By STEVE MASCORD
FOR TWO members of a gold status rock band, Ian Hatton and Daniel MacMaster aren’t exactly megastars yet.
Bonham guitarist Hatton sits across from me in a Sydney coffee shop with vocalist MacMaster. Unless you were a bigtime fan, you wouldn’t even recognise either of them in the street.
When it comes to Stateside record sales, Bonham are hot property. But when the discussion turns to personalities, well, Bonham is son-of-Led-Zep-drummer Jason Bonham, isn’t it? With the Anglo-Canadians’ second offering, the more adventurous ‘Mad Hatter‘, upon us, MacMaster admits there’s a little work to do in that department.
“Eventually they’re going to identify with the rest of us,” the man recommended to the band by Bad Company singer Brian Howe grins.
BONHAM – Hatton, keyboardist/bassist John Smithson, MacMaster and Jason Bonham – are in Australia to record the first video from Mad Hatter under the direction of vid-clip svengali Ralph Zimerman. Filmed in an old mansion in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. and near the entrance to Sydney
Harbour, the clip is “gonna be good” says Hatton.
“It’s got a lot of effects, a big crew. We were all quite surprised because it was more like a film set than a video clip. Just working with him you can see his mind’s always going. He’s always thinking of something.”
Bonham’s debut, A Disregard For Timekeeping was poorly received in Europe, where comparisons with Led Zeppelin were a major drawback. Mad Hatter sees the band stretching out, experimenting with a variety of styles and coming out more or less on top.
“We actually started to record it in May last year,” former Honeydripper Hatton reveals. “We did about eight weeks of recording, and mixed it in LA with Dave Thoener so it was finished in July. Then we took a few weeks off and listened to it, came back and decided it was great but we wanted a couple more tracks to make it right.
“We carried on writing and/ the guy we wanted to produce, Ron St Germain, had to keep us waiting ’til January. We went in with him for a couple of weeks, did three tracks and that was it.”
The band only played four shows in Britain when they hit the scene three years ago, despite the fact MacMaster is the only non-Brit in the band. But things’have changed now they have new management.
“Four gigs in England,” Hatton laments. “It was pretty appalling. We’re with Part Rock now. They manage AC/DC and Gary Moore. One of the first things they said was, ‘Great, you’ve done well in the States, but the rest of our acts do just as well in Europe, Japan and Australia as well as America’. I think we really need to push that.”
THREE YEARS is a long time in rock ‘n’ roll, and Bonham are banking that, in MacMaster’s words, “people remember what they like”. The four-piece start an American club tour shortly, and there’s no doubt that they’ll be winging their way across the Atlantic before long.
Hatton: “On the first album we hadn’t played live together. All we’d done was write in the studio. Since then we’ve done nearly 300 shows so it’s turned four people into a good, strong band.”
The new material, such as ‘Chimera’ and ‘Good With The Bad’, certainly shows more subtlety than much of the first album. MacMaster has no trouble admitting they aimed at radio when they started work on Mad Hatter.
“I think it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, because you’ve got to sell your album and if they’re not playing it on the radio you’re in trouble,” MacMaster says.
“If I’m going to go into a record store to buy a CD, I’m going to buy it because I’ve heard it on the radio. Most of us don’t listen to the rock ‘n’ roll of today.”
Hatton: “Jason’s the one new stuff. He knows what’s going on. He was rushing out and getting Pearl Jam…”
BUT HOW do these guys feel about being in a band with a bloke who could jump ship at any time to join Led Zeppelin? The reformation rumours have been around for a decade but were particularly strong 12 months ago. Did you ever fear you’d find yourself without a band after all that hard work? After all, Jason’s been quoted as saying ‘if Zep reform tomorrow and I get the call, I’m off’.
Hatton answers anxiously: “We all pretty much know they’re not gonna tour again, but even if they did they’d only do six weeks and that wouldn’t be such a big deal. I don’t think any of us ever thought, ‘Oh Christ, he’s gong to leave Bonham and join Led Zeppelin’.”
MacMaster: “Sure, we could all go away and do another project, and hats off to it. We all feel the same
way; it would be great if that happened. But Jason’s going to want to be back with this unit because it’s ours and it’s t- something we’re becoming successful at.”
HATTON has no doubt where he’d be had Jason Bonham and a record deal not come along. “If we were a band playing together in England, we’d never have been signed,” he says. “I feel real sorry for bands in England because it’s terrible. There’s no gigs at all.”
The only way these guys can beat accusations that they’re in ‘Jason’s band’ is yo outlast them.
MacMaster: “It was great initially because it opened a lot of doors for us in the business. People wanted to see what we were about.”
Hatton: “But the record company look at us as a band that’s going to be here in 10 albums’ time. There aren’t many bands like that now; there’s so many bands that just come and go.
“That’s why this album is different from he first one and the next one will be different again. You move with the people who like you.”
Oe, in some cases, the people who know you.
This story first appeared in Kerrang! magazine