Fireworks

Fireworks Magazine Online 46 - Graham Bonnet

GRAHAM BONNET

The latest entrant in the Fireworks series 'Retrospective' features vocalist Graham Bonnet, looking back at his classic third solo album, ‘Line-Up’, released in 1981 after he had left Rainbow. The record was packed with great songs, including Graham’s signature hit ‘Night Games, and featured a star studded group of musicians, from Bonnet’s Rainbow bandmate Cozy Powell, to Status Quo members Francis Rossi, Andrew Bown and Rick Parfitt, to then Whitesnake members Jon Lord and Micky Moody. Buz Gaden called Graham, and following a mutual moan about cold callers, and our indifference to the then impending Royal wedding, we got down to the subject at hand.

I know you left Rainbow early on in the ‘Difficult To Cure’ recording sessions. Did you actually have a plan at the time to make another solo record, or was it simply a case of having to do something because you were no longer in a band?

Erm, yeah. I left the band because it really wasn’t going anywhere. We were doing rehearsals for the new album, which became ‘Difficult To Cure’, and we didn’t have any songs! We had been away from home for so long, and rehearsals were terrible. Sometimes we had two of us there, and nothing new was getting done. Ritchie would come in sometimes, be there for about half an hour, then say “It’s a beautiful day, I think I’ll go for a walk”! Y’know, things like that would happen. It was very non productive.

The only song we had was from Russ Ballard, called ‘I Surrender’. That was the only thing we had. So I did some backing vocals on that, and I was going to do the lead vocal later. It got to the stage when Don Airey came up to me and said “I’ve had enough of this, I think I’m going to leave the band”. So he was threatening to leave the band and I said “Well I’m with you! I’m bored to death here!”. I wanted to go home, nothing was happening, we weren’t writing anything.
So I went home in the next couple of days, and Don didn’t leave the band, he stayed with them. Anyway, they called me up to see if I would record with another singer, and get them to sing the tracks I didn’t like, and the ones I did like, I would sing. I didn’t think that was going to work at all, two singers, nah!
Anyway, so I left, and Joe Lynn Turner came in, and that was that. I wish I hadn’t left now of course, but as it happened they seemed to become more productive after I had gone.

That’s a shame. I did like that album, but I don’t think it had the bite that ‘Down To Earth’ had. I know they were going for a more commercial direction, but I think the quality dropped a bit.

Yeah. Well Ritchie was a big fan of Foreigner, and he wanted the band to sound like them. I remember when I first joined the band he played me all these Foreigner tracks, and said “this guy’s your competition”. So I said that he was a completely different singer to me, why’s he competition? So Ritchie explained that he wanted to go that route, that sound, which in the end, it didn’t, but when Joe Lynn Turner came along he was more like Lou Gramm in style. So it became Foreigner part two in a way, it wasn’t really Rainbow anymore to me.

I see what you mean. With Rainbow it’s like three completely different bands, and after so many line up changes it became more the Ritchie Blackmore band then an actual group. Most people associate the Ronnie era as the difinitive Rainbow...

Well yeah, Ronnie left because he wanted to do other things. He got a bit bored with it too, I think. So yeah, it went the poppier route, which the management were looking for too. That’s why we did ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ when I was in the band for instance. Nobody wanted to do that song, but it was a very good choice from Bruce Payne, who was the manager, as we got a hit out of it.

I guess they had to move with the times though. If they’d have carried on with the style they did with Ronnie, it would’ve died in the eighties completely...

Yeah, it was a big change. They were doing all the dungeons and dragons, Black Sabbath sort of thing, not real life y’know. It seemed so fake to me at the time. I was more into the rough and ready stuff, I like The Beatles for instance. I liked people like The Kinks, and I liked The Sex Pistols (laughs)! Things like that, something that was funny! The Sex Pistols were hilarious, one of the best comedy bands ever! Y’know what I mean? I wasn’t really into that Led Zeppelin thing, all that mystical stuff. I just wasn’t my thing. I like songs about real life, which The Beatles did obviously, that was just what I was into. R&B music, not the so called heavy metal of the time.

So when you left Rainbow, ‘Line-Up’ was going to be your next project. What was the first thing you did? I’m assuming you maybe called Cozy Powell as he was your mate, or Micky Moody maybe?

