Tuesday, 25 February 2014

February 1979

A place to run


As Billy Idol splits from Karen O’Connor, Des’s daughter − ‘I knew when it was Des on the phone,’ Billy tells me, ‘ ’cos he kept singing "1-2-3 O’Leary"’ – I spend a couple of nights on the road with heavy-metal gorillas UFO where I get to wonder, just how over-the-top is over-the-top?

A question that has vexed many a lonely soul.

Oh, sure, several people have sussed out the answer − Gandhi and Sid Vicious, to name but two. One doused himself with petrol and asked a passer-by for a light, the other pumped himself full of five-star smack when he only had a two-star engine and met his maker in a two-bit Greenwich Village laundro-flat.

It transpires that UFO have often pondered the very same question, searching for an answer as some men hunt for El Dorado. Then, out of the blue, they found it . . .

One night during a show, lead singer Phil Mogg was accidentally hit in the face by Pete Way’s bass. The gash required ten stitches and left an ugly scab. A week later Phil turned to Pete in the dressing room after a particularly forgettable gig and asked yet again . . .

‘Just how over-the-top is over-the-top?’

Pete didn’t bother to reply. He grabbed Phil’s head and ripped the stitches and scab off with his teeth, chewed them up and swallowed the lot.

‘That’s when I realised just how over-the-top is over-the-top,’ recalls Phil, as he drops his trousers backstage at Lancaster University in preparation for the gig.

UFO are the real deal.

Like some hideous hibernating creature, yer average heavy-metal merchant comes to life only when he’s touring and spends the rest of the year snoozing in a flash LA Brillo pad. UFO are no exception. Their tours are fantasies, peopled by soporific groupies with twin carb tits, sneaky dealers, indifferent writers, emaciated, hysterical fans in trench coats and flares, demons, gods, sleazebags, all caught in the split-second blindness of a flash gun.

They go to bed when it’s light and get up when it’s dark. They get drunk, stoned, exhausted, all in the name of a glorious guitar solo and wailing vocal.

‘There’s only one thing that comes first in this band,’ Phil tells me in his hotel room. ‘Either you enjoy it or you don’t. If you don’t, don’t do it. Whatever comes after that is secondary.’

I first met Mr Mogg in his manager’s office just off Baker Street. I knew next to nothing about the band and only agreed to do the interview because
Record Mirror commissioned it. He
reminded me of a young Frank Marker in Public Eye, the suburban Phillip Marlowe with the hangdog look and the beat-up mac.

It’s when he said, ‘Bob Geldof is the modern day Eamonn Andrews,’ that I decided I liked him and that his band would be worth checking out. I wasn’t disappointed.

Theirs is a perceptive blend of pretentiousness and night-on-the-town fun. They scream songs of teenage dementia and the beer-and-bum-fluff audience lap it up. Mogg, the Tottenham toreador, looks suitably all-powerful, cultivating the character of tight-arse demagogue as he whips through the songs like a whirlpool, making me spin.

Meanwhile, Pete Way runs around the stage like he’s dying for a piss. Pete Pete Pete . . .

By contrast, lead guitarist Paul Chapman, who’s recently replaced misfit German Michael Schenker, is immobile. ‘It’s natural that a lot of people are going to compare me with Schenker,’ Chapman tells me after the show. ‘But I find it difficult to accept writers accusing me of dressing funny and not blending in with the rest of the band on stage. Before you can think about image you’ve got to think about more important things – like music.’

Chapman was a former member of UFO anyway. ‘The first time I was with them I wanted to go back to Wales and play with my friends.’ He formed a band called Lone Star and when they folded Chapman rejoined UFO on a Stateside tour after Schenker mysteriously vanished. ‘Three days after I got married I went on that tour. And I took my wife with me. Can you believe that? Taking your wife on the road with UFO for nearly three months!’

He wants the band to be associated with ‘strong songs’.

‘I tend to see music in songs rather than guitar solos. But it’s down to me to prove to people that there will be no difference in the style of UFO because I’ve joined.’

‘I’ve told him he’s got to wear a Nazi uniform and sing "Deutschland über Alles" between songs,’ jokes Mogg.

All five members sit on Phil’s bed in his Preston hotel room two hours after the encore. UFO, unlike most of their contemporaries, like to hang around in their dressing room and meet the fans.

Paul Raymond − nope, not the stripper-dipper king − takes a back seat tonight and drummer Andy Parker looks tired. So it’s down to the Mogg/Way team of incessant lunacy to provide the action.

‘I used to be in the Enfield Harriers,’ says Pete, ‘and I was the third fastest athlete over my distance in the country.’

‘He keeps telling me that,’ says Phil, ‘yet when I challenged him to a race around a hotel in Cleveland I slaughtered him.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ says Pete.



‘Yeah. And I’ll prove it. Race you along the corridor.’

‘Nah, don’t be stupid,’ shrugs Pete, as he lights another fag.

‘C’mon. Or are you too chicken?’

‘No, I’m NOT!’ says Pete, looking and sounding like a little-boy-lost Terry Scott. He puts out his fag while Phil limbers up. The others watch incredulously as they stroll out of the door like pathetic gunfighters and mosey on down the hall.

It’s three a.m.

‘On your marks, get set -- ’ere, tell ’im to stop movin’. Cheat,’ says Pete.

‘No, I ain’t.’

‘You are too. A fucking cheat. Go!’

They tear down the corridor, crashing into each other as they burst through the doors that lead to the staircase. Phil wins.

‘You fucking cheat. You bastard,’ yells Pete, tears in his eyes.

‘No, I ain’t.’

‘Let’s do it again, then.’ The two wander back to their starting blocks. Go! Pete wins this time. Both are far too breathless to argue but Phil demands a recount. Pete collapses on the bed.

‘I used to box, bantamweight,’ says Phil, still trying to regain his breath. ‘I was doing quite well too, until I met our local milkman Reg Hicks in the ring. With one punch he gave me a nose from eye to eye.’

Phil, ebuillent, buoyant, Sterodent, is 26 and married with two kids. He seems to have a morbid fear of being left alone and begs for me to stay up talking long after the others have gone to bed. His words are as multifarious as the snowflakes strangling Preston tonight as he conjures up visions of insidious UFO exploits during their ten years together.

He loves spontaneity on stage. ‘It’s easy to become just another Vegas act acting out well rehearsed, clinical shows night after night.

‘Know something? I used to love B.B. King until I heard he did the same rap every night. That’s a big difference between English and American bands. The former ride with the moment, the latter have it all written out.’

He smiles his words, embellishing them with a pair of impish eyes. He tells me UFO have broken on 46 radio station in America, that he doesn’t particularly love the place but that living there means they can at least begin to understand it.

Last time I saw Phil Mogg he was singing in a hotel corridor in Preston at five in the morning, looking for company. I reckon Phil’s a boy who’s afraid of the dark. He also happens to be great fun, a natural showman, athlete and the leader of one terrific band.

Lights out . . .

(UFO released their twenty-first studio album, Seven Deadly, in 2012 to universal acclaim. Shit, over forty years of playing heavy metal. Wonder if Phil and Pete are still racing down hotel corridors?)

Next: Murder and mayhem in Manor House
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives:



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