Interview with Leo Lyons by
Batttttty goes on safari with
Lyons is best known for being the bassplayer with Ten Years After,
and also for producing three of the finest albums ever made in the
history of the universe - Phenomenomemonemonenom, Force It and No
He now lives in Nashville and is 'working on the road' again with
Ten Years After - so as well as talking to him about Ten Years
after, and Ten Years After almost thirty years after, we also
discussed UFO which was about twenty-five years before. Then we
talked a bit about the years in between and then we ended up
talking about the future.
not as complicated as it sounds - it's just a space in
start with, how did you get involved with UFO in the first place,
and did the whole of your life up till then prepare you in any way
for what The UFO Experience was gonna be like? I
recorded Frankie Miller for Chrysalis Records in my home studio.
On the strength of that and my work with Ten Years After I was
given an afternoon in Chipping Norton studios with UFO to see what
we could come up with. Chrysalis’s only interest in signing the
band at that time was that they’d sold a few records in Germany.
After the session UFO left to catch a ferry to a gig somewhere in
Europe. Phil called me that evening from Dover to say they’d
like me to produce their next record. The next day I paid for two
extra hours in the studio myself, to re-mix the track. The song we
cut was I believe ‘Give Her The Gun’ or something like that.
You know I’m not at all certain if Schenker was in the band on
that session or if it was Paul Chapman or Bernie Marsden.
Errr.... well, they do all look alike, I suppose....
What was UFO like to work with? I like working with
children and animals and UFO were really pussycats at the time. By
then I’d done thirty US tours and had already experienced or
been through the excesses they were about to get themselves into.
I enjoyed working with them.
us some funny stories or nostalgic reminiscencisciscisisisisises
of working with that sorry bunch of losers (we love 'em really) Pete
Way’s elaborate excuses for being late would take up the whole
interview! Excuses? From Pete? For being late? Surely not
.... I remember tales of old ladies falling
off of buses, him being witness to crimes and having to help the
police, road accidents, alien invasions etc. Hahahhahaha,
yeh, that's Pete!
Musically, did you feel they improved with each album you worked
on with them? I
think the band's studio technique improved with each album. Whose
idea was it to bring in a keyboard player for NHP? I
suggested using Chick Churchill (TYA) on keyboards for a couple of
tracks on ‘Force It’. UFO decided it was a good idea to have
Danny in the band.
Did Danny really write On With The Action? If
Danny says he wrote the song, then I expect he did. I know I
didn’t write it. Hahahahaha.
OK then, Danny wrote it - it's official.
you all arrive at the studio with pretty much the finished product
ready to record - or were there a lot of changes made to many of
the tracks? I
allowed for songs to evolve in the studio but we rehearsed a fair
amount before going in. We had to. The recording budget was tight.
We had only ten days to make ‘Phenomenon’. Fifteen for
‘Force It’ and probably only twenty for ‘No Heavy
Petting’. We couldn’t spend the first week talking about
getting a drum sound. We had to average three backing tracks a
the producer, what input did you have into the arrangements of the
UFO choons? You were part of UFO's greatest era, putting together
the classics such as Let It Roll, Shoot Shoot, Mother Mary etc. As
UFO fans, we are proud of you for being part of that. How was it
for you? We
all worked on the arrangements and I never had time to keep a book
on who suggested what. The band had lots of ideas, riffs and
grooves. I’d take the rehearsal tapes home, listen to them, make
changes and we’d move things around. I had them play the songs
over and over until they felt right to me. The most important
thing I wanted to capture was energy and excitement. Phil never
finished lyrics until the last minute. Often we had only a working
title for the song. It was like producing instrumentals and hoping
it would all fit together later when we added the vocals.
Phil were to ask you to work on the next UFO album... would you? Yes,
maybe if I had the time. I wouldn’t let any of UFO near my
daughter though if I had one! You think they
would borrow her make-up and wear her clothes? Oh, I see what you
mean. Yeh, best avoided, I agree... I produced a
‘Waysted’ mini album some years ago with Pete and Andy. It was
was your favourite UFO album to work on? And what is your
favourite to listen to these days? If you could go back and
re-work any of them, what (if anything) would you do differently?
