The BYRON BAND – with Robin George (2008)

*This was originally posted in 2008, following the release of The Byron Band “One Minute More”. I’m reposting here for David Byron’s birthday…. a great read from Robin George. Enjoy!

 

An exclusive interview with British guitarist & songwriter about the brand new Byron Band release “One Minute More”, featuring original Uriah Heep singer David Byron. One Minute More is a new release from Robin George and the label Damage Control Music, featuring re-mastered demos of what would have become the Byron Band’s second album, as well as a rare radio interview.

For more info, and to order check out www.damagecontrolmusic.com  & www.robingeorge.co.uk

Photo credits are to Robin’s website.   Also check past interviews with Robin and Jeff Perkins from 2003.

Congratulations and thank you on the new Byron Band release. Now you just had the previous release a few years ago – the demos and the live stuff, so how did this one come up again, somewhat quickly?

RB- It doesn’t really seem that quickly to me, but I know what you’re saying. Basically, because of my move to Spain, I was trying to sort all my archives over here and as we were unpacking, literally – a couple of tapes fell out in front of me, and they happened to be 3 tracks that I’d completely forgotten about, plus the interview. And I just thought that there was such a great reaction, a very warm reaction to the last David album we did; I thought people deserved to hear this. And I think I was right, it’s getting a lovely response from people who loved David, still love David. And I actually think that his vocals on these other 3 tracks are great.

It’s good, it completes – the full second album that never got out.

RB- Exactly! Yeah.

Were those exactly the tracks that would’ve been on the album?

RB- This was the demos for the start of album 2. So everything here you hear would’ve been album 2, definitely, plus another couple of tracks. But this is it. It would’ve been a great album. The band had progressed and obviously we’d toured quite a bit, so we were really tight as I think you can hear because these are live demos. Not to be, unfortunately, desperately unfortunately. But at least we got this, because personally I think the songs are absolutely great and David loved them as well.

I think the songs are equal to and better than the first album.

RB- I think they’re better than the first album, because David and I we knew each other a lot better then, and we were all incredibly comfortable in each other’s company. The more you know somebody, the easier it is to sit down and look in to their eyes and express those feelings. But, yeah – good stuff.

Now you had 3 songs on there with Peter Lee Stirling. Was he back in the picture at that time?

RB- Daniel Boone, yes. Pete introduced me to David, and yes we wrote those tracks together and we stormed in to the studio with Pete Thompson playing drums and Pino Palladino was on one of them. It’s strange because I haven’t heard it in so long since re-mastering it. And there’s so much going on, that it all becomes a jumble, but I think the ballad [*note – I Still Wanna Hold You] is absolutely great!

Was Pete Thompson planning on being on the second album?

RG- We had a young lad called Steve Bray working with us at the time. I think we would’ve gone in with Steve. He was a lovely kid, still is, and I’ve stayed in touch with him. So I think it would’ve been Steve. But, it was one of those situations that if Pete had said “Oh I wouldn’t mind doing a couple of tracks…” – he’d have been in. He [Pete] got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago as well. It’s nice to stay in touch with everyone, obviously; it was so many years ago. Everybody remembers the sessions very warmly, and that’s good. 

Where is that interview from exactly, that’s on the release?

RB- The interview was done live at a radio station in Wolverhampton, in the middle of England. It sort of became David’s second home because I had a house there and he used to come up all the time. And the guy interviewing us, Pete Clements, was a really major David fan, as you can probably tell. I’m trying to get in touch with him because David and I must have done 7, 8 – maybe 10 interviews over the years we were working together. All late at night, all after a couple of bevvies, and they seemed to work quite well.

Just with that guy alone?

RB- Yeah, with Pete. He was a major radio rock-jock and everytime David was in Wolverhampton, so was he.

It was neat to hear. It’s interesting to hear you guys talk, because that’s really the only interview that’s been released.

RB- Well, this is the thing now. Most people had only ever heard David speak between numbers at a gig. And again I must say that a lot of the reason for this interview being on the album is that David got such bad press and was bad mouthed as being a waster and a drunk, and this to me proves he wasn’t. I mean, out of all the people in that interview he was probably the most sober! Not to say he didn’t have a drink. But it just proves, you know we were working together when people were saying Oh, he can’t do it anymore!” he could do it, and he was fantastic!

