Wednesday 27 April 2011

In conversation with Big Country's Tony Butler (Marilyn Michaels)

Marilyn Michaels & Tony Butler - Manchester 9.4.11

Marilyn Michaels in conversation with Big Country's Tony Butler (March 17 2011) about his thoughts on the past, present and future of Big Country. This interview ran as part of a Big Country feature during April on Classic Rock Radio and can be heard here with some great tracks from Big Country:

Marilyn Michaels : Hi Tony! How's the world treating you?

Tony Butler: Hey Marilyn, the world's treating me very well at the moment. The sun's shining which always brings joy to my life, and my band's working again which as you can imagine I'm absolutely ecstatic about

MM: I bet you are so excited about it! I mean I'm excited about it! ( both laugh) And I know lots of people who are excited about it! Big Country have had such a loyal fan following through all these years

TB: Yeah we've been very lucky really. We've been an honest band and we've been very transparent and everything we've done may not have been the right thing sort of politically, commercially, whatever, but we've always been kind of open and honest with who we are, and our fans

MM : I see that on the Big Country forum boards quite often

TB: Yes well again that's something that’s been kind of kept alive over the years where we haven't been active, purely and simply through the enthusiasm of people who have worked with the band and the fans themselves. Again we've been very lucky there. I have to admit I tended to sort of veer away from that during the intervening years purely and simply it was just something I had to do.

MM: Yeah I can imagine so because you'd probably find yourself being asked the same questions day in day out, day in day out for like ten years (laughs)

TB: (laughs) Yeah and it tends to get a little bit dull, as well-meaning as it all is

MM: Yeah I can imagine it would

TB: You know, it's a strange position to be in, I mean we are, we were, a brilliant band, you know, a great live band. We made a load of good records, we never really got the recognition that I think we deserved for various reasons, and then we had tragedy bestowed on us and you've got to think 'well what do we do from here, and we - well specifically myself, didn’t want to perpetrate it just to make it something that was going to earn us a living and sort of keep me in the music business. I mean I did quite hazardly kind of gave it up, I sort of turned my back on it. I was happy with what we'd done, it was going to be a chapter in my life to make me look back with great fondness and pride but move on. A lot of people supposedly thought that we'd just carry on because it's the thing to do, some bands carry on because they don't know what else to do but it was too good a band just to carry on in a half hearted manner.

MM : Mmmhmm yes absolutely, but I think there are many people, myself included, who never actually got the chance to see Big Country live, and are absolutely thrilled that now we can

TB: Mmmhmm. One of the things that sorts of makes it work now, pure and simply, is having Mike Peters with us, he's somebody who we've all known and respected for a long time . He was part of the band's environment during those years, simply because himself with The Alarm, and he did a tour with us as a solo artist and we're all friends, mates, and you know, to have him come in now to sing with the band, it's just a natural thing to have happened, because number one we know he will come in and be himself, he'll pay absolute respect to Stuart, his memory and the songs - and he would really do justice to what we've always done as a band and put on a great live show.

MM: Yeah! Thanks to YouTube I've had some previews of what those live shows look like and it looks fantastic

TB: (Laughs) What, for a bunch of old men starting to rock out a bit?! It's not too bad! I'm not too embarrassed about it. (laughs)

MM: (laughs) oh come on less of the 'old' here, less of the 'old'! After all, music is about sound isn't it, at the end of the day music should be about sound, and we all know about Mike Peters revenge on the BBC with ''Poppyfields'' ......

(Both laugh)

TB: Yeah....

MM: ...which I thought was fantastic...but we know Stuart Adamson can never be replaced, never be forgotten, but I think Mike Peters does real credit as the new vocalist, I've seen him a few times over the years performing BC songs both with The Alarm and solo, and I was really impressed , I think he has been a great choice and it seems the fans agree as well

TB: Well I think one of the reasons why I certainly wasn't happy about doing anything with a kind of reformed Big Country over the past ten years is because I didn't think there was anybody out there who would do the band justice and for a long long time I didn't want to do it, full-stop, regardless of whether we got anybody because in my mind, you know, the band were the band and Stuart was an integral part of that, and we were a 'boys club' and we had a great time together, we had ups and downs but it was a life that we all lived together, and without one of those components it's certainly not going to work for us in any genuine way.
But pressure mounts (laughs) on an individual such as myself, you know, once or twice a year someone's seriously suggesting a reunion or do something or 25th anniversary or blah-blah-blah and I started capitulating over the last 2 or 3 years doing fan conventions and stuff like that and not particularly enjoying them but I didn’t want to feel like a 'stick in the mud ' depriving people of something they obviously really wanted.

MM: So what changed?

TB: When myself and Bruce (Watson) started talking seriously about it , I said ‘ if we are going to do this , we'll do it properly, but we need to get somebody in that will do it justice and I'm not interested in doing it until we've found that person. When he said that Mike would be interested then I said ‘well let’s go, let’s do it.’ Somebody posted me a YouTube video of Mike performing with us at a convention we did in 2007 I think, I’d completely forgot about it and I watched it and I thought ''wow there you go, it works let’s do it''

MM: It works, it does work, I watched one particular clip on YouTube where Mike has gone out into the crowd to sing, the atmosphere just looked electric, how does it feel for you stepping back onto a stage in front of those crowds again?

TB: It's been fantastic I can't deny that, it's what we do, it's in my blood, I'm a performer, I was a performer who was willing to give it up because I didn't think it would feel good but it feels absolutely brilliant

MM: Yes

TB: One thing that Mike brings to the 'new' band as such is the fact that he's got the freedom to be that kind of performer that we've never had before. Stuart was a guitarist who sang and that was very much the makeup of the band but now we've got a singer who sorts of strums the guitar when he wants to but he can concentrate on all that sort of 'showy' stuff that he does.

MM : Absolutely..

TB: ....for him to go into the audience like he does, that's a Mike thing, it's certainly not a Stuart Adamson thing, not to that extent, but at the same time the guitars are looked after by Bruce and Bruce's son Jamie and that combination works brilliantly well

MM : It must be amazing for Jamie up there on stage with his dad

TB: Absolutely, sometimes you've got to take a chance on things and Bruce has had 100% confidence that his son could do the job and Jamie's proved himself over the last tour that he’s well worthy of being on the boards with the rest of us old farts .The whole things just worked and to go back to your original question I think it’s fantastic, it’s whetted my appetite for this. I’m really looking forward to the next tour, I’m even thinking about what we may do next, a year ago there was no plan about anything.

MM: April sees you back on the road again, 12 dates..

TB: 14 now, it’s gone up (laughs)

MM : Ooh ok I sit corrected (laughs)

TB: And we’ve got the Isle Of White Festival coming up, we’re opening for that on the Friday, and we’re doing a double-header in Inverness with Simple Minds in the summer so there’s some nice things coming up

MM: Oh that will be fantastic, that will get the adrenaline pumping

TB: Well certainly us anyway (laughs)

MM: Any chance of Glastonbury?

TB: I don’t know, again that’s with the powers that be, you know, we’ve got a faithful manager who’s always been fighting for the cause of the band and so on and so forth, the tour promoters have been fantastic, they’ve supported what we’re doing as a band and they’re really into what we are doing, they’re falling over themselves to put the band in the right place you know, rather than just doing anything, any old thing, so yeah there’s a lot of respect , there’s a lot of good stuff going round, there’s a lot of great feeling about what we are doing just now let alone what we may do in the near future

MM: Mmm, so is there a possibility we’re going to get some new material?

