Interview with BERNIE TORME

February 2009

Razor-sharp and relevant as hell, that’s your Bernie Torme, the guitarist who could have been up there in the six-stringers pantheon if he didn’t stick to his own guns and other thunderous devices. Those who dwell on the veteran’s stint with Ian Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne surely miss the the point which Bernie keeps on stating – now with GMT that means Robin Guy, John McCoy and Bernie Torme who rock with abandon that puts to shame many a teenage band. Their debut, 2006’s "Bitter & Twisted" seems to have been only a statement of intent, and two years on "Evil Twin" rams it closer to home… and raises some questions which Mr. Torme is glad to answer.

– Bernie, GMT is an acronym. But was the name chosen specifically to stress the band’s Britishness?

Not necessarily Britishness in my case because I’m Irish, and we definitely don’t like to be confused with those Brits, nice and all as the poor old chaps are! Seriously though, I suppose it was partially down to making it British/European as opposed to American, also because it seemed pretty obvious and we have all been through the trying to find a name routine far too many times. It doesn’t really mean anything though, it is just an acronym, we just couldn’t think of anything else! And yes, I do grudgingly admit it sounds pretty British!

– I don’t know why but I easily imagine many songs off “Evil Twin” done acoustically. Was that how they originaly have been composed?

Wow! That’s interesting that you mentioned that, that’s dead right, and yes, I do tend to write on acoustic a lot of the time, and even if the initial idea isn’t acoustic it tends to grow a bit on acoustic. When John and I pass ideas around at my place it tends to be acoustic too – though a lot of his ideas are initially electric, they still sound acoustic! Funnily enough we’ve been talking about recording acoustic versions of some of those songs recently, too.

– How do you think the band have progressed between the first and second albums? This time the arrangements are richer…

By the way, thanks for the great review of “Evil Twin”. Yes, I suppose we spent more time on the arrangements. Also it was a case of writing for a known quantity in terms of the band rather than “Bitter & Twisted” which was a bunch of tracks John and I had most of before we met Robin. Because of that, we wrote and arranged much more this time for how we play, and having toured a lot in the meantime, it was a case of being very clear about what were each other’s strengths. There had been such a long gap before McCoy and I started playing together again that we didn’t really remember how each other played! We hardly remembered how we played ourselves actually!
Thinking about it, we definitely spent more time running through the tracks as we recorded them this time, and the arrangements did change on the day, and this time there was input from Robin in terms of the arrangements too. We don’t tend to rehearse the tracks before the day we record them, it all pretty much happens on that day: it keeps it fresh and edgy, the only traditional pre-production aspect would be what I refer to as “the worst demo in the world” which is usually me and an acoustic guitar doing the basic ideas of the track very badly, usually not an arrangement, which Robin hears in his car as he drives to the studio! He agrees incidentally that they are the worst demos in the world! It\s a funny process really, but it seems to work for us – none of us want to get tied up in attempts at perfection. It’s about the magic of the moment.

– Was switching from a band leader to a team player in GMT a burden off your shoulders? John McCoy’s shoulders are much bigger to share the weight, aren’t they?

Yes, Dmitry, big shoulders, but the problem is that trying to get him to get off his ass is a real battle to start with! I mean we’ve only just managed to get him a myspace page to promote himself and the band, three years later! Man, I’d be much happier if he would take more of the weight! He can trample all over my ego anytime!
Only joking, you are right, I’ve never really been happy with being the band leader, I feel much more comfortable on stage with McCoy there, also Robin, I’ve never been happy with being the only focus of attention, and basically McCoy is a bit like having my living room onstage: I feel comfortable and safe and I know he’s going to do the business and we can just have a laugh and enjoy ourselves. So I feel very happy with that, much more fun for me than being Bernie the solo warrior.

– You seem to have never lost contact with John. What do you find special about the man? And why did you decide to reunite at this point of your careers?

GMT: John McCoy, Robin Guy, Bernie Torme

Well, we have lost touch at times, we’ve had a few silly fallings out over the years, and we still sometimes get pissed off with each other… but we’ve been mates so long now I think we both just take that as just part of life! John’s my oldest friend in music, really; when we first played together in ’75 or ’76 it was like we were connected, I just loved the way he played, and that hasn’t changed. We still have that connection, and for me, he plays and sounds like no one else, I love it. That’s hugely important to me, very special. I always enjoy playing with John, in a lot of other cases I don’t get much of a buzz out of playing at all, it’s like driving the same route to work, just boring, but it’s never ever boring playing with John – great feel, awesome sound, it gels and it’s different and exciting every time. He’s a very funny guy too, we have a real laugh.
We had been talking about doing something for years and years and really just never got round to it: you know life intruded, and we don’t live that close together. I think it was probably the shock of Paul Samson’s death that pushed us to go and do something again. It was almost like well we’ve fucked around for a million years. We can still do it, it would be good to do it, let’s just do it. it just seemed right.

