John Sloman has a new video out. It’s “Blind”, on Red Steel Music. The track has been produced by John & Robert Corich, and remastered by Bella Corich, who adds a livelier sound to an already excellent song from 2016. “Blind” will be featured on John’s forthcoming retrospective double album The Missing Link. Art for the single also by Callum Fernandes-Clarke.
John Sloman recently posted – “This is the new video for the soon to be released single (Blind) taken from the retrospective album ‘The Missing Link’ which will be released in a couple of months. The video is brilliantly directed by Callum Fernandes-Clarke who directed all three of my previous videos. Blind originally featured on the album ‘Don’t Try This At Home’.”
Further, the track was recently featured on Classic Rock’s Louder Sound‘Tracks Of The Week‘. You can check that out And vote for “Blind” there!
I’ll admit I don’t read a lot of books…in full, but rock bios are always of interest, and this one penned by Welsh musician John Sloman definitely is of interest. Sloman has had a lengthy roller-coaster ride of a career in the music business, having once fronted Lone Star (featuring Paul Chapman, pre UFO) and then Uriah Heep, and going on to tour with Gary Moore, Paul Young, and has recorded a number of solo albums (his latest Two Rivers, having just recently come out!). Lost On Planet Artifice takes us through John’s journey growing up in Grangetown, Cardiff (Wales) – his childhood, his intro to music, girls, his first band,… I do not usually read a book beginning to end, but more so pick out chapters and bits I want to know about first, then go back and forth, so picking up this 400+ page monster I went right to the Heep content to start! It goes without saying that this book should be a must-read for any Heep fan, and in particular those that either brushed over John’s 18 months in the band or lay the blame of the band’s demise in 1980/81 squarely with him. John finally gets to tell his version of events after decades of being dumped on by former band members, misguided fans, and unknowing journalists. So some stories may be a bit shocking, but worth the read. John has a natural knack for writing, and relaying recollections and events, as well as a pretty detailed memory.
Beyond the Heep era, John’s career would come across even more painful periods, such as the details of his time with Gary Moore, his solo album deal(s) and recording with Todd Rundgren. John’s story is a very brave and honest one, as he not only gets out all the things he’s bottled up over the years, but also talks about the depression and anxiety various situations and setbacks brought up, and how he dealt with them. Despite the ‘name’ and rock star tag, John’s story is. about his everyday struggles – as a musician trying to earn a living, as well as dealing with family and personal tragedies. Lost On Planet Artifice is Not one of those retrospective rock star books that simply recounts how great they once were! It also includes John’s insight into worldly issues, which some may take or leave (John’s well read on many topics, so I’m good with it). Throughout this you want to route for the guy that some big break or payday with finally go his way, as in later years John has threatened a few times to quit making music altogether, but he carries on, and anyone who’s heard his latest album Two Rivers, knows he still has plenty to offer. I think Two Rivers makes a great companion to his story here, so I’m guessing it won’t be his last! John seems a natural at writing as well, so hopefully there’ll be another book!? *There’s also a few pages of black & white photos, most of which have never been seen.
An excellent read and can be easily purchased for a good price on Amazon.
LOST ON PLANET ARTIFICE: Rock musician John Sloman writes rock- memoir-cum-survival-manual for 21st Century.
John Sloman – singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist , has released his book Lost On Planet Artifice, which is his own story.
“Over the years, family members and close friends have suggested I write a book about my time in music. My response has always been the same: “I’d write it, but who would read it?”
Having been in such bands as Lone Star, Uriah Heep, and Gary Moore, Sloman would be hosed over on a number of occasions (such as the story of his 1989 solo album!), and grew to dislike the music business. In the 2000s he began recording a number of solo albums, mainly all on his own. His latest is Two Rivers. Both that album And Lost On Planet Artifice can be purchased on Amazon. (Kindle edition for under $5 Canadian!).
The first review on the book states – “Reading John Sloman’s book was a revelation in the sense that here’s a man who has been shafted and betrayed by the powers that be and it is outrageous that few in the ‘business’ give a damn. His prose is very well constructed and his stories are, in places, hilarious. It certainly makes a change reading this work from all the usual drivel of so many rock stars writing about life on planet ‘Orifice’. Well done to this brave Welshman.” (Derek Pringle).
I am looking forward to this, and highly recommend, whether you’re just a Heep fan or not – you check it out.
This interview appeared recently on the Uriah Heep facebook group page https://www.facebook.com/groups/1799464413661777 . The site is administered by Heep fan Rikki Fox who set up this Q & A with John and has allowed me to re-post the entire exchange here.
Rikki Fox: From the age of 5 until now, a lofty nearly 63, music has been my passion in life At the age of 14 I got into Uriah Heep 49 (FORTY NINE!!) years later they remain, through all the eras, line up changes and sad losses, my all time favorite group A couple of years back I started my own little site “Friends Who Like Uriah Heep” (Yes, I know it’s a naff name) but it’s great laid back fun and has grown way beyond my expectations I’m honored and humbled to have John Sloman as a FB buddy and suggested a Q & A exclusive for my site To my utter surprise he agreed
What follows are answers that pull no punches given in John’s usual lucid articulate forthright and intelligent manner.
Enjoy, and please check out John’s stunning new release “Two Rivers”
(Understand if the question is too sensitive) Did Ken and you try and work things out or was there too much friction at the time? (Johnny Har)
JS: There was never any friction between Ken and me. We never had a cross word. It was strictly one way traffic. I knew he loathed my singing. And the fact he’d been overruled by the other guys pissed him off. But the real friction was between Ken and the other guys. I just happened to walk in on a climate of distrust which had existed since when I was still in school. I didn’t engage with Ken, because I knew he hated me. And that hatred continued for years after I left the band. If I had my time over again, I wouldn’t have joined Heep…mainly because the band’s main man wasn’t happy with me. But I was young and thought things might turn around. But I had complete respect for Ken’s contribution to the band. And I loved his playing. We never got to sit in a bar and talk. And now he’s gone, the possibility of that has gone with him.
Your solo output has been incredibly and refreshingly diverse, Is this a conscious decision or do ideas just “hit” when you start on a new album? (Rikki Fox)
JS: It’s not a conscious thing. Other than the decision to do what I like. As opposed to what people expect. But once I’m into an album, the subconscious will throw ideas at me. Sometimes I’ll doubt it’s any good. But often, those doubtful tracks can turn into the best thing on an album. The Last Coalminer is a case in point. When I started reciting the lyric as a poem I thought ‘Sloman, are you sure?’ But fortune favors the brave, as they say.
Given the chance once again…would you join Heep?…Was your tenure beneficial to your later career or rather negative? (Richard Pascoe)
JS: If I had my time again, I wouldn’t join Heep. And I don’t think they’d have me either. Nothing good ever comes out of forcing an issue. And some of the criticism I took in the years after I left, proves that. When I talk about the stuff I did way back, it’s like stumbling through a minefield. I’ve never traded on Heep etc. And if it has come up, it’s been seen as a negative. Which is why I never ever talk about the stuff from back then, unless I’m asked a specific question. And whenever that happens, I always give an honest answer. And I can honestly tell you now, that the stuff I did back then, as a larynx for hire was no benefit to me at all. And in most instances, quite the opposite.
Re John’s time with Paul Young – was there any bootleg recordings, video, or promo photos? (Kevin Julie)
JS: I’m not aware of any bootlegs from the tour I did with Paul Young. The very first thing I did with him, months before the tour, was the video for the single “Wonderland”. Felt like a fish out of water. As the tour progressed, I acclimatized to the role. But that first day was awkward. I did various TV shows around Europe with Paul ahead of the tour. But the highlight was Saturday Night Live.
How did you feel about your image in the late 70s -80 being compared to Robert Plant, and in retrospect did Plant influence him in some ways? (Kevin Julie)
Of course Plant was an influence. And I took a lot of stick. But I made it easy for them by wearing Plant style shirts on stage. If I had my time over again, I would crop my hair really short and burn the silky shirts. I was a talented kid who wasn’t as confident as he might’ve been. So I hid my light.
John’s list (top 10?) Of his favorite Heep songs (from before his time)!? (Kevin Julie)
Top Ten Heep tracks? Look At Yourself July Morning I Wanna Be Free Traveler In Time Rain Blind Eye Magician’s Birthday Sweet Freedom Stealin Suicidal Man
Would John please come to London Palladium in October? (Sue Cullen)
So Heep are playing The Palladium? That will be quite an event. I don’t think they’ll need me showing up though after all these aeons. But it will be a great night, I’m sure.
I hear Motown and Stax as well as some Stevie Wonder and Robert Plant in your voice. What are your influences? (Mike Shannon)
JS: Well, all of the above. Stevie was an inspiration. His version of We Can Work It Out was amazing…changing the emphasis from the word We, to the word Can. I already loved jazz, and could see a link between Stevie and Ray Charles. Motown was everywhere in that late 60s early 70s period. James Brown and Marvin Gaye. Led Zeppelin were a huge influence on me. They were like my big brothers. And, once again, there was a thread running through all the great soul acts to Zep. Especially on the first two albums, where Plant is channeling the Blues, Soul and Jazz. All that while inventing Hard Rock! And, just like Stevie, doing lots of improvisation. I learned a lot from listening to Todd Rundgren. Genius. And of course, Joni Mitchell. But the two people who really inspired me most early on were Stevie and Robert.
If you know what you know now, would you still have gone into the music business ? If not what would have been your career path of choice? (Ian MacLaren)
JS: By the time I was 13, I knew music was the only road I wanted to take. So it’s hard to think of an alternative route. When I left school I worked on a tugboat at Cardiff Docks and served part of an apprenticeship as a fitter/welder. But I knew I was only marking time until I could do music full time. It’s been a bumpy ride, but I can’t let it go. But if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I was in primary school, I would’ve said ‘Archaeologist’.
You express so much in your music, how else do you use your talent to reach out to the world? Do you teach or mentor ? (Julie Shannon)
JS: Up until the Covid thing, I was doing some teaching. Guitar and a bit of voice stuff. I really enjoyed it. It’s a responsibility I took seriously. Someone placing their trust in you. I taught someone from when he was ten till he was around 16. Natural talent. He was offered a place at The Brits School here in London when he was 14. He declined. But then eventually re-applied and got in when he was 16. He’s now playing around London with his own band. Soon I’ll be publishing a book on Amazon. Kind of a rock memoir. But it’s a bit more than that really. I intend to do more writing. It’s a side of me that is largely unknown. I spent a number of years trying to get a film made, during which I kept recording music as well.
What is your opinion of the Abominog, Peter Goalby sung version of ‘Think It Over’? (Mike Shannon)
JS: I’ve only heard Pete’s version of Think It Over once, many years ago. But my immediate impression was how tailor made for American radio it was. Right on point for that time. Not too fussy. Good vocals…guitar break. Wasn’t it a bit of a radio hit?
Are there any Heep songs you would like to sing today ? (Ian MacLaren)
JS: The first Heep album I heard was Look At Yourself. So the first Heep track I ever heard was the title track. That would fun to sing. The other one is Rain off The Magician’s Birthday.
Is there any chance of you ever appearing to perform a song or two with Uriah Heep as a special guest? This fan would certainly dig it! (Mike Shannon)
JS: If I said yes to that, it would open a floodgate of emotion. Next thing Mick and me are looking at each other across a stage. Our friend Trevor gone. All the people gone out of each of our lives. Lee Gone. Ken gone. And here we are connecting again. And in the same instant reactivating that emotional circuit which lay dormant for decades. People think being in a band is just about music. But it’s so much more than that. Which is why I’ve stayed away. But who knows.
The Bells Of Berlin has rightly achieved iconic status What’s your take on that track John? (Wendy Fox)
JS: The Bells Of Berlin is probably the best thing Lone Star ever recorded. It had something to say about the world at that time (and possibly in future times, given the current situation). Dixie’s drumming is epic. Those guys were so good, they didn’t really need a vocalist. Back a few years, someone gave me a Marshall digital radio for my birthday. I took a break from working on one of my albums one day, turned on this digital radio (which was tuned to Planet Rock). My finger hit the on button and the very first chord of The Bells Of Berlin came thundering out of the speaker. For a moment, I thought the radio also had a CD player which had Firing On All Six inserted into it. But no, it was Planet Rock. Spooky.
In Part One of my conversation with John Sloman, John talked in-depth about his new album Two Rivers, which has just been released on CD (I am still hoping for a vinyl edition). John also talked about his forthcoming book – Lost On Planet Artifice – which should be available through Amazon in about a month. Part 2 of my conversation with John is discussing his time with Lone Star and Uriah Heep. This period was what brought John’s name and talents to so many rock fans, and perhaps what is best known in his earlier work. John shares some great stories, some of them pretty funny, some a bit personal, but I must say he is most sincere, has a great sense of humor, friendly, and in some instances I felt for the guy. But regardless, John made an impact and he has his own story to tell. From just the stories John shared with me in our conversation, I am looking forward to his book — he has a great memory and loads of awesome stories. I have more to share – from John’s ’80s period with Gary Moore, Paul Young, his solo album [so watch for Part 3]
*John’s next single/video will be the track “70s Sunday”, available in a few weeks!
Enjoy the read. Leave us some feedback and a Like.
Lone Star – Was that your first time in the studio?
It was kind of, but when I had the band Trapper, with Pino Palladino, back in ’74-’75, we did a tour of Germany, we did a few actually. But on the first tour Germany we hooked up with a guy who was with a German band called Amon Duul. They were a German prog band, and so you know prog is really big in Germany and around Europe. So anyway, we kind of befriended this guy, he wasn’t much older than us, and his name was Jan. And one night he said ‘come down to the studio and we’ll just have a jam.’ So that was the first time that I ever put on headphones and heard my voice coming back through the headphones. And I’ve got to be honest – it was quite a shock, because especially with a good sound on your voice and also a really good high quality mic, and suddenly every little detail was coming down the cannons. And another time, the next time and only other time before Lone Star, I got contacted by these guys who were employees at EMI in London, and they decided that they wanted to do their own project. I can’t remember how they heard about me because I was just a teenager living in Wales. And they contacted me the usual way back in those days – which was a telegram (laughs), because my parents weren’t even on the phone. And I ended up coming up to London and we did a session at Sarm Studios, which was one of the really big studios in London at the time. And Roy Thomas Baker was producing, and also Mike Stone was on the session, and he went on to Journey, and also a guy called Gary Lyons was on the session, and Gary was really young at the time, I’m talking the summer of ’76. And of course Gary went on to produce the Lone Star album. So when it came the following year – the summer of ’77, to do the Lone Star album I kind of knew Gary, well I’d met him that one day I was in the studio with him, so it kind of broke the ice. And I think he was really helpful for me because he wasn’t that much older so I kind of felt like he was my generation, if you like, because the Lone Star guys were a bit older than me. I remember the first day when we were going to do the vocals, because the guys put the tracks down separately. Sometimes when you do albums you’ll sing along with the band, and I’ve done albums like that, where as with Lone Star they preferred to do the backing tracks and really nail the backing tracks, and then I might do a guide vocal later . But when it came to do my actual vocals, and the guys had finished all their backing tracks, and most of them had gone home, Gary Lyons said ‘Ok let’s start your vocals tonight’ . And in those days you had a tape op in the studio, who was kind of like an apprentice. And Gary took some money out of his pocket, might’ve been a 5 pound note, and he gave it to the tape op and said ‘go on and get John a bottle of port’. And he turned to me, and my eyebrows shot up, because I’m just 19 years of age, I’m not at the age where I’m going to go guzzling port. Anyway, Gary looked at me and said ‘it’s really good for your voice.’ So I thought OK, and this bottle of port shows up, and Gary says ‘hang on there. have a glass of port while I do a few little mixdowns.’ So to cut a long story short I virtually drank that whole bottle of port and I had to be carried to my bed! (laughs), and we missed that day’s recording. So that (day) was cancelled and we had to start the next day. And the first track we did was called “Hypnotic Mover” – that was first vocal I did on Firing On All Six.
What songs originated from you or that you had a hand in writing?
Well, when I passed the audition I then stayed in this place with the guys, a rehearsal place called The Farm Yard. It was out in Little Chalfont, which was really picturesque, just like how Americans or Canadians might think of a picturesque village just outside of London. So I guess we spent about a week there. And my first task after getting the gig, one of the guys gave me a pen and paper and said ‘we’ve got this thing we’ll play you and see if you can come up with some melodies and some lyrics for this.’ And they started jamming out this track, and it was all lots of great riffs and stuff, and that’s what became “From All Of Us To All Of You” , which became the last track on Firing On All Six. So that was the first thing I did with Lone Star. And the 2nd thing I did was they went on to play this kind of heavy funk track, and I wrote the lyrics and melodies to that – which was “Rivers Overflowing”. They had “The Bells Of Berlin” more or less completed, so I don’t recall getting too much involved in “The Bells of Berlin”, as much as I like to say I did (laughs). “Seasons In Your Eyes” was myself and Ric Worsnop, the keyboard player, who’s also Canadian. What happened was he and I went to this place called Ridge Farm, which was the kind of place back in the ’70s where bands would go just to write and routine new material before going in to the studio. It was a really expensive place, but a really beautiful place. But again, just the very epiphany of what you’d think ’70s rock musicians would do. There was a little stage in a farm house, an old English farm house. We’d go there after we’d have have our breakfast cooked in the morning, and then our lunch and evening dinner cooked by a very nice young lady called Stephanie. And we had these tiny cottages around there, it was a really beautiful place to stay. And they had a tennis court there, and we ended up having a tennis tournament when we should’ve been writing material. But anyway, one morning I couldn’t sleep and I got up really early and went over to the barn where all the equipment was set up and Ric was already over there. And Ric was a really lovely guy, a really good musician, and he had like sort of a hippy mentality – which of course was at odds with the whole punk thing that was going on at the time. So anyway, Ric had been up, must’ve gotten up about 5 o’clock that morning, and he’d been recording his own [?] chorus , because we’re right out in the middle of the country, and there was this beautiful bird song. So he’d recorded all that morning’s bird song, a [?] chorus, on the band’s Revox tape machine, and he was playing it in the barn when I walked in. And he put it through the speakers, and it was really beautiful, and the sun was streaking in through the windows, you know, really lovely. So it kind of set the mood really for what was to follow. So Ric sat down, he had a Fender Rhodes suitcase, and he sat down and started playing this really nice piano piece. And it sounded like some kind of old classical piece, with a medieval kind of flavor. And I said ‘Ric, what’s that?’, and I expected him to tell me it was some kind of standard, and he said ‘Oh it’s just some thing I’ve been working on’. So he played the melody, and I sat down and got a pen and paper, and I came up with the words and (vocal) melody for “Seasons In Your Eyes”. Ric and I wrote that. Also there’s a track called “Time Lays Down”, and the guys had the initial groove, a really kind of lovely funk thing, which was a kind of a crossover thing, so I was sat up in this chill-out area upstairs, where I used to sit and strum one of the band’s spare guitars. So I was playing this old Strat and I came up with the chords for the verse, I came up with the chords for the middle eight, and I also wrote the melody and the lyrics for “Time Lays Down”. “Time Lays Down, and Time Lays down beside me and goes to sleep” – that was a lyric in a song I wrote with Trapper, when we were 18. I wrote a song with Pino Palladino and that line was in that song. Obviously those songs we did with Trapper they just vanished in to the ether. I can remember the titles, and I’m sure Pino can remember some of the chords. So, anyway, I contributed a lot to Lone Star – not just the lyrics and the melodies, but I contributed some guitar bits and pieces. But I suppose that doesn’t really get acknowledged, especially when you’ve got 2 really good guitar players in the band. And it’s kind of frustrating that people didn’t realize or didn’t know just how much I had contributed.
The one song that stands out for me is “The Ballad Of Crafty Jack”. It’s got some great lines in it.
Yes. That was Pete Hurley, the bass player – he had like a Wyatt Earp kind of droopy mustache, a really distinctive look. And Paul Chapman, he came up with this alter-ego and nickname for Pete, because Pete looked like something straight out of the old American west, you know!? And Paul used to call him Crafty Jack Hurley, instead of Pete Hurley. So when it came to doing “Crafty Jack” (the track), Paul said ‘we should do something like with Wild West lyrics’, So, Paul, Tony and myself got around the piano and we actually collaborated on that. Paul was really in to… he may have even come up with the Lone Star name, but he was really in to the wild west thing. So, he was really keen to do that trying to hide out from the gunmen. I liked that track, and I loved Dixie’s drumming on it too; it was great!
Yeah. Now you guys did some touring. Any recall on those?
When I joined them, they had a British tour already planned, but Kenny Driscoll had left, so the first thing they said to me, once it was decided that I was going to be in the band. They said ‘How do we feel about fulfilling these dates that we’ve got?’, because we were in January and the tour was more or less the following month. So there was very little time to get it together. And so I said ‘Well, yeah – I’m up for it.’ We did a British tour and then that was around college kind of venues and stuff like that. And then we did a full-on major theater tour, headlining later on – that would be autumn. Yeah. And then strangely, we ended up going out opening for Mahogany Rush – Frank Marino. And that was only a month after we’d done a British tour! But as you can appreciate, Britain is not that big. And so, if it was America you know, we could understand why we go on the road and then go back on the road a month later to do more gigs, But in Britain, I mean, really, at that time you covered it in a month, for sure. So what happened was we did the major headline tour where we headlined places like the Rainbow Theater in London, which was really a beautiful 2000 seater. And then within a month we were back out again, playing virtually the same venues, but this time we were the opening act, which is a really strange thing. That was the first indication that maybe we didn’t have the right management -You know what I mean!? I was the new kid, so, you know I’d just turned twenty at that point. I was just thinking – ‘Well, keep your head down John – these guys know what they’re doing.’ But we went out with Frank Marino and instead of doing the Rainbow Theater at the London date we did what was called the Hammersmith Odeon at the time, which as I’m sure you know, is an absolutely beautiful, beautiful venue in London and it’s a really prestigious venue still today. So we opened for Frank Marino for, I guess, maybe two or three weeks around Britain. And he was great, by the way, he had a three piece together. Yeah, and it was just a strange feeling that we were doing the same; we were virtually doing the same venues. One night we were playing in Sheffield in the north of England, and we had a young band called ‘Stranger’ opening for us. Now I say young – they were only (say) two years younger than me at the time. But anyway, these guys – they had this very wealthy guy who was managing them. And what he’d done at one point, I think hired a venue, something like Hammersmith Odeon, like I’d just mentioned – for them to do like this then hyped up gig. So that’s the kind of management they had. So their manager must’ve bought their way onto the tour, opening for us. So it’s all going well. You know, the band are really nice guys and the manager’s really nice. So we get to Sheffield. We come off stage and there’s this whole drama going on in the dressing room, in the backstage area. And it turns out that while we were on stage, the support act – Stranger, were just trying their first joint. And as they were in the process of smoking their first ever joint, you know those fire doors that you have in a building where you push the bar and it can open out onto the street? Well, these fire doors opened from the outside of the building and the local drug squad burst into the dressing room. And so they arrested this terrified support band and their manager and they took him off to the local police station. So that’s what we come off stage to is like this whole drama about what had happened. So we get in the tour bus and off we go down to the local police station. Steve Woods, the manager who now works in LA with people like Alter Bridge, anyway, he gets off the tour bus and goes in to the police station and pleads for Stranger to be released. And so minutes later, and we’re all still on the tour bus, here comes Steve Woods, our tour manager, followed closely by all these still ‘ash in face’ 17, 18 year olds, that he’s just bailed out, and the manager. So anyway, of course, these kids fill us in on all the details that have happened. And so here comes a drug squad detective. He gets on the bus and walks the length of the bus and we’re all at the back of the bus (Lone Star) and he leans over and he puts an elbow on the seat, you know, and he’s just stood there. And he goes ‘Next time guys’. So obviously they we out to bust Lone Star, we had a little bit of a reputation. Anyway, the detective turns and he’s walking off the bus. He gets as far as the front of the bus and Tony Smith, one of the guitar players, calls from the back of the bus – ‘Hey, do you want to come back to our hotel and smoke a joint with us?’ So, at that point the rest of us drew in a sharp intake of breath, ’cause we thought ‘this is it now – this guy is going to arrest us’. Yeah, but it kind of like he just stood there, paused and probably thought about arresting the whole lot of us. But he just stepped off the bus, and that was it. But yeah, that was Lone Star for you. They were kind of fearless about stuff like that.
Were you playing anything from the new album at that point?
Oh yeah. Well on that tour it was a mix of the two albums at this point, but we did a lot – we did “Bells Of Berlin”, and we did “Seasons In Your Eyes”, and we did “Crafty Jack” live, and “All Of Us To All Of You”. And we probably played “Hypnotic Mover”, that track had like a ten minute solo in the middle of it, a Paul Chapman solo that was, well, that whole section. And I’ve got gig tapes from those days straight off the board.
(I was going to ask) if anybody saved anything ?
Oh yeah. I mean, they’re not great quality. I was talking to Robert Corich about it, and Rob was going to help me and maybe try to restore some of these old, you know, their these old ’70s cassettes. And so, unfortunately there’s these moments on the cassette where it drops out. But these are once in a lifetime things, never to be repeated. And the solo section in that one track “Hypnotic Mover” – It didn’t make the album It just got cut from the recorded version, but live it was just amazing. The whole band are on fire during that. So I have that, I have a gig or 2. And also I have a version of “Seasons In Your Eyes”, that we recorded at that place Ridge Farm, where where we wrote it. Did you ever come across a prog band called Gong?
I know the name. I don’t have anything of their’s
They had a flute player called Didier, because they were a French band. He used to hang out at this place Ridge Farm. So when we demo’d “Seasons In Your Eyes” – Didier played flute and a little bit of saxophone on it. So I’ve got that as well, which is kind of like a curiosity because when we came to do the actual recorded version on Firing On All Six Jeff Wayne did the string arrangement, the guy that did War Of The Worlds. He was great. but it is very bombastic, you know!? Where as the idea – what we wanted on it was like the string arrangement at a very low key, like on the Beatles “Yesterday” – that kind of thing. But Jeff Wayne, he made it sound like War Of The Worlds (laughs), which it was meant to be like a little thing, a folk song.
I want to move on to your first interaction with me with Uriah Heep. As far as you know, even before your audition. Had you had any other interaction before actually getting your audition or sharing a bill or anything?
