Neil Carter, the unsung hero of the Gary Moore Band's greatest years

Without a doubt, as one who has studied the music of Gary Moore from quite early on in his career, the introduction of the multi-talented Neil Carter to Moore's rock band lineups, was indeed the catalyst for some of the finest and most enduring musical milestones in this phase of Gary's career. That Neil would unselfishly contribute his dynamic writing, playing abilities and performances, being such a gifted one in all these areas, truly is the mark of a great musician. To me the zenith of this collaboration, was the "Wild Frontier" era, even though Neil's actual contributions to the recorded album are not as substantial as other of Gary's albums, this LP and to a great deal as well, the "After The War" album, are standouts to me, though earlier albums have Moore/Carter compositions that are just as great.

Recently Neil was kind enough to contribute some of his valuable time to answer some questions, about this time frame and the demise as it turned out of Gary's rock era. What I have personally learned from Neil as a writer, is to place oneself somewhat apart from the subject, and to not make assumptions, no matter how well informed! To the true dyed in the wool Moore fan, the guitar, keyboard and vox contributions from Neil, contribute that final percentage of magic. This really brought out the best in the bands leader. Certainly Neil has had a well rounded rock music career and would be successful no matter what group he contributed to, but the magic elixir that is Carter and Moore, cannot be denied...

 

Let's start with the leaving of UFO and your call from Gary, asking you to audition/join his band. How did it feel to suddenly be in the presence of a much more organized creative musical experience?

It was very refreshing and also to get the chance to play with Ian Paice was quite a pull for me. Initially I was just going to do the US tour supporting Def Leppard but I got on well with Gary and stayed for quite a long time as it turned out! The main difference was that UFO was very much perceived as a band and I felt, initially, rather uncomfortable with being part of what could have been interpreted as a "backing group". A bit of the old UFO ego coming to the surface! However my initial fears were groundless as in reality it never felt totally like that. What was a bit strange was playing third on the bill to Def Leppard when they had, 2 years prior to that, supported UFO and 5 years before carried my amps into a gig in Sheffield when I was with Wild Horses. But I thought "if Ian can rise above this, I can"!

Gary had already recorded "Corridors Of Power" when you joined and you contributed to the writing of "Victims Of The Future". Can you describe what it was like to first of all write with Gary and then transferring that to the recording process?

Gary was always keen to get ideas for songs and I actually was the most involved with the recording process of that album, more than any of the others. I had a load of unused riffs and ideas so it was good having someone to "bounce off" like that. We worked the ideas into basic song format and then Gary went away and wrote lyrics. I don’t think we did that many demos for that album, but I could be wrong.

You have said that "Empty Rooms" was a work in progress when you joined Gary's band, can you recount when you first had the genesis for the beautiful melody of this song?

I had only really written the bare bones of it and my input was to the chord structure and mood, I wrote it in a hotel room in Texas if I remember rightly! The version I have from the UFO times sounds quite like it in some ways but Gary must take full credit for the melody and overall finish on that one!

I am interested in the time frame from "Victims Of The Future" to "Run For Cover". Did Gary's working with Phil Lynott in a way, plus his experimentation with Glenn Hughes as lead vocalist, plus the multiple producers, and other players, contribute to what I feel to be Gary's least cohesive LP of that era?

Hmmm. I suppose it was a touch fragmented and perhaps there was a bit of ‘direction finding’ involved. He hit gold with Peter Collins though and I think the best work is with him by far. I liked the rerecorded Empty Rooms, sadly the Glenn Hughes vocal is in a vault somewhere. I wish I’d had the foresight to take a copy home!

Also Andy Richards playing keys on the version of "Empty Rooms" on "Run For Cover", how did that happen?

The connection with Andy came through Peter Collins I think, he used a Fairlight and there was lots of "fairy dust" courtesy of him. I think they were keen to use as much of the new technology as they could so he did the "expensive" keyboard parts. He worked a lot with the Pet Shop Boys who were sort of ‘cutting edge’ with keyboards etc. and Gary wanted a bit of that.

By what time period did you feel the completion of the core group of Gary's band, with different drummers and then no drummer at all on "Wild Frontier"?

Actually around the aftermath of "Run for Cover" and the tour that followed it. Bob had become a regular feature but we still could never quite settle on a drummer. They always seemed to come and go.  The best all round was probably Gary Ferguson although he only did one tour.

It is my impression that once the band consisting of yourself, Bob Daisley, Eric Singer and Gary was finalized, that band lineup never recorded another album post the touring for "Wild Frontier", and that after that long tour, this band was ready to do such a fantastic album it would seem, again what happened post the Wild Frontier tour and again the gap to "After The War"?

