STOCKIN’ FILLERS

If yer lookin’ for a Christmas present to buy why not have a butchers at these books that featured on the blog this year. 2019 has seen nearly 100 interviews posted mostly musicians but also featured authors and poets like Keith Armstrong I was interested in people like Dylan Thomas, the rhythm of his poetry. Actors like Richard Harris, hell raisers like Oliver Reed – all good role models! Yeah in my early days I loved the old bohemian lifestyle of reading poetry and getting tanked up. Order direct from Northern Voices Community Projects, 35 Hillsden Road, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE25 9XF.

 

More than four decades after the BBC’s iconic TV series ‘When the Boat Comes In’ was first screened, ‘Jack High’ a novel by Peter Mitchell tells the story of Jack Ford’s missing years. ‘This is a man who has found a family in war. He interacts with union men, upper crusts, politicians….all he knows is how to survive and when he see’s a chance he takes the opportunity’. ‘Jack High’ is available through Amazon.

Some authors talked about growing up in the North East, like former White Heat front man now music documentary director Bob Smeaton I was working as a welder at Swan Hunter Shipyards at the time. When punk and new wave happened around 76/77 that’s when I started thinking I could possibly make a career out of music. The doors had been kicked wide open’. ‘From Benwell Boy to 46th Beatle & Beyond’ available on Amazon or can be ordered in Waterstones, Newcastle.

Earlier this year I read a great book ‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ and got in touch with the author Vin Arthey… Newcastle born William Fisher turned out to be a KGB spy, he used the name Rudolf Abel and was jailed for espionage in the United States in 1957. He was exchanged across Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge for the American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. The Tom Hanks film ‘Bridge of Spies’ tells the story of how it happened. Contact Vin at varthey@gmail.com ‘I have a few pristine copies on my shelf but with p&p, it would come out at £10 more than the Amazon price’.

A big influence on my life was watching and being in the audience of ‘80s live music show The Tube, so when I got the chance to talk to former music TV producer Chris Phipps about the program, I didn’t miss the opportunity ‘As an ex-BBC producer I initially only signed up for 3 months on this unknown program and it became 5 years! I was mainly hired because of my track record for producing rock and reggae shows in the Midlands’. Chris released ‘Namedropper’ revealing backstage stories from the ground breaking show. The book is available at Newcastle City Library or through Amazon.

 Gary Alikivi   December 2019.

EYES WIDE OPEN – in conversation with photographer Rik Walton

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The only time I had a press pass was when David Bowie was on and only 6 were given out. When Paul McCartney came to the hall, I was a big fan, I phoned up his press agent and he was great, ‘See you at the stage door 7.30pm’ he said. But anxiously I turned up 2 hours early and his press agent was really nice and let me in. I spent the next hour and a half in the dressing room with Paul and Linda McCartney, Jimmy McCulloch and Denny Laine. I used up all my film in the dressing room. Looking back I made very little money photographing bands at Newcastle City Hall, but I did get in for free (laughs).

How did you get interested in music ? I saw Bob Dylan in 1965 in the City Hall when they filmed Don’t Look Now and a year later at Newcastle Odeon on his electric tour. A friend of mine’s father was manager of the Odeon. One day he said we have this actor coming over from USA promoting his second film and I don’t know what to do with him, can you take him to a pub. So we did and we took Clint Eastwood to The Lord Crewe in Blanchland. He was a lovely man and was quite worried about the level of violence in the two movies – A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More.

You were involved in the earliest photo sessions with the Tygers of Pan Tang, how did that come about ? I was involved in a show called Bedrock at Radio Newcastle. Back then the radio shut down at 10pm so Dick Godfrey, local journalist, got a remit to play local bands and interviews. It would go on for hours. The team was Arthur Brown, Ian Penman, myself and Tom Noble who was manager of Tygers of Pan Tang. We took some of the earliest photograph’s of the band at Whitley Bay. I went to Reading rock festival with them, I was their driver and we stayed in the Mount Pleasant Hotel or as it become known the Unpleasant.

Did you get on well with the bands or did any of them give you any grief ? I photographed bands over a long time and I never became really friendly, I wanted to be the fly on the wall. To become too friendly made my job more difficult in a way. I started 2 magazines and done a lot of interviews backstage at Newcastle City Hall with some ‘famous’ people and early on I realised you don’t gush or pretend to be their best mate. Looking back Captain Beefheart was a really interesting guy and a good interview and to my surprise when I next met him he picked up the conversation from before, that was very interesting.

I was asked to photograph the Newcastle Jazz festival then started working for Folkworks so the music really changed for me – rock to jazz to folk. I got to know Sting through photographing the big band in the early 70’s. I lived in Jesmond and across the road lived Andy Hudson, conductor of the Newcastle Jazz Big Band. I photographed them in The Guildhall during the first Newcastle Jazz Festival. They used the photo for the cover of their album. I then went onto photograph Stings band, Last Exit and of course The Police.

Motorhead were playing in Newcastle, can’t remember where, but I was going to take some photographs of the soundcheck and I walked into the place and Lemmy was having a meltdown on the stage, a real strop about something. I wasn’t sure what it was about but I got out there quickly.

