“Cos he’s a Rasta in a Ferrari, yeah he’s a Rasta in a Ferrari. Hey! Where’d you guys go?” (John Locke, 1981)

After celebrating Christmas and New Year at home in Scotland, 1982 began with the preparations for a new studio album, my first with Naz and we were all well up for it. Songwriting duties had become apparent to me during the year of touring we’d just gone through. Manny tended to write alone and had his home studio well kitted out for the process. I’d been round to his house a few times and we’d tried collaborating on various things, but they’d never come to anything. To be perfectly honest, I found Manny’s demos quite sterile and robotic mainly due to his favoured use of a drum machine and his, well, limited abilities as a vocalist. Dan could transform the latter quite well though. Speaking of Dan, he and Pete worked together in the complete opposite of Manny’s technique, usually at Dan’s house with a cassette tape recorder and Pete’s acoustic guitar. This again I’d surmised over the previous year was their method and was kinda set in stone. John Locke had been bandying a song about called Rasta In A Ferrari, but no one had picked up on it. Unlike my Dream On which, even this early in the proceedings, was agreed upon as a major contender for the new album. I had acquired the band’s TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel tape machine similar to what I’d used with Mountain’s demos in London, so I was in a good place recording-wise. Darrell however, didn’t seem welcome in anyone’s camp but happened to be my closest neighbour as we both lived in Dalgety Bay, Fife. He asked if I’d like to try writing together, so we did. The writing sessions took place at my house despite his being much, much bigger, having uninterrupted views of the Forth and its glorious bridges. This, Darrell argued, was best cos I had the equipment already set up (in Billy Jnr’s bedroom) and I also had his favourite whisky always to hand. I couldn’t argue with his logic even though the whisky part was only applicable because, although I had several bottles, I didn’t drink the stuff. Initially, I was warned off writing with Big D by the rest of the band cos, in their words, “Darrell canny write for shit!” This turned out not to be the case.

Big D
Darrell Sweet

Once locked up together in my child’s nursery with a bottle of Scotch, Darrell became a most amicable songwriting partner. Not in a “Here’s a catchy hook, let’s make it a hit!” sort of way. More of a “That’s shite, but I like where it’s going,” direction. I already had, the now criminally over-mentioned, Dream On under my belt, but this was from my CBS/April Music days when I’d been churning out, what Peter Shelley had called, ‘Writing to Order’ material. Dream On being one of the few not falling into this category. I sure as hell wasn’t going to proffer High Living to my extremely Hard Living new Rock pals, though Darrell might’ve suggested we change the song’s name to fit, had I played it to him, which I didn’t. I’d written a new song called Games which everyone seemed to like (I wish we still had the demo of it. Maybe someone reading this does?) The first track Darrell and I wrote and demoed together was Take The Rap which we finished on our first evening of trying. Before he left, I let him hear some of the old Mirrors rehearsal tapes. Preservation appealed to Big D even though I informed him I couldn’t claim to have written it (Paul, Mark and Mike would agree.) He suggested we keep it in mind. “Maybe we could ‘steal’ a bit of it later down the road,” was the way he put it.

No, the Biggie I’d missed from what was, even to Darrell, a challenging listen, came during the outro of another track. It wasn’t a main part, not the chorus or even a verse. It was a throwaway line in the song’s outro and Darrell jumped on it. “That’s a hook and a fuckin’ half Bill!” he exclaimed as he reached for another shot of Famous Grouse. “Let’s work on the bastard!” So we did and, within perhaps an hour or so, we’d written and demoed entirely from scratch the song which would become the first single worldwide from our yet-to-be-released or even recorded next album. The line Darrell had gotten so excited about was sung by me and Mirrors bassist Mike years previously and went something like:

“Our Love Leads To Madness.”

