The BIG Über Rock Interview: Mick Underwood’s Glory Road Print E-mail
Written by DJ Astrocreep   
Sunday, 17 December 2017 04:40

After a few months where I have gotten to sit down with some real rock heroes, I have somehow managed to outdo myself. Playing at the HRH NWOBHM festival was Mick Underwood's Glory Road. Mick has been a professional drummer since 1962, playing with all sorts of incredible artists along the way. He's joined in Glory Road by Jeff Summers (Weapon UK) on guitar, Gary Summers (New Image, amongst others) on bass, Roy Shipston (Rococo, amongst others) on keys and Luca Ravase (Future Shock UK, amongst others) on vocals.


I started off by asking Mick, having played with what is basically a who's who on the British rock circuit, most of Deep Purple and such, is there anyone that stands out for him as above the rest?


HRH NWOBHM Mick Underwood


I've been lucky to play with some very good people. These guys are very good as well. I don't know, John Gustafson, who died a couple of years ago, unfortunately, who was in Quatermass with me, was a marvellous player and singer. I worked with Paul Rodgers for a little while. Graham Bonnet, who I did an album with. Ian Gillan, obviously and lots of sessions with good people as well.


Is it true that you were very nearly in Led Zeppelin as well?


There's truth to it, but not quite as you phrased it.


I knew Peter Grant quite well, as I was with Ritchie Blackmore in The Outlaws, going back to the mid/late 60s. Peter was road managing Gene Vincent, so I got to know him quite well - we got on very well actually. A few years later I was doing a video session in a club in London and we had finished our stuff and he was up there with someone he was managing then, and he asked me what I was doing now. I said, well, I've just done a tour with somebody, but that's finished now. It was Johnny Cash actually, I was playing in the support band. He said to me, 'Well Jimmy (Page) is putting The Yardbirds back together, but we're looking for a drummer. Are you interested?'. I said yeah, I would be, as I didn't have anything else to go on to. I was at a full stop until something turned up.


It was quite an amazing situation, really, when you look back at what happened at that time because it got quite silly. There were a few weeks between, which John Bonham did, actually, but it wasn't Zeppelin, it was The Yardbirds. About a day later, I got a phone call from Ian Gillan, who I knew from singing in a band called Episode Six. He lived quite locally to me and said that he had had to get rid of their drummer and that he would love to have me. They were doing a lot of broadcasts, lots of studio stuff, lots of gigs. They would put me on a wage for it, which suited me. I phoned Peter Grant up because that was only going to be a couple of weeks stint and I said, “count me out on that, Pete, something's come up”. He said that's alright, there was no hard feeling or that. There was a crossover on there, which is how I got to know Ian (Gillan) with Episode Six, which led on to… history wise, looking back on it, I can see where it went with Episode Six.


Richie (Blackmore) asked if I knew a singer. Ian and I were going to split from Episode Six, after about a year or so, as nonew music was coming and we were doing lots of covers. About two weeks after that, when we thought we were going to do it, Roger Glover, who was the bass player, was probably going to come into the band. I think it was a Sunday evening, I got a call from Richie, who said that (Deep) Purple - we already knew about Purple then, they'd done great in America, but they were looking hard for a singer in this country and I thought, well, this was too good an opportunity, I can't ignore Ian on that one, even though it caused me some difficulty, as the band, Episode Six, was definitely on its way out.


So, it was more you looking out for your friend?


It was, yeah. I did that. Of course, he joined it, joined Purple, and Roger Glover went in as well, so it gave them the band, which I was a bit gutted about at the time, because I was not involved on that side of it, but the bass player was and still is a great mate of mine. For some reason they'd wanted the bass player as well, so Roger got in the band as well.


Jeff Summers: Gus joined, didn't he?


Mick: Not with Purple, no. That was with Episode Six. Once Ian was gone, they brought some other people in. I knew a fine keyboard player called Peter Robinson, so they came in, but the three of us weren't that happy in Episode Six, so we formed a group called Quatermass, which was far from a basic drumming thing, you know. We did a really good album, which still is kind of liked a lot. It was never a hit, but the band was a bit special, or at least I felt it was.


I remember reading somewhere that you toured with people like Little Richard and Sam Cooke...


That was when I first left school! I'd just left school, and I got offered a job. In fact, I hadn't quite left school, I was still there, and Jet Harris, bass player with The Sages and The Shadows had left The Shadows and was forming this band. Someone mentioned me to him, he asked me, so I joined him. I was meant to have played a school gig! I was out straight from school, on package tours, and I was playing in front of all these people, thinking this was good *laughs*.


You are now with Glory Road, how does it feel in comparison to some of the stuff you've done before?


