We recently dug in with veteran front man and dynamic rock vocalist, John Sloman, a man whose career in music has spanned nearly fifty years, and one who remains as creative and active as ever.
Sloman first burst onto the scene in the late 1970s with underexposed Welsh cult act Lone Star, before transitioning to bigger stages in the early 1980s through a series of high-profile gigs with Uriah Heep, UFO, and Gary Moore.
While Sloman’s stead with each of these three acts came to be defined by various trials and tribulations, they were also fruitful, and imperative to the singer’s greater development as a solo artist, a journey which officially began with the release of Sloman’s 1989 record, Disappearances Can Be Deceptive.
In the 33 years since, Sloman has continued to defy expectations, as well as genre restrictions through his inventive songwriting, flair for the dramatic, and creative spurts, which keep Sloman pushing his music forward for current and future generations to feast on.
I recently sat down with the veteran front man to discuss his long musical career, as well as his new album Two Rivers, what’s coming up next, and a whole lot more.
Andrew Daly: John, thanks for taking the time. How have you been holding up?
John Sloman: Well, Andrew, I’ve been waiting for the world to return to some kind of normality. And just when I thought it was beginning to happen, someone started to beat the war drums. It almost seems like some people want chaos in the world. And do all they can to achieve it.
AD: You have a brand-new album out (released March 25). Take me through the writing and recording of Two Rivers.
JS: Two Rivers is about growing up in Cardiff [Wales], leaving Cardiff to live in London, and the tug of love between those two cities that has prevailed for several decades, eventually driving me to express publicly what was for many years, private thoughts and emotions. There are songs about people I’ve known, loved, and lost. And songs about things, such as an old biscuit tin I recalled from my childhood, which was festooned with images of Elizabethan London, which I would study almost in a meditative state while imagining all kinds of scenarios taking place between people of that time on the banks of the River Thames.
During the writing process, I had this sense of finality. As if I was both acknowledging and saying goodbye to people and places I have known. People who had been there for me but were no longer on this planet. I felt a deep connection to them throughout the whole writing and recording process. And of course, I wanted to acknowledge my home town, the place I left all those years ago, and to celebrate it.
The album was recorded at home, using mostly acoustic instruments. Acoustic guitar, mandolin, harmonium, African drum, various shakers, and piano. The only non-acoustic instrument was the Mellotron [keyboard], which I feel helps to place some of the songs in the space and time and was required by the lyrical content.
AD: This is your first solo outing since 2019’s Metamorph. How has Two Rivers progressed from where you left off?
JS: Metamorph was all about me giving myself the freedom to express my rampant eclecticism, with the opening track, “Night Of The Metamorph,” depicting a teenage me consulting a mystic known as the Metamorph. For this little bit of self-mockery, I pitch-shifted my voice, lowering it for the Metamorph character, and raising it for the young me. I had a lot of fun making Metamorph. There were personal aspects to that album. But Two Rivers is an entirely personal statement. I did, however, as on “Night of The Metamorph,” pitch shift my voice on one track, “The Last Coalminer,” where I wanted to disappear into the character of a Welsh coalminer. I’ll leave it up to the listener to tell me if I was successful in this endeavor.
AD: Since you hail from Cardiff, Two Rivers seems to be a bit of an homage to home for you. Tell us more.
JS: Cardiff, Wales is in my blood. I write this on St David’s Day, a big day in Wales. When I was in primary school, on St David’s Day, kids dressed up in armor, swords, and shields. And the school playing fields resembled a medieval battleground. The connection with our historical past was powerful. So, when I left, that connection only seemed to strengthen. After all, when Neil Armstrong stood on the moon looking back at the Earth, did he feel less human? Or more so?
AD: Having been in the business for a long time, I’m sure you’ve amassed a lot of musicians you might call on for your records. That being said, are there any old friends featured on Two Rivers?
JS: Even though I have many musician friends I could have called on to assist with Two Rivers, I played and produced the whole thing myself. But I don’t rule out involving some friends on some future album project.
AD: I wanted to go back a bit. If you would, take me through your earliest memories of music. Where did it all begin for you?
JS: My mum tells me I used to rock in my pram to a bluegrass song called “Last Train to San Fernando.” But my earliest conscious musical memories are of my grandmother teaching me a Bing Crosby song called “True Love,” and [of] being part of this song and dance troupe when I was seven through ’til around ten, performing old vaudeville songs such as this other bluegrass song, “Are You From Dixie.” I had some piano lessons as a kid but was always trying to play stuff from the pop chart instead of practicing the piece my piano teacher, Miss Jenkins, had taught me. I loved all music – The Beatles, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Little Stevie Wonder, Leonard Bernstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein. By this time, I was desperate to be in a band but I was too shy to say so. Then, one day, a classmate at school said, “Hey John, you sing…wanna form a band?” That was the moment that changed everything.
