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Vardis interview with Steve Zodiac

PlanetMosh’s own Dennis Jarman catches up with Steve Zodiac of Vardis for a good old banter: Dennis: So, we’re roughly the same age sowould you agree that music still makes us feel young? It does for me. Steve: Ayup Dennis, been a while! Absolutely I agree, I get the exact samefeeling sound checking with the band now as I did mucking about withinstruments in my mum’s front room with mates from school. Music cantransport you to another time and place, and at our age, if you hearsomething that makes you feel like a teenager again you get the addedbenefit of forgetting today’s aches and pains! I was born in ‘57,and it’s the 50s Rock’n’Roll music my parents played that hasremained timeless for me. There’s an infectious energy to thoserecords of the post-war generation that has never died, just changed asit’s been passed down from Chuck Berry to the Stones to Hendrix to ZZTop and so on. I see it as part of my job to do my bit in carrying thatbaton. D: You’ve been doing this for over 40 years since forming the band inWakefield 1978, did you ever think you would still be playing after allthis time? S: Certainly not, I genuinely thought that my 8 years as a pro musicianfrom ’78-‘86 was enough for me, my feelings towards the industry bythe end meant ‘Vigilante’ was me putting the cap on it. I had nointention of ever getting back on stage, and without my wife Irenetelling me to give it a go in 2013 I certainly never would have. I wasas surprised as anyone when I felt that fire burning again and lookingback I’m grateful she did: we got to cut a second record with Terryand play some magnificent gigs with him, and this new chapter with Joe,Roly and myself feels like a fresh and exciting new era. Funnily enoughnext year Vardis will have been resurrected for as long as we lastedfirst time round! D: Your weapon of choice is still your Telecaster with the ingrainedhorseshoe. After all the gigs and studio work, has it needed a lot ofrepairs? S: The “old faithful” horseshoe Telecaster was my first serious“pro”__ guitar__. I bought it second hand on hire purchase from LesWatson’s music shop in Castleford around 1974. As a kid I wanted onebecause I loved the recordings of Taste-era Rory Gallagher, LedZeppelin, Roy Buchanan, James Burton and of course the early 70’s StatusQuo records. There was no thought beyond that really, I had no idea themost versatile electric guitar ever made was in my hands, or that itwould come to define my style and the Vardis sound. Their beauty is inthe engineering simplicity – just two planks of wood and a couple ofmagnets with single copper coils. That’s what gives Telecasters theirwild and unpredictable energy, to master them you need to ride it andtame it at the same time, a bit like driving an old E-Type Jag. So whilethey’re quite difficult to control when played at full volume througha valve amp, they open up sonic possibilities you can’t reach with anyother guitar. Getting to grips with it forced me to create my own soundso after seven years of wrangling with it every day what you hear on 100M.P.H. is all my musical instincts for tone and feedback channelledthrough that instrument. I’ve used a few different Teles sincereforming the band, but recording at the 100 Club was the first timeI’d played “old faithful” since 1986. It had been in storage forthree decades after being played or gigged every day for 15 years so itwas a bit worse for wear. The maple neck had shrunk after the sustainedperiod of being soaked through with sweat every night was followed byyears drying out in a lockup.  After chiselling off the crusty 25-year-old talcum powder, I took it up to my luthier Nick Howarth at TradMusic in Wakefield, who re-fretted it as the old ones were hanging over the edge of the neck! Nick used to dress and set up all my guitars back in the day and knows that Telecaster inside out, so it was great to pickup where we left off. He did a great job setting it up as you can hearon 100MPH@100Club. D: Apart from your long blonde hair back in the day, you also used to playbarefoot. Did you ever have any injuries from venue stages and did thesong ‘Power Underfoot’ come from that? S: “Power Underfoot” is more about onwards and upwards really, although you might have a point when I think about it, the battering myfeet took could have been a subconscious influence. Looking back cut andsplintered feet, bleeding fingers and sore throats were pretty normaland I never gave it much thought. The only time I recall a real injurywas in Finland, we were playing five aside football in bare feet beforethe venue opened and I somehow kicked a table and broke my big toe. Itswelled up and went black and with only a couple of hours to the show. Iwas in agony and couldn’t put a shoe on if I’d tried, so Irene put hermake-up on it to make it look flesh coloured and not scare anyone up thefront! The adrenalin kicked in and we did the show, but I was hobblingabout for days afterwards. I was probably lucky not to have beenelectrocuted because of my bare feet considering the state of some ofthe sound systems and venues in the old days.  We all had silver foil from fag packets instead of fuses in our amp heads, so going onstagewithout rubber soles on my feet could have been lethal. Myself and AlanSelway went through a phase of leaving our guitar strings full length,dangling out of the end of our machine heads thinking it looked cool,and one night in Manchester they touched with a big blue flash, all ofour guitar strings snapped and the main fuses blew in the building whichprobably saved my life. D: A pivotal moment was the release of your debut album 100MPH, a liverelease with a “Guaranteed No Overdubs” sticker. A very brave movethat’s served you well. Did you have any second thoughts at the time? S: None whatsoever! The “Guaranteed No Overdubs” stamp actually cameabout because of an argument I had with Logo Records. They wanted us totart up 100 M.P.H. in the studio a bit, so I dug my heels in and doubleddown __demand__ing the guarantee sticker to reassure the fans instead.I’m not knocking anyone for overdubbing live albums, I understand thequest for perfection as much as anyone else, but for me, it feltpointless re-recording a bit of out of tune vocal, wrong word, or bumnote as I personally don’t want to listen a live album that soundslike the original studio version. I used to make bootlegs all the timeand treasured my recordings of Rory Gallagher and the Faces, warts andall, as they were about that experience, that moment in time. I neverlost that philosophy putting out Vardis live, I’ve always beenconfident enough to accept exactly what we are live and that studio workis a very different kind of musical craft. Vardis aim for the highestquality recordings that represent a purely live experience, and that’swhy the “Guaranteed No Overdubs” tradition is still as strong in2021 as it was in 1980. D: Another important chapter in Vardis’ history was opening up the HeavyMetal Holocaust all-day show at Port Vales football ground inStoke-On-Trent Any fond recollections of that day? S: It was a very hot, unbelievably loud day and it was over in a flash.The ground was packed to the rafters, around 40,000 people with a lot ofthem jibbing it, this was way before the Hillsborough disaster and thenecessary safety measures that followed. The crowd was magnificent andour reception was unbelievable, it was one of the biggest Rock shows yetstaged in the UK at the time with one of the loudest sound systems everassembled so all we could do was try and live up to the occasion.  We came on to this huge stage and Alan and I couldn’t hear a damn thingthrough the monitors, but we let them have it and in the blink of an eyeour hour was up. We knew we had done the business because knowing thecalibre of acts to come the crowd was shouting us for more! So it musthave sounded decent. I’d love to hear a decent bootleg of that event.Backstage was a real family party atmosphere, everyone was in or intogood spirits. I’d met Ozzy a few times before in the SheppertonStudios bar and he was always generous and supportive with us, game fora pint and a laugh. He was cool as a cucumber that day and seemed to beenjoying life after breaking with Sabbath. D: …

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