Despite a population of less than 30,000, the Scottish town of Dunfermline produced its fair share of musicians including the singer Barbara Dickson, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Richard Jobson of the Skids, plus his bandmate Stuart Adamson who went onto bigger things with another Dunfermline lad Bruce Watson in the band Big Country. It was also home to tough Scottish rockers Nazareth. Original members Pete Agnew and Dan McCafferty were born there, Manuel ‘Manny’ Charlton arrived at the age of two after his parents emigrated from Andalusia in Spain and Darrell Anthony Sweet’s family moved north of the border to the town in Fife a matter of months after his birth in Bournemouth on 16th May 1947. Like John Hawken, Don Partridge and Peter Bellamy, Sweets only connection to the Bournemouth area is his birth but, however tenuous the link, this is his story.
Pipe bands have been an integral part of Scottish life for generations and before rock ‘n’ roll grabbed the attention of the seven-year-old Darrell Sweet, he joined the Burntisland Pipe Band, which has been an institution in Dunfermline since 1923. He was taught the rudiments of drumming using practice pads, before progressing onto a marching drum when he was nine. By the time he had reached fourteen, his musical taste’s had broadened, and he joined a skiffle group where he used a basic snare drum and cymbal set-up, which he gradually added to over time with a variety of drums and cymbals. As he became more proficient, Darrell took notice of pop and rock drummers such as Aynsley Dunbar and Bobby Elliott of The Hollies, plus the jazzman Joe Morello. In 1963, as the Beat Boom took hold, he replaced Alan Fraser in The Shaddettes, a local covers band that was formed two years previous by vocalist / guitarist Pete Agnew. Despite his love of rock and pop, Darrell never lost his enthusiasm for the Burntisland band and remained a member until he was twenty-three, sometimes turning up to Shadettes gigs still wearing his kilt and the worse for wear with drink after a heavy session with his pipe buddies.
In 1965 The Shadettes leather throated roadie, Dan McCafferty, became the group’s vocalist after their original singer Del Haldane walked out at short notice, completing a line-up of Darrell on drums, Agnew on guitar and vocals, bassist Alfie Murray and John Hearn on keyboards. Over the next four years the smart, be-suited group churned out an eclectic repertoire of songs such as the sappy “Simple Simon Says”, a few Beatles and Stones covers, renditions of heavier fare by the likes of Deep Purple, Spooky Tooth, Led Zeppelin and Moby Grape plus a selection of their favourite soul numbers. They played every club, hall and dive in and around Fife accompanying dancers and brawling drunks, before winning residencies at the slightly more salubrious Bellville Hotel and the much larger Kinema Ballroom in Dunfermline. Similar to the Irish Showbands who knocked out standard dance tunes and current pop hits on demand in clubs and church halls, groups in Scotland were expected to do much the same by keeping up to date with current music trends. Ballroom managers insisted they added at least three new chart songs a week to their set lists to satisfy their customers, and through the constant updating of their repertoire, The Shadettes developed an uncanny knack of taking a cover version and making it their own. A handy talent which would stand them in good stead in the years to come.
By 1970 the line-up had coalesced into Darrell on drums, Pete Agnew now settled on bass guitar, Dan McCafferty on vocals and last to join on guitar, a long-term friend of the band Manuel ‘Manny’ Charlton. In the age of nascent rock music, the quartet felt The Shadettes moniker had become dated and adopted a new name, Nazareth, from a line in the song “The Weight” by The Band. The Nazareth in question is the home of the Martin guitar company in Pennsylvania, not the biblical childhood home of Jesus. They also acquired a manager / financial backer in the shape of Bill Fehilly, a Scottish bingo millionaire who stumped up the equivalent of their weekly salaries (Darrell had a job as an accountant) to entice them to try their luck as a professional, no-frills rock band in London. All four members were married, so it was a hard sell from their manager to persuade them to leave the security of a life in Scotland for an uncertain future down south.