Well, there’s this famous story going around, which I don’t know whether you heard where I was an apprentice fitter welder, and when I left school, I worked on the docks, the Cardiff docks for a while on the tugboat, which was a trip. I was there for about about six months – straight out of school. And then from there I went on to technical college, to be a fitter welder. I had no intention of being a fitter welder, but the reason I got on this course at the technical college was because I was able to do gigs at night, where as when I was on the docks. I couldn’t. So anyway, while at technical college, I got really friendly with a guy called Neil Rodgers, who was a fellow musician. It was just him and I in the whole class that were musicians. And so we hung out all the time, you know, and we became really close friends. And Neil, was a gigantic Uriah Heep fan, and bare in mind, this is 1974. So that will give you an idea of the line up of the band. So, to him Gary Thain was a living God, Neil was a bass player and he absolutely worshipped Gary Thain. So when it was announced that Heep were coming to Cardiff, and we had a great venue in Cardiff called the Cardiff Capital, and everyone played there. I eventually played there with Lone Star, actually. And it was the thing to do, you know, as a rite of passage thing to be able to play that venue. So when it was announced that Heep were coming to Cardiff, Neil said one day and in the college canteen ‘hey, we’ve got to go John’, and of course I knew Heep, I had a couple of their albums – Magician’s Birthday, Look At Yourself, and I loved Magician’s Birthday! And Wonderworld – because it was the Wonderworld tour. So, I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t keen on Wonderworld as an album. I actually went and bought the album. [Me: I thought the songs were good, but the sound….] Yeah, I think that’s what it is. Where as I really liked Sweet Freedom, I thought that was a really good album. So anyway, Neil says, let’s go get tickets. So, ‘Yeah OK’. So I said to Neil. ‘Well look, give me some money and I’ll go down to the box office’, because he didn’t live in Cardiff. he lived in a place called Port Talbot, which was a half an hour away by train. So Neil says, ‘Well look, why don’t we go on queue overnight?’ And I looked at Neil and said ‘What!?’ Honestly, I said, ‘Why would you queue overnight for concert tickets?’ And he said, ‘Because I want to get the best possible tickets’. Like I say, Neil was a huge fan! Now, bare in mind it wasn’t exactly the warmest time of the year. So anyway, Neil and I, we showed up at Cardiff Capitol one night with a bottle of vodka. And there were a few other people there that I remember. And we just sat there; we killed the bottle of vodka in the first hour and then we froze our asses off for the rest of the night! Anyway, we got the tickets. And of course, then the awful thing happened with Gary Thain being electrocuted in Dallas. So, again, Neil comes in one morning to college, and he’s got the Melody-Maker or the New Music Express or whatever, and he’s like beside himself. It’s as if one of his own family has been electrocuted on stage – his whole day is destroyed. So of course, what happened then was the British gigs had to be rescheduled. So I think it happened later on in the autumn, as I remember. So we went along, the night of the gig and I thought they were great (Heep). I remember Mick playing a red Les Paul Junior, which, you know, I’ve been used to seeing Mick playing an SG, during that era. And Lee, obviously he had his stainless steel kit. So anyway, the gig was good and we come outside the theater at the end of the night. And we’re with a friend of mine as well, from the from the band I had, Trapper, this guy Jiffy. But Jiffy was a big Gentle Giant fan, he didn’t care too much about Uriah Heep anyway, he just come along for the night. So Jiffy says ‘Let’s go get last orders’, because in those days the pubs closed at half passed 10. So we’re to go get last orders in a pub in town, and Neil says ‘No – I don’t want to get last orders I want to go ’round the back and see the band!’ And I look at Neil and say ‘Oh, okay’, because I’d never done this before. So he says ‘just come on, let’s go around the back of the theater’. So we go around the back of the theater, there’s nobody there and there’s like an alleyway that connects with the main road. So you come in off the main road and it’s just like, it’s deserted, there’s nobody there, there’s not even a street light illuminating it. But all we saw was a door with ajar to the back of the theater. So Neil – who’s as bold you like says ‘come on’, and I was ‘what are you doing? We’re going to get in to trouble here’, and he’s ‘Let’s just go in’. So we push the door open, Neil’s leading the way. We go up the stairs and now we’ve come up onto the level where we’re on the main corridor and there’s all the rooms off this corridor and of course that’s where all the dressing rooms are, so we could hear voices at the end of the corridor. Suddenly, here comes Ken Hensley walking towards us. So, now he sees us, and of course, if you’re on tour, then you know the people who are part of your crew and the people who are not. So as soon as he sees us he knows we’re just kids who’ve just been to the gig. So Neil, as if he’s known Ken all his life goes ‘Ken how are you doing?’ And Ken just says ‘hey you guys had better get out of here now because these people, (I don’t know who he meant by these people. I think he may have meant the Heep crew), ‘These people are not going to be happy with you guys walking around backstage’. So we turned around and we go back down the stairs, and now we’re back out into the alleyway. And by now, there are a couple of other people there, there’s probably about another ten people in the alleyway, all waiting to see the band. So as soon as we get down into the alleyway here comes the sound of the platform boots down the stairs and the band are coming down in to the alleyway. So Mick is the first to emerge, he’s got a plastic cup with (I think) vodka or something. He’s all smiles, you know – ‘How ya doin’ mate?’, shakes my hand, gives me his drink, I seem to remember. He was lovely. Lee also was absolutely lovely. And then Gary Thain came down. I remember Gary had cut all his hair off, I remember that. So Gary, but he didn’t look well. He was obviously still recovering from that awful thing that happened in Dallas. So he got straight into the limousine. And of course, Neil, just because he followed him over to the limousine, Gary winds the window down and Neil has five minutes of conversation with Gary talking about what you could imagine, right – He’s meeting his bass hero in his favorite band, and he just wants to know how long has he been playing, how does he practice.. He tries to get as much information out of this guy as he can. Gerry Bron stood by the limo (I remember), looking like Q from one of the Bond movies; you know, very aloof. David Byron got carried out between two roadies, and put straight into the limousine. He was still wearing his stage clothes. And Ken Hensley came out, and he was very aloof. And, you know, as he was with us when we invaded the backstage area (laughs). So the weird thing was, they all got into the limousine and I guess the whole thing, once they come into the alleyway, that whole little thing, probably took about five minutes, you know – Neil had his conversation with Gary and they all got in a limousine and the limo reversed because there was no room for the limousine to turn around, that’ll tell you how narrow this alleyway was. They reversed out onto the main road and they were gone. Now, I had the strangest – it was kind of a strange feeling it left me with. It was only one of those kinds of ‘someone walks across your future’, I won’t say walks across your grave – but someone walks across your future. And you know, I obviously five years time from then I would meet all those people again. (With the exception, of course, of Gary and David Byron); And all of them would reveal themselves to be exactly the same as they revealed themselves to me that night in that alleyway. You know, Gerry Bron and Ken would be aloof with me forever. Mick and Lee were just lovely, they were kind of like brothers – brothers in the way that they interacted. It was almost like they were brought up in the same house -you know, they had the same kind of sense of humor and same way of speaking. And yeah, so it’s just an interesting thing that they were all exactly how I met them back in 74. But you know, life is strange sometimes.
Did you ever share that story with them once you got in the band?
No, no, I didn’t. I told Heep’s tour manager – Chris Healey. I don’t know whether you’ve ever heard about Chris, he was the legendary tour manager for years and years. Chris just laughed and laughed and said, ‘That’s a fantastic story’. I said, well It’s absolutely true. ‘You got to tell Mick.’ And so the whole time in the band I didn’t say anything to Mick, and I really don’t know why I didn’t. It’s almost like I had other things to think about (laughs). And but yeah, that’s exactly how it was. Unfortunately, Neil, who was the instigator of the whole thing. he is no longer with us, It’s a lovely memory from my teens. And you can imagine what it was like – how Neil was when I joined Heep. He just couldn’t believe it, you know!?
I want to talk a bit about making the album. The band had started songs with John Lawton prior to you, and a couple of those made it onto the album and then you brought in two songs as well. So I’m kind of curious, and I don’t know if you can answer the whole thing, but how your songs ended up on the album and how you weren’t credited?
Well, firstly when I joined Heep – and at first they just thought that I was a singer and I played some guitar and some piano. And for instance, when Lee was fired his drum kit stayed on the studio floor for several days, and eventually I piped up and said, ‘I can play drums. Do you want me to play some drums so you can routine some of the songs?’ And of course, they all looked at me like I was nuts. And then eventually they just shrugged and said ‘Yeah sure, go on then’. So for an afternoon, I sat on Lee’s drum kit, his stainless steel Ludwig drum kit, and I was the stand-in drummer for Uriah Heep. You can imagine if that happened today social media would have been full of images, but nobody recorded anything – nobody took any photographs. But that’s the truth. So anyway, what I’m saying is, bit by bit they were learning that I have more to me than just the singer. Then one day we were in the process of recording songs, you know they had done the backing tracks, and I sat there at the piano just having a little noodle as I did from time to time, and I started playing “No Return”, just the figure from the verse. And “No Return” and “Won’t Have To Wait Too Long”. these two songs, I’d written in Canada when we were there the previous summer. So I was just playing it and Chris Slade happens to be sat on his drum kit at the time when I was playing it, and Chris looked over and said, ‘What was that?’ and I said, Oh, it’s just one of the songs I was doing in Canada’. So then Chris joined in. Then of course, Mick plugged his guitar in, and as soon as Mick started playing it sounded like a potential Heep track because whatever track Mick adds his guitar to, because his playing is so distinctive, it sounded like a Heep track. And then, of course, Ken started playing, you know, adding his Hammond. So anyway, so that’s how it happened. And then we put that track down, then the guys realizing I could write said ‘what else have you got?’ So I then threw “Won’t Have To Wait Too Long”, which I don’t think was right for Heep anyway. So we recorded a version of it and it made the album. So anyway, so here I am. I’ve got 2 tracks on a Uriah Heep album, and I’m thinking ‘Well, this is good – you know, things are looking really very positive.’ And suddenly I felt like, ‘Well, I’m getting into a better position here than I was previous’. Because as I’m sure you know, there was a lot of pushback, resistance you know, from my being in the band in the first place, especially from Ken. So anyway, one day I get called upstairs up into Bronze Records because, you know, Bronze Records, the label was directly above the Roundhouse Studios. I get called upstairs to a meeting with Gerry Bron and Bronze’s internal lawyer, a guy called Irving Teitelbaum. So, basically, on the one hand, they’re congratulating me on getting two songs on the Heep album. But then in the next step they tell me that CBS has been in touch and CBS were taking up the option on the contract that they had signed with Lone Star, which basically was binding whether we stayed together as a band or we split in to solo artists. It was what was known as ‘joint and several’. So basically, it looked like I was still signed to CBS. So I just said ‘well what’s going to happen to the songs?’ Gerry and this lawyer say, ‘Well, if you put your name to the song, the royalties will go to CBS because they will go towards the Lone Star debt – the debt that had been run up by the band when they were signed. I said to the lawyer, ‘How much is the Lone Star debt?’ And bare in mind now this is 1980. And the lawyer looked at me and said, £90000, ( Me – wow!). Yeah, really. So I was just 22 at the time. I could have bought the entire street where I was born for 90 grand! So anyway, I obviously thought ‘Well, I’m doomed, it over!’ And the lawyer said ‘There is one way around it and that is that if you put the other guys in the band names to the songs and the royalties will be paid to you’. Now this is what happened. So I told Gerry and Irving ,that if that’s the choice I said, ‘I want people to know that I have written these songs. I want my name on my songs.’ That’s what I told them. So we’re along six weeks and we’re just about to go on stage at Hammersmith Odeon, it was Valentine’s Day 1980, my first tour and a box of Conquest albums had arrived backstage. So, you know, all the band are just taking a copy of the album and reading all the credits and stuff. And I take a copy out and I look and I see that my songs have been credited to Mick, Trevor and Ken. And not only that, they were assigned to Ken’s publishing company, so which of course, made Ken the publisher of my songs! So I was really angry, really upset, and I felt like I’d been screwed over – Not by Mick and Trevor I might add, I’d been screwed over by Ken because it turned out when we were in rehearsals for the tour, Ken had walked into the pool room, (you know – the games room that you have in the rehearsal room) And I wasn’t in the room, but he had a song assignment and he asked the guys to sign this song assignment, signing my songs over to his company. And the guys said ‘does John know about this?’ And he said – ‘Yes’. And so they signed their name to my songs thinking I knew about it. And then the royalties would he paid me as per what that lawyer suggested to happen. So that’s what happened with my songs. Not one penny did I ever receive for Conquest, when the vinyl came out. I’m not saying that Mick or Trevor had my royalties. I don’t believe for one second they did. They were, I guess you could say they were just innocent in the whole thing. But, you know, Ken was not so innocent. And his publishing company had the publisher’s share. And well, you know, what can I tell you? And when Conquest came out on CD 14 years later, I decided that I was going to get my songs back, get my name back on my songs. That took me another four years to get my songs back. And the guys said that I didn’t write the songs, and then they said that they’d bought me out. It was all complete and utter bullshit! So all the negativity that I feel about Uriah Heep is mostly to do with what happened after I left the band. You know, the stuff that happened with my songs, of course, I’d only been in the band two or three months at that point, and of course, that destroyed me. And what I’m saying is – In spite of that, I still was able to continue with the band. But of course, I was always looking over my shoulder as far as Ken Hensley was concerned. But then the stuff that happened after I left the band is really the main reason why I stayed away from Uriah Heep and anything to do with Uriah Heep all these years, because a lot of the negativity around me, I mean, hey Kevin – if fans don’t like what I do -well I accept that, you know!? We all have opinions. I don’t think fans realize what I had to deal with when I was with the band and some of the utter crap I had to deal with when I was there, you know they almost tried to blame me for Conquest, which was ridiculous because Conquest was 70 percent recorded when I joined the band. So it was a tough time. And as a result, I decided to kind of screen off that whole period so I wouldn’t have to talk about it. And really it’s only now, I guess in the last couple of years because I had written a book where I’ve addressed a lot of this stuff because I thought ‘You know what? I’ve got let out some ghosts here; so that’s what I’ve done. And by way of waving goodbye to it once and for all.
The way the Heep history goes, it kind of made things sound like Conquest was a crash and burn period because of you. And that album never got a North American release, which I found kind of odd …
Yeah, I did not understand it at all. It was a bit like we had a tour with Lone Star planned and we rehearsed at this place called Manticore Cinema in London; this amazing place that was owned by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. And we were due to do a North American tour and you know when you get that feeling when somewhere out there a plug is being pulled and you don’t know why(?) And so Lone Star never made it to North America, even though we rehearsed ready for it, you know!? The same goes with Heep – the album didn’t get a release in America, and there was no dates in America when I was with them. I never understood that because Heep were a successful band, and they had a successful period in America. And I thought and taken for granted that ‘We’re going to end up touring the States’ – but it didn’t happen, very strange! So I felt that, like I said a moment ago, that sense that the plug is being pulled on stuff, but no one is explaining why.
