There are voices and voices, and URIAH HEEP have always had the best. Still, singers come and singers go, until up comes the one who stays, and Bernie Shaw is the one. With the England’s own band for almost twenty years now, the Canadian-born warbler had gained good repute even before he joined the ensemble, and he’s been growing creatively ever since. We met up in London’s Docklands mere days after the annual Heep-fest that is The Magicians’ Birthday party, and even though Bernie was incredibly busy working on his new house, the friendship won over the duties and he gave his all to the conversation – as Mr Shaw always does when he takes to doing what he loves doing.
– How did the singing start for you?
Wow! From the very beginning I always wanted to play music. So many my friends played an instrument – be it guitar or drums. My best friend in Canada, Don Rustall, was a drummer since he was ten years old, and his brother played a guitar, I always wanted to be a guitar player – and no one wanted to sing. Don’s brother had a microphone, he said, “Oh you sing!” I went, “Okay, I’ll sing”. My earliest memories were [being] over the friend’s house, [where] we would sing BEATLES’ songs into a walkie-talkie. So I’d sing in here and it would come out over there, and we were, like, “Oh, it’s really cool! It sounds like a record!” And I was singing stuff by CREAM and THE KINKS – and that when I was eleven or twelve years old. I started to sing, it just came so natural to me.
– Oh, I just have this image in my mind of that little blond boy…
That was me! (Laughs.)
– …singing “Sunshine Of Your Love”.
I was! I was thirteen when I was singing “Sunshine Of Your Love” with friends of mine at a very young age. I was twelve when I joined military cadets, Canadian Scottish, and I was a drummer in a pipe band. A couple of the pipers were musicians: Jack Drysdill played drums, Jerry Royal played guitar – again, we had a little rock band outside of cadet time, and I was singing “Sunshine Of Your Love” with the boys from the cadets. And it was just, “Oh, Bernie can sing!” I had a huge Electro-Voice D12, this huge microphone.
– Sure, not Shure.
Not Shure back then, I couldn’t afford one. And AKGs were always a bit tinny for my voice. Whatever came out of the box, I would sing. Whoever had a microphone, I would use theirs. Now I use Shure SM58, not a Beta 58, just a straight SM58. And that’s the first microphone I actually bought, when I joined the band COLD SWEAT, my first professional band. I auditioned as a guitar player for the band and I was not very good, but they said, “Won’t you come back tomorrow? Sell this guitar!” It was a beautiful 1964 Gibson SG (the model that Eric Clapton used when in CREAM – DME) – that’s what I had. I had a Marshall amp and a home-made 2×15 cabinet – I like fifteens, I like the big sound! – and a Jordan wah-wah pedal, I couldn’t afford the “Cry Cry Baby”. I was in about two or three different bands playing guitar – I used to play Jimi Hendrix’s stuff and THE WHO and stuff like that, but I was never that good. So they said, “Sell it and phone up our singer” – his name was Don Sheppard. “He’s got a really good microphone and he’s going to sell it”. And that’s what I did: I bought Don’s SM58 and sprayed it white – because Rod Stewart had a white microphone! – and that was my trademark when I was eighteen or nineteen.
– Do you still play guitar at home?
Yes, I do. For my last birthday and last Christmas Mick Box has actually bought me some really good guitar songbooks, and Mick and I would get together over his place for a dinner party and we always end up – because Mick has so many acoustic guitars – with him singing and me playing a guitar! I’ll have a great night! There’s a lot of professional people that’ll come over for dinners through Mick’s wife’s job and all that, and we just sit in a front room and sing BEATLES’ songs, or Neil Young, BEACH BOYS, anything. We both got the same songbooks now, and I’m strumming away on the guitar. Mick says he’s going to give me some better lessons.
– There’s a HEEP video with Peter Goalby on the vocals, and it’s him there who plays the acoustic guitar on “The Wizard”. Will we ever get to see you do this?
I don’t know. I could probably handle “Lady In Black” – you know, two chords! (Laughs.) I mean, I’d better be playing tambourine and then I’ll expand it a little bit with congas, because Lee Kerslake can’t play congas and sit behind the drum kit. For “Acoustically Driven” we needed him behind the drum kit to keep the actual beat going, and I was like, “I’d like to play on the congas”, as I’ve got a lot of experience in drumming – I’ve been drumming since I was twelve.
– A Little Drummer Boy!