TB: Well I think the plan is to maybe sort of jam some stuff out on this tour during sound-checks and stuff. Sound-checks tend to get a bit dull on a tour so we can keep our interest up by trying new things

MM: and lots of willing audiences to test them out on too

TB: Yeah (laughs) I don’t know if it will get to that stage but we’ll certainly have a go and see what’s coming out ‘cause you know as a band, in terms of myself, Bruce and Mark, you know, we know what we’re capable of in terms of song writing, we just need to see what Mike can bring to the table, to see if that works and gels, you know if we come up with something that we think is worthy then we’ll do something with it but we’re not going to just put out any old rubbish.

MM: Why do I get a sneaky suspicion that Mike’s going to have you all at Everest at some point?

TB: (laughs) Well Mike’s like that! He’s a real kind of..... he doesn’t stop, he gets up and he’s doing things all the time, you know, I think he must be having a ball just now, you know, being in Big Country, also having The Alarm, because as soon as we finish in April he’s out with The Alarm for a month, so his life is full, and he loves it, he doesn’t want to stop. He’s got all the enthusiasm we need and because of all the stuff that he’s into as well, on a personal level, the charities and stuff, I’m sure we’ll end up doing lots of stuff for him as well, so yeah it’s great, just rolling with it and enjoying it.

MM: Yeah, whatever’s in that man’s water I want some

TB: (laughs) Well whatever’s in his water I want some too!

MM: (laughs) Yeah, he really is to be admired, I mean I know about his own health issues and what have you and I’m gobsmacked when I watch him, he’s an inspiration. Talking of inspiration I’m sure you’ve been inspiring quite a few people because you went into teaching music business studies didn’t you?

TB: Yeah well after Stuart passed away I kind of decided to leave mainstream music, I didn’t want Big Country turned into Queen, you know, get somebody else to sing just because somebody wanted to make a bit of cash and I decided to turn my back on it all and I wanted to do something which meant something . You know, my life up until that time, I was really privileged to be in a band that was respected and sold records and toured all over the world , but I wanted to put something back. I retrained as a teacher, teaching music production and technology and industry at FE colleges and I’ve been doing that for eight years now and really enjoy it. I now find myself in a situation where I’m teaching but I’m still in the band. I’m having to juggle but the juggling may have to cease soon (laughs) you know what I mean (laughs)

MM: I bet you’re very popular with the students

TB: Well put it this way, they believe me, you know, to have somebody who’s teaching them, who’s done it and there’s stuff available on the internet to see as well, they feel as though they’re getting it from the horse’s mouth so to speak but yeah, but I enjoy doing it as well, I absolutely love it. I know I’m not ready to give up the music business which is, you know, having the band active again is really working for me, I kind of like the balance of stuff between giving something back and doing it myself. So if I’m inspiring people, brilliant.

MM: Plus you had your own solo stuff as well didn’t you

TB: Yeah well that’s kind of something I was developing during that latter days of the band, the band were kind of hiccupping towards the end of the 90’s and I was just intent on doing something that I’d always wanted to do on my own which was just to produce some stuff and I started a record label, not only for my own stuff but to help younger bands in the area that I lived in , I lived in Cornwall and I was the token popular musician and I was always being hounded by people to help in one way or another, so starting up a record label was a way of doing that. So I kind of got into that for a couple of years, but it sort of kind of died a death as it would have done but I did a couple of solo albums which I’ve just released on the internet, but you know I enjoyed doing those, they were an outlet, you know, as a writing unit, the band, you know, you had 3 of us who predominately wrote stuff for the band and there’s always going to be a lot of stuff left over, so I kind of decided to do my own thing as well. Again that was only because the band weren’t doing an incredible amount at the time and it was all coming to a horrible end by then anyway so.... You know it wasn’t up until we did Damascus when we really tried to put an energy back into the group, we made that album which we were all absolutely kind of so up on , you know, it was during that recording we really kind of rediscovered the spirit of Big Country, but it was at that time that we were realising how really bad Stuart was becoming and when we released Fragile Thing we were really hoping that that was going to be the single to reintroduce the band to the charts and then we had that bloody disaster with that as well and that really kind of caps the whole thing

MM: Yeah , not nice memories to dwell on

TB: Not really but it’s part of the history and I think we all have to sort of acknowledge that was part of the history and it’s something that we’ve got to take on board. I mean it’s not until this stuff with the band started just now that any of us have really publically addressed Stuart’s passing, in any detail, and it’s been difficult you know , it’s been ten years but it’s been difficult to swallow even now to be honest but you know every time we go on stage we deliberately have our stage set up so that there is a space in the middle, to me that’s just a nice way to say ‘well he’s still here with us in spirit’ and quite rightly Mike pays homage to Stuart in the middle of the set and he kind of devised that himself and it works well. I think our audiences will still get a feeling that the band is still the band although one of us is not here in a physical presence

MM: No but I’m sure he is very much felt

TB: Yeah definitely and I think it’s there for us all to celebrate now rather than to lament. It’s still difficult at times.

MM: Of course, understandable

TB: I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do an interview like this 4 or 5 years ago, I just wouldn’t be able to talk.

MM: No, no, it would have been too painful wouldn’t it

TB: Sometimes you don’t want to accept things. I mean it wasn’t so much the band, it was just, you know, we were mates, friends,

MM: Absolutely, I’m always very aware of that so when I’m doing an interview I don’t want to intrude, open wounds,

TB: We know that people will want to know the story and want to know what happened and why things happened, we recently did an article with The Guardian which is about bands with dead members so to speak, you know, to put it really rawly, and yeah it’s a fact of life , some bands lose their guitar player, some bands lose their drummer or both or whatever, but when you’ve lost your main singer, main protagonist, you know people expect you not to be able to do what you did before, and to some extent I know I did, I didn’t think we’d be able to do it myself but I’ve been since proved wrong and quite gladly

MM: Yep and it’s opening a whole new chapter for Big Country now

TB: Well basically it’s giving us an opportunity to play the music we’ve always had a great pride in and deliver it to the people who have loved it over the years but also some new people because we’re getting younger kids coming to the gigs as well and they sound just as potent and as vibrant as they did back in 1983 because, it’s weird, it doesn’t sound like we’re playing an old fashioned kind of music, it sounds very ‘now’ and it sounds very potent

MM: Absolutely, and that’s why it’s ‘classic’ (laughs)

TB: ( laughs) I’ve heard the word ‘heritage’ knocked around recently

MM: (laughs) Yeah?

TB: (laughs) Yeah

MM: Well they are more than just songs really, I mean, they get into the blood, absolutely get in the blood, they’re anthems

TB: Well they were written from the blood you see, they were written about you know, the real things, there was nothing bubblegum about them, nothing contrived,

MM: Well I think we’re all interested in seeing the guys, up on the stage in April,

TB: We’re definitely enjoying it and it’s definitely really lovely to get up there and watching people react favourably to what we’re doing and long may that last, as I say, Mike’s been brilliant, Jamie’s been brilliant and the rest of us, myself Mark and Bruce we’re just having a ball now, it’s like a real relief I think in a way

MM: I’m glad you’re having a great time with it and I hope to catch some of the shows myself

TB: Good, well if you do come and make yourself known to us

MM: I will do. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you Tony, I wish you all the best for the tour and keep writing those new chapters in Big Country

TB: We’re writing them now! Thank you very much, great to speak with you

Copyright: Marilyn Michaels/Classic Rock Radio 2011

Big Country website:

Friday 1 April 2011

Whitesnake : Forevermore Fan Pack

Whitesnake : Forevermore Fan Pack
Future publishing

Right let’s get bone thing clear right from the start. Despite what some people have said regarding this album this is not Whitesnake straddling the two styles that make up the history of this band. I just cannot see the early incarnation of Whitesnake performing any of the material contained on Forevermore and that is not a bad thing either because to suggest so would mean that the band is stuck in the past and not moving forward. It is not re hashing the hair years either. No, this album is in my opinion a big improvement on the last Whitesnake album which I know Mr Coverdale personally likes but each to their own I say

