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.
In an age where guitar heroes, providing they fulfil certain preconditions, may sometimes flourish, it look as if Gary Moore has a future as well as a past. And it is quite a past, almost a pedigree, as any aficionado of the heavier end of the musical scene could tell you. Today's pop stars, from the palest of National Health bespectacled intellectuals to the campest of bulging crotched rockers, are realising that one of the only routes to mass appeal lies in blending their own individual styles with the commercial mainstream. Gary Moore's highly successful single venture earlier this year Out In The Fields, therefore places him, along with Meatloaf and Van Halen, in a category of Heavy Metal acts who may conceivably become household names. In other words, his future looks rosy.
But let's deal with the past first. Gary's playing career began when he received his only ever guitar lesson. A guy showed him one chord and, in his words, he "...fell in love with the thing. I just loved the whole feel of the thing, the sound, and I just carried on by myself." Belfast born, Gary's first band was called Skid Row, and was fronted by none other than Phil Lynott. The association continued after a short break when in 1974, Gary joined Phil's earliest Thin Lizzy line up.
It was during the years preceding Thin Lizzy that the basis of Gary's style had been formed, shaped by influences from the leading figures of that great guitar epoch, circa 1970.
"All the great sixties guitar heroes like Clapton, Jeff Beck, Hendrix, Peter Green; you can hear all of those people in my playing. I liked the whole late Sixties Blues boom, when guys like Clapton and Peter Green brought the Blues guitar to a much wider audience by making it more commercial because of the image they had. Times haven't really changed have they? But it was nice that that kind of guitar playing came to be acknowledged as something special by a lot of people."
After only a year with Lizzy, Moore, already a highly respected guitar virtuoso, left to go and do a lot of 'diddly-diddly wang' stuff with the rather humourless Jazz-Rock combo Coloseum II. Run by virtuoso drummer Jon Hiseman, these two years were perhaps not the high point of his past career.
"With Coloseum II we did a sort of British version of what Chick Corea and John McLaughlin were doing, just showing off on our instruments. It didn't really amount to anything commercially, it was just something we wanted to do at the time. I don't think that kind of music will occupy a large place in the history of Rock."
In 1977, after some persuasion, Gary rejoined Thin Lizzy, and it was during this period that he had his first solo hit with Parisienne Walkways. Halfway through a turbulent tour of the States, Gary walked out of Phil Lynott's band to form his own band, G-Force. The final piece in the jigsaw, prior to the release of his first solo album Corridors of Power, was only really notable for collaborations on Greg Lake's Manoeuvres and on his eponymously titled LP.
Now a respected instrumentalist in all fields of Rock music, this year sees the release of Gary's second solo studio album Run For Cover, in the wake of successes scored by the single releases Out In The Fields and Empty Rooms. Among the album's main accomplishments is the fact that, although it is cast firmly in the mould of Heavy Rock albums, it has a surprisingly wide expressive range, with passages of extreme tenderness providing a colourful contrast on tracks like Reach For The Sky and Phil Lynott's Military Man to the more usual bombast and bluster associated with the genre.
Also commendable is Gary's realisation of his own role as leader and virtuoso within his band; his solos are persuasive, economical and dynamic, not the sort of thing to send the average punter diving for his Depeche Mode singles.
"That's the way I see the guitar. The guitar is my instrument and it's obviously something I feel for very strongly, but I think it has to be in its proper place and fit into the context of a song. On this album I've taken the approach that the guitar is the lead instrument only where necessary. I'm lucky enough to be able to say something in a very short space so I don't go for long guitar solos."
It's obvious that Gary's relationship with Lynott has been strained at many times. Nevertheless, Lynott's musical personality adds a considerable flavour to the album as a whole, playing bass and performing the lead vocal on Out In The Fields, and Military Man (which appeared on the B side of the single version).
"We decided to work together again simply because the song was suitable for his voice. When I wrote the song it didn't occur to me that it was the kind of song that Phil could sing well, it was just written. We did Military Man because it fitted in with Out In The Fields, and I've written a lot of songs like that in the past with sort of antiwar, political lyrics — whatever you'd like to call it. But they're just observations, just one aspect of my writing. On the new album it's really more personal issues that are involved in the songs."
Readers of sleeve notes may raise the odd eyebrow or three when they see that Gary, in addition to producing one track himself — Military Man — has used no fewer than four other producers on the album. That seems quite a lot bearing in mind that as the solo artist, Gary would also have had a considerable say in the outcome of the music.
"When I've written songs for albums they've always been of varying styles, and I thought it would be good to have different producers who are known for producing certain styles of songs. Mike Stone I consider to be a producer in the melodic vein so I used him on the softer songs on the record. We used Andy Johns who's worked with the Stones and Led Zeppelin for the heavier stuff. Mike Stone also mixed some of the stuff Andy Johns did because I wanted to keep a bit of uniformity on the album, and Peter Collins was the obvious choice for the singles".
As a highly regarded exponent of the electric guitar, Gary is lucky enough to be able to have guitars made for him, and these have played a part in the development of his own style of playing. Although he has a large selection of guitars dating back to the 1950's to choose from, Gary mainly used his newer guitars on the album, and is likely to do the same on his forthcoming tour.
"On the album I mainly used this white Hamer which is based on a Les Paul special and has a Floyd Rose tremolo system fitted — it's clamped at the nut so it doesn't go out of tune. Eddie Van Halen was the first person to draw attention to the Floyd Rose, and I find them the best tremelo system around. Also I used this other Hamer which is based on an Explorer shape and it's made of Maple so it's much heavier built. I also used Charvel guitars and Fender Stratocasters and stuff I ike that.
"I use Dean Markley strings and they're heavier than what most people use for this type of music, going from .10 down to .52, so they're quite heavy."
Gary uses a combination of Dean Markley Signature Series 120 amps (a rack of three), Gallien Kruger Amps and Marshall Cabs. The Gallien Krugers, which are dwarfed by the rest of the rig, look rather out of place.
"They look like little practice amplifiers, but they are actually a lot more elaborate. They have their own stereo chorus built in, two channels, a very dirty one and a very clean one, and a compressor which is very nice on the clean channel. They are 50 watts per channel which is a lot bigger than they look — so I run them through Marshall cabinets and it really brings them to life. You get all the bass end coming out, because obviously with their own little dinky speakers you lose that. They work very well in combination with the other amplification, the valve ones. They give it a nice edge..."
"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
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue: