In the early 1960's there were many fledgling Scottish bands struggling to create a unique sound of their own. A major factor holding them back was their remoteness from the main hub of the UK music business. London was where you had to be and frankly nobody was interested in what was happening north of Watford let alone in Scotland
In a gesture of defiance, and self-publicity, guitarist Manny Charlton and The Mark Five, emulated the Jarrow Marchers by demonstration marching all the way from Edinburgh to London. By the time of reaching Market Harborough Fontana offered a “record deal”. However following the release of 'Baby What's Wrong' Manny Charlton explains, in the end this only aggravated Jock/Sassenach music-biz tensions even more: "We made a record and came against the machine in London. The people just cashed in on the publicity we had and after the record was made we were forgotten."
Matters were made even worse by Scottish promoters and ballroom managers who insisted that Scottish groups limit their set-list strictly to covers of singles in the UK top thirty. In other words,
performers like Agnew, Charlton, singer and front man Dan McCafferty, and drummer Darrell Sweet were excluded by 'the machine in London', and yet trapped into mimicking its often dire output as well.
So, yes, it did really happen that soon-to-be hard rockers Naz were forced - in their original incarnation as the Shadettes - to perform tongue-in-cheek versions of 'Simple Simon Says' if they wanted to get paid after the gig. It was enough to make this group of angry young musos from Dunfermline tell the Brylcreemed Locarno ballroom brigade to stuff it, and instead they went out and conquered the world. What follows is the story – mostly told by Pete Agnew and Dan McCafferty, and possibly in greater detail than ever before - of how Nazareth did just that. But first here are some Naz facts to set the scene.
Trailblazers for 1980s Scottish acts like Big Country, Wet Wet Wet, Del Amitri, Deacon Blue, and Texas? Very likely so. Heroes and inspiration for Guns N' Roses? Most definitely. But The Nazareth Story isn't just another from-rags-to-unheard-of-riches tale of making it in rock'n'roll.
Several things marked these guys out as a bit different: first, they were married and settled before they decided to take the plunge – in the summer of 1971 - quitting good day-jobs and moving away from home to a grotty communal flat in London; second, they grew up and lived in a conservative-attitudes Scottish town, not a bustling fashion-conscious metropolis like Glasgow. Lastly, in bingo millionaire Bill Fehilly, they had what no other struggling Scottish band had at the time - solid financial backing.
So being husbands and fathers meant that once they turned pro they were very focused about what they were going to do – they had to be. Dan McCafferty said something which says a lot about Dunfermline in the early-1970s: once the band had made it, their image – long corkscrew hair, loud flares, and platform boots - did not always sit that comfortably with the folks back home.
Dan now fondly remembers returning from yet another gruelling tour and, ever the dutiful husband, he offered to accompany his wife to the supermarket to do the shopping: 'Not dressed like that you won't!' or some such jokey comment was her reply.
Dress codes on stage were also an issue back in the 1960s. The Shadettes got no hassle from ballroom managers when they were all kitted out bright yellow suits – regulation show-biz uniforms were fine. But as the progressive rock thing took off in the late-1960s and musicians dressed more to express individuality, some ballroom heavies didn't like it at all: for instance, the thought of someone trying to stop Pete Agnew going on stage because the manager didn't approve of his buckskin jacket seems crazy now but it did happen because that was how things were back then.
And then there were times in the very early Nazareth days when Naz's glitter jacket, proto-heavy metal image earned them some scary – even life-threatening – crowd disapproval: like when they
supported the seriously dressed-down Rory Gallagher on his late-1972 European tour.
Yet, weirdly, all those Shadettes apprentice years as a pop-covers band in Dunfermline's Belleville Hotel and Kinema Ballroom played a big part in Nazareth eventually finding their own formula for international success. How? Well, each and every week without fail during their Belleville Hotel residency they had to learn three new hits from the charts – they'd rehearse them on a Sunday afternoon and perform them that same night. Now how many semi-pro bands these days could cope with nailing down that amount of new repertoire in just a couple of hours, week-in week-out?
But maybe that was how Dan, Pete, Manny and Darrell developed the knack of stamping their very own identity on somebody else's hit songNazareth, something which for Nazareth in the mid-1970s proved to be the key to the world highway. Whereas their breakthrough in Britain was down to the strength of their own original songwriting on the Razamanaz album - especially Broken Down Angel it was their knack of coming up with totally fresh covers of strong songs written by other people that broke them abroad. They became huge in Canada after This Flight Tonight soared up
the singles' charts there, whilst reaching number 11 in Britain. Taken from Joni Mitchell's 1970 Blue album, Nazareth's version – produced by Deep Purple's Roger Glover as part of the Loud'N'Proud sessions - is more than a re-working. What they've done is taken
the song from its folk-ballad roots right through to heavy metal. Small wonder then that Joni Mitchell both was stunned by and loved this version, reportedly even calling it a Nazareth song from then on.