AD: One of your earliest recordings, if not the earliest, is Lone Star’s Firing on All Six. What do you remember about that record?
JS: I wasn’t the original Lone Star vocalist but I knew the guys while they were writing and rehearsing the material in this community hall in a place called Cogan. I’d been in a few studios but really, Firing on All Six was the first time I did anything worth hearing. At the end of the recording, I wasn’t happy with what I’d recorded, and begged the producer, Gary Lyons, to let me redo the vocals. You can imagine his response.
AD: In short order, you recorded two classic albums, Conquest with Uriah Heep, and The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent with UFO. Walk me through that period in your history.
JS: Of the two albums you mention, Conquest is the only one I [was] actually featured on. My [being] on the UFO album is not officially acknowledged.
Here’s the short version of the story. I’d been asked to join UFO but I was in Heep at the time, so declined the offer. I was then asked to play on the album, and I contributed piano to three tracks. Months later, I heard one of the tracks on the Top of The Pops music show. It was the single, “Lonely Hearts.” I instantly recognized my piano parts. The band’s manager subsequently denied it was me, adding that my contribution had been erased from the recording. To this day, I’ve never set eyes on the album cover, in order to confirm this.
Conquest was recorded immediately after I joined Heep. It was 70 percent recorded before I joined the band. I added two of my songs, “No Return,” [and] “Won’t Have To Wait Too Long,” to the existing album. Much has been said about Conquest, good and bad, but mostly bad. As though every album Heep recorded prior to Conquest was on a par with Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds. I feel no connection whatsoever to the album.
AD: Around that time, you bounced from Uriah Heep to UFO to Gary Moore very quickly. Ultimately, why didn’t you stick with any of the three long-term?
JS: My tenure with Heep was around 18 months, but when you take into consideration that a “Heep Year” is equal to ten regular years, my time in Uriah Heep seemed much longer than 18 months. As I explained earlier, the UFO thing was confined to a couple of tracks on the album, if at all. The Gary Moore thing was a British tour followed by a Japanese tour, on which a live album was recorded. I have never been so happy to see the end of a tour as I was at the end of that tour.
AD: You officially launched your solo career in 1989 with the release of Disappearances Can Be Deceptive. How have you progressed in that time?
JS: Disappearances Can Be Deceptive was my baptism of fire, from which it took me a long time to recover, but I did. Back then, I had to fight for creative control – everybody did. When people in the music business stopped calling me, and I stopped calling them, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I look back on some of the crap I took, I want to jump in a time machine so I can a), slap the niceness out of me, and b), slap the assholeness out of them.
AD: I wanted to touch on your appearance on [former Motörhead and Fastway guitarist] Fast Eddie Clarke’s 1994 album, It Ain’t Over ’Till It’s Over. What were your impressions of Eddie? What do you recall regarding the sessions?
JS: I can’t remember how I ended up working on Eddie’s album. Motörhead was on Heep’s label. So, there was a connection. Also, my girlfriend worked at their management. I liked Eddie. We did the session at a studio in North London, across the road from Bronze Records.
AD: You also guested on Praying Mantis’s 2003 record, The Journey Goes On. How did you end up getting the gig?
JS: The Praying Mantis album came about through Dennis Stratton, who I used to run into in various Soho drinking establishments. I liked Dennis, so when he called me about doing the album, I didn’t need to think about it. The band wanted me to record more tracks, as well as do some Japanese dates, but I was busy with an album called 13 Storeys. I think I did three tracks in all.
AD: Unlike some of your contemporaries, you’ve done an incredible job maintaining your multi-octave range. What’s your secret?
JS: When I was young, I didn’t warm my voice up before singing, other than [having] a shot of brandy. Then, I got older, a bit wiser, and got into some vocal exercises, all of which sound ludicrous. If you’ve lived next door to a vocalist, you’ll know what I mean. You’d be forgiven for thinking some serious animal abuse was taking place.
AD: Last one. You’re a bit of a musician nomad, John. What’s next on your docket now that your latest record is out in the world?
JS: You are entirely correct in referring to me as a musical nomad. It’s good to keep people guessing – even oneself. I’m already well into recording the next album, which, according to my neighbors, has quite a rock edge to it.
Photos courtesy of Jeff Moh.