From Dunfermline, Scotland to World Class Rock Band– Interview with Pete Agnew of Nazareth
By Carox Rox
It is difficult, to sum up in few words the history and influence in the history of rock music that an act like Nazareth has had. Celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year, the release of their brand new album, Tattooed On My Brain is their 24th full-length studio release. It is also the beginning of a new chapter as sit is the first one to feature new vocalist Carl Sentance (ex-Persian Risk, Don Airey). In 2014, original singer Dan McCafferty had to leave the band for health reasons and with his blessing, Sentance is now fronting the legendary band who are rejuvenated and back with a stunning new album that has all the ingredients that make this band so great in the first place.
The current line-up of the band consists of Jimmy Murrison (longest serving guitarist in the band’s history), Lee Agnew (drummer since Darrel Sweet’s death in 1999), Pete Agnew (founding member, on bass) and new singer Carl Sentence.
Pete Agnew says,“with Carl as our brand new singer and Frontiers as our brand new record company, the buzz surrounding us right now is the same as it was when we went in to record our very first album. Can't wait for the sparks to fly!“
Nazareth originally formed in Dumfermline, Scotland in 1968, releasing their eponymous debut album in 1971. The band broke big when, after supporting Deep Purple on tour, they released the Roger Glover-produced Razamanaz album in early 1973 to critical and fan acclaim. They then released an impeccable string of hit records, including Loud 'N’ Proud, Rampant, and the smash hit Hair of the Dog, which was released in April 1975. The album included evergreen songs such as the title track (later covered by Guns N’Roses on their The Spaghetti Incident? album) and Love Hurts. The band has continued to release albums and tour the globe since and now prepares to embark on their 50th Anniversary Tour and release their new studio album, Tattooed On My Brain!
Carox: To introduce myself, my uncle Jackie was a Royal Marine and he lived in Dunfermline. I spent a lot of my time in Dunfermline with my cousins. My cousin Martin Ross still comes to your shows. It is a great pleasure to talk to you. My first question is what did it feel like when Dan decided to leave? I saw a lot of press posts at that time from music magazines predicting this would be the end of Nazareth.
Pete: A lot of people did think that, quite right. It was terrible. But Dan was very ill for a long time. The last few years he was finding it more difficult to play with the band and in the end he just had to do it. We kinda knew it was going to happen, it was not a surprise to us. So we had already made up our mind to keep going. It was even Dan, because he said, “You have got to keep going. You know it’s about the band, not just a guy. It never was just about a guy” Although Dan was a very iconic guy. We didn’t think it was going to be easy but in the end after a couple of false starts and auditioning a lot of people, we were eventually told about Carl from a friend of ours. We did not want a Dan soundalike, that would have been terrible.
Carox: And not possible!
Pete: Well actually you would be surprised the people that can get the sound, whether they have the talent or not that is a different thing! People were sending me all these audition tapes and it was quite amazing, but it was not what we wanted. We got lucky and found Carl. The big test is when you get out in front of the fans and see what it is like. Right away Carl was accepted by 99% of the fans. You will always get one or two who say that it cannot be Nazareth without Dan, but we have all proved them wrong. These last 3 years the band has gone from strength to strength. We are doing great, great business. Everyone wants the band to come back when they have seen us play. We have got a great stage show and we have made a great album.
Carox: The album is wonderful. I saw that you had recorded it in Scotland.
Pete: Yes, down in Rosyth , yeah.
Carox: I listened to it for a couple of days. It is quite amazing mix of styles, old and new style rock – in some cases blues, and then Carl has such a versatile voice that matches every song. I really enjoyed the title track, Tattooed On My Brain, it is very catchy. The lyrics are very cheeky and funny. I think people need more real stuff like that these days and I can imagine everyone will be humming that one. .
Pete: When I wrote that I was very pleased with it. It was one of the best things I have ever done I think. As you were saying, the album is very diverse. It is because we have four songwriters. In Nazareth, we have always had everybody write songs. That is why all the albums have been so diverse. In this case Carl has about 5 songs on it. We had to get him into recording with Nazareth and make him feel comfortable and you are always more comfortable singing the songs you wrote yourself. I did three songs, Lee did three and Jimmy did two. The bluesy ones- that Lee – The Secret is Out, Push and Crazy Molly.thats his stuff and then Never Dance with the Devil, that is the kind of thing Carl writes and he did State of Emergency. Jimmy wrote Pole to Pole – so far they have had three releases and it was three different guys. It was Pole to Pole that was the first one that they put out as a taster, that was Jimmy. Then they put out State of Emergency, that was Carl, and then they put Tattooed on my Brain.which was me and then I was sure they would put out The Secret Is Out which is Lee.
