Interview with MICK UNDERWOOD – Part 2

To part 1

– You’re one of those drummers who play for the sake of the song and try not to be flashy if that’s not required. So was it a difficult decision to play a short solo of this studio version of “I Wanna Know”?

Is it on there, is it on the album, this drum thingy? I haven’t got the album. Live, we did one. I still do the solo, I did it with GILLAN, I play one now with a band. It’s not a case of my views on it: playing for the song, if the song has a break in it where they would have featured the drums, then you do your solo. Or if you’re doing a live show and there’s going to be a drum solo because people may want to hear it, so I do it. But what I don’t want to do is play a drum solo all the way through a bloody song – that’s not the name of the game. Good drummers I don’t think do that: Ian Paice doesn’t do that, Bonzo [John Bonham] didn’t used to do it. All those fills and rolls are very tasty and fit the songs, whereas you get some people that try and sit behind a drum kit and just do drum solos, all the time. It’s all they’re there for… they think!

STRAPPS on tour

STRAPPS on tour

– It was when you were with the STRAPPS that you opened for IAN GILLAN BAND, right?

Yes, we did! We did a short tour of the UK and Ian wanted us to do that. I think he probably got something off the record company, we had an album coming out at that time. And Ian asked me if I’d like to do it and I said, “Yeah, we’d do that if everything’s on with everyone!” and it was.

– Was it there that he asked you to join his band or had you been in touch all that time from EPISODE SIX up to that tour?

Oh yeah, yeah, I was very friendly with Ian in those days. We recorded the first STRAPPS album in Ian’s studio, Kingsway Recorders, where we took the album with Roger Glover producing. We were all fairly matey then. But [the invitation] wasn’t immediately by a long shot. Ian’d formed GILLAN with John McCoy, Colin Towns, Pete Barnacle and Steve Byrd, and I knew about the band because we were recording some further STRAPPS stuff at his studios, which was for Japanese release [1979’s “Prisoner Of Your Love” aka “Sharp Conversation”]. That band had been going for some time; I don’t know the details, I wasn’t really following it particularly. They’d done a tour in Japan, and it was during that period when he made a change with the band, inasmuch as Bernie [Torme] joined it. I believe they were auditioning drummers, and eventually he asked me if I would like to audition for it.

– You said you don’t like funk and what IAN GILLAN BAND played was quite funky. So what is your condition that you’d join GILLAN if he stopped playing funky music?

No, no conditions at all. I knew what IAN GILLAN BAND was like and what they did. They were fabulous musicians: John Gustafson was on bass, and he’s my all-time hero bass player of the world – we were together in QUATERMASS. The musicianship was fantastic [in IGB] but their core approach to what they were doing didn’t appeal particularly to me. I could recognise and massively applaud how they were doing it and what they were doing but the end result for me, and also at that particular time we were on tour with them, didn’t seem to be connecting with the audience. It was good, don’t get me wrong, it was very, very good but – but – you’ve got to get a connection, haven’t you? Then the GILLAN band was formed – he disbanded IAN GILLAN BAND and Colin Towns remained, who’s great, genius; McCoy was in that; and the other two, I really didn’t hear much of them. I knew they were gigging out on the road and all the rest of it but I really didn’t hear much until one night at the recording studio, when we were doing the STRAPPS album, Ian called me: he was pushing time to a couple of hours out of our recording time because he needed to go in and do a vocal. And that was the first time that I’d heard them. I was in the studio but not in the control room and I just heard the playback when Ian was doing the vocal on it.

– Gustafson had already quit, when you joined the band, but would you have liked to be working with Gus again, after QUATERMASS?

Mick's wedding, <br />with Ian Gillan (second from left)<br />and John Gustafson (first from right)

Mick’s wedding,
with Ian Gillan (second from left)
and John Gustafson (first from right)

No, I think Gus had moved on, he liked to play that kind of stuff he was doing with IAN GILLAN BAND, the funky stuff. I don’t know, I have no idea, I mean we didn’t discuss it.

– You say he is your bass hero. So how do you remember working with QUATERMASS?

The beautiful thing with Gus at that time was… I’ve had that with one or two bass players where there’s an empathy that builds between you and you find you’re playing quite intricate patterns sometimes together and you haven’t worked them out, they just appear, and with other people you play with you have to sit down and sort out what’s got to be done. With Gus, I don’t think we ever did that, ever! If you listen to QUATERMASS albums, some of the bass and bass drum work on it is quite, quite intricate and a lot of it is jam, even on the album: it was just done on the recording and it’s almost like there’s a second sight on it. It’s a bit odd to describe, it can happen and it does happen at times with musicians. And when that’s there it’s absolutely fantastic.

– But you left QUATERMASS before the second album.

