Archive Interview with guitarist Bernie Tormé……Gillan, Ozzy, GMT & More


As reported earlier today guitarist Bernie Tormé has died at the age of 66 after recently being hospitalised while battling double pneumonia and later put on a ventilator. All of the team at MR extends their condolences to Bernie’s friends and family. MR’s Dean Pedley interviewed Bernie back in 2006 and they spoke at length about his long career. The interview is reprinted below as it originally appeared:-

Dublin born guitarist Bernie Tormé has returned to the fray by teaming up with
his ex-Gillan band mate John McCoy and drummer Robin Guy to record the
album ‘Bitter & Twisted’ under the moniker GMT. A real stripped down, no frills power trio they have been getting great reviews everywhere. As some of our older readers will no doubt be aware, Bernie has had an interesting and varied career. When first coming to London he attracted a cult following on the Punk scene before joining Gillan for the ‘Mr Universe’ album. Gillan went on to enjoy a period of commercial success that included the albums ‘Glory Road’ and‘Future Shock’ and the singles ‘Trouble’ and ‘New Orleans’ before Bernie departed to be replaced by Janick Gers. He was due to embark on a solo career when he got the call to replace the late Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, touring Arenas in the US in a band that also included Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge . Following the Ozzy dates, Bernie eventually started his own band that for a time included Girl / LA Guns vocalist Phil Lewis. 

I was delighted to get the chance to chat with Bernie about his latest project and
also to reminisce with him about the past. We kicked off the interview by talking
about the music industry, and in particular some of the changes that have come
about as a result of the Internet:-

It really has changed things a great deal and it’s been really noticeable for us in terms
of this release. In the past if you weren’t on a major label it was really hard to get any
attention at all. And that has changed now in as much as we were able to get the
album up on Amazon all over the world and on ITunes and loads of places. The
Internet has made it proportionally a lot easier to buy an album by a band that isn’t a
really big band and hasn’t got the support of a major label.
And it’s also nice in terms of having peoples reactions because in the past it was
really just down to the review in Kerrang and then later Classic Rock when that
arrived and that was it basically – you never got to hear anyone else’s opinion.

Sure – and I know that you are very much into interacting with your fanbase
through the Web

Absolutely. We have a MySpace page and of course our own Web Site and we get
lots of reactions in that way which I am really keen on because it keeps it kind of
close and Punky which I really like.

I noticed that there is a fan campaign on the Yahoo Group to try and get you
across to play some gigs in the States…

That’s right, it hasn’t actually happened yet but it is an idea that has been dragging on
for a while. It’s a different approach in trying to get a band across, and I would really
love to go. The last time I was there was around 1990 and so it’s been a long time
now and over the years people have been born and grown up and brought CD’s

I don’t know if you are aware of the band Marillion but they had a similar
situation a few years ago when their American fans were involved in the
organization and financing of a tour

Yes, I was aware of that. I know that they have always had a very tightly run fan club
and kept it all really close to home and I think they have handled the whole thing of
keeping in very close contact with their fan base really really well.

So let talk about GMT. You must be really pleased with the reviews so far?

I’m bloody knocked out mate! The first album I recorded was back in ‘78 in the punk
era and across all of the albums I’ve played on since then I have never ever had press
like this – it’s amazing, critical acclaim at last. I just hope that it can turn into some
sales (laughs)

How did you go about getting back together with John again?

Well John and I have always kept in touch, we’ve known each other since the days of
the dinosaurs basically – we both played together prior to Gillan and over the years
we’ve always spoken and had our fallings out, then patched it up and carried on.
Every year around Christmas John would call up or I would call him because one of
us hadn’t sent a Christmas card and for about 10 years it was like “we have to get
together and have a play this year”. Then of course the year would pass and nothing
would happen. A few years ago Paul Samson, who was a mate of both of ours, passed
away and it became very apparent that time takes it toll so we talked about having a
blow and John finally arranged a date and we got together with (former Gillan
drummer) Mick Underwood and it was great.
We decided to try recording and it didn’t really work out and I think a lot of it was
because it was the same three people; I wasn’t at all keen to go down the road of the
nostalgia route because the problem is…..well I’m not exactly Pavarotti and so for us
to have found a vocalist to have replaced Ian just wasn’t possible really. Both John
and I wanted to keep it as a power trio because they tend to have a very loose jam
kind of feel about them that larger bands lose; the larger the band is the harder it is to
keep it loose.