What we have here in this rather fine Fan pack published by Future Publishing (who handle the publication of Classic Rock magazine and Classic Rock Presents Prog) is a bona fide return to the top for Whitesnake. I am as excited by this release as I was when 1987 came out all those years ago. David Coverdale has surrounded himself with a veritable bunch of pirates that play the back out of every single second of each song on this album. It has to be said that the song writing team of Coverdale and Aldridge is now bedding in rather nicely and with tracks like Steal Your Heart Away, Easier Said Than Done and Whipping Boy Blues we have a Whitesnake now that can bite!

What you also have here is an album of songs that can sit along the classics with no problem whatsoever. In fact there isn’t a song on this album that doesn’t sound like a Whitesnake song and that has not always been the way on previous albums in my opinion. Live however where these songs will make their mark and believe me you is will have the bite marks from these songs for some time. As a bonus we also have two tracks, Slide It In and Cheap and nasty from the forthcoming Live At Donnington 1990 DVD/CD package which will certainly wet the lips(No pun intended) of any self respecting Whitesnake fan

Thank God then after all David’s troubles and the rumours surrounding the problems with his voice that the rumours were untrue. On Forevermore he sounds better than ever and I for one am looking forward to the tour and this album will certainly be getting some heavy rotation on Classic Rock radio Stations.

I must also say well done Future because the accompanying magazine is a joy to read and fans will appreciate the extremely honest interview that features in this magazine. Interesting thoughts and stories surrounding the previous Whitesnake albums make this one Fan Pack worth investing in.

Joe Cocker :Sheffield Steel

Joe Cocker: Sheffield Steel
T-Bird records
Joe Cocker’s rock credentials are lengthy and of a high class and widely respected. He did however go down the mass popularity route in the late eighties and nineties and while he may have enjoyed massive success with this route most rock fans yearned for the day when Joe could be relied on to rock out.

Sheffield Steel comes from 1982 when Chris Blackwell signed Joe to a contract with Island. It could be argued however that this is where the more smooth version of Joe Cocker first reared its head. Don’t get me wrong this is a fine album with enough of Joe Cocker in it to satisfy even the hardened Cocker fan with some great covers of Bob Dylan (7 Days), Randy Newman (Marie) and Jimmy Webb (Just Like Always). There is even an excellent Steve Winwood cover, Back To The Night.

Having the ear to pick material has always been Joe Cocker’s talent and the material here is of top notch quality. The production and of course the high class sessioneers make this album the start of the smooth years for me. I prefer the rough raggle taggle feel of his earlier seventies material although there is n0o doubting Joe Cocker is in fine voice throughout. Just listen to his version of Many Rivers To Cross if you want proof of that.

Joe Cocker would shortly go on to massive worldwide success with Up Where We belong but for now Sheffield Steel proved that there was still a lot more to come from Joe Cocker after the seventies effectively left him behind as an artist.

Always a great interpreter of songs this album is full of great material and for that and Joe’s performance throughout I am prepared to give this album the seal of approval and you should too.

Beatles Stones Collaboration Footage Found

Whilst searching for other footage in a television company vault Gonzo Multimedia has unearthed some extremely rare footage of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones recording together in the late Sixties. The footage sees The Beatles and The Stones running through an extended song which eventually came out as two separate songs I’ve Got A Feeling and You Can’t Always get What You Want. Originally the song was I Got a Feeling You Can’t Always Get What You Want. After a disagreement over whether Phil Spector was going to produce the finished song the tape was spliced and each band went their separate ways to work on their respective songs. The footage was made by Yoko Ono who was there documenting the session and another film unit documenting her documenting the session.
The photo shows Paul McCartney with Keith Richards at the session.
It is hoped that the footage will get cleared for release later this year through Gonzo but a spokesman said this certainly is rare and no one would believe how good the footage is!