It’s a lovely day in London, with the sun blasting away recent memories of floods and drenchings. Outside the Hammersmith Apollo the sign proudly boasts that tonights act is none other than The Scorpions, and despite the doors not opening for another three hours there’s already fifty or so fans queuing up outside, most of then bedecked in band shirts. Almost as prolific as the fans are the ticket touts, who accost everyone in their attempts to make a few quid. No one is biting, but this doesn’t deter them At one point a small bus of people pulls up and a tout leaps into action in case anyone aboard hasn’t got a ticket. Unfortunately for him the bus contains a certain Michael Schenker and friends, who most certainly don’t need a ticket. The buses arrival prompts mild excitement from the waiting fans, some of whom come over and try to get a wave from their hero. Schenker looks a bit bewildered but obliges, much to their delight. It always amuses me when I see this sort of thing, as before I started interviewing bands I’d have been right there with them, dining out for weeks on the anecdote that Michael Schenker waved at me. As it is, I try my best to strike a pose that says ‘Journalist hard at work’ and wait for my appointment.
By the time I get in, more and more people have joined the queue, seemingly from all four corners of the world. As I am allowed past the security bloke a fan smiles and says “Jammy bastard!”. Maybe he’s right, but for me this is work as much as pleasure, so I check I’ve got all my prepared questions (prepared an hour ago in the pub, if I’m honest) and that the dictaphone is powered up. All is groovy, so I take a deep breath and go to meet ‘Ze Germans’.
In the same small dressing room I met REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin in a few weeks ago, I am introduced to Matthias Jabs and Klaus Meine, guitarist and vocalist of rock legends The Scorpions. When I was a teenager I used to absolutely love The Scorpions, discovering them through their ‘World Wide Live’ album. After we have introduced ourselves and sat down, the first thing I do is thank them for giving me such great music to help me through a shitty period in life. They look bemused, and it occurs to me that people don’t just say ‘Thank you for the music’ very often. Maybe they should, or maybe I’m just a bit odd.
One thing to note about Klaus and Matthias is that they are very nice people. Considering the weight of rock history they carry about on their shoulders, they are relaxed and chatty, and have the habit of saying “You know” a lot. The reason they are here is to promote their new LP “Humanity: Hour One”, which is quite frankly the best thing they have done for years, a real stormer of an album. It is notable for the fact that Desmond Child oversaw the production, and he has a reputation for being somewhat bossy.
“Is he bossy?” laughs Klaus when I ask if the rumours are true. “First song on the record! 'Child! Stay Down'” . He laughs again. “I think you should find a new word for that because...”
“That's how bossy he is!” interjects Matthias. “Desmond is like a very special and very strong kind of character personality and he lives for his music, he dies for his passion. He's always ready to give... five hundred percent for it. He never gives up until he has a performance from the person behind the glass in the studio, which is very powerful and strong. When he's excited he is totally over the moon and he goes nuts about it and goes like 'Come on, give me exactly that again!'. So, to work with him is really a trip. It's a great experience, you know, because he's so musical. He focussed very much on the vocals, and it was very much a great experience. I think when you listen to the album you can hear it – you go into battle with him and it's a challenge.”
I give my opinion that the album seems very mature, with a distinct lack of songs about love or rocking anybody like hurricanes.
“we wanted to make more of a mature kind of record with lyrics not so much about boys running wild” explains Klaus. “We went to make an album where fans out there can take this band really serious as artistes. It was not so much about fishing for a cheap hit single, it was more about coming out with an album that was very strong as an entire body of work.”
“A lot of people were afraid that Desmond would push us into the pop area, but we are strong enough,” explains Matthias, referring to fan worries that Child would try to turn them into another Bon Jovi. “He was happy about that too. He would probably have gone slightly into a different direction. I think it was a combination of the band, Desmond and James Michael made sure that we have this result.”
It turns out that Child focused on Klaus and the vocals, whilst James Michael handled the instruments.
“It was a good balance,” says Klaus. “We wanted to try to find the signature Scorpions sound but at the same time come up with a current ound and make an album that sounds like 2007.”
“You don't want to too far over the edge and try to be what you are not,” says Matthias, wise old rock sage that he is. I casually mention that an example of this might be the bands ill fated ‘Eye To Eye’ album. “The worst example, yes,” he agrees with a grin, “or the best example.”
It’s been a long time since the heady days of ‘Rock You like A Hurricane’, when rock was king for a while. The band are releasing the single ‘Humanity’, a very cool, laid back song, but seem unconcerned overmuch about the possibilities of having another hit.
“Of course, you wish to have a hit.” Says Matthias diplomatically. “It is better to have a hit than to not have one. Every attempt that fails, in terms of marketing, or producing or songwriting that's meant to be 'let's have a hit' and fails – it's always the worst. There are a lot of songs with the potential to get to the people, but you can't shove it down people's throats.” I ask how the songs for the album came about. “Last year we were planning to do an album, we had lots of songs ready to go,” explains Matthias. “We were sitting with your countryman Roy Thomas Baker. At first he came to Germany and we were talking about things, trying to work out what do we do, you know? It takes a little bit of thought these days, when it's album number 21. You don't just go into the studio and start playing. We had lots of songs written and then we went over to Los Angeles because finally we decided on Mr Child.” Mr Child? I say, with raised eyebrows. “Desmond,” he quickly corrects with a laugh.
