The blurred fingers of the guitar star focussed by the blurred gaze of Richard Walmsley
Gary Moore has successfully crossed over the Pop divide with his Rock virtuoso guitarist credentials intact and his second solo studio album in the shops.
"I'd love to go into the studio and do it live. I can't do a killer solo after twenty takes of trying to get the drum track right"
Another important part of Gary's sound production is his rack of effects, which he controls on stage mainly with foot pedals.
"The SDE 3000 digital programmable delay has eight programmes, and I have a switch which goes from one to eight. I have to be careful and look at the unit while I'm playing so that I can see which programme I'm on, but they're all different lengths and they have choruses and flanges set up in them so it's a very versatile unit. I use the Roland SRE 555 as my standard onstage tape echo all the time at quite a low level, so you'll only really hear it when I stop playing. It's just for adding depth. Also I use the Dimension D which is like a very subtle kind of stereo chorus which just kind of spreads the sound across the stage."
There's no doubt that Gary's choice of producers on the album took into account the fact that the album had to make it both on commercial and artistic grounds (assuming that those are separate issues.) However, whatever ideas the producers he used had, there were certain factors which in his opinion needed to be constant in order for the record to come across convincingly. Since he was the solo artist and responsible for the sound of the record his guitar sound was more than crucial.
"This mistake that some producers make is that they don't realise that the guitar has to occupy a special place in the mix in order for it to sound big enough. Vocal levels and guitar levels are pretty crucial to the way people are going to hear the things. If the voice is too loud it makes the band sound too small. If the guitar is too far back in the mix you hear the notes but you don't hear the tone and the depth of the instrument."
It's likely that what success Run For Cover may have will be partly due to its contemporary aspect and its eschewing of the more tedious excesses of the Heavy Rock style. On all songs while recording, Gary uses the minimum number of tracks possible to put his guitar parts down.
"I'd love to be able to go into the studio and do it live, but until we've come up with a way of doing it all perfectly in one taking and getting the best solo out of me then we have to do it the other way. I can't do a killer solo after 20 takes of trying to get the drum track right. The first couple of takes you'll get something good, but after that I'm playing it as a guide guitar which I'm going to replace."
Lack of studio hassle is an added bonus when it comes to using modern electronic instruments, although it was for more than just this reason that Gary decided to opt for a sophisticated studio production, including Simmons and sampled drum sounds on three tracks. You could say this type of studio approach is just flowing with the tide of modern trends, although I would imagine it's still regarded with suspicion by some Heavy Metal fans.
"I acknowledge the fact that this sort of technology is not going to go away and I appreciate it for what it is. I love the way technology has developed. Now you don't have an excuse for coming out with a bad mix. You have so many great things now that you didn't have 10 years ago, when you had to spend four days trying to get a drum sound before you could start recording. Now you can go in and get something done the first day. Until this sort of thing came along I regarded studios as a pain in the arse; a necessary evil. But now I actually enjoy it."
Of course reservations about using new, non performance type electronic instrumentation are hardly limited simply to the Heavy Rock area. In many cases it's not that musicians don't like the sounds that can be created, and many would welcome the increased commercial appeal. What they are probably most afraid of is having to compromise their own ideas and style with the limitations of an inanimate machine.
"I think Rock bands have got to learn to move forward with their production — also they've got to move forward with their songs and ideas as well — otherwise it's just going to go down the drain. A lot of these heavy bands are just playing the same way they did 10 years ago, and they're approaching the studio the same. Until they go into the studio with a Mutt Lange or a Peter Collins, or someone who is known for modern production, they won't be converted to it. I was the same until I worked with Peter Collins. I wasn't convinced about using drum machines or click tracks and sampling etc, but now I'm totally convinced that that's the way to do it."
It has been rumoured that Gary Moore has been involved in the development of the Synthaxe, and has used it widely. This last is in fact a fallacy, and in reality his role in the development of the instrument has also been exaggerated.