Tell me about the time you first started to play the guitar, who was it that
inspired you to want to be a musician?

I picked up the guitar in the 60’s and at the time it was The Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds
and The Who and I suppose the biggest influence on me at the time was Jeff Back. He
was playing all of these great solos on pop singles like ‘Shapes of Things’ and I had
never heard anyone do anything like that before and then it was Clapton and The
Bluesbreakers and later Cream. After that, Jimi Hendrix turned up and I was like
“Wow, fucking hell” (laughs) and he was just the best ever. Then, around ’68 or ’69 I
came across Rory Gallagher and he was a big influence to me, being Irish, playing a
Strat and being great and then in Dublin along came Skid Row with Gary Moore who
was just an astronomical player. So Dublin was a great place to play the guitar in,
there were all of these great players around, another one was Eric Bell of course. And
so you were able to go out to small clubs with just a handful of people in the audience
and see all of these great guitarists.

My favourite song on the album has to be ‘Summerland’. It has a great laid back
vibe to it that reminds me of Robbie Robertson

Really? I like him; I think he’s a genius. It was kind of an attempt to write
about….well basically John and I are pretty old now and it’s not a subject that is
addressed very often in Rock and so it was an attempt to write about the experience of
time passing. And it is something that you kind of think about, you know you don’t
grow up but you do grow old (laughs).

Talking of John how does it fell to be back on stage with him again

Well he’s isn’t really like any other bass player I’ve ever played with; he’s fat, he’s
bald and he’s too loud (laughs). He is just a great guy for me to play with because its
almost like we are operating out of the same drug addled brain and we don’t have to
arrange an awful lot it just kind of happens between us. And that’s an experience I
have rarely had with any other players. GMT really is my ideal band, it’s the best
band I have ever played in.

So we can expect to see you gigging around the UK soon?

Yeah, that’s the plan. We hope to get out at the beginning of February and then again
at the end of March. It’s pretty hard in the UK at the moment in terms of being a Rock
act and going out and trying to play what is mostly an original set because there just
isn’t the kind of circuit there any more. And the other problem is that we all live about
a hundred miles or so apart so it isn’t really a cheap option and it becomes pretty
complicated to try and get us all in the same place. But the plan is definitely to get out
and play next year and then hopefully play one or two festivals in the summer.

And as far as the set list goes; are you playing all of the album plus a few songs
from the past?

We don’t play every track on the album, although we’ve had them all in and out. ‘No
Justice’ and ‘Vincenzo’ have been occasional encores. We play a couple of my old
tracks and the Mammoth track ‘Fatman’ and we play ‘New Orleans’, ‘Trouble’ and
‘Smoke On The Water’ because…well, we had to play it every bloody night (laughs)
so why not carry on. Although, actually I quite enjoy playing it now.

Talking of Gillan how do you view that part of your career now and he albums
that you made with the band

It was a great experience; of all the ones we did the album I like the most is ‘Mr
Universe’ because it was the one that really had the most complete set of songs. The
other albums, even though they sold well, had some patchy moments on them and, in
terms of the band, I don’t think that they had the same amount of enthusiasm. It’s all a
matter of opinion of course and I’m seeing it in the light of being present at the time
and now looking back with hindsight. But I’m eternally grateful for having had the
chance to play with Gillan because it established me as a name in whatever small way
I am known. There was the continuous arguments about being promised royalties
which never got paid, which is true. But at the end of the day it is in the past now and
I am awfully glad that it happened and that I was asked. Because I was only a kid at
the time, I was basically clueless really (laughs).

