Zal Cleminson’s /Sin’Dogs/
Guitarist goes back to his pre-SAHB heavy roots, with the focus on songs rather than make-up and guitar flash.
After starting out in The Bo-Weavles (“the best-looking beat group in Scotland”), Glaswegian guitarist Zal Cleminson graduated through hard-edged progressive rockers Tear Gas before making his name as the half-clown/halfPierrot co-focal point of mid-70s chartbusters the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Following SAHB’s split in 1977, Cleminson joined Nazareth and worked with Elkie Brooks, Midge Ure, Bonnie Tyler and Fish. After a brief post-Alex SAHB reunion, Cleminson ’retired’ in ’08. But, as his metal-driven /Sin’Dogs/ project proves, you can’t keep a good clown down.
What prompted your retirement ten years ago? When we re-formed SAHB we tried a couple of singers before bumping into Max Maxwell, who had a great personality and gave the songs his own spin. When we started rehearsing with Max I got the bug again: let’s get dressed up, put the make-up back on, put on the full show. So we did some touring.
It all went sweetly, but I was keen to move forward. I was writing songs, getting new ideas, looking to progress, but I didn’t get an awful lot of support. The rest of the band were quite happy to come along and dance to Delilah. I felt like a tribute to myself. So I pulled the plug, moved to Cyprus and took ten years off.
What inspired your return?
I was in Cyprus for four years, but went through a bad spell with depression and anxiety. I realised I had to do something. My first and only thought was to pick up the guitar, mainly as a form of therapy. And, lo and behold, here’s a song.
Songs started coming quickly. I got in touch with our keyboard player, David Cowan, to do some recording, and material just kept coming. So I ended up putting /Sin’Dogs/ together, to get the music out there.
/Sin’Dogs/ are significantly heavier than SAHB.
I’ve returned to my roots. Tear Gas were a heavy rock band, so I’ve gone full circle. I’m back to playing the guitar the way I prefer to play it. With SAHB it was very diverse, lots of different styles, a little bit over-indulgent for me. This is me getting back to playing a more basic heavy rock where you look straight at an audience and give them exactly what they want.
And the reaction’s been great.
“This is me getting back to playing a more basic heavy rock.”
You haven’t replicated Tear
Gas, though; the /Sin’Dogs/ sound is unmistakably contemporary. That’s my aim. I’m a big fan of bands with progressive originality. Radiohead, for example, who are head and shoulders above everyone else when it comes to delivering difference, orchestrating their songs, presenting their music as a soundtrack. Soundgarden too: very polished, powerful songs. That’s where my head’s at in terms of writing.
And you’re clearly having fun.
You’re right. I get an adrenaline buzz every time I get dressed up to go on stage. I put out that energy at every performance, and when you give it out, you get it back. In SAHB we enjoyed being a nice ensemble band who could play, and play well, but at the same time we wanted to have fun. And I still do. IF