Incredible Hog interview with Gordon Kenney
Thank you very much for taking your time, Ken! I would like to start with your childhood. Where were you born and what would you say about some of your early influences?
My father was the lead violinist with the Leeds Philharmonic and a great Operatic Tenor who gave up his musical career to raise a family; he became a part-time music teacher and a reluctant lecturer in Mechanical Engineering. My mother was a gentle nurse who flirted with Chopin on the piano. My early influences were Puccini, Verdi, Chopin, Sibelius and all the great Classical Romantic composers. My secret (pop music was banned in the 50’s) music influences were the usual suspects, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Everly Brothers, the Shadows and the Beatles.
I was a massive fan of most early 60’s American Pop music and would listen religiously to Radio Luxembourg and learn the Top 40 Charts of by heart! Like all budding guitarist’s I loved the Shadows who brought the electric guitar to a lost post-war generation of teenagers! My Blues/Rock influences from the British Blues Boom 60’s era were numerous including John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the Yardbirds, Savoy Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and of course the Godfathers of the heavy rock trio Cream! I was a big fan of Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters! My biggest influence was probably my hero Rory Gallagher!
There is not much known about background of forming Incredible Hog. I know you and Jim were in school together and formed a band called Speed Auction. Is there any material from that band? What can you tell me about it?
The classic Rock band cliché”-We met at-school” I was 18 when I first bought a guitar in 1968 and joined up with fellow students Jim Holmes (Bass), Alan Drew (Drums) and Barry McGee (Guitar) to form Speed Auction’. We were all self-taught and musically illiterate! We covered classic Rhythm n’ Blues standards played by most of the Blues bands of the time.
Songs by Muddy Waters (‘Got My Mojo Workin’ & ‘Catfish Blues’), Sonny Boy Williamson 2nd (Help Me!) ,Chuck Berry, the obligatory ‘Johnny B. Goode’, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Black Magic Woman’ and The Yardbirds ‘Got To Hurry’! Oh and ‘’Louisiana Blues’ by Savoy BrownWe really cut our musical teeth by endless jamming around 12 Bar Blues songs!
Incredible Hog were formed in early 1972, when you got Tony Awin. Where did you find him?
In 1968/69, the band members of Speed Auction’ had finished their school studies and all went their separate way’s! Jim Holmes joined another band where he discovered our definitive drummer Tony Awin! Barry McGee took up a career in banking and I hid in my bedroom writing songs and guitar riffs! Jim,
Alan and I eventually reformed as a power rock trio that was effectively the birth of ‘Incredible Hog! ‘
South African born Tony Awin replaced Alan Drew our original drummer who was the victim of a life-threatening motorcycle accident! We were originally called ‘Monolith’. However, the name seemed contrived and pretentious and we became the ‘Hog’!
So you started jamming together. What are some memories about that?
I lived in a very strict Doctors Surgery; my mother was the resident Nurse and Secretary! To our surprise, the Doctor who did not approve of our adopted ‘Hippy’ culture allowed us to rehearse in a damp dark and odorous cellar underneath the Surgery! Above us in the surgery was the human skeleton of an unclaimed murdered corpse! We nicknamed him ‘Fred Furnackerpan’! All sounds very middle-class but we were financially very poor!
We took full advantage of our free rehearsal space where we served our apprenticeship playing our favourite songs! The cellar became a secret hub for all the local budding musicians, druggies and dropouts as they secretly climbed down into the cellar through a coalhole at the side of the Surgery!
There is an interesting story about Dart Records, that signed you. I believe you waited there the whole day, before they listen to your tape?
