“One of the boys told me what was going on last night. One of the boys said if I tried it, everything would be alright.” (Nazareth: Talkin’ To One Of The Boys, 1980)

This is going to sound crazy, but I wasn’t a massive fan of Nazareth. Sure, I knew their hits, hell I’d even blagged their entire album collection from Mountains storeroom when we were stablemates, but a fan? Not really. I partly blame Zal for this cos, back while I was babysitting his kids and he was driving a taxi, Derek Nicols, Mountain’s MD, tried in vain to convince Alistair into joining them, once flying him out to Canada to witness them perform to a huge sell-out crowd. On his return, he told me, “I don’t wanna spend the rest of my career playing Love bloody Hurts! Honestly, Billy, they’re not very good, and that’s me being generous for fuck’s sake!” I was flabbergasted. That was the most Zal had ever spoken to me, ever, fuck’s sake!

No Mean City lineup
Zal with Naz, Dan with beard

After he’d succumbed to their offer of joining and came home for a few days from the studio on the Isle of Man, Zal played me some rough mixes from No Mean City while I was fixing his daughter a snack and exclaimed, “They still wear flared jeans, fuck’s sake!”  “Been there, done that,” I muttered, the memory of a certain Swedish ferry springing to mind. (Incidentally, No Mean City is my favourite Naz album.) I attended Naz’s Hammersmith Odeon concert during the No Mean City tour as Zal’s guest with my brother Ian cos Mary wouldn’t go. A year later I was there for the Malice tour’s gig at Glasgow Apollo, again as Zal’s guest and took my mum cos Mary wouldn’t go. On both occasions, I thought Zal did okay on the new stuff, but he was overshadowed by some Manny bloke who was taking all the main solos. I should’ve taken notes. Also, on both occasions, I gave away our after-show laminates to the first fans I came across wearing SAHB patches on their denim jackets. Family ties and all that.

A few months later, Mountain Records went under. They’d been propped up by Nazareth’s success alone and, even discounting SAHB’s debt and failed signings (yours truly included), the fact their office was at 49 Mount St, Mayfair, London should’ve sent bells of alarm to Derek Nicols’ monthly outgoings but didn’t. The poor guy went down with the ship, lost his house and everything but so, potentially, would Dan, Pete, Manny and Darrell. Zal picked his moment to once again hide behind the couch and contemplate a return to a “Where to Guv?” vocation. This is when I inadvertently entered the arena.

It was to involve many arenas, and Mary still wouldn’t go.

“We’ve got to get it together. You bring the wine, we’ll bring the weather.” (Nazareth: Razamanaz, 1973)

I’ll be relying on diary entries here a lot cos, to be honest, this was a period of great upheaval. Firstly, Mary and I were certainly growing up too fast with the birth of our first son early in September and in November I joined a local club band, Easy Feeling to get a much-needed injection of live gigging. Then, on November 26th 1980, Delta’s Colin Robertson called:

Billy's diary
Billy’s diary

“Mountain’s fucked.”
“Aye, I heard.”
“Zal’s left Nazareth.”
“No change there then. Can’t blame him.”
“They need a replacement, big US tour comin’ up.”
“Who’s doin’ it?”
“Dunno, but Eddie Tobin’s suggested you.”
“What? Why? Suggested to who?”
“Pete Agnew, bass player. He asked Eddie if he knew anyone so Eddie told him you’d played with Zal and you were an alright bloke. He’s interested, he’s got your number, he’ll mibbe phone you.”
“What about our contract?”
“Early days young man, we’ll sort something out if you want to do it.”
After a brief discussion with Mary and our 2-month-old son, I wanted to do it, very much.

Billy's Diary 1980.11.27
Billy’s diary

Pete phoned the next day and we hit it off immediately. We talked music, family, guitars and fuel prices which were going through the roof at the time. Our conversation ended with Pete’s infamous quote: “Well, unless you’re an utter twat, consider yourself hired,” or something along those lines. Manny also called but he was much more, “Let’s see how it goes,” so I phoned Eddie for his opinion on the situation. “What you need to understand is,” he said, “Nazareth is Pete’s band. If he says you’re in, then you’re in.”

This turned out to be the case, still is.

