Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two Nazareth Stories a Decade Apart, and my Contribution to Rock History: The Long Black Veil

These Nazareth albums were a common sight in Greenhall High School corridors.

Two Nazareth Stories… in two separate continents… a decade apart…
Nazareth are a Scottish rock band from Dunfermline, usually associated with the worldwide hit Love Hurts, from their 1975 album, Hair of the Dog. I remember their albums as a teenager at Greenhall High School, just ten miles south of Edinburgh (maybe 25 miles from Dunfermline)… they were our real local band, no matter what Bay City Rollers fans said. Their version of Joni Mitchell's This Flight Tonight is still one of my favorite songs, and My White Bicycle is a superb rock song. I still remember the album covers, swapping bootleg cassette recordings… Razamanaz, Loud and Proud… man, those were the days.
Years later, in the early nineties, Nazareth played a Community Centre in Cowdenbeath, just ten miles from their home base, and I went along. I looked forward to hearing their hits, but I did have a hidden agenda… A few months earlier, BBC had done a cool local history series on various Scottish towns, and Nazareth had performed a version of The Long Black Veil in the closing credits… in the show they sang A-Capella, with only drums as their accompaniment, each band member beating some kind of rhythm, with a four or five part harmony. I waited through the first half of the concert, then they had a break… we all went to the makeshift bar. To our surprise, the band also joined the fans, drinking their beers, standing in a small circle, being ignored by most of the audience, most being far too star-struck to intrude into their circle.
Not me. “I’m going to ask them where I can get a recording of it…” I said to my first wife, who, to her credit, tried to hold me back. But it was too late; I was off, weaving through the groups, my target? The band.
Nazareth, Long Black Veil; A very bad still from the BBC credits

“Hey guys” I said quite nervously, I mean, they were Nazareth, but to my surprise I was welcomed into the circle with smiles and chinks of our glasses. “I have a question.”
“What’s up, man?” Dan McCafferty croaked at me.
“You guys sang on a BBC documentary.”
“Yes we did!” the band enthused. “Long Black Veil” they chorused.
I knew I was close to my goal. “So what album is it on?” I asked. Well… that threw the cat in with the pigeons… they couldn’t decide, they suggested various albums, then shook their heads, amicably arguing amongst themselves. McCafferty muttered to himself, scratching his chin. “I don’t think we’ve ever recorded it.” He finally said. “Do you want us to play it tonight?”
Well, what could I say? I nodded enthusiastically. They asked my name, and I shook their hands, gave my thanks, and left them to their beers. In their second half, after a heavy rock song, they all kinda drifted off their instruments, and shuffled to a line on the stage. One by one they picked up drums, some unscrewing them from the drummer’s kit.
“We’re going to do a request.” Dan said, “One we’ve never done on stage before.” The crowd cheered. I stood in awe, hoping that they’d go through with it. “This is The Long Black Veil.” They began a slow dirge beat, then as Dan McCaffrey stood to the microphone, he said… “This one’s for Ian.” I felt chuffed, and stood in the audience smiling throughout the performance.
The crowd loved it.
Nazareth; a more modern version of the band.

I next bumped into Nazareth in America early in the next millennium.
The local radio station in Topeka, Kansas, announced their concert in a kinda seedy part of Kansas City, and the race was on.
“Let’s go.” My second wife, Karla, said, looking to wind down after finishing a long day at work, “It’ll be fun. They’re your countrymen.” I have to be honest, I’d been drinking through the Saturday afternoon, so I couldn’t drive. I nodded my consent, although I didn’t relish the alcohol-free hour drive from Topeka to KC. But I nodded, and got in the car… I mean what else does a good husband do?
Well, we’d left it pretty late, and it was dark when we got into the area of the bar in question. Karla seemed to have an inherent idea of where she was going, and eventually, we pulled into a packed parking lot, just as the band got out of their large bus. “We’re going to be late!” I yelled, but no matter what we did, no matter what route we took, threading through the cars, we couldn’t beat the band to the door. I walked in right behind Dan McCaffrey, and the doorman put up his hand at my attempted entrance.
“There’s a cover charge!” he shouted.
“Thank God we’re not late.” I said, out of breath from our run across the parking lot. “I just traveled five thousand miles to see these guys!” I joked. “They’re from my home town!” To our surprise, the last man from the band turned round, hearing my accent.
“Where are you from?” he said in heavily accented Scots. I swear it was Dan McCaffrey, but like I said, I had been drinking. “Fife!” I shouted, laughing at the irony of the situation. “They’re with the band!” the musician said, waving us inside, challenging the doorman to take money from us. Heck, my accent had got me another freebie.
Well, they didn’t play Long Black Veil in the seedy bar in eastern Kansas City, but we had fun. We’d gotten in free, and my notoriety had increased a notch.
Today, as I wrote this story, I looked up Long Black Veil, and found Wikipedia’s listing…
“A version by Scottish rock band Nazareth was never released on an album, but is played at live concerts.”
My contribution to Rock History….
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