Yeah, well I didn’t know what to damn well do to be honest with you! (Laughs) As I said, I made a mistake leaving Rainbow, I should have stayed around a bit longer, but because Cozy had left I knew he was working with other friends of ours, mutual friends. So it was easy to get hold of him and Jon Lord, and all those guys because Deep Purple was no longer around. So it was just one of those things when it was everybody I knew, and we just came together with a bunch of songs. My manager and I think Micky Moody had a few ideas, as did Bob Young, the lyric writer for Status Quo.... I did, sort of, and it took us about a month or so to figure out what songs we were going to do, new or old, or a bit of both.

I think the album was good, I enjoyed making it. It was fun to make, as it was all my friends. With Cozy again, and Russ Ballard coming in and playing keyboards on some things... It was very refreshing, and well, fun! I think the music was pretty good too!

Absolutely! It was a hell of a line up, as the title suggests! The producer was John Eden, was he your first choice?
Yeah. John used to do engineering with me and Pip Williams on my earlier solo albums. He was working with The Sweet, and er, Mud, and God, who else did he work with?

I think he worked with Nazareth as well?

Yeah, maybe. He worked with Colin Blunstone in fact. He did that really good album with Colin, with all those fiddles and cello’s and stuff. I thought that was the best thing Colin Blunstone ever did, that album.... So anyway, John did that with him.
I remember at the time, because of me working with Pip, Status Quo thought “Ooh, he’s good isn’t he?”, and they sort of stole him! So at the time of doing the album Pip was working with Quo. John was the engineer, but had a very good ear for vocals and whatever else, so he was pretty much a producer in all but name anyway. So John Eden was the natural choice.

With you mentioning the Quo connection, I assume you’d known them for some time, as Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Bob Young and Andy Bown are all involved in the album?

Yeah, because we were all managed by the same people. I recorded some stuff at Rick Parfitt’s house.

Ah right, like I say with this album it’s so hard to get any information about it! I don’t know any of this, and I’m an anorak fan of yours (laughs)!

On ‘No Bad Habits’, you did ‘Givin’ Up My Worryin’, which was of course on a Status Quo album as well, so I assumed you’d been friends or known them for quite some time.
Yeah, I liked that song. Somebody played it to me, I can’t remember who, and it was suggested I should do a Status Quo song, because y’know we’re all in the same damn office! (Laughs) There’s me, Rory Gallagher, Status Quo, Micky Moody of course.... We were all managed by the same people and somebody suggested that song, and it’d be good for me to do it my own way, put my own twist on it. It turned out pretty good, it’s a good track. I enjoyed doing that.
I saw those guys like every week, every time I went in the office. It was like a big old family there.

Yeah, I’ve rediscovered your first two albums recently, as they were reissued not so long ago... Anyway, back to ‘Line-Up’! Were you ever considering producing it yourself, before you settled on John?

Oh no, it was always John. I don’t like producing. To this day, it’s takes me all my time to listen to my vocals! I pick them apart, so if I sat there all day listening to my vocals, I wouldn’t let anything go out! (Laughs) I always analyse that bit too much, “oh my voice sounds a bit funny there, I didn’t sing that bit very well”, that sort of thing. So it would be like word by word if I had to actually produce it, and then go down for the mixing.
With John, I did listen through things briefly, give him my thoughts, then it was like “Well, that’s what I think, I’ll see you tomorrow!” (Laughs) So I’ve never been into the producing side of it, to me it’s too much like hard work! (laughs) Listening to the vocal all over again, when you’ve just sung it about ten times, you get lost, wondering which vocal is the right one, which is the best take. So you end up nicking bits from each take obviously, like everybody does, match it all up, and make it sound like one take.
I always sing songs different ways. Everytime I do a track, I do it four or five different ways, and it annoys the guy I work with now. He’s like “can’t you sing it the same everytime like a session singer would?”. But once I get used to the song, I like to add a bit of personality to it, you change it as you go along. You sing it different live as well.
John’s in Nashville now, he emailed me a couple of days ago in fact. He’s producing a girl country singer, I’ve fogotten her name now, otherwise I’d tell you!

Listening to the album the other day, I noticed ‘I’m A Lover’, ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Set Me Free’ sound like they could fit on your first two solo records. Were you ever tempted to fully return to that direction on ‘Line-Up’, or because of Rainbow, did you feel it had to have a rockier sound?

