Ali "The Metallian" has been telling anyone who listens for years that the single most underrated live album ever released is Michael Schenker Group's One Night At Budokan released in 1981. While many cite live albums by UFO, Motorhead, Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, he has reminded many that the aforementioned opus is certainly under-appreciated if not a true metal classic. The man fronting that album, as well as the other albums from MSG's most spectacular era, is of course Gary John Barden. The singer had been AWOL for the latter part of the eighties and most of the nineties and has recently emerged from self-exile to work with Company Of Snakes, German/British act Silver as well as his other '80s band Statetrooper. Managing to track down Barden in good old England one sunny day, Ali "The Metallian" finally manages to chat with Barden and simultaneously pose questions to him which had languished on his mind for nigh on two decades. Barden is a congenial man who is seemingly oblivious to his status and standing within the hard rock scene. Seeing that coincidentally Barden is musically busy again, the timing for the chat could not have been any better. Are You Ready To Rock? - 08.10.2002
METALLIAN: Gary, Thank you for speaking with Metallian. Will you please begin this interview by telling the readers about your background, upbringing, hometown and family?
GARY: Ali, thanks again for asking me to do this interview with you. I will answer your questions as best as I can... a lot of water has gone under that bridge so far. My background is working class, born the eldest of four kids, son of John and Shirley Barden in a town called Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. I left school at age fifteen or sixteen to work as an apprentice printer at which I worked for five years. During this time, I played in local bands as a singer/guitarist and songwriter.
METALLIAN: At which point did you gravitate towards music? How did it all begin?
GARY: I had always loved music as a child. Mum used to sing with the radio which was on in the kitchen when she was doing the washing-up. So I heard all kinds of Classical, big-band and Frank Sinatra tunes mostly every day. She had a lovely voice and I think some of it rubbed off on me.
METALLIAN: The first the hard rock world heard of you was as the singer of the newly-formed Michael Schenker Group in 1979. Were you in any bands prior to MSG? Your immediately prior band Fraser Nash is well-publicized, yet there might have been other bands in your past.
GARY: The list is endless: Moses, Falkenhayn, Whiskey, Stormbringer, Foxey Lady, mostly all with the same guitarist Tony Collins and various other inter-changeable band members.
METALLIAN: When and how was Fraser Nash born? For what does the monicker stand?
GARY: I think Fraser Nash was born when I was nineteen or twenty years old. Fraser Nash was a fast 1930s' British sports car which was an apt name for the band. We played fast blues/rock with Tony on slide guitar which was very rare for the time. His influences were Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix.
METALLIAN: Did any of the members go on to join other acts?
GARY: As far as I know the others members never continued in the music business.
METALLIAN: Your joining MSG has always been a source of mystery to many. How was the connection made, given how you were an unknown quantity?
GARY: I assume you have never heard the story, so once again: Schenker was in Chrysalis' (his then record company) offices when he walked past the A&R's door and heard a demo tape I had sent of Fraser Nash. The chance of that ever happening are, of course you know, astronomically impossible! He asked the guy "who's that singing, I like his vibrato!" I had left addresses and phone numbers on the tape box and was then duly contacted. He came to a rehearsal with his wife, who translated for him as he couldn't speak English then, where I was rehearsing with Fraser Nash. We were rehearsing for a gig in London and a possible record deal. The band was intimated to say the least and slowly began to realize the score. I later left the band on the best of then possible terms. I had thought to myself, 'would they have refused the same opportunity that I was being given?'
METALLIAN: The period with your fronting MSG is generally considered as the highlight of the band. What was going on within the band and, in your opinion, why didn't Michael Schenker manage to surpass this era?
GARY: This is a very hard question for me. All I can reiterate is that at that time, in early 1979, Mike and I had that chemistry thing that writers have. Not to say that the other singers never had it or whatever, but it just worked for us on the MSG I, II and Built To Destroy albums.
METALLIAN: How did it feel to go from pubs, as you put it, to headlining arenas. That is what happened, isn't it?
GARY: From London pubs to worldwide stadiums and arenas... yeah that's a mindfuck. But that's what my life's dream was about, so how do you handle it? You handle it!
METALLIAN: Let us focus on my all-time favourite live album, One Night At Budokan. Will you elaborate on the set-up to this show and recording? What were some of the behind the scenes goings-on that lead to this album?
GARY: It was my first time in Japan. What an experience! A whole new culture, rules and regulations, language, dress, traditions, food and smiling people. We couldn't even leave our hotel, it was Beatlemania on those tours. The gig is set on the Emperor's palace grounds and to play there is truly an honour. I think most bands who have played there would agree.