Well, we started doing a second album. We’d come back from an American tour and we were absolutely penniless and, after touring without the results, which we didn’t get, I don’t think anyone had much heart for it. We did a little bit, we put two or three tracks down. We didn’t have much material sorted out and it just fizzled out, just didn’t continue. Things started to fall apart a bit. Quite what happened I can’t remember but we just didn’t go back to the studio. John and Peter did reform some time later with Barry DeSouza but it was a bit of a different area to the original line-up.

– Now there’s a remastered version of the first album.

Yeah, it’s absolutely fantastic. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, I was very pleased that Pete [Robinson, the band’s keyboard player] decided to do that, he’s a very clever man, Peter. Apart from being a brilliant musician, he’s a great songwriter, tune writer, he’s based in Hollywood now doing film music and stuff. I didn’t know it was going on, actually, and I sort of found out, he informed me that it was done. He’s remastered it, remixed it and done it absolutely brilliantly; he’s brought it up to date if you like, sound-wise, balance-wise, it’s far better. Some of the drum sounds were not great on the first album, they were OK, and some of that stuff he’s kind of sampled and got much better sounds on. I was absolutely floored. He’s remastered it in 5.1 Surround, so you’re sitting in the middle of it if you have the 5.1 surround system. The playback of it at Chiswick Studio was absolutely astounding. There’s one track on it I’m not on, which was [recorded] a year or so after the end of QUATERMASS. Peter and Gus were working together in America and they called the outfit they were working in QUATERMASS as well, and there’s a nice funky track on it – really funky, very funky indeed, done brilliantly, sounds a bit like the IGB, IAN GILLAN BAND. That’s been put on it and, as I said, there’s a different drummer on that one and percussionists; it’s a whole different ballgame but still bloody good, it’s a great track.

– Were you surprised that this record had grown into something more than just a cult album – and I guess not only for the musicianship on it?

Well, yeah! (Laughs.) I wish it had happened at the time we’d brought it out. That sort of acclaim that’s greatly built up over the years: if we’d gotten that right away it would have helped to no end, and we could have done a lot more albums then. However we didn’t. It is quite strange but I’m very proud of that album, very proud indeed – we weren’t all that old when we did that. And what can I say, really? Go out and listen to it, anybody who sees this interview! Go and have a listen to it because it is really, really good.

– QUATERMASS came out of EPISODE SIX?

EPISODE SIX: <br />Mick Underwood, Roger Glover, Ian Gillan, <br />Sheila Carter, Tony Lander, Graham Carter-Dimmock

EPISODE SIX:
Mick Underwood, Roger Glover, Ian Gillan,
Sheila Carter, Tony Lander, Graham Carter-Dimmock

It did, vaguely, and I’ll tell you kind of how it evolved. I was never what you call a full band member of the band, I was only with them for the last year or so, maybe a bit longer. I was basically employed by EPISODE SIX as a session player: I was on different money to what the band were, they had all the sales and everything. When Ian [Gillan] and Roger [Glover] as you know had gone over to DEEP PURPLE, I was supposed to still be involved with EPISODE SIX. The band wanted to continue, and they needed a bass player and a keyboard player. So I said, “I know a superb keyboard player and I worked with the man on a tour with a singer called Jimmy Royal, James Royal, and also on some other dates.” I spoke to Peter Robinson and he came in, and the manager, Gloria Bristow, knew Johnny Gustafson, and she brought him down from Liverpool. We rehearsed a bit with the band, and it became obvious that we weren’t really wanting to go in the direction the band decided to go in – any of us: Peter and John and myself. We were always jamming about and we decided that the jamming was good and we’d like to pursue that. And we had a few people around us saying exactly the same thing. That’s kind of how QUATERMASS was put together.

– It’s interesting that Peter and John and, for that matter, Gillan, they were all on the “Jesus Christ Superstar” album – through Gloria. Why didn’t you make it on there?

Well, I’m not a singer, for a start! (Laughs.) Probably, the connection was Pete Robinson because he was friendly with Andrew Lloyd Webber, from the Royal Academy of Music when they were there. I think the band that did all the sessions was THE GREASE BAND, Joe Cocker’s band, so they weren’t going to want to bring in odd drummers there, but Pete obviously was a guy who could do a bit of keyboards on that. That was quite early days with QUATERMASS as well if I remember rightly. There are always these connections when people do something here, there and everywhere, but it doesn’t mean everybody gets rowed in. As for vocals, John was brilliant on that, but I don’t know if he played on it, I don’t think he did.

– With your early rhythm-and-blues inclination, what was the motivation of joining EPISODE SIX whose style was quite different?

The motivation for joining EPISODE SIX was that they were a busy band with plenty of work and were also recording and doing a lot of radio sessions. That was my initial feeling, the other great plus was that they were very, very good and could rock out! I got on very well with them all, and Ian and I struck up a very strong friendship that lasted for many years. I felt I added a bit of power to the band and that brought out some elements that didn’t show before but, as we all know, music was going to go through some big changes during this period.

