White Spirit 26th July 2022
Mal Pearson and Mick Tucker
White Spirit should have been a lot bigger than they actually were. Lumped in unfairly with the NWOBHM tag, the band was loaded with talent and their debut album received good reviews but as with many bands of that time, an unfortunate chain of events saw them split before their second album could be recorded and released. They did however record some demos for that second album but the whereabouts of the tape remained unknown for almost forty years. Then the keyboard player moved to France…
The Lost Tape
Q: Run us through the finding Mal.
Mal: Well Mick called me when we first had the lockdowns and he asked me if I had the tapes and I said I was sure we had but I had no idea where they were. I knew the two-track master had been destroyed but I always have a cassette white label copy of everything we do so I said I would have a look when I got back to France. I’m English but a French resident so I was allowed to go back and when I did, I started to wonder where it was. I started rummaging around the house and couldn’t find it but while I was doing that my wife said ‘Well while you are looking for stuff you can go and find that bloody bedside cabinet that was missing out of the bedroom’. ‘Oh…cheers…’ Now we have a big 40’ container which has most of my studio gear and keyboards and stuff in that we brought from England and didn’t use in the house and right at the back of this container, I found the cabinet all wrapped up in bubble wrap. I got it out, we unwrapped it, there was a lock on the front we had the key for so we unlocked it and there were some papers in the top drawer and then I saw the cassette cases. I wondered what they were and it still never occurred to me that one would be what I was looking for but then I moved the papers and saw the label that said Chiswick Studios and at that point I thought ‘Hmm…’
Q: You found the tape, how many nanoseconds elapsed before you phoned Mick?
Mal: It was quite a while actually. I thought I shouldn’t jump the gun so I left it a day or two and as it had been sitting in the container for god knows how long, I started spool it around with pencils to make sure it wasn’t sticking and when it moved properly, all the way forward and back again, I put it in the studio cassette player and sure enough, there it was. That’s when I rang Mick.
Q: Your reaction Mick?
Mick: I was just…this is it! This is going to be fun! (laughs)
Q: Right, so what happened next?
Mick: Well then the fun did start. Mal went back to England…
Mal: Yeah I went back and got stuck. This time we were not allowed back to France and had no keyboards or anything so it was all up to Mick.
Mick: Yeah it was ‘Could you put a bit of guitar on there Mick?’ ‘Yeah no problem’. I went through the album, each track, got nice sounds and then Mal said it sounded good. By the time I’d finished, Mal was back in France so he said he’d put some keyboards on it and after that he said ‘Hmm…can you put some bass on it Mick?’ ‘Yeah all right’ so I went off and learnt all these bass lines and put them on. Then we sat and listened to it. ‘It needs some backing vocals…’ (laughs) It went fucking on and on and then Cliff (Cliff Evans, Tank guitarist) spent two weeks sampling the bass and snare drums. Then he said ‘I’ve managed to remove the bass entirely’. ‘Oh fuck, here we go again on the bass…’
Mick: I did that and then Cliff says ‘I’ve removed all the guitars.’ So redone all the fucking guitars again. (laughs). I asked Cliff if he could just take the vocals off ‘Oh no, I can’t do that’. One week later…
Mal: Yeah. He rang up and said he’d actually taken them off and that’s when we looked at each other and thought right, now we’re talking, we can redo the whole thing.
Q: Let me clarify something. You pretty much did exactly what The Beatles did with Real Love and Free as a Bird, salvaging what you could and then building on the two tracks, is that right?
Mal: Yeah. Initially we just thought we would add something to make it a bit more palatable but then as the process went on and on, it became a point that we decided if we did it properly it’d sound brilliant but the only way we could do that is by lifting the vocals off. So then I said to Mick ‘Who are we going to get to do this then?’ and he said ‘Leave it to me.’
Mick: That’s when I got me little black book out.
Q: Just before we get that Mick, I must say, you’ve both done a remarkable job of not only restoring it but making it palatable for today’s music buyers whilst keeping a Classic Rock sound.
Mal: Well the thing is, I think me and Mick are the sound of White Spirit. You can take the music but if it’s not Mick and playing it, it won’t sound like White Spirit because we just have that kick when we play together. That’s what gives it the uniqueness from Blues to Heavy Rock to Metal. There are all sorts of things in there. The instrumentation was something we looked at and we spent time getting the right sounds.
Q: There have been other bands that have found lost tapes and put them out but I don’t think there has ever been a more celebrated line-up of guest musicians than this one. Neil Murray, Russell Gilbrook, Jeff Scott Soto, Steve Overland, Lee Small was it easy to get all those people on board?
Mick: I’ll tell you a funny story. When we started recording Mal said to me if you could pick any vocalist who would you pick so I sent him a Jeff Scott Soto video.
