
The last time that Classic Rock spoke to Nazareth was in early 1999 as they geared up for the release of their most recent studio album, ‘Boogaloo’. Buoyed by the arrival of new guitarist Jimmy Murrison and keyboard player Ronnie Leahy and signed to a record label (SPV) that seemed to care, they were set to make up for lost time. Amid self-cracked gags about their age and unfashionability, the band were bullish. “Only death will stop us,” pledged McCafferty, also having the common sense to add: “But that may come this year.”
Unfortunately, the singer was correct. On April 30, as the second leg of the ‘Boogaloo’ tour was commencing, Darrell Sweet felt ill just as Nazareth’s tour bus approached the New Albany Amphitheater in Indiana. The drummer’s family had a history of heart attacks, but nobody expected Sweet to succumb to one at the age of 51.
Emotionally shattered, the band postponed the tour for six weeks (“We
couldn’t have cared less about the album anymore” –
McCafferty), though they re-arranged the dates with Lee Agnew, Pete’s
eldest son, on the drum stool. By then, however, SPV had stopped working
on ‘Boogaloo’, leaving them high and dry again. Lee Agnew
was later offered the job on a full-time basis.
In 2001, Nazareth accepted the offer of some British shows with Uriah
Heep, their first in almost a decade outside Scotland. The gigs were
plagued by illness and at the Astoria in London, which doubles as a
nightclub when rock shows have finished, somebody mistakenly turned
on a pink neon sign of the word ‘Gay’ above the band’s
heads, but the experience whetted everybody’s appetite.
Like many of their peers, Nazareth draw their faith in this from the
astonishing success achieved by The Darkness. Indeed, Justin Hawkins
and company have cited them as an influence.
Maybe one day The Darkness too will have eight million counterfeit albums in circulation in Russia (a conservative estimate, apparently). “You’ve got to realise how large Nazareth are over there,” points out Agnew proudly. “In terms of rock bands around the world we’d be lucky to make the Top 20, but in Russia we’d top the list and Led Zeppelin would be somewhere in the Top 10. That’s just the way it is.”
With more than 20 million official albums sold around the world, Nazareth
are currently label-less (though the bulk of their catalogue remains
with Eagle Records). Neither are they holding their breath awaiting
respect for their three decades-plus in the music business. However,
2004 finds them a quartet again – Ronnie Leahy recently retired
from the road – comfortable with their legacy and optimistic of
releasing a new album in the not too distant future.
© Dave Ling