|Neil Murray - Snakecharmer - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Matt Phelps|
|Saturday, 09 March 2013 04:00|
Snakecharmer are a band sure to ignite a lot of interest among fans of classic bluesy rock. Their 2013 self titled debut album sees a band bringing back a touch of the old school while also keeping both feet planted firmly in the realities of the modern rock world. I recently got the chance to talk with original Whitesnake bassist Neil Murray, one of the founding members and an important cornerstone of this great, (relatively) new British act. Read on and be charmed...
Well we have myself on bass and Micky Moody on guitar, both of us basically known from Whitesnake I guess. Laurie Wisefield is the other guitarist, from Wishbone Ash in the seventies and into the eighties and then with Tina Turner and Joe Cocker and all sorts of different things. I play with him in the Queen musical 'We Will Rock You', been doing that for nearly the last eleven years. Harry James from Thunder and Magnum on the drums. Chris Ousey who's fairly unknown to a lot of people. He was in Virginia Wolf in the eighties and then was in a band called Heartland which was more or less a sort of AOR project. And we have Adam Wakeman who's Rick Wakeman's son, he plays with Ozzy and Black Sabbath, Will Young and his own Prog band Headspace and he's the keyboard player.
That's quite a range of players and talents you've got there. How did you all come together as Snakecharmer in the first place?
Well it's sort of complicated and long winded unfortunately. Myself and Micky had been playing with Bernie Marsden, the three of us having been in Whitesnake together in the early days. We did a couple of different bands from the late nineties and onward, Company Of Snakes and M3 Classic Whitesnake. Mostly doing Whitesnake stuff but not totally. Then Micky and Bernie had a parting of ways at the end of 2006 so we didn't particularly do anything for the next two or three years. Then it was suggested that me and Micky get something together doing something similar so that's when we enlisted Laurie, Harry and Chris. We went out as Monsters Of British Rock for about a year. We did a few gigs and a few little festivals and things but then we hooked up with the management we're with now and decided to make it more obvious that basically what we do, live at least at that point, was play Whitesnake songs from our era, myself and Micky's era. That's when we changed our name to Snakecharmer. Following that the management was able to negotiate a deal with Frontiers Records. It's been quite a long process but we started writing and recording original material and that brings us up to the present day really.
We did a few gigs last year, not very many. We're hoping to do a lot more this year if we can but it's quite difficult out there unless you just want to play pubs and things and we're not gonna be doing that. So it's in a kind of transitional phase at the moment because live we will be playing possibly half and half Whitesnake songs and our original tracks, we'll just have to wait and see. It all pretty much depends on how the album's received and the response and everything like that but we're all very hopeful. We think it's a really good album and the reviews I've seen so far have been excellent. It's just that for a band like us the audience is getting on a bit and probably quite conservative, I would hope that they would be open minded and want to hear new songs from us guys but alongside that I know there's a big audience there for Whitesnake songs played in the style of the early band. The blues rock era, '78 to '83 kind of time which is quite different from how Whitesnake are now. I'm sure Bernie is out there playing some Whitesnake stuff and we enjoy doing it too so we're almost like a double pronged assault at the moment (laughs). We've played a couple of our originals live over the past six or nine months and they've gone down very well but also we know we play the Whitesnake stuff really well too and we've definitely had a great reaction to that.
One of those gigs being support to Uriah Heep at Shepherd's Bush Empire...
Yes, well that was the year before, 2011, it's been a long time (laughs). We started recording in September 2011 I think. It took about a year to do the album but we only actually recorded for about a month out of that year. We didn't have all the songs ready to go and go straight in and record them. We did it bit by bit. Each of us is quite busy with other things as well. Myself and Laurie play in 'We Will Rock You' six nights a week a lot of the time. Then he goes off and does other things as well. He's just been on the 'War Of The Worlds' tour. Mickey has his own band and he plays in a couple of other things as well. Harry's very busy with Thunder and Magnum and other bands. So it's quite hard to get all of us together. Adam is probably the most difficult as he's doing high profile tours with Sabbath etc. But we try our best to get together. It's probably easier here in the studio because some of the time we can just be doing guitars or just be doing vocals, that kind of thing. But we've all got to make a living so we have to juggle things at the moment. We're trying very hard to get gigs through the year but we're a new, fairly unknown quantity and until people hear the album and know what they're gonna get then possibly after that we'll get a lot more offers.
Well with all your high calibre involved though I'm sure there's plenty of fan bases to be attracting in. Especially with a big label like Frontiers backing you. They really do do a fantastic job of supporting a lot of that style of music.
Absolutely. I think we were really lucky that we got with our management who already had ties with Frontiers. We'd done a couple of tracks at that point and gave them a couple of rough mixes of those. They were keen enough from what they heard to sign the band for an album deal which is pretty hard to get. It still wasn't huge or anything like that, I mean we haven't had any individual money offered, it's all gone into the making of the record. But yes to be with Frontiers is a great bonus for us. They're very good on the promotional side of things and letting people know what's out there. They do have lots of acts but they do seem to be very excited by our album so let's just cross fingers.
