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Mick Jones of Foreigner on ‘Live at the Rainbow ‘78’ – ‘We were literally on top of the world’

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On the heels of several special reunion concerts featuring both the classic and current lineups of Foreigner, the band has released a never before seen concert from the former, filmed at the historic Rainbow Theatre in London on April 27, 1978, during the final night of their first global trek. “Foreigner: Live at the Rainbow ‘78” was directed by Derek Burbidge and is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Eagle Rock.

With startling clarity, “Foreigner: Live at the Rainbow ‘78” captures the raw energy and stop-on-a-dime musical chops of a band that had spent most of the previous 12 months touring almost nonstop in support of their 1977 self-titled debut record. According to guitarist and founding member Mick Jones, the discovery of the film was a great surprise.

“It captures that sort of slight bit of madness and fun we were having,” Jones told me during an interview. “It’s amazing that it all came out so well.”

According to Jones, Foreigner was accompanied on that first world tour by a husband and wife filmmaking team from London. “One was in charge of the camera and the other was in charge of the audio,” he says.

For the Rainbow concert, the filmmakers commissioned a few local camera operators to assist with shooting the concert, according to Jones. The result is surprisingly clear and crisp for a previously unseen concert film of this vintage.

Regarding the audio soundtrack, Jones says it’s a small miracle that the music was recorded so well. Before our interview began, I had mentioned how impressed I was by the quality of the mix. To my surprise, he revealed that the film’s soundtrack was captured on the fly by the filmmakers.

“What you hear is what was recorded straight to quarter-inch tape,” Jones says. “That’s what makes this even more surprising. There was no multi-track recording made for this. It was down to putting microphones up in the crowd. Everything was recorded the way this couple was used to recording. The acoustics seemed to work incredibly well.”

We see and hear Lou Gramm near the peak of his vocal powers, along with multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, keyboardist Al Greenwood, drummer Dennis Elliott, the late Ed Gagliardi on bass, and Jones on guitar and keys, delivering smoking versions of every song from Foreigner’s 1977 debut album, plus “Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision” - the title track for the band’s second album - released less than two months after this concert.

Mick Jones checked in with The Maine Edge to discuss ‘Live at the Rainbow ’78,’ the recent (and future) “Foreigner: Then and Now” concerts, and how working with the kids at Shriners Hospitals for Children has impacted his life.

The Maine Edge: As great as the band was in the studio, the release of this concert makes a very strong argument that Foreigner was even better as a live a band in this period. Would you agree?

Jones: We certainly stand up well as a live band, I think, especially given the circumstances. It had to be right. There was no messing with it or mixing it after the fact. What you hear is what we sounded like.

The Maine Edge: There’s a very sweet moment during the show when you step up to inform the audience that your mother was out there sitting with them. Did she make a point of regularly attending Foreigner concerts when you played in England?

Jones: Absolutely. She was actually quite well known within the crowd. The audience would take care of her. They’d make sure she was comfortable and would keep people from blocking her view (laughs). It was really cool.

The Maine Edge: Why do you think it took so long for us to finally see this show? Has it been sitting in an archive somewhere for all these years?

Jones: I guess it has. I don’t even know where it came from. Luckily this movie ended up rearing its head from somewhere. It’s amazing that it all came out so well. It really captured the feeling of the time. It was our first major adventure around the world. It was exciting. Everything was going haywire a bit.

The Maine Edge: On ‘Live at the Rainbow ’78,’ the audience is treated to blistering early live versions of two songs from your forthcoming second album. It’s amazing to me that you somehow found the time to write and record that record considering the band’s intense concert at the time.

Jones: We started working on ‘Double Vision’ when we first got back to Los Angeles. We finished up what we could do there. This was around the time that we played our first major event - Cal Jam II. We played a set that was basically half the first album and half the material we had been working on for “Double Vision.”

(Note: California Jam II was a daylong festival concert held in Ontario, California, on March 18, 1978. The show drew 350,000 fans with a bill that included Foreigner, Aerosmith, Heart, Santana, and Ted Nugent, among other acts.)

The Maine Edge: Last year, you invited Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood, Ian McDonald and Rick Wills to rejoin the fold during select shows for a Foreigner “Double Vision: Then and Now” experience. When you play with different lineups during the same show, is it a bit like getting out of one car and getting into another?

Jones: In a way, I guess it is like that. With the original band members, it takes you back to the vintage days and all of the excitement from that time. The tempos here and there may be accelerated a bit but that’s part of the live thing. Being that we haven’t played together permanently as a unit for such a long time, it’s like hearing them fresh. Ian will play something that will jog my memory and I’ll suddenly realize ‘Oh, I used to do that there.’ You’re reminded of things you don’t do anymore, and when you listen to them, you realize they were pretty cool.

The Maine Edge: Would you like to do more of those dual lineup performances?

Jones: I think we have two or three coming up in the fall. We won’t be doing anything in the summer. We’re taking it pretty easy this year. It’s been three or four years now of constant touring. We’re going to cut that back a bit this summer, but we are going to Europe for three or four weeks.

At the beginning, I had reservations about the idea of doing shows with the different lineups. Not having hung out with the guys in such a long time, I was wondering how it would go when we actually got there in the flesh and started playing together. As it turned out, everything worked really well and those shows were great fun for all of us. Lou Gramm and Kelly Hansen (Foreigner’s lead vocalist since 2005) got on like a house on fire. Once that happened, everybody relaxed and we’ve all had a good time.

The Maine Edge: Foreigner has been closely involved with Shriners Hospitals for Children and has very generously donated proceeds from a new version of “I Want to Know What Love Is” to help the kids, along with a full live album of hits. What does it mean to you to be part of this?

Jones: We’ve always been interested in situations that involve music and young children. This is a perfect match, really. Working with the Shriners has been an incredible experience. It’s done wonders for the children and it’s done wonders for us too. It’s a very moving experience to hang out with these kids and hear what they have to say. I’ve been so touched by their humor and incredible spirit. It’s really an emotional experience.

The Shriners are really a bunch of great guys. We see them everywhere we go and we’re happy and proud to be associated with them in doing what they do. Adding our support to that gives us a good feeling.

We’ve gone to visit the kids at the Shriners Hospital in Florida. When you get that personal contact with them, it heightens the experience even more. The kids have all kinds of setbacks that they’ve been through, and continue to go through, yet their spirit remains incredibly high. I’ve been blown away by the whole experience.

(For more information about Foreigner’s involvement with Shriners Hospitals for Children, visit www.ShowThemLove.org.)

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