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Monday, May 19, 2008

LIGHTS OUT IN LONDON



The band formed in London in 1969 taking their name from the famous club that spawned the likes of Pink Floyd among others, but they didn't take off (all puns intended) until a fateful accident in 1973.

UFO, consisted of Phil Mogg (vocals), Pete Way (bass), Andy Parker (drums) and Mick Bolton (guitar), later to be replaced by Bernie Marsden.

Recording for the Beacon Records label between 1970 and 1973 they released sub-par blues based hard rock and boogie records to little notice outside Japan and Germany.

A gig in Germany would prove their big career boost. Then guitarist Bernie Marsden (future Whitesnake founding member) failed to show up due to a passport snafu - he lacked one. On the bill that night was fledgling German Rock Gods the Scorpions with their then eighteen year old lead guitarist Michael Schenker.

Pete, Phil, and Andy caught some of the Scorpions sound check and being the cheeky Brits they are, they asked Michael to sit in with them that night.

Quicker than you can say 'Teutonic guitar wunderkind' Michael found himself at Morgan Studios, London, recording UFO's Chrysalis Records debut, 'Phenomenon'.




Despite a severe language barrier, or maybe in part due to it, Michael lifted the band out of their sludgy space rock doldrums and gave them the spark that was just what the band needed. History bears the supposition that they might not have been what Michael needed, but we'll get to that in due time.

Produced by Ten Years After bassist Leo Lyons, 'Phenomenon' delivered. Released in May 1974, the LP features perennial UFO classics 'Doctor Doctor' and 'Rock Bottom' accompanied by a crop of solid rock tunes mostly co-penned by Schenker and Mogg.

Critical acclaim for the record along with a growing fan base that was in no small part due to Schenker's electrifying live playing shot the band onto the fast track to success.

In 1975 they returned to Morgan Studios with Leo Lyons to record 'Force It' (faucet). The songwriting was developing to the degree that one wondered why they were so shitty just three years prior.

'Mother Mary', 'This Kids' (of Jackson's URL fame), 'Let It Roll', 'Out In the Streets', and 'Shoot Shoot' would all end up in the UFO live set for years to come. Jackson quite likes 'High Flyer' and 'Love Lost Love' as well, making Side One of 'Force It' a flawless LP side.




Chick Churchill, also from Ten Years After, provided the piano on 'Out In the Street', which, along with the complex guitar arrangements on some of the tunes highlighted the need for a fifth member of the band. Danny Peyronell (Heavy Metal Kids) was brought in to play keyboards and rhythm guitar.

The subject of a second guitar player had been broached before. For a brief time in 1975 Paul Chapman (Lone Star) had joined the band on stage, but there wasn't room for two gun-slingers in UFO. I suppose Michael's limited English was good enough to convey his displeasure with sharing the spotlight. Peyronnel, however, was no threat, as he stuck to a supporting rhythm role.

Amid mounting touring schedules, UFO found time to visit Morgan Studios for a third time resulting in 1976's 'No Heavy Petting', which would be Lyons' swan song as UFO producer.





For reason's unknown to Jackson, 'No Heavy Petting' seems to get lost between 'Force It' and 1977's 'Light's Out'. In it's own right 'No Heavy Petting' is a gem. Again, Side One is flawless: 'Natural Thing', 'I'm a Loser', 'Can You Roll Her', 'Belladonna', and 'Reasons Love' compile a wonderful and dynamic twenty minutes of Hard Rock bliss. Side two doesn't suck either, offering lost classics like 'Highway Lady', 'On With the Action', and 'Martian Landscape'.

Although Danny Peyronnell was a talented musician who brought added dynamics to UFO, it wasn't a proper fit. Danny wanted input. He wanted to write; he was interested in vocal harmonies and wanted the band to move in a polished pop direction like 10cc.

Danny was let go.

The creative elements in the band - Way, Mogg, and Schenker, had enough contention amongst themselves. There wasn't room.

Enter Paul Raymond. Paul Raymond reminds me of Ronnie Wood. Regardless of Raymond's considerable talents, the main thing was that he fit in. Paul looked like he should be in the band all along.

The new line-up recruited Ron Nevison (The Who, The Stones, Lizzy, Zeppelin.....) to produce their next LP, 'Lights Out'. Recorded at AIR Studios, 'Lights Out' raised the bar considerably in terms of production. Nevison knew his shit, and he took UFO to a whole new level. Lush string arrangements, big guitars, and most noticeably, much better vocals. Nevison worked Phil much harder than Gary Lyons had, and the results made a huge difference.






The title track alone makes 'Lights Out' a standout record of it's, or any time, but there's oh so much more to the LP. 'Love to Love' is a magnificent composition showcasing Schenker's inheritance from Strauss, Wagner, Beethoven, and Woflgang Amadeus. 'Just Another Suicide' is a fantastic lost track, and of course there's the crowd pleasing 'Too Hot To Handle'. A cover of Love's - Arthur Lee's - 'Alone Again, Or' rounds out a superb record.

So, naturally, with a huge record under the belt and international super-stardom just 'round the bend Schenker quit the band a few months into the tour.

