When i was 14 he became very interested in Rock and Blues music, i would go with my brother Dave who was trying to get a band together and watch, Dave had several bands the most memorable one being called Moonstone, this featured Dave on drums and singing, a guy called Paul Truswell who i learnt a lot of blues licks off, and a bass player called Mingo, they would rehearse at Woodford pavilion in Bramhall, Cheshire.
I started to learn blues and rock and roll on piano, and at the age of 16 started to play guitar every day, learning albums off by heart from bands like AC/DC, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, through Daves friends in bands i could get the blanks filled in and became proficient at heavy rock guitar within a few months, i would say that i was a natural at it, i worked hard but it came very fast and within 4 months i could play as good as anyone i knew.
The first gig i saw AC/DC was Oct 24 1977, ManchEsther, UK, Free Trade Hall, Let There Be Rock Tour, i waited after the gig with a friend and met the band, spoke to Bon, Angus and Malcolm. I had not heard the band prior to that i got invited last minute when one guy could not go so i got the lucky ticket! Cant remember the guy who gave me the ticket now he was from Buxton. I went on several gigs always meeting the band after the gigs. I became a fan but at that stage did not see it as a career.
The first guitar Gary had was from family friend Brian Dignan who just turned up one day with a semi acoustic guitar for me, it was enough to light the fire, within the same year i had an electric guitar.
Then in 1978 i got tickets to go and see the group UFO, world famous heavy rock guitarist Michael Schenker was playing with the group after leaving the Scorpions, the support band that night were a band from Liverpool called Marseille, i thought they were excellent and my brother bought their first album, that i used to listen to a lot, i was to cross paths with this band later on, the UFO gig was astonishing to me at that time i was amazed at the crowd they went crazy and rushed the stage, i joined in and came down from the balcony and broke through the security staff and got down the front, Schenker looked and played out of this world, he was the best rock guitarist in the world for me at that time. After that concert i became 100% committed to becoming a rock guitarist and rehearsed relentlessly 4 to 6 hours per day on my own, learning everything he could.
Michael Schenker 1979 With UFO This is me 1980, see the influence?
I had seen Michael Schenker play with UFO at the free trade hall by this time and i was in daily rehearsals sometimes playing all day. When AC/DCs If you want blood tour started i had a real to real copy of the album and i played it over and over learning every note of it, i would play for hours until my fingers had no skin on the end, i went to this gig Nov 10 1978, ManchEsther, UK Apollo Theatre, If You Want Blood Tour. Went back stage met the band, this time i saw it as a career and was asking the band a lot of questions about how to get gigs and promote a band.
Choices: At the age of 18 i had three choices;
Choice One; Go into the Royal Marine Commandos;
I had joined the Royal Marine cadets and enjoyed it, i went on training exercises, one in particular sticks in my mind, i went to Leak army base in Derbyshire with the Marine Cadets and they played a game called the Red Light game, My squad were dropped off in the middle of the night on the moors, we had to conquer an army base on the other side of the moors, you could see a red light flashing on and off miles away, in between the Red Light base and us were many real Royal Marine Commandos, hunting us, i recall occasionally we could see a bright flash and a loud bang as Thunderflash Grenades went off, we could see silhouettes of guys like us getting their arses kicked by the Marines, we decided to enter a stream on our bellies and crawled for what seemed like hours through the ice cold water. We came to a road and were just about 100 feet from the red light HQ, we sneaked across the road and came up behind them winning the game. I learned to strip down rifles blindfolded, creep up on sniper positions and fired many weapons that was exciting at that age. I was offered to go in as an officer starting at 16 and going through my education in the Marines and coming out the other end as an officer. I was very tempted and this may of been my route in life had i not got a record deal.
