In the early 1960s there were many fledgling Scottish bands struggling to create a unique sound of their own. A major factor holding them back was their remoteness from the main hub of the UK music business. London was where you had to be and frankly nobody was interested in what was happening north of Watford let alone in Scotland.
In a gesture of defiance, and self-publicity, guitarist Manny Charlton and The Mark Five, emulated the Jarrow Marchers by demonstration marching all the way from Edinburgh to London. By the time of reaching Market Harborough Fontana offered a record deal. However following the release of 'Baby What's Wrong Manny Charlton explains, in the end this only aggravated Jock/Sassenach music-biz tensions even more: "We made a record and came against the machine in London. The people just cashed in on the publicity we had and after the record was made we were forgotten."
Matters were made even worse by Scottish promoters and ballroom managers who insisted that Scottish groups limit their set-list strictly to covers of singles in the UK top thirty. In other words, performers like Agnew, Charlton, singer and front man Dan McCafferty, and drummer Darrell Sweet were excluded by 'the machine in London', and yet trapped into mimicking its often dire output as well.
So, yes, it did really happen that soon-to-be hard rockers Naz were forced - in their original incarnation as the Shadettes - to perform tongue-in-cheek versions of 'Simple Simon Says' if they wanted to get paid after the gig. It was enough to make this group of angry young musos from Dunfermline tell the Brylcreemed Locarno ballroom brigade to stuff it, and instead they went out and conquered the world. What follows is the story mostly told by Pete Agnew and Dan McCafferty, and possibly in greater detail than ever before - of how Nazareth did just that. But first here are some Naz facts to set the scene.
Trailblazers for 1980s Scottish acts like Big Country, Wet Wet Wet, Del Amitri, Deacon Blue, and Texas? Very likely so. Heroes and inspiration for Guns N' Roses? Most definitely. But The Nazareth Story isn't just another from-rags-to-unheard-of-riches tale of making it in rock'n'roll.
Several things marked these guys out as a bit different: first, they were married and settled before they decided to take the plunge in the summer of 1971 - quitting good day-jobs and moving away from home to a grotty communal flat in London; second, they grew up and lived in a conservative-attitudes Scottish town, not a bustling fashion-conscious metropolis like Glasgow. Lastly, in bingo millionaire Bill Fehilly, they had what no other struggling Scottish band had at the time - solid financial backing.
So being husbands and fathers meant that once they turned pro they were very focused about what they were going to do they had to be. Dan McCafferty said something which says a lot about Dunfermline in the early-1970s: once the band had made it, their image long corkscrew hair, loud flares, and platform boots - did not always sit that comfortably with the folks back home.
Dan now fondly remembers returning from yet another gruelling tour and, ever the dutiful husband, he offered to accompany his wife to the supermarket to do the shopping: 'Not dressed like that you won't!' or some such jokey comment was her reply.
Dress codes on stage were also an issue back in the 1960s. The Shadettes got no hassle from ballroom managers when they were all kitted out bright yellow suits regulation show-biz uniforms were fine. But as the progressive rock thing took off in the late-1960s and musicians dressed more to express individuality, some ballroom heavies didn't like it at all: for instance, the thought of someone trying to stop Pete Agnew going on stage because the manager didn't approve of his buckskin jacket seems crazy now but it did happen because that was how things were back then.
And then there were times in the very early Nazareth days when Naz's glitter jacket, proto-heavy metal image earned them some scary even life-threatening crowd disapproval: like when they supported the seriously dressed-down Rory Gallagher on his late-1972 European tour.
Yet, weirdly, all those Shadettes apprentice years as a pop-covers band in Dunfermline's Belleville Hotel and Kinema Ballroom played a big part in Nazareth eventually finding their own formula for international success. How? Well, each and every week without fail during their Belleville Hotel residency they had to learn three new hits from the charts they'd rehearse them on a Sunday afternoon and perform them that same night. Now how many semi-pro bands these days could cope with nailing down that amount of new repertoire in just a couple of hours, week-in week-out?
