NHC MUSIC Chats To Zal Cleminson - Campbell Stewart

In the Glasgow rock scene over the last 5 decades, there are no greater legends than the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and while a couple of the band members (namely Chris Glen and Ted McKenna) have remained active over the years, one figure seemed to have retired from it all. Guitarist Zal Cleminson, after spells with Nazareth, Tandoori Cassette, and as a session guitar slinger for hire, decided to call it a day a few years back, until now, that is. There had been rumours of a comeback a year or so back, and that has finally come to fruition. A brand new band, Zal Cleminson's Sin Dogs, is here, and already firing on all cylinders. NHC and MyRock Radio's own classic rock afficionado Campbell Stewart was the lucky one to land the very first interview with Zal about the new band, in their rehearsal studios, as they geared up for the first live dates Zal has played in 10 years, and you can read all about it here. A huge thank you to Zal and the band for their time, and if you can do, get along to one of the shows, you won't be disappointed!

Q - Zal, the news that you were making a comeback now after announcing your retirement from music in 2008 was obviously a bit of a surprise for your fans, what prompted the change of heart after all these years?

Zal - There were a number of things really, we had moved out to Cyprus, where we still live, and while I was out there, I'd gone through some kind of bad episodes, felt a bit depressed really. I was trying to create something, I knew I wanted to get something done so I was writing a lot, including working on a novel I'd started. Then I decided I needed to do something music related, so I decided to pick up the guitar again, as a form of therapy really more than anything, and the more I played, things just started to snowball. I started getting ideas for songs, so I thought hang on a minute... at this point I only had a little acoustic guitar out there, so I thought, time to nip down the local music shop and got myself an electric guitar and amp, and plugged in and tried playing some rock ideas. I realised it was actually beginning to sound okay, and it's really from that, that it snowballed. The thing is with the annual SAHBROCK charity event we're playing this year, I'd spoken to Hoggy who runs it, maybe 2 years ago, and said I'd love to do something for it, maybe just a wee surprise appearance to go up and do some kind of acoustic thing for a couple of songs. he of course said "I'll hold you to that". I wasn't particularly ready at that time, but I said to him to put me down for 2017, and I'll definitely do it. So, I had committed myself and realised I had to get my shit together! So, that's been my focus, and what I've been aiming for, and the ideas and songs have kept coming. I got in touch with Davie Cowan, keyboards player with the SAHB Experience tribute band, and spoke to him about trying to get a line up together, and he suggested why didn't I just use that band. I came over, we had a little get together and it all sounded really good, so really, that's how it got me back involved in it.

Q - Where did the name come from, as it's a great name with the potential for some great visual ideas?

Zal - It's actually just a song title. I'd gone through a couple of other names beforehand though. I'd been working with a long time friend Alan Mair (bass player with The Only Ones) a while back, and been trying to put something together with him at that time, and had suggested Sin Dogs as a great band name. I think he saw it as a bit too 'heavy metal' for his liking, but it stuck in my head ever since. When I suggested it to the band, they were in instant agreement, thought. yeah fine, let's go with that. We've tried a few things for logos, sticking some heads on things, which you might have seen on Facebook. We've created a nice logo, with the small case lettering in a great looking font, so it looks quite distinctive.


Q - from the 3 song teaser you've put out, the sound of the band is very different to what folk might be expecting. It's a much heavier style that fits in with much of the modern rock and metal scene. Was that a deliberate thing, to steer away from what you've done in the past and do something different?

Zal - To be honest, I don't know what people might have been expecting, but I know what I was expecting. I was aiming for the songs I could hear in my head, and they all sounded kind of powerful, heavy, big riffs. For me, I could see the audience for it. In truth actually, I've gone back to what I enjoyed playing most, not so much when I started, but when I was in the band Tear Gas at the start of the 70's. We were a heavy progressive rock band, with bits of Zeppelin, Floyd, Purple, that kind of thing, as those were our heroes at the time, so I've kind of gone back to my roots in a way, playing what I enjoy, and it's come out as you say as a kind of contemporary modern rock sound.

Q - Which bands/artists have influenced the Sin Dogs sound most?

Zal - Everone in the band has their own favourites as you'd expect. My own favourite bands are quite diverse, and I think my favourite band musically is probably Radiohead, but as a rock band, I'm a big fan of Soundgarden. When I came along to speak to the guys in the band, they were all rambling on about Rammstein, who I do like myself, I've seen them a few times. It's that kind of noise and sound that gets you moved a little bit, picking out the guitar sound and other parts, and you kind of fall into line when you start to produce the sound of the band.

