ZAL CLEMSINSON discusses new band Sin’ Dogs, SABH, Nazareth and more

ZAL CLEMINSON 

Sin’ Dogs is a new band, hailing from Glasgow, Scotland. The group is fronted by legendary Zal Cleminson, best known for his prominent role in The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB). A self-taught Cleminson started his musician career in the late ’60s with the Glasgow-based band Tear Gas. In August of 1972, the band decided to join forces with Alex Harvey, and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB) was born. SAHB released several successful albums and hit singles, including “Faith Healer” and “Midnight Moses,” before splitting up in 1978. Cleminson continued performing under the name The Zal Band. In 1979, he joined another classic Scottish band, Nazareth, with whom he released albums “No Mean City,” and “Malice in Wonderland.” Later on, Cleminson worked as a session musician, did several short-lived reunions with different incarnations of SAHB, and performed with various bands and projects. In early 2008 Cleminson announced his retirement from the music industry and stated he would never perform live again. But a couple of years later things changed. Sin’ Dogs was put together in 2017, followed by the release of four-song EP. The band has been touring actively, and currently, they’re putting the final touches of soon to be released new EP. I met Cleminson, and the second Sin’ Dogs guitarist William McGonagle, last July in Glasgow. And here’s a summary of our lengthy discussion which features, of course, the story of Sin’ Dogs but also Cleminson’s past career, and variety of other things. Read on!

 

WHAT’S GOING ON?

First of all, Zal, it’s great to see you again. We met last time thirteen years ago in Sweden Rock. You played there with Alex Harvey Band, with Max Maxwell on vocals, and it was an excellent show. However, in 2008, you announced that you were retiring from the music industry, and you would never perform live again. It was several years before we heard of you again, but now you’re back in action with Sin’ Dogs. So, in brief, what was the reason you quit playing music at that time?

Zal Cleminson: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, it was good when we sort of got back together with Max singing. He was a good catalyst to get things back to where it was with SAHB. Trying to get a whole show together, and the theatrics, and all that sort of stuff. It was fine. But then it came to the point with me, when I was getting a little bit– I wanted to move things forward. I wanted to kind of write new songs. I wanted to rearrange maybe some of the older stuff. And revamp things and kind of move things forward basically. Just progress a little bit. And I tried a few different things. But I didn’t get much support from the rest of the guys in the band. I wasn’t really getting the kind of support I needed. And I thought, “Right. I don’t want to go on stage and just be a kind of tribute to myself for the rest of my life. I want to do something different.” But they seemed quite happy to just jump on stage and prance about to “Delilah” for the rest of their lives which is not something I wanted to do. So, I just pulled the plug. I just said, “Nah. If we can’t do something new, move on then. I’ll just pack it in. I’ll stop.” And I stopped for about ten years.

You lived in Cyprus for a few years during the break. How did you end up living there?  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah. I went to Cyprus. My wife had a job out there. So that took us to Cyprus for about four years. And when I was in Cyprus, I had a really bad time with depression, and I had a breakdown, and so on. And I thought, “Hang on. I need to do something here. I need to kind of figure out what I can do.” And I just picked up a little guitar that I had there with me, just a form of therapy more than anything to see what would happen. Ideas came, songs came, lyrics came, riffs. And I thought, “Hang on a minute. This could be all right.”

So, was the idea of Sin’ Dogs born when you were living there?  

Zal Cleminson: Not quite. At that point, I just wanted to write. And I’d started writing again, and I was pleased with what I was doing. I thought this is– and it was kind of back to my original heavy metal style. It sounded like that’s what I wanted to play. It sounded like I wanted to get back to that style of guitar playing. And I got in touch with David, our keyboard player that I’d known, David Cowan. And I said, “Do you want to do some recording? Do you want to get some ideas together and see what we could do?” That was about it, just let’s see if we can record something. And it kind of snowballed, I guess, it kind of took off from there. And we got the guys in the rest of the band. We started to get together and listen and hear what songs were about? And everybody went, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Let’s try to put a band together.” And that was Sin’ Dogs.

How long did it take to get this band together after you decided to start working with David?  

Zal Cleminson: About a year I spent working in Cyprus and coming back and forth to the UK. Coming back, meeting the guys, and then we had a meeting with the band together. Let them hear some of the song ideas.

