On his back is the slogan “Now your messing with the son of a bitch”, The lyric goes back to the 70’s and a classic song from Scottish rockers Nazareth. The man in the T-shirt does too. Manny Charlton was the man behind the band’s gritty rock riffs and involved in the writing of such band classics as ‘Razamanaz’ and ‘Expect No Mercy’. I’m expecting a Harmonie evening of rough-hewn Rock – no messing.
A quick bio for those of you under 50: Manny Charlton was born in Spain but moved to Scotland where he became guitarist for top hard-rockers Nazareth from 1969 to 1990. Not only was Charlton a key writer as well as lead guitarist for the band, he was also producer of much of their catalogue including the multi-platinum ‘Hair of the Dog’. In case you still need some proof of Mr Charlton’s credentials he was Axel Rose’s first choice to produce what would become ‘Appetite for Destruction’ until Nazareth commitments prevented the deal with Guns n Roses from happening.
But that was 1986. If we remain with figures, Manny Charlton is now 75. That jet black moustache is now white and he looks a little like David Crosby. This evening his fame is what has brought the audience out, it’s a fame that gets him 50% of the stage, with the other four band members staking out the rest. He gets about 1% of the spotlight though – we’ve come to hear him and not particularly to see him seems to be the understanding. It’s not that he’s in darkness, but his presence wide away from the others reminds me very much of Snowy White who also gave the band his name but preferred to stay ‘in the shadows’.
Maybe it was the low turnout on the night of only around a hundred or so people but the show really had trouble getting going. Singer Manuel Escudero certainly has a fine set of hard rock tonsils but when you come to a concert labelled as a Nazareth celebration and find the singer having to check the lyrics all evening you start to suspect that the ‘Nazareth’ part of the advertising is largely there to get tickets sold. I think of Ian Hunter’s remark from my interview recently – “There’s making them and there’s selling them”. The ‘selling’ has been done with the Nazareth tribute posters – there are not even any CD’s or T shirts to sell/sign after the show to make up some of the lost ticket sales.
There are plenty of Nazareth tracks in the set it’s true. ‘Razamanaz’ comes early and lesser known classics like ‘Somebody to Roll’ from ‘Play n The Game’. Maybe it’s the band, but the tracks come across to me as more heavy metal and less Blues Rock than the originals. Classic tracks like ‘This Flight Tonight’ and ‘Expect No Mercy’ sound more Deep Purple than classic Nazareth. Maikel de la Riva covers a lot of the lead guitar work during the show and Charly Rivera works hard on bass to produce an excellent heavy metal combo, but that’s not what we came to see. I was impressed though with drummer Antonio Bravo who really gave it, literally, some stick.
The two men who can make or break the shows though are of course Escudero as vocalist and Charlton. The former did a great job vocally and bravely took on Dan McCafferty branded Naz numbers like ‘Dream On’ and particularly ‘Love Hurts’. It was telling that the latter worked so well because the band backed off a little.
Manny Charlton for his part seemed to take the evening in good humour. Often kicking in the initial classic licks starting tracks only to hand over after the first riffs to Rivera on the other stage side. He was on the ball though to be first noticing when Rivera’s guitar mike dropped from it’s stand and started distorting – instantly you could see why Axel Rose wanted him as a producer, he noticed there was a ‘spanner’ in the onstage mix before anybody else.
Musically though Charlton kept a low profile for the most part, he’s not the youngest guitarslinger on the block but his smile when he did play showed he’s still a happy one when the chunky riffs go from speaker to audience. Why not? He has nothing more to prove. The riffs he made on those 70’s and 80’s discs are the stuff of legend and of which every serious hardrock guitarist learns and measures their own performances.
In true 2017 Rock n Roll style the band laid down their guitars promptly at 9pm and seemingly disappeared from the venue soon after (I’d like to say the limousine was already waiting but not on the takings of days like these). Certainly I would like to have asked Manny why he still does it but never heard back after I tried to contact the band about an interview. Disappointed? Yes, after the stellar show by fellow septuagenarian Ian Hunter here so recently. I heard an excellent Metal Band with an excellent singer when all I really wanted was some down home Hard Blues Rock the way bands like Nazareth used to play it. But still, just seeing those riffs coming from their originator was worth the ticket price alone.