A Better Atmosphere for UFO : With Michael Schenker Back on Board, the Group Recaptures Its Old Chemistry
In 1979, the British heavy-metal band UFO released an electrifying double live album, “Strangers in the Night.” Now considered by many hard-rock aficionados to be among the most potent concert discs of the ‘70s, “Strangers” should have given the group’s career a major boost after nine years of struggle and moderate popularity.
Instead, UFO’s fortunes began to deteriorate when ace guitarist Michael Schenker abruptly left the band after the release of its live opus. The group wasn’t even able to properly tour the album with its most formidable lineup.
Well, better late than never.
The tour that die-hard UFO fans have been eagerly awaiting for 16 years has finally arrived. With Schenker now back in the fold, the group has dedicated its current comeback tour (which arrives at the Galaxy Theatre on Sunday night) to playing the material on its most beloved disc.
Bassist Pete Way uses such adjectives as exciting and thrilling to describe the musical chemistry that has been recaptured with Schenker back on board. Way says the five post-Schenker UFO albums in the early- to mid-'80s never really clicked without the German guitarist’s fluid and dynamic playing. With Paul Chapman, Schenker’s replacement, the group recorded a few quality songs (the scorching rocker “The Writer” ranks as a band highlight). But overall, UFO’s creative potency clearly took a plunge during the Chapman era. Back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, it was almost axiomatic that an A-level metal band have a fiery, imaginative ax-man.
“Paul was a different type of character,” recalls Way. “He was more like ‘Let’s plug in and go for it.’ He attacked music. Michael is kind of like an artist. He paints the picture of the music.”
Schenker has always been the band’s most intriguing personality. A bit of an eccentric, the former Scorpion guitarist had dropped out of sight several times while with UFO prior to his official departure. Schenker had joined UFO in 1973 after the departure of Mick Bolton, who formed the group in 1970 with Way, vocalist Phil Mogg and drummer Andy Parker.
Way says the band’s split with Schenker was fueled by a combination of the guitarist’s road weariness, poor band management and the group’s excessive use of alcohol and drugs. The bassist also suggests there was some tension between Schenker and Mogg.
“If you go on the road for 10 years it can suddenly get to be too much,” says Way. “Plus, we used to get very, very out of it. It wasn’t about [musical differences or problems] because the band was always good. It was more the [drugs and alcohol].”
Without Schenker, it didn’t take long for the band to disintegrate. After 1982’s “Mechanix” album, Way left to form Fastway with ex-Motorhead guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke. Mogg was the only original band member left when “Misdemeanor” was released in 1985. UFO folded soon after.
Way says the post-Schenker UFO found itself in the impossible position of being compared to the vintage ‘70s version of the group.
“Everything we did was being compared to the ‘Strangers in the Night’ album,” recalls Way. “A lot of people held it close to their hearts. It’s [tough] when you’re competing with what people perceive as being absolutely wonderful.”
Nevertheless, Way and Mogg resurrected UFO with a 1991 album titled “High Stakes and Dangerous Men.” The album, released only in Europe, elicited critical and commercial yawns.
Schenker’s presence has made an enormous difference in the public perception of UFO. Each of the group’s five Southland shows (they also play the Ventura Theatre, the Orange Pavilion in San Bernardino County and two dates at the Palace in Hollywood) are sold out. In Chicago, a traditional band hot-spot and the city where “Strangers in the Night” was recorded, UFO quickly sold out four shows at a 2,000-seat theater.
Not bad for a back-from-the-grave group that’s currently without a recording deal. UFO’s current, self-financed disc, “Walk on Water,” is available at the band’s shows and through mail order. (In concert, the band will also be performing selected tracks from this album.)
Way says the quintet--with Paul Raymond back on keyboards--is looking for a record label that’s willing to commit to the band over the course of two or three albums. (The most recent album featured UFO original Parker on drums, though Simon Wright subs for him on this tour.)
“We approach the music with a great deal of enthusiasm. But we’re also far more business oriented today. When we started, you got business [done] over a Coke and a bottle of Jack! These days we have to be very aware of what we’re doing. I guess it’s just the way it has to be. It’s evolution.”
* UFO performs with Cisco Poison on Sunday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $25. The show is sold out. (714) 957-0600.