Q - I gather that you'll only be playing the new material live with the Sin Dogs, is there a particular reason behind that? Would ever you consider playing or reworking something from any other project you'd been involved with over the years, or is this very much a 'looking forward, not backwards' project?

Zal - Definitely, it became a bit of a 'bee in my bonnet' thing, with people saying "Oh you're not going to be playing any SAHB songs, some promoters might not be so keen", and I'd say "No this is a new band with all new material". Okay, if the material is shit, then, if you don't like it, you don't have to come again, so for me it's pretty much you like it or you don't. Definitely no 'Delilah' (Zal laughs at this), no dancing, well maybe some dancing (laughs again)

Q - Speaking of gigs, SAHBROCK X will be your first real airing of your new stuff in front of diehard SAHB fans , how's the nerves?

Zal - Yeah, they're a bit on edge I have to say! We've been rehearsing hard for quite a period of time now, so we can feel it, there's a tension builds up, anticipation, and it's a good feeling though. Once you get in front of an audience, something kicks in, the adrenaline, and you need to go out there and perform, do what you want to do and put on a good show.

Q - Have you got an EP lined up to be able to sell at the gigs?

Zal, Yeah, we've just put that together now. We were out in Motherwell at a lovely little studio called The Foundry, and Sandy, the engineer out there was really helpful putting together the tracks we worked on. We had in mind to have 4 tracks on the EP, but we didn't quite get one finished in time, so we've got 3 tracks, Hungry Heart, Sin Dogs, and Blood Stream, and we decided that because we've done a shortened mix of Sin Dogs, we'd add the extended mix on the EP as well, and it will be available at the forthcoming gigs with the new t-shirts as well, and we'll have an online shop sorted soon too.

Q - We know that the "when are you going to play?.......(insert name of town) questions are many and tedious - do you have plans yet for any more dates in England, or even abroad as there are many fans all over the globe?

Zal - Yes, people have been on Facebook asking that question from everywhere, and I've just answered back and said yeah, we'll play wherever we can do. If people want to book us and we can find a gig in your part of the world, then we'll be there. We've now got an agent who is helping us put gigs together so that will help. I think this initial run is just our way of getting the band off the ground, and then next year we'll try and get as many gigs as possible, and very much hoping to get a few festivals as well in the summer.

Q - Is Sin Dogs seen as a long term 'project?'

Zal - Yeah, as long as I'm still standing up, and can get on stage and do it then yeah! The guys are really keen, because although some of them have been playing in some great bands over the years, they haven't really had the opportunity to take things a step further and look at a professional situation, where you're out touring a lot, recording and being a proper professional band.

Q - Any chance of a vinyl release at some point?

Zal - Definitely something we'll be looking at, as it seems to be 'de rigeur' these days to go down that route, whether it's a fad or not, it's popular again.

Q - You tried your hand at acting a few years ago, is that something you'd like to have another bash at?

Zal - (Laughs) Not really no! We were helping out a young friend called Bob Kelly who had come out of colleg doing a course in movie making and so on. Him and his friend had written this kind of Western script, and I think they were just looking for a little bit of support and input. We bumped into them in Oran Mor one day, along with great Scottish actor and writer David Hayman, who was also in it. So, they kind of talked everyone into getting involved in it, and asked me to do some music for it as well. We had a great time shooting a Western in Drumchapel of all places, with a horse wandering around. We actually went down to the Cannes film festival with it would you believe, so we ended up wandering around Vannes, trying to punt this movie, it was all hilarious. But no, the acting side, not really something I'd do again, you need to be properly trained, but it was fun though.

Q - Which gig throughout Zal's career has been the most memorable and why?

Zal - There's been a few! One that most people talk about was headlining the Reading Festival, which was really very special, a special time of day when we came on as well, atmospheric and quite an emotional time. The others for me would be the Christmas shows at the Glasgow Apollo, with the massive stage set we had. I think that was probably the peak of the band for performing and putting a show on. Even things like getting to go to America and tour around there was a phenomenal experience.  

Q - I know that most of the guys from SAHB were big Zappa fans. Who else inspired you from the past and is there anyone out there other than the Sin Dogs doing new music that you like and think SAHB fans would also like.

Zal - My influences go all the way back. I was maybe 14, 15 when I started playing guitar, so back then it was Chuck Berry, and the Elvis records with Scotty Moore playing guitar, all that kind of rockabilly stuff. I was also really keen on some of the jazz players, guys like Wes Montgomery, and Kenny Burrell. I loved the sound that they made, and was always wondering how they got that sound. And then from there it was the usual heroes, Hendrix, Beck, Page, Townshend, guys you look at and just think 'wow', they've got something about them thath's different and original. I'd say the Jeff Beck is probably my favourite guitar player, but there really are so many wonderful players out there. These days, I don;t particularly listen to guitarists in the same way I did back then. In truth I don't really listen to a lot of pop and rock at all, it's mainly film soundtracks I listen to now. That's something I'm kind of pointing to the future with, I'd be interested in creating something for a movie maybe.