METALLIAN: The album is peppered with some very funny lines by you. Was this the manifestation of internal tensions or merely a band jesting on stage? I have always wondered what the actual atmosphere was.
GARY: (Laughs) Thanks for thinking I am a comedian! I can assure you that I am not. Maybe I was kind of cheeky that night, but with drummer Cozy Powell throwing up in a bucket by his kit, he didn't like Japanese food, or vice versa, we all had to make light of the situation. The gig was the first 'in-the-round' show if I remember, 18,000 or 8,000 people, who knows? Could somebody remind me please?
METALLIAN: Please explain for the readers the circumstances behind your departure from Michael Schenker Group soon thereafter.
GARY: Keyboardist Paul Raymond and myself were summoned by Peter Mensch (Michael's then Manager) to inform us that Michael needed a 'name' singer and our services were no longer required!
METALLIAN: What exactly happened with your replacement former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet? How did you happen to be back in the fold so quickly?
GARY: Graham's departure was down to Graham, I was asked on the eleventh hour by Michael's tour manager Rob Cooksley to do the Reading Festival gig and I agreed to do so.
METALLIAN: Many understand that Graham was addicted to alcohol and incapable. One more MSG-related question: is it accurate that you were always accompanied by a backing singer? If so, who was this person? Why have him?
GARY: ... I sang so many harmonies on the albums. It gave the songs, I think, the MSG sound apart from Herr Schenker's amazing lead guitar riffs and solos of course. So that when it came to playing the songs live, to Michael and me, the songs sounded a little empty. On the early tours, God bless him, The Big Youth alias for Roy Suckling, sang backing harmonies. An example is the song Cry For The Nations where he sang like a bird I might add. On the last world tour we did, Terry Slessor from Back Street Crawler also helped out with the vocal harmonies!
METALLIAN: You were next found demoing material with Gary Moore. How were you to hook up with Gary Moore? Was he angered by your departure?
GARY: Gary and I lived in Hampstead, London (posh North London area) at the time and kind of bumped into each other occasionally. He was working on his album and also wanted a singer at that time. We did some demos on a recording barge in London, but on reflection he decided to sing himself. The songs truly suited him.
METALLIAN: You later founded Statetrooper. Was the name a nod to the US market? Furthermore, this band did not last for more than one album. Had the band split up or was the band active beyond one year?
GARY: Statetrooper was a name I came up with whilst being on tour in America with MSG. One of them pulled us over for a speeding offence. They are a very impressive and threatening force to deal with - sort of a Judge Dread-type character. By the way we pleaded stupid Englishmen and he kindly let us off with a warning. It's a pity 'Trooper' never did more, but the situation at the time was out of our hands.
We have re-released the album on CD now and the response has been incredible in Japan. Burrn Magazine voted it CD of the month for October and many other counties have also taken it to their hearts. It can be purchased on our web site www.statetrooper.co.uk. We are, even as I write to you, collating new songs for the next album for a 2003 release.
METALLIAN: Statetrooper is back?
GARY: Once we saw the incredible feedback from the sales of the Trooper CD, we thought it would be possible to do a follow-up album.
METALLIAN: Can you give us a few song names? An album title? Is a label confirmed?
GARY: I'm sorry, but all we have are working titles at the moment. There also is no deal, but there is interest from many parties.
METALLIAN: That is good news for the fans. At this juncture it seemed as if you vanished. Is that accurate or were you active in other bands?
GARY: I took time out. I did computer studies. I worked in an advertising and design company for five years on Macintoshes. That took the next five years up. I did a couple of guest appearances for charities, but as to putting my head over the parapet again, no I kept out of the music business for some time.
Gary Barden does what he's always done since he left school, and that is to work and pay the bills.
METALLIAN: On another note, MaryAnn Scandiffio of BlackLace and I have been chatting recently. Is it true that you were romantically involved? How did you meet?
GARY: Could you please say a big 'hi' to that lovely girl from me? In answer to the first question: yes! As for the second question: we met in London!
METALLIAN: Not where, but how did you meet! Regardless, were you two not supposed to be in a band together? What happened and what was it called?
GARY: No, there was no talk of a band.
METALLIAN: Please elaborate on your later involvement with NWOBHM stalwarts Praying Mantis in the mid-'90s.
