It has to be experienced to be believed: thirty five years on since their rise, SMOKIE still can pack houses! Of course, the emphasis now, as with all the old artists, is on the classic material – “We’re gonna do ‘What Can I Do’ this time”, said to me Terry Uttley, the only founding member in the current line-up, taking the stage for the soundcheck – but the audience welcome the new songs, too. It’s all about the atmosphere and the energy, not a particular song, was my answer. But what’s on Terry’s agenda now?
– You’ve just returned from Barbados and are to spend February touring Australia and Israel. Was that especially planned to keep it warm in winter?
No! we aren’t that lucky. I go to Barbados every January to chill out after a full year’s touring. The timing for the Australian tour was at the request of a promoter down there. But maybe we should make a plan for that.
– Current line-up is the longest-serving in the band’s history. Is there some magic involved in it?
I think there must be but we don’t know who put the spell on it. People ask us what the secret is and we have to tell them that it’s a secret, so much so that we don’t know the answer. I guess that we don’t get chance to get on each other’s nerves. It’s a bit like the “Red Arrows” aerobatic team. When the team leader says ‘break’, they all go their separate ways. That’s [like it is for] us too. [We’re] friends with different ways of personal life. We give each other space.
– What is everybody’s contribution to the group?
Everyone has different things to do in the band. Different roles to play while giving everything. We are all as passionate about SMOKIE as each other. To explain about each individual would take up the whole of your page as we are all so different in our personal lives.
– You played with reggae in “It’s Your Life”, you went country on the “Nashville Album”, you even invited Micky Moody to play blues licks on “On The Wire”. Are you always open to experiments?
Always! Our last gig in December was with 100-piece orchestra in Bucharest. It was fantastic! We are thinking about a tour with a reduced string section now.
– I guess Micky was the first time SMOKIE had such a prominent guest player, right? And did you know Moody before the recording?
I knew Micky a lot of years ago because of one of the projects that I did with John Verity, but Mick [McConnell], our guitarist, had been in recent contact with him, and it was Mick who invited Micky to play with us. Great guy!
– The today’s SMOKIE seem to be rocking harder than ever before. Is it all down to you? I mean you’ve always been the “rock” guy in what was a clean-cut pop band…
I think as the line-up changed over the years, each incoming member had a harder attitude to the way the old songs should be played. Their own individuality stamped on it. It shows in the way that the recordings go now.
– You lent your bass skills to a couple of hard rock projects. But how did SMOKIE get involved with HEAVY METAL KIDS – and Donovan for that matter?
‘Mickie Most’ is the answer. We were on his record label, RAK, and he was producing those acts and asked us if we would do back vocals. When Mike Chapman went to America for the first time, he heard THE EAGLES and when he returned, he told us that he set out to find his own English EAGLES. That was a band named KINDNESS that was later to become SMOKIE. Very flattering for us! We also did an album with Agnetha Faltskog from ABBA which Mike Chapman produced.
– All of the videos I saw feature Chris Norman on lead vocals. Why don’t you step forward from time to time to sing now that you’re the leader?
I don’t consider myself a leader, I’m just someone who has been there since ’68’. Seen it, done it, heard it, had a great ride with it. I know my position and I am very comfortable with it.
– Last time I saw you, you weren’t keen on playing “What Can I Do” on the promoter’s request. Why it doesn’t usually feature in your set list?
I don’t know the answer to that one. We enjoy playing it, but we’ve tried it in some countries and it falls flat, and we don’t do what falls flat.
– While there’s a live DVD from this line-up, the original band didn’t release a live album. Is there a chance for one to be out?
Anything is possible. We have just made a DVD in South Africa, and we were talking about making a different mix for a live album.
– Who designed the “Smokie” – or “Smokey” as it was in 1975 – logo?
That sort of thing was out of our hands in those days, so I couldn’t tell you.
– How did it feel to be playing with the original guys at Pete Spencer’s 60th birthday party in January?
That was great. It was only by chance that it happened. We had a gig in Germany and something happened to the hall and so the show was cancelled. We all came home for two days, and so I made it to the party. Strangely enough, I was waiting for a train at Manchester airport to take me home to Leeds when I heard a voice that I had heard so many times in my life, ‘Hi Terry’! It was Alan Silson. He was due in from Germany where he now lives the day before but missed the last plane. That gave us lots of time to catch up before the party. It was really great to see them again and we had a ball. It was like walking into a room full of history. There were people there that I hadn’t seen for thirty years. Even some of the old RAK records people were there. Of course, the obvious questions were asked about reforming. We were good at staying silent. Keep them guessing.
– The band several times re-recorded classic tracks – there are some nice versions on your latest, “From The Heart”. How did you choose those?
We always wanted to do a covers album – songs that we would have loved to have had first. It was a big ‘No’ from the record company so we forgot about it. Then George Michael and Robbie Williams did it, and the record company said they thought it would be a good idea for us to do one. Who’s idea? “Uncovered” was a platinum album and “Uncovered Too” the same. We enjoyed remaking some of those old classics with a passion. The covers on “From The Heart” were taken from the “Uncovered” albums. It was like a “Greatest Hits” with three new recordings on it. It was like a staging post between albums.
– Can we expect a new album of all original material any day soon?
Not at the moment. Last year we were so busy. 105 concerts and 161 flights, and so between finding time to write and catching up with our families the families will always be priority. I’m sure we will find a space to do something at some point this year. As for now, my warmest regards to our fans. We are really looking forward to see you all.
Photos by Eugene Veinard exclusively for DME