If we could talk a bit about the writing then. How did the album come together? Did you write when you were all together or was it a case of individuals bringing in parts of songs or whole songs?
It was kind of a bit of both. Tracks usually start off as somebody's individual demo. Very rough but with lots of opportunity for other people to put their stamp on it or make suggestions. So Mickey would come up with quite a number of tracks and we used quite a few of those. Same Laurie and Harry came up with some things as well. Then when it gets to that stage Chris will kind of decide which ones he is turned on by and he'll go away and work on lyrics and melodies and stuff. Then we'll get back together again and sort of play the tracks and see how they sound with the band playing. Then finally we'll go in the studio once we've got the arrangements really sorted, but even then things can change again. People will be making suggestions and it will be a very democratic sort of process. The whole band is run that way. I've sort of held back from putting forward any stuff that originated with me but I've made quite a few helpful suggestions I hope here and there (laughs). Also I have to make the point that there was no deliberate attempt to sound like Whitesnake or any other band. It's just whatever came naturally out of the individual people who do the writing and how we naturally play. We'll put our own stamp on things simply because that's what we sound like.
There's still obviously a lot of love for that early Whitesnake sound. I mean as much as what they are today it's still those early songs that get the biggest receptions live.
Well yeah, that's my impression too but sometimes you can't say that to current Whitesnake fans who don't really know the band before '87 or even later. It's like the early band doesn't exist for them. But I know that there's a strong following it's just that the early few years of the band didn't really mean anything in America and it's such an American band now and that's how it's seen to be. Therefore you have to shout a bit louder to remind people that, hang on, we were around right at the start and took the band from playing tiny clubs to being an arena act and selling lots and lots of records.
I know. I was only just watching some of the old footage on YouTube the other night. There's nothing better than finding lost gems on there like Rock In Rio '85. A fantastically huge gig from those days.
Oh yes. Well that was the largest audience that I've ever played to. That was about 350,000 people or something. Actually you're on a huge stage which to some extent makes it more difficult because you're actually a long way from your equipment and the guitarist is about half a mile away on the other side of the stage. You're more concerned about things like that than the fact of there being so many people. It's just like a giant sea really. It's much more scary to play to ten people in a little tiny club who can see the whites of your eyes (laughs). But yeah that was a great experience. I mean I wish to be honest but the quality of the footage that they shot at the time looks kinda grainy and personally speaking I hardly ever get seen at all (laughs). They were probably under orders "Just shoot David and shoot John Sykes, a bit of Cozy if you like and forget about the other guy." (laughs)
At least it's not lost for good. It may be a little grainy but it's still great to have it.
Oh absolutely. There's another one previous to that, the summer before that we did a thing in Japan with a load of big bands. Scorpions, Bon Jovi, MSG and stuff and you can see footage of that and I'm always annoyed because Mr Coverdale mixed the sound for it and it's really not good. It's not like it should be. It's just knowing that there have been opportunities missed. For example I think there's only one live black and white footage of the early band in Washington DC or somewhere from 1980. Apart from that there's very little of the original Whitesnake playing live which is a drag. I mean obviously there's recordings and thousands of horrible bootlegs and stuff but we could do with more video footage really.
I suppose, going back to Snakecharmer then, that's what makes it so refreshing. How you said earlier that it's like a democracy this time.
Yeah but who knows if that's the best way to work. I mean it's just that we've all had so much experience that we all respect each others opinions and abilities. So if somebody says something it's not like "Oh shut up, you're just the drummer" or whatever it's more that everybody is pretty much playing along the same lines. We don't agree about everything of course but it's all working out so far. I've been in lots of situations myself where it's been great bands and stuff but it's been very much the main guy plus backing group. That's not my ideal situation because generally speaking you don't get very much musical freedom then either. However good the songs are you're often just playing somebody else's parts. I've done so many things where I've been playing John Deacon's parts, Geezer Butler's parts. You name it, all sorts of people. This way at least I'm being a tribute to myself (laughs).
You've got a video out for 'Accident Prone'. How did you all come to choose that for being the lead track?
Well it was thrown back a couple of times between us and the record company. Certainly that's what I thought would be the first most obvious track to do. I mean there was a bit of discussion about it but I think mostly it was down to the record label to decide. They're the ones who have to get behind it. Say we gave them an album and the hated the mixes they'd be able to say we're paying for this go back and re-do them, that kind of thing. So we try and do the best job we can and hopefully that's what the record company wants and what the fans want as well.
Yeah, I think it gives a good representation of what Snakecharmer are all about and what to expect from the album.
Yeah I think so. I mean the album is quite varied I think. There are probably some things that are reminiscent of Whitesnake but there's quite a lot of it that isn't. As I say it's not deliberate for it to be like that anyway. It's just a product of our backgrounds, roots or whatever. I would imagine Chris Ousey is not especially a Whitesnake fan or anything. He's certainly not a David clone or anything like that and that wasn't what we were looking for. He's got a great, powerful, soulful voice and he can hit a lot of high notes which some people can't do (laughs)
(Laughs) Name no names...
Absolutely, name no names (laughs). But I was gonna say myself, Micky and Laurie come out of the sixties blues boom era really. That was our influence when we were starting playing and that will always shine through really. That's our kind of fundamental base really.
