As an innocent boy of 14, I remember with startling clarity the night of February 27th, 1973: I was off to my first ever concert. The venue was Newcastle City Hall to see my heroes, Deep Purple perform. Even queuing up was memorable: I had made, in the best Blue Peter fashion, my own badge of Purple by cutting out their picture from Sounds, pasting it onto some cardboard with a safety pin on the back and then covering it in sellotape. I was even asked by one of the merchandise sellers where I got it from and if he could get some! Into the venue, and finally seated, the anticipation when the lights went down was so intense for one so young…and this was just for the support band who I had never heard of.
That support band was Nazareth and without introductions, they burst into Razamanaz; it was a revelation; a hard rocking number, which made everyone there take notice. They were so good, the audience wanted an encore and surprisingly, Purple let them. My heroes appeared shortly after and went through a superb set, but that’s a story for another day. All this for just £1, yes, £1! So that is how I ‘discovered’ Nazareth and it was the beginning of a loyalty that exists today, over 40 years and twenty-four studio albums later.
The band formed in Dunfermline in the mid-60s and were essentially a covers band until, after hearing the Dead lyrics “I pulled into Nazareth” inspired a name change, a concerted effort to write what they wanted to play and tours outside of bonny Scotland. The extensive gig schedule brought them to the attention of Pegasus Records, who released the bands eponymous, debut album in late 1971. This was a solid record, which showed huge promise with songs such as Morning Dew and Witchdoctor Woman. The following year’s Exercises album, produced by Roy Thomas Baker, saw the band taking on a very different approach with a very soft rock sound. They knew they had to do something different, to avoid obscurity, and began to write heavier songs more suited to their preferred styles of playing and McCafferty’s gravel-in-a-cement-mixer vocals. This resulted in Razamanaz and aided by producer Roger Glover, they achieved what they set out to do and released a truly classic rock record. Success came via hit singles and relentless touring until they seemed to lose their way a little. Then Manny Charlton left and they soldiered on in the face of a declining appetite for rock affected them and many other bands. The sad death of drummer Darryl Sweet also affected them all. They kept on rolling and just as the quality of their studio output began an upward climb, original frontman Dan McCafferty had to retire for health reasons. That left Pete Agnew as the only original member, although guitarist Jimmy Murrison has served long enough to earn his rightful place, as has Lee (son of Pete) Agnew who’s played drums since Darryl’s passing. Showing strength and purpose, they girded their loins, metaphorically, and after a false start recruited Carl Sentance to replace Dan; Carl has a pedigree of his own with bands like Persian Risk as well as helping out on stage with the late great Jon Lord and his Purple replacement, the excellent Don Airey.
The first thing to notice on this new album, Tattooed On My Brain, is that Sentence has helped bring a metallic trace to the blues rock of old and this has also encouraged Murrison’s heavier edge to manifest itself. Then we have to get used to Nazareth without gravel vocals and instead enjoy the cleaner and higher pitch of Carl’s accomplished singing.
Onto the music and the opening song, Never Dance With The Devil, is a mix of vintage Naz but with that metallic edge as the riff has staccato parts, the guitar shares the melody with the vocals and then delivers a quality rock solo. The title track, Tattooed On My Brain, surprises as the start is very late 70s punk, complete a sprinkling of ‘f’ words. It does refine itself into a ‘proper’ rock song but takes some getting used even though the catchiness will capture you straight away. The solo is intelligent and the whole thing will grow on you. The atmosphere changes back to true rock with a hint of Hagar’s This Planet’s On Fire in the opening bars, but State Of Emergency builds and builds into a damn good song with a rapid fire beat and a great bass/drum section leading to a perfectly judged guitar solo. Rubik’s Romance has acoustic and a chugging backing that harks back to the Exercises album in some ways but ends up as a countrified rock song that draws you in and provides some really clever lyrical twists to add further interest. Pole To Pole is built on an incessant bass rhythm and subtle guitar and a “bad, bad boy” quote in the lyrics. It is another damnably catchy tune that gets hold and doesn’t let go. The solo is simple, imaginative and effective and leaves space for all the other instruments and vocals to shine. Next up is a blues based rocker starting with some tasty swampy slide…Push is my standout favourite with its low register vocals in the verses and the harmonies on the chorus. A slide solo would have made it even better, but that’s just me being selfish! More blues slide opens The Secret Is Out and Agnew’s bass is superb with its dirty backing. It becomes a really well structured blues-rock number and has a nice guitar/vocal interplay half way through before it returns to the main riff and the solo is excellent. Don’t Throw Your Love Away, at the beginning, sounds like it could have been on Assault Attack, before it turns into Naz on steroids with a brilliant rock song, complete with a traditional but carefully crafted guitar solo. Crazy Molly is a straightforward rocker with the nearest to a sing-a-long chorus with Carl’s multi tracked vocals working well and Jimmy putting in a strummed solo that works. Silent Symphony, if it had been longer, would have been an absolute epic opening as it does with such strong chords. Shame then that it’s less than four minutes, but they fit a lot into it and the lyrical line, “running faster than my ego”, doesn’t help decipher the meaning…even though I love the wordplay and melody. Foot drum/snare opens What Goes Around and stays upbeat throughout and I’m sure I heard a cowbell deep in the mix! If the charts still existed, this infectious song would have a chance. Change is next and it does that…the pace is a little slower, apart from the choruses, and Agnew’s bass again plays a huge part in the structure. It has a sort of Yardbirds, 60s feel but seriously heavied up. Final track, You Call Me is different again, with Pete Agnew taking on vocal duties…not unprecedented, he has done this before (most memorably on I Had A Dream on the first album). This is a stripped down heavy blues with picked chords and echoed slide punctuation. A short solo separates the verses of sadness before a guitar solo of such depth and precision. A surprising yet brilliant way to close a superb album.
So this is most definitely Nazareth; the ‘it’s not Naz without Dan’ gainsayers should perhaps listen to it first as if it were a new band and then they will have to admit that this is a damn good rock record and then accept that Naz are still here, still rocking with the very best of them and then go and buy it! Yes, I had my doubts too; you don’t follow a band for forty years and accept change easily…but I did when Manny left and I most certainly accept and welcome Carl into the fold. I liked this album on first listen…I loved it on the second, third and fourth listen and, on the fifth I decided it should rank up with (if not quite alongside) Rampant, Hair of The Dog and other great Nazareth albums…it really is that good.
Nazareth – Tattooed On My Brain – Frontiers Records
TENdoodle paws out of TEN …
Tracklisting and composers:
- Never Dance With The Devil (Sentance)
- Tattooed On My Brain (P Agnew)
- State Of Emergency (Sentance)
- Rubik’s Romance (P Agnew)
- Pole To Pole (Murrison)
- Push (Murrison, L Agnew)
- The Secret Is Out (L Agnew)
- Don’t Throw Your Love Away (Sentance)
- Crazy Molly (L Agnew)
- Silent Symphony (Sentance)
- What Goes Around (Murrison)
- Change (Sentance)
- You Call Me (P Agnew)
Carl Sentance: vocals
Pete Agnew: Bass, vocals
Jimmy Murrison: Guitars, vocals
Lee Agnew: drums, vocals
Recorded at Sub Station, Rosyth, Scotland
Produced by Yann Rouiller
Sarah Clarricoates helped with the lyrics on Carl’s compositions