The first time I cried at a rock concert was when I heard Peter Gabriel sing ‘Biko’ for the first time. A couple of years later I went along with journalist Phil Sutcliffe on a Gabriel tour for a few days doing an in depth story about him for Sounds. I remember playing croquet with Peter at 1am outside our hotel, being a public schoolboy he carried a croquet set around with him on tour. He was a very nice guy I found him very shy compared to his on stage persona. I did get to know him but always keeping a slight distance.

How did you get access to take photographs front row in Newcastle City Hall ? One of the first bands I took photos of was Downtown Faction who were playing in the Polytechnic. Then a few year later I fell in with a guy called Joe Robertson. Joe was an entrepreneur with an office in Handyside Arcade. He opened bars in Newcastle and was very much the man ‘in the know’. He’d seen my photos and one day said ‘I’m going to go into pirate pop posters I will give you £10 for each picture I use and here’s a ticket for the Rolling Stones in 1972’.

So I went on the night but my seat was right at the back so I went to the front and asked the stewards if I could take pictures there and they said fine. So for the next 12 years I never paid to get into the City Hall and most times got in by the stage door as the stewards got to know me. When a punk band was on they even made a cordon around me to stop me getting pogo’d to death.

You worked on some great early photographs of North East bands. Can you remember the sessions with Venom, Raven, Angelic Upstarts or Penetration ? Yes the Venom session was arranged through Dave Wood at Neat records. We went around the back of Neat where there was some wasteland. One of them had white make up and was putting it on as it started to rain so it was just dripping down his face. We hid under a bush until it stopped.

The Upstarts were doing a gig in Tynemouth and Phil Sutcliffe from Sounds was doing an interview with the band. Their manager, who had a fearsome reputation, came up to me and said very calmly ‘Rik, I like you, and I want you to know that if you have any problems me and the lads will sort it out’. I felt that he’d be true to his word.

I photographed Raven just around the corner from here (we’re in Newcastle City Library) at Spectro Arts. That is where they rehearsed I think, I can’t remember taking any live shots of them. Again like a lot of the bands they were nice lads and through Neat records I would get passed from one band to another but always retaining a distance to let them get on and do what they do.

For my entire professional life I’ve been zooming in on things and sometimes you can take away the atmosphere, you might get a great shot of someone in action but miss some surroundings. I got a great shot of Pauline Murray and Penetration, on stage kneeling down surrounded by some punk lads, great shot. Bizarrely before I moved to Canada 2 years ago (one of) the last things I did was to photograph Penetration for the first time in 37 years.

What got you started in photography ? After I left school I worked on a building site as a plumber, I really wanted to be an airline pilot but for various reasons that never worked out either. My grandfather and father were interested in photography and when my father died, I was only 13, one of the things he left me was a camera. I started taking photos and my then girlfriend’s father was a chemist so I got free developing and printing. She also knew of a Visual Communications course at Sunderland College of Art so I went on that. From that experience I learnt the language needed for design, typography and photography.

At this time I worked alongside another photographer, Ian Dixon, on the Newcastle Festival in 1972. That’s pretty much how it started and then I got a job as photography technician at the polytechnic where I stayed until 1988. Teaching came into it at the college after then and I really enjoyed it.

I worked as photographer at The Newcastle University Theatre, now called Northern Stage, for 15 years photographing the dress rehearsals and getting the prints on the wall for opening night. I realised then that my job was to be in front of the stage recording what was happening. The only person who ruined that was Bob Geldof. I was photographing The Boomtown Rats in the City Hall and you might remember they done a song called Photograph where they grab someone from the audience and pull them onstage – guess who they grabbed! I was hauled up on stage where I froze. That’s when I realised my place is down there and they do their stuff up here.

Were there any photograph sessions that turned into a nightmare ? No because with music photography there was never any pressure on me, I got in free at the City hall and I enjoyed doing it. Nothing unpleasant from the bands in fact it was The Beach Boys who taught me to frisbee in the Newcastle City Hall. I was there to interview Mike Love for Out Now, a magazine I helped to start. But to my questions I only got 5 yes’s and 2 no’s because the questions were too long and basically contained the answer.

Has photography given you anything unexpected ? I was in the West Bank in Palestine 3 years ago teaching photography in a refugee camp. Freedom Theatre company runs video, photography and theatre courses, it’s to take people away from the things that are happening around them, and to give them useable skills. The founder was a lovely man, he was a half Arab half Jewish guy that wanted to give people an alternative to what was happening around them. Sadly he was murdered outside the theatre.

Everyday going to work I had to walk across the ground were he was killed. That gives you a profound sense of where you are and who you are. I learnt an enormous amount when I was there and it was an amazing experience, would love to go back.

You know Gary there was no plan, it’s just been a series of bumping into things and one thing leading to another. You can hit a groove you know. I started taking photographs of musicians because I loved music. I didn’t go in thinking I would have a career as a photographer.