– I was a little drummer boy in a kilt! Indeed-ey! The Canadian Scottish regiment wore the Hunting Stuart tartan. And my name, Bernard Shaw – Shaw is Scottish – comes from the Highlands. I was wearing a kilt after the show the other day, just that rock ‘n’ roll black kilt – I liked that and I felt comfortable wearing it. And I am actually getting Shaw-of-ancient tartan kilt made, custom-made. When we were in Edinburgh, I went to a shop and I got measured up for a real Shaw kilt, but it’s going to be almost two months in making this, because they have to be hand-made, each one. But it’s going to be for special occasions, it’s not going to be for rock ‘n’ roll.
– Is that why you like Rod Stewart, because he’s Scottish too?
No, I actually like him because I love his voice. He’s got an amazing voice. And he looks good in a kilt! I’ve seen him in full attire, and he looks good – a little bit different than Axl Rose. But even the actor Vin Diesel – you know, out of the “XXX” movie – he’s got a black kilt like mine: there was a picture of him in the kilt up in Scotland in one of the shops from where he got it.
– Stewart originally sang white soul, Sam Cooke-way. Could you picture yourself trying soul?
I don’t think my voice would suit that style, you’ve got to have more of a lower, should we say, crooning voice to sing that real soulful stuff, and I don’t have that. I’m like an Irish tenor, I’ve got a very strong middle and higher range.
– Could you, please, say some words on each of the bands you were in?
Holy cow! COLD SWEAT were brilliant! They were my first professional band and they had a very good reputation in Canada – or, at least, in Victoria – before I joined them. They were the heaviest band, they did a lot of BLACK SABBATH’s stuff, and they did some LED ZEPPELIN and some URIAH HEEP. When I got to join them, they were like a premier band in Victoria, and joining them got me used to living out of the suitcase and doing shows every night of the week. Before that, all I would do was a show every one month or two in a month at a local hall, so COLD SWEAT got me working in hotels and small clubs, that’s where I learned my chops.
– What URIAH HEEP songs you were doing then?
“Easy Livin'” and “Stealin'”.
– What was next?
Coming to England in Christmas time of 1979 and within two days finding an audition to go to, for GRAND PRIX, was pretty cool and so different to anything I’d experienced in Canada. First of all, everything was original songs, and I was definitely not ready for that. I don’t know what I really had in mind, but not GRAND PRIX. The professionalism was very high: a standard of playing was great, people were focused. And my first recording contract and everything was with GRAND PRIX, playing the Reading Festival for the first time – and there was twenty-six thousand people there! [I have] really good memories of GRAND PRIX, even though the end, when we parted company, was not very amicable – it got a little ugly and there was a lot of name-calling. Still, I think the bad time was not as much as the good time, and the good time always won out.
Joining PRAYING MANTIS was really cool. Again, [there was] very different approach: they were a lot heavier than GRAND PRIX at the time, and there was only a couple of vocalists – Tino Troy and Chris Troy were doing the main singing. We didn’t get as much recognition as we thought we would have. We had a good strong fan-base, but we didn’t really light the world on fire, that’s why the drummer Dave Potts said, “Look, let me manage this. Our managers don’t know what they’re doing. Let me manage the band, we’ll get in another drummer, and we’ll take us to another plateau”. So we got in Clive Burr who had just been sacked from IRON MAIDEN, who was a very, very good friend of ours, and we tried to do that. We did an album in Germany as CLIVE BURR’S ESCAPE, but it didn’t just have the impact that we hoped it would have. We thought, everybody would say, “Oh, yeah, Clive Burr – great!, and they didn’t. They kind of said, “Clive – who? Why did PRAYING MANTIS change the drummer? Why did they change music? Why did they do this?” And we lost, I think, a lot of our fans rather than gained a lot of new fans. Out of that, we went back to PRAYING MANTIS for one show at “The Marquee”, just to kind of say “Thank you!” – and that was the one show that Mick Box came to! So having that one farewell opened another door for me and another chapter of my life, meeting Mick and getting into URIAH HEEP.
– By the way, have you heard PRAYING MANTIS with Doogie White and John Sloman?
I didn’t know that they had John Sloman, but I know that they had Doogie for a little while. I know that they had Gary Barden for a while, they did have… oh Jesus, embarrassing, I can’t recall his name, singing with SWEET now… Great singer! And when he was with PRAYING MANTIS, I thought that was it, they would take off – and they only took off, unfortunately, in Japan, and their recording contract is still with Pony Canyon, through Japan.