But maybe that was how Dan, Pete, Manny and Darrell developed the knack of stamping their very own identity on somebody else's hit song, something which for Nazareth in the mid-1970s proved to be the key to the world highway. Whereas their breakthrough in Britain was down to the strength of their own original songwriting on the Razamanaz album - especially Broken Down Angel it was their knack of coming up with totally fresh covers of strong songs written by other people that broke them abroad. They became huge in Canada after This Flight Tonight soared up the singles' charts there, whilst reaching number 11 in Britain. Taken from Joni Mitchell's 1970 Blue album, Nazareth's version produced by Deep Purple's Roger Glover as part of the Loud'N'Proud sessions - is more than a re-working. What they've done is taken the song from its folk-ballad roots right through to heavy metal. Small wonder then that Joni Mitchell both was stunned by and loved this version, reportedly even calling it a Nazareth song from then on.
And critics gave Naz the thumbs-up for going to a lot of trouble doing other people's songs in a way that adds; this at a time when prog-rock virtually dictated that in order to be cool you only did your own material to progress the music (and get those fat songwriting royalty cheques). Reviewing a Nazareth gig at Amersham College, and having heard the band's version of Leon Russell's Alcatraz, Woody Guthrie's Vigilante Man and Tim Rose's Morning Dew Melody Maker's Chris Charlesworth wrote: "Their music is basically rock, spiced with bluesy guitar work from Manny Charlton. They don't rely entirely on original material in fact it's probably true to say that their best numbers with one possible exception are their adaptations of other writer's material. They crack away happily at 'Morning Dew, which they have probably played at every gig since they turned pro three years ago. It's changed a lot in that time but it's still a good song. Perhaps more groups should realise that someone else's song well played is often a more uplifting experience than an original that's mediocre."
And, as Manny Charlton told fanzine Razamanewz, this kind of pressure just went on and right through to the recording in 1977 of album number nine Expect No Mercy: "It was more metal. Not intentional, we didn't go into the studio planning a change in direction. We were under a lot of pressure, and doing a lot of touring at that point. We'd be on tour in Canada and the record company wanted to know where the next album was coming from. We had to get our heads down, eventually we'd get into the studio and "What're we going to do?" Some albums were written and recorded very quickly, and when you consider that, it's great. Razamanaz was the start of three albums in 15 months, plus tours. It's a lot of work."
Dan McCafferty's take on pressures in the music industry was characteristically blunt and to the point: "It's a funny business because you've got to work your balls off for two years to get there, and when you get there you've got to work even harder to make sure the next one's an even bigger hit." And in year 2000 Pete Agnew reflected during the interview how this kind of time pressure in fact stayed with them right through to 1980s releases such as Sound Elixir: "When we did that album - our last with Billy - the material had a lot of promise but I don't know what we were doing production-wise. The album never ended up sounding good. And I've always thought what a shame we didn't have more time. On our latest album Boogaloo what happened was we mixed it and then the album didn't come out for nearly a year and a half afterwards. And we kept coming back to it and saying 'Er this isn't right' and so we'd add some guitar and re-mix. Now if we had had that kind of space back then it would have made a big difference. Back then we handed the masters to the record company and within six weeks it was on the streets and we were away on tour again."
What is typically music-biz about The Nazareth Story, though, is how serious pressure was put on them once Broken Down Angel and its follow-up single 'Bad Bad Boy' charted reaching 9 and 10 respectively - in 1973. Their record company Mooncrest (a subsidiary of B&C as was their first label Pegasus) wanted the hits to keep-a-coming. You can see it from B&C's point of view the company didn't lose faith even when Exercises - their second album, in parts inspired by Grateful Dead's American Beauty classic - stiffed, and now it wanted a return on that investment.
But what this did was to put ridiculous demands on the band to deliver. You get an idea of just how ridiculous these demands were by these extracts from press interviews with Pete Agnew and Dan McCafferty just after their first run of chart success:
The other thing that Nazareth were about to discover was funny about the business, and their path to success on a global scale, was that there's no accounting for different tastes in the singles' market from country to country. For instance, at the end of 1974 with a further two successful albums out, Loud'N'Proud and Rampant, Mooncrest were eager for more singles' sales. A cover of the 1966 Yardbirds hit Shapes Of Things (from the Rampant album) might have made a good single, but in spring 1974 they chose the self-penned 'Shanghai'd in Shanghai' as a follow-up to September 1973's 'This Flight Tonight'. It failed.