For further information contact the official website:    http://www.rikwalton.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2019.

 

NUTS & POETS with Sheila Wakefield at Red Squirrel Press

I came across the prolific South Shields born writer and poet James Kirkup in 2010 when working on a short film which was made about him in the ‘70s. The film needed some editing, synching Kirkup’s narration to the images and digitized onto DVD. He was born in 1918 and until his death in 2009 he wrote a number of books including novels and plays….I first came across James when I was at school… remembers Sheila…. and the Red Squirrel Press ran the James Kirkup Memorial Poetry Prize for many years, the prize was publication of a pamphlet, sometimes I published the runners-up. I no longer do the Kirkup Memorial as it’s very difficult to check hundreds of entries in order to police plagiarism, which is a shame.

Red Squirrel Press is an independently self-funded small press based in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Over 200 titles have been published to date, showcasing young poets such as Claire Askew and Andrew McMillan as well as more established names like James McGonigal and Tim Turnbull. Red Squirrel has been shortlisted for the Callum Macdonald Memorial award three times.

When did you start Red Squirrel ? I’d always wanted to run a small press so after graduating with an MA in Creative Writing from Northumbria University in late 2005, and completing a short play writing course, I started the press in April 2006 in Northumberland where I was living then, surrounded by red squirrels. The first books I remember reading were Beatrix Potter’s, particularly Squirrel Nutkin which started a lifelong love of red squirrels. My first event was a soft launch at Cafè Nero in Hexham as part of Hexham Book Festival.

Do poets surprise you with what they choose to write about ? I like unusual subject matter and poets sometimes surprise me with poems about vulnerability, history and science.

Have Red Squirrel planned any events soon? We have the launch of Tom Kelly’s new poetry collection, ‘This Small Patch’ at 7.00pm on Monday 2 December at the Literary and Philosophical Society, 23 Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 1SE. The event is free, wine and soft drinks are on sale and everyone is welcome.

For more information contact:   https://www.redsquirrelpress.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  November 2019.

 

 

FAMILY AFFAIR in conversation with North East songwriter Alan Fish

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The Loud Guitars live at Newcastle Playhouse.

Last time I interviewed Alan (Sept.13th 2019) he talked about his time in North East band White Heat who were signed to Richard Bransons label Virgin. After they folded in ’82, The Loud Guitars were born….There was 3 of us from White Heat, me, Bob Smeaton, and Col Roberts, we decided to control everything. Fund the gigs our self and not look for management or deals. Because there was a dark cloud over the ending of White Heat we thought this self-containment idea would help clear it. Virgin eventually let us go so we had total control, it was very cathartic.

For recording we funded it all, brought in some really good players, professional and slightly younger so from a live point of view they super charged the band. We had Martin Campbell, brilliant rock guitar player,  Gary Cowey and Stu Haikney were involved early on as they had their own studio. Bob and I had songs left over from The White Heat days and really it was a very important time for us to be able to do it independently. When I look back on what I’ve done I’ve always been happier when it’s independent.

We built on the legacy of White Heat and we put out new material with professional musicians who we paid. Now that sounds obvious to pay them but it is the correct way, the job is done well and it makes for a happier work place. By the early ‘90s The Loud Guitars run their course then I made the decision that was it. From the recordings I felt we pushed the quality up from White Heat days as in that band I felt our studio output didn’t reflect what we were like live. However, we still weren’t getting a lot of radio play and I became obsessed to write and record music of a standard that would get radio play.

I took time out, this was when technology was advancing at a fair old rate and recording facilities were becoming affordable. So I invested quite a bit in new instruments, microphones and developed a skillset to record my own stuff. I set up my home demo studio where I could take the song to a certain point, essentially getting the song down in the right key, right speed, then taking it to my studio of choice, The Cluny Studios in Newcastle run by Tony Davis.

Tony is a fantastic engineer and a brilliant musician so we’ve developed a good relationship over the years where I might play a bit guitar for him on some of his recordings. A lot of North East bands would have recorded there in what is a highly competitive industry.

Att Skrs Cluny Studios with Tony Davis, Paul Liddell, Stu Haikney

In The Cluny Studio, Newcastle (left to right) Tony Davis, Paul Liddell, Alan Fish & Stu Haikney.

When did you put the Attention Seekers together ?  The concept has been around for 10 years now, it was to be primarily song writing and recording. I wanted a change from what I’d previously done because the main thrust of White Heat and Loud Guitars was live performance. In a way having the band has unified my family. When I was song writing in the studio with Bob Smeaton on the record deal after White Heat had finished, I would only do it if I could bring my wife Viv down with me. I’ve seen too much destruction with musicians and their nomadic lifestyle (laughs).

We wanted to share this experience and enhance our life together but they weren’t happy so I walked away from it. A few days later I got a call saying ‘Ok bring her down but she’ll have to cook (laughs)’. Viv came down and we enjoyed the time together. It’s always been like that since those days. We bought a people carrier to get to gigs, my daughter has played in the band and Viv’s the road manager when we go out at gigs.

I didn’t trade on the back of previous bands because Attention Seekers were so different. We didn’t want people turning up to a White Heat rock gig and end up listening to 3 acoustic players. In fact our first gig’s were on buskers nights were we tried out new material and there was no pressure. My eldest daughter was becoming a proficient violin player so she came along, my brother in law had a nice voice and had never sung live so we eased him in and that added to the busker night.

Publicans were impressed after a few songs and asked us to return and do a full gig. This was around ’98 when we started getting around the pub circuit and we adopted a very low key policy of no individuals, no front men. This attracted really good musicians who liked the non-committal feel to the band. I explained this wasn’t about a unit of a traditional band it was about bringing in the right people when they were available because they still had their main bands with regular gigs. We were getting popular on the whole circuit, places like The Magnesium Bank in North Shields, The Smugglers in Sunderland and Tyneside Irish Centre in Newcastle.

Sounds like there was more emphasis on the song rather than a band ? Yes there was I had done the live band thing which I enjoyed but if I had something with a promoter or radio it would always be labelled as The Attention Seekers. There is a consistent feel that runs through the songs. I’ve found by taking this approach local radio play has increased significantly with Paddy McDee and Julia Hankin playing us on a regular basis. St James’ Park (Newcastle United) play us because some songs have a regional feel about them.

The album ‘A Song for Tomorrow’ has  overall sound of Crowded House/Waterboys with an acoustic version of the Boomtown Rats song ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ in the middle. A strange choice compared to the other songs ? Yes playing original music can be a big ask to an audience and sometimes you’ve got to give them something back. Something familiar. We arranged it without the bombastic drama of the original with the ‘Tell me why’ sentiment slightly changed.  The audience realize what song it is by the second verse. It’s ‘Tell me why’ this is still happening because that song is nearly 40 years old. It’s talking about mass shootings in America that happened and are still happening. It’s a very difficult situation for USA to solve because of the gun laws. The American singer, Jesse Terry, gave the song another edge with his accent and we wanted to give the song an anti-gun feel. But from the beginning we know it is a very good Boomtown Rats song, the melody, the lyrics all fitted together so you knew it wasn’t going to fall apart.

How did American singer/songwriter Jesse Terry get involved in The Attention Seekers ? I was watching the TV program Tyne and Wear live and the music show ‘Cookin’ in the Kitchen’ came on. There was a great performance from Jesse on there and I wanted to pass on my comments so tracked him down. It was like serendipity, he was looking for a UK based guitarist and had checked me out on You Tube – the upshot was, would I be interested ? And I was looking for a vocalist to record with Attention Seekers – you don’t turn away from these moments so a deal was struck.

The album ‘A Song for Tomorrow’ is the result of our coming together. Jesse has quite a following in the States and get’s the songs played out there.

For more information contact the official website:

http://the-attention-seekers.co.uk

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2019.

 

 

 

BURNING ON THE INSIDE with Bill Newton former guitarist of ‘80s post punk band SILENT SCREAM

Silent Scream were very much influenced by what was going on around us. There was so much fantastic music in the late 70’s and early 80’s: punk, post-punk, new wave, futurism, new romanticism, Bowie’s Berlin stuff and really fresh sounding early hip-hop and disco-pop such as Grandmaster Flash and Was (Not Was).

We all loved bands like The Only Ones, The Scars, Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wah! Heat, Japan and The Associates.

Silent Scream were alive between ‘80-82. The line up was Stephen ‘Stesh’ Miller (vocals) Steve Newton (bass) Steve Bell (drums 80-81) Bobby Greenland (drums 81-82) and Bill Newton (guitar)…..

There was a vibrant music scene in Newcastle during the early 80’s with some excellent bands, like Deda, Rival Savages and Treatment Room. I’m surprised things didn’t explode like it did in Manchester and Liverpool. Silent Scream did attract quite a following as we were very much part of the developing new romantic/futurist scene. People came to see us to hang out, pose and be seen. The audience were an intrinsic part of the movement and were as important as the bands at that time.

When did you start gigging ? Around 1980 I had been playing guitar in a band with my brother, Steve on bass, and a friend from school, Steve Bell on drums. I met Stesh at a Chelsea punk gig in Newcastle and decided to form a band there and then.

I remember that Silent Scream had this idea of wanting to be elusive and mysterious so we only played a small handful of gigs between ‘80-81. We played our debut at Newcastle University and I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember much about this apart from being really nervous. Bauhaus had just played a storming gig at the same venue and I remember thinking, ‘How the f*** are we supposed to follow that?’

We played The Cooperage, where we were awful, Balmbras in The Bigg Market, Newcastle, twice where we were pretty good, and Rumours in Sunderland which I thought was our best gig mainly due to a sterling performance by Steve Bell on drums.

We also traveled to London to play at the renowned Moonlight Club in Hampstead as part of a showcase of North East bands. We shared the bill with Zap! and Red Performance. Stesh was sadly lost to us some years ago. He was such a creative talent. He could turn his hand to anything and was acclaimed as an influential DJ in Newcastle after Silent Scream split up. There was also talk of us supporting The Psychedelic Furs at Newcastle Mayfair on their 1980 album tour but unfortunately this fell through.