Choice Two; Work in Buckingham Palace as a Trainee;
On leaving school at 16 i did a few jobs that i did not like working in a supermarket and John Myers catalogue, i went to several interviews at collages to do craft catering and hotel management, i ended up going to High Peak College in Buxton a famous collage for hotel management, i was to do a HNC (Higher National Certificate) in craft catering and hotel management along with several city and guilds courses in wine and craft catering all basically for 5 Star hotels. I worked at the palace hotel in Buxton as part of the course doing 5 Star waiting and restaurant management, one day at Christmas while drunk i climbed out on to the top roof and took the palace hotel flag and had it as my bed spread for a while, the family thought it was hilarious, i was getting fed up of, mostly due to the travel everyday from Bramhall to Davenport train station, Davenport to Buxton on a train then from Buxton up to high peak collage, too much for me. Part way through the course that was given an option to go and work in Buckingham Palace as a trainee, this peaked my interest, but i really wanted to be in a rock band.
Choice Three: Pursue The Dream
The A II Z Group:
AIIZ started to play as a band around 1978 with me Joining 2 members of a band that had split, Dunc Rigby on bass and Jim Ensor on guitar had left enabling me to join with my brother Dave Owens on vocals, Karl Reti on drums and we then recruited Cam Campbell on bass. I had been playing in various groups in and around ManchEsther notably Bastille (a four piece heavy metal outfit) and being a natural rocker my addition to the line up changed the direction of the groups music. It soon became apparent to the members that the natural energy of this line up was fearsome, and set about creating a sound of their own doing all original material.
1981 Final Line Up: Simon Wright- Drums | Gary Owens- Lead Guitar | Dave Owens- Vocals | Tony Backhouse- Bass
What followed was an intense six months period of writing and rehearsing, which resulted in a unique sound and style. The band then set about arranging gigs to try this sound out on an unsuspecting public! After playing a few local venues, mainly pubs rock nights and rock clubs, it became obvious that the bands energy couldn't be contained by these venues.
We did not have promotional experience but we started to organise and promote our own gigs at bigger venues in the area such as Goyt Valley School, Hazel Grove High School (our rehearsal venue), Davenport Rugby Club, Bramhall Cricket Club, Bramhall Hall Festival and biker events at Stalybridge. The result of this was a very quick recognition by local rock fans that this band Kicked Ass! We gained a substantial following and would sell tickets in all the local pubs as well as to school kids, we played Hazel Grove school several times, and by the time of the last gig there we
were getting a thousand people at each gig. We managed to organise the gigs by using a local company for PA, they were experienced and helped us put on a good show. We had a lot of core fans that used to help out as roadies, they would come to all the rehearsals and sit outside and occasionally we would let them come and sit inside, they would also help us sell tickets that we printed ourselves, we sold drinks at the gigs to make extra money. For us it was always about the gigs never about the money, we used to go see other bands to see what they were doing and how we could improve our performance with what we learned.
1979 Original Line Up: Gary Owens, Karl Reti, Dave Owens, Cam Campbell
Gary and Dave Owens
Word started to spread further than just locally. At this point it was decided that the band should make its first recording in the form of a Demo tape for whoever wanted it. This demo was recorded at Smile Studios in Chorlton, primarily to get gigs and for the band to try to get a record deal. After completion it was obvious that these tapes should be used to give record companies to show what the band was capable of. What followed was pure 'show biz', as in being in the right place, at the right time!
I had been walking to rehearsals and sometimes pushing my equipment in a wheelbarrow. One of the houses that i passed on this long walk had gold records all over the walls. Never having been shy, i knocked on the door to the house and asked the man who answered if he could help me.
He invited me in and listened to the tape, after some persuasion he agreed to help by taking the demo tape to the record company he worked for in London. He gave it to the head of the A+R department! The record company was POLYDOR RECORDS and the head of A+R was Alan Black a famous guy in his own right. Two weeks later i received a call from Alan Black at the family home, Dave was there, Alan asked over the phone if AIIZ would like to sign to POLYDOR for an album and two singles deal!
Gary Owens - Lead Guitar | Tony Backhouse - Bass | Dave Owens - Vocals | Karl Reti- Drums
Photograph: ManchEsther Evening News
The answer was obvious. We were running round the house in a state of pure relief and happiness, we had all jacked our jobs to get the band of the ground, we believed in it that much. After the euphoria had died down, we realised that this in itself presented a whole new set of problems in that they had no management or representative to deal with a major label like Polydor!
