By Eamonn Keyes
Preamble: It’s been a while since I have contributed any pieces to The Orkney News, primarily because of poor health, my being busy with producing 4 albums and something called ‘SARS-CoV-2’, which has hijacked my life for almost 2 years. As I approach retirement, I realise that for my own sanity I need to get back to my previous life.
I hope this will be the start.
One of my all time musical heroes is a guy called Todd Rundgren. A whizz kid who appeared at the start of the 70s, he encapsulated everything I wanted to be but wasn’t. His albums were a breathtaking vision of what was going on in his head- psychedelia, rock, pop, progressive- it was all there and most of the approach was entirely crazy and mostly listenable.
In 1975 Rundgren was approached by Jim Steinman with a project called ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ which had been rejected by everyone else, decided to take it on, and recorded and produced it himself, playing on it with members of his own band, Utopia, and some of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band. Someone called Meatloaf was on vocals, and Rundgren paid for the album himself for a cut of the profits. Initially the album bombed, but within a year it was flying off the shelves, eventually becoming one of the most successful albums ever, selling 43 million copies worldwide.
To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan. It had a similar sound to Bruce Springsteen, and I’ve never really liked much of his work, but I bought it for Rundgren’s contribution and production, loving his heavily stylised backing vocals. Bass guitar and many of these vocals were provided by Utopia’s bass player, Kasim Sultan, a very talented musician who eventually became Meatloaf’s Music Director for his live shows, appearing on bass and vocals. So, when I heard that Meatloaf was playing the King’s Hall in Belfast in 1999 I made sure I’d be there.
The King’s Hall in Belfast is basically a huge shed used for agricultural shows. Famed far and wide for its utterly appalling acoustics, I had seen David Lee Roth there in 1987 in the loudest show I’ve ever seen, so loud that I was unable to tell even which songs were being played, but staying for the sheer spectacle of Roth unleashed. The sound was remarkably similar to that of a squadron of jet fighters taking off on full afterburner inside a tunnel.
However, for the Meatloaf show the sound was superb- not too loud, very clear and yet sonically rich. The sound engineer knew his job very well. I found myself enjoying the show, and being at the front, tried to catch Kasim Sulton’s eye. I had equipped myself with a CD copy of the Utopia album ‘Ra’ from 1976, the first album he’d appeared on when he’d just turned 20. And lo the gods smiled and it worked.
I saw Kasim become wide-eyed as he saw it, and after that song he motioned to me to come backstage after the show, and I saw him speak to a roadie, pointing me out. I was a happy boy.
Backstage after the show, I was ushered into the dressing rooms, and was met by Meatloaf’s daughter, Pearl, who was singing backing vocals on the tour. I chatted briefly, but then spied Kasim at the end of the room, quickly complimented Pearl on her performance, and wandered over, only to find my way blocked by a small, squat powerfully built man….Meatloaf.
My first thought was similar to that of Father Dougal’s remark about the Pope- ‘you’d think he’d be taller’. I mean, I expected a man mountain, but here was a quiet, respectful but ultimately smallish man.
Meatloaf had assumed that any punters would be there to see him, and greeted me with a “hello sir”. I am used to being called ‘sir’ only by shop assistants, so it grated somewhat, particularly as Meatloaf ended every sentence with it. We chatted for a while and Meatloaf seemed to be interested in what I was saying about the sound and performances, which I’d hoped would be perfunctory. Behind him Kasim smiled at me, noticing the social discomfort. Eventually I had to move Meatloaf out of the way, explaining that I was actually there to see Kasim, and Meat did not look terribly impressed, and I have to admit that he hasn’t phoned since or even sent me a Christmas card. He probably still snarls about me to his grandchildren.
I got to sit and talk with Kasim, talking about the Knebworth shows in 1976 and 1979 where I’d seen him with Utopia. 1976 had The Stones headlining (I’d walked out early as I thought they were rubbish) and 1979 was Led Zeppelin’s final UK show before John Bonham’s death ended the band. Kasim was nicely relaxed, feet up and smoking a cigar, and we must have spent about half an hour together before I reluctantly had to go. Kasim took my ‘Ra’ CD cover and autographed it for me, writing ‘to Eamonn, we both go back a long way…’.
As an unusual finale to this, I received a phone call a couple of years later from a guy who told me he was a Meatloaf tribute act, asking if I would play guitar with him, as he was doing the entire ‘Bat Out Of Hell ‘ album live. I agreed and asked when it was. “Tonight” was the answer. 5 hours away. Ok, who else was in the band? “Nobody, just you” was the answer. And so, 5 hours later I took the stage and played the entire album on acoustic guitar with the singer. He was good, I played it all fine, but nobody showed up.
I guess two out of three ain’t bad……