– What about those side projects, like COLLINS / SHAW?
I met Dale [Collins] years ago, when I put a little band together in Canada, called IN TRANSIT. Dale’s a great guitar player – phenomenal guitar player! – and a good writer, and he’s a good engineer in a studio. COLLINS / SHAW… I wish we could have put more time into it, but because I was trying to work from England, and he was working from Victoria, it didn’t really worked out as well as we wished. His studio set-up was very different from my studio set-up, so it’s very difficult for us to write together. But he’s moved to Calgary now – or just outside of Calgary, in Canada – he has a whole new studio set-up now, and he’s writing a whole bunch of new songs. I have a great upgrade system at my place now, and I’ve just been e-mailing him over the last two or three weeks. He said, “I’m back in, I wanna write songs with ya, let’s get-go!” So, providing I have the time to write, we can be doing more stuff.
– COLLINS / SHAW, MORTICE… What are all these projects for you? Are they just to keep you active?
It gives me more time to work on my writing – because I’m a main writer with both bands – and exploring different styles of music, because, though they’re still rock, they’re very different areas within rock. Especially with MORTICE where I do all the harmonies, so we can do four- of five-part harmonies, but there are different harmony constructions to what we work with HEEP, and they’re sounding really cool. The few people that have got the MORTICE album, their reaction has been very favorable, and I don’t know why we’re having trouble finding a release for it: the record companies have been very slow in saying, “Yes, we would distribute this”. But it’s complete, we’re just waiting for a distribution.
– But is it more of interest to you or there’s an emotional outlet?
No, it’s just as emotional! It’s just another outlet for my vocal. Over the last couple of years, URIAH HEEP had a lot time off, especially during the early part of the years, so instead of just sitting around twiddling my thumbs I pursuit other things in the vocal area. I’m also doing a lot more work in the studios doing the voiceovers and adverts – just to keep this (points to his throat) working. I’m a singer – I have to sing!
– Doesn’t it bring you a bit of money?
No! No money in it at all! If the record companies picked it up and distributed this, then with the sales, yeah, I would be getting some money. But I’ve never been driven by finance: if I wanted to do something for money, I’d go back to school and I’d be working in that big building over there (waves towards Canary Wharf) as a banker – that’s where money is. But that is not my drive.
– Did you have formal post-school education?
I was in high school, I finished my great twelve, but I didn’t bother going to the university because I went directly into music, and I knew that music was going to be my field.
– If it wasn’t music, what would it have been?
Oooh, I have no idea! Originally, I was going to be a chef. My whole idea was: I was going to finish my great twelve and then move to Switzerland and do a culinary schooling there and then probably work for a big hotel, because I took cooking for four years in school. That was my passion, that was my love, and now it’s my hobby – now it feeds me every day! (Laughs.)
– I listened to almost everything you’ve ever recorded that had been officially released and dare say, before URIAH HEEP your voice sounded worse – because of the songs. How would you describe your vocal progress with regards to music?
Coming from Canada – when I first came over in 1979 and joined GRAND PRIX, which was still called PARIS – my voice was pretty strong and pretty developed for the kind of singing that I was doing in Canada which was Top 40 and a lot of melodic rock from a lot of different bands. And I think over the couple of years of being in GRAND PRIX and then even in PRAYING MANTIS, my voice matured a little bit. [It was] just a fact of having no studio experience in Canada, and now I was sitting in the studio, listening back to my voice finding characteristics that I liked and characteristics that I did not like. The bands that I was with matured, and so did I – as a singer and as a front man. And with every move from GRAND PRIX to PRAYING MANTIS, from PRAYING MANTIS to ESCAPE and then into URIAH HEEP I built on every progression. I don’t think that people in Canada would recognize my voice from when I left Canada to where it is now. I think I’ve progressed a lot and it’s changed a lot. My range has got fuller and deeper as well as still keeping very high. So I’m really happy with what’s happening in URIAH HEEP. URIAH HEEP brought out a lot of potential that Mick originally saw [in me], and he probably saw more than I knew. Especially on “Sonic Origami” and “Sea Of Light” – on those two albums my voice really has, like, taken shape.
– When we met for the first time – that was in 1997, in Belarus…
A long time – phew!
– …I asked you about you not writing for the band. But who writes the vocal melodies? I mean, Ken Hensley was a singer as well as a player so he could do that, yet what’s now when the singer is you?
Mick and Phil [Lanzon] – they’re writing the songs in entirety but they know the range of my voice and they know the best key for my voice, so they’re writing with me in mind. And I’m brought in earlier than ’Trevor’] and Lee – I would be the first one in, and we go into melodies and make sure that I’m happy with them. Nothing is left to chance and nothing is left to, like, “It’s my song, you must sing it like this!” It’s pretty open if the melody has to be changed a little bit, but they’re a very good songwriting team, and they know how to write a song for me, which is really good, because I’m still not that proficient at songwriting. I’m doing more writing for the project MORTICE that I have with a guy named John O’Leary and the guitar player from NAZARETH, Billy Rankin: we’ve done two albums – I co-wrote one and Billy co-wrote the other, and it’s turned out really, really good; again it’s very different from URIAH HEEP, there’s a little bit more of a modern approach, there’s a lot of samples involved. We have songs quite heavy but in a very different variation from URIAH HEEP’s.
– Are you given the demos which Phil and Mick laid the vocals on?
Nope! No, I go into their houses – we usually write around Phil’s kitchen, because it’s easier for Mick to bring a guitar over than for Phil to lug a huge keyboard over to Mick’s place – we sit down with just an acoustic guitar and a piano, and they sing what they’ve got, and then I’ll sing my interpretation of it. And from there we move it until it feels just right and then go, “Okay, now it’s time for Trevor and Lee to come”.
– That best key for your voice – which key it is?
I don’t really know! I think, there’s a lot in C and a lot in D. It’s funny but because I don’t write or arrange music I couldn’t tell you what is my lowest and what is my highest note. I should make a note of it, actually. (Laughs.)
– I mean, I used to write lyrics for a guy whose voice I knew through and through and I knew I couldn’t place a word like “feel”, with “e-e-e-e” in it, onto the end of a line.
That would be straining! (Sings) Ye-e-e-e! It’s much better with consonants all around vowels. This is one of the things I think of with Ken Hensley – he was saying that the band were writing songs when John Lawton was in the band that weren’t suitable for his voice. I don’t agree at all: I think that John has a great voice and those songs really matched his voice. I don’t think that they were in that complete style of what URIAH HEEP were used to with David [Byron] but it brought another dimension to it.
– In fact, when I spoke to John, two years ago, and noticed he was singing lower than back in HEEP, more like Paul Rodgers. And he said it was all because of Ken who wanted John to sing higher than he liked.
John has a very, very dynamic high range, and he’s well into his fifties now, I think, and he’s still got soaring high voice when he wants to. But Ken had his version of what he wanted John to sound like. John does sound a bit like Paul Rodgers, he’s got a great blues voice, and he’s still got a great dynamic high range for a man of his age. Usually when singers get older, their range gets a little smaller, so you have to adjust that with the keys of your songs – but not [so with] John. John’s range now is as strong now as it ever was. I love to hear John sing, I just can’t believe the power that comes out of that guy!
– What about the project you and John tried to arrange?
It’s all very well talking about, but unless a record company says, “Yes, and here’s the money”, and we never got that. Classic Rock Productions would not put any money into it, and there were a few other companies approached, and they said, “Not at this time”.
– Aren’t you satisfied with Classic Rock Productions’ attitude and production?
As a company purely looking after, like, the Shepherd’s Bush gigs and the Magicians’ Birthday sort of things, yeah, I think they do a good job. That’s where their niche is, putting together DVDs which helps, and that’s the background for Bob [Carruthers, the CRP producer] – he was always doing film and TV work. The fans would have liked to have the whole concert on DVD, but you’ve got to keep in mind that our show is about an hour and a half, an hour and forty minutes, and that means you’ve got to go in the studio and you’ve got to mix every single track, and everybody works to a budget. Even now, I know that the song list for this new DVD [“Between Two Worlds”] is not the full set.
– Still, there’s always some new songs – from the past.
This time it took us hours and hours of sitting together and listening to all the older stuff that we haven’t listened to before: “Wonderworld”, “Conquest”, “Fallen Angel” – the albums that I haven’t listened to too much before. I used to listen to a lot of either “The Magician’s Birthday”, or “Demons And Wizards” and “Sweet Freedom”, those of my favorite albums that I was listening to when I was in Canada, so it’s nice to listen to a lot of new songs for me. Usually we would pick a set, and Mick would say, “Listen to that track and tell me if you like it”, but for this set we actually sat down together in one room and just listened to everything! So I was listening to some and went, “Yes, I think I can sing that” or “No, I don’t think I can sing that”, rather than him just giving me a list to listen to.