Willie McGonagle: We, the rest of the guys, we were playing together in a Zal tribute band called The Sensational Alex Harvey Experience. So, they made us kind of aware that Zal was going to come over and play a couple of songs with us in South Rock…. I think it’s called? It’s a gig we do for charity, for the children’s hospital in Glasgow. So, we were going to do it for charity, and Zal was going to come up and play a couple of songs. But the ideas that he had once he’d come over, he was going to play– once we had the ideas, new songs. This is something. These songs are great. What these songs are about is great. There are the stories here which is the most important thing. Which is kind of lost in the current music, I think, so.

Zal Cleminson: Yeah. There were songs. I knew there were songs, and I knew the songs could stand up. And the more I wrote, the more we came out with, the more ideas we put together, I knew that this is something great we have here. And it’s aimed at the right market. It’s aimed at a style of music that I feel comfortable playing. It’s the kind of guitar playing that I love to play. Willy is the same. So, it wasn’t difficult to get the whole thing together, and everybody was keen, everybody was enthusiastic about making it work, and we’ve just gone from there. We’ve just tried to make a lot of gigs. We did some recording, got the album done, it’s a bit rough and ready. It’s a bit underproduced in a way for me or not very well produced, but it’s okay, and it gets us out there. So, all we’re trying just now is get out and play and spread the word as far as we can.

What kind of feedback the did album receive from the fans and critics?  

Willie McGonagle: It’s been fantastic. So, I mean everybody is not happy with our recordings; everybody is not taking advantage of it. When you do a record, you’re the most critical person. You’re overcritical probably, and you go, oh, no, I should’ve put this, but the reaction has been absolutely fantastic. People love these songs. They love them.

Zal Cleminson: Even SAHB fans, the people that are coming to see us are mainly old SAHB fans, obviously, even by name, so it’s then, “Oh, yeah, oh, yeah,” so they come along and see what it’s all about and they’re like kind of, “Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that,” you know? So, the songs are really strong, even though the recording quality is not what we wanted to do, but the songs are there. So, we’re just sticking to that kind of approach, sticking to the songs. There’s got to be something you can sing, and I’m not really a singer, you know?

Willy and Zal in action

THE NEXT SIN’ DOGS ALBUM  

When the next Sin’ Dogs album will see the light of day?  

Zal Cleminson: The new album? Oh, no, no, no. We haven’t started on the next album really. We’re just putting the songs together right now. We have a little EP that we were going to put out with a kind of version of “Isobel Goudie,” and a version of “Faith Healer,” that we do in the show. There’s a couple of SAHB songs that we do. The only SAHB songs that we do are the two songs that I felt most comfortable about in terms of suiting Sin’ Dogs, what the songs were about, and the kind of atmosphere and the kind of musicality of them seemed to really, really suit what Sin’ Dogs is all about. So, we decided to record them, and put a couple of other songs on there, and try and get that out as soon as possible on an EP. We’re just trying to get that mixed at the minute.

But the EP will be released later this year?  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah. Yeah. It will be out a couple of months, I’d say probably.

Is it going to be a self-release, or is it being released by a record label?  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah. It will be a self-release. Well, as far as I know. We’re trying to get in touch with record companies. We’re trying. There are a few record companies that we’ve been eyeing-up, looking at — ones that would be suitable in the metal market, sort of thing. But we need to approach these people and speak to them and find out if they’re interested in us.

But you’re going to start working the next full-length Sin’ Dogs album sometime soon?

Willie McGonagle: I’ve got my doubts. We want to make sure this one is made right before that. We don’t want to make the mistakes that we made from the first album.

Zal Cleminson: The other thing is that so many people haven’t really heard of the band. We’ve only scratched the surface in terms of people knowing who Sin’ Dogs are and having listened to Sin’ Dogs music. So, we need to kind of establish the first album and milk it. We want to get as much mileage from the first album as possible without feeling you have to keep on churning out another album. You’ve got to be careful about all that stuff.

Willie McGonagle:: I would rather be really comfortable and proud of something that I created before I let other people hear it. You just got to be completely happy with things.

Zal Cleminson: Because the thing IS, we’re in the right market. I feel that we’ve got the product if you want to call it that. I hate calling it something like that. But you think that you’ve got the product. You feel that the product is there, the music’s there, the songs are there, visually the band look good, having a stage show, whatever you want to put together so you can– we’ve got something that we just can’t quite– we don’t have the management of it at the moment. We don’t have the management side of the machine ticking over all the time to kind of make it just get us out there, you know?