Well, judging from the demos he could still do it. He sounds great and he sounds like he was having a good time on them.

RG- He was having a good time. We were all having a good time. I’ve just done an in-depth interview about David and about the album, and of course it brings back such memories. But, yeah – a good time was had by all.

Were you guys still with Creole at this point?

RG- No. We were looking for a company who would put more behind the marketing and promotion. And it was looking pretty good; then it didn’t.

What happened with the whole Creole deal? Was it strange from the beginning?

RG- No, I wasn’t really that involved. I was the producer and guitar player, but we had quite a strong management team at that time and other than going in to sign the deal, I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

How involved was Peter Lee Stirling as far as the recordings for the 2nd album?

RG- I did a lot of co-production with Pete; in fact he taught me loads about production. David and I would have brought him in, definitely on backing vocals. He was a great keyboard player as well, so was Bob Jackson who was in the band. But Pete was always sort of around. We were friends and obviously, I think because I produced a lot of stuff with him; we would’ve brought him as a co-producer. Because whilst I had the sort of ‘rock’ side of things, he had the more polished aspects and he was a great friend of David’s.

He certainly had some great pop instincts, for writing good pop songs.

RG- Yeah, he had the licks and the hooks and the hits.

Were you familiar with David on the album before you that he did with Daniel – Baby Faced Killer?

RG- No. I’ve heard it since, but back then, no.

That’s a pretty underrated album too, because I think people expected him to come back and do a hard-rock album…

RG- …And he came out with that, yeah. Really, in a way David invented, along with Heep obviously, ‘operatic rock’ and anything slightly different from that style really surprised people. To me, the demos from One Minute More are like Bad Company – song-wise — really ‘in-your-face’, really good, but instead of Paul Rodgers – David.

Was Mel [Collins] going to be included for the second album?  

RG- Yeah Mel was in the band. At the time he’d always been such an in-demand session man, and he said he wanted to be in a band and this was the band he wanted to be in.

Is there much of a difference in the songs that had come out on the release a few years ago, have you cleaned them up?

RG- Oh yeah. The thing is every couple of years some amazing equipment comes out – and obviously, with old material it’s great to be able to re-master and hear the way it was meant to sound. I’m really pleased with the sound of it.

I was wondering if you can give me some recall on some of the songs here?

RG- I can try, it was a long time ago Kevin!

Anything that you can remember as far as the writing or the hooks …

RG- Well, I wrote with David in a different way than I write with most people. I’d write all the guitar riffs and the chords, the whole musical side of the songs, then David and I would sit down together and I’d just keep playing them over and over again and he’d sit there with a pen and a tape recorder and just start singing. I remember the first thing we wrote was the track “Bad Girl”, which I still love, I’ve got to say. I remember I just sat down and played the first opening riff and he said ‘that sounds really bad’, and then he nailed it ya know – “I want a bad girl…”. The lick started and within a half an hour we had the track. We used to write, (he used to have a beautiful mansion in Sonning, as I presume you know, in Reading England)in a beautiful great big room with a gorgeous grand piano and we’d sit in the window, play piano or guitar and write. It was great. It was like a job with David, whatever else he was, he was a hard working man. I stayed with him for a long time, it was a very privileged thing to be able to do. We’d get up in the morning, write a couple of songs, and then off to the pub, usually. [ha ha]. We just made sure we worked every day, because that was David – he was a worker, and he loved creating new stuff.

On the [demos for] the second album, there was a lot of solid rock tracks, like “What’s Your Game”. Do you recall anything of those?

RG- “Safety In Numbers” I remember. Again, I had the riff… I remember playing that live for the first time at a biker festival somewhere, open-air – completely freezing cold! We did it third in the set and we all had leather jackets on to keep warm, and i couldn’t move my fingers, David could hardly sing. I know that Safety In Numbers particularly meant a lot to David. He always had, I don’t know – he loved singing about New York and hookers [ha ha], but when he got serious – he got serious.