Mooncrest still badly wanted another hit so Naz recorded the Everly Brothers' hit Love Hurts written by Boudleaux Bryant. This went nowhere in England but was top ten in America; and then in Norway it reached number one and stayed there for almost forty weeks.
Similarly, their 1971 debut album - warmly received by critics yet not a big seller - had two singles taken from it both released in 1972 - that did nothing on the home front. But 'Dear John' made the top three in France whilst Morning Dew was big in Germany - enough so to provide the band with a hectic European touring schedule throughout 1972.
In America Warner Brothers picked up on 'Morning Dew' and its potential given that the song was written by respected American artist Tim Rose. But sales were poor and at the time Pete Agnew had a sneaking suspicion that this might have been something to do with some hatchet work done by Warners whose good intention was to make the single more radio-friendly: Pete: "It was a seven minute track and they cut it to three. I think Warner Brothers had someone editing for them who we thought must have been a deaf mute they must have run the tape past him and at three-and-a- half second intervals he would hit it with an axe."
Britain in 1973 most definitely was the year of Nazareth, a year when Melody Maker readers voted them Brightest Hope. But if you look at the UK chart placing of follow-up albums to Razamanaz which reached number 11 from 1974 what looks like a gradual decline here is more than offset by a series of breakthroughs on the international scene. Whereas Loud'N'Proud reached number 10, Rampant charted with sales nowhere near as strong, and album six Hair Of The Dog failed to chart in Britain but notched up massive sales world-wide.
Musically, 1974's Rampant was a move towards metal and it was also the last of three albums produced by Deep Purple's Roger Glover before Naz's Manny Charlton took over. In 1997, looking back, Manny explained to fanzine Razamanewz the reasons for the split from the man who less than a couple of years earlier had helped the band capture for the first time their live energy on vinyl: "It was a mixture of the band feeling that Roger wasn't keeping up with what we were trying to do, and we were trying to go somewhere and felt it was wrong, and I said I'd like to produce the band. The first thing I did was 'Love Hurts. We went down to some dingy studio to do it, partly as a stop-gap, and the record company wanted a hit single. We recorded it and thought it was great. Forgot about it and moved on to do the rest of the album. We weren't going to have it on the album, we recorded 'Guilty' for the album. Jerry Moss at A&M Records heard it and said 'That's a hit! Take 'Guilty' off and put that on'. He renewed our contract on the strength of 'The Hair Of The Dog' album. The next singles, 'My White Bicycle' and 'Holy Roller' were recorded to get something out."
1975 saw the release of Hair Of The Dog and the song itself lays down the blueprint for stadium heavy rock and metal anthems of the future: that 'son-of-a-bitch' chorus custom-built for crowd response, and a very heavy rock rhythm from start to finish. Comparisons with AC/DC are natural but the point is that Nazareth and Aerosmith were the pioneers ... and the rest followed. So it's not surprising then that Guns N' Roses were big fans of Nazareth, as Pete Agnew explained to Metal Hammer's Tom Russell. Russell interviewed that band when they first came to England and were playing club venues like the Marquee, and the tape they had on in their hotel room was Nazareth's Greatest Hits. Pete Agnew then remembered how "just before Guns N' Roses broke we played seven gigs in California as part of our US tour, and they came to every one. They were just fans of the band. It seems that Nazareth and Aerosmith were, to them, what the Beatles and Stones were to us. They were all right blokes. It seems that now  they are becoming more and bizarre but at that time they were great guys. In fact Axl wanted us to play 'Love Hurts' at his wedding!
With Nazareth's cover of Tomorrow's 1967 hit 'My White Bicycle' - which got them to 14 in the singles chart in spring 1975 Naz again showed their talent for creating new out of old, but it was to be their penultimate taste of the top twenty. Self-penned American rock-influenced 'Holy Roller' crept up to 36 in late-1975 whilst 1976's crop of three singles - 'Carry Out Feelings', 'You're The Violin', and 'I Don't Want To Go On Without You' all flopped. Just as the 'White Bicycle' single began to chart B&C Records went into liquidation and it was only swift action on Mountain's behalf that saved the day. Mountain formed their own label and cut a licensing deal with EMI (B&C's distributor) who continued to press their records until Phonogram took over distribution.