Who were your influences in music ? Was there a defining moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ ?  Seeing Bowie perform ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972 made me want to be a musician. I’d been playing guitar pretty badly from the age of 13. Punk exploded when I was 15 and gave me that DIY ‘you-don’t-need-to-be-Carlos Santana’ confidence to explore the guitar with a different mind set.

I was massively influenced by the spiky, staccato energies of John McGeoch, Keith Levene, Will Sergeant, Wire, Gang of Four etc. Hearing Magazine’sShot By Both Sides’ in 1978 was a pretty defining moment, and my favorite album of all time is ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’.

Did the band have a manager ? We were managed by Dave Baird who was a guiding influence. He arranged gigs, studio time, photo shoots etc. Dave is still in the business today producing new music.

What were your experiences of recording ? Silent Scream recorded two demos. The first at Impulse Studios in Wallsend in 1980 with Steve Bell on drums. The cost of this would have been laughably cheap by today’s standards and we were so young and naïve. I don’t think we really knew what we were doing or how to get the most out of the experience.

Stesh had already recorded a marvelous single, ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’, with his previous band, The Voice Of The Puppets so he had a bit of savvy. He was also a little bit older than the rest of us so we looked up to him.

The track list of the first demo was Deadline, Fate, All the Promise, Thin Ice, Trapped and Pantomime. Copies have mysteriously disappeared over the years and I haven’t heard it  in ages. Maybe someone reading this will have a copy.

Our second demo was recorded at Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham over two days in October 1981 with Terry Gavaghan as producer. Bobby was drumming at this point and three songs were recorded. This became known simply as ‘EP’. The tracks are: The Maze, Drown and Join Together.

Did you get any press or appear on radio ? Our recorded material and gigs were well reviewed in the local press and I remember we featured in an early edition of i-D magazine. The demo was sent to various labels and was picked up by The Shadows guitarist, Bruce Welch, who loved our sound. We also had interest from various record labels. Unfortunately, before we could even negotiate any kind of deal we had split up.

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ?  I am writing and recording under the name Psykobilly and have recorded a number of songs at Smiley Barnard’s Sunshine Corner Studios. The man himself plays drums, bass and produces. Smiley is, among others, ex-Joe Strummers Mescaleros and is currently drumming with The Alarm and Archive. I’ve released a single ‘Leave It All Behind’ and a low key, lo-fi EP ‘Social Media Influenza’ on all major digital platforms. I’m releasing my first album, with a working title of ‘Black Candle’ in early 2020.

It’s taken a long time for me to do this on my own as I don’t have much confidence in my singing voice and have produced, mixed and engineered over half of the album independently, learning on the go really. I try to write in a way that doesn’t make me easily pigeonholed or categorized. It’s broadly dark pop, but a mix of ballads, rock ‘n roll and ‘80s influenced synth pop.

I’m lucky to have the very talented Trevor Johnson working with me. Trevor has produced official videos for the songs and we like to think of our project as a way of marrying sound and image in a deeper, kind of dark cinematic style. Trevor is influenced by the Situationist movement. His visuals are an important part of my work as they bring new and challenging perspectives to the soundscape.

You can watch all of the official Silent Scream and available Psykobilly videos on You Tube. French label, The Evil Has Landed, is in the process of releasing the Silent Scream EP on vinyl although I think copies might be pretty rare. Worth checking on Discogs. The demo is also available digitally on Bandcamp

The first track on the EP, ’The Maze’, is going to be included on the marvellous compilation album series ‘Killed By Deathrock Vol. 3’ on the Sacred Bones label based in New York, USA.

There has always been an appetite for lost, hard to find and enigmatic stuff that came out in the post-punk explosion, way before the invention of smartphones and social media. The EP is pretty widely available on various YouTube channels and has almost 10,000 views.

These days of course, everything is captured and can be stored for posterity. But in 1981 it was a different story. Thank God photos and footage were taken and kept, and good people like yourself Gary are archiving some of these independent treasures from almost 40 years ago.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2019.

The Village People – new book about Westoe, South Shields

In 2016 I made a documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ about South Shields photographer and local historian Amy Flagg who lived in the Westoe area of the town. Her most notable work was recording the impact of bomb damage on South Shields during the Second World War. When doing some local history research in The Word I came across a new book about Westoe.

The book goes into great detail not only of the houses but it’s residents. The section on Chapel House, where the Flagg family lived, includes a copy of an inventory of furniture which Amy listed for 21st May 1941. It includes a typewriter and photographic equipment in an attic, a what not and stirrup pump in the hall, with a gongstand in the breakfast room – it’s all in the detail. To find out more I talked to the book’s author and member of South Shields Local History group, Dorothy Fleet…. 

