They’re 40 years old and still producing top notch classic rock – no wonder rushonrock‘s resident columnist Self Made Man can’t get enough of UFO.
In the first part of an exclusive chat with drummer Andy Parker, our man talks Strangers In The Night, setlists and the changing demographic of an audience sure to flock to Newcastle’s Academy next month.
Self Made Man: Let’s start by talking about the greatest live album ever released – Strangers In The Night. Thirty years on, how do you rate it?
Andy Parker: I’m always asked what’s my favourite UFO album and although the band have released 20 studio albums, I always say Strangers In The Night. I’m very proud of most of our material and believe that The Monkey Business and our latest album The Visitor compare very favourably with stuff we wrote back in the 70s and 80s. But the bottom line is that SITN captures UFO at its very best. It’s got some of our best songs on and the fact it is live gives it that extra edge. Listening to it today, it still holds up very favourably. I don’t think we’re alone in sounding better live than in the studio. The Who’s most famous album is Live At Leeds and Deep Purple’s Made In Japan is arguably their best too. That’s no coincidence because energy is such a key component in rock bands and like us, those bands, to name just two, had this extra dimension on stage.
SMM: Strangers In the Night has been such an integral part of your set list for so long that some fans believe the material played at your gigs has become too predictable. Would you agree?
AP: Ah, the six million dollar question and the answer’s both yes and no. When I returned to the band in 2005, having not played the drums for 10 years, I thought `Oh My God,’ I’ve got a hell of a lot to learn before we go on the road. Then when I was presented with the setlist, I realised I knew over half the stuff and it just came back to me automatically. Anyway, to answer the question, the fact is that our show only lasts around two hours and with such a huge back catalogue, it’s never a case of what we play but what we don’t play. And most punters expect us to play songs such as Doctor Doctor, Lights Out, Rock Bottom and Too Hot to Handle. And let’s face it, would it be a UFO concert without them? Probably not.
SMM: But there must be loads more songs you’d love to play?
AP: That’s when the arithmetic comes into it and if we played every song the public demand, we’d be on stage forever. But we do read the message boards and emails and try to keep everyone happy. Last time, we resurrected a couple of songs from the Paul Chapman era which a lot of fans complained had been ignored for too long. We played Lettin’ Go and Long Gone and I must say they went down wonderfully well. However, that meant us dropping stuff from The Monkey Business – the very album we went on tour to promote. It’s a Catch 22 situation.
SMM: So how do you settle on the final set list?
AP: For the past couple of months, emails have been criss-crossing between Germany, England, Delaware and Texas, where I live, with our own suggestions of a set list for the forthcoming tour and it is very, very difficult. It’s not settled yet but we are going to be a little more ruthless with the SITN stuff, there’ll be a few from The Visitor and one or two surprises as well.
SMM: Can I vote for No Place to Run making a welcome re-appearance?
AP: I’ll mention that to the rest of the guys.
SMM: What gives you more pleasure Andy, your older fans loving the new stuff or young fans getting into the old stuff?
AP: We love all our fans whatever age they are and are very grateful to those who’ve stuck with us since the 70s. I hope they keep coming until they’re in their wheelchairs! But I must admit it’s great when we see teenagers in the audience. A lot of them have got into our music through their dads but there’s a whole new generation of rock fans out there. Over here, I’m amazed by how many kids are into Led Zeppelin and just look at how big AC/DC are. At our shows, we’ve got a great mix of long-standing fans and younger ones who only got into the band this century.
* Later this week Parker deliveres his verdict on Mogg, Way and entering UFO’s fifth decade.