I look back on it and there were always flaws with each drummer, hard to believe but there were. Gary was always a stickler for tempos and the maintaining of them. Drummers can speed up and slow down, there are numerous examples in the live material, and in the studio it became very frustrating. So the sampled drums were the answer. I am still to this day actuely aware of this and my poor kids at school, particularly the drummers in our Big Band get hell from me if the tempo shifts! Mind you it hasn’t harmed any of them through the last 15 years. Therefore when it came to "After The War" we used machines and by the time we toured I think Eric was busy or it was felt that a new guy would be the best way forward. This all goes against the ethos of laying backing tracks as a band, rather strange that nowadays the nature of Gary’s music is more feel based. The one with the best feel was actually Bobby Chouinard but unfortunately he was the one who was a wee bit unreliable and something of a loose cannon. But also an entertaining character!

I am not aware of the circumstances surrounding the recording of "After The War", other than I had read you regretted Eric Singer, either not being available or Gary's reuniting with Cozy Powell, as somewhat of a disappointment for you personally.

Yes, I wasn’t a great Cozy fan (quite a lot of baggage there) and I liked Eric a lot as a person. He was always really easy to work with and very funny. I think he is a real "stadium rock" drummer but not cocky with it which is probably why people like Alice Cooper and Kiss have him around to this day. A very genuine guy.

I have read other books, especially on Black Sabbath, where Cozy became quite involved with the production of the records he was asked to play on. What were your feelings Neil, after the huge success of the WF lineup and the sheer ability and power of that band, and then it seemed another cut and paste type effort during the recording of "After The War"?

I liked that way of working to be honest and live/studio situations were always quite separate entities. Initially it was Gary, myself and the drum guy (whose name eludes me) in Denmark recording the basic tracks. Although not all were done there and Gary did some stuff when I wasn’t around. He has always been his own man so there are tracks along the years that I had little or absolutely no input to.

I have read that you wrote your contribution to "Blood Of Emeralds" in Dublin. How was the song writing collaboration between you and Gary working by that time?

Actually I wrote the basis of that at home during a break from touring and then Gary and I played around with it. We did a lot of demoing in Dublin though and spent a number of weeks working on material. Gary was doing a tax year out of the UK so I was commuting between home and Ireland each week. That was a really nice time. I always used to give Gary tapes of song ideas and he would sift through them, picking out riffs he liked or even moods and then formulate them into a song idea. We rarely sat down and said ‘let’s write a song’ it never really worked like that. But we did bounce a lot of ideas around on After the War, more so than any other album. I really loved the ‘celtic rock’ thing and Dublin was the ideal place to do it, obviously.

Eric Singer is a key to the tightness of that lineup, with Bob Daisley and this solid rhythm section, I'm sure allowed you and Gary, greater freedom to concentrate on the vocals, rhythm guitars and keys, than with the other lineups.

Well yes, it was very powerful certainly. I think the roles were becoming more established and the splitting of vocals was good as it provided variety and gave Gary chance to play without being lassoed to the mic.

Was the "Wild Frontier" album fairly complete in many aspects once you became involved with it?

Yes, my contribution is probably the least on that although I am there somewhere! I would need to jog my memory and listen to it! I mainly did backing vocals and some keyboards. The "big" tracks were done with "expensive keyboards" so Andy was used a lot. To this day I have never met him!

The similarities of yours and Gary's voices, certainly worked well on tunes like "Shapes Of Things", "Rockin' Every Night", ect. What kind of experience was it playing guitar on stage with a player of Gary's stature?

It helped to confirm my inability to play lead! No in all honesty I am a competent rhythm player and am quite "solid" in my very basic ability so it suited that sound. To play with someone like Gary is inspirational and he injects so many different colours into his playing. I never once saw him play under par, he always delivered the goods!  It was fortunate our voices were similar and I did enjoy singing, always have, and the only thing I truly miss about my old life is that I never sing these days which is a pity.

It is my personal feeling , as I have mentioned before, that the "Wild Frontier" lineup could have carried on to make an incredible record and Gary certainly hadn't said  it all with the Celtic rock approach. From interviews I have read with Gary, he states management and producers were forcing him to take a more broad based approach to the material for "After The War" and obviously the same enthusiasm, he does not show live for that tour compared with the 1987 "Wild Frontier" era. What are your thoughts regarding all of this?

You know I don’t remember it being like that, but a lot of time has elapsed. I am aware that he was fed up with the stuff we were doing and wanted a change so that may have come across. I didn’t enjoy that tour as much for sure mainly because I was playing keyboards so much and felt a bit "restricted" on stage. Also I never felt the "kick" playing with Chris Slade that I got from Eric or Gary Ferguson or even Paul Thompson who wasn’t a heavy drummer really. The "show" looked good but perhaps the energy was less than 100%.