Now, back to Michael's personal situation. Initially isolated by language, although he did learn English well enough in due time, Michael was always the outsider. He kept himself apart from the others. He wasn't like them, and he didn't like them. They were bullies, he was fragile. The music had kept them together, but by 1977 even that wasn't enough. Michael had developed severe substance abuse issues - as they all had, but he couldn't handle it, and he left. He didn't tell anyone, of course, he just split.

"Where's Mike?"
"Dunno."

I suppose by this time, as Michael had pulled the disappearing act before, somebody kept Paul Chapman's phone number in their back pocket. Paul finished out the tour, but in the meantime management had managed to track down Michael.

Michael had gotten himself sorted out, dried out, and somewhat clear headed. He returned to the band.

Nevison returned as well, and they began work on 1978's 'Obsession'. Recorded in L.A. in various facilities with the Record Plant Mobile, 'Obsession' is a triumph of Rock. Discussed by yours truly here, 'Obsession' quickly became just that to Hard Rock fans the world over, and in particular to a group of long-haired skateboard freaks from West Point, New York.






The obligatory tour followed stopping at Eisenhower Hall, West Point, NY, to the delight of the previously mention group of skateboard aficionados, before a two night stand in Chicago that was recorded, along with dates in Youngstown, Cleveland, and Louisville, for a live record.

The resulting 'Strangers in the Night' is notable for many reasons, but mostly because it is the greatest live record ever, and because it was also Michael's last recording with UFO for eighteen years.





Again, Michael's departure was so swift there wasn't any chance, much less a need, for overdubs. The record stands as a testament to a band at it's peak. During a time when cleaning up, or even re-recording tracks wholesale was commonplace for live records, 'Strangers in the Night' is a towering monolith of absurdly apparent superiority.

"Still have Chapman's phone number?"
"Already rang him up."

The loss of Schenker was monumental. Many thought it was over for UFO; Michael being viewed as essential to their success. Phil and Pete barely flinched, however, and after securing Paul Chapman, UFO wasted no time in returning to the studio to prove everybody wrong.

The seriousness of their intent is underscored by their choice of producer, none other than Sir George Martin.

1980's 'No Place to Run' was recorded at AIR Studios (Montserrat and London), and indeed picks up as if nothing much had transpired. The songwriting was still strong, and Chapman was more than up for the prospect of filling the un-fillable shoes of Herr Schenker.





Chapman's playing was more firmly based in the blues, but there was no mistaking his ability to wail, shred, head out, and basically keep his end up in the face of the extreme pessimism that the band faced.

Jackson loves himself some 'No Place to Run', and if there's any nay-saying doubters out there, well, just listen to 'Train, Train', and if that's not enough, though by all rights it should be, then flip the record. Side Two of 'No Place to Run' is yet another perfect LP side to UFO's credit. 'Take It Or Leave It' and 'Anyday' hold their own with any Schenker era track.

Ten years on the road is a long time for any band, and understandably it had taken it's toll. Drink (Phil) and drugs (Pete) had been prevalent amenities within UFO for many years, and inevitably they become destructive forces. Paul Raymond read the writing on the wall and left to Join Schenker in MSG, and the band replaced him with Neil Carter.

1981's 'The Wild, the Willing, and the Innocent' marks a steady decline in the bands recorded output and live performance. Although 'The Wild, the Willing, and the Innocent' starts off strong with 'Chains, Chains', 'Long Gone', and the title track, the LP quickly falls into sub par compositions and a feeling of phoned-in coasting.





'Mechanix', 1982, followed suit with even less to commend it.



Shortly after Pete left ostensibly to form Fastway with former Motorhead guitarist 'Fast' Eddie Clark. That didn't work out; perhaps Eddie was looking for a bass player and not a junkie in spandex. At any rate Pete soon formed Waysted and apparently sought a career out of being so.

In the meantime Phil, Andy, Paul and Neil gave it another shot with the even worse than 'Mechanix' effort, 'Making Contact', whose only saving grace is the very nice bottom of the young lady on the cover of the record.




UFO was done.

Then Phil made a horrible record with an apparently poorly counseled youth of a guitar player with the moniker Atomik Tommy M.

You can smell the desperation coming off the record. Yes, I bought it. It would be the last UFO record to have that distinction.

In 1995 a miracle occurred. The 'Strangers in the Night' line-up got back together. The ensuing record, 'Walk on Water', I've never heard. The important thing is that they toured, and, finally, after many rears of hearing about the legendary Ike Hall gig which I was not able to attend, Jackson finally got to see UFO, with Schenker, play the entire 'Strangers in the Night' record live and in person. Of all places, I saw them at the Limelight in NYC.

Dreams do come true.

Schenker and UFO were bound for an on-again-off-again relationship that has lasted ever since. They are currently off, again.

Comments:
Another great post...

Man, you're a lucky man to have seen that Limelight show! No way I'd miss a Stranger's in the Night UFO line-up show again, never.

I'll say it again, 'Obsession' is one of the greatest rock records ever made in my mind and I couldn't agree more on your thoughts regarding Stranger's as the pinnicle live record.

Seeing UFO at that Ike Hall show was a sublime moment for many of us. It ranks up there with hearing Van Halen's debut record for the first time: After the experience, everything is changed.

So you've got all the UFO records other than 'Walk on Water'?
 
I don't have anything post Atomik Tommy M.
 
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