They left for the capital and a rundown communal flat on 1st July 1971, intending to give it a year to see how it panned out. They played their first gig at the Marquee Club before throwing themselves into an endless round of one-nighters around Britain and Europe, gradually building a loyal fan base while hopefully attracting the attention of a record company. Gaining an audience proved relatively easy compared to winning the trust of a label, and without a contract forthcoming, Fehilly put his money where his mouth was and self-financed their gritty, eponymous debut album. The record came out on the small Pegasus label to a smattering of favourable reviews with the NME claiming it was, “Most impressive”. The only problem being it didn’t sell, even with top-notch cuts such as “Witchdoctor Woman” and the singles “Morning Dew” and “Dear John”. Nor did the directionless sophomore effort “Exercises”, with its uncharacteristic acoustic arrangements, strings, and Scottish airs. The soft rock balladeering was enough to confuse even their most ardent supporters. Their live reputation, however, kept on growing, winning them support slots with Atomic Rooster, Rory Gallagher and Deep Purple.
Despite an ever-expanding fan base, the cash needed to keep Nazareth on the road and cover their recording costs was close to running out, which gave their manager a case of the jitters. But in the nick of time the band achieved their breakthrough with the Roger Glover produced Razamanaz. The Deep Purple bassist believed in the material they had been road testing over the past year and delivered a focus to a strong set of catchy songs that brought them to the attention of a larger demographic through two top ten singles, “Bad Bad Boy” and “Broken Down Angel”, both of which they performed on BBC’s Top of the Pops. They built on their success with a rocking cover of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight” taken from the “Loud N’ Proud” album, which charted in the UK, America and Europe. They built on their reputation by making numerous TV appearances on Top of the Pops, the Old Grey Whistle Test where they were the go to act if a band cancelled at the last minute and Germany’s Beat Club. They were also voted ‘Brightest Hope’ by readers of the Melody Maker, which helped to keep up the momentum. Glover’s third and final effort as producer, Rampant, was recorded in Montreux, Switzerland on the Rolling Stones mobile studio. It charted in the UK and rounded off a busy fifteen months in which the band had released three albums and played nearly three hundred shows, an astonishing feat that emphasized their no nonsense, hard-working approach. The only single to be lifted from Rampant, “Shanghai’d in Shanghai”, made the top fifty (apparently fit became a favourite song to get married to in the USA) and later in the year a standalone reworking of Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle” enjoyed an eight-week run eventually climbing to number fourteen.
For 1975’s Hair of the Dog, Manny Charlton took charge of production and came up trumps with the record that broke them in America. The title track with its “Son of a Bitch” refrain became a huge hit on American rock radio, making the phrase the prize candidate for the album title until they ran into resistance from the censors and the chain store Sears who made it clear they wouldn’t stock it. The US version contained a melodic ballad first recorded by the Everly Brothers called “Love Hurts”. Released as a single, it climbed to number eight in the Billboard Hot One Hundred, number one in Canada and South Africa and a record-breaking sixty-weeks hovering around the Norwegian chart.
As the new dawn of snotty anarchy gathered momentum in 1976, Nazareth took a risky fork in the road by releasing Close Enough For Rock ‘n’ Roll, a rock opera, or as they prefer to call it, “a themed collection of songs” about life on the road. The critics had a field day and panned it, but the band feel they missed the subtle humour of the piece. A speedy follow up, Play ’n’ the Game, sold well in Canada earning gold status, but back home they were on a slide, after half a dozen top fifty singles and four well-received albums, punk took its toll on their popularity. 1977’s Expect no Mercy sold well in Canada, but tragedy tempered any celebrations as their manager Bill Fehilly was killed in a plane crash, leaving the band stunned. At the time Nazareth were supporting Lynyrd Skynyrd, who also suffered a tragedy when they lost three band members, vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines in the same appalling manner. They were dark days.
In 1978 they took the unpresented step of inviting a second guitarist, Zal Cleminson, the unmistakable white-faced Pierrot clown from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, to join at the suggestion of Manny Charlton, who had used the axe-man previously on his self-titled solo record. At the time Zal was leading a life out of the limelight driving a taxi, but the addition of his guitar beefed up their sound and contributed to Nazareth’s heaviest sounding album to date, No Mean City. The album returned them to the top fifty in the UK with two singles, “May the Sun Shine” and “Star”.