– Was that a given from the off that you’d be a singer in GMT? Would bringing anyone else in ruin your chemistry’s integrity or the trio’s immediacy?

I’m not really sure about that: we wanted it to be a three-piece, because the intimacy, lack of formality and focus possible with that just does not happen with one more person. I don’t know why that is, but most three-piece line-ups which work would agree I think. It becomes a different animal. At the beginning, I wasn’t keen to sing, really, but no one else could, so it sort of happened by default. I have this lucky two-brain thing where I have very little problem timing-wise with playing almost anything and singing as well; a lot of people can’t do that, so I suppose that’s interesting in itself. It obviously meant that the vocals were more rock ‘n’ roll and punky and not at all the usual metal operatic, but again, that’s something that everyone in the band is happy with, it’s more rocky punky metal than out-and-out metal anyway. Of course, some people don’t like it, which is fair enough, we’re not in the business of pleasing anyone other than ourselves, and some people maybe even have a menu they want filled exactly before they’ll accept anything, but the fact is, it works pretty well in this context, so it is what it is. It’s about identity, not perfection.
Some guy at a gig came up to me and said he was doing a review of it and I wouldn’t like it because he thought I sounded more like Iggy Pop than Ian Gillan! Well I was 2000 per cent aware I could never sound like Ian, but I was over the moon to be compared to Iggy!
We did do an album with Jim Lyttle as Rogue Male with Jim singing and playing guitar, I just did licks and solos, it was a lot of fun but it was a completely different thing to the jaminess that GMT has, it was of necessity much more formal, we couldn’t just look at each other and go off on a tangent like GMT does. And really that’s what makes GMT fun, the fact that none of us really know what we’re doing or where it’s going to land, but it always does!

– You and John have always seemed keen on downplaying the GILLAN connection. Was, then, the invitation of Colin Towns to play on “Evil Twin” a matter of friendship and convenience?

Well, I’m going to rant here. I’m very proud of my time in GILLAN, but for many years there was a lot of justifiable unhappiness over the way Ian had run the band and treated the people involved, so there was a lot of reluctance to talk about or be proud of it. Basically, talking about it would promote the guy who was taking everyone else’s money so there was an understandable reluctance to do that, apart from the fact it left a pretty nasty taste. The situation changed a couple of years ago when the albums were acquired by the UK state, the Crown, as part of a bankruptcy: the Crown agreed we were all due our originally agreed share, the albums went to Demon, some other DVDs to other labels, and now we are all paid royalties from them. It was a fantastic sense of closure, I’m glad I lived to see it, glad we all did.
Obviously, the sales now are minuscule compared to the sales back in the day, peanuts really, but it’s not about the money, it’s about everyone getting what is rightfully theirs.
And again, it doesn’t change the fact that someone acted very badly and things only changed when the Crown caught them doing the naughty. It hasn’t left any of us with much regard for the integrity and trustworthiness of our erstwhile leader, but I still love him anyway, he’s a fun guy, great singer, undoubtedly one of the greatest if not the greatest in that area, and gave me the best break I ever had or could have had. But nobody is perfect, and it’s time to move on! But I’m very proud of GILLAN and my part in it.
As for Colin, he’s is a good friend of both John and me, he lives near me and, in fact, he also played on “Bitter & Twisted”: the great thing about Colin is that he always comes up with the ideas that you would never have thought of, he’s a real original, there’s no one like him. He’s not someone who is interested in showing off, it’s always about the music and the track. It’s got to be him, it’s like he’s part of the family: we want keyboards, we ask Colin! The best possible and a good friend.

– How come you asked Dee Snider to sing “Punco Rocco”? I mean you could have sung it as good as he did. Or was that an update of some DESPERADO song?

Well, I couldn’t see him warbling “Jonny Sitar”! No, he’s a good mate, and we hoped he’d do a track, so I asked and he very kindly did, but Dmitry, I did sing it! He only did the choruses and the scream at the end, and that scream is absolutely killer, no way on Earth I could ever have done that! He did a great job and we are very grateful – having Dee on a track is a real attention grabber, and we all think it’s killer! And no, the bass and drum riff was John’s, the rest was written last year and has nothing whatever to do with DESPERADO.

– Does “Punko Rocco” somehow relate to your Baroque-like stage outfits?

Not really, or at least I don’t think so. It was just a ridiculous phrase that popped into my head one evening when I’d drunk too much!

– What does it take to retain the punky abandon in these days and age?

Hmmmm! Not sure, really. Punk appealed to me because it was iconoclastic and pretty egalitarian, “better than no one, no one better than me” type thing, which is something I hugely relate to. I don’t think that changes, though I guess the energy level does! I like going to bed now! To sleep!

– How many of GMT listeners do you think are paying attention to the lyrics that are quite an important part of your songs?

