Nazareth

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Dave Ling

The’ve have had their ups, and re­cently their downs. But now, in this year of their 50th an­niver­sary, they have a new al­bum, a changed line-up and a whole new lease of life.

In re­cent years Scot­tish rock­ers Nazareth have been hit with ill­ness and dwin­dling live op­por­tu­ni­ties. Now, in the year of their 50th an­niver­sary, they have a new boxset, a brand new al­bum, a changed line-up and a whole new lease of life.

It’s Au­gust 24, 2013, and Nazareth have been forced to cur­tail a gig at the Sum­mer­days Festival in Switzer­land af­ter just three songs. Six weeks ear­lier a sim­i­lar thing hap­pened at a show in Canada. Pre­vi­ously among the most re­li­able singers in rock mu­sic, Dan McCaf­ferty was suf­fer­ing from a wors­en­ing case of ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease, a chronic con­di­tion that re­stricts the abil­ity to breathe. Four days later, McCaf­ferty an­nounced his re­tire­ment from the seem­ingly in­de­struc­tible, Guns N’ Roses-ap­proved Scot­tish band, thus end­ing his 45-year ten­ure.

“To try to carry on wouldn’t have been fair to Nazareth or the peo­ple who buy tick­ets to see us, so all I could do was cut and run,” McCaf­ferty says. “But I in­sisted to the band that some­body had to take over from me. The mu­sic is just too good to lose.”

“There were tears in the dress­ing room, that’s for sure,” re­mem­bers guitarist Jimmy Mur­ri­son. “All of us felt so bad for Dan, and of course the uncer­tainty of the sit­u­a­tion hadn’t been pleas­ant. But if Dan was go­ing to leave, it had to come from him. Even now I miss the guy so much.”

Shortly af­ter­wards, bassist and co-founder Pete Agnew fell ill and lapsed into a coma for al­most a month. “They were mak­ing a wooden over­coat for me, it was touch and go whether

I’d make it,” he says now. “I suf­fered an en­tire col­lapse of my sys­tems – kid­neys, liver, you name it. The ex­cess of all those decades was to blame. I hadn’t been tak­ing care of my­self, some­thing I’ve since rec­ti­fied. Luck­ily I made a mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery, and I fig­ured that if I could live through that then I’m just go­ing to keep rock­ing.”

The sad truth was that in the run-up to 2018, their 50th-an­niver­sary year, Nazareth, like McCaf­ferty and Agnew, had not been in the great­est of shape. Their most re­cent al­bums con­tin­ued to sell to a small group of diehards, but out­side of Rus­sia, the quar­tet’s tra­di­tional strong­hold, op­por­tu­ni­ties to play live were be­com­ing harder to ob­tain. Re­plac­ing McCaf­ferty with singer Lin­ton Os­borne didn’t work out, so they cut their losses and let him go.

“It was a mis­take, pure and sim­ple,” rues guitarist Jimmy Mur­ri­son. “That was an aw­ful time for the band. I came very close to walk­ing away from it all.”

Dur­ing this pe­riod of uncer­tainty, Agnew, the group’s only re­main­ing orig­i­nal mem­ber, be­came aware that he was jug­gling a sense of obli­ga­tion on be­half of his long-serv­ing band­mates – Mur­ri­son has been their guitarist since 1994, while Agnew’s son Lee took over on drums fol­low­ing the death of Dar­rell Sweet in ’99 – with gnaw­ing half-heart­ed­ness.

“I was think­ing about sur­vival; keep­ing the band go­ing could still be a nice job for a while longer,” con­fesses the 71-year-old. “But I had turned into that guy who sits qui­etly at his desk be­cause he knows re­tire­ment isn’t too far away.”

And then out of the blue came a phone call from Ted McKenna, the for­mer Sen­sa­tional Alex Har­vey Band drum­mer, who alerted Nazareth to Carl Sen­tance (pre­vi­ously of Krokus and Per­sian Risk, the solo band of Black Sab­bath bassist Geezer But­ler), who had been fronting Don Airey’s non-Deep

Pur­ple ex­ploits. Af­ter a YouTube brush-up, Agnew re­alised Sen­tance might just fit with Nazareth.

“Carl was so un­like the as­sort­ment of Dan sounda­likes who had been in touch,” he says.

“Tak­ing on one of those would have been sui­cide.”

Sen­tence was of­fered an au­di­tion, and singing just one song, Sil­ver Dol­lar Forger, was all it took for Nazareth to re­alise they’d found their man. Mid­way through a sec­ond song, the mu­si­cians downed tools and of­fered him the job.

With a pas­sion for far heav­ier mu­sic, Sen­tance doesn’t claim to be the biggest Nazareth fan in the world. “When the guys first ap­proached me, my re­ac­tion was: ‘Wow, are they still go­ing?’” he says with a chuckle, sound­ing slightly em­bar­rassed. “I don’t mean that in a nasty way. They do so much work abroad, you don’t hear much about Nazareth in Eng­land, do you? But what a cat­a­logue of songs. They’re an ab­so­lute plea­sure to sing.”

As his vo­cal de­liv­ery grad­u­ally de­vel­oped the nec­es­sary gruff­ness, Sen­tance re­ally grew into the role. “I’ve be­come a lot more nat­u­ral in the way I in­ter­pret the ma­te­rial and that al­lows my voice to project bet­ter,” he explains. “With each tour I’ve be­come more and more com­fort­able.”