GARY: Bruce Bisland, the drummer of Mantis at the time (also former Statetrooper drummer), said they were looking for another singer. He had mentioned my name to them and they were interested. I wasn't busy musically, so I fancied having a go.
It's a pity they only had the Japanese market cornered, because I thought the To Power Of Ten and Captured Live In Tokyo City were very strong albums indeed.
METALLIAN: Fast forward to the present day. Let us discover Silver.
GARY: Silver is the most enjoyable time I have ever had working on an album. Michael Voss the producer is the ultimate professional. The talents of this guy are immeasurable. We hit it off right from the start. The choice of songs, the sound, the choice of musicians... we knew it felt right. The sound is a hybrid of so many things that I can't put my finger on it. So I leave that to the listeners.
METALLIAN: Who is in the band?
GARY: The group members are former Gillan guitarist Berni Torme, drummer Marco Minnemann, Rainbow and MSG keyboardist Don Airey, Michael Voss on bass and Vocals and lastly myself of course.
METALLIAN: What sort of a deal is involved here?
GARY: So far we have undertaken the Silver and Silver Dream Machines albums. There is talk of more to come. If the response is anything to go by there may be possible gigs in the near future. The CDs can be purchased on www.point-music.com. Your readers will not be disappointed.
METALLIAN: Please elaborate on the new Silver album? How would you compare it to the debut.
GARY: Dream Machines has a bigger and more natural sound than the first Silver album. We found out whilst recording Machines that the songs had a cool swing to them and I am sure that is down to the amazing songwriting team in Germany. Still I am pretty sure that 'Silver III' will continue in a similar vain or even go up a notch... who knows?
METALLIAN: Earlier you spoke to me about a Far East show where you will record a video. What is this all about?
GARY: I am sorry to say that gig was cancelled. Due to circumstances beyond my control - aren't they always? - we had to pull out.
METALLIAN: Why did the Far East shows gets cancelled? Does this imply a video will not be released in 2003?
GARY: I am sad to say these were also cancelled and we didn't film the events. But safe to say a lot can happen at any time. Sorry to sound negative on these questions, but there isn't anymore info I can give you at the moment.
METALLIAN: In that case what does the immediate road ahead hold for Gary Barden?
GARY: Well as I said fans can expect a 'Troopers' 2003 and a 'Silver III' for 2003 which will keep me busy for a bit. I also have a family, my supportive and loving wife Suchitra, a beautiful young baby girl named Chimara and two dogs called Charlie and Elvis who need constant walking 24 hours a day. If there's any more I can possibly do, then look in www.garybarden.com which is a right riveting read (laughs).
METALLIAN: And to end the transatlantic chat...
GARY: My very best works and love and thanks goes out to you and your readers in Canada.
Gary Barden's discography:
Michael Schenker Group - The Michael Schenker Group - 1980 - Chrysalis
Michael Schenker Group - MSG II - 1981- Chrysalis
Michael Schenker Group - One Night At Budokan - 1981 - Chrysalis
Michael Schenker Group - Built To Destroy - 1983 - Chrysalis
Michael Schenker Group - Rock Will Never Die (Live At The Hammersmith) -1984 - Chrysalis
Statetrooper - Statetrooper - 1987 - FM
Praying Mantis - To The Power Of Ten - 1995 - Pony Canyon
Praying Mantis - Captured - Alive In Tokyo City - Pony Canyon
Silver - Silver - 2001 - Point Music
Silver - Dream Machines - 2002 - Point Music
Following Ali The Metallian's interview with Gary Barden, former Fraser Nash member Patrick Browne contacted Metallian with the below information:
I've just read your interview with Gary Barden from Oct 2002. Unfortunately the bit about Fraser Nash and its members is somewhat misleading. I was a member of Fraser Nash - I played the keyboards. After leaving the band I went on to tour and record with many other artists including Maggie Bell, Jim McCarty, Geno Washington, Roy Sundholm, Phil Lynott, Laslo and the Leopards, Paul Vigrass, Gary Heard etc. etc. I also had a recording deal with Crocodile Music.
I also made recordings with Tony Clarke at Abbey Road, did Research and Design for Yamaha, and played on pre-production stuff at ZTT for Trevor Horn. At the moment, I am writing and recording a new catalogue with a new singer, which we hope to have finished soon, ready to approach the industry once more with new product.
It is not so nice to be so easily dismissed, as you may appreciate, so I just thought I'd put the record straight (no pun intended). I've spoken to Gary recently, so I was surprised to read his comments, as you can imagine. But Gary was right about one thing though - check-out his website!