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Neil Carter

Interview with Neil Carter from Neil Carter
by Grigoris Chronis at 08 July 2008, 5:46 AM

One of the most high-personality but low-profile musicians we ever witnessed in the Hard Rock field. Neil Carter, world famous for his works with Gary Moore, U.F.O. and the WILD HORSES in the 80s, was more than kind to waste much of his precious time to answer to a real typhoon of questions, resulting in an ultra-interesting interview you can rarely have the chance to read by such a credited 'backline' musician. A sincere person, but also a mindful artist: Mr. Neil Carter, we really enjoyed this one! (all photos from

I. The Early Years

Born in West London, how did you came to get 'bonded' to Rock music? Was any of your parents a musician, or someone from the wide family? Did you fall in love with the piano/keyboards at once, or you started off with the 6-string goddess, watching e.g. a live performance on TV?

Well, both my parents encouraged a lot of music in the house and there was always a piano to bang about on. I didn't take up the guitar until I was about 12 or 13 and once I did, I was playing it constantly. I loved all the music of the early 70's and I suppose that seeing ROXY MUSIC on Top Of The Pops was the catalyst.

Did you adore Rock music form your school years? Which specific bands/artists would you consider to be the idols of your youth?

Definitely Bolan, QUEEN, Bowie and ROXY MUSIC. I saw Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust final tour and QUEEN in their early days…they - as a band, to me - were absolutely magical and, simply, I wanted to be Freddie! I always liked the 'theatrical' type of bands.

Was there any other music style you felt you were attracted to?

Not in the popular music area but I have always had a deep love of classical music and have never stopped listening to all styles of 'serious' music. I have a vague interest in Jazz but more the structured big band and vocal stuff than endless soling.

Was Neil Carter a good student in high school? Did you miss lessons on purpose or you had a fuzzy aim to become e.g. a scientist or teacher etc?

I was a terrible student, only interested in music and failed dismally academically although I do have 7 GCSEs. I never applied myself to anything other than music. Strangely I got away with it!

Looking back, you feel you'd walk the same path again if you'd 'transfer' yourself back to the late 60s/early 70s?

Absolutely, with no hesitation, and I consider myself to have been very fortunate that all the choices I made were the right ones (with a few exceptions!). The only thing I would change in hindsight is my handling of the U.F.O. financial and management situation. But I was young and trusting!

II. First Band(s)

WILDER was the first 'professional' band you participated in, right? And, you were the band's vocalist(!) only? did you record an album with WILDER or just played gigs? Did you support any (then) big band's concert?

WILDER were a good band really but slightly self-indulgent. We recorded some tracks at 10CC's studio in Dorking, Surrey but no tracks were ever released. I think the drive was there but not the talent, although the band was used by Gilbert O'Sullivan as a backing band and that was really my first real taste of high level touring. We did some support slots with SMOKIE, Desmond Dekker and THE JAM but really the band did not achieve that much.

Did your experience with WILDER push you to get more know in the music circuit of those days in the UK, paving the path for what you'd achieve later on?

Yes , it gave me the hunger for 'bigger things' and the ground base of experience. We did quite a lot of gigs.

Did you have confidence you'd find your way in a big band, while playing with your first band(s)? Did you use to listen to people's reviews regarding your performance/attitude/skills? Did they cheer you up/let you down, or you had your own focus?

I have always been a quiet 'show off' and I loved any attention to be honest! I probably was the only member of WILDER that wanted the total package and had the drive and determination to really go for it. I had a sort of 'blind faith' in my own destiny and although I did get knocked back a few times it made me all the more determined. I hope most of the comments I got then were encouraging.

III. Wild Horses

Brian Robertson and Jimmy Bain placed an ad looking for a second guitarist for the newly-formed WILD HORSES back in 1978. Where you on the hunt for a 'big names' band that season or your reply to their ad came 'out of the blue'? Did you have any other auditions at the time? Any 'big ones'?

I instinctively knew that that gig was the right one for me. I had been for so many auditions and had been very disappointed but I had that 'blind faith' I would get through and succeed. I never went for any big bands but lots of not so big!

Bearing in mind you already knew Brian from his deeds with THIN LIZZY and Jimmy from his works with RAINBOW, how hard was it to grab the chance being next to such famous men? What - in your opinion - impressed them in order to give you the 'job'?

