Still the bad bad boys of rock..

HE'S rocked relentlessly around the world for 40 years, but there was just one thing Nazareth founder Pete Agnew had to say when he heard pop megastars Girls Aloud had sampled one of his band's anthems for a new single.

"Er, who the hell are they?" queried the baffled rocker.

One of the best-known modern girl bands around had by-passed Scotland's rock legends, not because Pete and his fellow Nazareth stalwarts had disappeared into the musical wilderness – far from it. In fact, they were simply too busy taking their classic rock sounds to adoring fans across thousands of miles on yet another of their gruelling world tours to even register the existence of five girls from a reality TV show.

The Girls Aloud single peaked at No.5, thrusting Nazareth's raw guitar sound and catchy rock lick back into the charts 32 years after it was penned. Still, Pete, below, and fellow Nazareth stalwart, gravel-voiced singer Dan McCafferty, weren't exactly impressed.

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"I really didn't know who they were," confesses Pete, now 61 and enjoying 2008 as the band mark 40 years in the business. "Someone said 'Girls Aloud have sampled Hair of the Dog' and I think we were supposed to be pleased. But it was a bit of a laugh because I didn't have a clue who they were talking about.

"Then I saw them on TV, they were miming and dancing about with hardly anything on and I thought 'ah, so that's why they're so big'. Well we'd all be superstars if we could do that."

Some acts might have been overjoyed to find their rock hook propping up a top-ten chart hit by one of pop's biggest names. Pete, however, a father of five whose thumping bass has provided the backbone for Scotland's biggest rock export since the late Sixties, managed to contain his excitement.

After all, when it comes to putting on a show, there aren't many acts that can match the Dunfermline-based rock gods for stamina, longevity and downright eccentricity.

And if anyone dares to suggest they might be Seventies "has-beens", they only need to check out Nazareth's anniversary tour schedule. While they might well struggle to fill a major venue in Scotland, put them in a stadium in Eastern Europe and you'll have a near stampede for tickets.

With their 2007 tour barely over – they played a private gig in Moscow three days before Christmas, flew home and then returned on Boxing Day for another private performance, this time for an oil baron's birthday – Nazareth are preparing for their next jaunt around the globe.

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Starting in two weeks' time, they will play around 80 gigs in the first six months of the year alone, at venues strung between Norway and the Faroe Islands, Brazil and the Czech Republic. There's more of the same for the second half of the year.

"So that's why I'd never heard of Girls Aloud," shrugs Pete. "I never see television because we're always on the road and I don't listen to radio because it's absolutely dire. Someone wrote something about their record bringing us back from obscurity and I couldn't let that one pass. So I wrote back saying actually we were busy recording our 21st album in Switzerland when the single came out and that we'd been touring around the world, so does that sound like obscurity?

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"I'd like to see what some of these boy and girl pop bands are doing in 40 years' time."

Chances are they won't be following Nazareth's remarkable lead, relentlessly crisscrossing the globe, still being mobbed by loyal fans and about to celebrate their fourth decade with a new album, their first for ten years. In typical slightly frenzied Nazareth style, however, it was recorded in September, is due for release in the next few months yet still doesn't have a title.

Pete hopes to resolve that this weekend when he flies to Switzerland to complete the finishing touches, but only once he's spent some time at his Dunfermline home with childhood sweetheart Jane – their 40th wedding anniversary is next month – and also sandwiched in a quick trip to New York.

It's a breathless schedule for even a young rock pup to tackle, but Pete and Dan – Nazareth's other members are Pete's 36-year-old son, Lee on drums and 43-year-old guitarist Jimmy Murriston – cruise through weeks on the road in rickety tour buses in far-flung corners of Eastern Europe performing in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans the way the rest of us commute to work in the morning.

"Every year's the same," shrugs Pete. "A couple of weeks to rehearse in January and put together a new set then we're on the road right the way through. OK, Dan and me are beginning to feel it and there's nights when I'd pay someone to go on stage for me but you get used to it."

Virtually unheard on the airwaves in their native Scotland these days, the wrinkly rockers are superstars in the likes of Outer Mongolia, Russia, Norway and Canada. In some parts of Eastern Europe they are mobbed whenever they venture outdoors, usually taking with them a crowd of bodyguards for personal protection from over-enthusiastic fans. "At home in Dunfermline, no-one bats an eyelid at us," explains Pete. "I go to New York for a few days, come home then go somewhere else, and the neighbours just think I'm having a long lie because they've not seen me for a day or two. But in Russia, go out for a pint and you need protection. It's a different world."

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Nazareth were one of the first Western bands to play behind the newly crumbled Iron Curtain – Elton John beat them to it by just a few months. At one point in the Nineties, they notched up ten nights in a row in Moscow to an audience of more than 30,000 each night, followed by 12 nights of the same in Leningrad.

They were still perilous days in the aftermath of communism, and Pete remembers his late mum worrying about him. "She was really concerned about the Russian Mafia when things were going crazy over there," he recalls. "She said 'Now son, you just watch yourself'. I said 'Mum, who do you think is putting on the concerts? Mother Theresa doesn't do concerts, we're not running away from the Mafia because we're working for the Mafia.'"

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Today, Nazareth are still crushing boundaries and breaking new ground. "We played Greenland last month," grins Pete. "The only other UK band to play there is Smokie. So they were due a visit from someone else."

On February 24 at the Liquid Rooms, Nazareth will mark 40 years in the business as part of their Scottish leg of another world tour.

But is the time now coming for Pete and Dan to call it a day?

"There's been so many good bits in the past 40 years. I've seen the world, doing what I love doing, I can't imagine doing anything else. Besides, Mick Jagger's still performing and he's older than us – and we're better looking," laughs Pete.

"Anyway, when he stops, we'll stop. Well, maybe..."

Shadettes of things to come

NAZARETH are celebrating four decades in the music business, but bassist Pete Agnew and singer Dan McCafferty's connections stretch back even further.

The schoolyard friends went on to form The Shadettes with guitarist Manny Charleton and drummer Daryll Sweet, playing inoffensive ditties before breaking into the rock scene as Nazareth in 1968. They charted in the Seventies with perhaps their best known songs, Broken Down Angel and Joni Mitchell's This Flight Tonight. The group has undergone a string of changes since then, with Agnew and McCafferty the only original members.

Nazareth will mark their anniversary with a new album and tour which could include a unique gig in their hometown Dunfermline with the surviving members of Big Country.

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