Where to begin really, on what began as a short writeup as a tribute on a sad day, that we lost guitarist, Bernie Torme. Lost to us after he’d been hospitalised for the previous four weeks., after his battle with pneumonia. I was shocked, saddened and gutted to learn that this man who has been an influence on me, was no longer with us.
So this tribute became more of a tour through Bernie’s musical path and in some ways my own musical path. The paths crossed over throughout the years in different ways.
Anyway, wind back the clock, to my school days which is where I discovered this great guitarist. There are not many guitarist’s that have impressed me over the years, but Bernie definitely did. Bernie had been on the circuit before I discovered him, but probably the 1st time I showed an interest was when Ian Gillan put together a new solo band. The band didn’t really seem to fit the mould of the rock bands that were around at the time, late 70’s. Gillan came from your typical long-haired rock band of the time, Deep Purple. Then, probably via Sounds music paper, I was introduced to this new Gillan band with this Punky looking guitarist, Bernie, Bald, Bearded and a rather large Bass player, John McCoy, whom we had gotten to know via his playing on the 1st Samson album. Not forgetting the Mr Nic.e guy keyboardist of the band Colin Towns. And completed with Mick Underwood on drums.
Their 1st album, Mr Universe was played non stop during the year of its release in 1979, and is still one I’ve returned to even to this day. The band seemed to be on a constant tour of all the Odeon style venues during 1979/80. They played some venues twice at different times on the 1st tour. I got to catch them at Birmingham Oden on two occasions at both ends of the tour. The tour was memorable for John McCoy swinging out on a wire over the stage and audience, while playing the bass solo. This was around the time that bands included a solo for most of the members of the bands, including Bernie with Gillan. This is where Bernie came into his own with his own distinct guitar sound. It would then lead into the classic Smoke on the Water song being played. Great for those of us that actually were not old enough to get to see Gillan perform it with Deep Purple. Always a moment of chills going down the spine while hearing Bernie play his solo and then go into it.
They played Reading Rock Festival around the same time. Also around that time, they became a regular band, playing on the then ‘in fashion’, musical highlight and programme of the week, Top of the Pops, on a Thursday night. It was great to see our rock hero’s playing side by side with the pop stars of the era. Bernie got to play on a couple more Gillan albums before eventually leaving in 1981, due to , and I think this is right, not coming back from Germany to do a Top of the Pops show. He was then either asked or left on his own.
By this time in 1982, he had gone back to his solo band career and released a new solo album, Turn Out The Lights. And so back out onto the road to promote it with his new 3 -piece format band, which was the style /format of a band, he later was said to enjoy more., with no frontman ego’s and in more control of things. And at this point is where I got to meet Bernie for the 1st time, although I may very well have briefly met him at one of the Birmingham Odeon gigs , where we queued to meet Gillan, the band.
I was singing in what was the 3rd band of my musical career, Firefly. I’m not sure quite how it came about but possibly, me, being cheeky and approaching the Manager of the General Wolfe pub in Coventry and asking for the support slot with Bernie Torme. We had only played a few local pub gigs although we were fairly well known with the rock crowd in Coventry at the time. We didn’t have any demo tape so the manager took us for our word that we were going to deliver on the music front.
The night of the gig was one of my 1st experiences of playing a big gig, well in my eyes at least. Most up and coming bands at the time on the circuit would play the General Wolfe in Coventry. We thought we had made it as we got to use the dressing room area upstairs. We got to socialise with Bernie and his band , chat, and take photos. I don’t recall there being a lot of alcohol being drunk before the gig though or possibly even after.
There was the soundcheck behind closed doors and the nerves kicking in as the venue filled up. By the time we got to go on the General Wolfe venue was packed. I recall we struggled to get through the crowd to reach the stage. We’d never experienced anything quite like this at the time after playing in backroom pubs around Coventry previously to half filled rooms. But surprisingly we did a great show opening for Bernie with a mix of your own original songs and covers and we went down well with the audience.
The standout moment from this night though, I can recall at the end of the night chatting with Bernie and his then-girlfriend , Lisa, in the car park, where he was loading his estate car up with his equipment. Even back then after doing all those big gigs with Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne, he was still so down to earth, friendly and a gentleman.
So on into the 80’s and Bernie teamed up with Phil Lewis of Girl and later LA Guns fame. 1st time we got to hear and see them was on a Friday evening Rock programme called ECT. There was a real buzz around them and one of the highlights from the programme over the few weeks it was aired for. I was fortunate at the time to have one of the 1st video recorders and over the months the two songs that the band Torme, as they were now called, were watched constantly. The two songs were Hardcore and Star that came from the album that was to follow and became the blueprint for a lot of the new Sleaze bands that were emerging. My own band, Fridayz Angelz, at this point were influenced heavily too, with our guitarist a big Torme fan who partly molded himself on him. We had also introduced the song ‘Star ‘into our set. Because of this in later years, I’d also suggested while chatting with Bernie on line, before his 1st Pledge album, that I’d love to sing Star with him one day. I think from this suggestion it may have become one of his Pledge idea’s. So the opportunity did come along for his 1st album Pledge but I wasn’t in a position to put the money up for it. A real shame as I’m sure it would of been fun.