After a brief period of panic, i had a bright idea, i took out the yellow pages and looked up Management, there were several companies and they started to phone from the list top to bottom. This was the second blind luck part of getting a record deal.
The first few companies managed cruise ship bands and then one company shone out, a national management and promotion company called Kennedy Street Enterprises. This company managed 10 CC and Sad Cafe' amongst other bands, and had promoted gigs for the likes of Rod Stewart, KISS and Roxy Music, more importantly, they were based in ManchEsther.
It seemed fairly obvious that to deal with a major label you needed heavyweight management. After an initial meeting with Tony Fletcher (a terrific guy and champion of the band, sadly no longer with us) and later Rick Dixon (manager of 10 CC) and a listen to the demo tapes Kennedy Street decided to take the lads on board. They organized a series of concerts for us to show us to record companies and other interested parties.
They used 10CCs Road manager to organise this, a guy called Zeb White, we were having 10,000 watt PA systems and lighting rigs at every gig after that, along with pyrotechnics.
At one concert at Hazel Grove School they had built a walkway over the drum riser and i had to run to the top of it and do a guitar solo while they set of explosions all around me, only problem was they set me on fire as i was not experienced in keeping my distance and was swept away with the gig not the detail, my pants were on fire as i ran down the steps and it caused a stir and people remember it now. The press had been informed by the Kennedy Street promotion machine!
In the meantime Kennedy Street put us up for a bidding war between various record companies like EMI, Atlantic and Polydor. Polydor wanted the band more and offered the best deal.
I got the phone call from Alan Black at home he said look out your window, Polydor had organised a limousine to take us to Polydor head office in London and we were signed immediately.
We were hanging out the window going through London having fun and shouting people on the pavement, it was the big time as far as we were concerned. Kennedy Street had negotiated tour support for us, we did not even know what this was. It meant we would be going on tour with major bands!
Hazel Grove Civic Hall Headline Concert July 3rd 1980 Promoted by Kennedy Street
Gary Owens - Lead Guitar | Tony Backhouse - Bass | Dave Owens - Vocals | Karl Reti - Drums
Photograph: Poydor Records
At this point AIIZ was still promoting its own gigs, it was at one of these gigs at Hazel Grove High that Polydor sent a mobile recording studio, with an engineer and producer, to the show. The idea was to capture the bands live energy in its natural environment, which was on stage. The resulting tapes were to become AIIZs first release. A live album titled THE WITCH OF BERKELY.
Witch Of Berkeley Live: Album 12 inch, 1980:
Catalogue Number 2383587, Tape Catalogue Number 3170587:
Originally recorded on an 8 track mobile studio live at Hazel Grove High School in 1979. Then touched up at Polydor and Eel Pie (The Who Studios) 1980, where we moved it to 24 tracks tape to work with for re mastering. Produced by Mike Robinson. The artwork for the release was done by Alwyn Clayden. At the same time we recorded at Eel Pie an intro track for concerts:
Witch Of Berkeley Track List:
Side One: 01 - No Fun After Midnight 02 - Lay Down 03 - Walking the Distance 04 - Glastonbury Massacre 05 - Danger U.X.B.
Side Two: 06 - The Witch of Berkeley 07 - Last Stand 08 - The Romp 09 - The King Is Dead
The album came shrink wrapped with a sew on patch, is as close a representation of AIIZ live as you will get in those early years, rough and ready, but packed with high energy and fun, as the crowd response shows. Mike Robinson from the BBC was the producer they sent to record it. Astonishingly this album was recorded on what would now be described as 'primitive' recording equipment, the fact remains however that the limitations of the medium in no way hide the sheer enthusiasm, aggression and free spirited nature of this work.
While we were overdubbing Witch Of Berkeley album at The Who Studios i was playing on a keyboard for ages over an hour while they were dealing with some technical difficulty, after i stepped out the back door and there was a guy there having a cigarette, he said ive come down to hear you play guitar, was that you playing keys? It was Pete Townsend from The Who, i was thrilled to meet him we talked for a while, it was not the last time i would cross paths with The Who.