Not hard really, a bit daunting perhaps, but I was very new but also very, very keen. They saw a chance to pass on their experience and wisdom(!) so, as I was a fairly confident guitarist and sung as well, I was the ideal man for the job.

Playing with Brian Robertson, did you have the chance to get to know Phil Lynott closer (gigs, parties, hanging out)? Apart from adoring his profile and his THIN LIZZY deeds, I had the chance - while being in Dublin last year - to visit his grave and pay tribute to this unique man. What would you (in brief) say to some juvenile Rock/Metal fan not familiar with this legend?

Phil was unique and very charismatic. I had always been a LIZZY fan and to be part of that 'circle' was quite amazing for a young man! I liked Phil a lot and he was always very nice to me although he had me 'sussed'! He sort of came and went in my life and of course he played alongside Gary many times until just before he died.

Even if WILD HORSES gained some fame on British ground, it seems there was a lack of recognition worldwide. Two albums (quite remarkable, in my poor opinion - you participated only in the first one, right?) and then the band split. Would you blame the British Media for this, the (then) heavy-growing New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene? Both?

No not really, to be honest the albums and songs were not that special and Brian and Jimmy were on 'self destruct' a lot of the time. I think the energy was there but not enough substance. I am sure that people liked them but in hindsight it was never going to work.

Cannot skip this one: in your words, …at WILD HORSES' first gig in Sheffield in November 1978 the 'humpers' at the gig were some young lads who were in a band called DEF LEPPARD and had just made their own EP. I still have the one Joe Elliot gave me, signed, and with his mum's phone number on…. Did you - back then - see this something in this band, that would take them on top of the world (as witnessed in the 80s an afterwards)?

Ummmm, well not when they are humping your Marshall amps in, but I was really pleased for them that things turned out as they did although it did help having Mutt Lange on board! They supported U.F.O. in Europe on their way up and it was a bit ironic the first tour I did with Gary Moore was third on the bill to them in 1983 in the USA! You never know how things will turn out do you! Mind you the thought of how Ian Paice must have felt still amuses me! He must have been paid well.

IV. U.F.O.

So, who was the go-between for you to join U.F.O. in ? What's the story in brief?

Phil Collen actually.  I used to see a lot of Phil when he was with GIRL and we were always about at 'ligs' in London. I was thoroughly fed up with WILD HORSES and U.F.O. had just kicked Paul Raymond out so he introduced us.

Keyboards, guitar and backing vocals: the perfect replacement for Paul Raymond, right? Was it stressful enough to get it done and take the 'job' (again!)? Can you recall which U.F.O. songs you played at the audition?

I was a bit stressed at Reading with the bigwigs of Chrysalis Records looming at me from my side of the stage! But I learnt a couple of songs, Lights Out and Only You Can Rock Me when I was on the Ted Nugent UK tour with the HORSES. It was a question of playing through things rather than an 'audition' but they may have seen other people for all I know.  After I 'joined' I had two weeks to learn the Reading set list and Paul Chapman and I were working away together with the others joining nearer the gig. I have a recoding of that show and it sounds ok, remarkably!

Was John Sloman (URIAH HEEP) initially destined to step in permanently in the U.F.O. camp? I remember reading he had helped them for a couple of months after Raymond's departure and before you joined the band.

Yes, he did but I don't think it was ever likely he would join. I recall he was aiming at a solo career and to be frank it was not really his sort of gig. How strange though he was with Gary Moore just before I was too! I always thought John had a great voice.

Three albums with U.F.O., right? Is there any of them being most memorable, for any reason(s)?

Well, Mechanix is quite a good album and had my first stabs at songwriting on. It was probably the first album I had had real input on in my career and I loved working in the studio. We recorded it at QUEEN's Montreux studio which was in itself a real experience and in my view 'hallowed ground'. Making Contact was very much a team effort in very difficult circumstances but it has been rather rubbished by some over the years, which is a shame.

I'd vote - as a fan - for Making Contact (music wise) even without Pete Way in board. Really, you did have an 'insight' being in U.F.O. Do you share the opinion - often expressed - that the post-Schenker era(s) of U.F.O. had high portions of 'come and gone' stories and little of hard work in music? Or, was U.F.O. just suffering of 'bad timing' in the 80s, due to Rock music getting heavier and heavier?

Probably a bit of both. I must be honest, I started to feel a bit of a parody of myself in the final year with U.F.O. and the band had 'problems' personality wise and in other areas. Perhaps their time had come and gone with the going of Michael.

