Nazareth: Electrifying New Tattoos On A Glorious Legacy

Photo Credit: Calvin Fehr

Nazareth: Electrifying New Tattoos On A Glorious Legacy

The legendary rock band Nazareth has turned 50, celebrating their vast and epic career by unveiling Tattooed On My Brain – their 24th studio magnum opus released via Frontiers Music Srl.  The first album to feature new vocalist Carl Sentance, Tattooed On My Brain presents 13 powerhouse songs that compare exceedingly well with the Nazareth classics!  In this interview, Highwire Daze Online chats with bassist and founding member Pete Agnew to discuss the making of Tattooed On My Brain, the departure of long time front man Dan McCafferty and arrival of Carl Sentance, legacy songs such as Love Hurts and This Flight Tonight, and a whole lot more!  Read on…

What goes through your mind when you realize that Nazareth is celebrating their 50th Anniversary as a band?
Well, it’s tiring sometimes just thinking about it.  (Laughs) I feel very fortunate – and very lucky to have an entire life doing the thing that I loved.

On this album you have a new vocalist Carl Sentance.  How did Carl come along and were you nervous about replacing your longtime vocalist?
When Dan had to leave – his was my best friend – we had known each other since we were five years old.  That was a disaster for us, but we decided that we were going to continue.  It was a case where we needed to find somebody that wasn’t a Dan McCafferty sound-alike.   To keep it going – to be credible – we had to find someone who was a great singer and who had their own style.  And I know we found that with Carl.  He’s been a shot in the arm actually for the band since he’s joined.  He brought a whole thing to the band.   It’s great – it’s given us a whole new lease on life.

And Dan’s cool with having a new vocalist in the band?
Dan – he knew – he said at the time “You’ve got to find somebody.”  And I was telling him about the people I was hearing – I had a lot of audition music sent to me.   And a lot of them were trying to sound like Dan, and I would discuss that with him.  He only lives three minutes from my house, so we’re in touch all of the time.  We still see each other.  And so he was cool.  And when we got Carl, he thought it was a great choice.  When Dan heard him, he thought he was great!

Is there any overall story or concept behind the album title Tattooed On My Brain?
When I wrote that song, it came from a line from the late great George Carlin – I remember him describing tattoos as a “permanent reminder of a temporary feeling” – which I thought was a great description.  And I thought, “I’m going to get that into a song one day!”  So I was working along those lines and was thinking, “Yeah, you can remove them from the skin but can’t remove them from your brain.”  The whole thing was done very much tongue in cheek for the song – it’s a quite cheeky song really.  You can hear it in the lyrics and in the sort of punk way that we play it.   It was meant to be kind of jolly, but with a serious kind of feeling to it.  Anybody who’s been through that kind of experience will know what we’re singing about.

The first song released from the album was called Pole To Pole. What was the lyrical inspiration for that song?
Pole To Pole was a fabulous track! Jimmy (Murrison) wrote that one – and, well it’s basically about somebody being bipolar.  The way that people are – they get these mood swings and you go “from pole to pole” as they say.  He was pretty much describing what it was like – and that’s pretty much what the whole song is about.  That’s a great rock song.  When he came in with that one, we really all knocked out!

It was a great album to do, because everyone was coming in – we didn’t have all of the material when we went to start the album.  We had all of the songs that Carl had written, but the other ones we were still working on.  It was one of those albums where everyday somebody was coming in with a different song – and it was great!  It was like “Let me hear that!”  Because we do that – we work much better under pressure.  If somebody tells us we’ve got a year to write an album, I can guarantee that when we get into the studio, they’ll go “has anybody got a song” and we’ll go “Well, I’ve got one that almost there…”  And then everybody starts to disappear from the room and then later comes back and says “Okay, I think I’ve got one now.”  So that’s the way Jimmy and Lee (Agnew) and myself work.  With when Carl came in, he obviously had songs that he had written for the album – so he was ready to start on day one.  He has five songs on the album, so we recorded his songs first.  It was great to sing songs that he had written – to get into the way that Nazareth records – because it was his first album – so for him to get used to the way that we record – there’s no better way than doing it with a song that you’ve written yourself – rather than coming in with a band you’ve never recorded with before and then recording somebody else’s songs.  So we did it that way.

So it’s good that Carl was definitely a team player with the new album.
Oh yeah!  He’s been looking forward to doing an album since he joined.  You can imagine – he wants to put his stamp on the band.  You can go out and do all the live shows – and he’s getting a wonderful reception everywhere we go – he’s gotten a great reception from all the fans – and also from new fans that are seeing us for the first time.  And when you really put your mark, you’ve got to record.  You’ve got to do an album!  You must be known as the recorded singer of the band.  He’s been looking forward to getting that done – probably from the day he joined.  He was very, very happy to be in and recorded.  And we all were.