It’s just a great shame. I mean, I heard various stories. After I left Heep actually, my very long term girlfriend, she was also in the business and I continued to hear lots of news about Heep, through the grapevine because she was in the business and, you know, you couldn’t help but hear what was going down. Oh, and also my manager who managed my solo stuff while I was signed to EMI – we then fell out, and guess who he ended up managing? Uriah Heep! So it didn’t help that my ex-manager ended up managing Heep. So it was a lot of negativity stirred up all over again. But I have to say I had a lot of respect for what Mick did, because when the band kind of fell apart after, you know, the Conquest line up, he went around America in a van or small bus, and he built the whole thing back up again. And you’ve got to respect that. I know that Heep really is Mick’s band, it always was, wasn’t it? He was kind of the mainstay, I think anyway. Even though Ken was the main writer, I always felt that the spirit of Uriah Heep was Mick Box. And I thought ‘Wow, the fact that he’s gone out and built the whole thing up again’. And I guess it’s hard to let go of something when you’ve spent, well all of your life.
Going back to your audition, I read some comments somewhere where you thought you had a bad audition, So I wonder with all the confusion (Ken wanting Peter Goalby), how it all went about that it was eventually decided.
Well, yeah, I get the impression that like Trevor told me that time when I went and stayed with Trevor after I just came back from Canada in 79, and the whole thing was first put to me ( if you like) about, joining the band. When Trevor said to me ‘Look, you know Heep are not a happy ship.’. So maybe then maybe there was always that conflict in Uriah Heep!? And so when it came to making decisions, they were not as one, you know? Maybe that’s just how it always was — They just couldn’t agree on stuff. You know the story with the first day I showed up to start doing the Conquest recording and there was a meeting convened upstairs in Bronze and I wasn’t included in the meeting. And I thought they were going to have a meeting to change their mind about having me in the band. So they left me downstairs in the studio just noodling away on the piano. The next thing you know, here comes Lee walking towards me and I said Hi Lee, and he says ‘cheers mate, I’m off – I’m going.’ And I’m ‘Where are you going?’, and he said ‘I’ve just been fired.’ What!!? And so that was it, that was the first day I recorded on Conquest. So imagine being me at 22, and I had to either jump through all these fiery hoops anyway, and Trevor has told me that the band is not a happy ship, so now the guy that I grew up listening to, who played on all those – some of the classic Heep albums has just been fired on the first day that I’m doing the album with them! So you know, I had to watch my back. I really, really had to watch my back.
And we were away one time on an Italian tour, and we were in a nightclub – all of us, the band and Ken’s girlfriend were there. I got up and went to the bathroom; I came out of the bathroom and Ken’s girlfriend was stood there and she looks at me as she goes ‘Hi John’, and said ‘How ya doin’, (I won’t say her name). And she engages me in some kind of small talk for a second. I thought she was there waiting for Ken, you know. And so she then, out of the blue says to me ‘John, I went to a clairvoyant and he told me that you and I are going to have an affair. Are you man enough?’ Now, this is Ken’s girlfriend, so I looked at her and I just smiled and walked away because, now I was 22, but I’d been around, and I had the feeling that something wasn’t right about that. What I’m saying is I felt like I was being set up, because Ken, and I don’t want to put too fine a point on it – but he literally hated the sight of me. He definitely hated the sound of me. And so I to this day, I always thought that Ken put her up to it. Because imagine if I said to her ‘OK, sure’. Then all she has to do is go back to Ken and and say ‘Yeah, John says he will.’ And then Ken has suddenly got a bloody good reason to get me fired from the band. So that was the kind of atmosphere that prevailed while I was in Heep. There was this kind of intrigue; there was this prevailing sense of ‘Hey, I better watch my back’. But luckily, the longer I was in the band, the closer I got to Trevor Bolder, the closer I got to Chris Slade, and Chris ended up managing me briefly after Heep, by the way. And so, and of course, Mick as well. So what happened (was) Ken ended up being kind of over there, even though he was a mainstay of the band..
He was the odd one out!?
Well, yeah, but how strange. Because I knew about Ken. I knew that he’d written all this stuff. Ken was writing great material when I was still in school. So I I had respect for what Ken had done. There was never, we never had an argument. I’ve read stuff on the back of, you know, sleeve notes of reissues talking about personality clashes. We never had one cross-word, basically because Ken never really talked to me. I remember at my audition, he said to me ‘Are you nervous?’ , and I nodded because I was so nervous because I knew what I was walking into by this time. You know when you’re so nervous that you can’t hide it? And bare in mind that I was a really young guy at this point. And so I just nodded and I said ‘Yeah I am.’ And Ken’s eyes widened and he just went – ‘Well, don’t be!’ And I just thought well, OK, I think I know you and I are never going to be buddies. It’s a shame, because you know what? I wish we’d had that moment where I could have run into him in a bar and bury the hatchet. And there’s a few people in the business that there have been stuff where I thought, ‘You know, I hope one day I run into him so I can settle that and we can maybe shake hands and have a beer and just say ‘OK, that was then – let’s leave it where it is in the past.’ Yeah, but unfortunately, you know, I never, ever ran into Ken. Yeah. And but he continued to run me down in various interviews and stuff for years after.
The whole myth kind of got blown bigger after you left, obviously. And even with the internet, with more interviews, that there was all these issues.
Yeah. And for years I didn’t have a right of reply because the internet was in it’s infancy, and my brother Robert, who was the first in my family to get online. And so he would come across a lot of this negativity about my time in Heep, and he would then call me up really pissed off ‘Hey you won’t believe what they’re saying about you John!’ And in the end I just had to kind of cut myself off from it because it could because it make you quite sick when all you’re hearing about is negativity. You know if people have opinions, I’m cool with that. Like I said, fans of the band(?) – no problem, you know!? But I mean, everyone’s got their opinion of who should be in a band. But it was just the fact that it was strictly one way traffic with Ken and. And so in the end I just had to pull the shutters down, batten down the hatches.
So was there anything else other than No Return and Won’t Have To Wait that you brought in to the you guys had tried out or maybe put to tape?
Not really. No. I think I just felt that I would just quit while I was ahead. I didn’t expect to get any material on the album, It was just a massive, unexpected event, you know. And “No Return” – they really liked “No Return”. And then they just said ‘Well, what else have you got?’ And I just I thought ‘Well, what else did I do in make in Canada? So I pulled out “Won’t Have To Wait Too Long”. But no, there was nothing else that I was going to play the Heep guys at that point. Because of the whole situation around me, you know, the auditions and what have you. And the fact that I knew how Ken felt, I just thought ‘I don’t want to push my luck.’ And when we did it, when we did those two songs, we recorded them and I remember thinking at the time “No Return” sounded particularly good. It was a particularly good version, but I thought, Well, you know, I’m not going to hold my breath. I’m not going to say I’m not going to count my chickens that that is going to be on the album. I just thought, Well, we recorded it – we’ll see if that makes the final cut. I was really, really surprised that both of my songs ended up making the album, you know!? Because I thought at the time, because of the kind of writer that Ken was, I thought ‘Well Ken must have like 50 songs just sitting in his drawer at home that he could’ve just pulled up.’ But maybe he didn’t, you know, maybe he was going through a period where he didn’t have a lot of material. So that’s why it was allowed for me to nudge those songs into the into the repertoire.
Yeah, I mean, that was a strange period, I guess, for him. And then you had Trevor as well put in a couple of songs, so.
Oh yeah. Trevor – Trevor was a really good writer. As you know he did “Fools” and “It Ain’t Easy”. But not only that, I mean Trevor could write in a lot of different genres like I could. And so one moment he could do a really nice ballad and the next thing he could say ‘I’ve got this AC/DC kind of guitar, you know, three piece four on the floor drum groove.’ And AC/DC were just happening at the time I was in Heep and Trevor was a huge fan of AC/DC.
Do you recall what happened to the version of him singing It Ain’t Easy? (On the on the album credits he was credited with singing It Ain’t Easy, but it’s obviously you)
Yeah, I I’m laughing now! But at the time it was really, really awful. I mean, Trevor and myself – we became really close friends quite quickly. We had exactly the same take on music, and I think on a lot of things. We were just friends, you know – straight away. And so when it came the night I found out that my songs weren’t credited to me and the whole thing with “It Ain’t Easy” being credited as Trevor having sung it. So I found out on Valentine’s night, which is the night we did Hammersmith Odeon. And none of us had seen the album cover yet. We were told – ‘Oh yeah there’ll be a box of albums in the dressing room for you guys, to take one each’. It was about an hour before we’d be going on stage and all the others helped themselves to an album, so I went over there and pulled out the album, and of course I saw my songs credited to Box/Bolder & Hensley, and I was stewing from that when I saw that Trevor was credited with singing “It Ain’t Easy”. And that was really difficult for me because Trevor and I were really close, even by this time. So Trevor just looked at me, put his hands up and ‘John I have no idea what the Hell’s going on here!’ And I said ‘I don’t get it either because Gerry was actually in the studio when I recorded It Ain’t Easy.’ And he was very very complimentary to me about how I sang it, because if you notice it kind of stands alone – the voice I used on “It Ain’t Easy”; it doesn’t have any kind of ‘rock histrionics’ or anything, I just sang it as a really straight ballad, because it’s such a nice song. So I really don’t get it – obviously Trevor had nothing to do with it, so I hate to say it, but I wonder if whoever did the credits on the album made that error. And of course people have always said to me ‘Hey John – what’s the deal with It Ain’t Easy – that’s you isn’t it?’ And of course, once the credits are on an album – you try changing them once that album’s been released! And I was really upset that night, about the whole thing. As you can imagine finding out my vocal performance on “It Ain’t Easy” being credited to Trevor was like kind like adding insult to injury, after what they’d done with my songs. And of course I was told ‘Well we’ll change it John when we do another run of the albums.’ , but of course it was never changed! And I can’t remember if it was ever changed on the CD; it took me a few years to get my songs credited to me on the CD. And again, the sleeve notes on the CD (I can’t remember who wrote them), but it was anything but complimentary (laughs). I just felt like – this was 14 years after I’d been in the band and I’m still getting kicked around by this. So having looked at the CD, that’s when I thought I’m going to get my songs back, so that’s when I got myself a lawyer, and of course it was 14 years too late, really. And I do not hold Trevor responsible for that, at all!
I have the 2000 edition of the CD, and it still mentions Trevor singing it.
(Laughs) – OK, it’s a weird one. I’m talking 1994, when I got my lawyer and then stuck to my guns. It took me a few years to get my songs re-credited to me, but because of the statute of limitations on legal claims I was only entitled to receive royalties that had accrued over the previous 6 years. And of course that meant that I had no entitlement to royalties on the vinyl release, which of course was the one that would’ve made the most money.
Was there a take with Trevor actually singing it?
Not as far as I know. That’s a good question. I wonder; that would be very interesting. I remember that Trevor had a Revox at home, because he had a music room in his house, and he and I would be in there, and generally as it’d work out I’d be playing a Fender Rhodes and he’d be playing a guitar, would you believe – that’s how he’d write. And whatever we came up with, we’d demo on this little Revox that he had, and that would subsequently be played to the band. So I’m wondering if that’s the way that Trevor presented “It Ain’t Easy”(?). I’m sure he would’ve just recorded it on his Fender Rhodes and sang a version of it on the Revox. But that is an interesting question. It’s somewhere buried in all the Heep stuff. It would be an interesting curiosity, wouldn’t it!?
Fans have always been under the impression that there was another take of it with Trevor (singing), and it was just changed (or whatever) later on in the recordings.
I’d never really considered the possibility that Trevor may have actually sung it once. And that things just got lost in translation over the months at that particular time. I mean it’s more likely that in amongst Trevor’s personal music affects there might be an old school cassette or a Revox reel to reel of some demos, and that’s possibly where you’ll find a version of Trevor singing that. And amongst other things.
There was a Trevor Bolder solo album released last year .
Trevor was a very interesting guy – his time with Bowie. It was quite a wide ranging musical experience he had from Bowie in to Heep. Just the Bowie stuff alone, of course, being involved in the Bowie albums and then to be in Heep – it would have formed his writing in a positive way, that’s for sure. But he told me lots of great stuff about being with Bowie. I remember when he told me Bowie came in to the studio one day and just said ‘OK I’ve got this idea – I’m going to be Ziggy Stardust and you guys are going to be the Spiders From Mars.’ And Trevor told me ‘we just all fell about laughing – we laughed at it, and said you’ve got to be kidding!?’ and he said ‘No, I’m serious guys. This is going to be a thing.’ There was also the time when they were doing “Jean Geanie” – the solo on “Jean Genie”, and when it came time to doing the solo section, Mick Ronson just plays that one note (John mimics it). And what he was doing was getting the sound on his guitar – that’s all he was doing, but what happened though was it was recorded and the producer (Visconti) said ‘Yeah, that’s it Mick.’ And Ronson said ‘what are you talking about? I was just messing around.’ and he said ‘No, that was perfect.’ And I just think that’s amazing, because it’s perfect for the track, and you couldn’t imagine a regular guitar solo on it once you’ve heard that one-note guitar solo. It’s just etched in to your memory.
You were around for Ken’s departure, and I kind of want to get your version of how it went down.
