Europe were one of the biggest rock bands of the late 80s. Singer Joey Tempest talks to Chris Bond about their renaissance and “that” song.
WE perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, but the 1980s may well prove to have been rock music’s zenith.
This was the decade that gave us the likes of Guns ‘N’ Roses, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, when rock anthems and power ballads ruled the roost and when big hair was something to be proud of.
Amid this musical malestrom a hitherto unknown group of hirsute Swedish rockers called Europe were briefly kings of the hill, on the back of the phenomenal success of their global hit, The Final Countdown. They then disappeared from the music scene for more than a decade before resurfacing in 2004, since when they’ve been re-establishing themselves as a hard rock act.
Their latest album and their ninth to date, Bag of Bones, came out earlier this year and next week they’re playing the 02 Academy in Leeds as part of a UK tour.
The band’s lead singer, Joey Tempest, believes they are a better outfit nowadays. “We’re still a classic rock band, we’ve just added a few more layers to our songs,” he says.
He’s pleased, too, with their latest album describing it as a “prequel” to their first released nearly 30 years ago.
It’s produced by Kevin Shirley who has worked with, among others, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, and features the celebrated blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa on the title track.
“Kevin Shirley did such a great job capturing the spirit of this band. He just let us do our thing and then pushed us and our songs to the max. And we had some fun during the process, just like a great rock record should be made,” says Tempest.
Europe were created in Sweden but forged by Tempest and his friend the guitarist John Norum’s love of British rock bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy. Together they recorded their first demos as teenagers which were promptly rejected by record companies because there was “too much guitar.”
Undaunted, they stuck at it and won a rock band competition offering a record contract as its first prize. “In the early days we spent a lot of time touring and dreaming of becoming a big band,” he says.
Their second album, Wings of Tomorrow, made the music critics sit up and take notice but it was their next record and the hit single that came with it that took the world by storm. The Final Countdown was their passport to rock stardom. “It changed everything, it pushed us into the pop world and it meant we could tour the UK and the US which was a dream come true for us.”
The success of both the single and the album afforded them a jet-set lifestyle where they had the world’s music press in tow. And yet, initially, they weren’t sure about the song itself. “Some of the guys didn’t like it,” says Tempest. Even so, it has been their signature song for the past 25 years.
“We have a different relationship with the song because we originally saw it as a show opener and now it has a life of its own, we don’t own it anymore, the fans do. But we do still enjoy playing it because it’s one of those songs that brings the audience together.
“There aren’t many songs that do that but we’re fortunate that we have one.”
They followed up this success with two more albums, Out of This World (1988) and Prisoners in Paradise three years later. But by 1992, with their popularity on the wane, they went on a hiatus. “We’d been going for 10 years, we’d left home and started the band and toured the world and we needed to take a break. People think we’d packed it in but it was just a break, although it was a long one I agree.”
They reunited in 2004 with a new record Start From The Dark in which they recalibrated themselves as a hard rock act. “We didn’t care what other people thought, we decided to do exactly what we wanted and I think we’re better musicians now because there’s always more to learn about lyrics and songwriting.”
Looking back at their earlier success Tempest says they fitted the times, but he says he’s happy to be playing music and to be back in the UK. “You guys know your music, it’s in your DNA and that’s why it’s always a pleasure to play here.”
Europe, Leeds 02 Academy, November 26.
Europe – The final countdown and beyond
The band started as Force in 1979, inspired by the likes of Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy, before changing their name and releasing their first record four years later.
Their 1986 album The Final Countdown sold seven million copies worldwide and the hit single of the same name was number one in more than 25 countries.
Europe’s line-up consists of Joey Tempest (vocals), John Norum (guitar), John Leven (bass guitar), Mic Michaeli (Keyboards) and Ian Haugland (drums).
The band have recorded nine studio albums and sold over 15 million records.