Yes! To my embarrassment, this is true but I was very naive and the legendary ‘Island Records had just rejected us! We were extremely frustrated by the constant rejections of our demo-tapes and our inability (We could not find management) to break into the impregnable circle of the Rock Royalty and the Record Company elite! I remember walking in the West End of London and noticing a plaque (‘Dart’ Records’) on an office wall in the’ Haymarket’, near Piccadilly Circus! I stormed into their plush offices and despite threats of police ejection, I refused to leave until the head of the Company listened to our precious grubby tapes! Eventually after several hours, one of the Directors Tim Satchell reluctantly listened; he and his partner the late Clive Stanhope put their faith in us and signed us a few weeks later!
So you started recording your material. Where did you record your first single and the LP titled Volume 1? What are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording that LP?
The album was recorded in 1971/72 at Mayfair Sound Studios in London’s West End! We were all very disappointed with our sound and felt that it only captured half of our live power in performance. I was not allowed to turn my Marshall 100 watt amp to full volume, which I needed in order to create a powerful distorted sound (we didn’t have “Master Volume” in those days), so I was constantly struggling to find enough guitar sustain. I was also in a separate sound booth from Jim and Tony and I was unable to make eye contact to give them their cues; we never really arranged the songs Tony and Jim just followed me!
The album took about 10 random days over a period of several weeks to record; this was because we were using the downtime of a former cabaret singer Paul Raven who had changed his name to Gary Glitter! The credit for the FX must go to our producer Roger Watson and our sound engineer Trevor Vallis who had the imagination to find an inspirational sound effect related to the lyrics! We did not want so many ‘Sound Effects’ on the recording’s we wanted a ‘Heavy Rock’ sound not ‘Pop’! My strongest memory was walking out of the studio when they put the ‘Baby’ in ‘Tadpole’; but we realise now that it gave the band an unusual sound of its own!
What gear did you guys use?
I think I used an old Marshall 100-watt head through a Marshall 4×12 stack, one of them sloping! I was given an ‘H&H’ amp head, one of the very first Solid State transistor amps which I used for rhythm-riff parts on ‘Tadpole & ‘To The Sea’! My guitar was a battered 60’s Gibson Cherry SG Special; plugged straight into the amp; I really wanted an SG Standard for the humbuckers, but I could not afford one! My SG Special did have a Bigsby Tremolo arm that I would use to bend feedback! However, the neck was broken and I had nightmare tuning problems so the Bigsby was eventually removed! I would actually bend the neck during the recording to dip the chords (‘There’s A Man’) which is why the guitar is out of tune! I never used any effects pedals, all the effects were added during the mix. My guitar was also put through a Leslie cabinet as well as my vocals on ‘Tadpole’! I cannot remember which acoustic guitar I was using; it was stolen on a gig soon after the sessions!
Jim Holmes (Bass) used a 100-watt ‘Simms-Watts’ amp head with four Simms-Watts’ Cabinets! His guitar was a Fender Precision Bass!
Tony Awin (Drums) used a ‘Ludwig (Champagne Glitter) drum-kit with a ‘Speed King’ bass drum pedal.
How many copies were made?
This is unknown but we do not think it was that many. Dart Records also released a Cassette tape and an 8-Track! Because the album was licensed globally to different labels, we have no idea as to the actual physical sales! We think the Record Collectors bought it because of its rarity and not because of its aesthetic quality.
I will write down songs from that LP and I would really appreciate if you could tell a few words about every song.
I wrote some of these songs when I was 19! However, I should point out that I had no training in music or song composition. Most of the songs were all intuitive and spontaneous in conception! Having to examine the lyrics 40 years later was quite a shock! I really do not understand some of the songs myself! They probably portray a painful ‘Rite of Passage’ for a neurotic teenage misfit! I have only reflected upon them lyrically!
So please accept my apology at the following half-baked Freudian analysis of the lyrics!
Having relocated several times by the age of twelve I had missed lots of school and never felt accepted at each new one, especially by the other pupils! In my teens, I was politically active and a loner! I think this song is about fear of alienation, rejection, and feeling like a social cripple, an outcast, a fear of ageing and the path towards death!