Unfortunately during the signing process an un-resolvable disagreement occurred between Cam Cambell and the band and sadly Cam departed. It started when Cam being bisexual tried to pull Alan Black at a restaurant, Alan was straight and Cam was outrageous back then. I fondly recall going to a party in Reddish Stockport with Cam and his girlfriend, they got me mindless, i woke up at Knebworth about 30 feet from the stage where Led Zeppelin were about to play, i saw loads of great bands, Todd Rundren and South Side Jonnie and the Asbury Dukes, Led Zeppelin were out of this world. Auditions were held for a new bass player at Belle Vue Kings Hall, there were a lot of applications as we had been in all the papers, Tony Backhouse got the job.
While we were getting ready to go on tour i was cutting the stencils out so our new flight cases could be spayed with our logos and other info for the roadies for quick in out load outs, i trapped a nerve somehow with pressing down on the Stanley knife for so long, i could not move my fingers. We called the management and explained the dilemma, they sent a car for me who took me to a doctor in Bury miles away, and he injected me with something and within two minutes it was back to normal, never did find out what!
Iron Maiden in 1980
We went straight on tour with famous bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Girl School, doing big concerts. This was an excellent chance for me as an eighteen year old. I was put up in five star hotels I had no responsibilities, limos, girls everywhere, we had a tour manager to get anything we needed.
I was able to buy some quality guitars and was sponsered by Greg Burman from Burman Amps who provided me with 4 astonishing amps that were the best i had ever heard at that time, along with 8 marshall 4x12 speaker cabs and all the leads and footpedals i needed to go touring, and everything was flight cased. The whole thing was a huge step up for us, we were not interested in money and all our efforts were about doing great gigs.
The Witch of Berkeley became the springboard for AIIZ first tour dates. Supporting an up and coming band called Iron Maiden. This tour, although not apparent at the time, was one of the first real tours touting The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) movement, and public records confirm AIIZ's rightful place within this exciting time.
Iron maiden Tour: Started November 21st 1980:
21 November 1980 Uxbridge, Brunel University, (first concert with Adrian Smith)
22 November 1980 Leeds, University of Leeds
23 November 1980 Redcar, Coatham Bowl
24 November 1980 Kingston upon Hull, City Hall
25 November 1980 Newcastle upon Tyne, City Hall
26 November 1980 Birmingham, Birmingham Odeon
27 November 1980 Derby, Assembly Rooms
28 November 1980 Stoke, Hanley Victoria Hall
30 November 1980 ManchEsther, Apollo Theatre
01 December 1980 Nottingham, Rock City
We got on great with Iron Maiden, i did not like the singer who was thrown out of the band after that tour, the tour was a blur to me as we had not experienced this before, we had a lot to take in and think about and also learn. We learned fast and by the end of the tour we were playing great and getting good crowd responses. After the Iron Maiden tour we went in to rehearsals and song writing for a couple of months while the management set up the next tour.
Kennedy Street had never managed a heavy rock band before and were unsure as to who we would be good with on tour, i remember getting a call from Tony Fletcher asking if Black Sabbath would be right for us, i nearly fell over, i said yes and tony sent me a pack over, it included a tour itinerary and a copy of the new unreleased heaven and hell album by Black Sabbath, i played it till there were no groves left on it, it had Ronnie James Dio on as the singer, Dave an i both thought he was the best singer around, Rainbow Rising was one of our favourite albums. I phoned the rest of the band who were all in shock, this was a big step up for us, Iron Maiden were small in comparison back then, Sabbath were a world known outfit.
Kennedy Street sorted the finance with Polydor and that was it we were going on tour with the legendary Black Sabbath on their British leg of the Heaven and Hell tour with Ronnie James Dio.
We went into heavy rehearsals, none stop and got people from Kennedy Street to help us, we would be playing place that had stages that were 60 to 100 feet across, so we had to practice moving around, we used the Kings Hall in Belle Vue, this became a regular rehearsal place for us.
