So it was that in early in February 1983 I took the train to London to meet UFO's manager, Carl Leighton Pope. He gave me a a bunch of albums, put a cross by about 20 tracks, said "learn these" and handed me a plane ticket for Barcelona leaving two days later.
In at the deep end again!!!
Being totally unfamiliar with UFO's material (apart from "Doctor Doctor" on the pub jukebox) I was more than a little apprehensive, but I figured my years with The Damned had prepared me for pretty much everything! I arrived at the Palaciode los Deporter just as the band were hitting the stage, and I was staggered at the size of the venue - it was bloody huge! Watching the gig from the mixing desk, my heart began to sink. Having been used to the chaos of The Damned, the show seemed frighteningly professional and flawlessly executed. The bassist was Billy Sheehan (he also played with Dave Lee Roth and Talas); his approach was very different to mine, and I figured if this was the type of player they were looking for I was not the man for the job. However, meeting the rest of the band backstage after the show for the first time my doubts soon disappeared. The first thing singer Phil Mogg said to me was "Aha, a punk rocker! Hope you don't play all that wibbly wobbly stuff liike Billy, drives me mad!"
Band and crew were like a big family and quickly made me feel at home; the best way to describe the atmospere was professionally mischievous, and no matter what anybody got up to offstage the show always seemed to be 100% on the ball. Much like The Damned they seemed to have no worries about my ability to slot in , which was just as well because there were bugger all rehearsals, and I spent the next week watching the shows out front and basically learning the songs in my head. I soon found out that these guys partied hard; Canadian Club and coke was the order of the day, it was literally round the clock, and plenty of it. Paul Chapman had earned the nickname "Tonka" (after the indestructable toys of the same name) and it was well deserved, for I've never seen anyone abuse their body quite so much and still be able to function.The odd man out was Billy Sheehan; the strongest thing he would indulge in was coffee, and this appeared to be the reason he was bailing out after only a few weeks, he simply couldn't handle UFO's way of life.
With UFO, If you wanted something you charged it - simple! If you couldn't charge it, you got someone else to. I fell victim to this on the second morning. At 8 am there was a knock on my door. It was Phil, asking if he could "borrow" the bottle of champagne from my minibar. Sure, I said, bleary-eyed, and went back to sleep. A short while later there was another knock. Could he just borrow a whisky, his minibar appeared not to have any, and while he was there, he might as well take a couple of beers as well, just in case. This went on until my minibar was virtually empty. Of course, he'd cleaned his out the night before. It didn't stop there - not long after we'd set out he would request a piss stop. This also entailed a slight detour to the shop, and he would return to the car, beaming, with a bottle of vino; the first of several such stops during the drive.
It soon became apparent that while most of the band had things under control there were deep problems bubbling under. A few days later, onstage for the first of 2 nights in Athens, Phil broke down. That night the band decided to cancel the rest of the tour, the next day Billy flew back to America and I played for the first, and for all I knew the last time with them. Gutted was not the word for it.
We were met at Heathrow by an ashen-faced manager and I spent the next few days at the band flat in London. It was decided to go ahead with the UK leg and record a few gigs for a live album (these ended up on "Headstone - the best of UFO"). Whilst everyone seemed relieved to be calling it a day, I was wondering what the hell I'd got myself into! I enjoyed the tour as much as I could but can't say they were the best shows ever. Phil flew off to LA afterwards, Paul to Florida, Neil to Gary Moore's band and Andy to set up his own decorating business. I went to the pub and wondered what to do next.
(See box right)
He must have liked the songs, because a few days later he called me up asking if I had anymore. Sure, I said, come on down to Cardiff for the weekend! He ended up staying nearly 2 weeks, and sitting next to one of the finest, most emotive rock singers in the world, sipping the odd Special Brew, cracking jokes and sifting thru' song ideas in my studio room is something I'll never forget. If he liked a chord seqence or a riff he'd immediately spark off and sing the first thing that came into his head. Often those first melodic reactions and words could never be improved upon, and they would end up, unchanged, on the final recordings. Interestingly, few of the song ideas I came up with specifically with Phil in mind were ever used. Instead, he was more interested in hearing material I had written whilst in The Damned, and it was these musical ideas that were tweaked and ended up as new UFO songs! Phil was always keen on an early morning walk to get the paper; he'd also be mysteriously clutching a bag with just 3 beers in it, with the faintest whiff of booze about his person. "Just a little something for later" he'd chuckle. One day, weeks later, a glint in the hedge caught my eye. Closer inspection revealed a perfectly constructed pyramid of empty beer cans hidden within...
Paul, Phil, Tommy & Robbie
Phil had not been idle on his recuperation trip to LA and had been meeting prospective guitarists (one had been Dokken's George Lynch); however he seemed keener on a Japanese / American guy rejoicing under the unlikely name of Atomic Tommy M. A management team came onboard consisting of various directors of LSD, a staging company, and they put up money for rehearsal time, demos and a band flat in Birmingham where they were based (probably to keep a close eye on us!). There was no intention of calling the new band UFO at this stage - one name considered was "The Great Outdoors" named after our local Edgebaston beer shop!. Tommy was sent for, ads were placed for drummers and the auditions commenced. We had over 100 applicants and bribed a band called Tobruk to play so we could take it easy and just watch! After a few false starts we chose Robbie France, and shortly after checked into 10CC's Strawberry Studios to start demo'ing. The summer was spent rehearsing, filming a promo video at Birmingham Odeon, meeting record companies and knocking out more demos. In December we set out on a 13 date UK tour under the name of UFO, pulling in former member Paul Raymond on keyboards to add more credibilty (we had briefly rehearsed with Barbara Schenker, Michael's sister, but it didn't quite work out!). It was a great tour, various deals were in the pipeline, and the future looked good!
