Neil Daniels has written a meticulously researched book about British band UFO, which formed in 1969 and has since released with varying line-ups more than twenty studio and live albums. Not since Martin Popoff’s 'Shoot Out the Lights'(2005) has this underrated rock band been graced with such an informative and insightful rendering. Daniels writes with the enthusiasm of a fan but with the fair but critical eye of a seasoned journalist.

The author faithfully chronicles the band’s discography beginning with their Space Rock genesis, which neglected to curry favour with American and British audiences – the band hadn’t yet nailed its identity. In 1972, the band shifted focus to rock. In 1973, German guitarist Michael Schenker (then in the Scorpions, ultimately in the Michael Schenker Group) smacked of virtuosity, but the interpersonal band relationship was often adrift because of cultural factors and Schenker’s understandable feelings of isolation. As Daniels says, “…Michael joined UFO despite not being able to speak English; his guitar did the talking for him” – that line foreshadows a litany of Schenker-related miscommunications that deeply impacted the status of the touring engagements. Still, a monster of a musician, he stayed with the band the first time until 1978, but then departed and rejoined several other times. We discover what makes Schenker such a grade A musician, but we’re also let in on how this line-up as well as many others affected the fans and UFO morale.

Through dozens of interviews we glean that Schenker and lead singer Phil Mogg were often at odds. And in the studio, producer Leo Lyons (Ten Years After, Frankie Miller) got frustrated with Mogg – “Phil would come in with lyrics at the last minute.” Lyons would essentially tolerate the waiting game. Ron Nevison would approach dealing with such antics differently. Still, Lyons is one of many voices that commend Mogg for keeping his voice sharp and lyrics strong – perhaps a small price to be paid for erratic studio behaviour and mounting studio expenses.

Daniels goes on in great detail about major production decisions. With Lyons they recorded 'Phenomenon'. Daniels concludes, “This forthcoming release would mark the beginning of what was, for many fans, the definitive line-up of UFO: singer Phil Mogg, bassist Pete Way, drummer Andy Parker and guitarist Michael Schenker.” Did Lyons understand the vision of the band? Apparently Lyons knew how to let his artists shine “which is why he was on the band’s side when they did not chop the solo in half during 'Rock Bottom'... .” In several telling moments, Mogg asserts that the band was not simply interested in making and marketing hit records — they were in it for the music.

And the overall consensus seems to be that Mogg’s voice and keen ear for melody and rock lyric overrides any pesky obstacles.

Guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond (Savoy Brown) added a new dimension when brought onboard in 1976. He replaced spirited Danny Peyronel, who states: “I didn’t ‘leave,’ I was ‘let go'.” Daniels puts Raymond’s arrival in context by informing us that “bands did not use samples of recorded sounds onstage – everything was live.” That Raymond could multi-task was musically beneficial as well as cost-effective.

After three recordings with Lyons, the band welcomed working with Ron Nevison. In the studio, Nevison, “a tough task master”, refuses to be derailed by the band members’ quarrels, often-haphazard work habits and alcohol abuse. His psychological persistence, knowledge of the members’ individual talents and his decision to experiment with outside-the-lines arrangements resulted in award-winning albums, including: 1977’s 'Lights Out', 1978’s 'Obsession' and live album 'Strangers in the Night'. For the latter, we become privy to a few choice production magic tricks.

Because Nevison played such a huge role in the band’s success, UFO asked him to come back later in the 1990s and he also produced for the Michael Schenker Group. It’s rare in a book of this length (234 pages) that one learns so much about a band’s behind-the-scenes trajectory. Hearing the producers speak so candidly widens our overall appreciation of UFO’s staying power and flexibility.

Clearly the chemistry changed as integral members left and rejoined. Pete Way, who now struggles with health issues, is genuinely appreciated for his enormous contributions, although he caused his share of concern and grief. When drummer Andy Parker returned, he found that the line-up with current American guitarist Vinnie Moore was not only energising but peaceful. Moore is an excellent player who has more than a bent towards the blues which pleases Mogg, and he also gets the humour of this hard working band.

The band continues to reward their legion of loyal fans with royal performances and, although the Paul Chapman and Michael Schenker fans might not hitch a ride on the Moore bandwagon, they turn up to pump fists to classics like ‘Shoot Shoot’ and ‘Lights Out’ and songs drawn from UFO’s increasingly fresh canon.

UFO is described as a band that appeals to working class audiences, particularly in the Midwest regions of the United States. Daniels draws from numerous concert reviews there and in the UK. From back stage calamities to fierce examples of audience-band synchronicity and fiery solos, Daniels makes sure we’re engrossed in the moment. The book includes a full discography, copious endnotes and a mids-section of glossy photos. It is a fast and fact-filled read and, because of the author’s thorough homework and fair play, the musicians are flesh and blood players who struggle with flailing economics, personal demons and a desire to beat the odds – something all of us can relate to.

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