By STEVE MASCORD
IT was in the tour bus on the way to the 2012 Download Festival that Europe’s Joey Tempest came up with the idea.
“Let’s make something different this time,” the 1980s heartthrob, now on tour in Australia, told his bandmates.
“Let’s exclude, not play, ‘The Final Countdown’.”
Now 54, Tempest tells Hot Metal: “Can you imagine the Download audience? It would be such a big boo and scream that we would get more publicity than anything.
“But … what happened was, we didn’t make it to the show. That year, it was raining. We missed our slot. A lot of other bands did too, they had to rearrange the whole festival.
“We took it as a sign never to discuss leaving it out. We didn’t make it to the show and now we’ve decided not to do it again.”
Europe are far from being another hair metal band trading on past glories. Just as Bon Jovi managed to outlive the genre that made them famous by becoming purveyors of sickly ballads, Europe are trying do likewise by being … Deep Purple.
Unfortunately their reinvention didn’t follow on immediately from a power struggle between singer and guitarist, as it could be argued the metamorphosis occurred in their 1980s rivals, allowing Bon Jovi to embrace schmaltz and continue raking in the cash.
Europe had to break up first, between 1992 and 2003. During the period, Tempest sent himself back to songwriting school.
“I started listening to everything, like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman and Jackson Brown and Van Morrison,” says the singer, who maintains a strong Swedish accent despite years in London.
“I wanted to learn. I wanted to learn about songwriting and lyrics as well. I wanted to try and write with more expression.”
Tempest argues there was nothing calculated about the overhaul of the band’s sound, however.
“We had a meeting in 2003, the year before we started again.
“We own our music, we licence it out to people who want to work with us, we take control of the business side of it but we also write from the heart and we write together. (We said) ‘all five of us write together and we build it up slowly and we build it up with just pure digging- deeper rock’n’roll and progressive rock’n’roll. It could be anything from Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, bands like that’.
“We never really tried to think ‘what is played on the radio? What’s going to work for us in the future?’ Really, we didn’t go that route. Some bands may think ‘oh, it’s the country kind of rock that works now’ or ‘it’s the polished kind of rock that works now’. We never really wanted to do that because the bands that we admire, the bands that we think are great arena bands, are Deep Purple and Rush and other bands who have twists and turns in their careers.
“The choice was probably not to please anybody and just keep going.”
There’s a weird dichotomy here: other bands of the era have many new members trying to convince audiences they’ve not changed. Europe have mostly original members, trying to convince audiences they have.
The obsessions with Blackmore’s crew is not new; the band was actually named after a Deep Purple album, Made In Europe. They used to be called Force but another Swedish icon, Yngwie Malmsteen, already had Rising Force.
“I was imagining in my head the sound of someone introducing us: ‘please welcome on stage…Europe’.
“I tried it with a few different names. Then I introduced it to the guys. I had to get them really drunk before I suggest it. I waited until the end of the night. They had been asking ‘tell us’, ‘tell us’. I said ‘my suggestion is Europe’. They got quiet but then they said ‘oh yeah, we’ll think about that’.” All these years later, Tempest wrote the wistful “Days Of Rock’n’Roll” off 2015’s War Of Kings, ostensibly about whether rock is dead. Joe reveals it was inspired in part by a conversation with Mr Rock-Is-Dead himself, Gene Simmons.
“I wrote the lyric in response to a lot of people I met on the road – including Gene Simmons and other people -who at the time were talking about ‘we’re not going to make any more albums, rock is dead’.
“There were so many people saying that and I was like ‘I’m not sure about that, I think there’s a light there, I think there’s a hope there and I think the last few years has proven that with bands like Rival Sons and there are other bands emerging in the UK. There is a sense that it’s OK to do rock’n’roll, to do albums, and I think people will rediscover it. I still have hope.”
Back to the start of this story, then. Do Europe – completed by guitarist John Norum, bassist Jon Leven, keyboardist Mic Michaeli and drummer Ian Haugland – secretly despise the song they can no longer even discuss leaving out of a show?
“We have a good relationship with it,” says Tempest. “We have a different relationship with it than anyone else. For us it was an album track. It was a long track, six minutes, a song for the show.
“Melodically it’s in a minor key but it’s uplifting. That in itself is kind of weird – a song about a spent earth, leaving earth and looking for new frontiers. People use it for weddings and all kinds of things, it’s kind of strange.”
“Pictures”, off current album Walk The Earth, is intended as a sequel to this omnipresent epic.
“It was written at Abbey Road, studio three, where Roger Waters wrote a lot of the lyrics for Pink Floyd. We thought wouldn’t it be nice to have a sequel? What happened to this guy who in ’85-’86 flew out into space with these guys? Where is he now? What’s going on with him? The lyric was loosely based on that idea.“
So, here’s something I’ve always wondered: does Joey hope that “The Final Countdown” will not only outlive him by centuries but actually be played at the launch when we are “leaving together” a decaying earth?
“It’s an interesting concept,” he says. If you could hear a smile, I hear it.
“I do believe in hope and I’m very positive. I think we will come around and save the planet as a race but maybe some outside forces in a million years could take care of the job.”