BERNIE TORMÉ – Turn Out The Lights’ (Kamaflage Records KAMLP 2)
A SURPRISINGLY restrained work from the former Gillan guitarist but intriguing nonetheless. Part of the reason he left Gillan, I understand, was that he felt he was required to produce a cavalcade of axe histrionics on tap, which left not much room for virtuosity and is probably why he makes use of a variety of resources including rhythm ‘n’ blues on the title track and even Chinese flutes’. That indelible Tormé guitar sound still comes crashing through, though, most notably on ‘Lies’ and the last track ‘Oh No”, while the Gillan influence makes its presence felt on ‘America’. Compare Bernie’s vocals on this with his former employers on ‘Message In A Bottle off ‘Mr Universe’,..
‘Possession’ brings the original Bernie Tormé Band together on record for the first time, I believe, in three years with Mark Harrison thumping the skins and Phil ‘Fester’ Spalding, now with Toyah, playing bass as well as helping out with the writing on a couple of tracks. Saxon’s Nigel Glockner and Colin Towns fill the rest of the line-up credits.
Leaving the competently handled Heavy Metal aside, however, the most fascinating track is the old Velvet Underground killer ‘Chelsea Girl’. Written by Reed and Morrison for that hauntingly divine chanteuse Nico, this may well be the finest thing Tormé has ever recorded. Towns’ chilling keyboards and the latter’s pitched delivery merge to stunning effect before the number segues into the instrumental ‘India’ to a backing of flutes and string machine. Brilliant and compelling stuff.
The Fin Stein sleeve is worth a mention, too. Included are a ‘Mr Universe’ cover, Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road’, a Bernie Tormé Band poster, the complete works of Shakespeare and an assortment of other oddities it should be fun picking out.
JUNE 1982 – Bernie Torme Interview with Chas De Whalley
“THE TROUBLE with American audiences is that they take everything too seriously and they don’t see through to the humour of things. We were playing in Boston one night and this guy turned up with a dead cat tied round his waist. Apparently he’d killed it outside before he came into the hall and was down the front banging his head and giving the peace signs with the rest of them, it was like something from the Outer Limits.”
Once Bernie Tormé warms to a theme, the stutter that plagues his conversation vanishes as if by magic and an almost leprechaun-like glitter comes to his bright Dublin eye. But once he starts talking about his time with Ozzy Osbourne out there in the wilds of the US of A, his natural sense of humour adopts a more hysterical tone, almost as if he’s trying to stop terror from clouding his mind. The strange circus that is the Ozzy Osbourne band on tour represents a side of Metal mania dangerously close to nightmare and the Hammer House of Horror. Not to young Bernie’s taste.
“Somewhere along the line Ozzy’s lost control of his press image, and I think you’d find he’d agree with that. Sure it’s great for business, he’s packing them in everywhere in the Slates by basically being himself and not trying to be Styx or someone, but the press stories about him are just untrue. I was only in the band for a few weeks, but in that time we had the Animal Protection League threaten to cancel a whole string of dates.
The bat was silly enough and it was a real mistake, but after that they were claiming that Ozzy was going to go on stage with 200 puppies, throw them all to the audience and then refuse to play on until they all came back with their throats cut! And when you talk to the kids before the gigs you find they actually believe it. They ask ‘What’s Ozzy going to sacrifice tonight’ Is it true he’s going to blow up a sheep with dynamite up is ass?’ Whaat” I mean, Ozzy is the ultimate Rock‘n’Roll Animal. He told me himself. But he isn’t that ultimate. It was all a bit too weird for me.
For those who forget these things, Bernie Torme, late of Gillan, was called in to restoke the Osbourne outfit following the death of guitarist Randy Rhoads in a flying accident. Randy was killed on the Friday and the following Monday morning Bernie’s telephone rang. The message was to drop everything, name his price and fly out to the Slates. In a hectic flurry of activity Bernie rescheduled the rest of his life and was at his new post by the Thursday. He didn’t stay long but it wasn’t just because of an aversion to dead cats.
“Originally they said they just wanted me for six weeks, until they found a full time replacement. I was just starting rehearsals with Mark Laff and Derwood who used to be in Generation X, I had a tour all lined up and an album all set for release, so although I was able to put everything back by a couple of months, the last thing I wanted to do was ditch the whole protect. As it was Mark and Derwood went back to what they’d been doing before when I told them I’d accepted Ozzy’s offer, but then we’d only been rehearsing for about a day so not too much damage was done. When I did get out to the States though David Arden, Ozzy’s manager, said ‘You’ll be staying till the end of July, won’t you?’. Then it was till the end of September, and suddenly I could see my own personal career vanishing into the distance.
