To co-incide with the release of the Sentinel Album the band managed to get themselves on the front cover of the then influential "SOUNDS"magazine, cover date February 11th 1984 with an extensive interview inside. As the roads became icier and the landscape more barren, the manic driver of the hyper-charged Capri ground the ball of his foot into the accelerator.
He leered over his shoulder at the demure PR lady and announced with a roar: "I havnae had a crash for ages. I think I'm about due for one. " I pretended not to hear and concentrated on sucking a boiled sweet, something I always do to unblock my ears when the sound barrier is breaking. Slamming the car into top as we tore round a hairpin, Mad Graeme urged the machine through the banks of frozen snow.
We were deep into the Aberdeen tundra, bound for Ice Station Echt where Pallas rehearse in a farmhouse which was almost completely cut off by snow a fortnight ago.
But nothing else could go wrong I assured myself smugly. The photographer had knocked the trip on the head at the last moment; I had arrived late at the airport and boarded immediately, assuming that Debbie Bennett EMI press officer and Tony Blackburn fan would have given up waiting for me. She hadn't, ah well, I sighed, we were re-united now and Slattery had selflessly flown up at short notice.
Consoling myself with these thoughts, I sat back and relaxed. Suddenly we did a 90-degree turn on iced cow pooh. Nobody was injured, but you get the idea of what sort of a Monday it was turning out to be.
After the last interview I did with Graeme Murray and Euan Lowson Pallas underwent the nadir of their career, although I'm assured it was nothing to do with the feature
Having given up their day jobs in order to concentrate on the band full-time, they had to stretch their finances to the limit so they could get themselves and their gear across the Great Divide and record their debut album proper with Eddy Offord, the man behind the controls on early Yes and ELP works.
I say 'proper', because their first LP venture 'Arrive Alive' was recorded live at a tiny north country gig and was meant only as a souvenir for their many die - hard fans. This time they went to Atlanta, Georgia (albeit on a shoestring budget) and worked towards what they really wanted to achieve.
The record, 'The Sentinel', shows that they have pulled themselves out of the shadow of Marillion and established themselves as frontrunners in their own right. Did working in America live up to their expectations?
Euan: "I think it probably surpassed our expectations because we didn't really know what to expect. lt was quite a culture shock, both being in America and actually having the opportunity to have two months solid studio time.
Do you think you benefited from being in the studio?
Graeme: "It was really good because we were able to immerse ourselves in the whole thing, as opposed to 'Arrive Alive' which was just one gig. We'd never had the chance to build tracks up from scratch before, and we learnt a lot as regards recording techniques. We'd never had the luxury of time in a studio.
It was a brave move to choose a producer who must surely be regarded as 'progressive' inasmuch as he was involved with Yes and ELP. . .
"He definitely brought things out of our music," proffers Euan. "One major thing that surfaced on this album was vocal harmonies. Not the bland, Americanised vocal harmonies you can expect, as we thought."
"He was also very interested in what we were doing—he had a feel for the sound that we wanted . . . we like a certain sort of ambience," explains guitarist Niall Mathewson. "He was aware of that."
Were you the first band he had worked with for some time?
Graeme: "The first British band he had worked with for years . . . since his last Yes thing. He had just been doing some heavy metal things with Foghat, and they moved out just as we moved in. He's worked with a lot of American bands, but I'd say we were the first band who plays the kind of music that Eddy built his reputation on . . . since the early 70's.
"He'd actually sent us over tapes," adds Euan, "of some of the projects that he's been working on and when we thought of producers we'd like to work with, he was one of the few names that everybody put up together."
The thing is, he wasn't working with us because he'd been offered lots of money to do it. He was working with us because he wanted to work with us," concludes Graeme.
I've spoken to various musos over the last couple of years who have extolled the virtues of America—and particularly its broad-minded attitude to music and its accessibility. Do you agree?
"Every form of music is readily available to everybody, " says keyboards man Ronnie Brown, whose own musical tastes lean towards jazz. "People will go along to a Duran Duran concert one night and an Iron Maiden concert the next"
But radio plays an important part in bringing everything musical to the American public. Do you think there is the same accessibility in this country?
"No!" reply the band in tuneful accord. "The choice over there is that if you want to hear rock, you can listen to it all day or if you want to hear to funk, you can listen to it all day, " continues Graeme. "I don't think you can argue with that."