It’s kind of like – I could sense the distance between him and guys as well; so it wasn’t just the distance between Ken and myself – which I’d just accepted that that’s the way it was. I joined in October of ’79, and I think Ken left around the following August. So in that period of 10 months (or whatever) Ken became more and more distant. He would bring songs to rehearsal, and they were not the most Heep sounding songs anyway. And looking back now I can see that Ken was probably looking at himself as more of a solo artist than a member of Heep, and it was long before I started to think along those lines myself. So maybe I recognized that in Ken – that he was almost putting together his exit strategy. One night Trevor invited myself and my then-girlfriend, and Ken and his girlfriend over to Trevor’s for dinner. Now by this time – myself and my girlfriend and Trevor and his wife were really good friends. We spent a lot of time over at Trevor’s, and we’d often go over for dinner. We were like a pretty solid four-some, you know. So anyway, in to this solid four-some comes Ken and his girlfriend one night, and we all meet over at Trevor’s. It’s a little strange because we’d never done this before. So we’re having drinks and just generally trying to loosen things up a bit. We ended up at the table, having dinner, and Trevor’s wife Anne was a particularly good cook and she cooked a real lovely dinner, I remember. But during dinner the conversation was always slightly strained. And when we were having dessert, and believe it or not, after all these years I can remember what we had for dessert – we had strawberries and cream. Very English – strawberries and cream. We sat there and we were trying to have this conversation, and the conversation’s flowing in this fairly awkward situation. And while we’ll all eating our strawberries and cream – you know (like) one of those lamps that hang low over the dinner table that people used to have – especially in the 70s. There was a moth flying around this lamp, the whole time we were having our dessert. And I noticed it, and everyone was noticing this damn moth, but no one wanted to kill this moth or anything, we were just trying to ignore it. So anyway the conversation is kind of getting more intense, and it’s almost like this month is picking up on this intensity and the moth is circling the lamp faster and faster the more tense the conversation gets. And eventually the moth dies and falls straight in to Ken’s strawberries and cream! And I guarantee you ALL of us wanted to dig it out of Ken’s strawberries and cream – ‘let me get that for you Ken.’ because he was the last guy in the room that we wanted that to happen to. So that was the kind of tension there was socially. And that was the only social occasion during my whole period in Heep that I ever ever had that involved Ken. Yeah we’d all be in the bar as a band, but I’m talking away from the band. So we’re in to August and I’ve done my bits and pieces with UFO, and Mick is still recovering with his hand from having a minor car accident, which is why I did the solo on “Think It Over”. So we get a call, all of us, to meet up at Bronze Records, and have a meeting with Ken. So, I kid you not, we didn’t think this was going to be anything more than ‘hey let’s get together and discuss what we’re going to do.’ So we all go up to the boardroom at Bronze. And I remember that Ken had fitted himself out in a brand new wardrobe, and he’d kind of changed his appearance. And you know when people do that they usually plan on making a few other changes in their life? From my experience. And that’s the first thing I noticed ‘wow Ken’s done something new to his hair and he’s wearing a completely new wardrobe of clothes.’ So we go in the boardroom, and we’re all just sitting around, waiting, and having a general chit-chat about what we’re going to do. And then Ken just went in to this whole spiel and said ‘Look guys – I’ve thought about this long and hard, and I’ve decided that I’m going to leave the band.’ I kid you not – there was complete silence. I shudder to think what it was like for Mick to hear those words. Because for him and Ken, for whatever happened personally, they worked together threw all the halcyon days of Heep, back in the early 70s. So Mick must’ve thought ‘F**k . well what now!?’ And regardless of Ken and how he felt about me I felt the same, I thought ‘Well this is over now, surely!? There’s no way that Heep are going to continue without Ken.’ – That was my thought. I knew about the band back in their glory days and everybody knew that Ken Hensley was the mainstay of the band – material-wise. So yeah, I thought ‘this is over!’ And then Ken got up and promptly left, and we just sat there fairly shell-shocked. And they had no ideas at all about who they could replace Ken with, because I think for someone like Mick, when you’ve been in a band that’s rock solid, and I know Heep changed singers and what have you, but for Ken to go!? I am sure that was one person Mick never thought he’d have to consider a replacement for. So weeks went by – weeks and weeks where the only person I remember being mentioned as a possible replacement was Morgan Fischer from Mott (Mott The Hoople). At the time I wondered where did that come from, the connection!? But of course, it must’ve had something to do with the Bowie connection because Bowie wrote ‘All The Young Dudes’ for Mott The Hoople, and obviously Trevor would’ve known Morgan Fischer through that. So I’m assuming that was the connection. So the better part of a month went by with nothing happening, and again we were in the boardroom, and I said ‘Look guys I know someone, but he lives in Canada.’ And I knew loads of great players, but to know a great player who had a great voice was a tall order. So Mick and Trevor said ‘well that’s not a problem. Is he good?’ and I said ‘yeah, he’s amazing! He’s an amazing musician, he’s got a great voice, and he looks the part too!’ And they didn’t hesitate. I was really amazed. They said ‘well let’s get him over.’ So I called him that Thursday from Bronze. I remember I used Chris Healey’s phone. And of course Gregg was up for it. And pretty soon he came over, within a week I think.
A strange period then!?
It really was, because Lee going – even though I hardly knew Lee, I knew his contribution to the band, so that was my first shock – when Lee went on the very first day I was to start Conquest. That was a big deal. I thought ‘wow! if they’ll get rid of Lee – they’ll get rid of anybody!’ But then for Ken to go I genuinely thought ‘this is never ever going to work without Ken.’ It sounds silly, but at the time I thought ‘well this is like Deep Purple without Jon Lord.’ But of course, a terrible thing happened to him, and they continued with Don Airey, and have been going a number of years without Jon Lord. So there are ways around these things. But as far as the band being the same as before, I figured it was highly unlikely. It was going to be a different band with a different guy on keys – whoever we got in. The way I saw it Kevin, at this time what happened was we had the opportunity to go down to Rock City (I don’t know if you’ve heard about this), but Chris Slade had an interest in a studio down in Shepperton, it was a studio based on the locks there called Rock City and his Earthband partner / bass player Colin Pattenden was also a business partner in this studio. So Heep got some recording time down there, and we really liked it. We were away from Bronze Records and away from Roundhouse Studios where Heep had done all their albums for so long, and it was kind of like a breathe of fresh air, you know!? We were out of the city and we had Gregg in the band, and there was this sense of – and I know this was a few years before what Yes did, but when they got Trevor Rabin in and the way they re-invented themselves as a band, and then launched themselves on to the ’80s, basically as a completely different entity – and were very successful, in spite of what people thought was going to happen. And really that’s what I was thinking at the time, and Trevor too – this could be an opportunity to re-think the band and launch what was considered to be a 70s band on to a new decade. And so Chris Slade took some of the tracks that we’d recorded at Rock City, and he was going over to Germany for something (can’t remember what it was; I think it was a trade show, because he was involved with Staccato drums). So while he was in Germany he played someone at a German label our tracks that we’d recorded at Rock City, and this guy at this label flipped, and the guy said ‘well who is this?’, and Chris said ‘I can’t tell you who it is because they’re involved with another label.’ And the guy from the German record label says ‘Regardless of who it is I’d like to offer a record deal based on the tracks that I’ve heard.’ So Chris never told this guy that it was Uriah Heep. He then came back to London and got us all together and said ‘Listen guys a label has offered us a deal in Germany, and they don’t even know who the band is yet!’ And I’m sure if this label found out it was Uriah Heep, who were huge in Germany, they would’ve offered an even better deal on that basis. But what happened was Mick wasn’t keen on doing it, and I kind of understand because Mick had seen his whole world (really) falling apart or changing, (at the very least) drastically — Lee, his long-term friend is gone, then Ken, and now he was recording in a different studio than the Roundhouse, with the possibility of a completely new record contract, and label – away from Gerry. So I completely understand why Mick didn’t want to do it. But you know what – I think if we’d done that the outcome would’ve been completely different.
Yeah, the band probably needed a new start at that point.
Yeah, and I think that possibly the band wouldn’t have broken up, and that particular line-up may have stayed together for a few years, because it would’ve felt like a totally new band – with, obviously, only Mick left as a founder-member. But the tracks that we did down at Rock City were really good. They sounded fresh. And if you knew that they were Heep you’d say ‘Oh yeah I can hear Heep’, but I think if you weren’t told it was Heep you may not have been able to put your finger on who it was. The thing of course is Mick’s guitar playing.
Did you keep a copy of the tapes?
Uhh.. (trying to think)..I don’t have the stuff from Rock City, unfortunately. What happened was Gerry came down one day to Rock City, by which time he must’ve got wind of something in the air, so he came down to Rock City (and) before you know it we were back at the Roundhouse – working on the stuff that we’d started at Rock City, and our brief kind of sabbatical (if you like) from Bronze Records and the Roundhouse Studios was over. So, the recordings that people talk about as being the precursors to the Abominog recordings with me still on them, and obviously Gregg and Chris they were started at Rock City and we reworked them at the Roundhouse, and I couldn’t tell you what we kept and didn’t keep. And some of the songs ended up being played on that last tour, at the end of 1980 – “Only Yourself To Blame” and “Taking It All The Way”, stuff like that. Those songs sounded good live, they really did work. But in the end I just ended up with a few mixed tapes from the sessions. I’ve got a few of those in the cupboard, stored away, but I’ve never played them.
Is that something you would ever like to see released?
I’ll tell you why I’d be nervous about it, was because it was the sound of a band in it’s death-throws really. My heart wasn’t in it at this point, and I began to bring songs in to the studio that really had no business being on a Uriah Heep album. But what it was I was thinking ‘well what else can we record?’ There was this sense of ‘what else do you got, guys?’ And at this time, and I didn’t realize it, but I was already subconsciously. thinking about doing my own thing. So when I think of a lot of the stuff we recorded at that time I just have a little shudder – Oh God, that was not a happy period. I wasn’t singing well, plus a lot of the songs just didn’t suit, a lot of the stuff we brought in. There was a great song from Gregg called “I Never Want To Be Without Your Love”, and I think Gregg actually sang the vocal on that – and that’s really great. And that would’ve absolutely made the album. I imagine that Gregg has done that live himself, with the bands he’s put together since.
Think It Over and Inside Out – were those actually rehearsed with Ken, or were those new once Ken had gone?
“Think It Over” came out of me and Trevor, over at his place. This was during a period where we had broken off in to writing factions within the band. Mick didn’t necessarily write, he would kind of put his 2 pents in once the song was kind of written. Ken would always write alone. And Chris wasn’t writing at this point. So I had the piano intro thing, I had the basic chords, and I played it to Trevor one day over at his place, and Trevor really liked it, and Trevor came up with the ‘da da da da – da du dum – da da dah’ on guitar. So what happened was we were rehearsing at a place called Jumbo Management [laughs] – a strange name for a rehearsal space. We were rehearsing and writing new material for a week or 2 in the summer, and I drove off with Trevor at the end of the day, and Mick drove off on his own to go home, and later that day I got a call to say that Mick had been involved in this minor car accident, and injured his hand. So he was going to be out of action for a few months. So that’s how I came to do a lot of demos down at Rock City, and that’s how I came to do the guitar solo on “Think It Over” – down at Rock City, that was, and a few other bits and pieces. And meanwhile Ken was no where to be seen. I often asked myself ‘why wasn’t Ken there?’ But he wasn’t; he was off doing his own thing. And he just left us to demo our songs that we were writing – which of course is not a good sign if you’re in the same band. “Inside Out” – that was a song I’d written in early ’79, before I went to Canada. I had an old upright piano in my parent’s house, in a little room, and it was awful, it was out of tune, you could barely hear what key I was playing in. So, I wrote quite a few songs – I wrote “Won’t Have To Wait Too Long” on that. And when I was going to do the audition for Heep I pulled out the lyrics to “July Morning” on the inside sleeve of my copy of Look At Yourself , and I learned “July Morning” while accompanying myself on that old out of tune piano. Anyway, I wrote “Inside Out” on that the previous year. And that became “My Joanna Needs Tuning”. “My Joanna” – which is Cockney rhyming slang for piano, which is why it was called “My Joanna” – “My Piano Needs Tuning” [laughs]
Just to clarify – the single ‘Think It Over’ came out with “My Joanna” on the back of it. So my question is did either song begin with Ken and just re-done with Gregg?
I remember recording “My Joanna” with Ken, I remember doing that because I remember Ken playing that ‘dah dah dah’ on his Hammond, and I thought ‘Wow, that sounds really great!’ That must’ve been recorded earlier on for Ken to put his Hammond on it. But Ken was no where near “Think It Over”, he didn’t play on that at all. But yeah, there is a Hammond version with Ken playing, and I played piano on it – the same set-up as when we did “No Return”.
Regarding your departure – was it harder to leave because it was a big name band or was it easier to leave because it was such a mess?