“Baby You Can Drive My Car. Yes I’m gonna be a star.” (The Beatles, 1965)
A Piece of Shit

On December 5th 1980, Manny Charlton drove a BMW 3.0CSL and Darrell Sweet got behind the wheel of his ‘Ferrari Red’ Ferrari. Pete Agnew turned the key of his Ford Granada estate and it no doubt started first time. I owned a Vauxhall Viva, bought for me by Delta records, to replace my temperamental Mini 850 a few years back. It was a piece of shit, all Vivas were. On this day, however, it was particularly troublesome. All I had to do, according to my newest Uncle, Pete Agnew, was to show up and not be an utter twat. Showing up was proving to be the problem. A quick call to Eddie the night before:
“The car won’t start!”
“That’s because it’s a Viva. What’s wrong?”
“I’ve sprayed the distributor cap with ‘Start You Bastard’ and even parked it uphill to try bumping it but, fuck me, Eddie, it’s a piece of shit!”
“Use mine,” he sighed.
By ‘Mine’ he meant the very same Ford Consul he’d driven me to London in, almost two years to the day from when I’d joined Zal. If the Fife constabulary had stopped and searched me that day they would’ve found a 1959 Gibson 335 and enough weapons to take out a Glasgow triad gang. Thanks to Eddie, I made it through to rehearsals/audition/first contact with Nazareth and it went well.

Big Harry
‘Big’ Harry Williams

John Locke
John Locke

I’d previously discussed my basic equipment requirements (Marshall 50W amp, 4×12 cabinet) with road manager Harry Williams who assured me he’d need to quadruple it. “Trust me Budzo (my upcoming TV tribute to Buddy Holly hadn’t gone unnoticed) they’re fuckin’ loud!” Uncle Pete informed me that, before the US tour, we’d be playing a short TV show for STV, so we rehearsed those songs first along with the other new recruit, John Locke, on keyboards. John, like the rest of the band, was ‘brand new’ (Scottish for good guy) but was, according to my diary, being paid less than me. This would become a problem in the future, but I digress. During this time, Darrell took me for a spin in his Ferrari. We crossed the Forth Road Bridge at 150mph, much to my distress. My Vauxhall would’ve been crushed in the ensuing collision, even if it had been able to move at the time. My scream of, “You’re a fuckin’ Rocket!” was answered with, “Thanks Bill, I know!” (Darrell was clearly unaware of Glaswegian Scottish cos it was not a compliment.)

The TV show on December 17th went well although, like most of my early performances, I can’t bring myself to watch it now. Eddie Tobin’s advice two years previous of ‘giving it loads’ was adhered to and I can only thank Pete for not raising the ‘Utter Twat’ clause of our verbal agreement cos I certainly lived up to it that night. In my defence, I was young, eager to please and an utter twat, but this would be well and truly knocked out of me shortly.

I was about to discover what real gigging was all about.

“Look after young Billy, he’s only 21.”
Don’t worry darlin’, by the time we get home he’ll be 42!”
(Conversation between Dan and his wife, February 1981)
wee Billy 5m
With my 5 month old son at Edinburgh Airport

No, this is not a tale of Rock and Roll excess like you’ve heard before. Yes, there was mild debauchery, generally drink related (and the occasional donkey bondage fest) but usually, we and the road crew could tell lies our physical existence could neither have survived nor validated.

Fool Circle Tour Pass
Fool Circle Tour Pass 1981

Nazareth were, and still are, a hard-working Rock band. I had no idea what this meant when we left for La Crosse, Wisconsin in early 1981, the first date of our US tour. I remember standing on stage for soundcheck in the middle of the afternoon with Pete and saying dismissively, “We’re never gonna fill this!”  “Wait till tonight,” he replied. April Wine were our support band for the tour and I’d heard of them. Nature Of The Beast was a top 30 album in the US at the time, and Nazareth’s The Fool Circle most certainly wasn’t. But we had the history. That night, as I stood with my new bandmates behind the black curtain as Pete Townsend’s Rough Boys ended the backing tape, Pete put his arm around me and yelled in my ear, “Remember this. It’s special!” He was, of course, correct and his words were a gross insult to ‘understatement.’ Hard as it is to describe, let me try. Think back to a gig you attended by your favourite band. You’ve had your ticket for months, bought the T-shirt and everything else you could afford at the merchandise stall, then The Lights Go Down and the crowd, including yourself, scream, “Yeeeeaah!” Now, imagine you are IN this band. How would that feel? All the gigs I’d attended as a fan growing up came flooding back as I realised this IS It! It’s the ultimate Buzz, and it never leaves you. Up til this night, the biggest crowd I’d played to was around 500. This venue held 7500 and it was sold-out. I’d had the Buzz to a lesser degree at Glasgow’s Burns Howff in 1976, London’s Marquee in 1978 and even The Star & Garter, Maryhill, Glasgow in ‘75 when they let us leave with our lives. Dan had got it all wrong. I wouldn’t be 42 by the end of this tour.

I became 42 on the opening night.