And critics gave Naz the thumbs-up for going to a lot of trouble doing other people's songs in a way that adds; this at a time when prog-rock virtually dictated that in order to be cool you only did
your own material to progress the music (and get those fat songwriting royalty cheques). Reviewing a Nazareth gig at Amersham College, and having heard the band's version of Leon Russell's Alcatraz, Woody Guthrie's Vigilante Man and Tim Rose's Morning Dew Melody Maker's Chris Charlesworth wrote: "Their music is basically rock, spiced with bluesy guitar work from Manny Charlton. They don't rely entirely on original material – in fact it's probably true to say that their best numbers – with one possible exception – are their adaptations of other writer's material. They crack away happily at 'Morning Dew', which they have probably played at every gig since they turned pro three years ago. It's changed a lot in that time but it's still a good song. Perhaps more groups should realise that someone else's song well played is often a more uplifting experience than an original that's mediocre."
And, as Manny Charlton told fanzine Razamanewz, this kind of pressure just went on and right through to the recording in 1977 of album number nine Expect no mercy: "It was more metal. Not intentional, we didn't go into the studio planning a change in direction. We were under a lot of pressure, and doing a lot of touring at that point. We'd be on tour in Canada and the record
company wanted to know where the next album was coming from. We had to get our heads down, eventually we'd get into the studio and…"What're we going to do?" Some albums were written and recorded very quickly, and when you consider that, it's great. Razamanaz was the start of three albums in 15 months, plus tours. It's a lot of work."
Dan McCafferty's take on pressures in the music industry was characteristically blunt and to the point: "It's a funny business because you've got to work your balls off for two years to get
thereNazareth, and when you get there you've got to work even harder to make sure the next one's an even bigger hit." And in year 2000 Pete Agnew reflected during the interview how this kind of time pressure in fact stayed with them right through to 1980s releases such as Sound elixir: "When we did that album - our last with Billy - the material had a lot of promise but I don't know what we were doing production-wise. The album never ended up sounding good. And I've always thought what a shame we didn't have more time.
On our latest album Boogaloo what happened was we mixed it and then the album didn't come out for nearly a year and a half afterwards. And we kept coming back to it and saying 'Er this isn't right' and so we'd add some guitar and re-mix. Now if we had had that kind of space back then it would have made a big difference. Back then we handed the masters to the record company and within six weeks it was on the streets and we were away on tour again."
What is typically music-biz about The Nazareth Story, though, is how serious pressure was put on them once Broken Down Angel and its follow-up single 'Bad Bad Boy' charted – reaching 9 and 10 respectively - in 1973. Their record company Mooncrest (a subsidiary of B&C – as was their first label Pegasus) wanted the hits to keep-a-coming. You can see it from B&C's point of view –
the company didn't lose faith even when Exercises - their second album, in parts inspired by Grateful Dead's American Beauty classic - stiffed, and now it wanted a return on that investment.
But what this did was to put ridiculous demands on the band to deliver. You get an idea of just how ridiculous these demands were by these extracts from press interviews with Pete Agnew and
Dan McCafferty just after their first run of chart success:
The other thing that Nazareth were about to discover was funny about the business, and their path to success on a global scale, was that there's no accounting for different tastes in the singles' market from country to country. For instance, at the end of 1974 with a further two successful albums out, Loud'N'Proud and Rampant , Mooncrest were eager for more singles' sales. A cover of the 1966 Yardbirds hit Shapes Of Things (from the Rampant album) might have made a good single, but in spring 1974 they chose the self-penned 'Shanghai'd in Shanghai' as a follow-up to September 1973's 'This Flight Tonight'. It failed.
Mooncrest still badly wanted another hit so Naz recorded the Everly Brothers' hit Love Hurts written by Boudleaux Bryant. This went nowhere in England but was top ten in America; and then in Norway it reached number one – and stayed there for almost forty weeks.
Similarly, their 1971 debut album - warmly received by critics yet not a big seller - had two singles taken from it – both released in 1972 - that did nothing on the home front. But 'Dear John' made
the top three in France whilst Morning Dew was big in Germany - enough so to provide the band with a hectic European touring schedule throughout 1972.
In America Warner Brothers picked up on 'Morning Dew' and its potential given that the song was written by respected American artist Tim Rose. But sales were poor and at the time Pete Agnew
had a sneaking suspicion that this might have been something to do with some hatchet work done by Warners whose good intention was to make the single more radio-friendly: Pete: "It was a seven minute track and they cut it to three. I think Warner Brothers had someone editing for them who we thought must have been a deaf mute – they must have run the tape past him and at three-and-a- half second intervals he would hit it with an axe."
Britain in 1973 most definitely was the year of Nazareth, a year when Melody Maker readers voted them Brightest Hope. But if you look at the UK chart placing of follow-up albums to Razamanaz – which reached number 11 – from 1974 what looks like a gradual decline here is more than offset by a series of breakthroughs on the international scene. Whereas Loud'N'Proud reached number 10, Rampant charted with sales nowhere near as strong, and album six Hair Of The Dog failed to chart in Britain but notched up massive sales world-wide.