The Mirrors – Love Leads To Madness, Riverside Studios, London October 1978

“Hey, you, who are you talkinto?” (Nazareth: Boys In The Band, 1982)

It was a cold winter’s morning in Edinburgh when we set sail for the paradise island of Montserrat on January 31st 1982. When I say set sail I mean we were taking the shuttle flight to London then a 747 would fly us high to Antigua before finally island hopping to the volcanically active land of George Martin’s Air Studios. I arrived first at Edinburgh airport and, as was customary, headed straight to our mustering point and gave the order. “Eight pints of lager and two cokes please,” (there may have been vodka involved with the cokes, Manny never complained) then set down all the beverages at the nearest table. Dan was next to arrive accompanied by a balding, clean-shaven gent, who I presumed was Dan’s cab driver helping with his baggage. “Why are you wearing that?” I gestured to Dan, who had his brown leather jacket draped over his shoulders. “He thinks he’ll catch a cold in the fuckin’ Caribbean!” replied the stranger, in a strangely familiar voice before picking up one of Pete’s pints and downing it in one. “Pete! Is that you?” I spluttered, trying to down my pint in equally impressive fashion. “You better hope so,” said Dan. “Where else will we find a bass player at this short notice?” It WAS Pete, sans facial hair. Darrell and Manny, on their arrival, were similarly fooled even though they’d probably known Pete long enough to remember a time before he could grow a beard. I hadn’t. “You look like a billiard ball!” I exclaimed but only after I’d matched all my bandmates prowess in the ‘down in one’ stakes and he’d gestured, “Time for another?” From this moment, Pete became known for the entire duration (or til his beard grew back) as the Singing Billiard Ball.

The Singing Billiard Ball at Air Studios, Montserrat with George Martin’s chef 82
The Singing Billiard Ball at Air Studios, Montserrat with George Martin’s chef 1982

Air Studios, Montserrat pool area 82
Air Studios, Montserrat pool area 1982

We finally arrived on Montserrat and went straight to the legendary Air Studios complex. It was like no other workplace you could imagine. Swimming pool, tastefully lit decking adorned with luxury recliners and a fully staffed bar playing reggae music overlooking the ocean and, even on our first night, the sight of migrating whales in the distance. “No bad for a bunch of Scotsmen, eh?” spake the Singing Billiard Ball while gesturing open-armed at the spectacular all-consuming vision confronting us. I was speechless. Eventually, I regained some self-control and replied in typically West of Scotland fashion.

 “Who the fuck ARE you? And what have you done with Pete?”

“Im gonna tell you a little bit about this so that you’ll understand what I’m talkin about.” (Tony Joe White: Polk Salad Annie, 1968)

A word of advice to any artists reading this. By artists I mean songwriters, authors, painters, musicians, actors, screenwriters, photographers, kick the shit out of anyones, etc. If something is created only because you made it happen, then you are entitled to full financial compensation and due recognition. Sometimes circumstances can prevent this from happening.

tony joe whiteTake, for example, Tony Joe White. He’d written a nice little song called Polk Salad Annie in 1968, released it in 1969 to almost no applause, but was then approached by Colonel Tom Parker saying, “My boy wants to record your tune, son.” His boy was, of course, Elvis Presley. No, not literally. Tony was offered a deal. “Sign half the song over to my boy and he’ll record it.” Tony quite rightly protested. “But I wrote it! Why should he get half?”  “Cos it’ll make a million dollars if he records it. It’ll make nothing if he doesnt.” Tony Joe thought about it and replied, “Fuck you! Fuck Elvis! I wrote it. Its my song!” Elvis recorded it anyway.

I was facing a similar situation in 1982 but I wasn’t Tony Joe White. The bottom line was, this new album was about to be recorded and I had 5 songs on it. One of my songs, Dream On, was already a favourite amongst all involved, but Love Leads To Madness had been singled out as the single, and I’d written it with Darrell. Another, entitled Games, was mine and mine alone. Add to this, Take The Rap again composed with Darrell and, finally, Preservation which I worked on with Dan during the albums recording. Out of 10 songs I had a major stake in 5 of em. The deal I was offered sounded fair, but I didn’t have Big Tony’s balls. “In order for the best songs to make it on the album, we should split the credits and subsequent royalties 6 ways.”

the colonel
Jim White

Now, the fact that John Locke had contributed to none of the albums shortlist didnt bother me. Id have gladly paid him not to include Rasta In A Ferrari in the recording process, but I protested quite strongly about the obvious advantage Id have in the royalty department if the album were to be successful. That’s when Nazs equivalent of The Colonel, Jim White, played his card. “It’s been pointed out to the record company how much you’ve contributed to the songwriting and they know you can sing and play. Agree to this and I can see a solo career ahead for you.” What would you have done?

I signed my babiesaway, probably would do again.

“Feeling like a dead duck spitting out pieces of his broken luck.” (Jethro Tull: Aqualung, 1971)

Sitting on a park bench in North London, 1978, I’d scribble poems into a notebook, usually with the inspiration of a thing prior to mobile phones called a newspaper.