"The company came to me and asked my opinion of the design, and I gave them a few suggestions. The thing is, the triggering's not what it should be at the moment, although I believe they're bringing out new software to improve that. The strings in the right hand don't actually connect with the ones on the fretboard, so it feels pretty funny if you are a guitarist. It's really a separate instrument."
Okay, so what about the other leading contender in the stakes for the future of the guitar the Roland G707?
"When I tried it, as soon as you MIDI it up you couldn't bend notes on it, which is just taking away from the guitarist. You're having to compromise all the time, and until they can come up with something that the guitarist can just put on and play exactly the way he wants to then it's not really going to be any use."
For someone who has only ever had one guitar lesson, Gary has a pretty immense amount of technique. Like Eddie Van Halen, he's the sort of player whose prowess can command respect even from cynics of Heavy Rock. Where did it all come from then?
"As much as you can be self taught, I'm self taught. I learnt by watching other people, listening to records, and using chord books etc. But I worked a lot of it out for myself."
"With Colosseum II we were... just showing off on our instruments"
During a hitch in the photo session Gary determinedly sat going through solo-type passages on his white Hamer, oblivious to all other goings on. In fact what with the committments of his career most of the practise he does takes place at times like these.
"These days I practise when I'm rehearsing with the band or when I'm on the road. I still discover new things all the time, but I actually don't get a lot of time to sit down at home and practise by myself."
In the early days though, Gary got in as much practise as the next guitarist.
"I've never been one for practising really technical exercises, because I don't really get a lot of enjoyment out of that. I get really impatient with myself, because after I've gone through a scale a couple of times, if I don't like the way it's sounding I go on to something else. So when I play by myself it's always been a case of just improvising and seeing if anything new comes up."
So what kind of riffs go to make up Gary's style?
"A lot of my riffs are based around fourths. Things like Nuclear Attack where I use the D and the G string together and I just play patterns around that. The same Cold Hearted and Run For Cover, a lot of my riffs are just based around the third and fourth strings. Playing the root and the fourth together you get a sort of block sound, slightly oriental, not a melodic sound."
Gary's style when playing chords has come about largely as a result of being in three piece bands where the maximum has to be wrung from each instrument in order to get a powerful sound.
"I tend to use chords that are as full as possible because I used to have to fill in all the time when I was playing in power trios. I used to play like an E chord up the neck, but I would play a B on the bottom string knowing that the bass would play the E root underneath it, so you get this build up of fifths and that makes for a very mean sounding chord.
"The first band I heard doing that were Cream, and Eric would play the bar E and Jack Bruce would play the bottom E and it sounded very full."
I questioned Gary about what tricks he used, although he was understandably cagey about blowing the gaff on his more personal tricks.
"I can make my guitar sound like it's coming through a wah-wah — if anyone wants to hear a wah-wah! — without actually using one. It's just done by scratching it a certain way, and I did a bit of it on the Shapes Of Things To Come solo, on the live album where it goes quiet. But I haven't seen anyone else do it really so I'm not telling you how it's done. I turn my back when I do it on stage! The other thing I do is when I do the triplets on the bottom string and run the palm of my hand up the fretboard (towards the nut). You get this kind of harmonic descending thing like water running down the drain, but I've seen other people do that as well. A lot of my riffs, like the triplet things where I go chromatically all the way up or down the neck I've stopped doing now, although I still see other guitarists doing them."
For someone who comes across so fiery on-stage, Gary is remarkably quiet and down to earth in conversation, the soft tones of his native accent still present in his speech. As long ago as 1977 he felt a certain dissatisfaction with the cliches of the 'Raack' lifestyle, and it seems apparent that behind the approachability of Run For Cover is a personality that defies the categorisations of a cynical press. Gary puts it more simply; "I don't like to see barriers put up between different kinds of music. I think it's a shame that the festivals of the early seventies where there were all kinds of different bands on have disappeared. Now you have things like the 'Monsters of Rock' and they have to fill them up with third rate bands just to fatten the bill out. I mean the Live Aid thing had all sorts of bands and people just enjoyed it for what it was. The press make a big thing out of categories of music, but to me it's all there; it's something we're lucky to have and it's all very enjoyable."
Interview by Richard Walmsley
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