2. (Wreck My Soul)
I was going through a very traumatic relationship at the time and still bear the psychological scars today! I was also deeply affected by a line in a George Crabbe poem (1810) ‘Peter Grimes’ (adapted as Britten’s famous Opera in 1945) about a man who killed a young boys whom he treated as slaves on his boat. Peter Grimes saw a vision of Hell as he died literally from fear! He had used the boy’s as his ‘feeling creatures’ and I think we do this ourselves in our own relationships! I think this song with its primitive lyric is a simple expression of this belief and is an echo of my love of ‘Rhythm n’ Blues’!
I actually remember writing this one! I was living in a shambolic bed-sit in Forest Gate, East London with no money and very little hope! I cannot write a song at will, they simply come from nowhere! I was sitting in front of a mirror in a very small bedroom; I picked up my acoustic and wrote this song (on autopilot) in half-an-hour! Some think it is a literal reference to the ‘Crucifixion’ but maybe it is a metaphor to how we crucify each other in the name of love and friendship. (This song was banned!)
4. (Tadpole) (Live-version has additional verses)
I was an avid reader of Edgar Allen Poe’ and Kafka’ at the time and this may have inspired this song! I think the lyric is metaphorical, using the image of a Black Widows spiders’ captured prey trapped in its web to represent two unhappy lovers in a tragic relationship.
5. (Another Time)
I must have been having a bad day when I wrote this one! The lyric contains suicidal elements and the power of the Mortido effect upon our behaviour. It explores the thoughts that invade our minds when we try to save ourselves from an insufferable situation! When the libido and the Mortido clash, it is indeed a lethal cocktail! Upon reflection, this was influenced by my favourite poem written at the height of the Second World War called ‘Prayer Before Birth’ by the Irish Romantic poet Louis MacNeice!
6. (Warning) (Live-version has additional verses)
This song has an apocalyptic theme and compares the end of a relationship to the end of ones world! The live version has additional lyrics, and this theme is adapted in ‘Burnout’ of the new album!
7. (Walk the Road)
I remember writing this very personal song and I think the lyric is self-explanatory!
It is about unresolved guilt, shame, remorse, regret and self-punishment without redemption!
This was my first attempt in persuading Dart Records to include an acoustic song!
8. (There’s a Man)
This one has caused some controversy and it certainly does not condone rape! It is not a literal lyric; the ‘Man’ is a symbol of sexual guilt! It could be about fear of sexual intercourse, losing one’s virginity, masturbation, pornography, lust or sexual repression! I was very distressed when I innocently read a graphic account of the infamous ‘Moors’ murders carried out by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in Yorkshire in the 1960’s! I was sexually naïve at the time and I was deeply shocked that human beings could behave in this way! I also survived a similar life threatening attack when I was 11years old! I think the song was an attempt to understand amorality and the mind of a real psychopath! I am not sure that I understand it myself! Nonetheless, it was one of our most powerful and popular songs live?
9. (To the Sea)
This song is full of symbolism and I must have been reading Greek Mythology at the time! I know it explores ‘Life after Death!’ suicide and the fear of our own mortality (‘The Sea’) imposed on us by some religious philosophies! In short, I was probably depressed!
10. (Losing Myself)
Have you ever been bullied, ostracized, alienated, full of self-hate and alone? Have you ever wished that you were someone else or somewhere else etcetera? Then you will understand this song!
How bout concerts? Where did you play and who all did you play with? Perhaps any particular emories you would like to share with me?
We played all over the country in all the emerging ‘Underground’ clubs and Pubs, none of them were glamorous! We supported many now famous bands including Status Quo, Supertramp, Stealers Wheel, and Gary Moore in Skid Row!