AIIZ went down a storm on the Black Sabbath tour, the crowd would be chanting AIIZ as Sabbath came on at many gigs, Sabbath were great with the band and allowed us encores. It started with four nights at Hammersmith Odeon 18th to 21st January 1981.
At the first gig Black Sabbath let off dynamite at the start of the show and blew every speaker in my Marshall backline, as the road crew had stacked them off to the side of the stage right where the dynamite was when we came off stage! By the next gig the following day Sabbath had ordered there crew to replace all my speakers, they went and got them, installed them and tested it all before i even knew, they were so efficient it was a wake up to us as to how professional their entire operation was, we would sound check for ages they would not bother most days, we used to play their songs in the sound check so we could have longer and help there sound engineers.
Black Sabbath at Hammersmith Odeon 1981 on the Heaven and Hell Tour
On the last night at Hammersmith Odeon we finished our set, we went down great, we got the crowd out of their seats and down the front and we were very pleased with ourselves. I left the dressing room to watch Black Sabbath play i was escorted to a side door by the Black Sabbath tour manager a guy called Mike Henley, right at the front of the stage where many people approached me and said the gig was great.
The lights were just about to go out and i noticed i was joined at the front by a very tall guy. He looked down at me and said i was a good guitarist and we did well, meaning the band, i looked up and saw it was Brian May from Queen, he was an inspiration as a guitarist, i had a conversation with him that i dont fully recall, he was there to get up on stage and do a guitar battle with Toni Iommi, wow i thought this is amazing!
The Dynamite was to raise its head again on that tour, at Bridlington Royal Spa Hall (thought this was winter gardens in bournmouth but thats not on the tour list?, also newcastel city hall is not on list)when they started the show the dynamite triggered the glass in the roof to fall on the crowd, there were many injuries and the concert was halted while it was dealt with.
The most memorable gig was at Cardiff Sofia Gardens we stayed at a hotel called the Eagle in Cardiff centre we through a telly out of the window to watch it fall to the street below and it smashed all over the street, crazy days. When we got to the concert, there was a riot going on outside, we were escorted in and while we were sat in the dressing room the windows were being smashed, cars were being turned over outside.
It turned out the promoter had sold 16,000 tickets for an 8,000 gig and disappeared with the money, so in a brave move and at the request of the local police, Black Sabbath and us went outside the front of the gig calmed everyone down and told them we would be doing two concerts one after the other so everybody could see the gig, that sorted it all out and we got a big cheer!
The last night of the Sabbath tour was in Cornwall on a beach in a huge hanger facing out to sea, they had the doors open and we could see ships anchored out on the sea while we were playing, Sabbath let us use their white rolls Royce to go to the gig in and as we came within site of the gig Sabbath had arranged to have our name huge on the building it was great and a top thing to do for an up and coming band.
At two gigs, Queens Hall Leeds and Bingley Hall Staffordshire, a band called Max Webster were to play, but they sabotaged our equipment on the first Leeds gig and Black Sabbath threw them of the tour. All the members of Black Sabbath were great to us throughout the tour, they always had time for us, always let us sound check for plenty of time, and acted in our favour when there was an issue, like the dynamite!
Black Sabbath Tour Dates:
Jan 18 1981 London, Hammersmith Odeon
Jan 19 1981 London, Hammersmith Odeon
Jan 20 1981 London, Hammersmith Odeon
Jan 21 1981 London, Hammersmith Odeon Brian May encores
Jan 23 1981 Bridlington Royal Spa Hall
Jan 24 1981 Leeds Queen's Hall
Jan 25 1981 Stafford New Bingley Hall
Jan 27 1981 Bristol Colston Hall
Jan 28 1981 Cardiff Sophia Gardens Pavilion
Jan 30 1981 Southampton Gourmont Theatre
Jan 31 1981 Crawley Leisure Centre
Feb 01 1981 Poole Wessex Hall Poole Art Centre
Feb 02 1981 St. Austell Cornwall Coliseum
After the Black Sabbath tour the band replaced the drummer with Simon Wright winning the audition at the Kings Hall bell Vue.