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Nazareth: Everything You Need To Know!

Axl Rose is a huge fan. Robert Plant owes them money. And they're toured and drunk with just about everyone. In 2004, Classic Rock looked at their career

Nazareth bassist Pete Agnew is reminiscing about a long-ago but important event in his life: “I remember the exact date that we turned full-time,” he says. “It was the first of July 1971, and our manager told us: ‘Turn pro, and I’ll pay you the same salary as you’re earning now’. We were all married at the time, so although it wasn’t much money it made things a lot easier for us to get really started.”

“But we took some persuading,” vocalist Dan McCafferty says with a grin. “We had already a few regular gigs and were making some nice spondoolah on top of the day jobs. We decided we’d give it a year. If it didn’t work out, then we could all just go back to work. And it’s something we do to this very day – every first of July, either Pete or I rings the other and says: ‘D’ya fancy giving it another twelve months?’.”

_Classic Rock _is at the Pitfirrane Hotel in Fife to hear the story of an extraordinary band. Nazareth have triumphed against all the odds, experiencing glory and tragedy along the way, and they continue to tour to the present day. Like the Pitfirrane Hotel, the group have patently seen better days, and were never too glamorous in the first place. But there’s something reassuring about the continued existence of this old warhorse.

Daniel McCafferty and Peter Agnew actually met on their very first day at school, aged five. Asked to share a double desk, they’ve been best friends ever since. For the overwhelming majority of that time they’ve also enjoyed the same music and been in bands together. But from the beginning, the pair’s ambitions were thwarted by the geography of their birth; the music industry couldn’t have cared any less for bands from north of the border. 

In 1967, Agnew joined his first group of note, The Shadettes – which is where they found future Nazareth drummer Darrell Sweet. “He was only 16, and played drums in a pipe band, and he used to turn up at our gigs in a kilt – sometimes slightly the worse for wear,” Agnew recalls. “We’d sometimes get Darrell up on stage with us, and he ended up joining.”

Until McCafferty arrived a year later, Agnew had been one of the band’s two vocalists. McCafferty became a Shadette under fairly similar circumstances to the way that Bon Scott would later join AC/DC: “I was the band’s roadie. When one of their singers decided he was leaving on the day of a gig, the boys decided to give me a try. They’d heard me singing in the van. But it was a case of straight in, and with no rehearsal. The yellow suit of Des, the guy who’d left, almost fitted me.”

McCafferty’s vocal trademark has always been his gruffness. And although he’s smoked all his life, he has no real explanation for the abrasiveness, or fortitude, of his larynx. “The only thing I can think of is that I’m a blue-collar guy,” he offers. “If you think about it, Bon Scott and Brian Johnson [AC/DC] had both worked hard all week. Maybe, like me, they took that aggression out on to the stage with them.”

The final piece of the jigsaw was Manuel ‘Manny’ Charlton, a guitarist the band had known for many years but whose appointment in 1968 spurred them to discard the strait-jacketed Top 40 mentality of the ballrooms.

“When Manny joined, he was the first guy to suggest writing songs of our own,” Agnew says. “We’d never even thought of it ’til then, because they employed you as human jukebox. Then suddenly Zeppelin, Purple and Spooky Tooth started to appear, and a whole range of possibilities opened up.” 

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