More recently the Village has undergone a revival and many houses have been restored as cherished family homes. It has regained it’s elegance and has a sense of the atmosphere of yesteryear. Although it is now totally surrounded by our busy town, Westoe Village remains a place apart. This book tells the story of each of the houses and the families who lived there from the mid-1700s. About 200 years ago it gradually became the desired location for families of successful local businessmen, who often worked together for the successful development of the town. For centuries before then it was a remote rural village of farms and cottages.  (Map of 1768 with the River Tyne flowing out into the German Ocean, now the North Sea. A blue arrow points to Westoe at the bottom of the pic).

One of the stories in my book about the history and notable residents of the Village concerns Mrs Paine and her family. In 1780 a dashing Royal Navy Lieutenant called William Fox was in command of the ‘Speedwell’, an armed vessel on press gang duty in Peggy’s Hole on the North Shields bank of the river Tyne.

Mrs Paine’s young daughter, Catherine, fell in love with William and they arranged to elope to Gretna Green. Catherine joined William in a horse drawn carriage and they travelled at speed, changing horses at the posting stations along the way. Married by the blacksmith at Gretna, they returned home the following day and their marriage was accepted by the family. The following year Catherine gave birth to their son, George Townsend Fox.

Their romantic story ended tragically when William fell (or was pushed) into the icy cold river late one night when boarding the ‘Speedwell’. His fellow crew members recovered his body but, with no knowledge of hypothermia, presumed he was dead.

Left almost penniless Catherine returned to her family home. By 1807 her son George Townsend had married and had eight children, one was William who emigrated to New Zealand. After a highly successful legal and political career there, he served four terms as their Prime Minister and his childhood home in the Village is now a privately run hotel that bears his name.

The book is already selling well and with all proceeds going to the Local History Group to hopefully keep the group going forward and remaining solvent. With all the research, design and illustrations it’s been a real team effort.

For further information about ‘Westoe, a History of the Village and it’s Residents’

contact:   dorothyfleet60@gmail.com  

Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2019.                                                                 

 

 

 

ALL SAID & DONE with Derek Miller from North East prog rockers CIRKUS

Out of the ashes of North East bands Moonhead and Lucas Tyson, Sunderland band Cirkus emerged on the ‘70s progressive music scene. With the right backing they were confident of achieving success on a national scale…..Every band thinks that they have something different to offer. We also had two agents at the time, Ivan Birchall who was a true professional as a booking agent, and Mel Unsworth.

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The line up was John Taylor (bass) Stu McDade (drums & vocals) Paul Robson (vocals) Dogg (guitar) & Derek Miller (keyboards)…..We played all the usual clubs and were lucky to play the University gigs. The University audiences gave us the benefit of the doubt but the club audiences were unsure how to react to our set. We opened with ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ a King Crimson song. Incidentally we got our name from one of their tracks. In fact on several occasions we didn’t even get to the bridge and were ‘paid off’ on a regular basis (laughs).

 In 1974 the band went into Sound Associates/Emison & Air Studios in London. What was your experience of recording ? We were encouraged by the reaction to our songs from Ken McKenzie. He owned the studios where we had demoed our songs. This resulted in a fight for our signature between songwriters and producers, Dave Dee, Mickie Most and Chinn & Chapman. Finally we signed up with a guy called Robin Britten who was manager of The Hollies. But this is where it all went pear shaped.

We were already earmarked by Chinn & Chapman for the project known as Smokie, but Britten intercepted negotiations and we recorded the album Cirkus One, incorporating Beatles producer Ron Richards and Tony Hymas. The album included orchestral arrangements, a 32 piece orchestra and chorus.

What did you think of the album ? It’s a good album but some of the mixes are questionable and poor old Ron was struggling. But timing is everything. We seemed to be doing alright on a retainer and with our own apartment in Central London, but as Britten was about to hand over the over produced and over engineered concept album, The Sex Pistols were telling everyone to ‘eff off’. And prog rock was dead.

Britten lost a small fortune and failed miserably trying to get it off the ground. Anyone that has been sacked will relate to this. I still remember being called into the office and having that sinking feeling ‘Is he talking about us?

How did you handle this situation ? Our bassist John Taylor, with his unstinting optimism suggested we all return to the North East and regroup. This idea was a bit of a sickener as I had just set up in London and got a job at RCA records. The ultimatum was return to Geordieland or be replaced. For reasons I find hard to understand now, I hired a transit van and returned.

Did you have any nightmare gigs where everything just went wrong ? We had a couple. Namely the Marquee in London where there was loads of reps from record companies to see us. What happened was that the pa actually ‘blew up’ and we couldn’t continue. Then there was the time our manager Robin Britten was trying to sell the band so he chartered a private plane to fly to a gig in the North East, Ashington Central to be precise. It was a nightmare flight, with sick bags being handed around. We done the gig but we were awful. Not a great way to sell the band.

On another occasion we invited Mike Chapman (songwriter/producer) up to see the band at the Londonderry Hall in South Shields. It didn’t start well as Chapman arrived at Sunderland station and walked into the glass doors, he was expecting them to be automatic. We thought it was funny, he didn’t. He wondered what sort of hell he had walked into when a police car was overturned and set on fire – just a normal Saturday night in Shields….in the end the gig was cancelled (laughs).