Well, I like it because I kinda know the numbers a bit *everyone laughs* I have to get those right. I like it because I think it is superb material. These guys *gestures at other band members* are great though, they just know how it works themselves and know that they're just good songs. They stand up, even after all those years.


Jeff: Yeah.


Mick: When people come to see us, they say the same things, as well. I've had a few people come up to me tonight, too, thanking me for perpetuating it, thanks for this, thanks for that, because they know the songs and they like to hear them again. We enjoy playing them, well I do *everyone laughs*


Gary Summers: Yeah, we love it.


HRH NWOBHM Glory Road Gary


Luca Ravase: It's more than enjoyment, you know?


Have you got plans for recording any material?


Mick: Well, I don't think we could really record Glory Road doing the Gillan stuff because that's separate. We've got some great writers in the band, as well. There's always the possibility of doing that as a side issue, which we haven't really explored, have we boys?


Jeff: We had a couple of sessions but kinda decided really that we should get back to doing the Gillan stuff.


Gary: It's really about the live shows, again. We've put stuff out there to the audience again, today.


Jeff: I don't think we could slot it, if we wrote stuff, in among the other stuff. I think we've got to treat it as a full-on Gillan thing.


Roy Shipston: We could do a live album though...


Mick: We could do a live album, yes.


Luca: I'm up for it! *everyone laughs*


HRH NWOBHM Glory Road Luca


Mick: Also, we did a short set tonight. We only did one Quatermass song, 'Black Sheep of the Family', which Richie Blackmore recorded about three years later. I don't think we did the first version of it with Quatermass, but it was written by a good friend of the band, one of Pete Robinson, one of his friends, came in and it's a fantastic song, you know? It's very difficult to try and change the two over, that would be the difficulty, I think.


Do you have any more dates booked with Glory Road?


Gary: We've got some dates in the diary, yeah, for next year, but we're filling it up at the moment, we're looking at our options.


Glory Road has been around for, I think, five years now?


Mick: Is it more than that?


Jeff: I think it's about five, yeah.


Luca: Five years, yeah. I've been in the band for four years, since 2013.


Mick: We haven't done too much this year, as unfortunately I had to have a bit of surgery for a hernia and of course, you can't go straight back to moving stuff around. Then other people half moved abroad *everyone laughs*. We do what we can.


What do you think it the biggest show, or maybe the most important or personal to you, with either Glory Road or previous projects?


Mick: It's a very hard one. I can't think of anything that was head and shoulders above the rest. The last Gillan gig was good. I thought the band played great.


Jeff: At Wembley?


Mick: Yeah, Wembley.


Luca: December '82.


Mick: But it was a sad gig, you know? It meant the band was finished. I can't really think, as there are so many of them, I've toured so heavily and we always did pretty well. They nearly all were good. We had one or two that were not so good, like when Ian lost his voice, the crowd were singing instead of Ian *everyone laughs*


Gary: He just had to hold the mic out *laughs*


You've played many big festivals, from amongst your many projects, do you have any preference from them to an indoor gig, where you're a lot closer to the crowd?


Jeff: This sort of size is a really good one. The thing is with gigs, it's really weird, as, from the band's perspective, it's the sound on stage that's really important. From the fan's perspective, it's what they hear out front. We tend to, if we can all hear each other well, tend to respond to that and play a bit better. So yeah, I like this sort of size. Any bigger than this and you start to feel a bit lost.


Luca: I think it's probably because you don't lose contact with the crowd...


Like you're feeding back off the energy of the crowd, who then feed off yourselves...


Jeff: Absolutely, yeah.


Mick: The first festival (Reading) I did with Ian (Gillan), he had been there the year before. We were on around the middle of the afternoon. The next time we went, it was a little bit further down the line and the last time we played, we did 3 on the trot, with me anyway. The last one was when we headlined on the Saturday. There was always a good vibe about Reading in those days, it was a marquee one *band agrees*. They knew what they were doing.


Luca: Don't get us wrong, if we are invited to play in front of 1,000,000 people, we'll be ready for it. Any gig is fine for us.


Is there anyone any of you has played with that has had any strange demands on riders or diva fits?


HRH NWOBHM Glory Road Jeff


Jeff: Yeah, I personally toured with Blue Oyster Cult in about '86 and they just didn't talk to anyone. I don't think they had any demands like pink smarties only, or m&ms, whatever it was, they just didn't communicate at all. To be fair, Hawkwind as well. They actually had us slung off the tour. Just as our album was being released.


Do you mind me asking what for?


Jeff: Not only did they get us slung off the tour, they got us slung off The Agency, as well. They insisted that if we weren't thrown off The Agency, they were going to leave The Agency. It was THE agency, the biggest one. They had most of the biggest bands at that particular time. Basically, as a young and upcoming band, we opened the door and introduced ourselves, and they were just like fuck off, and that was the end of that!