On one particular day, I was inspired by a headline entitled ‘Dirty Protest’ and got quite upset. What occurred to my young mind was how fucked up politics and even more fucked up its reactions were being interpreted differently depending on whose side you were on. On the face of it, political prisoners were making a point. On the other hand, according to the press, they were incarcerated cos they’d blown up innocent women and children in supermarkets. This made me a tad upset. The resulting poem I entitled Games cos it was how I felt all involved were playing the situation.

Dan at Air Studios, Montserrat 82
Dan at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982

A few years later, I put music to the poem and found myself alongside my fellow bandmates in Montserrat, listening to Dan struggling to convince himself it was worth singing. After a brief visit to a local bar, Dan took me aside and was, well frank. “Who or what’s this about?” he asked, frankly. So I enlightened Frank, sorry, Dan. “Ah, now I’ve got it!”

And he had.

 Minutes later we returned to the studio and Dan recorded his, frankly awesome, vocal in a few takes. “Where did THAT come from?” someone asked. “Ach, I just had to feel it,” was his modest response. For those who want to delve deeper, the clue is in this narrative. Otherwise, as someone once said,

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

“Are you good, are you bad, are you just unnecessary means?” (Prince & The Revolution: Tamborine, 1985)

In the Rock genre, certain songs only require one part to play. A perfect example would be Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple. What else could poor John Lord do but to replicate Ritchie’s riff?


A Naz equivalent would be Hair Of The Dog. Trust me, I tried to find something to counter Manny’s guitar part, but everything just sounded well, to use a big word, ‘superfluous.’ Zal taught me this valuable lesson when I attempted to add to his riff on Midnight Moses with SAHB.

An Impossible Dream.

Take the Rap early
Take The Rap early attempt

Lyrically, on Take The Rap we were struggling as Dan didn’t like what Darrell and I’d presented to the band when we’d rehearsed it at Shorty’s. Eventually, Dan and I got together at night, by the pool with some ‘pharmaceutical enhancements’ and rewrote the verses, after the backing track was already in the can. With this in mind, Take The Rap had Manny struggling to contribute to the song at all. To his credit, he simply sat it out as I’d do on some of his songs on the album. Despite being the penultimate track on 2XS, it was actually the first we laid down at Air Studios, Montserrat with John Locke’s ‘superfluous’ piano playing intact. I thought Manny would at least be entitled to play the solo but, again to his credit, he suggested I do it. So I did. “That sounds so much like Zal,” said Pete when I’d finished. “Yeah, but could Zal play it or would Zal have played it?” We all know the answer to that one, but I take a compliment when it’s offered.

In summing up, Take The Rap wasn’t particularly special, it was demoted to the penultimate track on 2XS, but for me, it was my first real contribution to Naz as a songwriter, studio player and soloist.  

“It was lined up on the mirror and you’d just started shaving,” kinda sums it up.

Take The Rap solo section

“You’re playin’ It Fuckinwrong!”
I know I’m playin’ It Fuckinwrong and I’m the C*nt who’s playin’ It!”
(The Troggs Tapes: studio outtake, 1970)

The recording of 2XS began as most studio albums do: With the drum sound which took a few days of ‘Boom, Bang, Tishwith variations of the same. The ‘musicians’ in the band gave this a wide berth and spent those days drinking and sunbathing. At the same time, producer/engineer John Punter made intricate but monotonous changes to Darrell’s kit using mics and wizardry, but mainly mics. Once the drum sound was agreed upon, we set up our amps around Darrell and began running through some, well, run-throughs.

Roadie Davie Horner, Billy & John Punter Air Studios, Montserrat 1.82
Roadie Davie Horner, Billy & John Punter. Air Studios, Montserrat January 1982

The first track we laid down only involved me, Pete, Darrell and Dan and was the simplest song to play we had: Take The Rap. Manny and John stayed out cos all we had to do was get Darrell’s drums correctly played and recorded, everything else we would add or re-record later. I remember being impressed by how quickly the song came together. It was just like playing live and we had it in the can in two takes. Impressively this was soundly beaten on Gatecrash with all six of us playing where first Dan says, “We’re rollin” then I announce, “We’re rollin” before John screams, “Take one!” cos it really was. A bit of a throwaway track I’ll give you, but impressive nevertheless.