In the ’60s and ’70s, this city used to be one of the rock capitals of Britain. If you think about the current music market, and overall the state of rock in here in Glasgow, how would you describe it?  

Zal Cleminson: I don’t really live– I don’t live in Glasgow anymore, so I haven’t been in touch much with the music scene up here for a long time. I don’t really hear anything.

Willie McGonagle: It’s not good.

Zal Cleminson: Well, Britain in general, not just Glasgow, over the years, over the decades actually– Britain, for me, has always been very much a fashion-conscious approach to music. It’s always been what’s fashionable, what’s the latest thing, what’s the latest this and that. I mean, you’ve always been through these periods of music. And I always thought it was the timing but I just completely lost the place in Britain with– I said there’s nothing I could really listen to. And I thought to myself at that time, I thought, “Rock music’s died. It’s disappeared until I realized that it was massive everywhere else on the planet except fucking Britain, and Britain had died a death, and everywhere else it’s still huge, and I’m going, oh, hang on a minute, yeah, it’s still okay to play that stuff, it’s okay to do that, but Britain goes into these little, okay, so let’s just all make dance music, let’s all play with a drum machine, like what the fuck.

So, it was good for you to leave Britain for a while and see what happens elsewhere?  

Zal Cleminson: Yes, indeed, exactly, clear your head.

Sin’ Dogs promo picture

SAHB (SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND) TALK  

I have one question about SAHB. Although the band was short-lived, it became a really influential band for many groups. There’s a strong legacy of the band still living on around the world, and not least because of those numerous SAHB covers recorded by the bands during the last decades. There are bands like Helloween, the Cult, Paul Di’Anno, and the Dead Daisies who have recorded your songs with great success. Have you ever surprised how influential and important band SAHB actually become? Also, there are tons of SAHB tribute bands out there, and you’re actually playing with some of those guys now?

Zal Cleminson: I know, I know, I know. It’s only in hindsight when I look back now the whole SAHB thing, that I can appreciate just what you’re talking about, the legacy of the band and the influence that it had on a lot of people at the time. At the time, you had no idea that,  you had no clue. You were just trying to be a rock star, whatever, and do your thing and write music. You’re not really connected to what’s going to come afterward. You don’t know what’s going to happen? So, it took me a long time to get over the disappointment of SAHB breaking up first of all. That was a big disappointment because we were on the verge of doing something, I think, even bigger and better. But Alex was very, very unwell. He wasn’t healthy at all, and that was the very reason he pulled the plug. He just said, “No. I can’t do this anymore.” So fair enough. So, you’re left with that kind of legacy. You’re left with there’s what we did. You like it, or you don’t like it. Bits of it are good, bits of it are a bit silly, bits of it are a bit funny, bits of it are a bit ill-judged, indulgent, at times too indulgent. One of the things I always say about SAHB is that, I think we were far too indulgent in choosing songs and music that had absolutely nothing to do with rock and roll or the rock market, the mainstream rock market, and I really believe that we lost a whole section of the mainstream rock market by being too off the wall and being too theatrical. Unless you become as big as Queen, then you’re never going to get over that. It’s like, oh, we’ll accept everything you do. Do you know what I mean? But if we’re playing “Cheek to Cheek,” and silly songs like “Runaway” along with “Faith Healer” and it’s like, oh, how does that all fit?

SAHB in the ’70s

How about you Willy, I guess that you saw the original band several times in the ’70s?  

Willie McGonagle: I never saw them live. I used to, when I was a kid, we used to have a SAHB live album. It’s still my favorite album of SAHB. My brother had brought it home back in the day. And, as soon as he put the needle on the record, I just loved their sound. It was just instant. I just loved it. And then my brother was a massive SAHB fan too.

Isn’t it a bit flattering to listen to this Zal?” Laughs”  

Zal Clemenson: Yes, it’s very flattering, yeah. Keep going, though. Yeah. Keep going, mate. Keep talking. Tell me how great I am. “Laughs”

Willie McGonagle: No! “Laughs”

Zal Clemenson: But that’s part of what you were saying.

Willie McGonagle: It was part of my growing up, my youth, you know what I mean? I used to listen to SAHB, and I usually listened to the live album.

Zal Clemenson: You’d get all the whole SAHB fans of people who saw SAHB, a lot of people who saw the original SAHB band in the ’70s coming to see Sin’ Dogs and going, “Wow, I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect to see you doing this ever again. It’s great.” And you get so much encouragement and support from those people. That’s part of the reason why I got back into it. When I started to, as we were talking about, being in a band, writing, and at the beginning, let people know that I was involved in music again. I got so much encouragement on Facebook and places like that from people saying, “Oh, wow, great to see you back, great to see you doing this.” And it just really gave me a lot of confidence. And it’s so different from what people expected. People are expecting to come and see us hashing out all the old SAHB stuff that we’ve done before, but we were doing something completely different nobody ever expected at all. But still, it went over, and they still loved it, you know what I mean? It was completely different.

You both repeat all the time how different band Sin’ Dogs is. So, how would you categorize the band? Are you a metal band, or something else?  

Zal Cleminson: No. I wouldn’t say we were strictly metal. No. I’d say we’re a little more grunge, to be honest. At times, it’s a kind of a mixture.

Willie McGonagle: There’s a bit of punk too.

Zal Cleminson: I’m a big fan of all kind of music. I’ve listened to everything, and I like songs. I mean, I like everything starting from Stravinsky, but Sin’ Dogs is not just one genre. There are lots of different genres in there. I just like songs. But as I say, my favorite band is Radiohead, to be honest. I’m also a big fan of Soundgarden. And then, you listen to all the other bands. You’ve Alter Bridge, you’ve got Rammstein, and you’ve got all the groups that make that noise. They all make a very similar noise; there’s no doubt about it. They don’t really change that much; the guitars go like: “rrrr, rrrr.” “Laughs,” but I like songs; it’s always about the song for me. My wife’s a big fan of Rammstein. And she’s been to see Rammstein a couple of times. And the more I listen to them, the more I’ve sort of over the past few years, I’ve suddenly realized that they’re actually a little bit more like the Eurovision Song Contest [laughter]. Rammstein to me. That’s what they sound like to me. It’s like, “This is just guys–” Well, that’s for me. It’s almost like “a master of the rings” with heavy metal guitars. It’s so simple.

 

NAZARETH TALK  

SAHB split up in 1978. You continued touring under the name of the Zal Band until in 1979 when you joined another legendary Scottish band, Nazareth. How did it happen?  

Zal Cleminson: Well, Nazareth guys were just friends of ours. We had just sort of grown-up almost together in Scotland. We started about the same time, music, the other musicians that played at that time. And when SAHB split up, I was driving a taxi cab for London for a couple of months and doing stuff like that. I was doing all sorts of things trying to pay the bills. And then I got a call from Manny Charlton. So, he said do you want to come down and get involved in the NO MEAN CITY album they were recording at that time. And I think what they were looking for really was a lot of input and musical songs, some writing contribution, they were looking for songs basically, and I could’ve joined in, and I just say, yeah, this cool, that’s okay, let’s just see where it goes, and I spent a couple of years with them, yeah, touring, recording a couple of albums, and they’re good guys. Yeah. We sort of, we just worked together. We had the same management company, for example. So, we were like old pals.

What you now think the albums that you did with Nazareth?  

Zal Cleminson: Well, they were never really my cup of tea, Nazareth, to be perfectly honest. They were never really a band that I would associate myself with musically, which sounds like a contradiction in terms of they’re a pretty basic rock band. They just play that stuff, and it’s great. At that time as a musician I had a much more kind of broad– I was more into the sort of Frank Zappa jazz-fusion thing, all that kind of stuff, compositions and creating soundtrack type of music, and whatever else. So, the basic rock thing for me was it was like going back to a very, very basic style of playing and I thought, okay, that’s fine, that’s fine, and it was good, it was good. The albums were okay. Again, the production wasn’t really my couple of tea, the second album particularly. The ALICE IN WONDERLAND I thought was very peculiar from Nazareth as a band. It was almost like a complete departure in some way. I don’t know what happened there.

It’s obvious that the band tried to sound more commercial at the time. I think that Nazareth lost some of its original identity because of that?  

Zal Cleminson: Well, Manny got his head around this idea of his favorite band at the time were Fleetwood Mac, the “Rumours” album, and Fleetwood Mac, you know what that’s like, it’s very melodic, a nice rhythmic album, beautiful, lovely musicians, etc. It’s full of amazing classic songs, of course, but it is much more pop– much more pop vein than Nazareth wanted to be, or that’s what I thought-. And I think he kind of– I don’t know. I think he got carried away with the idea of those type of songs and that kind of production that he wanted to try maybe to create an album that was a little bit more mainstream let’s call it, mainstream commercial.

It’s what many European bands tried to do in the mid-80s. They were trying to sound like those huge multi-million selling US bands. But usually, it didn’t work out.  

Zal Cleminson: When it becomes that American sanitized if I can use that word, style of rock music. It’s very kind of; it’s all just a little bit too sweet. Bands like Bon Jovi, for me, I can’t quite… My wife’s a big fan of Bon Jovi, and I’m like “hmmmm.” And yet, it’s great. I mean, it’s good rock music. I’m not knocking it. It’s just… there’s something about it that makes me kind of go, “What are you singing about? “Hey, baby, baby.” Oh baby, get down on your knees.” What the fuck, man? Sing about something else, man. But then, times changed. The whole grunge thing, Nirvana came along, Soundgarden came along., and many others. It was like, “Woah! Hang on a minute”. Then came bands like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park. That changed everything.

And now there are bands like Slipknot, Rammstein and these bands. Things have changed again.  

Zal Cleminson: There you go. Slipknot, yeah. Great one.

There’s one more thing about the Nazareth I want to ask. Billy Rankin, he replaced you after you left the band.  

Zal Cleminson: Billy. Baby Billy Rankin. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, he was a lovely musician and a good writer.

He had played with you before in the Zal Band, so did you recommend him to Nazareth?  

Cal Cleminson: I could have?  I don’t recall recommending him, but yeah. Somebody probably did. Yeah. He seemed to like to be next in line [laughter]. He was a substitute sitting on the bench, waiting to get called on. Get your tracksuit off, Billy. You’re on next.

How old was Billy when he played with The Zal Band?  

Zal Cleminson: He was only 17. He was still in nappies. He was still wearing diapers, as Americans call it [laughter], and he was completely shell shocked to be involved in the Nazareth thing. He was just like, “What the fuck’s happened to me?”, and he had to go on and play. But he was talented. He’s a talented musician.

Nazareth in 1979. Manny Charlton, Zal, Dan McCafferty, Darrell Sweet, and Pete Agnew

SESSION WORK AND THE FIRST RETIREMENT  

After Nazareth, you played with a variety of artists and bands in the ’80s, including Midge Ure and Bonnie Tyler. It was something very different from you had done before, but it was it interesting to do as well?  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah, and I also played with Elkie Brooks. These were just session gigs. It was just a session gig for me as a session player. And it was quite nice to learn a different style of music. Be a little bit more disciplined in how you play as well. I’m not that disciplined a musician that– I kind of play what’s in my head and just fucking play the guitar the way I hear it. But when you’re working for somebody else, it’s like, “No.” You have to play it– get that shit down and play the songs right. You’ve got to play the exact thing. It’s like, “All right.” It was nice, but disciplined to learn that. And it was all in good fun.

Willie McGonagle: Fantastic. Paid gigs!

Zal Cleminson: Yeah. Yeah. It was well paid. I have to say.

In the 90’s you played a lot with a band called the Party Boys. It was a kind of “just for fun” project which always featured a lot of well-known guest musicians. What was that band all about?  

Zal Cleminson: Oh, Christ!! [laughter]. That was like Ted McKenna. Ted was desperate to keep on playing. Ted’s the kind of– he was the kind of drummer, the kind of musician, who just wants to play. It doesn’t matter what it is. What were we playing? Play jazz? Yeah. We’ll play jazz. Rock? Yeah. We’ll play rock. He just wanted to play. So, he tried to put this whole thing together of– but I think in a way, you know Jools Holland? He has this big orchestra and a band. He does a lot of kind of– I think he wanted to see a band and bring in different musicians and people could come and join in and just set in and jam and blow and play. And that’s how that started. And of course, as soon as Ted and I started playing together, Chris Glenn immediately went, “Oh. Hang on. You guys play together?” He suddenly turned up, and it’s like, “All right.” So then, you’re like, “Uh-oh. Hang on a minute.” And then, Hugh McKenna comes out the woodwork. It’s like, “This is beginning to get a little reunion all of a sudden.” So, it was a kind of transition to reforming SAHB.