One of the stories that's in the news at the moment is that HMV seems pretty much dead in the water. With people like yourself, Micky Moody and Harry James coming from older bands I guess predominantly you have older fans. I'm wondering how you feel that might impact the chances of sales for Snakecharmer as a lot of us older fans still like to go out to our local record shop and buy a physical product of a shelf as opposed to just downloading a faceless file from iTunes or having it turn up in an envelope.
I know. I don't know what the answer is really. I'm sure some people will still have good local record shops which is a great thing but unfortunately some people seem to just go on price and nothing more. I suppose most people are slowly moving towards doing stuff online. It would be great for us if loads of people went out and bought the actual CD but the much more woodworking thing is that one person will buy a CD and then stick it on the web and everybody will download it for free. That's the killer for musicians these days. We can't do this on thin air. It costs money to do everything these days. Can't play for nothing, can't record for nothing. But on the other hand the older fans who are more likely to want a physical product will still buy it even if they have to go to Amazon to get it. That said I would be happy for anyone to download it as long as they just don't do it illegally. That said there does seem to be growing market in the resurgence of vinyl. So maybe record shops are gonna stick around simply to sell vinyl again mostly.
Yeah there's a few good ones opening up and plenty of vinyl specialists around.
Yes totally and our album is gonna be out on vinyl sometime soon, a little bit after the CD. That will be good. It's almost a shame because you design the cover for a little CD sleeve and then it's gonna get blown up for the vinyl when it used to be the other way around. At least everything will be readable I suppose (laughs).
You've been lucky enough to play with, what seems like, pretty much everyone in your career. But is there anyone who you specifically wished you could have lined up alongside?
There's millions of people I'd like to have had the chance to play with but as a musician and in an ideal world I suppose Jimi Hendrix. That will have to be in the next world I guess. Jeff Beck is a huge hero of mine really. I know it's probably a little bit too fusiony for a lot of people but just somebody that's that exciting and creative. But I like all sorts of different things. My mind almost goes blank when you ask me that question just because there's so many possibilities but I don't really think about it because it's never going to happen. I would think more realistically about something that was maybe a vague possibility. When the very sad news about Trevor Bolder having to go into hospital came out a few days ago because we're under the same management I was approached to see if I could stand in for him which I would have loved to do. That's a good example right there, the chance to work with a classic band like that [Uriah Heep] but unfortunately as it happens I can't because it clashes with our Islington gig and the importance of being around for the Snakecharmer stuff at the moment. But I got to go to Japan with MSG. Maybe the chance to play with Ian Paice again... It's great if something comes out of the blue you definitely weren't expecting that you can get excited about but at the moment Snakecharmer is certainly my priority.
If I could just ask you one last question. This one comes from my son Tyler, he's twelve. He's quite into his Ozzy and Sabbath stuff at the moment and when I told him I was gonna be talking to someone who played in Black Sabbath he asked if it would be possible to ask you something about your time with them. So his question is... What's it like to work with Tony Iommi?
Well people think that Tony is probably a very scary guy. Kind of doomy, evil. Steer well clear of him! Probably practicing black magic all day but he's actually a really funny guy, a really nice bloke. Quite into his practical jokes actually. I mean I wouldn't wanna get on the wrong side of him. Occasionally when people do it's mostly because they don't see that he's getting a bit narked with them and they just keep on talking rubbish or whatever it is they're doing. Then suddenly they might find themselves grabbed by the collar and being told to shut up, you know? I'm not saying anything more that that (laughs). But he's an incredibly creative musician, I really envy him. He can go to his studio and just churn out endless new riffs all of the time. He just has that kind of creative personality where he can come up with things that I wouldn't even think of. He's just coming from a different direction and he will do something that other people haven't done before, you know? He's not concerned with trying to fit in with anything, he just plays Tony Iommi if it were. He's very concerned about his guitar sound and he's always trying to improve it. trying out all sorts of different amps and effects and pick ups and all sorts. He's definitely a perfectionist from that point of view. I very much enjoyed my time in the band though I know the majority of fans want the original line up, or as much of it as they can get. The only thing I can say is that in the eighties for example, late eighties, Tony wasn't wanting to do the same music, or the same exact style of thing that he'd done in the seventies with Ozzy. In certain countries that was welcomed but sometimes the hardcore Sabbath fans just wanted them to stay exactly as they were originally. It was as if at times they would almost prefer there was no Sabbath than there be a version with, for example, myself and Cozy Powell which I think is a bit wrong but there you go. Sometimes heavy metal fans, and particularly teenage heavy metal fans are the most hardcore kind. They won't deviate from their point of view. It's all very black and white. Somethings either amazing or it's crap. So if I'm not amazing then I must be crap (laughs). There's no grey areas. As you get older you can begin to appreciate things that aren't just one particular thing. You can broaden your taste a bit.
Excellent, well I think that's our time up for today. I'd like to wish you all the best with Snakecharmer and thank you very much for your time and answering so openly, it's been a real pleasure talking to you.
Thank you, it's been very nice talking to you too.
[Photo kudos to John Price]