Close Enough For Rock'n'Roll - Naz's seventh album - came out in early 1976 and was their first on the Mountain label, as well as the first to be recorded in Canada. The opener 'Telegram' is a musical diary entry by a successful hard rock band who are growing a tad weary forever slogging it out on the road.
The album achieved little in Britain - no big surprise there - but helped to consolidate Nazareth's hold on Canada where they became one of the biggest British acts ever, notching up no less than fifty gold and platinum albums there during the 1970s. America also beckoned, big time, as their US label A&M Records increasingly regarded them as a priority act. Mountain had the rights to the old material and naturally was determined to milk it for what it was worth. The Greatest Hits album was out in the shops in time for Christmas '75 but didn't chart.
A couple of years later in November 1977 they released an extended-play 45 called the Hot Tracks EP which featured 'Love Hurts' 'This Flight Tonight' 'Broken Down Angel' and 'Hair Of The Dog' as well. Reaching number 15 it would be Nazareth's final 7" top twenty hit. Play 'N' The Game was album number eight (not counting Greatest Hits) and released in November 1976. It continued the pattern of doing next to nothing sales-wise in England (where, for a couple of years to come, punk rock's cut-throat irreverence eclipsed most acts who dared to take their own music seriously) and yet sold shed-loads abroad breaking Nazareth in South America.
Sadly, it was around this time that the band lost their manager Bill Fehilly killed in a plane crash. Bill, a Scottish bingo millionaire, was never a music-biz mentor and hustler in the Andrew Loog Oldham/Peter Grant mould, but from their 1971 debut album Nazareth onwards he kept on coming up with the readies and even during the band's tricky Exercises phase Bill remained unfazed. Pete and Dan are the first to acknowledge that without Bill Fehilly Nazareth would never have crossed the border to England never mind the world.
A year later in November 1977 came album number nine Expect No Mercy and a definite shift by Nazareth to the AOR market. Adult Oriented Rock was newly created around that time mainly by two bands the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac with their monster Rumours album - and on songs like Manny Charlton's 'Shot Me Down' you can hear a big Mac influence. Typical of eclectic Nazareth is a funky 12-bar version of the Ray Charles' classic Busted; and an equally strong cover of Randy Newman's 'Gone Dead Train' from the album reached number 49 in the singles charts. The other single 'Place In Your Heart' got no further than a bubbling under 70. It was high time for a change.
Guitarist Zal Cleminson (ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Zal, and Tear Gas) was asked to join, and as Manny Charlton told Razamanewz, he brought a lot of energy and ideas with him:
"Getting a second guitarist was pretty much my decision, I think. I told the guys that I'd asked Zal to come along and play on the next album. I felt at that point that I was getting kind of stretched as a guitarist, and wanted someone else I admired and inspired me. I learnt a lot from Zal, a great player. From what I read he loved it. It was a brave decision to leave, to do what he wanted to do. When he came into the band he was real enthusiastic. I really enjoyed working with him and was disappointed when he left." Cleminson joined in time to record Nazareth's tenth No Mean City out in January 1979.
Naz as a twin-guitar quintet worked wonders even in Britain where 'May The Sun Shine' almost nudged the top twenty, reaching number 22. 'Star' was the follow-up in July 1979 but only got to 54, and as such was Nazareth's final singles chart entry.
For Malice In Wonderland Nazareths eleventh album released in February 1980, Manny Charlton handed over the producer's hot seat to Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter, pedal-steel guitarist/guitarist with the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan.
This turned out to be a controversial move within the band Manny "I stopped [producing] because I wanted to learn. I'd done five albums and felt that the band was in a sort of rut, and I wanted someone else to produce the album. The record company recommended Jeff Baxter. Another guy who wanted to do it was Bruce Fairburn who went on to do Aerosmith, that was one decision I wish had gone the other way." A lot of Zal Cleminson went into the album with songs like Hearts Grown Cold and Showdown At The Border. Zal was also heavily involved in Talkin' To One Of The Boys, So naturally he was hacked off, when in Britain the album went nowhere, with a bullet. But another far more serious development also caused the guitarist to want to quit, In early 1980 the boys got a devastating piece of news which came totally out of the blue: Mountain was heavily in debt and about to go bust. So for weeks on end, instead of rehearsing, Pete and Dan were on the telephone full-time talking to moneymen and just desperately trying to pick themselves off the floor. Zal just wanted to play day and night - and couldn't deal with all the financial hassles getting in the way of rehearsals. So he left to form his own band, Tandoori Cassette, which never took off.