The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan guitarist Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter was brought in to produce their next opus and band favourite, Malice in Wonderland. But after months relentlessly promoting the album, the band found their record company was on the verge of collapse. As Agnew and Darrell desperately renegotiated a new deal, Cleminson lost patience with the inactivity and left. For their twelfth album, The Fool Circle, they roped in keyboard player John Locke, a founding member of the Californian band Spirit. The mixture of rock, reggae and blues was a departure that didn’t work, but they soon put that to rights with the double live set Snaz recorded at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. For the record, the band expanded to what they dubbed the Nazareth Orchestra with the addition of guitarist Billy Rankin.
During the eighties the band reverted to a more manageable quartet, however, their profile in the UK declined to such a point that some of their albums didn’t even gain a release, although they could always expect a warm welcome in Germany. Deutschland became a home from home for many vintage British rock acts during the eighties, as they escaped the onslaught of new wave, new romantics, drum machines and the dreaded synthesiser. Another unexpected avenue for exploitation opened up in the mid-eighties, with the gradual thawing of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the west. Taking advantage of the new Glasnost (Russian for openness) emanating from behind the iron curtain, Nazareth took a full stage production to Polish ice hockey stadiums and Moscow’s Olympic Stadium, where hundreds of thousands of rock starved fans flocked to their concerts.
In 1991, long term founding member Manny Charlton abandoned ship to pursue a solo career, frustrated with the lack of label support and diminishing returns financially and artistically. For a replacement, they persuaded Billy Rankin to return for a second spell. Two years later an unexpected tribute came their way when Guns ‘n’ Roses recorded a version of “Hair of the Dog” for The Spaghetti Incident, an album of covers by some of their favourite bands including The Damned, The Stooges, UK Subs, New York Dolls and controversially, Charles Manson, the mastermind behind the Family, a collection of waifs and strays he brainwashed to act out his deadly fantasy’s. The connection between the two bands ran deep through Guns ‘n’ Roses patronage of Nazareth gigs before they broke big, the invitation to Manny Charlton to produce an album which he soon abandoned in frustration by their inability to be in the same room at the same time and Axl Rose’s request for the band to sing “Love Hurts” at his wedding, which they declined.
In 1994 Billy Rankin departed again to be replaced by Jimmy Murrison from the Scots band Trouble in Doogie Land and veteran Stone the Crows keyboard player Ronnie Leahy brought his undoubted skills to the table. The quintet only released one album together, Boogaloo in 1998.
The band then took a well-earned rest over the Christmas and New Year before embarking on an extensive jaunt around North America. On 30th April 1999, as their tour bus pulled into the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater in Indiana, Darrell Sweet was taken ill. As he was being treated by the paramedics, the drummer suffered a massive cardiac arrest in the backstage area. He was taken to Floyd Memorial Hospital in New Albany where he was pronounced dead on arrival; the band was devastated and cancelled the remaining dates before returning home to Scotland. Apparently there was a history of heart attacks in the Sweet family, but no one expected him to die at such a young age. He was fifty-one years old. In 2001 a plaque was erected at the site where he died by fan Brian Baxter after collecting donations from Nazareth devotee’s from around the world. The unveiling was attended by Darrell’s mother Margaret Casey and sister Melanie Cameron, who flew in especially from Scotland. The memorial states “Thank you for the music” followed by his favourite saying, “May Your Rocks Always Roll”. Darrell is survived by his wife Marion and their two children, Michael and Maxine.
As for Nazareth, after a period of grieving, much soul searching and several meetings, the band decided to carry on as they believed that is what Darrell would have wanted. To keep the feeling of unity within the band, he was replaced by Lee Agnew, son of bass player Pete. Nazareth are still on the road as of 2020 with the Agnew’s still in the line-up plus Jimmy Murrison on guitar and Carl Sentence from Krokus on vocals. Dan McCafferty left in 2013 due to a diagnosis of COPD brought on by years of smoking, which ironically contributed to his distinctive gruff voice. Over the years they have sold in excesses of twenty million albums worldwide and incredibly in the old Soviet Union before Glasnost, it is believed a staggering eight million counterfeit Nazareth albums found their way into the homes of rock starved Russians.
