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UFO flying higher than ever

A quick chat with UFO drummer Andy Parker about life in the studio for the band's latest album, “A Conspiracy of Stars."
UFO band photo 2015 HD 4C

By Martin Popoff

Hard to believe UK hard rockers UFO have been clanging hard for 45 years now, and regularly making new music — no “lights out” for Phil Mogg and Co. — providing an inspirational pathway to young bands who can’t see life past their 20s. The arrival of American guitarist Vinnie Moore gave the band a new lease on life five records ago, and skilled and creative touring bassist Rob De Luca has now entered the ranks for real, writing with the guys on their new record, “A Conspiracy Of Stars.” Here’s a quick chat with drummer Andy Parker (above, far right), who came back to the band just after Moore joined, but was also a founding member of UFO, helping blow up the British blues boom alongside the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

GOLDMINE: You recorded this new album with producer Chris Tsangarides. Did that help make the record a little heavier and a little less bluesy than the others of the Vinnie Moore era?

ANDY PARKER: It’s a little edgier, but I don’t know if it had much to do with Chris particularly. This band, pretty much, you get what’s around at the time. It’s not like we sit down and try to plan to a target — this is what the tweenies will like. The writing was down to Vinnie and Paul (Raymond) and Rob this time. Rob had at least a couple that made it to the final cut. And it just turned out a little heavier, as I say, edgier.

GM: So what did Chris bring to the album? 

Hong Kong

AP: Friday, we set up, got sounds and then started recording Saturday. I was done by Thursday. It went really quite quickly with Chris. He has a different work ethic to Tommy (Newton). I mean, I’m not knocking Tommy, because he’s done some great stuff with us. But Chris is a little easier to work with, I have to say. He’s not quite so demanding. Chris tends to listen with his ears more than his eyes. A lot of producers get involved with the ProTools, where you actually see it as a timeline, and you see the bar divisions and everything. And they get kind of hung up on everything being perfectly in time. And that doesn’t always work for me. I mean, in the past, I’ve had certain differences of opinion with Tommy where he wants everything to fall exactly — mind you, he’s German (laughs) — on the beat, you know. We’d go, “No, Tommy, it’s called feel. It moves a bit there, you know?” Where Chris is kind of different. Even though Chris has that facility, he goes, “I listen with my ears and not with my eyes.” He’s not looking, expanding the screen right up and looking at every microsecond there, and seeing if the kick drum is ahead or behind the beat. If it sounds good, let’s just go for it. So I kind of like that; it was a little more relaxing for me. Plus, Rob and I played all the tracks together — he was in the room with me – which I haven’t done for a couple of albums. Chris has his own way of ... he has this thing that I guess he learned from AC/DC. He calls it his analog snare gauge. And it’s an actual (laughs) ... it’s a cigarette packet filled with, I think, brown sugar or something, and taped up so that it sits on the snare drum. So when you hit it, it kind of flips up and folds back and deadens the drum. I’d never seen it before. It’s like on a hinge of duct tape. And it’s something I guess he got from AC/DC. But yeah, he said, “I’ll put my analog gauge on it.” And I’m like, what’s that? “It’s a cigarette packet filled with sugar.” OK. So it was kind of cool. It worked. The only thing is, if you hit the snare too hard, it would flip right off. So we would have to stop and tape it back on.

GM: Recording in a campground in the English countryside is a far cry from cocktails in the now-extinct Air Montserrat in the sunny Caribbean. What was it like recording “No Place To Run” back in 1980, with Sir George Martin, no less?

AP: He was a great guy, really relaxed, really laid-back. I mean, UFO was a completely different kind of thing for him, the way we work. In fact, he said this: “Well, I’m kind of used to John and Paul coming in with their acoustic guitars and playing me the song.” Well, with us he didn’t get that, because there’s no lyrics written and there’s no melodies or anything, pretty much until the backing tracks are done. So that was different for him. But it was great; he just has great ideas about stuff, a different spin on it you wouldn’t normally get. Having come from Ron Nevison to him, you know, very different backgrounds. Nevo was all kind of rock, and George had done everything. But he was really easy to work with, really laid-back. And, of course, God, he’s the Beatles producer. You’re a little bit nervous. And Geoff Emerick was an absolute pleasure. Because even by the time we did that album, 1980, when we were recording with George, his hearing was suffering then, so Geoff was really his ears. But George was all about arrangements and ideas. And there’s some great stuff on that album. I don’t know about you, but I still think to this day, those albums with Paul Chapman on guitar don’t get the attention they should’ve got. But George was less invasive. Ron Nevison used to get into wanting to tune the drums himself, and put heads on that he liked, to the point where sometimes it became where I couldn’t really play it, not to the point that I liked. He made the kit very alien to me. He did get a good sound, but we used to bang heads a lot over that. He wouldn’t like what he was getting. So he would put this head on and say I’m going to tighten the kit right up. And it’s like, maybe that’s not how I play. That doesn’t feel right to me.

GM: Again, a far cry from Gary Lyons, who did “Mechanix” for you in 1982.

AP: Absolutely crazy. Gary was a lot of fun, but he was kind of a crazy guy. You know, always joking around and stuff. At one point we had to kind of fire him off of the project. That was because he never came down and actually listened to what we were doing. We were at The Manor, in Oxfordshire, and I remember him, at one point, he was up in his bedroom, and he went, “I’ve got the window open; leave the studio door open and I can hear from up here.” Yeah, OK, dude (laughs).

GM: Well, it was good of you to give Chris some work again 40 odd years after the first time.

AP: Yes (laughs). He’s been doing it for as long as we have, almost; he was actually the assistant engineer on “Phenomenon.” Yeah, he had like a big mop of curly hair. But he doesn’t have that anymore. I had a big mop of curly hair then, too (laughs). Yeah, I do remember that. Back then, assistant engineer was everything from making the tea, sweeping the floors and then they had to stick those huge reels of tape on the machine and then do some of the editing. It was funny; we were talking about how his razor blades always used to go missing back in those days. He says, “Yeah, especially when you guys were in there. You could never find a razor blade.” But those days have passed. GM