The Wild, The Willing And The Innocent tour brought you to the US for 'arena' gigs. Was it the first time you were playing that big audiences? Hard Rock was on its prime I guess over there, back then.

Yes, it was my first time and it was an unbelievable experience. Nothing prepares you for that and it was everything I had dreamed of. And touring at that time in America, meeting all these 'names' like CHEAP TRICK, Ozzy, AEROSMITH, FOREIGNER, QUEEN etc. etc has provided me with some fond memories. In the course of my life I have met some 'legends' of Rock 'n' Roll and that has been great.

In the next two albums you had an 'updated' songwriting role in U.F.O., especially in Making Contact. Was it due to the descending interest of Pete Way in writing songs or it was the whole band's decision to focus on more keyboards-supported tunes?

Not really, I think in retrospect that I just 'jumped in' because not much else was forthcoming. It was very new to me and I just went mad writing and writing. Most of it was dreadful but at least I made an effort! I also worked a bit with Phil on melody lines although he always did the lyrics.

Who'd come first to mind, reading something 'bout U.F.O. now: Phill Mogg or Pete Way? And why?

Phil definitely…he has always been the 'constant' in U.F.O. and of course is the voice. Well in a way it is obvious. When you listen to a song what is it you mainly hear? The 'voice' and Phil has been the only vocalist in U.F.O..

Are you still in (sporadic, at least) contact with any of the lineup of those days?

No, although I have spoken to both Paul and Andy in the last 10 years. Phil and Pete no, although I'm told Phil lives in Brighton not half a mile from where I work but he probably wouldn't recognize me, apart from the nose!

Have you been to a U.F.O. gig recently in Britain? Did you enjoy it?

No, I have an allergy to Holiday Camps (sorry, that was a bit mean!). My (sort of) cousin runs a U.F.O. fan site so she keeps me up-to-date and is as mad as they are.

Not to forget: you also visited Greece in 1983, in a gig that's left in history (here, at least). What do you remember of that day?

The run up to that day was awful. We had been on a tour of some dismal places and there had been a lot of drinking etc. Somehow it was inevitable it would all go haywire. Phil had been drinking heavily and didn't know what day it was. I mainly remember Billy Sheehan hiding behind the amps almost in tears and the rest of us thinking here we go again! I did find it interesting to hear Phil sing the lyrics of Too hot To Handle while we were playing Lights Out! It was such a pity as the promoters were really excited to have us there, not to mention the Rock fans so it as a major disappointment for all concerned. We cancelled the rest of the tour after those two gigs and it was a real relief to go home and leave the mess behind us. I understand they had a re-run of that occasion in Manchester once with Michael being the culprit. Phil must have felt like we did that night.

Reading, at your site, 'bout re-releases of U.F.O. CDs and who gets the 'rights' money for the songs you co-wrote: do you feel let down, or just enjoy your honesty (or inexperience, as you successfully mention)?

I sometimes feel exasperated that I was stupid enough to be drawn into it and when I see, only recently, yet another compilation released I think, yet again, should I do something about this?, but it would probably cost more to contest it than I would get back. And I really don't need the worry. But this has happened to many people over the years, let's hope that they have learned by our mistakes.

You wrote/recorded some songs with Paul Chapman and Andy Parker after U.F.O. split up in 1983. Why wasn't a full band assembled at the time to release an album? You were all known artists by then, and I think you'd have no hard time inking deal with a big label.

We did very seriously consider this. You might think people would have been interested but U.F.O. as a commodity had a rather bad name in the business then and there was little faith in anything connected with the band so although our manager tried you couldn't give us away! Chrysalis were not interested in anything that Phil was not involved with as he was the 'voice' and they probably couldn't see a future for us three. Understandably in retrospect! This was proved when they kept him on and a year or so later came a reformed U.F.O. with Phil as the only original member. It was annoying as it was really because of him the thing fell apart in the first place; none of us could deal with him anymore. But it is all water under the bridge…

V. Gary Moore

Maybe your most successful part here, right? How did you get to join Gary Moore's band in 1983? Can you recall? Did you know him from the WILD HORSES days?

 I had met Gary a number of times but he scared me! I was approached at the final U.F.O. gig about joining Gary's band and it was quite tempting although, at the time, it was a bit of a step backward as U.F.O. had been much bigger than Gary was then. Also I wasn't thrilled about being a 'side-kick' when I had been more than that in U.F.O.. But I knew Neil Murray and I also though that if Ian Paice was in the band it was a 'serious' outfit and more for 'musicians'! And, U.F.O. had been going downwards whereas Gary had it all to come. It was a wise move and such a breath of fresh air after the chaos of U.F.O.!