– And it’s like EPISODE SIX eventually broke up because everybody left for DEEP PURPLE and you kind of had your revenge with “Black Sheep Of The Family.” Blackmore wanted to cover it and the rest of them didn’t so he left and formed RAINBOW who recorded this QUATERMASS piece.

QUATERMASS: <br />John Gustafson, Mick Underwood, Peter Robinson

QUATERMASS:
John Gustafson, Mick Underwood, Peter Robinson

The last knocking of EPISODE SIX was when Dave Lawson, the keyboard player [a future member of GRENSLADE. – DME], came in: they did continue after Pete Robinson and myself and John left, I think they went off to Beirut and did some work in the Middle East. I know that because they asked me to, when they auditioned for drummers, to go and help them pick one out they were going to use, which I did. But revenge? Good Lord, no! There was no revenge! I mean I’ve heard that story before but it was nothing like that. When we recorded “Black Sheep,” I was down at the studio with DEEP PURPLE and they were recording something, and they had a break and I played this tape to Richie and he really liked it, the “Black Sheep” thing. I took no notice of it afterwards, just took no notice or interest of it at all before he eventually put it on the RAINBOW album. That’s all there was to it for me. I was surprised that Ritchie used the track, but I doubt that was his only reason for leaving DEEP PURPLE, and that was totally their business. I find the idea of the song’s responsibility for it completely absurd. These guys did their thing, and my involvement was less than nothing!

– Who was Steve Hammond who wrote the song?

He was a friend of Peter Robinson’s. He wrote several of the tracks on the “Quatermass” album. Unfortunately he’s not alive anymore, he died some years back.

– Chris Farlowe recorded “Black Sheep Of The Family” too.

The only other version of “Black Sheep” I have heard is RAINBOW’s.

– And after QUATERMASS you linked up with Paul Rodgers.

I did, yeah. I linked up with Paul – always loved his singing. I managed to get in contact with him and we put the band called PEACE together. It was three of us, a trio. He played guitar and sang, and wrote fantastic songs and sang them wonderfully.

– There was a BBC session with three songs.

We’d recorded an album for Island Records!

– A whole album?

Just about. We had a lot of songs, during that period we were recording, writing, touring… If you remember at that time FREE had disbanded, and Paul Kossoff was not in great shape.

QUATERMASS live

QUATERMASS live

– He did jam with PEACE, right?

Yes, he did. He got up on stage with us once or twice in London, and I’ve got a feeling he was in the studio with us once or twice as well. Eventually, we’d got just about all this album done, and FREE then decided they would reform, which obviously was a good move from the point of view of Island Records. So the tracks we’d done were canned, they never came out as such. One track did, called “Lady,” and that’s on the “Free Story” album. We did some recordings which you were talking about for the BBC, and you can find those on YouTube. And most of the tracks that we did FREE then used for the “Heartbreaker” album – they covered them. “Heartbreaker” itself, “Seven Angels”… There’s a load of them, I can’t remember the bloody titles!

– And then BAD COMPANY did “Like Water.”

Yeah, that’s right. That was another one that was done, yeah!

– Is there a chance for these tapes to come out one day?

I very much doubt it. It’s been hanging around for so many years now. Whether it still exists is another question, isn’t it? It would be nice if it did.

– What about Stuart McDonald who played bass with PEACE?

He’s about and playing still, he’s still playing!

– With Mick Clarke, in KILLING FLOOR.

That’s right. I haven’t seen Stuart for years, long long time, but we’re in contact now: he appeared on Facebook, which is great. I can reach him now and contact him. He’s doing OK, bless him.

– What about the dynamics in trios, as opposed to larger combinations like a quintet, a quartet?

I like trios, I actually quite like them. It depends what you’re doing but you get a little bit more freedom from the drummer’s point of view. If you’re in a five-piece band, you’ve got to hold that lot together and make it move. although a good five-piece band is great as well, don’t get me wrong. But in a trio you let people have to listen to it more, you can play off each other.

PEACE: <br />Paul Rodgers, Stuart McDonald, Mick Underwood

PEACE:
Paul Rodgers, Stuart McDonald, Mick Underwood

– How different from that point of view were QUATERMASS from PEACE? In QUATERMASS you didn’t have a guitar player.

It was a lot different. PEACE was a much more simple band, a very very simple band, very much playing for the tune, for the great songs Rodgers wrote, it was… just getting those songs out. With QUATERMASS it was like massive interaction of the instruments. We’d got to do a set sometimes – some have been recorded, bootlegs of QUATERMASS are out. But our set would be three songs! (Laughs.) That must have bored everyone to death! But they’d just go on, they’d go somewhere, hopefully somewhere interesting! Usually they didn’t, but it was never the same. The “Quatermass” album is really just the bones of what we did, but It could go anywhere on a night, it could go absolutely anywhere. And that’s OK, I like that!

To part 3

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