“It don’t matter what you do, where you’re comin’ from or where you’re goin’ to. You can do what you like in the queue, but there’s No Spittin’ On The Bus.” (Steve Gibbons Band, 1978)
Lee Dickson

It’s fair to say gigging had been a learning curve for yours truly. In the early days with Phase, we’d travel in a long-wheelbase Transit van, typically with two roadies at any given time with one doubling up as the driver. The likes of Shug, Brian, Hutchie and Jim didn’t roadie with us for money. They did it cos they were our mates and they had no girlfriends. Therefore we band members mucked in with the loading/unloading, the setting up and everything else it took to play the gig. With The Zal Band, I didn’t have to do this anymore. Road manager, Tam Fairgrieves (later to become Sting’s personal assistant for decades) took care of everything. I even had my own guitar tech, Lee Dickson, who’d restring and tune my guitars as well as fix or even replace my amp during the ‘battle stations’ of a gig. Lee, incidentally, would go on to serve (again for decades) a 3-chord-wonder called Eric Clapton.

With Nazareth, it was what can only be described as a revelation to me. We had a crew who did everything for us. Davie Horner and Bob Thompson didn’t just oversee me, Manny & Pete’s guitar requirements, they’d be on high alert during every gig in case one of us was dragged into the crowd by some over-enthusiastic fan. Or, as was more often the case, just falling off the stage onto a bewildered yet still enthusiastic fan.

Pete n Doug
Pete taking Doug’s bung for bunk

We had two Silver Eagle luxury coaches, one for the band and one for crew though this was a flexible arrangement dependent on who was your new bestest buddy of an evening. My first lesson on Naz etiquette happened on the band bus. Tour accountant Doug Banker was a newcomer. He would later become long-time manager of Ted Nugent as MD of Madhouse Management but for now, was allocated a place on our bus and total control of the tour’s finances.
“I’ll have the top bunk on the left side,” I announced on embarking.
“Sorry Bill,” Doug replied, “But I already called dibs on that one,” and pointed to his bag on the aforementioned cocoon.
“Nice try,” I countered, “But last time I checked this is the Band bus and I’m in the Band.”
Woah! The silence was deafening.
“Ah, okay. Whatever,” shrugged Doug and removed his bag.
Minutes later, Pete took me aside.
“What the fuck was that about?”
“Huh? I’m the guitar player, he’s crew. I win.”
“Nope. Nazareth is a family. We’re all in this together. That was out of order. Sort it.”

Suddenly I got it and sorted it. Doug accepted my apology, even helped remove my bag from the bunk and replaced it with his. I’d overstepped the mark and would never make this mistake again. Unlike Pete, who the very next year following our Edinburgh gig berated a member of the venue’s security with, “Do you know who I am? I just paid your wages!” before being thrown headfirst down a flight of stairs by the ungrateful wretch.

Proving once again that Rock Star’s don’t bounce.

“We piss anywhere, Man!” (Mick Jagger/Bill Wyman to a gas station attendant, March 18th 1965)

On that memorable occasion, the Stones were relieving themselves against the wall of a gas station forecourt, but April Wine’s Myles Goodwyn took pissing in public to a whole new level. He’d do it anywhere.

Myles Goodwin

April Wine were a great support band on this, my first Naz tour but also quickly became our personal friends. Sometimes we’d invite guitarist Brian and drummer Jerry onto our tour bus and they’d just stay for the overnight journey, but Myles had a problem. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great guy too but, it’s fair to say, as the ‘main-man’ of the band he was, and I’m sure he’d agree with me here, a bit of a Star. The first time it happened left us Naz Boys speechless, well all except Pete who cried, “What the fuck is Myles doing?”  “Taking a leak,” answered one of his bandmates. “He does this all the time.” The fact that he was urinating into a plant pot in the middle of a packed Holiday Inn bar didn’t seem to phase them one jot. It certainly phased us and it got worse. A few nights later, we were all packed into the hotel elevator going up to our rooms after a show. Myles turned towards a corner of the lift, undid his pants and flooded the floor. The worst part was April Wine were on a floor below Nazareth, so when the elevator opened on our level, we had to sheepishly apologise to a waiting couple, “Sorry. That wasn’t us.”

Things came to a ‘head’ a week later during an after-gig soirée in yours truly’s room. “I need a piss,” Myles announced and arose from his chair. “On the left mate, near the door,” I offered helpfully. “Yeah I know,” he replied before heading straight for my open suitcase, on the left, near the door, but not quite. “Shit! Somebody stop him!” I screamed. Darrell did. In spectacular fashion, he grabbed Myles by the back of his fur coat and slammed him against the bathroom wall. “In there, fuxxake!” he forcefully advised, by which time Myles had got the ‘wee man’ out and was in mid-flow. It was the final straw. In an attempt to fix the situation without causing bad vibes between the two bands, we hatched a plan. Next night, me, Darrell, Pete and Dan entered April Wine‘s dressing room and took up position in the four corners. On cue, we all unzipped our pants and launched into a famous Who song with slightly altered lyrics. Even Myles saw the funny side as we delivered a perfectly harmonious rendition of:

“I can pee for Myles and Myles!”

