Where To Go?
Last November I had the pleasure of talking with Neil Carter. I had reached out to him on Facebook and we agreed to schedule an ‘interview’ using Whatsapp. He was over in the UK, having just completed roughly 6 months on the road with UFO. For me the call done mid-afternoon was in the midst of work. A few minutes before the call with him I was at my desk working in a midtown Manhattan office. A few minutes before the hour, I got up and headed to a conference room, complete with a couch! As I walked out I reminded my boss. He actually thought it kind of cool. I think. At least I did not get any grief about it.
Meanwhile, keep in mind Neil had just come off a six month tour with UFO. He had not been planning on that. When he celebrated the bringing in of 2019 on New Years Eve, that was probably not on the to-do list. He had not played with UFO since like 1983. It had been, if my math is right, thirty-six years, since he last played with them?
Sadly, their long-time rhythm guitarist / keyboardist, Paul Raymond, who Neil had already taken over for once, passed shortly after they completed the British leg of their ongoing tour! That was mid-April of 2019. Neil was in fact at their London Concert earlier in the month. With the passing Paul Raymond though, UFO again reached out to Neil. Once again they asked if he would be interested in taking on the rhythm guitar and keyboard chores he had taken on back in the early 80s. Once again, taking over for Paul Raymond. The first time though it was just due to typical band squabbles. Nothing as final as this time. Sadly,
Once again, 36 plus years later, he comes in and with minimal rehearsals and prep, and was on the road again. Both times it seems were like that. I sat watching them when they hit NYC this past October, just impressed with this fact. It was a good show, and I left pondering that, the math. It had been 36 years.
Anyway, what follows are some bits and pieces of that brief conversation. It is part interview, part conversation, more than a dash of reflection on my side, and of course part tribute to a band and a musician I have listened to for forty plus years. In short, a bit of fun.
Wild Horses and a Time Check
Following my notes, after the preliminaries, we started with Wild Horses, the band. It was a band which consisted of Brian Robertson on guitar, Jimmy Bain doing double duty on bass and vocals, Neil Carter doing rhythm guitar, and Clive Edwards on drums. They released a self titled album in 1980 (Which can be found on iTunes!). For Neil and perhaps Clive, this was their first ‘big’ band. Both interestingly would later in their musical wanderings join UFO, granted at different times.
The big thing about Wild Horses was that it featured Brian Robertson and Jimmy Bain. Brian of course was fresh from Thin Lizzy, where he was recognized for his guitar work. Especially those guitar harmonies worked out with Scott Gorham. It is Brian and Scott that you hear on classics such as “The Boys are Back in Town” and “Jail Break”.
Jimmy Bain, the other man in Wild Horses, was coming from bass duties in Rainbow; which was Ritchie Blackmore’s band after Ritchie had left Deep Purple. For Neil though, this was his first “big” band, playing with folks such as Robertson and Bain, who both for the last few years had toured across the globe and contributed to some key albums for the aforementioned bands.
Interestingly, Trevor Rabin produced the self titled “Wild Horses”, their first record. Neil pointed out that it was the record label, not knowing what to do with Trevor Rabin, that had gotten him involved in the project. Of course, he later went on to Yes during the 90125 – “Owner of a Lonely Heart” era, but that was a few years away.
Wild Horses got started in 1978 and continued on till 1981. It was an interesting time. Change was in the air. UFO released No Place To Run, which now featured Paul Chapman on guitar. Michael Schenker had moved on to MSG. Chapman had previously played with the Irish band Skid Row among others. And of course with Skid Row, it was Gary Moore who Paul had replaced. For what it is worth, Phil Lynott had passed through Skid Row also, but that was perhaps ten years before, somewhere around 1970? Something like that.
And as Wild Horses is working on their debut, Thin Lizzy releases Chinatown. Again in 1980. This album featured neither Brian Robertson, nor Gary Moore. This time it was Snowy White who joined Scott Gorham on guitar, and he had come from session work with Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Regarding Lizzy, Chinatown was different again when contrasted with the Black Rose album with Gary Moore, and likewise the Jailbreak or Bad Reputation albums with Robertson.
Meanwhile, with Jimmy Bain moving on to Wild Horses from Rainbow. A dude by the name of Roger Glover took over for him. Rainbow changed dramatically in this time. Ronnie James Dio was gone. Graham Bonnet, a short haired kid with sun glasses, took over the vocals. With that the band went from mysticism and and almost biblical references to a much more modern feel. That transition can be seen in the carnival lights and surgical gowns found on the album covers and even the titles of albums.