Completing the dozen, The Fool Circle was out in February 1981 It was Naz's first release on NEMS - and made the album charts but only at number 60. The band once more recorded as a 4-piece with ex-Spirit keyboardist John Locke filling out the sound on a few tracks - and the music veered away from the commercial, sometimes American-rock of Malice In Wonderland, and instead was a mixed bag of rock, reggae and blues, with some socially aware political lyrics thrown in as well. Pete now reflects: "The Fool Circle was a different kind of turn for us I guess. We wrote that kind of separately - Dan and I wrote half of it and Manny did the rest."
After The Fool Circle a respected young guitar slinger and songwriter from Glasgow who had played in Cleminson's band Zal, of five months, was recruited. His name was Billy Rankin and around the same time John Locke was keen to join up, and so the next album release the very high energy live double-album 'Snaz recorded in Vancouver in May 1981 - featured what Dan and Pete now call the Nazareth 6-piece orchestra. As before, it was Naz's take on rock classics such as J.J. Cale's 'Cocaine' and Z.Z. Top's 'Tush' that helped to make the album a massive international seller.
The band also recorded a live video in Houston Texas on the tour, a great live show, with added interviews from the band.
2XS sold well in the States and Europe extending the band's already extensive touring schedule even further. 2XS amazingly wasn't even released in Britain thanks to legal hassles with their new label NEMS. With Locke out, the 5-piece produced Sound Elixer another eclectic set taking in soul and funk as well. After the tour to promote the album ,Billy decided to leave the band to persue a solo career, he released two solo albums 'Growing up to fast' featuring the US top forty hit 'Baby Come Back' single. and Crankin'.
Nazareth was now back to their original 4-piece line-up.
In 1984 they landed a UK record deal with Vertigo and released The Catch, a Full UK tour followed, including a support slot at the Milton Keynes bowl with Status Quo. In 1985 the band's by now ex-manager Jim White attempted to release Sound Elixir in England on his Sahara label until a court ruling went against him.
In 1986 Nazareth put out there rockiest album in years 'Cinema' It was a welcome return to form for the band. But it wasn't to last!
In 1989 came the controversial Snakes and Ladders out on Vertigo in Europe but not released in England. Events and weird scenes that surrounded the production of that album eventually led to Manny Charlton leaving in 1990 after twenty-two years with the band. At the start of 1990, after a tour of Russia, tensions in the band were high due to the lack of label support or promotion...long time member Manny Charlton left the band. For the first time in Nazareth's 22-year career the bands 4 original members were no longer together.
With the departure of Manny the band agreed there was only one logical choice to fill Manny's post Billy Rankin. Billy accepted and rejoined Nazareth as Lead guitarist. After Rehearsals and a few warm up gigs in Scotland the Band were back on the road, with tours in America, Russia and Europe.
Soon after they entered the studio and began writing new material for the new album that was to become NO JIVE.
Touring throughout 1992 to promote the album, including their first UK dates for 8 years, The album sold well, with virtually no airplay!
NAZ was back and stronger than ever. In 1994 the band were back in the studio again to record MOVE ME, with a new deal with Polydor things were looking good.
During that year Billy, Pete and Dan undertook 2 short unplugged tours of the UK,where songs like 'Simple Solution' and 'Shapes Of Things' were given the acoustic treatment. These shows are particularly memorable for their intimate nature and humour content.
Unfortunately as the band were due to start rehearsals for the forthcoming Move me tour, Billy once again left, due to band politics.
A young Scots Guitarist by the name of Jimmy Murrison, who was playing with Pete's son Lee in the band 'Trouble in Doogie land' was contacted by Pete and asked if he would like to join the band, (Pete had seen Jimmy play Many times and was very impressed) Jimmy accepted' and became the new Guitarist for Nazareth.
It was also decided to add a keyboard player to the band once again, so they contacted their old friend Ronnie Leahy . Ronnie had played with Pete and Dan in The Party Boys from time to time.