That’s a good question! I will say that once I was in Heep, I didn’t think that I was in a major band, they just became people, and most of them I really liked, and as you know, Ken and I were just not an item (laughs). It just became personal – that’s my point. It became a group of people, a group of guys, and I didn’t think any more than ‘Oh this is Uriah Heep who did this, and who did Magicians Birthday‘ , or whatever. They were a major band when I was in school. I didn’t think about all that. I was too busy having personal relationships with them. You know, soon after you join a band it becomes all about the personal relationships quite quickly; otherwise it’s not going to work. So, as the end of 1980 was coming in to view, it bothered me greatly, especially as we came in to 1981 and we were back at the Roundhouse, which was a fairly soulless kind of studio . It wasn’t conducive to the creative spark, you know!? Like you go in to some studios and you think ‘wow this is great’. They’ve got a wonderful set-up, and you relax immediately and you feel creative where at the Roundhouse – it was more like going in to an office. That’s really how it was, really cold. Cold and clinical. So there we were back there, and there was a sense of ‘OK what songs have we got?’ So I was just pulling up all these songs that I’d written a year or 2 before I was even in Heep. And I knew that as I was taking it in to the guys – ‘Oh what am I doing?’ And meanwhile I started, I would write the odd song by myself, and I would sit on it for a week or so, and think ‘that’s good! .. Should I play that to..’ . And i played one to Trevor one day and I remember Trevor saying to me ‘I like it John. Where do I get to do my bit?’ And it kind of reminded me – ‘oh yeah, I’m in a writing relationship with Trevor’. And I’d just presented a finished song. You know, I wasn’t fully conscience of what was happening to me at that point. It wasn’t til Trevor said what he said that I thought “Oh God I’m writing whole songs, suddenly’. So something must’ve been going on on a sub-conscience, and Trevor helped me to see that. ‘Something’s changing here.’ So we recorded a version of that song; that was a song called “Falling” . So over a period of weeks I started telling my girlfriend, and she was in the business too, so she understood what could happen. And I kind of discussed it with her a few times. – ‘I really don’t feel good about continuing with the band. I feel like I want to do my own thing.’ And then there was a meeting one day, a new contract was presented to the band. Gerry waited for everyone to sign this new contract, and then revealed that because of some debt that the band had run up with the record label – that the band needed to take a cut in wages. And I thought that that was a pretty rude stroke. Now I was a young guy, and Trevor was a little older than me and he had a wife and young family and a mortgage to think about. Where as I was 22 and just living in a cheap apartment, myself and my girlfriend. Not that I’m saying we could just take it on the chin and think nothing of it, but it was just a rude stroke – what Gerry did. And Trevor, I remember he hit the roof, because he realized this was going to have a massive effect on his life. So this all fed in to my sense of ‘this is not a happy ship.’ What kept things floating prior to this was we were kind of happy in our work, even though Ken was over there and there was a sense of something good or positive was in it, and then suddenly, I didn’t think that the creativity was there and then there was this contract situation with Gerry – and that was it for me! I just thought this just seems to be a running theme within the Heep camp where there’s always a stroke, So one night I was at home and my girlfriend was out, and she knew that I was going to leave Heep. And I called up Trevor and I just said ‘Hey Trevor can I come up and see you?’ And Trevor lived about an hour’s drive away, right over on the other side of London. It was a Saturday night, I remember it well. I walked a considerable part of the way because I was so nervous about talking to Trevor about it that I wanted to take as long as possible to get over to Trevor’s place (laughs). So I walked for about an hour, and in the end I flagged a London cab to take me the rest of the way. So I knocked on the door, Trevor answered the door with this knowing look on his face. And 3 minutes later we sat at the dinner table where we’d had dinner with Ken and what have you, and had many happy times. And I told Trevor and he just looked at me straight away, and ‘I knew it the moment you said you wanted to come over.’ So we had a drink that night and sat for an hour or 2, and I just left. It was awful because those guys, like I said earlier, had become friends – Gregg was already a friend, Trevor had become a friend, Mick I was very fond of, and Chris had become a friend. And Chris, after Heep, would go on to manage me, and for many years he was like a mentor. Chris was ten years older than me, and Chris became a very important person in my life. So that’s how it happened. So all the negativity about my time in the band – that happened after I was in the band . In the December before I left I had to have a tonsillectomy because of various issues with my throat during that year. I got tonsillitis, and I had digestive problems that were causing all manner of problems with my throat – acid reflux, everything. I eventually had my tonsils removed in December, and after I’d Ieft the band Gerry Bron refused to pay the bill [laughs]. We were on a medical insurance plan, and Gerry refused to pay the bill. which was awful. And he held out for about a month, refusing to pay the bill, which only assured to convince me that I’d made the right decision to leave the band. So he eventually agreed to pay the bill, and it was on our medical insurance thing. So that started the whole negative thing about me. Then about 2 months later, I was living in London, and all the musicians around London were saying ‘Hey John we heard you were fired from Heep.’ And I was ‘What do you mean? Far from it, I left.’ So that circulated for a long long time. And people to this day still believe that I was fired. So I’m afraid that’s how it was. But I’ll give you a footnote here many many years later I opened for the guy who wrote “Come Away Melinda” (ed: Tim recorded the track previously and was signed to the Bron roster) – Tim Rose. It was down in Wales, Tim was doing his solo acoustic set, and I was doing my solo acoustic set. So it was actually what ever year Tim died, this was a couple of months before he died. So after the gig Tim was sat at a table with all his CDs, like people were starting to do at that time, just selling his CDs. So him and I have a conversation – ‘hey I liked your set John… Yeah, I really liked your’s’ … and there was a brief pause and Tim looked at me and he said ‘I hear you were in Heep!?’ , and I said ‘Yeah, I was.’ And he looked at me again and he said (laughs) ‘did you get your money?’ , and I shook my head, and Tim just looked at me and said ‘what a bunch of See You Next Tuesdays!’ And that was the end of our conversation, because as you can imagine there were people around that were buying Tim’s CDs. So I just assumed ‘oh right – this has been going on a long long time.’ And when he said what he said I don’t think he was referring to the band, he was referring to the whole Bronze Records set up, the publishing arm, and all the rest of it.
John Sloman’s new album Two Rivers has recently been made available digitally, but CD copies are coming soon, John posted that the CD will be ready as of April 25. Amazon UK has it listed as available by May 6. Still hoping there’ll be a vinyl release some day!
I am posting Part 2 of my interview with John shortly – which will discuss his time in Lone Star and with Uriah Heep, and I should have a Part 3 soon after touching on his time with Gary Moore, Paul Young, his first solo album, and John reveals previous band offers & auditions.
John also has a book on the way [hope to see ordering info soon], and returns to live performances in June.
Early on John Sloman’s career was highlighted by stints in Lone Star, Uriah Heep, as well as Gary Moore’s band. And being a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist his career looked like it should’ve taken off following those associations, but after his solo album was finally released in 1989, news on John seemed to go quiet for many years . But since 2004 John Sloman has been making and releasing solo albums every few years, all unique and very far from his days as a big rock frontman. His newest album is titled Two Rivers, and will be out in a couple of weeks. The first single “This River Is A Time Machine” is out (digitally) now and you can also pre-order the new single “The Last Coalminer” here – https://music.apple.com/gb/album/the-last-coalminer-single/1613515077
I recently did a lengthy interview with John (in multiple segments!), which I’ve edited the first part here which focuses mainly on Two Rivers. as well as some of John’s early influences, what he was up to in the ’90s, his forthcoming book, as well as his time in Canada in the late ’70s with Pulsar. Part 2 will be up (hopefully) in a few days and will discuss John’s days with his Lone Star, Uriah Heep, and Gary Moore, among other things.
First thing I want to talk about is the album artwork…
The artwork was done by Callum Fernandes Clarke, and really he’d done a great job on the artwork and I just wanted the artwork, I guess to be a little psychedelic. When I was talking to Rob Corich and Callum about it I said It’d be nice to have something a little striking about it – like all the great album covers back in the late 60s and early 70s, where the actual images on the sleeve could take you somewhere else. And I just wanted it to convey the kind of conflict, if you like, that what was going on in my own head, the idea of the 2 rivers and being pulled this way and that , and a bit of kind of turmoil going on. And Callum captured it perfectly, you know – the turmoil that was going on in my head at the time of should I live here – should I live there? That’s gone on for decades, and at the moment I’m still in London. But I’ll probably end up moving back to Wales, after all.
I want to get to the whole concept of the album. My understanding is it’s stories from your childhood, and your adult life….
Yeah. The whole thing came about really was, over the years, I’ve lived in London for decades. I moved to London when I joined Heep. So all the years I’ve lived in London I used to think ‘well I’m missing stuff back in Wales’. I had 3 brothers and 2 sisters, and lots of friends there. And I always felt like when I was in London I felt like there was something happening in Wales, and then when I’d go back to Wales for a while I always felt like there was something happening in London that I should be doing. So there was always this kind of tug of war going on between the 2 locations. So I guess the title Two Rivers personifies that kind of tug of love, really, that’s gone on over he last 4 decades. And that’s how the album came around. Then there was a point where my late brother was in hospital, and I kind of made my mind up that I was going to move back to Wales at that time. And him and I were going to get an apartment together. And that was it, that was going to be my catalyst for me moving back. But when my brother died it kind of threw everything up in the sky really, and I ended up doing album about him – Robert, which was El Dorado, and then I did Metamorph after that. But the whole time I had this idea for this album that I wanted to do about this whole tug of love that’s gone on over 4 decades. And I guess I had one – Two Rivers, an idea for that and I kind of sat on it for a while, you know ‘that might be an idea for an album sometime’, and I had the last track, which it’s not really a song as such, it’s just a little piece of music called “Farewell To London Town”, and I just thought ‘well I’ve got the beginning of an album and I’ve got the end of an album.’ So over a period of a year, maybe, the year before last, I just filled in all the blanks. But there’s songs about childhood, yeah, and there’s song about when I first moved to London and joined Heep – there’s a song about that. I mention Trevor Bolder in it, not by name but as one of the Spiders. And there’s one that’s a little tribute to my ex girlfriend’s mum who’s no longer with us. I guess I feel like it’s an album of resolution, in a lot of ways, because I feel like I’ve resolved a lot of issues that I had with places and people – some people who are no longer here, no longer on the planet. But it was a bit of psychiatrist’s couch actually. as songwriting often is. I feel like I got a lot off my chest, if i could put it like that.
I thought it was a great storytelling listen. I had it on the other night with the headphones and listened all the way through. It’s obviously not a conventional rock type of album. And beyond your time in Heep, Gary Moore and after your first solo album you never really wrote for the mainstream or commercially. Your writing is very different. So what influenced your writing musically and lyrically to separate yourself from the typical commercial type of rock stuff?
I grew up listening to all the bands that we all grew up listening to, you know Zeppelin, Purple, and Heep too, of course, and Free… So I had all that going on, but I’d also, from a really early age there was lots of different styles of music played in the house. My parents – my dad loved opera, my mom, both of my parents both liked songs from the 40s and 50s, lots of Hollywood musical stuff Rodgers and Hammerstein and all those guys, and Leonard Bernstein – that was a biggie. I heard West Side Story, and my grandmother, she kind of got me singing . She was the first first person that got me to sing, that taught me that I had a voice, and that was probably about when I was 7 or 8. She taught me a bluegrass song called “Are You From Dixie”. And I just used to be wheeled out for family parties from around when I was 7 to sing this bloody bluegrass song! And I didn’t know where the song had come from, I didn’t know who did it, and i sang that, it was kind of like my theme tune whenever there was a family party, when people visited – ‘Hey John’s going to sing’, you know!? And when I kind of grew up and was listening to all those bands I mentioned earlier, in my teen time, I was also listening to a lot of instrumental music, people like Miles Davis and Chick Corea. I loved Todd Rundgren’s stuff. And Todd did a lot of great prog-rock stuff as well as his singer-songwriter mode. And discovering Todd really opened my eyes to the fact that…he was like the bridge between prog-rock and singer-songwriter, and I thought ‘well hang on – this guy’s doing all this, he can do both. Why can’t I?’. So Todd was a huge influence. Jeff Beck Blow By Blow, people like that, Bill Cobham Spectrum. So there were no vocalists on the albums. and people like Weather Report, Joni Mitchell – she did a lot of classic stuff in the early 70s but then she hooked up with some of the guys from Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius. So I had this kind of 2 pronged attack really, I felt like I was living in 2 different towns, musically. And sometimes they just didn’t go together. I remember sometimes I used to sing at this club called The Moon Club, which is where everyone used to cut their teeth back in Cardiff in the early 70s, and I would throw in all these kind of jazzy singing licks, and we’d be playing stuff like Chuck Berry, and stuff like that, and the management just didn’t take kindly to me screwing with the melodies and stuff like that. But when it came to writing my own stuff I said ‘OK, I’m just going to do exactly what I want to do.’ And back in the early 80s, a guy at Atlantic once said to me ‘we really love your voice John, but you’re too diverse, musically diverse’ . Where as now I think it’s opened up, people are not so close-minded, musically, and I think young musicians can get away with a lot more than they used to, primarily because lots of people came along after I was first out there, people like Prince where they just did exactly what they liked. And Frank Zappa, people like that… And I just made up my mind that if I wrote a radio friendly song I would try and give it a spin, you know give it a little twist if I could. And then when I started recording from home, from 13 Storeys on (the last 20 years), I’ve gradually become more and more nomadic, musically and just doing exactly what I wanted on any one given day. And it’s worked out for me artistically, I don’t know about commercially [laughs], but it’s worked out artistically.
Is that the reason you tend to do everything on your albums, you don’t collaborate or have any guests, anything like that?
It’s just kind of evolved like that really. I could get people involved, but here’s the thing – I don’t have a budget, so you’re getting in to a whole thing now where you’re hiring musicians and it gets difficult, because on the level that I’ve been operating you might be breaking even, and really people rely on live gigs these days to make a living – as musicians. And I just thought ‘well I can do it all myself, so I may as well.’ But, of course I haven’t ruled out the possibility of getting in the studio with a band at some point again. I’ve talked to Robert about this. about going in and doing an album like Dark Matter where I just rehearsed a band, and just went in and recorded everything, literally in a few weeks. Just did it like back in the day, where a whole album would be done inside a month, top and tail. I’ve got another album that I’m doing right now that I’m going to release next year, and that’s another one where I’m playing everything on it. And that’s going to be more of a rock album. But the one after that I’m going to go in to a studio with a band, and it’s going to be more of a collaborate thing. And it’ll be much more like Dark Matter and stuff like that, and I’m going to get a few guests on as well. And I’ll be looking forward to that, to just writing 10 solid songs and just going in and lay it down, you know!?
I want to ask about the instrumentation on the new album, because you play everything, it’s a a deep album, but there’s no guitar riffs, there’s no solos, there’s no big drums….Can you talk a bit about what you played and how you put it all together?