Accordingly, which do you think is the more discriminating—the British or the American rock fan?
Euan: "It's hard to say. There aren't the same youth sub-cultures as there are in this country—there's far more freedom in music. But for all that there's a much more diverse input from the British music scene than the American. "
"They don't get tied up with the fashion thing so much, ~ muses Graeme. "Over here, if you've got a mohican hairstyle, you can't like Genesis or Iron Maiden, even if you do happen to like them. You can't be seen at the gig because you like to dress a certain way,"
Georgia is well into redneck country . . . how did you find that?
"I found it personally very disturbing," replies Euan. "I didn't enjoy myself as much as I thought I would. They take pride in calling themselves rednecks—I'll give you a couple of examples.
"I was speaking to somebody in a bar and I was thinking 'He seems like a fine guy'; he was asking me what sort of music we played and we were talking away for about half an hour and then he said 'Oh, I just love the way you guys kicked ass in the Falklands—that's what we want to do to these f***ing commies just now'.
"I did hear somebody say to me 'Better dead than Red' and also a young guy in a pub said to me 'You know what we say in Atlanta? We say Kill Nigger Babies'. So I was getting more than a bit upset on several occasions. "I would also add that that is not the I norm," Graeme interjects, "but there are a lot of bigots." "There was an underlying message of 'NUKE 'EM!' ~ adds Niall.
Graeme: "Something that I found disturbing was the fact that every street corner in Atlanta has a fall-out shelter. I saw one and I said 'Oh look! There's a fall-out shelter!' and then we walked up the street and I went 'There's another' . . . 'And another' . . . it makes you think. "We certainly got a rude political awakening when we went over there, because it was two days before that Korean airliner got shot down," reflects Euan. "The quality of reporting in the media in America on that incident was, to say the least, a bit blinkered. "Georgia's senator was on that plane, and he was killed. All his supporters were saying that the only reason it was shot down was because Larry McDonald was on board, and he's a member of the John Birch Society— who are very strongly anti-communist . . . very extreme right-wing. 'I found myself wishing that I could turn on the News At Ten or the Nine O'clock News, because at /east you would get something resembling the truth. I mean, the reports started with 'squadrons of Russian fighters have shot down this defenceless plane'. The actual quality of the reporting was dismal."
"After a couple of weeks it got to UFO's . . . " says Niall with a puzzling look.
'That was in The Examiner, " remembers Euan. The Examiner, if you're not familiar with it, is a scandal sheet which makes The Sun appear as a pinnacle of in depth political journalism.
There was another good one—what was the headline? 'COMMIE AGENTS STRANGLE INNOCENT AMERICANS WITH ESP~. All good clean fun—just one big soap opera!"
And you can bet your last chromium plated dollar that when the senator's widow went on TV ten minutes after the attack there were many whoops and hollers and just as many itchy trigger-fingers in 'Gator country that night.
Rest assured that the American Dream, though it may be bloated and ulcer-afflicted through too much cocaine and fast food, lives and breathes still—via the wondrous cathode ray tube. Nobody in America buys cars any more, they win them. The quiz show is the All -American Boy, and the All-American Boy will one day grow up to be . . . a quiz show presenter.
"The things we did like most were me quiz shows. From 9 am until 7 p.m. every day was human degradation time on national television, " says Graeme.
I remember seeing one programme when I went to the States last year, where a divorced couple argue it out in front of a live studio audience as to who should have custody of the furniture etc. . .
Euan: "There's one where you get this guy and his secretary, and then they ask his wife questions—and the wife suddenly finds out that the secretary has been getting more expensive Christmas presents for the last ten years and. . . 'Oooah, by the way about that hunting trip last weekend?' 'Oh, that was a business trip to Miami, wasn't it?' Risky!".
That's enough TV for now. Let's go back to more exciting things—things like progressive rock! Mention that in the Pallas camp and you're more likely to be greeted with rolled eyeballs rather than reefers, and a derisive snort rather than the offer of a bowl of muesli.
But, as Graeme points out, their music "covers two generations" In a musical climate such as ours, which is gradually becoming more open-minded (despite, I reckon, their praise for America, their eclectic approach can only widen their own appeal.