Ronnie accepted the offer to join.
So now back as a five piece, the band started rehearsing for another world tour to promote the Move me Album.
Revitalized and rocking' 1995/96 saw the band touring the world in support of MOVE ME. The tour has taken the band to Russia (twice), Europe, Brazil, USA, and Canada. Upon returning from their RussiaManaz Part I Tour, the long awaited break Naz had been looking for happened, a signing to a major label! SPV has picked the band up for a three record deal! It seems both SPV & CASTLE recognised the fact that NAZ still draws well at concerts and that their back catalogue has sold well, not to mention their two latest CD's kick some serious ass. After the MOVE ME World Tour ended, the boys headed home to Scotland for a well-earned rest. The band didn't rest too long before they began rehearsing new material for their 20th studio album! They began recording in March of 1997. Darrell said "the new stuff is heavier than No Jive, but it wouldn't be a Nazareth album without a ballad." The band began a world tour in July of 1997 to Sweden, Czech Republic, Canada and US.
The boys re-entered the studio to remixed the new (Boogaloo) album.
BOOGALOO-the long awaited new album featuring the new members Jimmy Murrison and Ronnie Leahy. was released in1998 the year that also saw them celebrating 30 years in the Rock Business, quite an accomplishment in the world of rock n roll.
The release of Boogaloo in Europe on SPV. saw critics begin raving about Boogaloo - it seemed Nazareth were beginning to be noticed once again by the industry. The success of Boogaloo in Europe and the success of The Double Trouble Tour (with Uriah Heep) led to a signing with the major US label, CMC International.
After several months on the road, the band headed home for a short break. They regrouped to embark on a longer and bigger tour of US/Canada to support the growing success of Boogaloo.
As the Naz machine began climbing to the top again, tragedy struck! On April 30, 1999 founding member and drummer Darrell Sweet died suddenly from a major heart attack.
The band had just arrived at the venue for the first show of their Boogaloo Tour when Darrell fell ill. As Darrell stepped off the bus with paramedics - he collapsed and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
Shattered - the band understandably cancelled the tour and headed home to Scotland. The future was in limbo for a few months as the families, band, and crew tried to digest what had happened.
But after several band meetings, it was decided that Darrell would have wanted them to continue on.
In fine tribute to Darrell, the band selected Lee Agnew, Petes eldest son, to fill the drumming duties for Nazareth. Lee was a natural choice as he is a very talented and accomplished drummer, already knew the music, learned tips from Darrell and he knew all the guys already.
After a few months of rehearsing - the band got ready for their first ever tour without Darrell. They amazed everyone - they played better and stronger than ever. Lee had won the hearts and support of Naz fans everywhere. The band enjoyed how well they were playing and the audience acknowledged this everywhere they played! (Darrell is surely smiling with pride!).
Over the last few years Nazareth have carried on touring around the world, A UK tour with their old mates URIAH HEEP, in March 2001 saw the first British shows for many years,and ending with a great gig at the Astoria in London to a sell out audience.
On October the 20th 2001 Nazareth Played to a sold out crowd at the Garage in Glasgow, the show was recorded for a new live album and DVD titled Homecoming. It was a great night of rock'n'roll and one the fans will treasure forever!
2002 was yet another busy one for the band, with extensive tours of the States and Europe and ending up with a triumphant show in Dunfermline at Christmas when they topped the bill at their annual charity concert.
Sadly that was to be the last time keyboardist Ronnie Leahy appeared with the band, Ronnie had decided to hang up his road shoes and retire from touring.
So, once again Nazareth were back to being a four piece again, They took hold of the challenge that change brings, regrouped, and filled 2003 with a live schedule, which would leave many new bands gasping. the set list was changed with some old favourites being brought back, including 'Witchdoctor Woman' from their very first album NAZARETH way back in 1971.
2004 saw the band head out to the USA, Russia ,Israel and Europe, plus a welcome return to the UK for some shows at the end of the year....
2005 saw the band on the road for most of the year again, but during the summer they did find time to Record a new DVD at Shepperton Studios, Titled 'Live from classic T Stage' it sees the band run through their most recent live set, the DVD also features film of the band on the road.