It was the start of a new decade. Led Zeppelin was now twelve years in the making. It was on September 25th 1980 that John Bonham passed. Jeff Beck of Yardbirds fame was by 1980 not really doing rock any more or certainly pushing its limits! Yes released one last album, Drama, with the look and feel of the band’s past work. It was February 19th 1980 that Bon Scott was lost. It was the year, largely in response to Bon’s passing, that AC/DC’s Back in Black was released. It was the year that Phil Lynott released Solo in Soho, with tunes such as “Yellow Pearl”, “King’s Call”, and “Talk in 79”.
Iron Maiden released their first album in 1980. Both the Babys and Foreigner were working on their 2nd or 3rd albums by 1980. Punk was already absorbed into the mainstream by 1980. You can see that in Bernie Torme being now part of Gillan. Billy Idol was winding down Generation X and looking west to NYC. And in NYC? Blondie, the Ramones, and the Talking Heads were already routinely being played on the FM dial.
I am routinely amazed at who plays what with who doing what in relation to musicians and music. It really is not just in music, but much of the above is so that. So much of it. Musicians exploring, jamming, making, recording music. Fulfilling contractual obligations. The above, however, is not just that. It is more than a giant jam session. It is something, but hold onto that thought for a moment.
So Neil gets the gig doing rhythm guitar in Wild Horses in 1980. He had been doing his thing, playing small venues with his own band, writing some tunes. In the process, he apparently caught someone’s eye. It should be noted that he is also a classically trained musician, a clarinetist proper. So a classically trained musician, who had caught the rock n’roll bug.
Neil joined the band as they started work on their demos, contributing to those recordings and the debut album. Being the Lizzy fan that I am, I ask is Phil involved? He is. Neil shares that Phil Lynott would often enough pass through in the course of those recording sessions and rehearsals. Phil was involved with the project. It was not the case that Brian was just out of Lizzy – Goodbye – done. Phil took an interest in seeing Brian succeed and lent a hand towards that end. At least to some degree.
You can literally see this in the one or two Wild Horses video to be found on Youtube. Click on Wild Horses’ “Reservations”. The song’s lyrics allude to the sad affairs of native Americans. In the video, Phil is found introducing the band and song on one of the BBC “Top of the Pops” like shows. Regarding the tune itself, it reminds me of Lizzy’s “Killing of the Buffalo” here. It seems to have had some effect on Phil. And just to be clear, “Reservations” though with a similar theme, is no doubt a different tune.
In another Youtube video, Phil joins the band after they do their tune, “All Right Now”. With him on stage, they proceed to do a medley of the Lizzy rockers “Are You Ready” and “Rosalie”. Wild Horses is never far from Lizzy. At moments their album is a little funkier, as if they had decided to just hang with Johnny the Fox or Jimmy the Weed, or Sting and Joe Jackson. Probably not.
So there is more than a hint of Lizzy here. You obviously have the guitar work, and of course one of the four guys who contributed to the writing in Lizzy. You also hear in Wild Horses those little fills at random moments too. But it is not only the guitar and the writing. The vocal phrasings of more than one song have a hint of Philip. Phil’s voice is heard on at least one track on the album.
It reveals an affection Phil had for Brian. Brian was no longer in Lizzy, but Phil still took an interest. Lizzy’s management was also involved, so there was a personal and financial investment here. It seems that Phil still liked the guy and felt there was something there. Brian may not have been the baby of the band any longer, but Phil Lynott still chose to stay involved.
Neil hints that that support was limited, and perhaps even double edged; there was a competition between the mentor and protege. Perhaps Phil was not fully the benevolent benefactor he appeared. Regardless, I am afraid that Wild Horses, Brian and Jimmy Bain, just had their own challenges at that time. More importantly here, however, was that Wild Horses was for Neil a proper introduction to rock’n’ roll. Neil had graduated from the small pubs his band was playing to proper recording studios, life in London proper, a regional tour or two, appearances on the BBC, etc. He had passed muster.
UFO and the Wild The Willing and the Innocent
In 1980, Neil is invited to join UFO. Paul Raymond, as mentioned above, had a falling out with his mates, and leaves UFO. The band is working on completing their new album, The Wild the Willing and the Innocent, and are scheduled to start touring soon enough. A rhythm guitarist/ keyboardist is needed. Never mind that Neil has not touched a Hammond Organ. He does play some piano. Close enough for rock n’roll, right?
He was brought to the attention of UFO by Phil Collen (Girl / Def Leppard). Phil is a mutual friend of both Neil and Pete Way, the bass player for UFO. And with that Neil moves from the more speculative Wild Horses project to UFO, a solidly established band. And his timing here is incredible.