In some ways it was a strange lineup. Phil and I were now good friends, we liked a laugh, a drink and a good wind-up, and had a lot of fun songwriting, but Tommy I found harder to get on with. He never really socialised on the same level and, altho' technically excellent, I never really warmed to his playing - too wibbly for me - and in return I don't think he ever took me seriously as a musician, which was fair enough cos' neither did I! It must have been hard for him, relocating from Sacramento to Brum, and he kept pretty much to himself. Robbie was always on the outside and was never really part of the band; Paul Raymond I liked a lot and we got on fine.
Songwriting and rehearsals continued thru' the spring and in April 1994 we signed to Chrysalis Records. With an albums worth of songs ready it was time to think about producers, and we were dispatched to Stanbridge Studios in deepest Sussex for a month for pre-production. It was a beautiful old 14th century house with fine food and a swimming pool, too beautiful in fact; compared to the band flat in Brum it was paradise indeed. Phil was not the quickest of writers, and given the luxurious surroundings obviously intended to stay as long as possible! Days on end would go by with him lazing by the pool with a pile of half written lyric ideas by his side, while the bills mounted and we got more and more bored playing without any vocals. After a particuarly drunken evening swopping instruments and playing Beatles songs very badly, Robbie flipped. I was woken at 9am the next morning by Phil saying he'd gone after packing up his drums, hiding them in the larder and leaving a note for the cook not to tell us! An emergency meeting was convened, phone calls were made, and that very evening Magnum drummer Jim Simpson arrived. An affable, easy going guy, his playing revitalised us, and suddenly everything took shape. A producers shortlist was drawn up and we decided upon Kevin Elson, an American who had co-produced many Journey albums.
On the 20th June we finally bade farewell to Stanbridge and headed down to St. Austell Coliseum in Cornwall. Two days later we were launching the new-look UFO at The Knebworth Fayre, and some bright spark had booked us a warm up at the other end of the country! It was a great gig however, as was Knebworth - my biggest ever, in front of 80,000 people! Also on the bill were Deep Purple and The Scorpions, and it was an awesome night. All those people...
A week later was another milestone. We decamped to The Manor Studios, Richard Branson's pile in the rolling Oxfordshire countryside. Once again we were spoilt with fine food, fine wine, a swimming pool that Ozzy Osbourne had once driven a car into and an open bar tab that was to be the highest in the studio's 20 year history. On the 2nd day we noticed a guy hovering around, and it wasn't until later that evening that we found out it was our producer. He seemed a little unsure of things, and for the next 2 days and nights the fields reverberated to Jim bashing his kit. It didn't take us long to suss that it wasn't happening, and on the 3rd day Phil had had enough. He marched into the studio, told Kevin to stop wasting anymore of our time and money, suggested perhaps he should consider an alternative career, and the next day he was back on the plane to America. Its the only time I remember Phil actually losing it to that degree, and it was well warranted. Our management and Chrysalis freaked big time and descended down to the studio to find out what was going on. Obviously we needed a new producer, and sharpish, as large amounts of money were being spent getting nowhere. We worked our way down the shortlist again, and the only guy available was Nick Tauber who had previously worked with Thin Lizzy and Marillion.
Nick was plump and affable in a favourite uncle type of way, constantly cracked jokes and seemed an all round nice guy. Faint alarm bells rang when the girls who worked at The Manor told us about his previous stays there - suffice to say we needed a producer to keep us together, not vice-versa! It was the longest I'd ever spent recording - once again the ambience of the place often distracted us, for we didn't finish until 2 months later. The tracks at this stage sounded great and it was a hungover but happy party that departed the next day to Wisseloord Studios in Holland for the mixdown. The good vibes were soon to change however; somewhere down the line plots got lost in the studio, and what should have taken 2 weeks ended up taking 5. The wisdom of relocating to a country as liberal as Holland was not a wise one in hindsight, and to be called at our hotel at 2am by a frantic engineer saying "so and so is ruining your record and I can't work with him a moment longer!" was not what we wanted to hear. Things got very fractious, big-time wobblers were thrown, and various industry types flew over to try to calm the situation down, but it was too late. We were never happy with the final sound; what had started out so promisingly had turned into an overproduced, aural murk which ended up costing us an absolute fortune...
"Misdemeanor" didn't exactly set the world alight, but reviews were good and later that year we set out on an 18 date UK tour, supported by Shy and Pallas, culminating in a sold out gig at Hammersmith Odeon. It was a great tour, and it was good to get back on the road again.
3 - the 80's
4 - the 80's
5- the 80's
Making Contact tour pass, 1983
UFO lineup, 1983
Phil Mogg, vocals
Neil Carter guitar/keys
Paul Chapman, guitar
Andy Parker, drums
Onstage at Birmingham Odeon, 1984
UFO lineup 1984
Phil Mogg, vocals
Tommy McClendon, guitar
Paul Gray, bass
Robbie France, drums
Hammersmith Odeon, 1985
UFO lineup 1985
Phil Mogg, vocals
Tommy McClendon, guitar
Paul Gray, bass
Paul Raymond, kbds
Jim Simpson, drums
JJ, Paul and Jim enjoying a Tourbus Tipple