Mal: And said ‘Who is he?’
Mick: (laughs) He did!
Q: You been off the circuit a bit Mal?
Mal: It’s just that I didn’t listen to Rock music at all. I was completely on a different planet feeding cows in France. I did say he had a great voice but then said ‘Who is he?’ (laughs)
Q: Who else Mick?
Mick: I worked with Neil on Doogie White’s solo album and you’ve got to have Neil on something like this because he’s Classic Rock isn’t he? So we sent him the songs and he said ‘Yeah I’ll do it!’. I he then asked about drummers and I said ‘How about Ian Paice – is he busy?’ (laughs) but Neil said he thought he was working on his solo album…oh ok, fair enough. Then Neil suggested Russell Gilbrook and I contacted him, sent the stuff over and he said yes so there you go, that was the rhythm section straight off. So then me and Mal got all our stuff down and we needed some backing vocals. We got a friend in to do some on that original cassette but they weren’t that good and that’s when Mal contacted Colin Towns.
Mal: Yeah. I’ve known Colin for years since the Gillan tour – he used to make me sit and practice on the tour bus when they were all getting pissed – and he’s a great family friend. I called him and asked if he knew anybody in his big circle of friends that would be good for some backing vocals and he suggested Jamie Squire and he turned to be a backing vocalist on Strictly Come Dancing. It turns out that one week they were doing Metallica on it and he was doing the lead vocal so I said OK and I contacted him. We sent him a tape of Right Or Wrong and it came back and it wasn’t too bad but thought we could do a bit better plus there was his availability and all that stuff and then we came up with Lee which was Mick and Cliff because I think Cliff knew Lee. We got in touch, asked him to do the backing vocals and they were amazing.
Mick: There were four tracks where we couldn’t get Brian’s vocals to work because of tape noises, clicks and pops and all that so we asked Lee if he could do Better Watch Out and when we heard it, we just went Wow! Fucking unreal! Then we asked him to sing The Dice Rolls On. Lee did three vocals (the third being Don’t Say No) but Jeff wanted to do another track so we gave him Better Watch Out then used Lee’s version as a bonus track.
Mal: Lee rang me up and asked me how he wanted me to sing The Dice Rolls On and I was so impressed with him I said ‘Just sing it as if it were your song. If you want to change it, change it and we’ll work around it.
Mick: It was my idea to do a Bad Company sort of tribute as well and we ended doing Holy Water. We farmed it out again and we asked Bernie from Uriah Heep but he said it was too high for him, so we tried John Payne and he couldn’t do it because it was too high but then Cliff said he’d have a word with Steve Overland.
Mal: Steve was straight in there; it was bang in his range. To be honest, he would struggle with some of the others because they are outside his range but he got this one. We took the song and there was a bit in the middle we didn’t like so me and Mick re-wrote it, put like a Classical bit in which is more like White Spirit and done.
Q: All of this of course pays great tribute to Brian of course because he could sing the whole lot.
Mal: Yes. When we first met him back in the early days, he was a soul/pop singer in a band called Shy (not to be confused with the Metal band called Shy who the lead singer just happens to be Lee Small) and he was Hall & Oates fan – you could tell it in his voice with his phrasing – and when he came along, the first job we asked him to do was to re-write the vocal line of a song called Nowhere To Run. We just took the vocals off the Neat Records recording we had done and that ended up being Better Watch Out. It starts in G and then when it goes into A after the chorus, he couldn’t get there but we just kept shouting at him and wouldn’t let him out of the studio. His voice was starting to crack, he was swearing at us and we were just shouting at him ‘Get on with it you miserable bastard!’ and then he got it and he went wow! There it is and ever since that point onwards, he had the rasp in his voice. When we were looking for singers for this, I looked around for a live recording of Holy Water but Brian never sang it live because the high bits were done by backing vocals.
The Music and the Eighties
Q: Mal, I saw White Spirit three times in two months, 26th July 1980 Heavy Metal Barn Dance, 22nd August 1980 Reading Festival and 28th September 1980 Gillan/White Spirit/Quartz. You did get lumped into the NWOBHM bracket although you were quite clearly more than that. Did it frustrate you or any of the other members?
Mal: Initially it wasn’t because Neat Records had signed local artists and that particular tag hadn’t been used then. We sort of got dragged into it but it didn’t really matter and we didn’t care. We just thought we could play louder and heavier than some of the Heavy Metal bands, we just didn’t choose to do it. We could rip your face off as much as the next band but we could also pull it back and slow it down. The only frustration we had was that when we did big shows like the Motorhead one (Heavy Metal Barn Dance), we were supposed to be I think third or fourth on the bill but because we were the only band with keyboards, we had to go on first or second because the roadies couldn’t be arsed to move the keyboards around.
Q: You went on first.
Mal: Yeah we opened it and again we didn’t really care because we would just go on and do what we do anyway whether you are first or last.
Q: Mick, how did you get the gig with White Spirit?
Mick: Basically, they were the top local band; they are from Hartlepool and I’m from Middlesboro (about 25km). So what happened was, I had been to see them in a club and I left me Stratocaster there because I’d had a few beers (Mal laughs) so I went up to see them at Sunderland, had a beer with the lads and picked me guitar up and just around that time, Iron Maiden advertised for a guitar player and I said to Yanick (Gers) I might go for this audition – Iron Maiden require a guitar player and he looked at me and said ‘I wouldn’t bother, they’re shite’. (all laugh) That’s the gods honest truth!
Mal: I tell you what, just to back that up, before Mick joined, we did a radio interview with Radio Tees in Middlesboro and somebody asked Yanick that same question and he gave the same reply.
Mick: So what happened was, I went down to the audition, got the overnight coach from London, got there, went straight through the set, got me head down for a couple of hours expecting to get the bus back but they said ‘You got the job mate!’ That was it.
Q: I love the video for Runaway. Great times the early eighties. It’s vintage stuff with that opening shot of a tape going into a TPS-L2…one of yours?
Mal: Not that particular one, no but I do have one, an original Sony Walkman Mk1, yes.
Mick: I used to borrow it when I went home to sign on didn’t I?
Mal: Yeah! It had these funny headphones with big rubber earpieces.
Q: It’s a great video. Who put it together?
Mal: That was Cliff. He asked what we wanted to do with it and we said it was a goodtime thing so just do what you want with it. What guided it was that all the clips in it are royalty free because we didn’t want to pay for it.
Q: Well credit where credit is due, Cliff has done a great job on it.
Mal: Yeah. It’s of the time and bang of the time. There are a few bits wrong with it but there’s a few bits wrong with the recording as well but we leave them because it is what it is.
Q: I want to by a Mr Whippy when I hear the end of it Rock ‘n’ Roll (Is Good For You), what’s the story behind that coda?
Mick: (laughs and continues to laugh for the next 20 seconds)
Mal: We can’t tell you the real one because we’d have to kill you but basically, it’s where we come from, a hark back to the days when we were kids. There’s a bit of pied piper in there…
Q: Speaking of that track, Japanese bonus track, instrumental of Rock ‘n’ Roll (is good for you) which really brings to the fore just how good the band is writing and playing. Your piano playing on the middle section is very Wakeman-like Mal; one of your influences?
Mal: Rick Wakeman was the first record I ever bought: The Six Wives Of Henry VIII. I listened to it and thought I’d like to play it and back in the day you had a record player that would do 45, 33 and 16rpm so to learn a really fast bit you could slow something down but that would drop the pitch by two octaves. I used to learn it that way – learnt it by ear. I like his first two or three albums but after that, a bit iffy for me but that early stuff was a massive influence.
Q: Likewise Mick. I think this is some of the best stuff you’ve put down. Blackmore would have been proud of that solo at the end of Gotta Get Out.
Mick: (laughs) That’s not me…that’s Pontus Norgren! (laughs)
Q: You’re kidding! I could have sworn that was you!
Mal: He was too lazy.
Mick: Yeah so I got Pontus to do it. (laughs)
Q: Well let’s put it this way, when it’s performed live, it will be you playing it.
Mal: No Pontus is going to do it.
Mick: He’s coming with us.
Q: So, you are putting a live band together?
Mick: Yeah! Pontus is really up for it. His exact words were when we sat in the studio ‘Music! At last I can hear music!’ He’s had a word with Jeff and Jeff wants to do the next album but we are just going to see what shows we are going to get. We’ve got a few choices on bass: Gavin Gray (Tygers of Pan Tang), Lee Small who not only can sing but plays bass with The Sweet or Barend Courbois. Russell Gilbrook or Thomas Brogan on drums and we might have a third guitarist Micky Crystal. These are serious players man.
Q: No kidding. That’s going to be one hell of a band. Would love to see that here.
Mick: We’ve got to do it man! We gotta do it.
Mal: What we said was that we realised that all the guys in the album were in other bands and what we didn’t want to do was upset those bands so we are just describing it as a family and if they are available, not playing with their main band, they can come. You know if Russell is out with Uriah Heep, then we’ll get Thomas Brogan to do it. The nucleus of the band is me and Mick so as long as we are there, the sound stays the same.
Q: It’s going to sound good.
Mal: We’ll do some of the old stuff as well. We just started doing Midnight Chaser and Back To The Grind but we’re going to update them to 2022 standard.
Q: Terrific. Mick and Mal, thanks for this and lovely to chat to you.
Mal: You to mate. Ta-ta.
Mick: We’ll see yah!