Will Nazareth be touring here in the States anytime soon?
We’d like to and we’ve got space to do it.  Of course we do a big Canadian tour every year, but we haven’t done the States in quite a while – at least not an actual tour – we’ve done the odd show here or there.  I’d like to come and do some shows next year (in 2019), especially with the new album.  We’ll just have to wait and see what the agencies come up with.  It’s funny playing America now.  You know, the days of playing arenas are over.  You can’t do that – we’re not big enough to do that kind of thing anymore.  In fact, few people are.  We don’t want to go and be doing bars – I think the casinos are the main places people are playing now.  What we would like to do is be on a shared bill – get two or three bands of the 70’s bands together – and then you could make a proper tour.  So we’re looking for something like that.

Do you still enjoy playing Love Hurts after all of this time, and what do you think if that classic song in retrospect?
It’s a brilliant song and it was done by a brilliant songwriter. Boudleaux Bryant wrote just amazing songs.   I love that song.  And to say that I’m looking forward to playing it every night would be a complete lie – because when you’ve been doing a song for years and years – I can’t remember doing a show since we recorded that when I didn’t play that song.  So it’s been played every night since 1974, so we’re looking at 42 years at least.  To tell you the truth, some night when we are playing that, sometimes my mind wanders – “have we played the solo yet – have we got to that part yet?”  I love to hear it sung.  I’m actually playing it on remote, but the vocal every night is different.  And like with every song, it’s different every night because it’s a different audience.  If I was standing in the same room playing the same song every night for a year, then I think it would drive me insane.  But when you’re playing every night to different faces who are watching you play it, then that’s what makes the song different every night.  And that’s what makes you want to play it.

What made Nazareth decide to cover This Flight Tonight by Joni Mitchell, and what was her initial reaction when she heard that you were going to cover it?
Like we do with we cover any song, it came from tapes we listened to when we were in our van – cassettes that we would listen to when we were driving through Europe – and one was Joni Mitchell.  We didn’t use to listen to a lot of heavy rock – you’re driving through on tour and listen to Jackson Browne and Little Feat and Randy Newman.   We were looking for a song to do on Loud ‘n’ Proud, and we were short on material.  And Roger Glover (of Deep Purple and producer of the album) said “Why don’t you try This Flight Tonight, because you’re always talking about it.”  So we gave it the Nazareth treatment – I mean completely, completely changed it.  And it’s funny, because the day it was released in Europe, we were in America at the time.  We were in Los Angeles at A&M Studios, and we were telling them (This Flight Tonight) was being released, but not in America but in Europe off the new album.  And they said “Oh, Joni’s in the studio here.  Why don’t you go over to see and tell her.”  So we went over and met Joni – and we met Ted Templeton – he was producing this one.  She was mixing her live album Miles of Aisles, and we said “we just released your song today This Flight Tonight.”  And she said “What?  A rock band?”  We had a copy – we played it for her – and she was absolutely blown away!  So was Ted Templeton – the man who produced the original This Flight Tonight.  And after it was a huge hit in Britain and all over Europe, she came on the tour the next year and played the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.  And she said “Now I would like to play a Nazareth song” (and played This Flight Tonight).  I think that was very nice of her.  So yeah, I think she liked This Flight Tonight.

What do you think is the most underrated Nazareth album and why?
They’ve all got something.  I mean, none of the recent ones were huge anyway, but they always got good enough reviews anyway.  I don’t think they were underrated as such.  There were ones that I had to get used to myself that I never really paid that much attention to at the time – thinking it was just a stop-gap album – but then I go back and I think “Oh, that’s a good one!”  And one that we did – Sound Elixir – that was one that we did up in Canada – in Vancouver.   And at the time, I never really thought that much about it.  I mean, it was fun to make, but I never really thought about it being a big Nazareth album.  But when I go back and listen to it now, I really enjoy that album!  It’s one of the ones that I’m still discovering all kinds of noises on that myself.

Now that Tattooed On My Brain is out, what’s up next for Nazareth?
This one – I think I’m going to agree with just about every reviewer I’ve spoken to – and I’ve spoken to a lot of them – I’ve done a lot of these interviews – and everybody reckons that it’s probably the best album I’ve done in 30 years.  We’re absolutely over the moon delighted with the album, and the feedback that we’re getting is absolutely so positive.

Do you have any messages for Nazareth fans who are reading this right now?
I would definitely say you’ve got to listen to this album.  You’ve got to hear what this is all about and where Nazareth is today.  This has got some of the best songs that we’ve written in our careers on this album as well as some great performances.  I know you would think you would say that about every album that you make.  I haven’t really said that about every album that I make – but this one is very special.  It’s been one that we’ve been thinking about making for a couple of years, and we really, really planned how to get into this thing – so it’s been worth it!

Nazareth is:
Pete Agnew – Bass,
Carl Sentance – Vocals,
Jimmy Murrison – Guitar,
Lee Agnew – Drums

(Interview by Ken Morton)

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