“Plus the atmosphere was well….everybody was incredibly upset about Randy, obviously, and I was staying in hotel rooms that had been booked in his name which was very strange. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if Ozzy remembered I wasn’t Randy, especially on stage. He had this little trick he used to do with Randy that nobody told me about. I’d be halfway through a solo and went into my Jeff Beck Number Two Guitar Hero pose, and suddenly Ozzy would start dragging me around the stage by my hair’ I’d be screaming in pain and trying to play at the same time, but he’d carry on regardless. I don’t know how Randy handled that one. I couldn’t!.”
And so, for the second time in little over a year Bernie Tormé turned, looked a superstar in the eye and said – forget it. He packed his guitar case and headed back home for the comforts of his own band and a solo career.
“It’s okay being a sideman but it gets very stifling after a while, and a bit demoralising too. Like in Gillan, I knew everything was going stale and that I’d have to leave almost a year before I did. Sure, we went to places like Yugoslavia, Hong Kong and Korea, but that was basically because Ian likes to see the world. Which is fine for him being an ex-Deep Purple star and so on, but it’s not so good if you’re just the lead guitarist and you think that in five years time you’re going to be playing Bratislava and Sarajevo and still be skint!”
And so Bernie Tormé is off on his own again, or rather he’s off with his new band the Electric Gypsies featuring former Bethnal bass player Everton Williams and drummer Barry Graham. They’ve an extensive club tour booked for the end of June and a new album ‘Turn Out The Lights’ due out on Kamaflage Records.
“The Electric Gypsies aren’t actually on the album because it was recorded in March 1981, just after I finished doing the ‘Future Shock’ LP with Ian. Nigel Glockner of Saxon played the drums and an old friend of mine Hugh Spalding, who’s now with Toyah, played the bass. Colin Towns helped out a bit too. At the time of course I was disillusioned with the kind of music I was playing with Gillan, so I tried to pay homage to my roots on my own album, There’s some old psychedelic rock like the Creation’s ‘Painter Man’ and the Velvet Under’ ground’s ‘Chelsea Girls’.
Lyrically ‘Turn Out The Lights’ is quite autobiographical. I suppose. That doesn’t mean all the songs are about Ian Gillan but they are about the state of mind I was in when I recorded them so perhaps somebody could read in a link with Ian. But then after I heard ‘Double Trouble’ I thought that a couple of tracks could apply to me. So who knows?”
Who knows anything except that Bernie Tormé still has difficulty getting up in the morning and still speaks with a soft Irish accent and a stutter. He’s now also turned down two of the most coveted gigs in heavy rock in order to concentrate on his own career. Let’s hope he’s made the right decision.
ELECTRIC GYPSIES — Marquee, London
AT LAST, the perfect guitar antihero — the Ry Cooder of the denim and leather brigade. For the entirety of his soirée with Ian GiIIan, rock was missing a true artiste but now, with the Electric Gypsies, it won’t be long before that lost time is made up. All those who have dismissed Bernie Torme’s ‘Turn Out The Lights’ LP on the strength of one listening, will be eating their words faster than Billy Bunter in a cake shop?
With ex-Bethnal bassist Everton Williams and stand-in drummer Frank Noon (on loan from Stampede) the Electric Gypsies are one hell of a formidable force. With this gig they’ve proved beyond doubt that its more than just an ex-name guitarist flexing his ego. Sure, if it hadn’t been for his stint in Gillan, it would have been a lot more of an uphill struggle for Bernie, but then I don t believe that anyone thought he joined forces with the ex-Purple for musical reasons. Even so, he still managed to throw in ‘No Easy Way’ as a gesture to the Gillan fans in attendance.
Electric Gypsies aren’t just Bernie Torme and a backing band. Everton’s bass playing is just as important as Bernie’s guitar, filling out the rhythm while Bernie lays down all the clever stuff.
As for the problem most trios suffer from, namely the least terrible singer handling vocals, Bernie has always been a fine vocalist and despite his legendary stammer, he has no trouble with the machinegun-pace vocals of ‘Lies’ or the soulful delivery of ‘Getting There’. Is It Heavy Metal music? Well, anyone who only listens to HM doesn’t like music as far as I’m concerned and music is this bands strength. So if the cap fits, wear it.
Bernie Tormé and the Electric Gypsies seemed to be presenting a tribute to the memory of Jimi Hendrix with their intense, imaginative performance. After a slow start, Bernie gradually built up the excitement, working through ‘Lies’, Star’, ‘No Easy Way’ and ‘Turn Out The Lights.’
He also found time for a joke with the audience: ‘How do I get my guitar in tune? It’s easy — I don’t! lt’s a beautiful day right? So now’s the time to do some really depressing suicide rock’. This was ‘Getting There’ followed by ‘Under My Wheels’, ‘Possession’ ‘America’ and, of course, a violent ‘Wild Thing’. Frank Noon pitched in with some powerful snare drum beats and Everton Williams spurred Bernie on with his driving bass guitar. There was a phantom keyboard player as well, one Alan Nelson who filled out the sound with some block chords.