Musically, 1974's Rampant was a move towards metal and it was also the last of three albums produced by Deep Purple's Roger Glover before Naz's Manny Charlton took over. In 1997, looking back, Manny explained to fanzine Razamanewz the reasons for the split from the man who less than a couple of years earlier had helped the band capture for the first time their live energy on vinyl: "It was a mixture of the band feeling that Roger wasn't keeping up with what we were trying to do, and we were trying to go somewhere and felt it was wrong, and I said I'd like to produce the band. The first thing I did was 'Love Hurts'. We went down to some dingy studio to do it, partly as a stop-gap, and the record company wanted a hit single. We recorded it and thought it was great. Forgot about it and moved on to do the rest of the album. We weren't going to have it on the album, we recorded 'Guilty' for the album. Jerry Moss at A&M Records heard it and said 'That's a hit! Take 'Guilty' off and put that on'. He renewed our contract on the strength of 'The Hair Of The Dog ' album. The next singles, 'My White Bicycle' and 'Holy Roller' were recorded to get something out."
1975 saw the release of Hair Of The Dog and the song itself lays down the blueprint for stadium heavy rock and metal anthems of the future: that 'son-of-a-bitch' chorus custom-built for crowd response, and a very heavy rock rhythm from start to finish. Comparisons with AC/DC are natural – but the point is that Nazareth and Aerosmith were the pioneers.... and the rest followed. So it's not surprising then that Guns N' Roses were big fans of Nazareth, as Pete Agnew explained to Metal Hammer's Tom Russell. Russell interviewed that band when they first came to England and were playing club venues like the Marquee, and the tape they had on in their hotel room was … Nazareth's Greatest hits. Pete Agnew then remembered how "just before Guns N' Roses broke we played seven gigs in California as part of our US tour, and they came to every one. They were just fans of the band. It seems that Nazareth and Aerosmith were, to them, what the Beatles and Stones were to us. They were all right blokes. It seems that now  they are becoming more and bizarre but at that time they were great guys. In fact Axl wanted us to play 'Love Hurts' at his wedding!”
With Nazareth's cover of Tomorrow's 1967 hit 'My White Bicycle' - which got them to 14 in the singles chart in spring 1975 – Naz again showed their talent for creating new out of old, but it was to be their penultimate taste of the top twenty. Self-penned American rock-influenced 'Holy Roller' crept up to 36 in late-1975 whilst 1976's crop of three singles - 'Carry Out Feelings', 'You're The Violin', and 'I Don't Want To Go On Without You' – all flopped. Just as the 'White Bicycle' single began to chart B&C Records went into liquidation and it was only swift action on Mountain's behalf that saved the day. Mountain formed their own label and cut a licensing deal with EMI (B&C's distributor) who continued to press their records until Phonogram took over distribution.
Close Enough For Rock'n'Roll - Naz's seventh album - came out in early 1976 and was their first on the Mountain label, as well as the first to be recorded in Canada. The opener 'Telegram' is a musical diary entry by a successful hard rock band who are growing a tad weary forever slogging it out on the road.
The album achieved little in Britain - no big surprise there - but helped to consolidate Nazareth's hold on Canada where they became one of the biggest British acts ever, notching up no less than fifty gold and platinum albums there during the 1970s. America also beckoned, big time, as their US label A&M Records increasingly regarded them as a priority act.
Mountain had the rights to the old material and naturally was determined to milk it for what it was worth. The Greatest hits album was out in the shops in time for Christmas '75 but didn't chart.
A couple of years later in November 1977 they released an extended-play 45 called the Hot Tracks EP which featured 'Love Hurts' 'This Flight Tonight' 'Broken Down Angel' and ' Hair Of The Dog ' as well. Reaching number 15 it would be Nazareth's final 7" top twenty hit. Play 'N' The Game was album number eight (not counting Greatest hits) and released in November 1976. It continued the pattern of doing next to nothing sales-wise in England (where, for a couple of years to come, punk rock's cut-throat irreverence eclipsed most acts who dared to take their own music seriously) and yet sold shed-loads abroad – breaking Nazareth in South America.
Sadly, it was around this time that the band lost their manager Bill Fehilly – killed in a plane crash. Bill, a Scottish bingo millionaire, was never a music-biz mentor and hustler in the Andrew Loog Oldham/Peter Grant mould, but from their 1971 debut album Nazareth onwards he kept on coming up with the readies – and even during the band's tricky Exercises phase Bill remained unfazed. Pete and Dan are the first to acknowledge that without Bill Fehilly
Nazareth would never have crossed the border to England – never mind the world.
2008 Marks the bands '40th Anniversary' since the Original four members got together back in Scotland in 1968, The 40th anniversary tour kicks off at the end of January when the band will be undertaking one of the biggest tours of their careers,
The New album 'The News' is set for release in February.