“Need your picture, smile this way and will you tell me what you play?” (Nazareth: Telegram, 1976)

David Bowie once described his first tour of America as being like a fly floating in a glass of milk. “It’s drowning, but it’s taking in a lot of milk.” That’s how I felt as we traversed this vast land of ‘Milk and Honey.’ Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, (incidentally referred to by crew and band alike as the worst gig in the world due to being akin to playing in an echo chamber) was magical to me. Shit, Al Capone’s personal box was still there where he’d planned the St Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 while watching some Big Band of the era. The Cobo Hall, Detroit, a 12,000 capacity arena which first came to my attention on the back cover of Kiss Alive when I remember thinking, “Who the fuck could sell that place out?” Nazareth did, and I was with them. The Tower Theater, Philadelphia where Bowie himself had recorded David Live during the Diamond Dogs tour. We sold that out too. Even Kansas City’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall remains a fond memory of mine despite Pete’s words of caution: “We sell it out every time, but they hate us. They pay their money then pelt us with rotting vegetables.” I loved 3000 folks trying to hit me with tomatoes well past their sell-by date.

Flip 'n' Clop tour itinerary cover February/March 1981
Diversified Management Agency client roster flyer 1981
Auditorium, Milwaukee, WI advert 12th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse WI
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI 16th February 1981
La Crosse Center review 16th February 1981
Kaleidoscope cutting re 16th February 1981 show
La Crosse Tribune 17th February 1981
Brown County Veterans Arena, Green Bay, WI ticket 18th February 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour February/March 1981
Milwaukee Journal 20th February 1981
Milwaukee Sentinel 20th February 1981
Aragon Ballroom, Chicago
Aragon Ballroom, Chicago
Aragon Ballroom review 21st February 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour February/March 1981
Rose Arena, Mount Pleasant, MI flyer 23rd February 1981
Rose Arena, Mount Pleasant, MI review 23rd February 1981
The Village Voice 25th February 1981
Kiel Opera House, St Louis, MO ticket 26th February 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour February/March 1981
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, Kansas City, KS ticket 27th February 1981
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, Kansas City
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, Kansas City
Cobo Arena, Detroit, MI flyer 6th March 1981
Cobo Arena, Detroit, MI ticket 6th March 1981
Cobo Arena, Detroit, MI advert 6th March 1981
Cobo Arena, Detroit
Kiss Alive back cover
Flip 'n' Clop tour February/March 1981
Tower Theater, Philadelphia
Tower Theater, Philadelphia
Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY ticket 8th March 1981
Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH ticket 12th March 1981
Richfield Coliseum, Cleveland, OH 12th March 1981
Stanley Theater, Pittsburgh, PA ticket 13th March 1981
Tower Theater crew patch 14th March 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour bus February/March 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour backstage February/March 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour stage patch 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour guest patch 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour backstage patch 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour guest band patch 1981
Billy's missing baggage report 17th March 1981
Flip 'n' Clop tour itinerary cover February-March 81

Talkin’ To One Of The Boys rare 6 boys version from IMA Sports Arena, Flint, MI 5th March 1981

1981 band pic
A&M Promo 1981

By the end of the first tour, I was fully ensconced as a member of Nazareth. Not particularly as a guitarist though. Manny was still entirely in charge there but, despite his frequent lamentations of missing playing with Zal, the evidence led to the contrary. Sure, Manny respected Alistair and enjoyed jamming with him in dressing rooms, but when you get down to it, Zal was grossly underused with Naz. I should know, cos I was replacing him and felt grossly underused. Before anyone cries, “You ungrateful little bastard!” I’d like to make it clear that I’m with Manny 100%. He’d played on all the hits, he’d travelled in Transit vans to play shitholes to 3 people for no money just to get a record deal and now, here was I, a 21-year-old playing 10,000 seater venues thanks to his (and Dan, Pete & Darrell’s) sacrifices. What I contributed at this point were my vocals. Now Nazareth had three lead singers. Pete could sing like fuck, still can. Dan was the voice of Naz, but now we could reproduce the powerful vocal sound of the records live.

I had another string to my bow.

I’d written a song called Dream On which everyone in the band and crew was reminded of daily, thanks to Pete. Every hotel we stayed at with a live band in the bar would be subjected to Pete insisting I perform the aforementioned ditty to all and sundry. Sometimes the audience included record company reps and agency bosses. “Pay attention. This wee C*nt wrote this, and he’s in ma band!”

Dream On demo CaVa Studios, Glasgow 1979

By the time we got back to Scotland I was, shall we say, on A&M’s radar.