What we did, we were messing around, doing their big hit ‘Silver Machine’ in an encore, singing different lyrics, might have been a little bit detrimental, it was only for fun *Luca laughs*. We got to the end of the gig, and our manager just came in and said their manager had just walked in and said to him, 'You're off. That's it'. They didn't even have the guts to come and see us and talk to us about it. In 1980, I toured with Motörhead, on the Ace of Spades tour and they were fantastic. Lemmy and the boys were absolutely brilliant. Chalk and cheese. Motörhead were obviously the much bigger band. The tour was enormous, it was their biggest tour ever. four nights here, four nights there, 42 nights in the UK in total, then Europe and the rest.


Luca: There is so much history here, with these guys, with over 50 years of rock n roll history. It's good to hear stories like that!


Gary: What about you, Roy? Any stories about Rococo?


Roy: Yeah, there are lots of stories with Rococo.


HRH NWOBHM Glory Road Roy


Gary: Tell him about your sex story, Roy...


Roy: No, I can't tell him that one... What was really nice tonight, there was a guy came up to me before, and said he could tell I was obviously enjoying playing tonight, to which I said yeah. He then said he loved my work with Rococo and asked if I was going to do anything else with them, to which I replied, yeah something, someday! I found it a little bit odd, as I wouldn't have thought it was a really Rococo type of audience here!


There does seem to be a fair amount of crossover between NWOBHM and Rococo (Roy's main prog project) at times, in terms of fan base.


Jeff: The strange thing is, a lot of the guys that you speak to, when we were kids, I'd be down the front, watching him play (referring to Mick) with Gillan. I've seen lots of other bands Mick's been in, too. For me, when the NWOBHM came out, we didn't actually know it was quite that, but I was a massive fan of Purple and a massive fan of Ian's, so the reason I was there was to see him! The interesting thing, this all happened about '79, '80, which was the New Wave time. So Gillan would be kind of put into that. But they weren't really, the guys were all from previously very successful bands.


Mick: What we were really good at, we were taking a lot of NWOBHM bands out with us on tour as support bands. We took Tygers (of Pan Tang) with us, White Spirit and one or two others. I suppose we weren't really, exactly, what these guys are doing now, by a long shot, but we seem to be their dads! *all laugh*


Jeff: Not quite... Luca's dad, maybe!


Gary: We're all old enough to be his dad!


Luca: Well, I'm getting there!


HRH NWOBHM Glory Road 1


Do you have any particularly fond memories of your time with any of your projects?


Roy: I can't remember any...


Jeff: There have been loads and loads and loads. One for me personally was the first day of the ‘Ace of Spades’ tour. I was playing with Weapon, who were a NWOBHM band. The first day, I can't remember where we were playing, we said, let's go and introduce ourselves to the band, so we did, and we banged on the door. A roadie answered the door and asked, 'Who the hell are you?' We told him, and he answered, 'Oh, come in lads!' and we were made immediately welcome. Food, drinks, any other things...


Whatever you were interested in...


Jeff: Exactly! Typical scenario, Lemmy's on the one-armed bandit, the smoke's thick and all that kind of stuff, scantily clad ladies all over the place. We had walked into a rock n roll debauched scenario, and we stayed there for a couple of months and thoroughly enjoyed it! *everyone laughs*


Gary: I thought you were still there! *laughter continues* That you'd never left!


Jeff: I wish I hadn't!


Luca: We were no tea drinkers!


(To GS): Any from yourself?


Gary: None that I can think of at the minute.


Jeff: This is it, isn't it Gaz?


Gary: Yeah, this is great. *more laughter*


Mick: No, not really, I don't think. I just try to look at it from a really professional point of view, and go and do what's required. If someone's being an arse, then you just don't go there anymore. In terms of good memories, there are too many to mention, really.


One of the best places, there was a pub near the studio in Kingsway, in London. There was a pub up there that we did nearly all our business in. One little meeting that came about, we had a hit with a track called ‘New Orleans’, which was a cover. We had been on tour, and one of the support bands was a band called White Spirit, which Janick Gers was playing the guitar in. They were all nice boys, from way up north. We said, discussing them, not us, we had had a few jars, we'd been recording, and Ian said, 'A great track for White Spirit would be New Orleans.' We broached it to them, the next time we saw them and they laughed at us. They said, 'We wouldn't do that!' So, he looks at all of us, we were in the pub at this point, we'd had a good session, and he said, 'You know what, we'll do it! We need another single.' So we went down and that was our best ever single *starts laughing*. They should have done it!


PHOTO CREDIT: All photographs © Simon Dunkerley.


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