For a comprehensive overview of their music, try the 2018, three CD set, Loud & Proud! Anthology on the Union Square record label. Or if you want their whole oeuvre and more, invest in the thirty-two CD, six vinyl long player, three seven inch single box set, complete with book and memorabilia.
Nazareth Discography 1971 to 1998
Dear John c/w Friends: Pegasus (PGS 2) 1972
Morning Dew c/w Spinning Top: Pegasus (PGS 4) 1972
If You See My Baby c/w Hard Living: Pegasus (PGS 5) 1972
Broken Down Angel c/w Witchdoctor Woman: Mooncrest (MOON 1) 1973
Bad Bad Boy c/w Hard Living c/w Spinning Top: Mooncrest (MOON 9) 1973
This Flight Tonight c/w Called Her Name: Mooncrest (MOON 14) 1973
Shanghai’d in Shanghai c/w Cat’s Eye Apple pie: Mooncrest (MOON 22) 1974
Love Hurts c/w Down: Mooncrest (MOON 37) 1974
Hair of the Dog c/w Too Bad, Too Sad: Mooncrest (MOON 44 1975
My White Bicycle c/w Miss Misery: Mooncrest (MOON 47) 1975
Holy Roller c/w Railroad Boy: Mountain (TOP 3) 1975
Carry Out Feelings c/w Lift the Lid: Mountain (TOP 8) 1976
You’re the Violin c/w Loretta: Mountain (TOP 14) 1976
I Don’t Want To Go On Without You c/w Good Love: Mountain (TOP 21) 1976
Somebody to Roll c/w Vancouver Shakedown: Mountain (TOP 22) 1977
Gone Dead Train c/w Greens c/w Desolation Road: Mountain (NAZ 2) 1978
Place in Your Heart c/w Kentucky Fried Blues: Mountain (TOP 37) 1978
May the Sunshine c/w Expect No Mercy: Mountain (NAZ 003) 1979
Whatever You Want Babe c/w Telegram Parts 1,2 & 3: Mountain (NAZ 004) 1979
Star c/w Born to Love: Mountain (TOP 45) 1979
Holiday c/w Ship of Dreams: Mountain (TOP 50) 1980
Dressed to Kill c/w Pop the Silo: NEMS (NES 301) 1981
Morning Dew c/w Juicy Lucy: NEMS (NES 302) 1981
Love Leads to Madness c/w Take the Rap: NEMS (NIS 101) 1982
Games c/w You Love Another: NEMS (NIS 102) 1983
Dream On c/w Juicy Lucy: NEMS (NIS 103) 1983
Ruby Tuesday c/w Sweetheart Tree: Vertigo (VER 13) 1984
Cinema c/w Siquomb: Vertigo (884 982-7) 1986
Winner On the Night c/w Bad Bad Boy: Vertigo (876-449-1) 1989
Hot Tracks: Love Hurts c/w This Flight Tonight c/w Broken Down Angel c/w Hair of the Dog: Mountain Records (NAZ 1) 1977
Nazareth: Pegasus (PEG 10)1971
Exercises: Pegasus (PEG 14) 1972
Razamanaz: Mooncrest (CREST 1)1973
Loud N’ Proud: Mooncrest (CREST 4) 1973
Rampant: Mooncrest (CREST 15) 1974
Hair of the Dog: Mountain (TOPS 107) 1975
Close Enough For Rock N’ Roll: Mountain (TOPS 109) 1976
Play’n’ the Game: Mountain (TOPS 113) 1976
Expect No Mercy: Mountain (TOPS 115) 1977
No Mean City: Mountain (TOPS 123) 1979
Malice in Wonderland: Mountain (TOPS 126) 1980
The Fool Circle: NEMS (NEL 6019) 1981
Snaz: NEMS (NELD 102) 1981 Double live
2 X 2: NEMS (NIN 001) 1982
Sound Elixir: Vertigo (812 396-1) 1983
The Catch: Vertigo (VERL 20) 1984
Cinema: Vertigo (830 300 1) 1986
Snakes ‘n’ Ladders: Vertigo (838 426) 1989
No Jive: Mausoleum (367 0010.1) 1991
BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert: Windsong International (WIN CD005) 1991
Move Me: Eagle Records (EAMCD149) 1994
Boogaloo: CMC (06076 86263-2) 1998