Now receiving upwards of 40 letters a week from places as far away as Australia and Scandinavia, they are delighted that they hear from 14 and 30 year-olds alike.
Graeme explains: "It appeals to the people who were into Yes and Genesis and are now looking for something new from the music they have liked since the early 70's, and it also appeals to kids who have maybe listened to big brother's albums (no, not that Big Brother) and are looking for bands of their own . . . instead of listening to old Genesis albums.
"If you look at the album charts, you'll notice that all those old albums still sell steadily. There's obviously a market there, but we feel that it's about time the oldies moved over and made room for some new bands.
We all go through musical fads and phases, and at certain times in one's life one latches on to bands and then (after puberty!) moves on to other things.
Do you think that Pallas are a band who people are going to get into and then pass on from?
Euan: "No. I think amongst ourselves we alI realise we've got to develop yet as musicians—and hopefully that will continue as we carry on as the same five piece unit. And we have people of all ages at gigs. "
One of the staunchest fans is a blind guy in his middle-twenties. While Slattery was braving the elements and racing against the diminishing light in order to produce a portfolio of shots, I listened to a tape that the fan had sent to the band.
Although most of them had already heard it, they quizzed Mike (on/off the road chief) as to whether or not a reply had been recorded by anybody. Euan, who had not heard it, sat quietly. He was obviously touched by the tape and he later told me of the guy's laconic, self-effacing wit.
"He came up to us one night and he was convinced that we'd got a new drummer because the drums had been altered. We hadn't, but he noticed the tiny difference in sound that nobody else even mentioned. He's also got a great sense of humour— another night he came up to me and said I thought the lights were great tonight'.
The band were eager to let me listen to rough tapes of material they are working on for their second album (although the first hasn't been released yet) and I was fascinated to hear initial ideas worked through and amazed at the tightness of the group, even at that stage.
Taking their places in the minute room which houses all their musical equipment, Graeme, Ronnie, Derek and Niall strike up me music and within seconds there is a real flow to it Niall makes effective use of his guitar synth, weaving lines into Ronnie's rich melodies.
Derek, kitted out in Antarctic army surplus, keeps an emphatic beat whilst peering comically from beneath his Lapland cap which insists on drooping over his eyes Graeme likewise maintains a fluid rhythm manoeuvring himself round his pedal unit with great adroitness.
It seemed incongruous to say the least, to be mooching around this small cottage in the middle of nowhere in the bleak midwinter, and having this ethereal music permeating the building—music coming from four instrumentalists standing almost shoulder to shoulder in their living room.
There exists within Pallas a mutual rapport and camaraderie the likes of which I have encountered very rarely in a band. Unusually, they are all possessed with a quiet, telling humour—and an infectious enthusiasm for life which rubs off on you straight away. ("When we saw the Americans' reaction to the Korean airliner, I got on the phone immediately and said goodbye to my family!"—Euan.)
Able to rest up a bit in the sense that they no longer have to worry about selling heirlooms and prized possessions, Pallas embark on their first full-blooded nation-wide tour at the beginning of March. Last year they went out, as headliners of a progressive package (co-operative) with Solstice and Trilogy, but as you probably know by now, that tour came to an abrupt and unceremonious halt owing to Euan's voice problems.
It also didn't seem to me to be the best way of presenting themselves—strictly within the progressive spectrum, but it was by all accounts an enjoyable outing, while it lasted.
"Yeah, I can relate to that man, " drawled Euan, rolling his eyes round and round when I asked him what Solstice were like.
But although they may have set off fire extinguishers in Solstice's dressing room and generally remained unimpressed by the kilo bags of aforementioned muesli (and a cow in the dressing room for milk.), Euan adds honestly, "They were a good bunch. "
It's hard to even equate Pallas with the progressive rock revival ('revival as in artificial respiration, because their completely down-to-earth attitudes and ideas are so far removed from the many bands who make up that particular media creation.) However, it's not my place to defend bands' reputations—they'd be the first to admit and agree with that.
With 'The Sentinel imminent (15,000 advance orders is proof enough that the pudding is worth the eating} and the group's morale higher than a pot-smoking 747 pilot, Pallas, non drug-users to a man say 'Yeah man, rock off' to their popular press image of the last two years and revel in the real world.
As Euan himself said with his best quiz show grin: "Be there or be SQUARE!"