Ahead of his first ever concert in Dundee, Uli Jon Roth, the former lead guitarist with Euro rock giants The Scorpions, tells Michael Alexander why, despite the winds of change blowing through politics, he believes Scotland – and the UK – will survive Brexit.
The former lead guitarist of German rock giants The Scorpions is dismayed when The Courier breaks the news to him that Brexit has scuppered Dundee’s 2023 European Capital of Culture bid.
“Oh man, that’s so unprofessional of them!” says Uli Jon Roth when he learns that the European Commission waited until just days before Dundee’s presentation before announcing the block of their bid.
However, as the winds of change swirl relentlessly through politics, the Dusseldorf-born 62-year-old, who has resided in the UK since 1980 and now lives in Snowdonia, North Wales, is confident that Scotland and the UK will remain an important part of ‘Europe’ – whatever happens after Brexit.
“I don’t think Brexit is going to bring too many changes,” he insists.
“There will be a lot of talk and in the end we’ll all have to tighten our belts a little and get on with it.
“The worst will be the Customs side of stuff which will be more difficult for those of us who constantly travel. But other than that I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference. It never does with politics. Life will go on!”
When Uli brings his brand of neoclassical metal and hard rock to Dundee’s Church on December 9 as part of a UK club tour, it’ll be the first time he’s played in Dundee and only one of a handful of times he has played in “beautiful” Scotland.
However, it won’t be the first time he’s discovered the city and he’s looking forward to revisiting what he remembers being a “cool” place.
“I looked at a house once in Scotland – I had a spare day in the area and did some sightseeing in Dundee,” he recalls.
“I went to the cinema in the evening. I just remember walking a lot because I enjoy walking and roaming the streets, exploring a city. To me it seemed like an interesting place. That’s all I remember – that it was mixed. It was obviously a port and had some interesting architecture I thought. It was cool. Generally I did like the vibe.”
Uli, who was romantically involved with Jimi Hendrix’ ex-girlfriend Monika Dannemann, who designed album sleeves for him, spent his formative years with The Scorpions before leaving in 1978.
He was “very happy” in the band for the first four years, he insists. But there came a point when he started to have different musical ideas and wanted to become “a little more free flow and experimental”, going on to form Electric Sun.
“The Scorpions were geared for the big success,” says Uli whose early influences included heavy guitar hitters like Eric Clapton and Hendrix, as well as classical music like Beethoven and Bach.
“A lot of the stuff that I wanted to write would not fit into that formula. I was more interested in exploring the music than the big money so that’s why I left. It was a purely artistic decision.”
Uli pursued these ambitions through his early contributions to the neoclassical metal genre and also invented the Sky Guitar – a six octave lead instrument that remains unparalleled by allowing the user to play much higher notes than a normal standard guitar. This allowed him to delve more and more into classical music and also saw him set up a company as the Sky Guitar became a world wide commercial success.
But having played some of the grandest venues in Europe and across the world, including recent Scorpions reunions, Uli has no qualms about playing a relatively small venue like Church when he rolls into Dundee.
“Most of the time I enjoy most venues,” he says.
“Occasionally I really dislike a venue and it can be for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes the stage is too small – but I’ve had some of my best ever shows on some of the smaller stages.
“These intimate club gigs sometimes have something you can’t reproduce on the bigger stage.
“I don’t want ever want to lose that connection. You become like a big family in a smaller room -you don’t get that on a big stage or an arena type venue because the people are too far away.
“In the smaller venue you can basically touch the sound. Everybody is exposed to the vibrations at the same time. It’s palpable.
“I’m really looking forward to playing in Dundee.”
*Uli Jon Roth, Church, Dundee, December 9