Top rock pedigree for former Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Nazareth guitarist Zal Cleminson's new band Sin'dogs as rockers roll up to Ironworks, Inverness
HOW appropriate that Zal Cleminson’s latest project is called Sin’dogs, considering that the Govan guitar hero has a pedigree like no other.
From his work with the theatrical glam rockers the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB) – where his mime-inspired face make-up became an iconic part of the band’s cult image – and Nazareth, to his session work with the likes of Bonnie Tyler and Midge Ure, Zal is one of Scottish rock’s musical icons.
Yet Sin’dogs came to be after a decade away from music, following the end of an SAHB reunion featuring Max Maxwell on vocals back in 2007.
“When we reformed I was actually quite keen to try and move things forward and start working on new material or rearrange some of the older songs; freshen things up a bit and try to get something a bit more creative happening.
“And I wasn’t really getting the kind of enthusiasm or support from anybody else in the band, and I thought, ‘well hang on a minute.’ I’m not going to get up on stage and prance about to Delilah for the rest of my life, become a tribute to myself.”
Walking away from it all, Zal didn’t play guitar for the following decade, until he felt the need for musical therapy.
“We were living out in Cyprus, my wife and I,” he said. “And when I was in Cyprus, I had a really, really bad spell of depression and anxiety and so on. I thought to myself, ‘hang on, I need to do something.’
“I had a little guitar and speaker that I’d taken with me, and just picked it up. It was a form of therapy really more than anything else.
“And then of course things suddenly began to turn around, ideas came, song ideas, lyrics came, the guitar riffs... I said to myself, ‘hang on this sounds pretty good’!”
I’m not going to get up on stage and prance about to Delilah for the rest of my life, become a tribute to myself.
What had originally been planned as a solo album named Govan Boy (after one of the songs) ended up becoming a full band after he went into the studio.
And while it’s Zal’s name figuratively above the door of Zal Cleminson’s Sin’dogs for now – “the ‘Zal Cleminson’ is getting smaller and smaller and the ‘Sin’dogs’ is getting bigger and bigger” – it’s clear that the whole band means the world to him.
“I’ve always wanted to kind of come away from relying on the name,” he said. “Obviously there’s a benefit to that initially, it’s part of the reason that I’m speaking to you right now!
“Okay, there’s a legacy there but it was a legacy that I didn’t want to be steeped in the past.
“I wanted to take this thing forward, so for me Sin’dogs is the vehicle, Sin’dogs is what it’s all about.”
It’s a more stripped back, crunching and heavy style of music than fans of his most famous projects might be used to – but for Zal, Sin’dogs’ style felt more than comfortable.
“For me it was kind of like going back full circle, returning to the style of music that I played in Tear Gas,” he explained, referencing the heavy prog rock band that eventually evolved into SAHB.
“It was the style of guitar playing that comes to me most naturally, that style of music is what I enjoy and what I like, what I get off on if you like.”
And now that the first album is out – with a second being worked on already – Zal isn’t looking back.
“I never really expected it to be taken this far, I never really visualised it getting to where we are right now,” he said.
“We’re out doing gigs, we’ve got an album done. So it’s all a kind of bonus at the end of the day for me to be honest – and it’s exciting, you know?”