Containing six of the UK’s most highly-esteemed and experienced rock musicians, Snakecharmer was the Giants of Rock’s secret weapon. Formed in 2012 by original Whitesnake members Micky Moody (guitar) and Neil Murray (bass), they soon teamed up with guitarist Laurie Wisefield (Wishbone Ash), drummer Harry James (Thunder), keyboardist Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne) and vocalist Chris Ousey (Heartland) to bring twin-guitar based rock back to the masses. Their first ‘self-titled’ album met with positive reviews offering a great deal of promise with ‘A Little Rock and Roll’, ‘Smoking Gun’ and single, ‘Accident Prone’. It looked as if the band found a winning combination in the ol’ Deep Purple/Whitesnake formula. A few years later, when it was time for album number two, Moody had left the band replaced by Irishman Simon McBride whose style is more in keeping with Gary Moore. Second Skin moved one step past the group’s retro roots bringing a splash of freshness with songs like ‘Are You Ready to Fly’, ‘Hell of a Way to Live’ and ‘Follow Me Under’.
Just prior to their headline slot on The Reds stage at Giants of Rock we sat down with singer extraordinaire Chris Ousey who shared his insight on the success of the band. “Well, it was a surprise when Micky Moody left,” says Ousey, “He was one of the main anchors, but I think he wanted to move on. Fortunately, we got a hold of the brilliant Simon McBride. He’s the youthful one in the band. Right from the beginning, it was, ‘what are we going to do as a band?’ Sure, we loved doing the Whitesnake songs but there was so much talent in this band we wanted to do other stuff too. Harry plays with Thunder and before that Magnum. Adam was going out with Sabbath and now Ozzy. We’re all crazy busy. So, if we wanted to go out as Snakecharmer, we had to adapt, that’s just the way it is. Simon’s got the right feel, that Gary Moore thing and he’s got fire. He can be really laid back for a third of the set and then turn it on like the flick of a switch. He cruises along and is impressive but then there is a whole other gear.”
Ousey began his career in the critically acclaimed Virginia Wolf on Atlantic records. Noted primarily because the drummer was Jason Bonham, son of the late great John Bonham. Their 1986 ‘self-titled’ album was produced by Queen drummer Roger Taylor and landed them an opening slot for The Firm (featuring Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers). Their second album Push (1987) was produced by Kevin Elson (Journey) only to see the group split shortly thereafter. Ousey went on to form Heartland which lasted 16 years from 1991 2007. The band’s debut is considered by many to be a cherished classic with hits ‘Carrie Ann’, Fight Fire with Fire’, and ‘Real World’. Gaining a reputation as a first-class singer, Ousey’s side projects included The Distance with Kenny Kaos and 2015’s Ozone with Steve Overland (FM). He’s also recorded two solo discs Rhyme & Reason (2011) and Dream Machine (2016).
“I’m really focused on Snakecharmer right now,” says Ousey of his busy schedule. “When I got the call from a mate of mine saying they (Moody and Murray) were putting this new project together and would I be interested, I jumped in 100%. I remember, we all met up in London and played for two or three hours. Harry James, Micky and Neil, Lauri came in a couple days later. In the beginning it was Micky and Neil’s baby. For me, I really wanted to add more layers. I have a lot of respect for those players. I knew it would be fun, but after about eight months of doing basically Whitesnake material, I felt there was a lot more that we could do. It didn’t take too much persuading for us to start writing original material and that’s when it became more of a band for me. I felt like I could add something other than just putting my voice on a record.”
Second Skin is packed with great songs. From the afore mentioned ‘Are You Ready to Fly’ with its aggressive hook to the beautiful crafted power ballad ‘I’ll Take You as You Are.’ With the challenge of bringing together five very busy musicians, how do they find time to write? “I’ll get little bits of musical ideas from the guys,” says the singer. “With Laurie I’ll get a full backing track and write the lyrics and melody to that. I can play around with them from there. This band is very organic. We like to work from the ground up. I have to say, I panicked a little the first time we sat down to write. It had been years since I actually sat on a stool with a bunch of guys and said, ‘Yeah, lets write a song’. There was some pressure there. But I loved it. It felt like it did in the old days. There’s was no real rule-book, and everyone kept their egos in check.”
Judging from the audience’s frenzied reaction to Snakecharmer’s GOR set, the band were easily one the weekend favorites. “We’re hoping to continue to go out as much as possible,” says Ousey. “With the state of the music industry right now it’s a bit of a gamble. Hopefully we can inspire a new generation of kids show them this can be a proper career. We want to carry on and make more records. It not easy getting us together but it’s needs must really. I would like to keep the character of the band intact. Get out there as much as possible to do the live stuff.” We asked the singer about his golden voice and how he keeps it in such great shape. “Well, I’d never gone to a vocal coach until a couple years ago. Joining Snakecharmer, I wanted to make sure my voice was in good shape, working on pitch and phrasing you know, strengthen what I’ve got. As you get older, bad technique catches up to you. I saw a coach for about three months and I was amazed at how good she was. She could spot right away what I need to do to strengthen certain muscles. I suddenly felt I had a lot more airpower and it was a lot easier to find that power. I’m much stronger in this band today and I enjoy being a little more in-your-face rock and roll!”
Website: Snakecharmer, Frontiers Records