Well, I wanted to incorporate both. A bit of Rainbow-ish stuff, but also my kind of early background. Like I said I was into R&B, The Ronettes, The Crystals, that sort of thing, Little Richard, Fats Domino, I loved all that stuff from that time. So I wanted to do a bit of both, to show I wasn’t stuck in one space. I like all music, I don’t just like one style, I’ve always sung lots of different kinds of songs, because that’s the way I grew up.
Back then we all played in the working mens clubs, and we had to do the top 40. In them days the top 40 was always a very mixed bag, from Engelbert Humperdink to The Kinks! So all those style’s kind of rubbed of on me, as they did with Ritchie Blackmore and whomever else.

I think that’s the whole point of a solo album though, if you can’t do what you want there’s no point doing it. So many singers in particular leave a band, and do a solo album that sounds just like the band they’ve been in...

Yeah, there’s no point!

So that’s why I like ‘Line-Up’. There’s elements of your earlier albums, of Rainbow, of Status Quo, of Whitesnake, a good mixture. Obviously the musicians you had, brought in some of the sound of the bands they were in, but it’s a good balance of styles.

Yeah, thank you, I thought it was. I thought we made a pretty good choice of tunes.

Was Russ Ballard drafted in to write, following the success of ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’?

Oh yeah, yeah. We became friends, and in fact he’s just written a new song for Alcatrazz! He wrote it two years ago now, and we still haven’t recorded it yet (laughs)!

Yeah, you mentioned this to me last time, isn’t it about eleven minutes long?

Yeah, that’s right, and we haven’t done anything yet, as we all have to go out and make a living! You know how bad the business is right now, you have to book a gig a year ahead, whereas we used to just book a couple of months before! Now it’s all over the damn place, and Russ sent me this song, we started on it the beginning of last year! I think I’ve got one verse done - if that! Obviously you have to do any paid session work first, money up front, so you’ve got to do those first... So when Russ sent me this demo for Alcatrazz, I’m standing in front of a microphone singing, and not getting paid for it, but obviously we have to go out there and make money, so we can pay our mortgages and things and all that kind of crap. So we have to do as much live stuff as we can, and session work.
Russ Ballard though, I’ve always liked his voice, and he can write anything! If you ask him to write a reggae tune he will, y’know. So I spoke to him on the phone about the Alcatrazz thing, and said I wanted something meandering, with all different parts to it, kind of epic, and that’s what he’s done. It’s a little bit more progressive.

I can’t wait to hear it, but obviously it might be a while (laughs)!

Yeah, maybe ten years or so! (laughs) I’m hoping to get around to recording it, but I’ve got another album to do, with a project called Lyraka.

Yeah, you did part one last year...

Yeah, I’m working on a track called ‘Volcano’, singing with Veronica Freeman from Benedictum.
I am trying to get this Alcatrazz thing going, we’ve got song ideas dating back four years, and we haven’t had the chance to do one of them yet! We have some drum tracks down, but we haven’t done the guitar parts yet, very rough vocals, “lah lah” lines, because we have no words, and we just haven’t got around to recording anything.

This is way off topic, but I noticed on your website that you had recently written a song about Rory Gallagher?

Yeah, I want to put it on this new Alcatrazz album, if we can. Rory was my friend, and his manager was my manager at Quarry Productions, where Quo was. I used to go out with him and his brother, hang out and stuff, drink a lot!
So I was thinking about him, and there’s all these guitar heroes around, and a lot of regular people didn’t really know who Rory Gallagher was, but when you talk to guitar players now, so many of them say what a huge influence he was on them. So what the song is really about is that nobody ever really recognised his talent when he was with us. The song is called ‘No One Ever Sang For Rory’, it’s my tribute to him.
I saw him play at the Albert Hall, when he played with Cream, for their ‘Farewell’ album, he opened up for them. That’s how I met Ted McKenna actually as well, who became Michael Schenker’s drummer... So then I saw Rory in other places, in the States, when I was on tour with Rainbow, and I just feel he never got what he deserved. He died way too young.

You’re right. I have a friend, and she’s a huge fan of Rory, and whilst I knew who he was I’d never really listened to much of his stuff. It was always Blackmore or Jimmy Page for me, but she kept mentioning him, and I checked out more of his work, and now I actually realise how good he was.

Oh yeah, I used to love watching him! He was very entertaining, but he was never pretentious. He always wore the same damn shirt, or similar shirt! The Irish Labourer or Lumberjack kind of thing, but that was him - he was very real. He really meant what he said, he played with passion. Like Gary Moore, another one of my friends that has gone just recently. So yeah, with Rory he has an underground following, but for the most part he’s not really well known, so I thought why not write a little tribute to him?