One thing that has caused tongues to wag on the tour is the erratic behaviour of Michael Schenker, slammed for some poor performances that suggest he is not, shall we say, at his best on this tour. I don’t want to throw accusations, so ask how it has been working with him again.
“Like in the old days – an adventure,” Klaus says carefully.
I ask if he’s still the Mad Mickey Schenker of old.
“I don't know,” he replies. “Actually, the only time on this short tour we met was last night during ' Holiday', where he showed up right in the middle of the song, unfortunately without a guitar.”
“He seems to be disappearing a lot, so the band doesn't know where he is and whatever,” adds Matthias. “But, you know, he played the gigs and good or bad I can't tell, we didn't hear it. I saw him at the side of the stage during 'Coast To Coast' and then ' Holiday'. Those two songs he played with us on 'Lovedrive' – it must be telling him something, it was dragging him on stage, I could sense it.“
As well as Schenker, the band have brought along Uli Jon Roth, who played guitar with them in the early days between 1973 and 1978. I ask Klaus how the idea to bring him on tour to play a few songs with them each night came about.
“With the Wacken show, which was kind of like family reunion show, we played for three hours with Michael, Uli, Herman Rarebell,” he say. “We figured out that for a lot of the long time fans they really enjoyed having the chance to see the Scorpions with Uli playing songs from the very early days. For us it's exciting too, to play songs from our brand new album and then go all the way back to the Seventies and play a song like 'Fly To The Rainbow'. It's amazing, and it's a lot of fun.”
One place that will forever be associated with the band is Russia. They played the Moscow peace Festival in the Eighties, a show they really should have headlined as they were one of the only bands to have played behind the Iron Curtain. They are even quite close to ex Russian premier Mijail Gorbachov, having played their own part in Glasnost. I ask Klaus if he has fond memories of their first meeting with this highly influential man.
“I think we were the only band invited to the Kremlin when Gorbachov was President.” He says proudly. “We felt like The Beatles meeting the Queen! We had a jam session, he played guitar, then we played 'Wind Of Change'. He spent an hour with us, talking about Glasnost, Perestroika... we shared a few rock and roll stories with him. It was a very, very special moment.”
“And many other times in between!” chips in Matthias. “We saw him in Athens once, he came to Hammergard a couple of times.” (At least I think he says Hammergard. Sorry if this is wrong, but my geography is shit.)
“Last year we played in Russia on a TV show and there was a beautiful girl that picked us up at the airport as part of the TV studio,” continues Klaus.“She was travelling with me in my car and she was talking to somebody on the phone in Russian and then she said 'Grandpa says hi'. I asked who is Grandpa and she said Mijail Gorbachov. He turned up later for the show. Every time we meet, in Berlin or Russia, it's like a meeting a good old friend.”
There has been a lot of talk about the Peace Festival, and how it was all a bit of a joke to some concerned. Unsurprisingly, Klaus is very positive about the whole event. “We had the experience of playing ten shows a year before that in Leningrad, and it was like we were the pioneers, the leaders of the whole gang bringing all of those other bands with us. We were more exited about the fact that rock and roll had finally arrived in the Soviet Union. The times of the cold war would over soon, there was a feeling in the air. All the background about how this whole festival came together, there's millions of stories around it, but for us it was not the major point.”
So, I say, the important thing is that it happened at all, not how it happened.
“Exactly,” they both say together.
Talk of festivals brings me to a story I heard recently about the Scorps playing a major European festival and using a Limo to get from the backstage area to the stage, a distance of about 60 yards.
“The only time we went in a Limosine up on stage is when we played The Wall in Berlin with Roger Waters,” Klaus says, not quite understanding what I’m getting at. I try to explain it, but they both look a little puzzled.
“Actually we've done shit like that,” concedes Matthias. “It was either muddy or there's too many people backstage... there's always a reason.“
“We go with whatever car turns up, as long as it's a Mercedes or a BMW!” laughs Klaus.
I’m feeling a bit cheeky, so I mention that Germans are notorious for having a poor sense of humour, even though bands like The Scorpions and Helloween always seem to be having a mad time of it. I ask them to tell me a German joke, translated into English, so I can judge for myself.
“You are absolutely on the right spot here!” Klaus says to Matthias, who then proceeds to tell me a joke involving Nazis that really wouldn’t work in print, especially as it ends with a comical Heil Hitler salute! Suffice to say it’s quite funny, and I can officially confirm that Germans indeed have a wonderful sense of humour.
As my times with the guys runs out, I ask if there’s any current bands that they would like to play a gig with that they’ve never played with before.
“For me it would be The Killers,” says Klaus, surprising me.“We spent so much time in LA listening to K-Rock and they were played all the time. I like their sounds.”
“Nickelback. I like Nickelback,” says Matthias, and I get a very attractive mental image of the two bands doing a show, Now that would be worth seeing.
It’s time to go, so I shake hands and wish them all the best with their tour. Twenty years ago I would have made sure of getting a few albums autographed and my picture taken with them, but today it’s just the handshake. I know in my mind that I’ve met these guys and enjoyed their company, and I don’t need any other mementoes than that.
Interview by Alan Holloway,