‘I Can’t Control Myself’ (Zebra Records) – 1983
I’ve had a copy of this for quite a while and, although it’s not my favourite track from the ‘Electric Gypsies’ album, I suppose it’s the obvious single. I prefer the tracks which show off Bernie’s exciting guitar playing (mine’s a large scotch Bernie), This is an old Troggs’ song (A band that were very popular in the 60’s, a time I can vaguely remember), which right at the end features those immortal lines from Reg and Ronnie: “Split Your Hands”. A hit again?
Middlesex Polytechnic, 1985 NEIL JEFFRIES
AFTER WANDERING around the wilds of North London not knowing if the natives were friendly or if I’d even find the gig let alone arrive early enough to see it, fortune eventually led me to the right door and a night full of crazy surprises. Beginning with the Liggers
What on earth brings Kerrang’s own Geoff Banks, Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and (another) ex-Gillan Janick Gers to this godforsaken part of the world? Answer: Bernie Torme’s Electric Gypsies.
Mr. Torme himself looked happy enough, even though this gig (a low ceilinged college affair with a tiny stage that reduces a light – rig to little more than two blinding white spots behind the drum-kit) must have reminded him what a long way down from the top it is when you’ve quit a big-time band to go solo.
New drummer Dave Dowle had already been announced but it was certainly a surprise to see Stampede’s Colin Bond doing the bass honours. It seems Everton Williams, original bassist, has thrown a tantrum and now it’s up to Colin to step in. He’s doing really well too; this was only the new line-up’s fourth gig together.
A new rhythm section then, but no mistaking the sight (or sound) of the man on the left . . . the Fender Bender extraordinaire! Good to hear That Sound again. Openers ‘Wild West’ and ’20th Century’ (like the bulk of the set from his recently released second LP ‘Electric Gypsies’) reminded us just whet we’ve been missing all these months. Then he jogged memories a little further with the more familiar ‘No Easy Way’ and ‘Turn Out The Lights’.
Bernie’s is undoubtedly a unique style; it may not be to everyone’s taste, but at least he’s making a different noise to the rest. Easy listening it ain’t, but his cleverly controlled use of feedback is guaranteed to make you sit up and take notice, or at least rattle free a few of those old filling!
‘Lightning Strikes’ (probably the best track on the new album) did just that before the slow, haunting ‘Getting There’ (the best on the last) showed the more subtle, sensitive side to his writing and playing. After which the band moved through a couple more newies with Bernie’s solo/dental dexterity exhibition giving way to final number/old fave ‘Possession’.
Come the second encore, the Gypsies’ ranks had been swelled by one Bruce Dickinson who jammed on (yes, you guessed it . . . ) ‘Rock Me Baby’, the premature ending of which took the singer completely by surprise. Then, out of the confusion and a quick conference, amidst scenes hitherto unknown in darkest Barnet, Bernie launched into a very familiar intro . . . ‘Smoke On The Water’. “A number by Black Sabbath, “quipped Bruce and off they went. Sheesh! What a crazy night.
Bernie Torme’s Russian Hippies – Stairways, Birkenhead
Bernie Torme used to be a guitar hero during his days as a member of Gillan. Remember?
No, that’s the problem isn’t it? Nobody bloody remembers any more, except Bernie himself. Not that he rams it down your throat when you chat to him or during his stage banter. No, rememberance comes when he makes that guitar squeal for its life before bombing your brains with yet another storming riff, After 30 seconds in a concert hall with Bernie Torme you very quickly get your memory back.
And you not only get to respect the man’s playing but you’ve got to applaud his suss in picking the musicians that surround him. Looking more street-cred that the whole of the LA-Guns-n’-Pussycat scene put together, the Russian Hippies are more than capable of standing right up there with the hero.
Vocalist Gary Owen really impresses. He’s got a voice that can hold its own with the best LA can offer, and he’s got the looks, the pout and the stage presence that the likes of a Soho Rose would simply kill for. The rhythm section is a bit hot too: knowing each other inside out, having backed Beki
Bondage in recent times, bassist Marc Russell and skinner Ben Bennett never put a foot wrong. Good stuff.
But this is Torme’s band and the man delivers. Chopping and changing his riffs while controlling that famed feedback solo technique, he looks perhaps a little too old for the image but it doesn’t detract from the fun he’s having.
It’s a long time since I’ve seen a bloke grin so much on stage. Come to that, it’s a long time since I’ve grinned so much whilst watching a band. I’m a cynical bugger with a make-me-dance-if-you-dare attitude but I didn’t stand a cat in Hell’s chance of remaining static.
Highlights? Well, all of it really. If I’ve got to single out some toonz I’d go for ‘Boys Want Action’ and ‘Do You Wanna Be A Star’. Then again, the real highlight of the night was when the bloke down the front in the Whitesnake T-shirt joined in for the chorus of ‘Baby Was A Vampire’ and, right on cue. promptly had a nosebleed.
Laugh? I nearly spilled me pint…