John Punter & Billy at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Manny at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Pete & John Locke at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Billy at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Dan at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Pete & John Punter at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Manny at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Dan and Pete at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Billy, Pete & Darrell at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Darrell, Big Harry, Pete & Billy at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Pete and Dan at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Dan, John Locke & Big Harry at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Manny during the recording of Mexico, Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Dan at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Manny at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Billy at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Dan at Air Studios, Montserrat 1982
Darrell & Billy at HM Prison, Montserrat 1982
Darrell's drum notes for recording Games
Dan's studio lyrics for recording Boys In The Band
Montserrat Mirror 12th March 1982
Air Studios, Montserrat cassette cover
John Punter & Billy at Air Studios, Montserrat 82

Others took longer and with differing approaches. For Love Leads To Madness, just Darrell and I laid down the backing track with him on drums and me on 12 String. Everything else was overdubbed later. I remember playing acoustic again alongside Darrell on Manny’s Lonely In The Night, but that was all I played. By the next day, Manny had laid down every other guitar part possible. John Locke was laying down some keyboards which left no room for anything else except Pete’s bass, which I recall him offering me the privilege of playing. Not because he felt sorry for my lack of contribution. Rather that he didn’t want to play on it. Manny’s other ‘solo’ project You Love Another left me out in the cold so to speak and, by the time John Punter asked me if there was anything I wanted to contribute, I could only shake my head and resume whale watching on the terrace. Pete and Dan’s Mexico shunned Manny, however, as this was completed by me, Pete and John Locke. Even Darrell couldn’t get a snare drum in. Preservation changed from the Mirrors’ original so much that I’d dare any of my former bandmates to sue, but even I was disappointed in its outcome, likewise Dream On. In my opinion, we didn’t approach them with the greatest weapon in our arsenal.

We were a Kick-Ass Rock and Roll band.

Three songs we did with this mindset. Games, Boys In The Band and Back To The Trenches. On these we played together, at the same time and, with the power and confidence only a seasoned bunch of battle-scarred professionals could achieve. (Go on Naz fans, play em back to back and tell me I’m wrong.) Regardless, the recording of 2XS was a wonderful experience for yours truly. We even managed to be a Kick-Ass Rock Band outside of the studio by playing an impromptu gig at the local bar in Plymouth, the island’s main town, prior to our return home on 16th March. Audio footage, albeit poor quality, remarkably survived.

Maximus Disco, Plymouth, Montserrat 6th March 1982

My only regret was not making all of my thoughts (in hindsight, granted) known to my bandmates. Should I have? Fuck No!

I played in Nazareth, NOT The Troggs.

Maximus Disco, Plymouth, Montserrat 6th March 1982
Maximus Disco, Plymouth, Montserrat 6th March 1982
Maximus Disco, Plymouth, Montserrat ticket 6th March 1982
Maximus Disco, Plymouth, Montserrat 6.3.82
“You can’t swim, you can’t dance and you don’t know karate. Face it. You’re never gonna make it!” (My Chemical Romance: I’m Not Okay (I Promise), 2004)

Before we leave the paradise island of Montserrat (which many had to after the devastating volcanic eruption of 1995), it’s worth pointing out an aside to 2XS’s recording. The three singles subsequently released from the album were Love Leads To Madness, Games and Dream On. Madness was written by myself and Darrell, the other two by me alone. This did not go unnoticed.

Montserrat Dollar. “Come on, come on, listen to the Moneytalk” (AC/DC, 1990)

During the recording sessions, we were visited by various record company reps. One, in particular, being head of A&R at A&M records USA named Jordan Harris. Incidentally, we named our second son after him, which has since been rued by our son himself, my wife and I, Jordan Harris too I’d wager, and a large-breasted supermodel with no skin in this game whatsoever, but I digress. Jordan took me aside at the poolside bar and let it be known that A&M was interested in me as a solo artist. Nazareth manager, Jim White, had introduced us minutes before then had left to join the Playback Party happening in the control room. “Nazareth are on the way out,” he confided. “Album sales are dropping, they’re relying on past success, the new stuff isn’t getting airplay. They’re getting old. But you? You’re young. You can sing. You can play. You write great songs. You know karate etc.” The point is, he played me like a violin but he was kinda right. Much as I considered myself part of Nazareth, I hadn’t been involved with the success of Hair Of The Dog, Love Hurts, This Flight Tonight and all the other highlights that helped them sell out arenas. Their last few albums had barely dented the US or European charts and neither would 2XS or any other, even now.

