In our next link up with those folk-rock brigands from Wigan, Merry Hell, drummer Andy Jones joins a growing group of barrier dwellers and tells us why he loves Rush.
When we were first asked to do a summary of which band/artist moved & inspired you like no other I was left scratching my head for a while. Over the years there have been many artists and bands that have had a great influence on my life. After some deliberation, I decided to choose the Canadian rock band Rush.
I first came across them when I was just 16 after a school friend told me to give them a listen. This was in 1978 & they had just released their new album called Hemispheres. I trundled down to my local record shop in Chester called Penny Lane Records & spotted it immediately in full glory right in the middle of the shop window. It was an incredible image of a free-floating brain with a chap standing on top of it in a suit pointing.
At this stage in my life, I had developed an interest in drumming even though I didn’t own a kit until a couple of years later.
Anyway on returning home with my new prized possession I put it on my turntable & was blown away for the next 40 minutes. I had never heard anything quite like it before & what immediately struck me was the incredible drumming & arrangements. There was no going back from here and from then on, my main objective was to acquire a drum kit ASAP.
Another striking element to Hemispheres was the way that Geddy Lee sang. He was once described as a cross between Robert Plant & Donald Duck and Geddy has admitted that he has been insulted by the music press many times over the years. Listening to him now one cannot imagine Rush with any other singer and bass player. All the 3 members of the band were just about equal in their musical prowess and made a huge sound for just 3 members.
Hemispheres marked the end of an era for the band in so much that this would be the last of their concept albums & long format songwriting. Since very early on in the band’s career it was Geddy and Alex that wrote all the music and it was down to Neil Peart, the drummer, to do all the lyrics as he was very keen on writing and all things literary.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the above album was released as they went from cult status to being Canada’s biggest selling act and one of the most famous rock bands in history. I managed to see them play 9 times over the years and my first one was at Stafford Bingley Hall in 1979 and I will never forget it. It was an old converted huge cattle auction building on the outskirts of Stafford. The first thing that struck me was the massive denim-clad multitude awaiting for the entrance to open. When it did it was a scary experience for an innocent smallish 16-year-old as I was whisked away in the crush my feet hardly touching the ground.
Once inside my friend Alan and I found a suitable spot about two-thirds of the way back & awaited our Gods to appear. If I remember correctly they opened up with the complete version of 2112 & it was awesome. I remember noticing the veins bulging in Neil Peart’s neck from all his effort.
I think I’m correct in saying that this gig may have been the first time that the band premiered one of their new songs from their next album. The song in question happened to be their most successful song chart-wise. The Spirit Of Radio reached the dizzying heights of number 7 in the UK charts & on TOTP Legs & Co did their best to dance to it.
The next concert was the following year 1980 & it was based around the new Permanent Waves album. I had gone to the effort to make a Rush banner featuring their infamous Starman symbol. This Time the concert was a lot more local for me as it was in Deeside Leisure Centre that was only 8 miles from my home in Chester.
My main memory from this concert was that myself and my friend Alan were situated on the balcony with a great view of the band & at one point when Alex the guitarist spotted me waving my banner in a maniacal manner, he looked at us with a beaming smile. That night I went home thoroughly ecstatic.
The next time I saw them was the following year at the same venue featuring their new album Moving Pictures. Many Rush fans including myself consider this album to be their masterpiece. All the long epic sagas had dissolved into much shorter concise material that had a definite sense of immediacy about them. Another fantastic concert was under my belt as myself and Alan got the bus back to Chester.
The next tour in 1982 featured their Signals album which I must admit wasn’t up to the several before it. It did have one great song on it called Subdivisions and the gig was once again scheduled for the Deeside Leisure Centre but unfortunately it had disappeared in flames so the concert was transferred to the NEC in Birmingham. I can honestly say that this concert lacked all my previous excitement and joy that the band had previously provided. Some fans love this album but for me it was one of their weakest.
The next album, Grace Under Pressure, was a much better album in my opinion and they were back on form once more. Over the next few years, the band was becoming more and more popular and their yearly visits ceased as they were in ever more demand the world over (just like Merry Hell). This is where my memory starts to become a little vaguer as I can’t quite remember the next time I saw them.
I think it must have been on the Grace Under Pressure tour again at the NEC. The next time I was going to see them was in 1988 but I missed them on that tour because I was away in France playing in a band with Virginia Kettle. I believe the next time I saw them was on the Presto tour again at the NEC.
After that their visits to the UK became very rare events sadly and I reckon the next time I saw them was in Manchester playing on their R30 tour. This was an awesome show as it was a retrospective of the 30 years they had been playing. I remember the sound being brilliant in particular. This was in 2004 and the next time I saw them was again in Manchester on their Snakes & Arrows tour which was also incredible. After all the years they had been together they now had it down to perfection in every aspect
The very last time I saw them was on The Time Machine tour firstly at the NEC and then a few days later in Manchester again. I never realised at the time that that would be my last time but all I can feel after all the decades of joy this band has brought to me is the realisation that I was very lucky to have been alive during the time this band existed.
Very sadly and out of the blue Neil Peart succumbed to brain cancer earlier this year and the outpouring of love for him was overwhelming. He was also a successful writer, philosopher, poet, thinker, husband and father, and enjoyed travelling around America on his beloved BMW motorbike. RIP Neil & Rush – a band that did and still does so much for me.
Our thanks to Andy for his thoughts and memories on a band that we all love.