Gets A Little Crazy is a great song.

RG- Well, when David did get crazy – he got crazy! I think I’ve said it many times that David had his demons, but I was lucky enough to be able to fend them off and always stay his friend. So I was always on side with David, I was never against him. So, when he got crazy, we both did, and it was good fun. The track sort of reflects that.

That track was probably the rawest on the disc. It’s the one song that sounds like it wasn’t quite finished lyrically.

RG- It was. That’s all it needed to say “it gets a little crazy”, and similar lines, so why go any further? I’d say it was finished.

“One Minute More”, that’s kind of a lot of people’s favorite.

RG- What an emotional song. Obviously, David was a great friend and talking about him and working on it is very sad, but also very uplifting. But, I think that song would’ve been a smash for him, well – for the band. That is David writing beautiful stuff.

I’m assuming, and I gather it very much from this album that David was a very underrated songwriter, because for years after he left Heep and even the last few albums he did with Heep he didn’t get a lot of writing credit.

RG- Well, I can’t talk for the politics of Uriah Heep, but I think David was a really good writer. Some of his lyrics were very simplistic, and I think that worked for people. You don’t have to be completely poetic with every word you write, you know. And I know I can listen to it and just imagine David doing what he’s singing about. I really rated him, and obviously so did Peter Lee Stirling, because he wrote – I don’t know how many tracks, but I do know [for a fact] that there’s a studio somewhere in the Midlands of England that’s got masses of outtakes of David. But I don’t want to make this an ongoing thing, so I think this is my final – this is me saying “Goodbye David”; though not ‘goodbye’ because he’ll live forever obviously in my mind. But this is my chance to put things right. You know, people have been talking about “why did he go wrong?” and of course it went wrong because of David’s drinking, when he wasn’t drinking he was absolutely great! But I do know that there probably will be other stuff to come out in the future, which I obviously will welcome, if it’s at the right standard.

Do you think David was frustrated [and I know Ken Hensley said he was as keyboardist] – at being pigeon-holed as ‘former Uriah Heep’ frontman?

RG- He will forever and always be the former Uriah Heep frontman. David told me himself that he was approached by Heep to rejoin as we were putting the Byron Band together. And Mick Box said to him “come back to Heep” and David said “No, why don’t you come play second guitar in my band?” But Mick said “No, I need to keep with Heep”, you know. I’ve met Mick a few times and he’s a really nice bloke. But they had decided they wanted him back, and to be honest at the time, it may have been a good move because David wasn’t drinking for that whole year. He was told never to drink again or he’d die, so he stopped. And maybe again, that is why this ‘One Minute More’ material was so strong, because he was totally in control through all of the writing, putting the band together and the rehearsals. It maybe made a big difference.

Now what is “Angel Song” that you have on here?

RG- That is a song that I wrote, because the older you get – unfortunately the more friends you lose. There’s a lot of David in there. And I thought it was just a nice way to close the album, because ‘it [really] couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy’. David was a lovely guy and good friend of mine, so I thought we should put it on. A lot of people appreciate it and understand the message in the song.

In the end, how did it all fall apart?

RG – Well, it’s kind of a long and complicated story, but basically there was a situation. I don’t know,.. let’s say the company that signed David and I for publishing, there was a situation. It happened at the very end of the day of recording the demos, and I’ll tell you very briefly. We played them back and our manager said “wow, this is superb!” So of course he rushed out and bought some champagne, which he shouldn’t really have done [ha ha]. And we kept playing the tracks back and one bottle of champagne turned in to a crate, and of course we all got absolutely wrecked! The studio was in the basement of the publishing house so David said “Right, we’ll go and play these to the head of A&R NOW!” And it wasn’t a good idea!  The head of A&R was also completely drunk; he was a proper alcoholic, actually. A lovely bloke. But, anyway David dived into the room, interrupted a meeting to say “Play this now! It’s brilliant!” and of course he said – “No, I’m in a meeting. Can you just come back in 10 minutes?”  David said “Don’t you tell me…!, you can imagine. And it’s just that David was so excited, and I was right behind him. It ended up, not in a fistfight, but with well-raised voices. The word went out from the company that this guy [David] was an out of control lunatic. And it really was the start of the end I think, unfortunately. Not between David and I, we continued to work and write together. My career was sort of taking off, which he totally understood and he liked what I was doing.  I was off doing my stuff and he continued doing his stuff. So it didn’t fall apart, it drifted apart. All was amicable though.