Four years on from that night of dis­may and soul search­ing in Switzer­land, Nazareth are in a bet­ter, health­ier con­di­tion. With a new singer, a re­vised home on the Fron­tiers Records la­bel and an al­bum of new songs, their first since Rock ’N’ Roll Tele­phone in 2014, the rise in for­tunes couldn’t be much more con­trast­ing.

“No dis­re­spect to Dan, be­cause he’s still my old­est pal, but Carl has brought us a whole new lease of life,” Pete Agnew says. “We’d been strug­gling for gigs and now sud­denly peo­ple are keen to book us again. We’ve just got back from four huge gigs in Europe, in­clud­ing the Wacken Festival. There’s a whole new bunch of far younger peo­ple get­ting into us, and we couldn’t be hap­pier.”

Tat­tooed On My Brain, Nazareth’s 24th stu­dio al­bum, is a spir­ited, spunky and some­times bel­liger­ent set. From the AC/DC-ish swag­ger of lead-off sin­gle Pole To Pole, which name-checks their 1973 Top 10 hit Bad Bad Boy, to the hard-riff­ing boo­gie of its ti­tle track and the un­der­stated fi­nale You Call Me Mas­ter, it’s enough of a Nazareth record to sat­isfy those still pre­pared to lis­ten, and also of­fers some ideas to take the group into un­charted wa­ters. In their 50th-an­niver­sary year, the al­bum pro­vides the band with a clean slate.

“With­out Dan we know we’re very much un­der the mi­cro­scope, but that’s okay be­cause we’ve got thick skins,” Lee Agnew ac­knowl­edges. “A lot of ef­fort was put into mak­ing it sound like the ‘old’ band. No­body went out of their way to break fresh ground, but of course we hope it will be well­re­ceived. I wouldn’t say we’re ner­vous, but how­ever the fans re­act will de­ter­mine our abil­ity to carry on from this point.”

Given McCaf­ferty’s con­tri­bu­tion to the band, un­sur­pris­ingly there have been some naysay­ers. The ‘No Dan, no Nazareth’ brigade were al­ways go­ing to make their voices felt, but with the new line-up start­ing to find their feet, many of those naysay­ers are grad­u­ally com­ing back on board.

“I get that some feel neg­a­tively, of course I do,” Mur­ri­son says. “What I don’t un­der­stand is when it bor­ders on an­noy­ance, or even ha­tred. No­body forces any­one to come and see us live or buy our al­bums. What gives any­body the right to tell Pete to stop play­ing mu­sic? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Pete Agnew be­lieves that to a cer­tain type of younger fan, the ques­tion of who is and isn’t in the band is al­most an ir­rel­e­vance.

“A lot of the pun­ters who care about that stuff are now dead,” he half jokes. “I don’t know how much you can read into these facts, but when the first sin­gle was posted on YouTube there were eighty-three com­ments – two of them neg­a­tive.

“To those who say this isn’t Nazareth [with­out McCaf­ferty], it is – it says so on the poster,” he quips. “When we played Wacken a few days ago, most of the peo­ple who saw us hadn’t known any­thing dif­fer­ent. They never saw the orig­i­nal line-up of this band and many prob­a­bly didn’t even know that Dan was miss­ing. All that mat­tered was the songs.

“When Eng­land went to the World Cup, your en­tire na­tion waved flags and cheered them – it didn’t mat­ter that Bobby Moore wasn’t there,” he adds. “You can still sup­port Manch­ester United with­out Ge­orgie Best.

We’re not the Man United that won the Euro­pean Cup, but we’re still [a ver­sion of] Man U.”

Per­haps so, but to per­se­vere with the bassist’s foot­ball anal­ogy, don’t the cur­rent Nazareth have more in com­mon with a team re­cently back in the Cham­pi­onship af­ter a spell in the lower di­vi­sions?

“Nazareth was never in the Scot­tish Premier­ship,” Agnew replies. “We could never com­pete with the Stones, Led Zep­pelin or The Who, so we’ll never be in that top di­vi­sion – it’s too late for us. But, truth­fully, I don’t mind.”

Some might say you’re in dan­ger of cheap­en­ing Nazareth’s legacy, though, or that you’ve been re­duced to be­ing just a cov­ers band.

“Those that say such things should try stand­ing on the stage with us at Wacken and watch­ing twenty thou­sand peo­ple hav­ing a fan­tas­tic time,” he re­sponds. “Look, we’re not play­ing to the older fans any more – they’ve stopped go­ing to

“Carl Sen­tance has brought us a whole new lease of life. Sud­denly peo­ple are keen

to book us again.”

Pete Agnew

con­certs. The av­er­age is in their twen­ties or even their teens, so we’re not cheap­en­ing any­thing. And to the peo­ple who be­lieve that’s what we’re do­ing, I’d say fuck ’em.”

What­ever the record-buy­ing pub­lic’s re­sponse to their new al­bum might be, Nazareth won’t be go­ing away – qui­etly or other­wise.

“I don’t want this to stop. As long as the Stones are still do­ing it, I’d still like us to make twenty-five al­bums,” Pete Agnew says, be­fore adding with a laugh: “And be­sides, it would be em­bar­rass­ing to pack it all in be­fore Keith Richards does.”

A re­vi­talised Nazareth: (l-r) Pete Agnew, Jimmy Mur­ri­son,Carl Sen­tance, Lee Agnew.“I in­sisted to the band that some­body had to take over from me. The mu­sic is just too good to lose.”Dan McCaf­fertyThe orig­i­nal line-up, circa 1975: (l-r) Dar­rell Sweet, Dan McCaf­ferty,Manny Charl­ton, Pete Agnew.

Loud and proud: Carl Sen­tance(left) and Pete Agnew.

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