By ‘75 lead vocalist Paul Robson left to be replaced by Alan Roadhouse (ex Halfbreed) who also played sax….Yes along comes Alan, multi-instrumentalist, singer and larger than life character. Exactly what was needed to kick start Cirkus the club band.
Paul and Alan were both great vocalists in their own right. Alan had a certain flamboyance which the club audiences lapped up. He also played sax and flute. This allowed us to tackle all sorts of covers from Gerry Rafferty to Moody Blues. We became a live juke box.

We rehearsed all week and had a new song nailed by the weekend. We had a winning formula that continued for several years. The highlight of the first set was an explosion of pyrotechnics at the end. It worked like a dream scaring the sh** out of most people. Especially when sparks landed in the bingo machine and set fire to it. In the end we had to pay for a new machine (laughs). One highlight was watching the roadies trying to use a foot pump to inflate our blow up doll ‘Melissa’ by the end of the song (laughs).

Everything seemed to be hunky dory then ? Yeah at this time we were still writing new material. We recorded a couple of our own songs, Amsterdam, Pick up a Phone, and Melissa. We performed them live and mixed them in with the covers in the set. The EP sold well and we recouped our outlay.

By the early ‘80s ‘ I’m On Fire’ was featured on a Battle Of The Bands album but this proved to be the final offering from Derek…We were deciding if we should invest the proceeds into a new EP or divvy up the dosh. John, Stu and Dogg thought it was a good idea to divvy up and that was the beginning of the end for me… I decided to leave the band.

In my opinion we were going nowhere. We were repeating ourselves and going back to the same clubs every 3 months. I think the lads kept going for a few years after I left and I lost touch with the band.

But you know looking back over the years we were lucky to be able to recruit some of the most talented guitarists, like Keith Satchfield of Fist. Yes there was some hiccup’s along the way but we did have some brilliant gigs. We did a series in Holland where the Dutch people seemed to like our original music, tho’ it might have been what they were consuming (laughs).

We had some great gigs in the clubs as well. At one time we were gigging 8 shows a week, 2 on Sunday. My dad, who was horrified when I packed my job in at the Shields Gazette, was immensely proud to see the queues round the block on a Saturday night. Other bands around at the time were Geordie, Goldie, Burlesque and The Piranha Brothers, that was the peak of the club land scene in the North East.

The 1990’s saw sporadic releases from the band with ‘Cirkus II The Global Cut’ and only Derek Miller featuring from the original line-up. Then in ‘98 the much anticipated third Cirkus album ‘Pantomyne’ was released. This brought together original members and main songwriter, Stu McDade and featured cameo performances by an array of other musician’s most notably former frontman Alan Roadhouse. How did these recordings happen ? I wanted to record some new material so I built a little recording studio. I was working with a new singer called Ian Wetherburn, who I thought had a great voice and also looked the part. We put an experimental album together and Audio Archives picked up on this and decided to distribute the cd. It was basically demos but I decided to release it anyway. We pressed 500 copies and as with Cirkus One is highly collectable.
Off the strength of the Global Cut album I met up with Stu McDade and we decided to pool our resources and record a new album. Pantomyme was the result and again Audio Archives agreed to distribute.

For different reasons we lost touch until about 3 years ago when we decided to record some new material. Sadly in 2016 we lost Stu, leaving some unfinished tracks. With a brand new set of talented musicians, we managed to finish the tracks and also add some new ones. ‘The Blue Star’ album was released in June 2017 and is dedicated to Stu.

BLUE

Can you bring the Cirkus story up to date ? The new line up bears little resemblance to the original band as we have morphed so much over the years and Cirkus V is the new band. Now we have Mick Maughan (guitars, vocals, production)
Nick L Mao, (vocals, guitar, production)
Brian Morton (bass) Dave Ramshaw (vocals)
Paul Moose Harris (vocals) and me on keyboards.

On the back of the success of The Blue Star album comes Trapeze. We all record remotely passing tracks back and forth with someone ultimately doing the final mix. The tracks are all written by the band and as we speak the album is nearly finished.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

 

 

HOWAY THE LADS in conversation with North East songwriter Alan Fish

In 2016 representatives from Newcastle United were looking to recreate a new version of The Blaydon Races that would capture the fan’s imagination. Rob Byron the announcer at St James’ Park had been playing some pre – match tracks by The Attention Seekers, so got in touch with the songwriter Alan Fish….The version of Blaydon Races that they’d been playing for the past 20 years had originally been copied from vinyl so the quality wasn’t great. Rob asked if I was interested in coming up with a new version. The biggest challenge was every version I heard was a jolly, lightweight novelty song and sitting playing it on guitar or piano just added to that, The song didn’t have any of the dynamics that fans give it!

With Rob Byron St. James'

Alan (left) with match announcer at St James’ Park, Rob Byron.

What was your initial idea about recording a new version of the song ? At the games we attended during the research phase of the project it was evident that the fans rarely sing the song, so what I wanted was to reach back to the nostalgia of how I heard it back when I first started going to the matches and try to create a fan’s version.