The album they are close to completing, The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent is just an amazing album. Largely self-produced. It is a mix or series of contrasts. It is the play of the street light, the neon, on the steel blade of a knife in the night. The album is for me what happens after they depart the gas station the band are found at on the cover of No Place to Run, the album proceeding it. They continue on into the night. It just seems to captures some of the innocence and violence found in the random moments of life and rock n’roll in London in 1981.
The first track of the album begins with these crashing distorted notes before the proper rhythm kicks in. The song, “Chains Chains”, is the tale of a gambler and one of the girls working the room he is playing in. He falls for her, and ultimately gets himself killed. And the girl? She finds herself back working the room they started in. Nothing has changed for her. The involvement with this gambler? His love was a lie. That is the album. Violence and a desperate realism.
Move onto the second song, “Long Gone”. It starts with this acoustic guitar, this repetitive theme, this repetitive lament, with a hint of this bass lingering at the end of each line. Ultimately, leading into the melody and lyrics. Again, the lyrics are of desperation, violence, fear. A Messiah or a hero is suggested, but none is found. Not on these streets. Not here.
Again, “Long Gone”, just as in the first track, offers no release. Phil Mogg urges they walk away, that they bust out. . . Someday. At the end there is this play of orchestra and guitar, ever so briefly before the orchestra, the strings, dominate and the song fades. Like the distant stars. What we have at best is a soft caress, the summer rain that ever so briefly washes the streets.
The third tune, the title track, “The Wild, The Willing, and The Innocent”, starts with another dash of orchestration. This time against the lone notes of a piano. A quiet guitar strum, one chord over and over, punctuated, restrained. Isolation against the backdrop of the night sky. Again the tension, the danger, the potential for violence. This theme of violence and desperation, introduced and explored in the first and second song, continues. Played with here in this intro.
When the song proper begins, it is with this distorted riff over this mid-tempo rhythm. The lyrics again of violence, but they have here changed. Still in the streets, still in the jungle, but now the threat is them, the band. It is Phil. He is the jackal. It is he who is now Public Enemy Number One. It is he who is looking for that wild rose in the heat of the night. It is he who is taking aim. It is he who is looking for the chance to bite. And this wailing chorus, this lone voice. Sung over the refrain offered up by Phil. Is it an indictment? A call? A response? The song ends largely as it began and we are left without an answer.
The album continues on and the themes of violence, of predatory sex, of the loneliness and alienation of the streets further explored and deepened. It is one part 1970s urban decay, one part sex drugs & rock n’roll. Well maybe, two parts sex, drugs & rock n’roll, one part urban decay, but also with a dash of classic Noir cinema stylings.
Musically it is hard rock and roll. I don’t know about heavy metal. It has some of the crunch of metal, and some pretty tasty guitar work courtesy of Paul Chapman. It is more than metal. The range of the playing is just richer, and more explorative. The vocals were solid. Phil Mogg was and is always good. Even today on their recent tour, celebrating 50 years, Phil is sounding pretty good. He has decent range with just a hint of rasp. Barely. He is not operatic, though expressive. He does not scream. He just has a certain tone. Better yet a certain timbre, which works for hard rock. On stage at least, he is reserved, with a certain dash of wit.
A tight rhythm section too. Andy Parker was always straight forward in his drumming. Again solid. And Pete Way also routinely delivered and always surprised. He was the man who offered up “Too Hot To Handle”. And Pete Way was the guy to check out on stage. He just just went wild on stage. You could feel the energy he exuded. Musically and visually. Kinetically.
Neil Carter with his rhythm playing and keyboards just reinforced this rhythm section. He just further reinforced an already solid band UFO, and a solid live act. Even considering the amount of drugs this band consumed, if we are to believe Pete Way’s bio. Just considering the amount of drugs Pete apparently consumed.
I know when I caught them in 1982 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, supporting Ozzy, I was impressed. This was the tour in which Randy Rhoads tragically passed. My lament at that show, however, was the brevity of UFO’s set. Well that and the fact that Bernie Torme had already left the tour to return to the UK. And of course the passing of Randy Rhoads. Torme was the first to attempt to fill his shoes once the tour resumed. Neil’s comment regarding all the events of that tour was that he just sensed that something terrible was going to happen. He just felt it. It was too much of a crazy train. Considering the amount of drugs and partying that Pete Ways describes in his bio and my recollections of Ozzy, I can understand Neil’s angst here. Something was going to blow, and it did.
