As a mere boy of 14, I remember with alarming clarity the night of February 27th, 1973. I was off to my first ever concert in Newcastle City Hall to see my heroes, Deep Purple perform. Even queuing up was exciting: I had made my own badge of Purple by cutting out their picture from Sounds, pasting it onto some cardboard with a safety pin on the back and then covering it in sellotape. I was even asked by one of the merchandise sellers where I got it from and if he could get some…he wasn’t so keen when he found out its story! Into the venue, and finally seated, the anticipation when the lights went down was so intense for one so young…and this was just for the support band who I had never heard of.
That support band was Nazareth and without introductions, they burst into ‘Razamanaz’ (the song). It was a revelation; a hard rocking number, which made everyone there take notice. They were so good, the audience wanted an encore and surprisingly, Purple let them. My heroes appeared shortly after and went through a superb set, but that’s a story for another day. All this for just £1, yes, £1! So that is how I ‘discovered’ Nazareth and it was the beginning of a loyalty that exists today, over 40 years later. I bought the album as soon as it came out in May of ’73.
The band formed in Dunfermline in the mid-60s and were essentially a covers band until, after hearing the Dead lyrics “I pulled into Nazareth” inspired a name change and tours outside of bonny Scotland. The extensive gig schedule brought them to the attention of Pegasus Records, who released the bands eponymous, debut album in late 1971. This was a solid record, which showed huge promise with songs such as ‘Morning Dew’ and ‘Witchdoctor Woman’. The following year’s Exercises album, produced by Roy Thomas Baker, saw the band taking on a very different approach with a very soft rock sound. They knew they had to do something different, to avoid obscurity, and began to write heavier songs more suited to their preferred styles of playing and McCafferty’s gravel-in-a-cement-mixer vocals. This resulted in Razamanaz and aided by producer Roger Glover, they achieved what they set out to do and released a truly classic rock record.
Starting with the title track, as they did the concert, ‘Razamanaz’ is a great opener with its heavy chords, thumping drums, bass and clipped lead guitar; it all comes together to make a hard rock statement. The next track, ‘Alcatraz’, is a brilliant take on a Leon Russell number. It shows the diversity inherent in Nazareth’s music. Still heavy, but with a slow, Native American beat and inventive guitar…although I have never really fathomed out the lyrics! A cover version of Woody Guthrie’s ‘Vigilante Man’ again shows their individuality. I remember guitarist Manny Charlton in his Stetson and knee-high boots (he was wearing clothes too!) sitting on a chair for this one and then, as on the record, starting a beautiful slide introduction into a fantastic song. No one has trumped this version (although Miller Anderson comes close on his Bluesheart album) as Dan McCafferty’s vocals rasp through the story with Pete Agnew’s bass and Darrel Sweet’s drums the perfect backdrop to the inspired slide playing. Last track on side one is an update on a song, which first appeared on Exercises. ‘Woke Up This Morning’, in this incarnation, is faster and heavier. It is their tongue in cheek take on the blues standards, with a slide intro moving into a heavy 12 bar riff and the lyrics about everything going wrong – not tasteful, but humorous nonetheless. Side two kicks off with ‘Night Woman’ with a clever drumbeat and brilliant bass from Agnew as it moves into a multi-tracked vocal – McCafferty to the fore, obviously, but the rest of the band show they are more than up to the backing vocal duties. (My 14-year-old hormones convinced me that the line was not on my cheek I felt her breath!). Charlton proves his slide prowess again with the rousing slide intro to ‘Bad, Bad Boy’. Another rocker of high quality by anyone’s standards.
‘Sold My Soul’ has a really haunting start and is heavy as hell ballad but with unusual dark lyrics and an inspired solo. ‘Too Bad, Too Sad’ is the least engaging track but still has a swagger as it bursts in with ascending and descending scales. The multi-tracking this time suggests – to me at least – that this was written as a single, even though it never appeared in that form. ‘Broken Down Angel’ rounds off the album with its poppy structure which proved to be a sensible choice, as it was a very successful single, achieving top ten status for the band and increased their profile via the airplay and Top of the Pops appearances it garnered. Not hard rock as such, but a damn catchy tune you cannot help but sing-a-long to.
In summary then, this is a truly fine hard rock record and deserves to be up there with the other great rock of the time – or any time. It took all of the heaviness of the day but managed to put a different slant on it and this continued with many fine albums, right up to the present day. Do yourself a favour if you don’t know Nazareth: start here, then check out their other classics – ‘Loud ‘n’ Proud’, ‘Rampant’, ‘Hair of a Dog’, etc.etc.