I wanted the instruments to be very rootsy, acoustic, and folky. So the percussion I have, I just have a North African drum, that I’ve had for over 20 years, and I’ve used that on most things I’ve done since; just like a little bongo drum really, like a jam-beat , I’ve got various shakers, so that’s the only things I used to create any kind of groove. I’ve got a temple bell kind of thing, that’s almost like my own little private joke for myself, because every album I do now I put that thing on – whether it fits or not I just put that on. It’s like a signature. There’s a harmonium, a real old school harmonium which is real nice for getting a real nice drone under something , and mandolin, piano, I use a bit of piano, acoustic guitar, a bit of fiddle (not too much), and a bit of blues harp, a harmonica here and there, a little bit of chromatic harmonica as well. It’s just all those kinds of instruments, and I think I may have snuck a bit of sitar on, I can’t remember. I did some sitar on the album previous. Really what I’d like to do is put an acoustic band together and do just a handful of gigs to promote this album. Get a couple of musicians who are all multi-instrumentalists. That’s what I’d like to do, I’d like to find a couple of guys, like a John Paul Jones kind of guy, who slip between bass and mandolin, and can do some keyboard stuff. Maybe with 4 of us we could do a really nice show, you know, very the sound pallets, make it quite interesting.
How did you go about doing all the choir voices? You must’ve did several takes on all those….
Yes [laughs]. That’s something I’ve been in to doing – the multi track vocal thing. I used to get pulled in to do that on other people’s albums, just to do a vocal arrangement as a session singer. So when I got my own little studio set up at home, I quite enjoyed just messing with voices, and sometimes I’d pitch-shift the voice as well, like there’s a track on the new album called “The Last Coalminer”, and I pitch shifted my voice down a little, the speaking voice that is, because I wanted to do something where it didn’t sound like me at all, I wanted it to be a character, I wanted it to sound more like…there’s a Welsh poet Dylan Thomas or Richard Burton – someone like. And I thought ‘well I’ll just make it sound like an actor playing a part’. I recited it like a poem, and then I pitch-shifted it down, ever so slightly until it sounded not like me. And at that point I thought ‘that’s good enough’. I didn’t want to end up sounding like Darth Vadar.
The thing I like about that, and mentioned in my review, is that it needs to be listened to as a whole album as opposed to picking out single songs. I think sometimes people pick out a song and listen and go ‘what is this?’, like “The Last Coalminer”, but if you listen to it in context of the whole album it’s very fitting.
Thanks for that. And that’s really how I like to work. I like to conceptualize things. I spent about 10 years working on film scripts. I had a brief period trying to get in to the film industry, and that kind of heightened my hunger for conceptualizing things – like I did on 13 Storeys and stuff like that. I’ve done a few albums where it’s conceptual. And this last thing is no exception. I’m glad that you say that – that it hangs together. It’s meant to be listened to as an album instead of just pulling a track out.
Having said that, was it hard for you to pick out singles for videos from that?
Well, the first one I thought was fairly obvious to me, the first one that we did “This River Is A Time Machine”, because it’s got a nice groove and it’s quite the immediate type of song. So Robert at Red Steel said ‘well what would you do as a second single?’ , and I just wanted to do “The Last Coalminer”. It doesn’t exactly sound like the perfect single (laughs); it’s not the sort of thing you would normally release as a single, but I wanted to see this video idea I had for it. I thought it would be great to do a really nice black and white video and make me look like an old miner. So that’s what we did. And again, Callum, the guy who does all the art stuff for Red Steel, he’s put together a great video for it, as he did for “This River Is A Time Machine”.
And you’re going to do one more after that!?
That’s right. After that we’re going to be doing one for a track called “70s Sunday”, which is a comment on the whole lockdown madness, that was going on. So we’re going to do a video for that, because I think (again), it lends itself to visual stuff. I think Callum will have a field day putting some visuals to that.
That song is very different because it’s simpler, and in it you talk about Sunday and not being able to go shopping and all that stuff. And that’s stuff from decades ago that obviously a lot of people are going to remember, when life was obviously simpler.
Yeah. Where I grew up there was nothing happening on Sunday; it was just The most boring day. And obviously we find ourselves during lockdowns, especially the first lockdown here, I mean Oh God – the weather was beautiful but there was nothing to do, there was no where to go, there was no one you could see. I just thought ‘this is like the 70s in Wales.’…the early 70s that is. So yeah , that’s what we’ll be doing, I think it’ll work really well with some good visuals.
What else for you stands out on this album that you’d like to perform live, Or do foresee yourself possibly doing the whole album live?
That’s what I would love to do! I think it would work by just getting a few guys together and saying I want to do this album live. That’s all I want to do. And just kind of present it, really – as a piece of work. Because when I do this next thing, which will be a more rock thing, yeah I’ll have a full rock band… But yeah, that’s what I’d love to do is just put a whole show together, do it in the order that the album is in, and so end the whole the thing with the track called “Farewell To London Town”, a very kind of melancholy thing. I’d like to get a male voice choir involved to do “The Last Coalminer” live. And just do it, do it as a totally live performance. And I’d love to get an actor to recite what I did on the album, and let them do it, and I’d just be part of the choir. I just think that would be a really nice thing to do, because all you’d need is piano accompaniment; it would just sound amazing. And in Wales there are so many of these lovely choirs around, these male voice chorus. There’d be a male voice choir locally that I’m sure I could pick up, and they would jump at the chance to do something interesting, something original. Because generally, they’ll be singing a lot of similar material.
I want to go back to the beginning of your career then to where you are now, and ask – does the what you are doing now suit you more than the whole rock band thing that you were doing in the 70s and 80s?
This is where I was always heading. And if you’d have said to me back then – what do you want to do? I would’ve just kind of pointed to people like Todd Rundgren, and an element of Zappa, and I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it, I would’ve just said ‘I want to just be able to do my own thing’. And I’d like to play a lot of my own stuff, and I’d like to have my own studio. That was always my ambition, if you like, to do that. But of course, at the time, the business wasn’t set up for that. If you wanted to do your own album as an artist you had to own your studio, and you would’ve have had to make a shit load of money. And so, it was just a pipe dream – the idea of having your own set up. So back then that’s what I wanted. I remember when I went to Todd Rundgren’s studio I thought ‘God, I wish I had a place like this, its fantastic!’ But I knew I needed to make a lot of money in order to do that. And it’s only when I got my own set up at home, and I’m talking 22-23 years ago was when I got my own set up at home. Before that I had to go to to other people’s studios and it’s good, because you’re collaborating with people then, but it’s bad, because if you do something you’re not happy with you can’t just throw it in the garbage because yourself and the people you’ve collaborated with have put this time in to it, so then you have to try and make it work. Where as when I’m at home, in my own and I’m doing something – ‘you know what? this isn’t quite working out’ – I can just throw it in the garbage and start again. there’s no committee. Yeah, but back in those days I just wanted to be where I am now. I mean, I wish I had my own studio set in beautiful grounds set by the river or something (laughs), but unfortunately I don’t. I live in the south-east of London, it’s a nice part of London, and I’ve got neighbors, so I’ve got to think about my neighbors, and I’ve got to pick my moments when I can work. For instance – I can’t work at night, that’s a no no. So I’ve just got to wait until I can sell a few CDs, and then maybe I can move to where I can work at night, you know, because that’s really when a lot of ideas come to musicians and creative people is when you’re burning the midnight oil.
After your 1989 solo album Disappearances Can Be Deceptive there was a long gap before you got back in to making solo albums. So I’m wondering if that album was why you got out of making solo albums then or did you get in to other things? And what got you back in to doing solo albums again?
Yeah, for a start – doing that album was pretty tough, it took a lot out of me. That came out in ’89, and I had a few scars from that whole experience and I didn’t stop doing music, you know. Straight away in 1990 I put a band together Pino Palladino and Steve Boltz, and he’d just come off tour with The Who, and John Munro – who played drums on Disappearances .. We put a band together in 1990 called Souls Unknown. So we did that for a while. I was doing a lot of writing and recording at the studio; a friend of mine Jez Coad . a great musician and producer, I did lots of stuff over at his place. Basically, I did a lot of writing and recording, and a lot of stuff from that period that just didn’t see the light of day. And I was saying to the guys at Red Steel the other day that I intend to do something with some of this material because like what you’d said now ‘what happened after Disappearances‘ – because the impression is that I kind of went away for a while and didn’t do much. I was writing and recording, but I just couldn’t get the stuff out. It was a really strange situation where the music business after Disappearances, there was this thing where the music business seemed to think that ‘we don’t think that we’re going to be able to make money out of this guy’ , and the music business took a step away from me and i kind of took a step away from it as well. So we ended up kind of estranged really. So I worked as a session singer for a while. I was singing on other people’s albums. I sang with Jools Holland for a while; Jools Holland has got a famous music show over here, on TV, everybody appears on it who’s anybody. So I did quite a bit of stuff for Jools. I did lots of stuff, just as a hired voice really on other people’s stuff. And then at some point in the late ’90s I decided that I was going to go to Nashville. So I thought – I’ll go back to Wales, and I’ll put all my musical instruments for sale in the local newspaper, and sell everything – my amp, my Strat, all that stuff – I’m just going to keep my acoustic guitar and I’m going to go to Nashville and be a songwriter!’ So, I go back to Wales, this is 1997, and I put my stuff in the local paper and I didn’t get One call! And no one was interested in buying it. So I guess that may have been a sign from the universe, maybe, to keep going. So in the end I got involved with this Wallaston Wales [?] ; this friend of mine who’d I mentioned earlier, Richard Dunn, he’d been in Van Morrison’s band, and Richard and Pete Hurley – who was the bass player with Lone Star, and Colin Griffin – who was the drummer with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. We all got together and did this soul album, if you can believe it, like a blue-eyed soul album. And I sang under the name Earl Grangetown , and I’m giving away a secret to you. The reason I did it under another name was because I told the guys ‘Look, there’s no point in you selling this with my name on it because the people that like my stuff – they’re not going to like this.’ Because I was singing in kind of a soul-y falsetto. It was more like Prince than a rock band. So we did this thing, and again, it was another album that didn’t actually see the light of day. I did this other thing, during the same period for Mike Oldfield, and again, that was just a one-off track that supposedly for an album, but Mike Oldfield didn’t release it. I did a lot of my own stuff during that period, but also for other people that just never saw the light of day. There was also a project I did with Pino Palladino, and again, Pino and I would do a load of material and the idea was to do an album, but it just didn’t happen. Then I moved back to London in 1999, and within about a month of moving back here my brother Laurence just keeled over and died one day, he was 33. And that was the beginning of the 2nd part of my so-called ‘career’ ,really. It was like the new testament, if you like. That was the period when I really started to find myself artistically, because what I did was I got my first home recording set up for the first time, ever, and that’s when I started working on the album 13 Storeys. And that ended the period you just talked about, that period immediately after Disappearances, which – let’s face it, was a ten year period where I appeared to have gone away. But I was really active, but I just couldn’t get anything released. It was a really frustrating time. But then from ’99 onwards I started getting my own stuff out there, and I was more in control of what I was doing.
You mentioned the blue-eyed soul stuff. Was Glenn Hughes much of an influence on you?
Absolutely! Early on Kevin. I absolutely loved Glenn Hughes! I loved the Trapeze album You Are The Music, We’re Just The Band, the one with “Coast To Coast” on it. And then when Glenn and David Coverdale joined ‘Purple I just thought they were amazing together. I loved Glenn Hughes’ voice. But of course, Glenn was influenced by Stevie Wonder – as am I. We were both white guys influenced by the great black soul singers of the early ’70s – especially Stevie Wonder. Yeah, Glenn’s amazing, he’s still amazing now. I haven’t seen him live, but people tell me he is still as good as ever. And long may he continue.
Did you get in to Tommy Bolin much – as a songwriter and player?
Do you know what – I loved Teaser! I really loved that album. We used to play it to death. I used to be in a little band Trapper back in the early 70s, in Wales. And we used to – Pino and I , and John Munro, the drummer; we used to play Teaser like Crazy. Because there was this lineage where Tommy Bolin worked with Billy Cobham on Spectrum, and you would trace these kind of musical family trees, you know pre internet, so you just had to know someone. And it was ‘oh right – Tommy Bolin was on Spectrum with Cobham, and then Tommy joined Deep Purple, and then you got Jeff Beck who worked with so and so, and there’d be all these links of all these amazing people who did all these amazing instrumental albums. But yeah, I loved Tommy Bolin, and of course he did great stuff with Purple as well.
Going back to your earlier days, I’m wondering if you’ve kept in touch with Gregg Dechert much?
It’s funny you should mention it – I heard from Gregg yesterday! We keep in touch. Gregg and and I were like brothers, we were very close. I admired him because I’m an instinctive musician and I never ever learned theory, and Neil Murray tried to get me to learn the theory at one time [laughs], and bought me some music books – they’re still up on my shelf. But Gregg of course, he studied at the Toronto Conservatoire, and he’s just an unbelievable musician. So Gregg and I are in touch every few months. but yesterday he called just to say he caught “This River Is A Time Machine”, he’d heard the track and seen the video. And of course on the video is all the photographs of a lot of bands I’d been in, one of which was Pulsar with Gregg. He said he loved the track, and he loved that there was photos from those days. I’m hoping that he’s going to be able to come over, because I want to do some stuff with him. It would be amazing if things opened up a bit, you know after the Covid thing, and Gregg could come over, and I could put something together with Gregg. We could put it together in month. It’d be amazing. He’s a fantastic musician, and a lovely guy as well! … Gregg is the most unbelievable musician, but he’s not egotistical at all. And so he doesn’t like to toot his own horn at all. He’s just a lovely guy; he’s like that hippy mentality, and he hates the music business, we’re very alike in that way (him and I). …. We had a great time together, we loved working together.
Are you going to do anything with the Pulsar stuff? The demos?
Someone cleaned up the demos, and digitized then, and sent me a copy, Recently Dixie Lee died, sadly, at the end of January. So when I got the news on Dixie my mind went back to that time in Kitchener in ’79. It was a special time. And obviously Gregg, Dixie, Pino, and Dave Cooper – it was a really good band. And Dave is sadly no longer with us. Dave was a fine player too. And I found a load of pictures the other day. I’ve got about 20 photos here of Pulsar that I didn’t realize I had. I could do a nice package here – make a CD, and make a really nice booklet with the photos. Almost like the band that never was (that kind of thing).
David Cooper used to have a website and had all that stuff – photos and demos. And when he passed it disappeared.
That was sad. I was in touch with David quite a lot actually, say in about the last 6 months of his life. Dave sent me a lot of his stuff. He sent me live stuff that he had done, and Captain Coop and all that. And it sounded to me like he was getting a 2nd wind – where he was getting a lot of attention and a lot of respect again as a player, and then he got sick. And it was really awful, the fact that his lungs just gave out. But yeah, we swapped a lot of stuff during that period. But I’ve got those images, and I’ve included about 10 photographs that I didn’t realize I had in my book. They’re just black and white photos. But they’re live, taken at the Leger Lodge where we did like a residency at one point. It was a great time. Really, it was living the dream. And had the Heep thing not happened I would’ve gone back o Canada and continued with Pulsar. We came back to England, Dixie and I, because we’d had a falling out – Dixie and the rest of us. So Dixie wasn’t involved anymore, so we needed a new drummer. We needed to sort out our visas, so we decided to come back to the UK, Pino and myself, and went back to my parent’s house in Wales and there was these telegrams from Bronze records. And that’s how that happened. So I thought the only band I knew on Bronze Records was Uriah Heep and ‘no it can not be them!?’ And then I got a call from Doug Smith, who was managing Motorhead, and he said ‘John, Bronze records is keen to speak to you.’ And then I got a call from Trevor Bolder, and that got the whole thing rolling. But had the Heep thing not come in to the picture I’d have gone back to Canada because Gregg and I were mates, and Dave Cooper and I, and the four us would’ve continued. We’d have found ourselves another drummer, and that was it. It would’ve been an ongoing thing, but the Heep thing happened and my life took another turn.
How many gigs do you recall playing with Pulsar (roughly), when you were over here?
I’m going to say we did about 5 gigs that were different bars, one of which was in Cambridge. We did a Battle of the Bands in Cambridge, and the prize (laughs) was a week playing at this bar in Cambridge! 2nd prize was 2 weeks! (laughs). But that was great. We did the week residency at that bar in Cambridge, we played at a place called The Brislow [?]. We played 5 or 6 gigs at different venues, and then we did 2 weeks at a place called Moose Lodge. And we were just tightening ourselves up, and the idea was to then get a record deal, do an album, and then do a proper tour. we just didn’t get that far. But live – we were good. The band was tight, we’d rehearsed a lot. But unfortunately, the whole thing happened with Dixie and that was the end of it.
What’s going on with your book and when might we see it?
The book is done really. It’s been done for a long time. What happened was 6 months ago I thought, and I wish I never thought this – it meant that I had another 6 months to mess around with it. I thought ‘You know what? It needs some photos.’ Because I’d wrote it just as text, and I thought ‘Oh, that’s a good read!’, and then I thought “I’ll just throw a couple of photos in.’ , and you know what happened – I got carried away! I put lots of photos in, I did little kind of cartoon-y type of sketches where I didn’t have photos for a particular thing – you know back in school days I may just done a little cartoon. So as a result it’s put another 6 months on the whole thing. So, the book itself was finished 7-8 months ago, and then the photo thing happened. So I’m reading through it one last time and then I’m going to put it out. I have moments where I think ‘what the Hell am I doing putting a book out?’ There’s a lot of personal stuff in there, it puts a lot of stuff that happened in my so-called career in to some personal context. And so people who are interested in what I’ve done might understand a little more about what happened to me – away from music as well, and what effect being in the music business had on me. So the album is coming out March 25th, and the book I’m going to do an Amazon on it, so I’m going to say May – early May.
The last time we connected in 2019 you said you were going to do a book and one more album, and if the album didn’t sell you were quitting!
That’s true, That’s absolutely true! I’ve been saying this to people for a while that if I couldn’t get someone at a label or something involved I was just going to stop. And I’ll tell you why – because it’s such a soul destroying thing just to put an album up on the net, especially as a download. So I thought I’m going to put something up online, just kind of fishing, really, to see if anyone might be interested in putting my album out. Two Rivers was already finished. I just put something up on Facebook, It was just in one of those moments of ‘Oh, what the hell!?’ I mean, my brother didn’t believe I was thinking of quitting, you know, none of my friends did, they were ‘ Yeah, we’ve heard this before, John’.
So I put this thing online and I got a message from Paul Davies, who’s one of the guys with Red Steel. And I thought nothing of the message. I didn’t know who Red Steel was. It was one of those things where a message gets buried, and I didn’t think much more of it. And a few weeks later I got contacted by a journalist that I know, and he said ‘Robert Corich is trying to get ahold of you.’ And then I thought there must be a connection with the other message I got, and sure enough there was. Also, Robert had come to a few gigs, about 3 years ago, with a couple of journalist friends of his. So he knew quite a bit about me, and I knew quite a bit about him.
So, with the book, I guess it’s for every possible reason. At the time I was writing it, I thought ‘well, I’m never going to do anything again in the music business.’ and ‘chances of me finding a new record label are next to impossible.’ So ‘I’m just going to do one more record – Two Rivers (the current one), and then I’m going to stop. It’s going to hurt but I’m going to have to stop.’ So that’s how I wrote the book that it’s my last will and testament. It’s honest – that’s what I will say, about it. Robert said to me ‘are you going to update it?’ to include the last few years, and the whole Covid thing, and also his involvement. And I’m not going to; the book ends in 2016 when my brother Robert died. And really that’s what made my mind up that I wanted to write something, I did a lot of soul searching. And later that year I played at a festival up in the north of England called the SOS Festival. And I was interviewed by two journalists before I played that day, and I was just telling a few stories about what have you . And they both said to me, You should write a book. And I said, Well, I’m going to say to you what I say to all my friends (who would say that) and that is ‘I’d write it – but who would read it? ‘ And these 2 journalists said, I think many people would read it. So that’s when a light went on in my head, if you like, because sometimes you just need someone to give you one tiny little bit of encouragement, you know!? And I got here and what happened was my brother, Robert, he had a laptop that he had at the hospital. He was in hospital for three years before he died. And when all his possessions were returned to the family when he died, one of the things that was returned to the family was his laptop. And what I did was I wrote the whole book on Robert’s laptop, which I thought was kind of poetic. And Robert would’ve loved that. He would’ve been one of those people saying ‘write that book!’ He would’ve been pushing me.
So yeah, it’s about my brother Rob, it’s telling the story of what happened to him. It’s about my time in bands. It’s about family. It’s about the world. It’s a little bit of the odd bit of conspiracy stuff here there – which people can take with a pinch of salt, I might add. It’s a bit of everything, if I can put like that. It’s called Lost On Planet Artifice (as in artificial). And I just carry the metaphor for the whole thing.
But the book is done and I’m going to put it out. I’ll be honest with you, Kevin. I am more nervous about this than any music thing I’ve ever done, because I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. My plan, my idea for the book is that I will do a solo show around it. I tell stories from the book, read some passages from the book, because I think sometimes it’s better, rather than just tell stories, to read a bit of the story from the book., because some of it, even if I say so myself, is quite funny. And (I’ll) play some music that is relevant to whatever story I’m telling – and that could be a song of my own or a song from one of the bands I’ve worked with, or a cover of one of the bands I grew up listening to. And if I’ve got copies of the book at these shows I would like to do then hopefully I can sell a few copies at the shows. That’s what I plan to do.
I think that sounds very interesting. I think a lot of people that know your music it will fill in a lot of gaps for them.
Yeah, it’ll definitely do that. Because I spent my 50s – I was still doing music, but I spent my 50s trying to get a movie made. And you know people don’t realize I was getting involved in other areas. I was actually writing screenplays. Yeah, and oh boy, that’s another whole… I thought the music business was a trip. With the film business – unless you raise the money your film just remains a hundred and whatever sheets of A4 paper. That’s all. At least with an album you could just record it at home and people will still hear it. Where as with a script you need someone to put a lot of money in it. And so, I’ve written about that too, in the the stories.
It has been a lengthy journey for John Sloman, once seen as a rising star, after stints with Uriah Heep and Gary Moore, along with his unique voice and wide range, his talents on multiple instruments, his songwriting, and his looks then that drew comparisons to Robert Plant. But after 1989’s Disappearances Can Be Deceptive solo album wasn’t a huge hit, not much was heard from John for years until he resumed making solo albums in 2003, mainly by himself. One thing that is evident on John’s latest creation, Two Rivers (on Red Steel Music) is that there is no one like him. John does write formatted pop-rock songs, or produce with any commercial approach in mind. There’s no simple 10 tracks of riff / verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus/ solo/ chorus/ fadeout. What you get on John’s journey in time dealing with his childhood and past (I haven’t grasped all the lyrics, so I can’t be precise on the entire concept) is a very atmospheric, very different type of album. everything flows together nicely with John often having a few words between songs or during the intros. It makes more sense and more enjoyable listening to the whole album as opposed to picking out single songs. But, if I had to pick out highlights – the title track, “Scenes From An Old Biscuit Tin”, “Charing Cross Moon”, and “Walking Along The Taff”. Much of what is enjoyable about this album is listening to the stories John tells in the songs. Again, if you’re expecting any kind of conventional rock type album, this is not it – this is 14 storytelling tracks put to John’s unique musical approach. This is all acoustic guitars, piano, bass ,vocals [lots], choirs [all John], keyboards, etc….. no electric guitars, no big solos or riffs. Influences of Zappa, acoustic Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.
Best listened to on headphones -with an open mind, without any ‘rock’ expectations, and enjoy the journey. Love the artwork, btw, and am told the packaging is excellent (might we see a vinyl release?) .
Red Steel plans to follow up Two Rivers with a compilation containing tracks from John’s previous solo albums to be titled Conspectus.
Gifted with a multi-octave vocal range and also a multi-instrumentalist musician, John Sloman is a renaissance man with a singular musical vision brought to mesmeric life on his magnificent new solo album “Two Rivers”. As a personal record, “Two Rivers” documents John’s journey from his childhood home city of Cardiff to treading the well-beaten path to London and his encounters in the music business fronting major headline bands.
“Two Rivers” is a compelling cocktail of songwriting that blends crucial chapters of John’s life in song and verse. In essence, “Two Rivers” is a distillation of Sloman’s eclectic musical progress from Lone Star to Uriah Heep, his adventures with UFO and The Gary Moore Band and his Todd Rundgren produced debut solo album “Disappearances Can Be Deceptive”. Adopting Cardiff’s River Taff and London’s River Thames as metaphors, John’s stream of consciousness observations pour forth from his deep well of memories. Populated with sublime songs wrapped around sharply observed personal postcards of a remarkable life “Two Rivers” simply has to be heard to be believed.
This soundtrack to a life less ordinary begins with the title track’s prophetic opening lines: “Two rivers flow through my mind – the one I see before me and the one I left behind.” As John says: “The River Taff and the River Thames have come to personify this unrelenting tug of love I have experienced for most of my adult life. I left the one with a spring in my youthful step. But with so many of those who once walked beside me now gone to that great river in the sky, I regret all the days I was away. This album is for them – and for those of you still being torn in two by your own two rivers.”
This memorial theme is taken further on the new single “This River Is A Time Machine” that explores the memory bank simile of these constant yet fluid and life-giving channels delivered with a heartfelt passion by John. Revisiting his childhood on the song “Scenes From An Old Biscuit Tin,” John explains the song’s inspiration: “On school mornings, as I ate my porridge, I would lose myself in images of Elizabethan London adorning the family biscuit tin, while dreaming that I might one day go there – London, that is.” And going to London is exactly what John did, which he superbly documents on “Londinium” and “Charing Cross Moon,” and achieving a substantial measure of success in doing so that established him as a major player in the late 70s and 1980s rock music scene and his continuing solo career. There is a pleasant surprise in store for fans of John Sloman with the Avant-Garde nature running right through this record. Think experimental Frank Zappa and late-period Scott Walker meeting the acoustic elements of Led Zeppelin and your imagination will be stoked by the captivating contents of this unique and exceptional album.
Two single releases “This River Is A Time Machine” followed by “The Last Coalminer” have non-album B sides and both are accompanied by videos for each single release.
Release date: March 25, 2022
“Two Rivers” track list:
1-Two Rivers 2-This River Is A Time Machine 3-Caerdydd (City On The River) 4-Scenes From An Old Biscuit Tin 5-From The Taff To The Thames 6-Londinium 7-Blackweir 8-When I Go Home 9-Rest In Peace (For Sylvy) 10-Charing Cross Moon 11-70s Sunday 12-Walking Along The Ta13-The Last Coalminer 14-Farewell To London Town
John Sloman is firmly established as one of the ‘voices of rock’. Famed for his octave straddling voice, John has performed with Gary Moore, Uriah Heep, Lone Star and UFO, among many others, and he is to release a new album titled ‘Two Rivers’. Two Rivers will be preceded by a 2 track digital single on Red Steel on October 29th 2021.
Lifted from his magnificently strange and exquisite album Two Rivers the single is called “This River Is A Time Machine”. This digital-only 2 track single is backed with an alternate take “This River – The Instrumental”, as the ‘B-side which is not included on the forthcoming album.
The album is described as – “having traces of a major stage production with elements of acoustic Zeppelin evident along with several other references. Even Zapperesque at times.”
John is also working on a retrospective collection with tracks drawn from his deep well of solo albums titled ‘Conspectus’. Furthermore, there is a full series of back catalogue remasters for release in 2022 as well as more new material to follow…
The album’s cover-art is based on a photo by Jeff Moh then painted by Callum Fernandes-Clarke, all put together with Callum and John.