And of course you were plucked from the Punk scene to be recruited into the

Yes, that probably got me more attention at the time. Had I been just an ordinary HM
guitarist then I don’t think people would have given it the amount of attention that
they did. But it all panned out OK really.

Tell me about the Ozzy dates that you did; it must have been a very difficult
situation to be in

Again, it was a great honour to be asked. At the time I was just sorting out the Electric
Gypsies project and I had a deal for that so I wasn’t awfully keen to bail out on that.
And so originally I said no because I had other obligations and I had no idea just how
big Ozzy was in the US at the time. I thought he was probably playing 2000 or 3000
seaters but they came back to me and offered me a decent amount of money, and I
was really skint at the time, and they also explained it was only for a short period of
time and wasn’t a permanent gig. Sharon and Ozzy are lovely people and Ozzy is a
great bloke but it wasn’t a band, it was basically Ozzy and hired hands and to me the
kind of thing I enjoy is a band.
I hadn’t really heard any of the material apart from ‘Mr Crowley’, which I heard on
the radio once. So I listened to the albums before I went and thought “fucking hell,
how I am I going to learn this in this short amount of time” and it was a 90 minute set.
And the only track I really knew in it was ‘Paranoid’ so I was up all night trying to
learn the rest and I was able to get a basic handle on the arrangements but the live
arrangements were different from the recorded ones so it was really hard. And at the
beginning I had no chance of trying to play any of Randy’s parts in the solos because
I hadn’t had anywhere near enough time to learn them. I would be there on stage in
the middle of a track thinking “What the fuck happens next?” and so because it was a
large production and the stage was half the size of Hammersmith Apollo I wasn’t able
to hear Rudy, or Tommy’s snare or what Ozzy was singing. And I hadn’t anyone I
was able to cling to and say “What’s the next chord”. Of course everyone in the band
was just enormously depressed and every time they looked over at me they were no
doubt thinking I wish he wasn’t there and I wish Randy was and so it was a very
difficult situation. But anyway, I went out and did some gigs and then it seemed that
the tour was going to drag on and I was conscious of my other obligations which I
really wanted to see through.

You’ve had a pretty varied career – have you ever thought about writing a book

Funnily enough I started on a couple of chapters but I’m a guitarist really and I just
couldn’t be arsed. I don’t think that it’s all that interesting though really, I have a few
anecdotes but I don’t know if people would be interested in reading it. So it probably
wouldn’t sell all that many copies (laughs).

For a time you tried to get the project Desperado off the ground with Twisted
Sister vocalist Dee Snider; was it ultimately down to record company politics
that it failed?

Yeah, completely, we spent ages writing and sorting out the band, too long really it
was almost two years. And then we ended up recording the album at enormous
expense which was par for the course in those times. So it was all about to happen and
the A&R who had signed us left and because of that the label just sat on it, so it was a
very difficult experience. It got to the stage where we had the photographs done and I
was in talking to the video director who was an American and I was in there
explaining our ideas and in the middle of the meeting he took a phone call and then
said “I can’t speak to you anymore and I can’t tell you why, you have to go home and
phone the management”. So I phoned them and it was “You’ve been dropped” which
was a real shock and it was no pay cheque…it was a real shame because Dee is just
outstanding, a great guy, great singer and an amazing performer. He really is
incredible and Clive (Burr) was great too.

So when not playing or writing what sort of stuff to enjoy listening to?

I listen to everything, not just guitarists or Rock albums. I listen to classical, jazz and
folk. What I play is Rock but even if you go back to Zeppelin they dragged in a lot of
influences and played it as Rock and that to me is the only way of doing it. Because if
you just concentrate on playing to or listening to just Rock then it becomes very
incestuous so I listen to all of it.

And, finally, is there anything you wanted to add about GMT that we haven’t
already covered or say to someone who might be thinking of checking you out

Well it’s the best band I’ve ever been in and people seem to agree with me. I think it’s
raw, exciting, classic and new. And it Rocks…

Bernie Tormé 18 March 1952 – 17 March 2019