Gary Moore is labeled as a controversial artist. Who Gary Moore did you 'live' with in those 5 years with 4 brilliant studio albums?

I have seen a great change in Gary over the years and the more success he had the easier and more pleasant to work with he became. Initially he was not always easy but as time went on and things got 'bigger' it seemed to relax him and by the end of the time I worked with him it was always a pleasure. With me, personally, I always felt he appreciated what I did and only very rarely was there any unease.

In-depth: how did you feel when Gary Moore brought your cooperation to an end, deciding to work in a more Blues-y way in Still Got The Blues? Or, he did propose to carry on working together and you declined the offer?

It sort of just stopped really. I had no idea that the Blues album would take off as it did and probably neither did he. In hindsight he really had to do something new and I didn't know at the time how discontented he was with what we were playing. And also I had lost interest in the whole music business really, although I had no idea what would come next…I had always imagined I would go into producing but there we are. I was a bit 'raw' about it all for a few years…a bit like when you break up with a lover and see them getting on with their lives. It hurts but you know it is for the best.

Had you noticed anything predicting he'd - somehow - move far from his Hard Rock style?

Yes, I suppose the Blues jams at sound checks were a bit of a giveaway. I really can't get excited by endless Blues songs but Gary, Bob and Chris Slade loved it. I suppose it just wasn't my 'era' or my real love.

Really, are you in any kind of contact with him today? Would you consider writing stuff again with Gary Moore, under any circumstances?

I see Gary quite a lot as his children are pupils at my school! It is nice to see him and we have a real laugh about the old days. I feel with Gary like a relation you see infrequently but always have a deep bond with. It is inevitable having worked so closely with him for such a long time, and I am very fond of him. The dynamic has changed these days too as I can put him in 'detention' now!! As for writing, that ship has definitely sailed!

Victims Of The Future, Empty Rooms, Murder In The Skies', All Messed Up, Strangers In The Darkness, Thunder Rising, Speak For Yourself, Led Clones, Blood Of Emeralds. We all know which of these songs you co-wrote went on to become highly successful and of 'cult' status, but - if you've ever thought of it - which one you felt really 'free' and 'neat' as a musician while co-composing it?

Definitely …Emeralds. I was given a 'brief' by Gary to write some Celtic-influenced things and that was a complete song I wrote. Gary added bits and made it better but I was quite proud of that song. Loved Black Rose by LIZZY and that was an affectionate 'nod' to that song.

Really, did you expect Empty Rooms would have such an impact, even today?

No not at all, it was only when Peter Collins did the re-recorded version that I could see it. And I am glad he did that…very glad!

Apart from Gary himself, you had the chance to work with some real notable Rock musicians like Ian Paice, Bob Daisley, Neil Murray, Don Airey, Cozy Powell and Glen Hughes. In such a high level of musicianship, did you - all these 5 years - feel at any time that you had accomplished everything you'd wished for?

Yes, absolutely. I have no regrets, nothing left I wished I'd done. If you think, headlining Reading, playing Madison Square Garden, touring with QUEEN and playing to 90,000 people, going to great places across the globe. That is quite enough really!

A special quote should be given for Glenn Hughes: your impression, working with him?

He was a great influence on me, I loved TRAPEZE and DEEP PURPLE although working with him, albeit briefly was a bit surreal. I am not even sure he registered I was there actually. He made Gary's life hell at the time and the 'old school ego' was still very much to the fore. I hear he has found God now which is better than Mars bars.

And what about Cozy?

Same thing really. I was very disappointed it didn't work out but, without speaking ill of the departed, he really was rather arrogant, a bit of a let down and didn't live up to expectations.

Touring Japan, what can you recall regarding the Japanese fans? What special characteristic does this specific country have, making all bands wanting to play over there, even today?

It was wonderful and the way you were treated was fantastic. I was quite amazed at the reaction when I first went to Japan and if you took the adoration seriously it could have gone to your head. Even with the HORSES we had a strong fan base in Japan. We used to do these 'meet the fans' Japanese tea parties in London. Very strange, in retrospect.

You list Wild Frontier as your beloved Gary-Moore-era album. Why this one? Does it have to do with the music itself or that specific era was 'special' to you?

