UFO were the first band I ever went to see live as a callow long haired 15 year old rocker back in July 1978 at the Nottingham Playhouse theatre. The line up that day included 3 of the line up at tonight’s gig at 53 degrees in Preston, namely singer Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker and guitarist/keyboards Paul Raymond as well as other founder member Pete Way on bass and the mercurial Michael Schenker on lead guitar. Michael Schenker is long gone and tonight’s line up included American Vinnie Moore on lead guitar plus A N Other bassist for hire. I have no idea who was playing bass as he was never introduced but he was a bit younger that the other band members (about 40) but had the skinny black tea-shirted look of a bit of a rock n roll survivor and the sucked in cheek-bones to match – and bad tattoos.
This was my first time to 53 Degrees which is on the edge of the relatively new UCLAN the expansion of which has gone some way into reviving Preston from a decaying Northern town into a slightly more vibrant city and appeared to be a modern, purpose built venue with good eye-lines and decent facilities (bar). Ticket availability on the door suggested the 1,500 capacity venue wasn’t quite sold out but there was a decent sized crowd there to see the band now in their 44th year!
We got there in good time to buy a drink and find a spot to stand before the band came on to open with perennial classic Lights Out. The one thing that immediately struck me was the pace of the song seemed slower than the original album version and other recorded live versions. Perhaps it was no wonder, Phil Mogg (who I recently discovered I share a birthday with) is approaching 65 while Raymond is only two and a half years off his 70th birthday! Lights Out was immediately followed by (think I’ve got this right) Mother Mary and Let It Roll and you suddenly realised you were watching a class act with a brilliant back catalogue of top rock songs. The classics were followed by a couple of new songs from the new album Seven Deadly but bar a track from The Visitor album ‘Hell Driver’ the rest of the set was made up of songs from the classic ‘Schenker’ years all appearing on the magnificent Strangers In The Night love album.
The last time I saw UFO when they reunited with Schenker to tour in about 1995 when Schenker and Pete Way appeared to take centre stage and Mogg very much remained ‘stage rear’ and appeared at times to hold the microphone some distance from his mouth which I felt was to avoid us hearing his struggling vocal. But tonight he was in great form (for his age) definitely leading the band with a great rapport with American guitarist Vinnie More and loud and clear on the vocals. Whereas he’s gone from skinny jeaned chanteur in his older age he’s become camper and grumpy who wouldn’t look out of place doing stand-up in a local comedy club! But it was a nice touch when he remembered a local musician now departed. UFO have had great guitarists in the path so it’s impossible not to compare Moore with his predecessors, especially Schenker and his successor Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman. Chapman gave UFO a sometimes darker feel and also a pop-rock feel especially on the brilliant Wild The Willing And The Innocent album following Schenker’s melodic and thrilling riffs and soloing. Moore appears less fluid that especially Schenker and his CV suggests he’s played at the highest level with, amongst others, Alice Cooper, but never really played in a band at the top table. Not that I know much about guitar playing but I thought he might be a bit of a classicist at heart rather than natural born rocker but there were shades of Schenker when he held his guitar behind his neck and continued with a ripping solo, which it was great to see the mystery bassist joining in with. Perhaps a bit too much reverb on his solo during Rock Bottom and he certainly looked more comfortable playing his own compositions rather than from the UFO back catalogue. Raymond, in spite of his highlights and un-changing hair style looked his age at times and Andy Parker kept a steady beat at the back but there was no reason to fault them musically as they kept faith to the classics.
A great gig, much appreciated by us ageing rockers which also appeared genuinely received by the band members. Long may UFO continue to knock out the classic songs, here is what I remember to be the set list (not necessarily in order):
Let It Roll
Only You Can Rock Me
Love To Love
Too Hot To Handle
Burn Your House Down
Encore: Doctor Doctor and Shoot Shoot