You did some recordings with the band, but nothing was officially released?

Zal Cleminson: We did some recordings. Yeah. I don’t know if they were live or what. But that was also some weird shit. Dan McCafferty sang. Fish came up and sang. Stevie Doherty sang. Various singers that came along and just joined in as– so it was good. Yes.

When the Party Boys thing was over, you disappeared from the music scene for a long time. What happened then?  

Zal Cleminson: Well, you’re talking about from?

After 1994, there was full radio silence until 2005, when you did the SAHB reunion tour.  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah. I stopped playing at that time again. I stopped playing at that point, as well. Nothing was really definite. There was nothing to grab hold of, and there was nothing to be a part of. So, everyone just tunneled up and jamming at a gig and stuff. That’s fair enough. But again, that’s not where my head’s at. My head’s at creating something new. Something fresh. Writing.

That was your first attempt to permanently leave the music scene?  

Zal Cleminson: That’s the first retirement [laughter]. Yeah. Yeah. That was a short sabbatical and then [laughter].

I was thinking of one thing. Because you have been retired from music several times, did you always quit altogether? I mean, did you also sell all your guitars, equipment, and other stuff after you made the decisions?  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah. Yeah! That’s exactly what I did. Yeah. Well, when I’m not working as a musician, I don’t play the guitar. If I’ve got no music to give, then I’m not really involved in music. It doesn’t interest me. It’s when I’ve got something to say. And as I say, when I was living in Cyprus, and I picked a guitar up, and I realized, “Hang on. I’ve got something to say now. I’ve got something actually to say here.” And I’ll go out and do it. Why not?

 

A MOVIE STAR EXPERIENCE  

Of course, you are always best known as a musician, but in 2006 you become a movie star! [laughter] Tell the story behind you starring “The Shot in the West”?  

Zal Cleminson: I wouldn’t almost [laughter]. But that was a crazy, crazy little interlude. There’s a young kid in Glasgow, and he’d done his film studies, director studies. And he had some funding from one of the boards: the film council or something. Scottish film or Glasgow film association had given him some money to make a little movie and a little– and he got in touch, and we used to meet– there’s a pub in the west end of Glasgow, it’s all arty and all the musicians and the artists, the actors and all that hang out. So, we’re in this pub one night, and the young guy comes in. He saw in the corner quite a well-known Scottish actor called David Hayman. Very, very famous actor. And he went over to David and he sort of asked him– I didn’t know he was talking to him at the time. And he went over and asked him if he wanted to get involved in his project. And then the next minute he comes over to me. I’m standing at the bar, and he comes over to me and says, “Zal?” I went, “Yeah?” And he says, “I’ve got an idea. I’m making a movie. Do you want to be in my movie?” And I’m going, “Right, okay. Yeah. What would you want me to do?” “It’s a cowboy movie.” “Cowboys. Good, great. Fantastic. I’ve got the outfit [laughter].” And that was it. And that was it. He just gave us a script. And we wrote a little tune to go with the soundtrack for the film and all that. And it was shot somewhere here in one of the big housing schemes in Glasgow. A horse rides right through the middle of this park. It was so homemade, it was unbelievable. But it was something charming about it. It was fun. But no, that’s the only thing I’ve ever picked up at being an actor. No, no. Never again.

Didn’t you get any calls from Hollywood? “laughs.”  

Zal Cleminson: No, no Hollywood calls, nothing. No agents [laughter]. No modeling work, nothing.

However, it must have been a fun experience to do?  

Zal Cleminson: It was good for the ego.

Sin’ Dogs live at Sweden Rock 2019. Photo by Maria Johansson

 

DEATH OF TED MCKENNA  

One unfortunate thing that happened recently was the sudden death of Ted McKenna. That must have been shocking news for you and everyone because it was something unexpected?  

Zal Cleminson: No, it’s something that would never get over. I’ll never get over it, the shock of it, the way it happened. Because I’d just spoken to Ted a few days before and we’d been in touch all the time about the possibility of putting SAHB back together. Ted always wanted to try and find a way to bring it all back to life. I always had my doubts it was ever going to happen. So, we just kept in touch and then a few days before he went in for his operation, and I said to him, “Yeah, get in touch. Give me a call. Call me when you’re out of the hospital.” “No, I’m fine.” “Call me when you’ve had the operation. Call me when you’re back out again.” And then the next minute I get a call from a good friend in Glasgow here to say, “I just got a text. It says Ted died this morning.” And I’m going, “What? What are you talking about?” “Ted, Ted. Our Ted. My Ted.” I’m going, “It’s got to be somebody else, got to be a mistake.” And of course, it was true. And I just thought, “Fuck me.” I just couldn’t take it because he was playing, he was out touring with Michael Schenker. He was fit. He was healthy. And then you go in for a hernia operation, that’s what he did. Something went wrong. Don’t know what?