Were you aware of any of the stuff he did after you guys parted?

RG- I’ve just bought the 3-track EP. It arrived the other day and I sat and played it, and I thought “No. This sounds like a session band that said – ‘oh, let’s get a singer in.” It doesn’t sound like David to me. He didn’t write them. I’m really pleased that somebody gave him that opportunity, and I’m sure so was he, but it doesn’t sound like David to me.

What I gather was somebody in the record company set this up for him to help re-launch his career.

RG- Right, well God bless whoever it was then, because any chance is a chance. What I don’t understand is we’ve just had this conversation about what a great writer David, then why the hell didn’t he write it? That’s why it sounded so much like David on the stuff we did because it was from his heart, however daft – you know ‘walking down fifth avenue and seeing a hooker or whatever’; it didn’t matter because it was David saying the words. And what didn’t attract me [to this EP] was it didn’t sound like David saying the words. I mean it is David singing, obviously, but also a bit too, sort of the wrong side of soul. There’s one track on the Byron Band album that was quite souly and it worked – “Little By Little”. It’s quite souly if you listen to it, and David sings it really well. It’s just my opinion, and I think it’s good that somebody did give him a final chance.

It’s strange because for so long there’s no interest in David, and then you had the internet come on and you started getting all the Uriah Heep CD re-issues, and suddenly there’s like a whole new market or revival in this stuff.

RG- Well, the man was completely individual and he had a myriad of fans. And obviously after Heep, a lot of people just thought “oh well, we’ll move on”. But from the reaction to this project I can tell you that people absolutely loved him. He was such a powerful performer, and he invented [as I said earlier] a different style [if you like] as a frontman, and being on stage with him was great. It really was! He was as good, if not better than anyone I’ve ever been on stage with.

Have you had any response from any of David’s family?

RG- When we did the first release, because I believe in giving credit where credit is due, I was in touch with Gaby and somebody else I knew was in touch with his sister to offer them whatever share of the royalties and whatever from this stuff, and they didn’t want to know. So we’ve just, in David’s name, made donations to various things. But No, they didn’t want to know. I have very fond memories of Gaby, having lived in their house for a long time, writing and working. She was great; she was great for David. And she was like a mom as well as a wife; she’d look after him and obviously that didn’t work out, but she was a lovely woman and has total respect from me, I must say.

Was there ever any video footage of the band?

RG – No, not that I know of, none what-so-ever. This was 1980-81, so not really, where as everything since has been video’d.  I’m sure there is somewhere. There must be lots of still photos of gigs. But the only photos I’ve got are the ones we used for the album sleeve.

You guys didn’t do any TV appearances?

RG- No. They were all being lined-up when it all sort of went tits-up, so to say.

Anything else in the vaults?

RG- As I said, for me – this is it really. I mean, if I find anything that I think is of real value then I’ll let the world know. But I don’t see anything more, and I don’t want to ever start using stuff that is not absolutely the best. So, I’d say at this moment in time that this is the line drawn under the past, And David’s fans are really enjoying it and that’s an important part of the exercise.

Well as a fan I really appreciate, because really it’s 2008 and we’re getting a 2CD release of David Byron!

RG- It’s quite fantastic. Everybody’s of the same opinion and that’s “wow – I couldn’t believe we were ever going to hear anything new!”

I’ve been listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy lately. You worked with Phil [Lynott] briefly before he passed away. What was the difference in the situations between David and Phil, as they had similar issues I guess!?

