What's it like when your first gig is with Guns N' Roses? Ask Secret Saints

Secret Saints
Secret Saints (Image credit: Gleb Smirnoff)

“It was an incredible day,” says Secret Saints singer Tal Shachar. “You feel like you’re in that movie you imagine inside your head when you’re just starting out. It was just perfect.”

For Tal and his band — guitarist Chen Balbus, drummer Jonathan Alter, bassist Dael Campbell and guitarist Rafael Cohen — July 15 2017 will remain long in the memory. Not just because they played their first gig… but because they were opening for Guns N’ Roses as fans 65,000 gathered at Tel Aviv’s Park HaYarkon.

If that sounds like The Secret Saints are just setting out on the long trail to rock’n’roll stardom, nothing could be further from the truth. Shachar has lived in Los Angeles, where he fronted Sunset Strip rock’n’rollers Secret Black — who, amongst other things, supported Faster Pussycat at the Whisky a Go Go — while guitarist Chen Balbus is also a member of celebrated Israeli metal act Orphaned Land, who won the Global Metal Act award at Metal Hammer’s Golden Gods show in 2014. Together they make what Shachar calls “just classic rock’n’roll,” a tangle of greasy riffs and big choruses that isn’t too far from the band they were supporting.

“When I came back to Israel from Los Angeles last September, I started talking with Chen,” says Shachar. “We just agreed to meet and try to write something and see what came out of it. And we just knew straight after the first song that we’re going to do big stuff with our music, and go as far as we can!

“We brought in Jonathan, Rafael and Dael to the group and just started playing together. I truly believe that when something is so good just from the start it means you need to keep going with it.”

How did the show with Axl & Co. come about?

“When they announced that Guns N’ Roses are coming to Israel, we immediately sent our music and essentials to the production company,” says Shachar. “They sent off our things to the Guns N’ Roses management in Los Angeles and they gave us the opportunity and the biggest honour of a lifetime.”

And how do you follow a start like this? One of the issues facing Israeli bands is that it’s a small country: these big opportunities don’t come along too often, and there’s no real way to tour between cities in the way that you can elsewhere. “It’s a small world today,” says Shachar, “and like any band that sings in English we’re planning to tour Europe and the USA. I lived in LA for a year, and I know that the audience there is one of the best out there. I can’t wait to go back!”

“I believe in the chemistry between the guys, he adds. “Beyond writing awesome songs, we’re good friends, and I think that you can feel it in our music.”

Six Israeli bands you should listen to, by Tal Shachar: HaYehudim, Random Dogs, The Paz Band, Selfish Shepherd, Bones and Stellar Lane.

Guns N' Roses: The TeamRock Archives

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.