Anyway, I’ll have to get back to ‘Line-Up’!

Oh yeah, sorry (laughs)!

(Laughs) No worries. Were the songs on the album written specifically for you, except for the obvious well known covers?

Yeah, they all were. They were all songs we got in by cassette tape in those days, so they’d come into the office, and we’d sit and listen to them. We didn’t throw them in the trash like most people do when they get cassettes from writers! So we’d listen to them all, pick out the ones we liked, and that’s how we did it. So yeah, they were all written with me in mind. There’s some good tunes!

Was there any reason that you didn’t write on the album, was it that you just weren’t used to writing those style of songs at that time?

Well, I never wrote anything really. In Rainbow I made up some of the melodies as I went along. Roger Glover would give me a raw idea of the tune to go with his words, and then I would just kind of ad-lib around it, and do it my way. I would change it to whatever came into my mind at the time.

Right. I asked that question because the album you did after ‘Line-Up’ was Michael Schenker’s ‘Assault Attack’, and you co wrote everything on that. Although I suspect that was a case of there not being anyone else around to write the lyrics?

Yeah, I had to do it. Through Michael, it made me realise that I could do it, I didn’t think I was much of a songwriter, I’d never really done it before then. Before that people would submit tunes to me, send them to me in the mail or whatever, and that’s how I worked. I always thought my songs didn’t sound like real songs! Everybody else’s songs sounded complete, when you hear the demo, but I never felt my songs were good enough really. I never wrote much, but I had to with Michael, because he didn’t speak English very well. He said to me “Graham, I don’t know how to write words, can you help?”. So I said I’d have a go... so it was really Michael that showed me that I could actually write tunes with decent words and decent melodies. I surprised myself.

Well there you go! It goes to show, because that’s one of the most popular albums you’ve appeared on!

Yeah, I guess... I’m a genius (laughs)!

‘Don’t Tell Me To Go’ was a B-side to one of the singles from ‘Line-Up’. Where there any other songs recorded at that time which didn’t make the album?

Hmmm, I can’t even remember the damn song! (laughs) Who wrote that?

I’m not sure, I don’t have the writing credits. It sounds like a Micky Moody/Bob Young song to me...

Yeah, it may have been. There were a couple of other songs recorded at that time I think, they may be lying around.

Where there ever any plans to tour to promote the album?

Nah, I had no band, it was just a studio thing. Everyone else was doing other things all the time, guys like Cozy, Micky and Jon had so much other stuff going on. It would be almost impossible to get all the guys together for a long period. Cozy was with Jack Bruce or Whitesnake at the time or something... I can’t remember! I never even thought about going on the road, I just thought of it as an album, we could do a few videos, and that’d be it.

So you were never tempted to continue as a solo artist, even after the success of ‘Night Games’?

No, not really. It was just a fun project, I never had any major plans with it.

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

Hmmm, oh crap, I can’t think of the tracks! (laughs) ‘Night Games’, I like ‘S.O.S.’ and ‘I’m A Lover’ - that’s on there isn’t it? Erm, ‘That’s The Way That It Is’ - I liked those tunes.

Looking back, is there anything you’d change about the album?

No. It was fun to do, and one of the most enjoyable records I’ve made. I didn’t have the band thing of waiting for people to turn up and rehearse and all that. It was pretty much everybody would turn up, and Jon would be there. He’d get to his keyboards, and you’d see all these glasses lined up on top, he’d get out some bottles from his bag, and say “Gentleman, the bar is now open!”. So that’s how we’d start the session (laughs)!

Sounds like a good time!

It was, but this was like ten in the fucking morning! (laughs) I went through years of bad alcoholism, but I’ve now been sober for eight years.

Wow, that’s great!

Yeah, I quit just like that, I didn’t want to die, so decided that was enough. I mean I was a big drinker.

Well, credit to you, Graham. I’m pretty much out of questions now, thank you very much for this, and I’ll look forward to the new Alcatrazz album in about ten years time (laughs)!

Yeah! (laughs) Well, there’s the Rory song, and the Russ Ballard song is called ‘My Kingdom Come’, that’s the epic, the one that goes on for about two days! All the best, I’ve enjoyed the interview.


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