RG- Well, like David, Phil had a reputation as being really hard to work with and a complete bastard. I think I must be very lucky to slip under the radar with some people. But Phil was immensely talented. I loved working with him as well, in a different way. But the writing I was doing with him…. We’d actually reformed Thin Lizzy right before, literally in December, right before he died. I was really looking forward to that because I always loved Lizzy as a band, and now I was in it. It was Brian Downey, Phil and I. We’d got studios booked to start the album and then the phone rang, just in the new year and a radio DJ said, “Can you comment on Phil Lynott’s death?” and that’s how I found out he had died. Phil and I shook hands as he dropped me at the station on Christmas Eve, and he said “Right, see you in the new year. Lizzy’s back, great!” but it wasn’t to be.

You worked on “Nineteen”. What other tracks did you work on with Phil?

RG- It was just writing demos. Phil had a studio in his back garden and we spent a lot of time there. And there were some great songs. On that final day when his guy drove us to the station, he said “Can I have that cassette of all the demos, so I can do some notes and stuff over Christmas?”, and of course it’s gone, apparently. His stuff had gone to different places. I’ve been told recently that it’s about to reappear, for auction or whatever. I don’t know who’s got it or where it is, but there’s some very good material. But it was a very different situation with Phil. It’s a strange thing that I wasn’t that familiar with Heep, of course I knew of them, but with Lizzy, I had a couple of their albums.

So you guys did nothing as far as live shows or announcements?

RG- No, like you said we did “Nineteen” on TV, and the day of that show [which is on the net,  you-tube I think] was the day Phil asked me to reform Thin Lizzy, after that very performance, on the plane on the way back to London.

It’s a shame. Because I listen to those old albums and Phil was an amazing writer.

RG- Absolutely.

Now you’re still working with Pete Way and Chris Slade!?

RG- Yes. We’re going to meet soon and see what we do with the next Damage Control album. It’s all still very much happening, just everybody’s so busy. There are so many projects going on these days.  I’m now trying to empty the past and move on; which is one reason we formed Damage Control Music, the record company. And that’s an interesting situation. We’re getting some good acts; we’ve got Marshall Law, we’ve got Nick Tart, who’s the singer with Diamond Head and my band Life. We’ve got Vix who was the lead singer in a band called Fuzzbox, and loads of my unreleased songs so lots going on. But Damage Control 2 is the very next project and I can’t wait to get on with it.

Well I’ll look forward to hearing it, as I haven’t heard the first one, but Pete Way – I love UFO, and Chris Slade, obviously everybody knows him, he’s been all over the place.

RG- Pete’s fantastic, and again Pete’s another lovely bloke and great to work with. Have you heard “Raw”, the second version? The first one we did with Spike from The Choirboys to start with, but the way Pete and I had originally recorded it, with Pete and me singing it’s a very different vibe. So we’ve got Damage Control – the album with Spike, and then Damage Control “Raw” with Pete and me singing, plus some new tracks, it’s really interesting stuff.

Anything else you want to add about David or the new Byron Band release?

RG- As I said earlier, people everywhere are really fascinated with it and by it and they say it hasn’t dated and they love it. If David was still with us, he’d be well up for this, and we’d be doing interviews and tours and whatever.

I have some similar thoughts; I think David got a raw end of the deal as far as the business went. I think the 80s kind of brushed a lot of people under the carpet.

RG- Most definitely! Well I address all that as well – what a callous business it is and how easily talent can be forgotten.  [*Robin is referring to a recent video interview he’s done for Damage Control Music’s website]

Have you had any of the major UK mags, like Metal Hammer and Classic Rock reviewing this release?

RG- Not as far as I’m aware because so far it’s very low key publicity and really aimed at David’s fans, who hopefully, bought the first album. So we haven’t done a big press push on it. But I think that if guys like you start writing about it, great! Then more and more people will want to hear it. He was an icon of rock and you just can’t get away from that.

I don’t think he gets enough credit for the amount of influence he’s had; you know people that have mentioned him like Rob Halford and Freddie Mercury and all those people in the past that have taken something from him.

RG- Yes. Absolutely. He invented a genre, I’m really sure of it. In fact he invented a style of music that would not have existed without him, and the world of rock would be a completely different place without his legacy. I really believe that.  

Review: © Kevin J. Julie / Universal Wheels, September 2008

 

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