Going back to Neil, it just seems he could pick up things musically. And he was steady. He has a certain grace. Even in our conversation, granted only a brief chat with a fan, I just got a feeling that he has a certain sense of balance. He is able to makes sense of things, keep things going, regardless of how crazy things get. It is a useful skill if you are on stage performing tunes such as “Lights Out” and “Rock Bottom” and “Too Hot To Handle” And that sense of balance was I am sure tested during that 1982 US tour with Ozzy.
Going back to the Wild the Willing and the Innocent, Neil talked of his playing the saxophone. He asserted that he is not a sax player. Apparently he had not much if any experience with a sax prior to that album. Regardless, it is he doing the saxophone solo on “Lonely Heart”, midway through the second side of the album. I believe that is him. No real experience with the instrument but there it is at the end of Lonely Heart as the song fades. As I mentioned above, no real Hammond Organ experience. Yet, if you listen to them live in Chicago in 1981, a couple months into the tour supporting the album, Neil more than pulls it off with the Hammond and the sax.
The last song on the album is “the Profession of Violence”. It so plays with the themes of the album. For those knowledgable of British crime history, you might recognize the title of the song. “The Profession of Violence” is also the title of a best selling book detailing the rise and fall of the Kray twins in the British mob. I had never heard of them but with the internet, much can be discovered quickly. From the little I read it seems very much in line with a Scorcese flick, but in London. Imagine Joe Pesci doing a cockney accent. So the song starts with that implicit reference.
The lyrics though talk of another romance gone bad. Just as “Chains Chains” alluded to such at the beginning of the album. This time much of the song is piano until the guitar solo. Again some orchestration can be heard at moments. Part of the wonder of this use of orchestration is the lightness of it. One minute it is there and the next it is not. It was done not by anyone in UFO interestingly. I had always thought it was courtesy of Neil Carter. I knew Neil had some classical training, and before my conversation with him I had just assumed that this too was his work. It turns out, however, that it was done by Paul Buckmaster, whose resume includes similar work for Elton John, the Stones, David Bowie, Carly Simon among others. For me and many others it more than works, it is not overbearing and just frames the musical project we are focused upon.
“Profession of Violence” as I said is largely another romance gone bad, but near the end of the lyrics we find ourselves back in world of the Krays. Phil Mogg references the halls of justice, the notches on a gun, and another debt being paid. So again the commingling of sex or love gone bad, and violence, and the alienation, the loneliness involved in such. And of course not long after, Pat Benatar had fun with this too, referencing “notches in her lipstick case”. challenging her lover to “Hit me with your best shot, Fire away.”
The album is for me one of their best. The themes dealt with, musically and lyrically, especially this idea of violence, is very much a part of rock n’roll. You see it with Hendrix setting his guitar on fire. the same with Jeff Beck and Pete Townsend destroying their instruments. You can see it in Elvis, a certain danger. Likewise with the Stones. And that violence can likewise be found here. Even in the selection of the title of this album and the last album too it is visible. On both, they challenge Bruce Springsteen; they challenge the innocents of such projects, challenge the naïveté of such. Simply put, rock n’roll has a destructive violent component.
And what especially makes it work is the veiling of that. Phil’s voices hints at it, at something darker, but he does not scream it. It can be sensed in his reserve. He has a certain English humor too, but something is there. There is an element of danger, something unknown, unseen. Likewise, the orchestration, which UFO has used before, but not as skillfully through a whole album. And as I said, the lightness of it, the almost unseen component of it. It complements and frames, but the focus remains on Paul Chapman’s distorted guitar, Pete Way’s bass, Phil’s voice, Neil’s keyboards.
UFO and Neil Carter continued on in this vein for another two albums. Mechanix and Making Contact are very much in the space explored in The Wild the Willing and the Innocent. All are solid albums. I think the challenge however was betrayed in the title and album cover of Mechanix. They had become mechanics, with a wrench in hand, attempting to maintain, and preserve the space, the heights, that UFO had achieved. And that project is limited. It is a project of conservation.
After Mechanix, Pete Way moved on. First to Fastway, with Fast Eddie Clark, who had recently left Motorhead, and then to his own project, Waysted. And after Making Contact, UFO, the band itself was done. Of course, it was not long after that Phil Mogg partnered again with Paul Raymond and hooked up with Atomik Tommy and UFO were back, but that really was a different project.
This was 1983. Neil Carter, now finds himself a free agent. Initially, it seems that he, Paul Chapman and Andy Parker were going to carry on in some fashion, but that did not happen. Instead, we once again find Gary Moore returning to the scene.
To be continued. . .