Here was an opportunity, as Jordan himself called it. “We’ll give you some money. Go into the studio and record some Billy Rankin material. Not Nazareth stuff. Billy Rankin stuff.” What the Fuck was that? Who was Billy Rankin? Guitar player with Nazareth? Singer of Dream On? Songwriter for Barry Manilow?

I had already grown up a little too fast for my own liking but, Hey! When youre young, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

“You Never Give Me Your Money, you only give me your funny paper.” (The Beatles, 1969)
Back home after recording 2XS, my mailbox got stuff it had never received before. Firstly, there was the acetate of the album itself which we all got courtesy of the record company and required our approval. I played it on the family’s Panasonic music centre (it WAS a thing, look it up) and it sounded just as I expected, so gave my thumbs up as did the rest of the band. Then, some examples of artwork arrived. We’d already agreed on 2XS as the album title as in the subsequent promotional catchphrase ‘I do everything 2XS’ which made sense to us, but would confuse the hell out of many a journalist and fan who misinterpreted it as ‘2 times 5.’ We approved this too when, after a band meeting at the Pitfirrane Arms, Crossford (our rendezvous location since I’d joined the band and just around the corner from Pete’s house) we got pished and agreed it could be misconstrued in various ways depending on how dumb or just pished you were. The blazing front cover contrasting with the burnt out back sleeve worked for us.
Pitfirrane Arms (now hotel)
2XS acetate label 1982
Pitfirrane Arms

What no one else in Nazareth got through their letterbox was proposals and contractual negotiations from A&M regarding a solo deal, all forwarded to me by Jim White (Nazareth’s manager, remember) with specific instructions NOT to be shared with my bandmates. In true Scottish spirit, I wasted no time in sharing this restricted information with my bandmates, partly because I didn’t want to be a devious shit, but more so cos I could remind them I was young and up-and-coming whereas they weren’t. To my surprise, and Jim White’s annoyance at my betrayal, Dan, Pete, Manny and John were chuffed for me. Darrell not so much cos, after all, we’d just formed a songwriting bond resulting in Love Leads To Madness being chosen as the first single from the album. After convincing him I still wanted to write together (even on my solo project if warranted, we never did) Darrell also appeared happy for my opportunity. Regardless, I was still very much a Naz member and we began promotional work for the new release starting with a video for Madness which we filmed in London. Now I consider this as one of the Top 4 Worst Videos Ever Made, but sometimes I console myself with the fact that I’m in the other 3 as well.

Jayne Andrew & Kenney Jones
Jayne Andrew & Kenney Jones

The girl featured in the Madness video, and the femme fatale responsible for Dan stoving my head in with a non-singing billiard ball, was model Jayne Andrew, the then-girlfriend and now long-standing wife of Faces and, later, Who drummer Kenney Jones. The director was a very affable chap I think was called Storm (or something like that, maybe someone can help here?) who seemed to know what he was doing. A brief viewing of the video will confirm he didn’t, especially at the end where we see Dan drive off in his sports car with Jayne. Dan was, and still is, the only member of Nazareth who doesn’t possess a driving licence. The single was backed by Take The Rap, another Rankin/Sweet ditty and, although it got favourable reviews and radio airplay, it didn’t set the charts on fire. Oh, how we scoffed when our German label Phonogram cited Dream On as the großer Hit though they would be proven correct in due course.

George Martin at Air Studios
George Martin at Air Studios, Montserrat

Back to my mailbox. The other letter we all received personally to our homes was from none other than Beatles producer and Air Studios owner, George Martin. “How the fuck did he get our addresses?” asked a bemused Pete before remembering we’d given him them in the hope he’d put us in his Filofax (again, look it up, it WAS a thing) beside his other famous friends. The letter itself thanked us personally for choosing his facilities but was critical of our management’s refusal to pay our bar bill. “You seem to believe we have overcharged on this matter,” George elucidated before going on, “But even though I can’t personally imagine so much alcohol being consumed by so few, I wish to congratulate you. You spilt more drink than Sheena Easton’s entire entourage drank during their time in Montserrat.” He ended the note in no uncertain terms: “Own up Billy. You drank it. Please pay up!” After a brief drinking session at the Pit, we all agreed to ignore a clearly deluded ex-Beatles producer when Dan enquired,

“Who’s Sheena Easton?”