I don’t know, really. It’s very important to me, I have to have a lyric I can relate to, or one that amuses me. Melody and music is one thing, but for me, lyrics are the punch line. I’m a big fan of lyricists like Dylan, Lennon, Chuck Berry, Steve Earle, PISTOLS, Mick and Keith, even back to the old Rogers and Hart stuff, Noel Coward, folk stuff even back to someone no one will know from the Victorian/Edwardian period, an Irish guy called Percy French. I just love lyrics! To me, it’s the thing that makes it work, otherwise it should be instrumental. Obviously, I just do my best, not in that league at all, but it’s something I continually tinker with until the recording is finished. Again, its fantastic to work with John, he comes up with great lines, phrases, stuff that really kicks me along when I’m stuck, for example “You trouble trouble, before trouble troubles you” in “Evil Twin” was his line, great line, it needed a story so the rest was easy. And the lines about the Dartford Tunnel in “Perfumed Garden”, which I love.

– Was “Perfumed Garden” a nod to the late John Peel?

Yes, well spotted, it definitely was. I first heard John Peel on Radio London, a pirate station, the year everything changed, 1967; the show was called “The Perfumed Garden”, before he joined the BBC when the show went to a Sunday afternoon with the same title, and the BBC tried to make him respectable. You could only just pick up Radio London in Dublin on very good days, but it was the best show ever. And I always had a huge regard for mr. Peel, he was the soundtrack to my teenage years and turned me on to so many things. I played on his evening John Peel Show a couple of times in the Seventies, and he actually used to play my records on it, too, when I was just a punk scruff. And you know, he used that title because it referred to a medieval Arabic sex manual, though, of course, the closest I ever got to that as a teenager in Catholic puritan Ireland was the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which I was given by an old spinster aunt, but the name “Perfumed Garden” had all that Middle Eastern exoticism and mystery, and sort of hinted at a different image of life on Earth.
Where I came from, we had no perfumed gardens, just wet cold mucky ones full of very big worms, rotting potatoes and nettles! But I guess the song for me is about the fact that you can’t necessarily live or be what you would want to be like, you’ve to accept what you are or the world will kick the shit out of you! And these days I’m more at home in the cold wet misty garden than the fantasy perfumed one! ’67 came and went a long time ago, and actually, like most revolutions, not much changed. How’s that for a bit of Celtic mysticism!

– By way of hilarious self-aggrandizing, will “The Humours Of Mr. McCoy” be followed by “The Quirks Of Herr Torme” on the next album?

Now there’s an idea!

– When I spoke to mr. Arthur Guitar he had some nice things to say about both you and Ernie Orme. Was it intimidating to work with THE SPLIT KNEE LOONS? I mean, even McCoy felt some trepidations…

Well, really, THE LOONS are rock legends: it was an honor and a priviledge to work with such show biz icons. I felt both humbled and and intimidated. Ernie Orme does things on guitar I can only dream of, and he plays it quite well sometimes, too. Unfortunately, his roadie has let him down in the tuning department on a few of the performances, it’s an insult to music, really, how Ernie lets him get away with it, but he’s such a nice guy Ern, he’d never sack him even though he still hasn’t worked out what the pegs are for. I’ve been trying to persuade Ernie to approach Alan Rogan who works for Pete Townshend, now that boy knows how to tune a guitar, and I’m sure he’d much rather work for someone of the musical stature of Ernie than glue together pieces of matchwood back into guitars after Pete leaves the stage every night. I mean, come on! What would you rather do? Or even if he asked Blind Frank Melonhead to tune up… Frank, as well as being challenged in most departments is a blinder with guitar tuning as well as being the ultimate blues legend. But a dangerous man when he has a drink.

– On GMT Internet forum a question cropped up – and remained unanswered – regarding your writing sessions with Alice Cooper. What’s it all about?

Did I? i don’t remember that. I must’ve missed the question, no idea what that’s about. I think someone got that wrong. But it sounds like a great idea!

– The GMT albums are out on your own RetroWreck label. So you must know if they sell well. Do they?

They smell quite well! But sell? Course, they do or we wouldn’t have done a second one! But they could sell more! Go out and buy one or more, people! I think the answer I should have given is “Yes, but not enough!” Same as everybody else these days. I’m not sure how much “enough” is, I think it comes somewhere after “more”!

– Can we expect a live album from GMT any day soon?

Yes, we do have recordings, so it is on the cards. It may be as part of a DVD, though, rather than a CD, not quite sure about that yet.

– This DVD: is it in the works already?

Sort of: all the filming is done, it’s a matter of editing and mixing. I’m not very good at going over stuff that’s been recorded a while ago, though. I find it depressing, really. I’d rather be doing something new, anything, really, but because I’m the techy guy with the studio it’s sort of largely down to me. I always wanted a studio… be careful what you wish for! So hopefully I’ll get that together before John and Robin beat me to death!

Back to the Interviews page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *