BERNIE TORMÉ has brought his distinctive 'screaming' guitar sound to a generation of punk, blues and rock fans. This wild Irish electric gypsy plays it the way he feels it, and tells it like it is...
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The last 18 months have been very busy for GMT - what with the release of Bitter & Twisted in late 2006, then a run of shows which included the prestigious Hard Rock Hell festival (more about that later!), Guitarfest, and the Rock And Blues Custom Show. The catalyst for all this was Clive Aid, the charity gig for Iron Maiden's former drummer Clive Burr. As an introduction for GRTRoll readers who haven't yet heard the story, tell us how G, M and T got together to form... GMT.
John McCoy and I had been talking about getting together for a play for many years, phoning each other at Christmas or New Year, "Happy Christmas man, we really should get together and do something this year etc etc", probably followed by each of us hanging up and saying to the respective missus "that lazy old git will never get off his useless ass" or something similar. John and I have always had a close relationship, though it's been an up and down one too. We met in 1975 I think, and we played together in a three-piece called Scrapyard, which was my band and with McCoy in it was a sort of prototype GMT, and within a year of John joining he had managed to get me sacked in a committee decision with Roger the drummer, because I would not agree to the band name changing to The John McCoy Band! He claims he doesn't remember that but I still do! They replaced me with Paul Samson, and that was the beginning of the Samson band: I was slightly pissed off, understandably, at being sacked from my own band!
So our relationship has always been interesting, but we've always stayed close in our heads and hearts. Whenever we play together we are part of the same brain - the coincidences and accidents in jams are pretty special. We both play bum notes at the same time! It's sounds intentional!
So anyway, the Christmas/New Year ritual had been going forever, and then one year Paul Samson died of cancer: for both of us that really hit home. It was devastating. So following that we did get together and have a blow or two with Mick Underwood from Gillan on drums. That was a lot of fun, but it felt like more of the same rather than a bit of strange.
Shortly after that I had a band called Antiproduct recording at my studios, Barnroom in Kent, and they were using Robin on a session basis; he just blew me away - he was doing really exciting takes and clowning around bouncing his sticks off the wall and not missing a beat, just totally wild. I thought we've just got to have a blow with this guy (no pun intended), so I called McCoy and talked him into it, and we did have a blow and the rest, as they say, is history. Or mystery.
It's been said that 'Robin Guy is Keith Moon without the drugs'. You and John had worked together with great chemistry in Gillan but how did things develop when Robin came into the equation?
Well I don't think either of us would have quite described Gillan as a band with great chemistry - it was great and different, perhaps it had great chemistry, but if it was, it really wasn't musical chemistry - more personal I guess. We did exactly the same thing every night with exactly the same announcements to the word. In that sense it was slightly more cabaret than chemistry and essentially boring to be playing in. Ian was never one for taking chances musically - he did that in other areas. Having said that, it was a huge learning experience for me. I was chosen for the image and the poses but I was playing with players who were much more experienced and really much much better than I was. I had to work hard to catch up and in that situation I always felt a bit insecure.
In terms of GMT, Robin really was a total catalyst - it was like dropping an alka seltzer into a glass of swamp water and turning it into champagne. It's quite abrasive at times, but we usually agree about stuff in the end: Robin is hugely tolerant of the worst demos ever of songs, which is fantastic because that's what I do best... the worst out-of-tune line or two with an acoustic guitar. I'm after him getting the feel without a plan, and he is astoundingly good at getting that. I don't want to draw any picture, just give a hint, whether it's mainly John's idea or mine, and see what Mr. Guy comes up with. It's usually just what I couldn't have imagined, tribal, better than perfect for us. Not always though - sometimes it's horrible - but John and I both felt that removing chance from the equation results in a dead 80s sounding record, which both of us have done, and neither of us like much.
Often Sir Robin says "I can't play to that pile of shit", so we either beat him to death, or get totally wrecked until he gets his mind right and sees things our way! He has been right once or twice I think, much as I hate to admit it! I think Robin's great strength in GMT other than being a catalyst is that he is a stylist, he has an individual way of playing, as Keith Moon had. He always approaches stuff like Robin Guy, not like a session man, and his approach because of its tribal/punky/hardcore and ethnic aspects is perfect for us, it really broadens the spectrum as well as kicking us old farts along.
But to me rock'n'roll really IS drums: everything else can be shit, but the drums have to work. You don't need good guitar, you don't even really need a tune, but you do need good drums. He's an absolutely amazing showman too. Spectacular!
The high-octane punky'n'punchy Tormé sound hasn't lost an inch over the years. What/Who are your influences - and why?
I try to do it 100%. Not sure that I ever got much above 51%, but the last few gigs have been pretty good. My influences are very wide. I like a lot of weird stuff, from a lot of Irish stuff to The Incredible String Band and Sufi Qawala to John Coltrane, but really in rock I like the people who tore up the rule book... such as Hendrix, the Stones, Elvis, Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan. They were all so revolutionary and obnoxious in their time that they were pretty much regarded as 'noise', 'talentless', 'how can you listen to that shit?'. I like that, it's a whole new world every time.
I really don't like stuff that's more perfect or better than another thing of the same type - it just bores me. I'd always choose raw flawed passions over polish anytime. I'll leave perfection to the anal police.
Back to the Hard Rock Hell festival now... tell us about the Dee Snider segment of your set - how it came about, and what it felt like to be up there onstage with him after all this time.
Well when I found out Twisted Sister and GMT were playing on the same bill I contacted Dee, and he really
wanted to do it. We both did - Desperado was our baby. It then turned out that we were on at crazy o'clock and it really wasn't going to happen, because neither of us was going to be awake, and one of us, namely me, was going to be onstage!
But thankfully they moved us to about 3pm in the day - thanks to Eric Cook at Demolition Records - so I contacted Dee again and he said "yeah great!". We didn't know whether it would in fact happen until the day, really until after it had happened, actually!
I contacted Dee in the morning, and he managed to make it down just before we went onstage, but hey, he's Dee Snider, he had about a million interviews that day, so he had to go off and we didn't 100% know it was on until he came back, around two-thirds of the way through our set, during Longer Than Tomorrow!
We saw him at the side of the stage so from then on everything got shortened, drum solo, guitar solos etc, to give us enough time at the end!
We had asked Raven who were on after us, and they were cool about us over-running a few minutes (great guys, great band!). It happened, it was meant to happen. Fantastic for me - Dee's like a thermonuclear device!
Any plans for more of the same?
I think we would both love to do it again, I know I definitely would, a few more songs next time would be good too! But you know it may never happen, it's taken 18 years for it to happen once, there's time and obligations and geography to take into account - it was really a huge stroke of luck that it happened at all this time, amazing that we were on the same festival on the same day. If it's another 18 years it might not be quite as dynamic! But I really do hope we get to do it again, it was killer. Who knows?
As an oldschool rocknroller, what changes have you seen for bands and their music as a result of t'internet? And what are the benefits and/or the drawbacks of being accessible to the world and his dog?
Big question! We're all selling feckall records, and still everybody knows the songs! Fantastic! What can you do, it's like that Chinese curse - we really live in interesting times! The bad part is that you don't get paid from selling records, but honestly the record companies f**ked all that up by not addressing the problem and letting Apple create something that was blindingly obvious to all except the luddite self-important morons in the major labels who were sitting on their expense-account sandcastles, dozing as the tide came in. They really don't deserve much. You f**k up, you die, welcome to the jungle.
But the hugely plus side is that you instantly have access to fans, they can hear your tracks, they can see your videos, they can communicate with you. You really don't need Radio 1, MTV, Kerrang, anyone - you can build your own community. It takes time, but it's yours, and it works: that's a huge positive, it's really changed everything, and it's worldwide. I don't see long term that you can have a music industry like you had in the past. No loss as far as I'm concerned. I also don't really see how the media, radio and tv and the mags are going to get around it long-term either. Interesting times. But on the whole, I think it's good. 'Hasta la victoria sempre' as Che Guevara said. Of course actually I've no interest in it really, to me it's all bollox... I'm more interested in the next GMT album...
Go on then...!
The new album we're working hard on, it's mostly done and we have some real killer tracks recorded: it'll be great to have a large choice of new material to play live next year. Hopefully we'll be able to chop and change the set from night to night, which will be much more fun for us too. It will be out in the first half of next year, and we hope to have one or two tasters out beforehand for download, like we did with Cannonball before the Bitter & Twisted album.
Is there any truth in the rumour that you wear Pete Way's old clothes?
Busted! Well I went into a backstage room at a gig and there was a huge pile of rioja bottles in there, BUT THEY WERE ALL SODDING EMPTY! Shit, so I see this shirt on the ground, and hey, swag, man, I'll have that bastid! Sorry Pete me old mate! I didn't realise it was yours! You should've left me a bottle of wine - and then I wouldn't even have noticed the shirt!
What are your favourite songs to perform live - and why?
Wild West, because it's the only old song I ever wrote that I still like playing, can't tell you why! Because it's noisy? Down To Here, because it's more about me than Rocky Road (from Dublin) ever was. I love the progression and I live for the jams. Any jams, anytime. And of course anything new - I loved playing a new track called Bullet in The Brain at the last few gigs. No doubt I'll get sick of it next week...
What are the proudest moments of your career?
The proudest moments of my life are the days my three kids were born - because that really mattered. But of my career.... what career? I was just trying to do what I do and pay the bills, which is where I still
remain. People are always impressed when I tell them about playing Madison Square Gardens with Mr. Ozzy - and yes, it was great fun and a great honour to be there, but I was far more tickled by the elephants from the Russian circus shitting all over the floor downstairs. And it was a momentary nice buzz when the first Gillan album "Mr Universe" charted, to be replaced by 28 years of very hurtful personal grief for all of us waiting for a royalty payment.
But it's ok now, the Bank of England own it and we've all just had our first royalty cheque for a few hundred quid after 28 years, so according to Classic Rock Magazine we're all mates again and about to reform. Two chances mate, in my case. I don't think of what I did or do as a career, I just love music and it's great fun to play, and I've been lucky and blessed enough to do that. My parents just wanted me to be a doctor or get a job at the bank: now that's a career!
So, talking of these recent rumours of a Gillan reunion, is there any way that could possibly happen?
Hell freezes over? Pigs might fly? In perspective: as I just mentioned, we are finally being paid from the new Gillan reissues thanks to the crown and the Bank of England, and no thanks at all to Mr. Gillan. For the previous 28 years when Ian was in control, none of us ever received a single penny or any accounts whatsoever. And this current situation was fought every inch by Ian kicking and screaming. It's a wonderful sense of closure of course to be paid whatever small amount is generated from current sales, and much appreciated because it helps us all to sleep better no doubt: but it's not any basis for a reformation, I think. I still haven't heard the word 'sorry'.
Of course I would love to do one, two, three or four gigs - I don't like bearing grudges, life's too short. As Billy Gibbons said "the only time to get it right is here and now", but I don't think it's workable on any business level... perhaps if I booked it and I pay everyone, or John, or Colin (I trust John and Colin), but not possible with Ian or anyone else involved with Ian, methinks. Bad track record. And again life's too short. Sad really. Some other line-up, maybe? Geoff Barton on lead guitar? Malcolm Dome on bass? It would get good press......
In reviews and articles journalists often refer to the fact that you are Irish - almost sticking an 'I am Irish' label on you. In what way are your Gaelic roots important to you, as a musical influence (Rocky Road!) and as an identity thing?
Well, anything that makes you different or separates you from others is something to be paid attention to. It's a bit like being the punky guitarist playing in a heavy metal band, as I was with Gillan. I am Irish, I don't get home often enough. I love the whole Gaelic culture thing, it's very special and ancient and a different view on the world: that's definitely something that's important to me, and something that I'm probably more conscious of because of living in the England. But I love England too.
I think in terms of music there is a big history of Irish instrumental music, like the Scots, demon fiddlers etc., that isn't in English folk history. It's more vocal stuff in England, which is fantastic too, but I grew up looking at Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore among many other great players. They were almost like a succession thing from the fiddlers and pipers in Ireland. Clapton and Beck in England were not really part of a home-grown tradition. That was different.
You always play that strat (the Ozzy one) - where does the one that stands idle come from?
Carina Lirola, who I played some guitar for and wrote with, her producer/manager Andy Lee made it for me and it's beautiful. He's hugely talented, a great guy... thank you Andy! You da man!
Spinal Tap moments... c'mon, spill the rocknroll beanz on some of your biggest and best.
1. Doing a personal appearance with Ian Gillan at the Queens Hall in Dunstable at some HM disco, where we went onstage as the DJ played a Gillan track and Ian started MIMING! And what do I do? I start playing AIR GUITAR ONSTAGE! It never sounded so good... C**ts!
2. Phil Lewis going on at the Marquee or somewhere with a plastic machine gun with the barrel experiencing a severe case of brewer's wobble - if not major droop - during the Tormé epic 'Front Line' : I wanted him to use a real one but he said it was too heavy... Ouch!
3. And then there were all those 80s hair styles... Let's face it, far too many Spinal Tap moments to mention...
You mentioned your studio, Barnroom. Tell us more about that, and also about your record label, Retrowrek. How do you balance the studio work and running the record label with the GMT gigs?
Yes I love recording stuff. I'm into sound. The balance of fitting it all in is easy, and if I'm not around other engineers do the studio stuff. The record label is a pain in the ass though: my missus does a lot of that - it really enabled us to get the GMT cd out too, as no one would touch it with a barge pole at the time, and I'm very glad to say it's gone really well and is still shifting units. So chaps, YOU WERE WRONG - WE WERE RIGHT! But the label is a pain in the ass frankly!
What are your plans for 2008 and beyond?
To start with, sleeping for a month would be nice. Then finishing the new GMT album and getting it out, along with a live DVD and cd too. And of course playing some more gigs would be nice too...
© Get Ready To Roll - 6th December 2007