What stopped that from happening? ‘Phenomenon’
or ‘Force It’ I played the ‘ UFO Anthology’ the other day.
Some of the songs I can hardly remember recording. I enjoyed them
with a fresh ear. Once completed, I can’t bear to listen to
records I’ve worked on. I get too close to them and always feel
I can do things better or different. I have to let things go for a
few years. The records were as good as we could get them at the
time. There’s no point looking back. Maybe one day someone will
ask me to do a digital remix. That would be interesting.
you like to have produced Lights Out? Yes.
At the time I was disappointed not to be not asked to produce
‘Lights Out’. UFO’s chart success notably in the States had
taken Chrysalis by surprise. They’d under-shipped the records
and had not committed to any real promotion. The impetus was lost.
I was on tour with TYA and tried to do some radio promotion myself
but it was too little, too late. In private, Chrysalis executives
admitted to me that they’d "fucked up". To save face
in public, as is the way with the music business, Chrysalis
decided that the key to further success was to replace me with an
American producer. Future recording and promotion budgets were
increased astronomically and I understand that the ‘Extras’
bill on ‘Lights Out’ was larger than the money I’d been
given to make the three previous records. Put that in your pipe
and recoup it!
has that 'you-hear-one-note-and-you-know-it's-him' kinda quality.
How easy was that to capture in the studio? What did you think of
Michael Schenker as a guitarist? Schenker
is a great musician and stylist. I think he’s one of the best
melodic rock guitar players I’ve heard. Michael was a
perfectionist, a precision player and worked everything out. For a
solo to be memorable and a classic you have to be able to hum it.
We’d spend many hours piecing together a definitive performance.
After many, many passes I’d say "That was a great take
Michael" and he’d reply "For you maybe, but for me it
was shit" The rest of the band would go to the bar, we took
the time to get it right.
What about as a person? Was he difficult to work with, apart from
the language problems? I’ve worked with many difficult
guitar players but had no real problems with Michael. I liked him
a lot. When we first started working together we spoke in German.
I’d learnt it in school. Blimey (Gott in
How do you feel about the way his life has turned out? I’ve
heard all the wild stories and I’m sorry it’s turned out that
way for him and those around him. I think he must be a very
a bass player yourself, what do you think of Pete Way's technique?
(Technique??? Well, Pete reckons he has a technique!) He’s
an exciting player and one of the foremost innovators of the heavy
metal style of playing. I particularly admired the way he used
spandex pants to enhance his live performances. Come on Nigel
Tuffnell. Give credit where it’s due. Pete and I were the best
of pals. He stayed with us many times at our farm in Oxfordshire
where he greatly enjoyed drinking all our booze. Did you know Pete
played my Fender Jazz bass on all on the records we made together?
Who are your favourite bass players? I
don’t know. There are so many good players around these days.
When I first started playing I aspired to play like Elvis’s bass
player Bill Black or emulate jazz bass players Ray Brown or Scott
is your opinion of Bazzle Sparkypants, the lil blond bassplayer
who has worked with Uli, Yngwie, Michael Schenker etc, and is now
slumming it with Dokken even though he is capable of so much
better and can play those Dokken choons with one hand tied behind
his back - or even both hands tied behind his back. Even if you
think he's a crappy bassplayer, what do you think of his excellent
? Sorry I’m not that familiar with his
playing although it seems he must be very good looking at his web
site. He probably knows nothing about me either. Now you’ve
shamed me into checking out some of his recordings. Result!
There, I knew this interview wasn't gonna be a complete waste of
OK, tell us about Andy Parker..... Shadow? Will-o-the-wisp? Did
you ever notice him in the studio? Did he ever speak? Andy
was an underrated drummer and a really nice guy. Way/Mogg used him
as the butt for their unique sense of humor. It must have pissed
him off at times. He and Pete worked well together as the rhythm
section. They did indeed - a great team!
about Chrysalis? Do you feel they did enough to promote UFO?
they give you a proper recording budget? As
I’ve stated earlier, no, not when I was involved with them. I
thought that the band was way ahead of its time, and they deserved
much more success. Did you know that some years after I finished
producing UFO they asked me to manage them, which I considered for
a week or two, but maybe that’s for another story. OK,
we'll save that one for Part Deux!
Talking of Ten Years After - how do you and the fellas all get on
now, these days? Alvin
doesn’t speak to me and won’t work with TYA. The rest of the
band Ric, Chick and Joe our new guitarist/singer get on well and
are touring, recording and having fun.
When you got back on the touring circuit with TYA was it like
picking up where you'd left off? What major differences were there
to the first time around? It’s
like the first time around, just as hard and even more exciting.
We’re playing to a wide age group of people. Many young fans
know us only from our records, film or TV appearances. We’re not
an ‘Oldies Band’. We’re moving forward and intend shaking
things up a bit.
did the Ten Years After reunion come about?
Purely by chance last April Ric, Chick and I were asked to do some
Italian shows with American blues guitarist Carvin Jones. Double
Trouble were to have done the tour but dropped out at the last
minute. I like Italian food and readily accepted the gigs. At the
request of the many TYA fans who came to see us we decided in
August of last year to reform TYA. That's something all of us in
TYA aside from Alvin have wanted to do for years. We have a new
guitarist/vocalist Joe Gooch who is sensational. As you can see
from the fan sites it's an ongoing thing. We're trying to reach
all four corners of the earth and also the bits in between. We've
a studio CD in the making which will be released in the autumn and
a live DVD is scheduled for release in May when we embark on our
first UK tour in twenty-five years. The FLASHBACK TOUR moves on
through Europe and early signs are that it will end up in the USA
just before Christmas. We want to thank everyone out there who has
given and continues to give encouragement and support in our
endeavors. I plan on touring at least for the next five years.
It's not for the money. It's for the Hell of it.
happened with Alvin? What caused the feud? From
my point of view there's no 'Alvin feud' although I understand
that Alvin and a number of people in his Fan Club are very pissed
off at me, in particular, and the other TYA guys too for going out
and gigging without him. Ric asked him many times to work with TYA.
He didn't want to do it but he doesn't want us to do it either!
Tough! Ric, Chick and I love playing together and fans wanted to
see TYA out there touring and recording. We left it for over
twenty-five years before taking the initiative. Life's too short
and it's certainly 'About Time'. I'm doing what I want to do. I
wish Alvin every success in what he wants to do.
were your favourite TYA moments? And your favourite TYA tracks/albums?
I’m almost ashamed to say it, but probably
it was being the support band and blowing off the headline acts. I
like a challenge. Favourite album? I hope it’s the next one but
right now it’s the previously un- released ‘Live at The
Filmore 1969’ CD which came out this year. I think it captures
the band when it first had the fire lit under it.
The tour schedules you had were pretty gruelling back in those
days - how did you survive all that? I
doubt anyone who dreams of being in a successful rock band would
have any sympathy for me if I said how hard it really is being
paid obscene amounts of money to tour the world. I consider myself
very lucky. What’s the secret for survival?
Balance out your life. When you’re not rocking - sleep, and when
you’re not sleeping - rock. Don’t take yourself too seriously,
keep your feet on the ground, consider other people and ‘Don’t
do drugs, kids!’ Were
there any hairy scary moments?
The scariest moments have been the prospect of sitting at home
falling to sleep in front of the television. Hahahahha,
yeh, and having people draw on your face.
of hairy scary moments, I see from your website that you are
interested in the paranormal. Blimey. Does that include the 'other'
kind of UFO? Bring us up to speed on some of this paranormal stuff
- it sounds pretty interesting, even to a bunch of UFO fans who
are used to seeing what could be taken for hallucinations. I’ve
seen ‘ghostly phenomena’ all my life. As a child it bothered
me. I thought I was going insane. In my late twenties I came to
terms with my experiences and I’m in the final stages of writing
a book called ‘The Reluctant Psychic’. You could call it ‘My
Exorcize Book’ Groannnnnnn (and that
wasn't the sound of someone walking through a wall). It does sound
fascinating though - I do believe in all that scary stuff, and not
just from waking up next to Mr. Bat all these years.
recently worked with Leslie West. How did that come about, and how
was he to work with?
Leslie telephoned and asked me to produce a blues record. He’s a
very talented singer and guitarist and I agreed. He was recovering
from a serious operation, which meant he was absent from the
studio a lot of the time, which put extra pressure on me. When he
was there our personalities clashed. I didn’t expect to be
playing bass on most of the tracks. There were also label issues I
was unaware of. It was not the most enjoyable experience of my
life and I quit before the end of the project requesting my name
to be taken off as producer. Would
you like to give it another go? I
enjoy Leslie’s music, I like him, but there are no plans to do
any more work with him.
you choose to live in Nashville cos of the music scene there, or
was it mainly because of the publishing deal? As
a staff songwriter I was expected to live and work in the music
community. There are some great players and studios in town and
I’ve learnt a lot in the five years I’ve been here. It has
been a worthwhile experience.
you particularly into the 'Nashville sound'? I’ve
always loved country music considering it to be, in its purest
form, white man's blues. My first introduction to country music as
a kid was the Jimmie Rogers record ‘He’s In The Jailhouse Now’.
were your favourite bands Back Then.... and Now? I
like all the classic country artistes Hank Williams, Patsy Cline,
George Jones, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton etc.
Newer country acts I like are The Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless,
Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt - in fact too many to mention. I
don’t like the ‘worst of the eighties pop country’ or the
cutie girl and boy band epidemic that’s swept over from the pop
world recently. I find it too homogenized. One A and R man
recently told me that he was looking for ‘Honky tonk songs but
with no drinking or cheating lyrics. I like songs that are about
real life, bars, birds, booze and lost love. That's
most of the UFO catalogue then, hahahaha.
about the internet.... you broadcast your Day In The Garden gig
to.....(did I read this right????) 57 MILLION people over the
internet! Blimey! Do you think the internet is used to its fullest
potential by people in the music business. The
music business has been too greedy for it’s own good and the
thought of losing control scares the hell out of them. It’s
early days but I’m sure the big players will eventually find
ways to tie up the loopholes, control the media, and safeguard
their copyrights. Maybe we’ll end up with an un-crackable
Internet jukebox that gets its dividends by subscription. What
other ways do you think the internet could be used to promote
believe right now the web can be used to great effect by musicians
with an established fan base to promote their own music and cut
out some of the greedy middlemen. New acts still need the
promotion that the record label advertising dollar buys.
do you feel about this whole AudioGalaxy/Napster thannnnggggggg? Historically
someone has always ripped off the little man. Downloading product
is just another way of doing it. The minstrels of old played for
shelter, food and a wench. And then God invented the agent and it
all got too complicated. Hahahahahaha,
What's next on the Leo Lyons work/music agenda? Right
now my priority is working on the new TYA album and upcoming tours.
The audience reaction so far has been great and the band has the
enthusiasm it had in the beginning when we had something we wanted
to prove to the world. Touring and playing live was always my
first love. I retired from that at the age of twenty-seven
considering myself too old. I thought I should to settle down to a
proper job. A bit of a joke really the way things have gone round
in a complete circle. Now twenty-seven doesn’t feel old at all. 27
feels old to me, darlin - I've been passing myself off as 23 for
the last yhgrhghfdjvhdfknvf years. I still enjoy
songwriting but not seven days a week and I’m always looking for
recording projects that excite me. I’ve got the best part of two
books written and started on a third but they’re on hold for the
time being unless Hollywood calls or my agent reads this
interview. I'll make damn sure he reads it!
Leo, many thanks, and good luck to you all on the Ten
Years After tour. Boogie on!
from the Jaycats, through the Jaybirds and Ten Years After to the
out the TEN
YEARS AFTER website with details of the new line-up and tour
photos on this page are the copyright of various Ten Years After
fans and fan-sites - big thanks for letting me use them here!
Also, thanks to my friends in SITN for contributing to the
questions for Leo, especially Dicksy, Magnus, Padge etc.