I read somewhere that he lost too much blood in the surgery, and that caused his death?  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Can’t stop it or something? Well, this is the thing. I still haven’t heard the autopsy report.  I haven’t heard what the post-mortem is or anything. I don’t know what the cause of death is. That still hasn’t been defined; I don’t think. So, anyway, it was so terrible. It was absolutely tragic, tragic, tragic.

Ted McKenna, and Zal doing interview a couple of years ago.

THE FUTURE OF ZAL CLEMINSON?  

It’s time for the last questions. You turned 70 last May, and as we just discussed, some of your colleagues and friends are no longer with us. Also, some of them have retired permanently. Do these things ever make you think your future?  

Zal Cleminson: It’s life.

Do you have certain things in mind you want to do before it’s too late?  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah. I’m just finishing off a book, a novel that I’ve been writing for quite a number of years. And I’m working on it every time I come up to Glasgow. I spend time working on that to finish the last edits that I’m doing at the moment. So that should be, I would think, hoping to have that book out before the end of the year. It’s a fictional novel set in the future. It’s a dystopian kind of typical sci-fi sort of approach. But it’s a book that I’ve had in my head for a long, long, long, long time. So that’s a project that I have to see through, I have to see it finished now. It’s so near to completion that it needs to be just put together and put to bed. And music is the other thing — obviously, the continuation of Sin’ Dogs. I have loads of ideas and songs coming up for the next Sin’ Dogs album. It’s all very exciting. I think it’s even better than the first album, musically. Song-wise, I think we’ve moved forward. We’ve developed a little more. We’ve got almost stylized. Got a little bit more what we want to be doing. So those two projects are the two creative sides of what I’m up to at the moment. Other than that, it’s just a question of trying to stay alive, like you were saying. You know?

I got you. One thing what I’ve learned about rock musicians during the years is that there are very few who have entirely quit music. If there is no serious illness or something like that, they’re still doing it in a form or another. I mean, the guys who started this all in the early ’60s, they’re still doing it. People do retire, but they always return after some time, because that thing is in their blood.  

Zal Cleminson: Yeah, that’s true. That’s exactly the way, yeah, it is. It’s what’s in your blood. It’s there from day one. It’s the only thing you know, actually. I’ll drive a minicab to make some money. Or read gas meters, or wander the streets doing something, trying to find a job. I found all kinds of jobs just trying to pay bills. IT consultant, teaching computer program, and all that shit. But you always come back. That’s what happened to me. I’ve come around this full circle again, as they say. Almost back to where I was with my first band Tear Gas. It was a very original kind of metal rock band I was playing in before we met Alex. So, for me, you’re dead right. It’s there in your blood. It’s there.

Also, the way of thinking has changed a lot. Especially in the ’80s, many rockstars stated that there was nothing more embarrassing but to see old men in their 50’s playing on stage. But things have changed a lot from those days?   

Zal Cleminson: 50’s, that’s young! That’s still quite young. That’s middle-aged, isn’t it? 50? Nah, 70 is the new middle age. That’s what it is. Also, I’m saying Sweden Rock. You looked at that band list, you looked at the line-up, and you looked at people, and you’re going, “These guys are still doing it.” Ritchie Blackmore is up there still doing it. And so why not? Why not? And if you look around the world to the point, you’re making, if you look around the world and you look at people as the whole age thing seems to have gone out the window. It doesn’t seem to come into– It’s not a consideration anymore about how old you are or how old you want to tell yourself you are. It’s how old you feel in your head.

I think this is a perfect way to end this discussion. Is there anything else you would like to add?  

Zal Cleminson: Not really. Just welcome to Scotland, both of you. It’s nice to see you. And good luck with the magazines. Good luck with the darkness in Finland. Good luck with your Winter [laughter]. Your Winters. Good luck, hunting [laughter]. Whatever you do up there.

Thank you, Zal, and Willie

 

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