It is both really, I love the songs on that album but it was the time when things got 'bigger' and Gary's popularity had really started to grow. I loved having Eric Singer in the band too, as he was such a nice guy.

Last, but not least: do you feel you got your slice of the 'publicity' pie via Gary Moore's success in the 80s? Or it was never your intension to act so?

I am a happy 'main support' and never felt totally comfortable centre stage so it suited me well. I was the 'Karen and Jack' to Gary's 'Will and Grace' if that makes sense (e.n.: not really to me, Neil, xaxa!!!)!

VI. After Gary - Till Today

Many many Hard Rock fans had been wondering all these years: whatever happened to Neil Carter? Do you speak the same question to yourself, at times?

Oh yes, on a daily basis! But I am very happy, if rather tired!

Did you come in contact with another band/artist to assemble a new band? To extend: you, now, had enough experience to form your own band? Didn't this idea ever cross your mind?

Not these days, that is for sure. I think after the initial end with Gary I thought I should do something but, if truth were told, I was burnt out and really didn't want to carry on playing. I had reached the top of my personal tree with no more branches left to climb.

A rather cliche question, but I'm dying to know: is there any chance you have enough songs in your drawer to make it to a Neil Carter's unreleased songs CD collection? You think you'll have the mood to roll this assignment at some time in the - near, we hope - future?

I do have enough material for an album but I have doubts that anyone would want to hear it (e.n.: you're joking, right???). One day I will put some more of the tracks on the website and maybe people will enjoy them…or not.

VII. General Questions

I recently read you're now teaching at Brighton College. How did you decide to focus on woodwind and brass instruments teaching? You see your occupation as a normal job or you try to be a 'source of spirit' for students?

Well, the clarinet was my first instrument and the one I trained on. I didn't plan any of my current situation but things have evolved over the time and I enjoy what I do. I do see myself as a motivator and I like to instill some of my spirit into my work. We have a lot of performance opportunities and I like the kids to make each one an event. I suppose you can't take away the feelings you have stored up performing in front of thousands of people over the years, it's creating the 'magic' that is important. I am also continually surprised by the effect one can have on the development of young people and how you can instill confidence through performing so I take my role very seriously.

I guess you had enough students left astonished while informed their teacher was a successful Rock/Hard Rock musician in the 70s/80s, right? Do you tell Rock stories to your students or you prefer to keep a more 'casual' profile?

It is a difficult one; part of me finds it fascinating and the kids do know what I did but it could all sound a bit sad! If they ask I usually direct them to the website, although I am aware that I could be a dodgy role model. Let's face it, I was one of the lucky 'wannabe's'. Mostly they want to know about the 'Rock & Roll' bits and the sleaze! Also when I go to schools to examine I get oh, we Googled you…we thought you'd have hair!. I also hope they take me seriously as it is a very unusual background for an examiner.

In our days, we see countless bands working hard to get known to mass audiences. We see endless labels, numerous managers pulling the stings, ultra-promotion tools and - in opposite - CD sales descending due to high prices and illegal downloading. Do you think there's a 'glut' in (generally speaking) Rock music nowadays? You think the 70s/80s were more 'true'?

I don't listen to any contemporary Rock so it is hard to comment. What I have come to appreciate is that so much music is a rehash of what has gone before and only very rarely does something new and original appear. That was as true in the 70s/80s as it is today. Actually it has been true since the early times!

Do you listen to any 'current' Rock/Metal music these days? In addition, do you still listen to your all-time heroes? Any gigs? QUEEN is touring with Paul Rogers, DEEP PURPLE and URIAH HEEP is still here, LED ZEPPELIN created hysteria when they announced they'd do one single show some months ago…Rock will never die, eventually?

No, sadly, and I haven't been to a gig in years; in fact, the last one was Gary Moore when he played Brighton with WHITESNAKE. Gary was fine but David Coverdale looked like a pantomime dame and it all looked a bit 'Vegas' to me. We spent most of the time giggling. I see in my students the great affection for 70s Rock and it still touches young people so it won't die. There were some really classic songs in that era and classic bands but some don't know when to bow out gracefully it seems.

Neil, myriads of thanks for your precious time, again! We feel really honored to for this interview. You're the one to wrap up it.

I thank you for your interest in me, and I hope the answers to your questions have been interesting. Keep on rockin', to quote an old workmate of mine!


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