One of the U.K.’s most endearing and enduring pop bands, Smokie, is currently touring Australia – yet again! Their tour kicked off in Albany W.A. and will take in numerous regional areas around the nation. I had the pleasure of chatting with original Smokie band member, Terry Uttley recently. “We’ve always done major cities,” he tells me, “but we also do the country towns. A lot of bands just do the capital cities and people living in more remote areas don’t always get a chance to see them unless they are prepared to travel to the bigger cities. We enjoy taking in the smaller towns.”
Terry says that he has lost track of the number of times the band has been to Australia since their first very successful tour here in 1979. “It’s a lot,” he laughs.
Of course, back then the line-up featured Terry Uttley on bass, Alan Silson on guitar, Pete Spencer on drums and Chris Norman on vocals. These days, Terry is the only member of that line-up still with the band. It was in the early 80s that the band took a hiatus which lasted about four years. During this time, Chris pursued a solo career. In 1986, Smokie reunited but eventually Norman’s solo career led him to leave the group and they were found wanting a new singer. Chris introduced them to his friend, Alan Barton and the band had found what they were looking for. Barton fitted in well and Smokie was back on the road again, with a new lead singer. But in 1995, tragedy struck when the band’s tour bus careered off the road during a freak hailstorm whilst on their way to Dusseldorf airport. Alan Barton, Alan Silson and Terry Uttley were all travelling in the bus at the time. While Silson and Uttley suffered bad bruising and cuts, Barton sustained critical injuries in the crash and he sadly passed away five days later.
The remaining band members were grief stricken. They had lost a dear friend and a highly valued member of their group and it would not be easy to replace him with another lead singer. However, when their friend, Mike Craft, auditioned with them, it was clear to everyone that their search was over.
The current line up has been together for quite a while. “Steve, the drummer and Martin, the keyboard player have been with me now for twenty seven years and the other two guys have been with me for nineteen years… so I think we have solidified the situation,” he laughs.
And throughout all the changes, the band has retained that same unmistakable Smokie sound. “That was the criteria whenever we took on somebody new,” explains Terry. “The thing with Mike is that we knew him anyway from our local town of Bradford. He still had to go through the process of audition but the job was his.”
When it comes to writing songs, Terry says that everyone throws their hat into the ring to see what comes out. “I write songs but I’m not prolific,” he admits. “I’ve written a lot of songs that have been on albums but I don’t sit down every day and do something. Mick McConnell, our guitar player, is doing a lot of songs at the moment. He’s got a solo publishing deal with Warners and so he co-writes with some people. He goes to Nashville and does stuff but he’s quite prolific and the rest of us just keep throwing stuff in. If somebody’s got an idea, sometimes we’ll just sit in a room and somebody will say ‘I’ve got this idea and I don’t know where to go with it’ and we’ll all pitch in together.”
“We actually have six tracks on our new album right now but finding time to get back in the studio is proving very difficult. In the last six weeks, we’ve been through Scandinavia and from Scandinavia we went direct to South Africa. From South Africa, we went home and we had four days free and then we went to Germany for ten shows and then we went home for about nineteen hours and then jumped on a plane and then came down here. After this tour, we’ve got two months free so I think we’ll probably get to the studio around February.”
Smokie boasts a vast back catalogue of hits and they all feature in their live show. Terry says that the fans would be upset if any of those hits were left out. “Everyone has their favourites,” he concedes. “So you can’t leave anything out or someone is bound to be disappointed!”
The band will be repeating what they did on their 2010 tour, when they were their own support act. “We go on acoustically so we can do what we want as the support band and play some songs that possibly people have not heard and then we take a twenty minute break and then comes Smokie, playing the hits that everyone came to hear. It worked so well last time and people were contacting our website asking ‘Will you be doing it again?’ so we thought ‘Why not?’ It’s an evening with Smokie. People pay to see a band and this way they are getting us for the whole night.”
Smokie began when Terry, Chris Norman and Alan Silson were still in school. Young kids with big dreams. “When we left school,” he tells me, “ we went our separate ways. I became a lithographic printer and I was just about to start my apprenticeship.” But another life beckoned. “And I went off into the wild blue yonder with the band as, as they say, the rest is history. But it took seven years while we basically did our apprenticeship playing in the pubs and clubs.”
He says that he feels sorry for some of the young kids starting out in music today as they tend to rely on talent shows and lack real experience. “For some of them,” he laments, “their career is over before they’re twenty.”
So, does he have a favourite song to perform ‘live’?
“I do!” he admits, “It’s got to be ‘So You Think You Know How to Love Me’ because it was our very first success in the music world. We re-recorded it in Nashville with Barry Beckett producing. Barry used to be the keyboard player for Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band and he’s produced Elton John, Dire Straits and Bob Dylan. He just came up with this different way of doing it. It’s ver similar but it’s a bit more laid back I suppose. We do a cross version of the original and this and just the end bit is the Nashville version.”
And somehow, in between the madness of a hectic touring and recording schedule, Terry has found time to write his autobiography, entitled ‘Life Beyond Alice’. The title refers to the fact that most people, when you mention Smokie to them, tend to automatically think of Alice and whatever happened to her? “What they really should be asking,” he suggests, “is ‘Who is Sally?’ After all, ‘Sally called when she got the word…’ is the opening line of the song,” he points out “and nobody asks about poor old Sally.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved