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Interview with Andy Parker by Adam Harrold
As the final lashings of “Lights Out”, “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor, Doctor” round off a triumphant encore to the final date of UFO’s UK tour, there’s no doubting that the veteran rockers are deep within the healthiest spell of form they’ve displayed for many a year. The album that they’re promoting on the road, the excellent “Monkey Puzzle”, has been met with great acclaim and the rejuvenated line-up genuinely appear to be enjoying themselves. Indeed, the band’s current guise (Phil Mogg on vocals, Pete Way on bass, Vinnie Moore on guitar, Paul Raymond on guitar and Andy Parker on drums) are pretty much partying on stage. Perhaps happiest of all is Andy Parker, the band’s original drummer, who after a lengthy absence returned to the band a little over a year ago.
“I have to say that it’s been a really, really good tour,” enthuses Parker backstage after the show, complete with towel and dripping hair, “We’ve been doing this for five weeks now – starting off in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Holland and now we’ve been in England at least two weeks. The rest of the shows have been really good, the feedback has been really positive and the crowds have been really energised – it’s been excellent.”
He isn’t wrong, tonight’s show was flawless. Granted, the bulk of the material was staple UFO fare, but most people will need no reminding as to just how good those particular songs are. There’s still room for a couple of the new songs to be debuted, but as the man behind the drum kit confirms, there’s no escaping the classic material:
“It’s always difficult introducing new songs. We’ve had several people ask us why we’re not playing stuff from the Paul Chapman era and I’ve had to say that we basically don’t have time,” Parker reasons. “We have curfews and you only get so much time on stage. You’ve got to play stuff off the new album but in the end you’ve got to play what the people want, they’re the ticket buyers and they get to dictate what they’re going to listen to. There’s so much back catalogue now and people seem to want the stuff from “Strangers [in the Night]”. You hear people when we start the set shouting out for “Rock Bottom” and “Lights Out” so it is hard but the new stuff is being well received.”
As a band that have been recording and touring since 1969, it would be easy to feel that UFO are has-beens, a mere nostalgia act, that there’s no way that they could keep up with the modern era. Wrong. Sure, UFO are legendary for a flurry of remarkable albums during the seventies (“Lights Out”, “Obsession” and “Strangers in the Night” amongst them) and they’ve influenced many a key-player within the metal scene (Iron Maiden gigs are always preceded by “Doctor, Doctor” nowadays, for example), but with the last couple of albums – including 2004’s “You Are Here” - the band have proven that they’ve still got something to say. Furthermore, their methods for choosing their set lists aren’t behind with the times either.
“On this tour we tended to use the forums and the fan bases off the internet to get an idea of what they want to hear and I think we got it right because as soon as you announce the old songs and play the old songs you can hear the crowd goes up. It especially works out well for me, because I know all of the old stuff!”
By mentioning his lack of familiarity with all of the songs Parker is of course referring to his lengthy spell away from the band, which - bar a brief return in 1993 for a year - spanned two whole decades. So why did he vacate his drum stool in the first place?
“The reason I got out of it was just because it wasn’t fun any more,” Parker replies. “I mean I left in ’83 the first time and the band had a lot of problems then. Michael [Schenker, former guitarist] had already left and we were just tired and spent and when you’re out doing shows that aren’t really up to scratch you know it and you can feel it in the band, you can feel it in the audience and it got to the point when I had enough. I had a three-year-old daughter that I wanted to spend some time with so basically I left and went back to Los Angeles, where I was living then, and spent some time with my kids so that meant not going on the road, which meant not being in a band for me.”
In a somewhat unusual career change Parker was soon to become a licensed building contractor – a far cry from playing drums for one of Britain’s premier rock bands. After a decade out of UFO he rejoined in 1993, but once again Schenker’s behaviour eventually aggravated the percussionist into leaving for a second time.
“We cut “Walk on Water” in ’94 and that was with Michael and it was fun, but there was still this tension that I didn’t like. Michael wasn’t… he still had problems and for me that wasn’t where I wanted to be so I did the album and that was great but I decided that I didn’t want to go out on the road with them and in hindsight, which is an easy thing to have, I made the right decision. They had a lot of problems after that.”
More time passed, but finally on August bank holiday 2005 Parker received a call from UFO’s Paul Raymond:
“Out of the blue Paul phoned and said, ‘Andy, Phil says you won’t be interested because we’ve asked you before but Jason [Bonham] has left and gone with Foreigner now and we don’t have a drummer. We have a gig in Spain in November and would you be interested in doing it?’ Well yeah, I’ll do it!” Parker recalls, “So I did the gig and for me it was kind of a one off, see how it goes, but it just felt so good being in the band and sat on that seat that there was just no moving away and so I decided that I wanted to stay!”
“I’m the sort of person that needs some sort of stability,” Parker says after a lengthy pause and a swig of his drink, “I like to know what’s going on and to rely on things and unfortunately with Michael’s stage right now you can never rely on him, you never know if he’s gonna finish a song, let alone a set, let alone the tour. With Vinnie it’s a whole different thing, he’s such a great player and he’s such a stand-up solid guy that the band has fun. There’s a whole different vibe in the band, the band is actually enjoying themselves and it reflects on everybody when one person lets the side down. Before I couldn’t stand to actually be up there and not be delivering what we should be delivering. Now we don’t have that problem and as far as I’m concerned I’ll stay until it changes.”
However, despite Moore’s undeniable talent and the fact that the fans have warmly embraced him into the UFO fold, you can’t escape the passion that still exists for UFO’s troubled former guitarist. It was Schenker, after all, that had a helping hand in so many of those massive UFO tracks and despite his volatile – and widely reported – behaviour there are many that still regard him as untouchable. So was the German six-stringer such an impossible man to be around?
It’s a question that fails to impress Parker:
“Just look at the internet!” He abruptly offers, before – after some prompting – continuing to say, “Walking off stage in the middle of a show… throwing his guitar down, you know, screaming at the audience, all that kind of stuff. It just doesn’t make for a good show does it? Not coming back for encores, in fact quitting tours in the middle. It’s like having a car and not knowing if it is going to break down – you’re always nervous aren’t you? It just doesn’t work for me and we don’t have that with Vinnie. The band now is solid and because it’s solid we know we can rely on everyone else and have fun.”
And you can’t argue with the man – UFO do look like they’re having fun. What’s more, their latest album is a gem, not to mention how well the entire outfit performed tonight. They might be fast approaching their fortieth year together, but you get the impression that there’s a lot more to come from the rockers yet. And based on recent form that can’t be anything but a very good thing indeed.
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