Q - You menioned earlier the book you had been working on. Is that still a work in progress?

Zal - It's actually completed now, I just need to spend a little time on editing the thing, and maybe cut it down a little, but yeah, it's all done story wise. It's called 'Rool'.

Q - If you had never picked up a guitar, and become a musician, what do you think you would have done with your life? Would you have liked to have been a writer or something like that?

Zal - Not back then. The day I turned a professional musician, I was sitting my A level exams at Henley Secondary, and I finished my exams that day, went home, grabbed my guitar, got the bus to Glasgow and a train to Aberdeen. The rest of the guys had already headed up there to play a gig. So that was me then a professional musician from that day. Just before this though, I'd been offered an interview for a job as a clerical officer with a savings bank that had just opened up at Cowglen, and the school was looking to get kids into jobs basically, so the teachers were pushing me towards that, then suddenly I was in Aberdeen, and that was that, I was a musician. I've had lots of jobs off and on too, reading gas meters, driving cabs and whatever else.

Q - Would you be prepared to do a support slot with a well established band if it meant you could get the music heard by more people?

Zal - Absolutely. We're actually hoping to do something like that next year, so that would be very good.

Q - After SAHB, what are you most proud of, musically?

Zal -  SAHB were quite unique I guess, so it's kind of hard to be objective about something you were so closely involved with. The comments I've heard over the years, it's obvious how much people have taken to SAHB, the fans really are dedicated. But there was some great stuff over the couple of albums I did with Nazareth. They were halfway through recording the 'No Mean City' album when I joined them, and put some stuff to it, so there's definitely some good music on those albums. I haven't really been involved in much else other than as a session musician working with different people, but not creatively.

Q - What happened to Tandoori Cassette? Does any of that material exist anywhere?

Zal - I forgot about them! Crazy, wonderful musical band! It was Barrie Barlow, ex Jethro Tull drummer, Ronnie Leahy from Stone the Crows, plus the late Charlie Tumahai from Be-Bop Deluxe. It was something Barrie and I were keen to do, to try and work together to see if we could work something, but it never quite cliecked. Musically it was fine, ut it didn't seem to have a kind of direction. At that time, the music that was around seemed to be rather ephemeral and poppy and kind of 'dancey', so there didn't seem to be a place for us to play. We'd turn up at a gig, say in Leeds where someone like Marc Almond had played the night before, and we'd wonder if we were in the right place. But we did play the Marquee a couple of times. There was some nice music from the band, and there may be stuff lying around, and I'm sure Barrie probably has all of it, but there's not been a lot made public, so there's not a lot you can get your hands on. I think someone recorded one of the Marquee shows, but it was a very rough audience recording, so if you could find it, it might be enough to give you an idea of what the band was about.

Q - How do you rate the current crop of guitars against the SG's you used in the 70's, which you said never stayed in tune.

Zal - Yeah, they were alright, but they moved around quite a bit, and I used to beat the hell out of the guitars. It is an iconic guitar though, and people often talk about the sound of the SG, especially with SAHB, and I get folk saying I need to be playing them. But, I've moved up to playing Ibanez now, and when you start cranking stuff up to a level where you're playing pretty heavy duty rock music, there's not a lot of difference to what they all sound like no matter what you've plugged in at the end of the day. I'm actually having a guitar made for me now, by a guy called Robert Mould, through in Shotts. He got in touch a few months back and said he'd love to make me a guitar, so we've gone for it and it's nearly finished, and it'll be ready for SAHBROCK. I'm really looking forward to playing it!

Q - The last question, and one you might not be so keen on! Would you perform with SAHB again if the opportunity arose, maybe for a charity gig?

Zal - (wry laugh) Oh.... what sort of charity, to save the world, that sort of thing? I don't think we could create the amount of energy and enthusiasm to play, certainly I don't think I could. When I left and we pulled the plug on it last time, I felt we'd run out of creative energy and run out of all kinds of things, in terms of, where are we going to go with this. I felt as if I was going to become a tribute to myself, and I thought, I'm not going to do that, just turning up and playing Midnight Moses and dance to Delilah every night. I needed to move on from that. So, I would be hard pushed to say yes or no to that , but I'd tend towards saying no.