On the technical side, you were playing Hamer and Washburn guitars, were you also using Marshall amplification?

Yes always Marshall 50 amps and 4x12" cabinets. On the "After The War" tour I used a Les Paul that Gary gave me for my 30th birthday.

The circumstances surrounding the live video of the Stockholm show are of great interest to many fans, still to this day. Do you feel that the video accurately captured the band at their best?

It did yes although it was a "one hit" so there was a lot of pressure to get it right. It captured the time and place really well and the crowd reaction, venue and material are all spot on. It’s good and I can look at it without cringing. I can quite say the same about the Emerald Aisles one….those outfits!

In particular the keyboard parts you developed for the material from the "Wild Frontier" album and the earlier songs, add so much dynamics to the arrangements, that these are the definitive versions of all these songs, in my opinion, Empty Rooms included. Also your enthusiasm adds greatly to the video, were you enjoying it as much as it appears?

Without a doubt. I loved that size crowd and the electricity of that night is really well captured. It’s quite sophisticated for its time and we were playing well as a unit. It also has a real feeling of, dare I say, success. I have a "taken from the audience" DVD from Milton Keynes and I look like I am really having a ball on that one. Natural enthusiasm I suppose and a desire to please! I still have it. (just).

As far as Gary's guitar setup for the WF tour, the voicing of his guitar, both for lead playing and rhythm, is strikingly different than his earlier live rig.
I know he was using the same amplification arrangement as on earlier tours, with his '72 Super Bass, as the main amp, feeding several other 100 watt Marshall heads.
The use of the active electronic EMG pickups and the Floyd Rose tremolo systems, certainly helped to shape this voice. As a fellow guitarist, what do you think was maybe a secret to the amazing tone he got on that tour, particularly on the live video?

Actually he does have quite a different sound on that video. It suited the material really well, especially "Thunder Rising" which is great on the video. Secret...hmmmm not sure on that one although he had a really clear vision of how the tone should sit with the songs. It is very stylish and has a unique quality.

As a fan of yourself and Gary, Neil, one can't help but feel some sadness and regret that what was such a powerful , certainly live lineup, couldn't have carried on in the same vein.
Do you feel that Gary, perhaps, was "burned out", by the constant touring and pressure to top the previous albums?

Well yes, also perhaps a desire to get back to the roots, a wise move as it turned out, and not to repeat yourself again and again. I had been with him a long time by 1989 and perhaps we had run our course creatively. I didn’t really give it a lot of thought at the time of the tour but in hindsight it was obvious something had to change for him.

I know that when Gary made the decision to develop the blues band concept, that you weren't particularly interested in this. Were you invited to join at first?

No, and I don’t blame him for not including me as I was a less than enthusiastic when they had their blues jamathons at sound checks. It really isn’t my sort of music although it’s enjoyable in small doses and I appreciate how well Gary does it and how a part of him it is. I like a lot of the songs Gary has done since but like I say, in small doses.

Post the last LP and tour with Gary, what musical projects were you involved in?

Bob and I did some work with a young guitarist managed by Peter Grant, I know his name was Tommy and he may still be playing today for all I know. I did some London theatre work as a favour to a friend and spent a lot of time writing and did some demos. I explain on my website that the "epiphany" came one day when I sat at the publishers playing some stuff I had recorded and looked at the banks and banks of tapes he had. It was obvious that without a vehicle nothing was going to happen and I thought, "that’s it!" I had no idea how life would progress from there at that point.

It appears that it gives you great satisfaction to be able to pass on to future generations your love and talent for music and your work at Brighton College, must certainly be applauded. How did you get involved in playing woodwinds?

My principal instrument at school had been the clarinet and prior to my going down the "evil path" I had been offered a place for further study on it. But to my parents horror I jacked it all in to become a rock musician. So when I stopped all that my partner who is a harpist suggested I do a few lesson to busy myself. Typically me I plunged into it in a big way and went back and gained my qualifications. It wasn’t necessary that I did that but teaching somewhere like Brighton College which is currently "the" independent school in our part of England it is expected. Also I am great one for having a "goal" to achieve. Now I teach clarinet/saxophone and am full time Head of Woodwind and Brass at the College doing a wide variety of things.

 

David Talkin (October 2009)

Dave goes by the forum name Emerald in The Lord Of The Strings Fan Forum, is also know as yngwie308 on most other music internet forums.

He has his own personal web blog: http://www.daveonrock.com and recently has become a major contributor to the website http://www.vintagewashburn.com. Also he has written about the music of Tommy Bolin for BSM Treble Boosters. Gary Moore has remained one of his strongest influences, right alongside, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and the masterful Peter Green.