Thirty years ago SMOKIE gloriously stepped on the thin thread linking rock and pop music and succeded at walking the line. Their songs are an integral part of the ’70s soundtrack, but the band are still here, circling the world over to get sometimes to play such unlikely places like Mongolia. They’re basically the same ensemble, even though there are five musicians now – led by the SMOKIE mainstay, Terry Uttley. What’s there to it, then?
– Terry, what is it that makes you carry on with the band after so many years? Do you, the only original member, feel the load of it?
I don’t feel such a big load because of the democracy that has maintained for many years. New blood brings new ideas, and I really am not adverse to new thoughts. The only thing that has to be maintained is that the sound of SMOKIE remains as pure as could be possible. It will never be as it was, but the question is to the public, if it’s it worse, and I don’t think so.
– Before calling yourselves SMOKIE, you backed HERMAN’S HERMITS’ Peter Noone. What did you learn from that experience?
The experience with Peter was one of a former big star and some little boys that had done nothing but work a lot and got nowhere. It was indeed an experience as he was bigger than THE BEATLES in the USA at one time. I think it just became another learning curve in a band’s life when a band wanted to learn. I think in total out of one year we did twenty shows. I don’t think he taught us much. Very nice guy, though.
– What do you feel these days doing “Going Back To Bradford”? Do you still belong there?
I live not far from my hometown, but that was a choice to move into the country or somewhere alien like London which is a three-hour drive. Here, I have to drive thirty minutes.
– The artists who worked with Chinn and Chapman – SWEET, MUD, Suzy Quatro – were mainly seen as the glam. How did you escape such a labelling?
We escaped glam because we were not glam. We had the same producers but at the end of the day glam is what you wore and not what you were.
– Half of the songs on each of your classic albums were written by the band members. How did you feel competing with Chinn and Chapman, the established team?
There was never competition with Chinn and Chapman because they chose the songs. Say no more.
– There were four singers in classic SMOKIE. Were THE BEATLES a blueprint for you?
There were three, not four, and you are correct. THE BEATLES and HOLLIES were our apprenticeship idols.
– How did you decide on the lead vocalist for a song?
This was an easy thing. Chris [Norman] sang his songs and I sang mine and so on. Chris also sang Chinn and Chapman songs.
– Whose idea it was to cover THE SEARCHERS’ “Needles And Pins”?
“Needles” was a thing that we would do at soundchecks, but when it got to middle eight no-one knew where it went musically, so once we found it we played it, and everyone around the studio said that we must record it.
– They were a Liverpool group, then you had a song called “Liverpool Docks”… What did link you so much to Merseyside?
Liverpool is so close to where we live, and the memories of our growing-up days relate everytime I go to that city. It has a vibe of the past that only Liverpool can have. Any true band member – not especially musicians because sometimes their seriousness about themselves is only unique to themselves – is a wake-up call to where a band’s life started. And then, John Lennon’s humour…
– Did the line “Who the fuck is Alice” in an updated version of “Living Next Door To Alice” mean SMOKIE had been forgotten, and that was the tongue-in-cheek way to remind people of the group’s heritage?
This was started by the Irish public and not by SMOKIE. I have an explanation but this would take all night.
– What in your eyes is the main difference between the Seventies’ band and the current line-up?
We have more ambition now. When we were kids we had the same, but individuals change and you will never change an individual.
– Is there any nostalgia for the old days?
I miss everything from people to familiar buildings, but if you dont move you get trodden on
– Your official site has it that the band opened for BLACK SABBATH. Did you really?
Wrong! That was METALLICA.
– This one doesn’t concern SMOKIE… You worked with Pete Goalby. Was it before 1982 when he joined URIAH HEEP or after?
I had known Peter for many years, and when SMOKIE stopped touring I put a band together and Peter was the first to join, and that was a good few years before Mickey Box and company.