– What song do you think you cannot sing?
I had troubles with stuff from John Sloman’s time. I didn’t feel comfortable singing the songs. I don’t know why, they just didn’t quite suit me.
– Well, he was singing in that jazzy, melismatic style.
Yeah, he was doing a lot of up-and-downs, very jazzy sort of thing. He did have an unusual style – not to say that it’s bad, I just don’t think it was tremendously in tune with what URIAH HEEP was all about.
– Haven’t you heard the original demos of some of the “Conquest” songs, like “Feelings”, with John Lawton’s vocals?
No, I only heard “Feelings” once, to say the truth, and it was on tour bus last week, on the DVD that Bob has just brought out of the early years [“Inside Uriah Heep”], and it didn’t sound like URIAH HEEP to me. Still, I’m open to all of the past material but I have to listen to it to make sure that I feel that I can do it justice – either to sing it as good, or to bring another angle to it. I don’t want to deviate too much from the original song – I think that’s wrong – but to bring your own little style on it is fine. We’re talking about John Sloman, and I think his little stamp was a bit extreme to what the HEEP fans wanted to hear and to the original HEEP sound.
– What emotional state does it take from you to feel that a song is yours? I mean feelings, not vocal strength…
I don’t know. It’s a gut feeling. I really like “A Year Or A Day”, it’s a great song, and “If I Had The Time”, too. When I sang it by myself in rehearsal, I said, “Yeah, it’s a nice song, it’s got a nice idea to it”, and I felt comfortable with it, but as soon as I sang it for the first time, with Lee doing a second voice, that just gelled to me. It was, “Ooh, this is going to work!” And I had the same thing with “Wise Man” – when I started singing it, I immediately felt, This is my song. I was not thinking, “Oh John [Lawton] would sing it like this, Ken would sing like that”, I just went, “I want to sing this song, and I want to sing it like this”.
– Does the lyrical content, not only music, register with you?
A lot. For me, that’s what it is, that’s got to have a good lyric. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be too visionary, it just has to be a good lyric. It could be very simple, but if the story is good or the emotion of what it says is good, that’s it to me. It’s like Lee’s song, “Come Back To Me”: I almost cried the first time I sang it, because of the situation that I was in of a relationship at the time, even though it was a few years past. To read those lyrics and to sing it with the feeling that it needed, I almost cried – because it was such an emotional song! I could feel how Lee felt.
– Is there any song that you feel became truly yours?
I don’t know. I like to think that all the songs I sing in that set… I mean, when we do a set, we do the same set pretty well for a tour, and a tour will take a year, and by the end of that year I hope that all those songs are mine. When the people will have heard them all over the world, with my voice, maybe not to compare but to accept, [they’ll say] “That’s his song now”.
– Do you think that that made-up story in “Gypsy” is, emotionally, like that of “Come Back To Me”?
Oh no, it comes from a different place totally. That was the first song that Mick wrote and it’s a pretty hard but simple song, but what it defines with URIAH HEEP is the melody of vocals, in both the very beginning and the end: (sings) “Aaahh”. Nobody was doing it back in the 1970, and to me that has very much the VANILLA FUDGE influence, you know, the big (sings again)“Pah-pah-pah!” It’s only a couple of chords, but they’re played with tremendous power and with that melodic voice of five harmonies on it! It’s a kind of a trademark song.
– Yet again, what’s the most emotionally demanding song of all?
Oh Lord, (thinking for a while) a very hard question to answer. Probably, right now, in the new set, “When The War Is Over”. That’s got a lot of emotion to it, even though it’s not our song(it’s by COLD CHISEL, – DME). And “July Morning”, I still have a tremendous emotion for that song, even though I’ve sung it for almost seventeen years now. It’s just one of those songs: I sit down and I’m telling the story, and every night there’s anticipation from the audience. And you can feel they’re listening and they’re watching, and even though they heard the song a million times they want to feel that again.
– If you weren’t in URIAH HEEP, what other band you’d like to be in?
(Pause.) The band that my voice’d probably suit. Hard to say. I’d really like to have been working with Steve Lukather in TOTO, I think I could have done that job with them. Meeting Steve this year, in the summertime – brilliant guy! lovely guy! – we had exchanged e-mails and phone numbers. Because I know that he does a lot of side projects, I said, “Give me a call at any time”. My voice would probably have suited JOURNEY, but I think their music is a little bit too smooth and polished now. VAN HALEN were looking for a singer for years, after Sammy [Hagar], and now Sammy’s back: I still don’t know what’s happening with that camp, but that’s the music I could get into. Also FOREIGNER – I know that Lou Gramm had a lot of troubles with his voice and he’s had a lot of troubles with cancer…
– FOREIGNER had beautiful vocal harmonies, and you talked about it too. Is it a challenge to be in a harmony-based band, like HEEP, as opposed to being a sole singer?
I think you have to have a different approach and have to have a different ear. Not all voices harmonize together, some are absolutely great and then some just gel. John Lawton and my voice gel together like that, and Lee and my voice gel together like that – instantly. But some voices don’t, some voices sound great by themselves: for instance, Jimmy Barnes – Lee has just had this project with him [LIVING LOUD], I don’t think there’s any harmonies on their album, and if there is it’s Jimmy Barnes singing, because only his voice matches his voice. And Rod Stewart is fine example, you’ve got to have another voice like Rod’s – or no other’s voice.
– What with your songwriting…
Yeah, slowly but surely!
– …will there be a time when you dare offer something to Mick?
I hope so and so does he! Mick has been very very positive with the side projects that I’ve been doing because of the strength of the songwriting. He said, “By all means, do it. If you can get some songs and bring them to the band [that would be] brilliant”. But we’ve got such a high standard that I feel I’m such a late starter in writing. I’m happy with the stuff that I’m doing with MORTICE, and some of it is probably up to the standard, but I don’t think it is for HEEP. It’s kind of from a different place and it keeps getting louder and louder! (Laughs.)
– Sorry, but here goes an awkward question. You’re approaching fifty now…
Oh I’ve got a year yet before I’m fifty! Months, months, months and months before I’m fifty. (Laughs.)
– Do you feel that now you have this emotional luggage to sing better and more thoughtfully than before?
No, I’ve always approached music with the same attitude and with the same feeling and devotion and, hopefully, emotion. I always have. I’m a Gemini, my birth under Gemini meaning I am a very emotional person: I work off my feelings rather than off of my brain, and a lot of times it gets me in trouble, and a lot of times I fuck up. And Mick is the same, and Trevor’s the same, because they’re both Gemini as well. We are led by our hearts.
– Trevor’s quite a quiet person, but he said about you, “Bernie is always in the people’s face”…
Maybe in my outward appearance, in my outward persona, but we actually have very similar feelings being led by our emotions. Trevor is a very emotional person, and Mick is very emotional, it’s just that my personality is a lot more in your face. Trevor’s very much in the shell but he’s got a great mischievous side as well, he’s like a little boy that goes, (imitating more troll than a boy) “Ha-ha-ha!” And he can do little naughty things, little funny things.
– Having been around HEEP quite a lot, I saw you being very serious, too. Do you think you’re a serious person in real life, when you’re not in the public?
There are times when you have to be serious, but I don’t take things too seriously. I think if you live life too seriously, you miss out on a lot and a lot and a lot of the humor. I’ve only learned that from being in the band for the last few years. Approaching fifty, you can’t take too many things too seriously.
– What do you do in your spare time – reading, watching football?
I don’t watch football and I’m not a big reader. I’m reading more now than I have ever, I’ve read three books this year – small books, 350 pages – and I’m just starting a new one. But I’ve never been a big reader, I’ve rather been a doer: I’m keeping myself busy, I do things – I work on my Harley, I work on the house. I like to keep active outside of music. I love to cook, I’m always in the kitchen cooking things, so when I relax I like to just put on music – and relax. Do a crossword puzzle. Watch a DVD. Nothing special. But now, especially on a tour bus, I’m getting to reading, and now I’m up to a thousand-page books! I’m reading Bill Clinton’s “My Life”, which is quite a good read, and I’ve started up with “Motley Crue”, then I read about Frank Zappa, then a few Czech authors’ books. (Bernie’s girlfriend is from Czechia – DME)I’m getting more now into reading, but it’s never been a passion of mine. Some people that read want to read everything, and I’ve never read even at school. I was always out on the football field playing soccer, playing badminton or playing hockey – anything but reading!
– Soccer? You said “soccer” after living for so long in England?!
Football to me is guys in tight pants and helmets – that’s football!
– And cooking. Is there a special recipe you’d like to share with us?
Oh, there’s a few Bernie Shaw recipes out there! I’ll have to think very hard of what goes in, I’ll have to look at my shelves and pick a bit of that, bit of that, bit of that and make something.
– Would you like to write a cooking book?
I’ve been asked by a few people if I’m going to do a cook book, but I never use a recipe. If I’m cooking something for the very first time then I read what goes into it, but then I make it my own. I’ll change a little bit here and a little bit there, but the first time I always make it by the book, and if I don’t like it or I think I can better it then I’ll change it for next time. I cook a lot of game: bear, goose, rabbits – I’ve got a great rabbit recipe! I’ve got really good Thai recipes – hot, spicy stuff! I like spicy food, with lots of chili, lemon grass…
– You’ve been living in England for twenty-five years. Do you still feel like a Canadian?
I’m definitely Canadian! I will always be a Canadian – through and through!
– But where do you belong? Where do you feel at home?
I’m pretty lucky, I feel at home on both sides but I feel most comfortable back in Canada. It’s just as… Why does a salmon go back to spawn at the same pond every year? It’s where I come from, it’s where I was born. My family is there, I have my oldest friends there, and it’s just something about the area – the relaxing area, the ocean. It’s just my place, and it’s probably where I will end up again.
– What do your parents think of what you do? How old were you when they stopped telling you to find a “proper” job?
They still keep on telling me to get a proper job! (Laughs.) I think, [it was when I worked] with COLD SWEAT, when I said, “I’m going away for two months working”, and they went, “What are you going to live on?” I said, “We have a van and we’ve bought the equipment. We’re making all this money”. When they found out that I can pay my rent without borrowing money and doing a second job, that probably was when they said, “OK, you got it together”. And that’s when I said, “I’m moving to England”, that was the real, “Oh my God, he’s seriously! This is it, moving on the other side of the planet”.
– Do you still have any aim of life to fulfill?
Oh God, yeah! There’s a lot of things I still want to do! I still want a hit record. I want a record company which could promote HEEP the way it should be promoted. From well over a million hits on the website now and from the little bit of success that we had last year in Scandinavia I know that there’s a lot of fans out there, and all they have to be is woken up. And we need a real record company to wake these people up. I want a gold record – I’ve got a silver one and I’ve got a platinum one, but I don’t have a gold one for an album that I sang on. And that’s going to take work from the band and a lot of work from a record company. And personal goal? (Thinking for quite a while.) My God! What’s my most wanted now might be totally different tomorrow. (Laughing.) I want to move into my house! I want to move into this house on which I have been working on for last five months. And it’s going to take a lot of work too. It’s harder than rock ‘n’ roll.
– Well, that’s a big goal, but what small things in life can make you smile?
Sunshine, little things like that. A blue sky. Living in London with its grey sky, a blue sky makes me happy. Getting on my motorcycle, if it starts in the morning, makes me happy. Knowing that I’ve got a tour coming up makes me happy. I look forward to going to the studio on Monday – I want to sit back, I want to hear the songs that we’ve recorded, and go, “That’s it!” To know there’s nothing to repair, nothing to add to – just mix it and put it out.
– It’s all looking a little forward, yet do you feel you’re a happy person?
Yeah, I do! I think there’s a lot of people out there that get up in the morning and they don’t particularly want to get out of bed to go to work and they’re not particularly happy with the work they’ve got. But I’ve got a great job, it brings me great satisfaction to do what I’m doing and see the world. Last week I was in the Shetland Islands for the first time: it was beautiful. I’ve never been up to Scotland before, even having lived here for twenty-five years – that was fantastic! I’ve got a great partner, we’re working well together in our private life, and I want to just expand on that. I’m looking forward to going to Canada on Christmas and seeing my family, because I don’t see them nearly enough as I wish I did. My phone bill is huge every month, you know, I talk to my friends, I e-mail them. I’ve got a great life but, unfortunately, half of it is still in Canada. But I’m very happy in myself, in my might right now.
Many thanks to Mike Sidorchuk for being persistent and offering coffee, Bernie’s fiancee Radka for bearing with domestic flood while the interview was taking place, and Boris Shnitzer for ye olde pictures.
See also: Mick Box and Bernie Shaw, 2003Back to the Interviews page