We worked with many of the now legendary Classic Rock bands as they trod their early infant steps towards ‘Stardom’! In my career as a musician/actor I have met numerous ‘Stars’ and in the acting world I will never forget the rare humility on set of the English actor Robert Powell! In 1973 we were trying to promote the release of our eponymous album and were booked to support an Irish Rock trio called ‘Thin Lizzy’ who were enjoying massive Chart success with their unique cover of an old Irish traditional song ‘Whisky In A Jar’! They played the song as a joke during a tedious rehearsal! They really were a great trio and already masters of their craft.
I walked into the decrepit dressing room and sitting silently alone was the Rock Legend in waiting the heir to the throne of the ‘Heavy Rock’ dynasty, Phil Lynott. In his famous Black Leather outfit, he looked like a Pray Mantis ready to claim me as his next victim. I could feel the anger, aggression and pain that had been inflicted on him as a mixed race child growing up in some of the toughest backstreets in Dublin, Ireland in the 1950’s! He was like a time bomb about to explode! I was too nervous to speak to this great natural talent and my embarrassed and feeble attempts were in an inaudible whisper!
We were always in awe of the headline act, but I learned a lot that night. Thin Lizzy’ were very professional and a well-drilled band! I sneaked into the dressing room once more and a voice from the smoke filled gloom gave me the greatest words of wisdom I would ever hear in the treacherous world of entertainment ‘Remember! This business owes you nuthin’! It was Phil Lynott! I saw him again at the ‘Tunnel’ Studios in London in 1976 where they were auditioning for a new gunslinger guitarist! They had yet to fulfil their destiny as the Princes of Rock! I jokingly said to my manager ‘Get me an audition’! He replied ‘I wouldn’t bother, they’re finished!
What happened next for you guys?
The album received indifferent reviews and we could not get airplay on mainstream radio or the fashionable underground ‘Pirate’ stations. We did not have the support system of a Major Label or Management behind Us! In fact, we were very disappointed with the album. Tony Awin our phlegmatic powerhouse drummer found a good use for his vinyl copy; He melted it and moulded it into an ashtray for his dope! We thought of ourselves as a straight third-rate heavy rock trio typical of hundreds of imitators at the time. We were disciples following in the holy footsteps of our heroes ‘Cream’ and ‘Led Zeppelin’! In retrospect, we were surprised to hear Lee Dorian’s (‘Rise-Above Records’) brilliantly packaged Reissue!
Lee somehow found our ‘Lost Tapes’ from a last minute unrehearsed recording session at ‘Sarm-East’ Studios in East London. The ‘new’ demos are the bonus tracks on the ‘Volume 1 + 4’; they include a couple of covers, which we recorded for sound purposes! The other two originals ‘Burnout’ and ‘Finger Fish’ were unfinished; we only had 4 hours recording time that day in a brand new studio and the engineers wanted to test their equipment! This was how we sounded live!
Why did you choose the name Incredible Hog?
I have only recently discovered that the ‘Incredible Hog’ was a brief Marvel Comic Stan Lee creation in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Comic! Jim and I dispute the origin of the name because we were originally called ‘Monolith’ and then ‘Hog’! I distinctly recall spoofing the name from the iconic ‘Incredible Hulk’ Comic! I felt we should have a name that would be mysterious and not conjure an image of three men in a band!
There is a great reissue of your stuff out on Rise Above Records. How do you feel about that?
Ecstatic! Lee Dorian and the guys at ‘Rise Above’ have really flattered us with this wonderful memento of the band! The whole design of the informative CD/Booklet and historic graphics are eye opening! They deserve an award for their achievement in getting this project together! The Vinyl is another great surprise, especially the Pink limited edition with the extra 10 & 7-inch Vinyl’s with the extra bonus tracks! There are even fantastic ‘Patches’ to complete the package!
Thank you very much for taking your time! Would you like to send a message to its Psychedelic Baby readers?
Without going into a bad ‘Oscar’ speech, the words have yet to be written that can express how we feel! We are still in shock! Thank You!
You endorse our lyric ‘Let the people have their say’!
You most certainly did for us and we love you for it! Oink! Oink!
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
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