Celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2018, Nazareth have marked the occasion with a hard rocking new album, Tattooed On My Brain, the first to feature new vocalist Carl Sentance (ex-Persian Risk, Geezer Butler Band, Don Airey). Formed in Dunfermline from the remains of The Shadettes in 1968, the band headed for London two years later changing their name to Nazareth, a reference to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, as mentioned in The Band’s classic song The Weight.
The big break came in 1973 when Broken Down Angel and Bad, Bad Boy both made the top ten in the singles chart. Classic albums Razamanaz, Loud ‘n’ Proud, Rampant and Hair Of The Dog spawned a succession of hits that cemented their popularity across Europe and North America. The band’s remaining founder member, and bass guitarist, Pete Agnew had been expecting that the new album, the first since 2014’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Telephone, would come under intense scrutiny from the media and fans alike because of the line-up change, but he needn’t have had any worries. The album was released on 12th October and has been well received and is already selling well.
“It’s a cracker, isn’t it?” Pete exclaimed when we spoke recently. “We’re very very proud of it, very happy with it, and it’s doing great. We’ve had some great reviews and it’s been the number 1 Amazon best seller! “We knew we had to do something and we had to make sure it was a good one, this time, with the change in line-up. We didn’t have any wiggle-room left on this one. Thankfully it’s surpassed our best hopes.”
New vocalist Carl has been touring with the band for the best part of four years, following founding member Dan McCafferty’s departure, for health reasons, in 2013. McCafferty’s distinctive vocals frequently defined the Nazareth sound, so he would always be a big act to follow.
“Of course,” Pete agreed, “and this is the thing, we’d made up our mind that we’d have somebody completely different. We didn’t want a Dan-soundalike and went out of our way to make sure that didn’t happen. When Carl came along it was just perfect. Not only is he a great singer but he has a completely different style and his own way of interpreting the numbers. It worked out really great, eventually.”
“From the very first gigs he was accepted because the fans could see how hard he works. He’s very entertaining and has a great stage presence. Even big Dan fans can still appreciate the guy for what he is. He’s been with us for three and a half years now, and we’ve played a lot of concerts in that time. He’s got himself a great reputation.”
“What you’ve got to remember is that when we’re touring, we’re not playing to an old crowd. In Canada, in Europe, it’s almost like looking at the audience we were looking at in the 70s! At the front are all these young people, you see the older ones a bit further back and think maybe they were here for the first few albums, but these young people have never seen any other Nazareth – they don’t know there was another Nazareth! As far as they are concerned it’s Nazareth and they are enjoying it.”
“The real Nazareth fans have been fans of all of the Nazareth line-ups and we’ve had a lot of personnel changes, as most bands have, but it’s always worked and we’ve always made a couple of good albums with each line-up. The new album adds to that and it just happens that this is perhaps one of the best. It’s another notch on the Nazareth bedpost!” he laughs.
Whilst Nazareth may have had a number of line-up changes, Sentance-apart, the current band have been together for close to twenty years. “Jimmy Murrison’s the longest-serving guitar player with Nazareth by a long way, 25 years, and Lee’s (Agnew, Pete’s son, drums) 20 years will come next year. Most bands don’t last 20 years! These guys didn’t just come along and fill the instrumental slot, they are songwriters – and very good songwriters!”
“Jimmy and Lee have contributed heavily to the new album and we’ve credited each song to the writer. Before we used to just credit each song to Nazareth. When we did Big Dogz (2011), they wrote the whole album, the two of them. Dan and I never wrote anything for that album. The Newz (2008), they wrote 75% of the album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Telephone they wrote loads – probably 90% was written by Lee and Jimmy. So they have made a big, big, big contribution to Nazareth, keeping the band going and for the new album they’ve written some of the best songs they’ve ever written. They never surprise me, I know their songs will always be good. You need the people around you and if there’s the right spirit it’s nice to have songs written by people in the band.”
The appeal with Nazareth is always that they are more than just a hard rock band and there is a delicious variety of material on Tattooed On My Brain. Opening track Never Dance With The Devil hits the ground running, an excellent slice of rock with great energy and vocals from Sentance as he puts his own stamp on the album. While the title track is reminiscent of Hair Of The Dog from the mid-70s, there is a freshness about the performance that will define the new line-up.
State Of Emergency continues at break-neck pace, driven along by Lee’s powerful drumming while Rubik’s Romance looks set to join the long line of classic Nazareth ballads. Pole To Pole is another that drives along with a thumping rhythm bound to become a live favourite. The bluesy Push and The Secret Is Out feature some excellent guitar work from Murrison while Lee Agnew’s drums come straight out of the John Bonham textbook. Push shows a different aspect of Sentance’s vocals. Don’t Throw Your Love Away and Silent Symphony are the heavyweight tracks; Crazy Molly just rocks. What Goes Around is a great medium-paced rocker, Change will appeal as the most commercial track on the album, which closes with slow and moody You Call Me featuring more nice guitar work from Murrison, while Sentance’s vocals are not unlike a soulful Eric Clapton.
Pete Agnew’s delight with the new album is well justified. “Any other album we’ve done, by the time we’d finished recording it I would play it once at the house to check what it was like on the hi-fi, and that was it! I would never play the album again, only the tracks that we would be rehearsing for a tour. Since we came back (from the Canadian tour) I’ve never stopped playing this album. I was playing it to entertain me!”
Shortly after we spoke, Pete and the band would be heading for a 25-date tour of Europe where their popularity remains as strong as ever. This would be the first chance to perform some of the new material live.
“Rock never went away in Europe. It’s always been a big seller, there, and they have a lot of rock clubs, a lot of good venues. We start rehearsals in a wee while and we’ll be looking for four tracks, maybe five. You canna do much more than that, it’s a shame because I’d like to play the whole album.”
“People buy tickets and want to hear the hits, the songs that they bought in the past, the ones that made you famous. You have to play those and, of course, everyone likes to play them. More than half of our set is picked by the public before you get on that stage. You know that every night you’ve got to play Hair Of The Dog, Razamanaz, Love Hurts and This Flight Tonight. These are musts and then you look at the rest of the set and say ‘what can we put in here?’ Most bands do a 90 minute set and you can use about 20 minutes of that for brand new material.”
“The great thing about this album is that it’s getting a lot of attention. That’s one of the good things about the internet. There’s an awful lot more people can listen before they buy it and they know a lot of the songs before you go on tour, now, even if they haven’t bought the whole album.”
Hopefully there will be some UK dates for Nazareth fans in the New Year. Pete says they are looking at January or May but nothing has been confirmed yet. For now Nazareth fans will find plenty to enjoy in this new offering.
Tattooed On My Brain was released on Frontiers Music on Fri 12 Oct 2018