I was fortunate enough to catch the band Torme live at JB’s also in a venue rammed to the hilt. Never got to meet Bernie that night though as there were far too many people who had the same idea.
A few years later when I struck up a friendship and was chatting online to Bernie, he had this to say about the Torme/Lewis Glam connection of the ’80s:
“yes, I suppose the lewis Torme thing was pretty glammy. but then when I was with Gillan earlier on I had the lightning thingy on my face a la Bowie, and makeup and all that. I was but the band wasn’t! That was 79 and 80. A lot of young kids liked that at the time. first electric gypsies gigs in the marquee at least 10% of the audience looked exactly like I did, lightning flash/makeup/pirate clothes. Girls and boys. it was weird.”
Then Bernie, for me at least, seemed to go off the radar after that band split and all was pretty quiet, apart from forming a new band called Desperado with Dee Snider. Unfortunately the album they made never got an official release at the time, and as far as I’m aware no gigs were played.
For me, my own personal life began moving in a different direction also. These appeared to be the wilderness years and I can only guess that Bernie took a backseat a little too with raising his family. He wanted his kids to steer clear of the musical path. As in the words from Bernie in a conversation we had:
“I tried to get my kids to be bankers or lawyers, they all want to be rock n rollers, the two older boys already are……who is going to pay the bills in my old age? buggers!!!”
And so the next time that I got to hear Bernie back doing stuff was with the formation of another 3piece band, GMT with John McCoy and Robin Guy around 2006, although there had been a few low key solo albums through the years leading up. This was the next time that I got to see Bernie play in a gig fairly local, in a small pub called The Crew in Nuneaton. The gig wasn’t packed as in previous times but they were professional and played a full-on gig complete with Bernie’s solo section. A great night though as I got to hang out with Bernie and the band and have a few Guinness’s together and a good chat. It was at this point that Bernie encouraged me to get back to singing and put a band together again. So in the months that followed, I took his advice and did exactly that and put back together the Guttercats, who went on for the next 7 years in different lineups.
But your asking is there a point to mentioning my band? Where’s the connection?
Well, towards the end of the Guttercats we recorded our Whisky Avenue EP that was getting great reviews, and we were handing out free to anyone who wanted it., Bernie included. So read on.
Bernie had released his album Flowers and Dirt via Pledge in 2014 and went out on tour to support it. I’d actually got en quite chatty on Facebook with Bernie by this time and was even helping out setting up events pages on FB for his tour.
At one point I did get told off by Bernie, although in the ended it turned out I’d done him a favour and saved him some money and he was really appreciative of me. Somehow during the 1st Pledge, he had uploaded all his albums and they had become a free download. I’d posted a thank you for all the albums, and Bernie said I needed to take my post down as there had been a blunder on Pledge, fortunately, my post had highlighted it and he was able to change it., as the albums had to be paid for and were not a free download. He would of had to refund people had the problem not been highlighted by me. He thanked me and said he owed me a free T-shirt, that I never took up the offer of.
I caught up with Bernie in Leamington Spa for what was the 1st gig of the tour. A great set although the 1st part of the set the band had been told that they had to keep the volume down as there was a show going on with a comedian in the venue above. Anyway, It was another night of chat with Bernie, that could of gone on all night as Bernie was up for a few Guinness but unfortunately I had to decline as I was driving and had work the next day. Oh well wasn’t meant to be.. Anyway, he signed a couple of vinyl single covers I’d bought along. I also gave him one of the Whisky Avenue EP’s to have a listen to. Wasn’t sure he would listen to it but after being in contact via FB a few weeks later, this is what he had to say.
“Hey Andy, finally got the chance to sit down and listen to your EP, good stuff man! I really like that! all good tracks too! bangin! thank you for that! the band sounds kicking too! Good songs. I wish I was going down whiskey avenue right now! that’s a really good ep, its rock n roll andy, it’s not about perfection it’s about the vibe and attitude and that has it 200%. I really liked it. I get given stuff all the time and I rarely hear anything I like, I really like that.”
I felt very proud and honored to think that Bernie had taken time out to listen to some of my musical work. The fact he enjoyed it so much and the music had made an impression on him was such a great feeling and boost, as it was probably my final musical output and probably my best ever work with a band.
As for Bernie, looking back at 2018 unbeknown at the time, he released his final album, unless there are any unreleased stuff in the vaults? He did his last tour of the UK. Met up with Ozzy, after thirty odd years and Zak Wylde and reunited with Phil Lewis on stage with LA Guns.
Unfortunately, I never got to see Bernie play for last time as, the usual story these days, money is tight for getting out, to see every band, unlike when I was younger, when money seemed no object.
Bernie Torme RIP I thank you and will miss you x
Author: Andy Guttercat-Rothwell