Carox: Yes, I think it is very successful and what I like about it is that it has a very new cutting edge sound It is very modern.
Pete: We have worked with Yann Rouiller, the producer since he was a boy really. I met him back in 2006 and we have done all the albums with him since then. Our studio is just by the dockyards. It is an old church that was converted into a studio. ( Sub Station, Rosyth, Scotland). The guy who owns the studio was a guy who used to be our guitar tech many years ago who travelled all over the world with us. We have had the same producer on 4 completely different albums. He is a good guy and one of the reasons he likes working with us is because it is so diverse. He says “I never know what I will be working on when I work on a Nazareth album. When I walk in I have no idea what is going to be next, I love that and I am the producer!”
Carox: I started listening to it for the first and second time and then I was singing along happily. Are you going to Europe next on tour? I know you have a big fan base there and what does this year look like for rest of the year?
Pete: We do one every year at the end of the year. We have been doing that for the last 3 years since we got Carl in, mainly Germany. Germany used to be where all the bands played and you would tour all over there. Germany has been the rock country of Europe going back to the 60’s. You used to just get in your van and get on the ferry and go over there and we would go to all the places. for 3 months at a time. We wouldn’t even have a tour – just a week’s work of gigs and then keep topping it up all the time. So when we go out now its Germany, Austria and Switzerland and these are our staples. We do special gigs in the Czech Republic and Slovania, Slovakia.
Carox: I know it must be wonderful that people keep referring to you as one of the founding member of the band ….where do you get your energy from?
Pete: This is my job. I started a band in 1961 that eventually became Nazareth later on along the way. I have always been in the band and it is a way of life. I have a great and exciting job. The amount of people that would like to do what we do. So we are very lucky Some pals of mine have recently written an album, Uriah Heap called Living the Dream. That is what they were writing about and it certainly is. I have been lucky enough to actually do the thing that I love doing, living that life and doing something I would have done for free. Also when you see the line up changes and new people coming in and their energy rubs off on you. I get that with Jimmy, and then Lee joining and you get a stamina from them. And then Carl arriving is like a whirlwind. He is amazing live.
Carox: Well I saw a couple of videos (posted here) and I was wowI
Pete: He did a few shows in London Theater. He is very dramatic. It rubs off on you. Every day, every tour that we do I say “I can’t believe I am doing another one”. I am 72 and planning the next tour. Other than thinking wow, it doesn’t feel any different to me. Just more hospital appointments when I come home! Other than that I am okay. You don’t get older without paying the price!
Carox: Do you still live in Dunfermline?
Pete: Yes very close, and Dan just lives down the road from me in a village next door and I see him quite a bit. I need to go down and say hello!
Carox: What does it feel like coming from Dunfermline and then turning in to a massive international band that is still standing after all this time?
Pete: It’s funny…when we actually became a recorded band; we were the first Scottish band. From Dunfermline of all places to actually get a hit album and to crack it in America - it was a wonderful feeling. I mean there have been hundreds of bands since then from Scotland, but at the time it was a big, big thing. And now it is so long on the past you forget just how important it was. At the time people used to think it was incredible. The Dunfermline people were very proud of the band. When you think about it a lot of the big bands don’t come from the major cities. They always came from a wee place. We weren’t the only people to come from a small place, but it was to have come from Scotland. They would get us on the radio after they heard our records they would say “Where are you from? What is that guy saying?” They have never heard a Scottish accent. They all thought you were an American band or maybe an English band since they had heard the Rolling Stones - that was quite hilarious. We had quite a lot of fun with that one. Even today in America a lot of people think we are an American band. In Canada, they think we are a Canadian band. But we are still here in Scotland, still here!
Carox: Well I will straighten that out in the interview because cousin Martin will be reading this.
Pete: Well tell him to come and say hello next time!Carox: I will, this was a great honor for me!
Get ready for a very welcomed return from Nazareth!