I’m thinking back to 1968 in the Leazes End covered stand where it sounded really powerful and loud like through a loudspeaker. You would get to the match early to get your place and sing with all the other fans, it was a real communal thing and helped pass the time before kick-off. Now people can walk in 5 minutes before because they know they have their seat.

How did you put your idea into practice ? I had a chat with representatives of the club and they wanted a single voice to create a sense of unity and pride, Rob added that the fans only sing one verse, I thought this is going to be short then (laughs). But it was one of those 4am thoughts when I got the idea how I was going to put it together, not have one voice but 50,000 voices as one. That’s where the challenge was, to make it sound like that.

I contacted sports radio stations to see if any audio of the fans singing the song without being contaminated by the match commentary existed. One person got back to me, Chris Watson used to be in a Sheffield electronica band called Cabaret Voltaire, now he’s a top sound engineer who has worked with everyone including Sir David Attenborough. With him living up here now, he had taken sound gear into the ground and got loads of recordings. I bought quite a bit of audio off him. Chris is also a big NUFC fan!

I also set up an evening where members of fan clubs Wor Hyem 1982 and Gallowgate Flags came to a pub and we recorded them singing The Blaydon Races. Then back in the studio, to build the track we mixed in the audio from Chris Watson’s ‘Toon Army’ chants, referee whistles, cheers, goals, crowd reactions….. in place of conventional instrumentation. We then added Stu’s tribal drumming.

All of this was to stay away from the jolly, comedy feel. However listening back it still didn’t sound how I wanted, so we then asked for full access to the Stadium and pitch side areas in order to pump the track through the St James’ sound system, then re- record the mixes of the fans singing, from different areas of the stadium. RESULT! Sounded great!

Originally the club wanted Jason Isaacs to sing it, he’s like the Michael Buble of the North (laughs). We met up and got on well and agreed we needed someone to lead the song, but this was going to be a fan’s version not a celebrity version so I asked him not to sing it but be ‘five pints in’ belting it out (laughs). He loved the idea ‘I go to the match and sing along so it’s no problem’. He done a brilliant job and belted it out like a fan – five pints in!

How do you feel about the song now ? It’s still being played at St James’ and I see it as an ongoing project which I can add to. Using photos and visuals of matches from past to present is an idea I’ve been looking at, and how The Blaydon Races has been sung at matches over the years. I would love to have recordings of The Blaydon Races from the 50’s, 60’s, 70s…. to mix in to the track and create an audio/visual exhibition. (anybody out there with any recordings?)

Stu Haikney was my co-producer on this and he’s done a brilliant job. Stu is also a big Newcastle fan and we felt it had to be right. We wanted to get it to transition from a music hall song to a real football chant. We wanted the true authentic sound of fans singing at St. James’ Park and not take the easy option of using a ‘stadium simulation’ studio plug- in. Football fans spot that sort of thing a mile off (laughs).

It’s like a call to arms, a Northern anthem which captures the tribal spirit of the beautiful game and the roars at St James’ on a match day.

More stories soon from Alan about The Loud Guitars and current band The Attention Seekers.

For further info contact the official website

the-attention-seekers.co.uk 

where the track is available as a download/stream on Spotify, Amazon & iTunes.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

POLTERGEIST – Dan Green investigates Mysterious Tyneside

Mysteries of the world are fascinating subjects and we rely on scientists, archaeologists and storytellers to bring them out of the dark. Finding a mystery closer to home can add more interest.

This was the case for former South Shields resident Dan Green. Dan is a British author, broadcaster, researcher and writer, he recently got in touch and told me some interesting stories that he researched when living in the town.

Until 2013 when it went out of publication, I was a writer for the well-known monthly national magazine ‘Paranormal’. Issue 63 bore the cover ‘The South Shields Poltergeist’, a bizarre candidate for this country’s most well witnessed and intensely frightening case on record, if true.

It was the horror encountered by a young couple and their 3 year old son whilst living in a terraced house in the town during the winter of 2005. A saga that was to last for one full year before the poltergeist phenomena, as it usually does, left just as mysteriously as it had arrived.

It left a steadily escalating trail of terror the sort of stuff Hollywood movies are made of – objects balanced at angles defying logic and gravity, macabre threatening messages left on paper and the child’s Etch-A-Sketch, even text messages and emails on a mobile that couldn’t be traced back to any source. There were all forms of attack leveled at the family.

Before skeptics cry ‘Hoax!’ the phenomena was witnessed by a number of people on different occasions and thoroughly researched by local paranormal investigators Darren Ritson and Mike Hallowell. Darren himself on one occasion witnessing the ‘large black shadow’ responsible.

The full account of the twelve month assault can be found in their book ‘The South Shields Poltergeist’. Was this caused by a disturbed unconscious mind of a young child, or some controlling intelligence? Who can say for sure.

Unfortunately we will never know the true identities of the family involved or the address of the property, as all such details were changed to preserve anonymity and perhaps sanity. Who would want to knowingly live in, or even next door, to a house that may well have once housed what remains the most frightening paranormal manifestation of poltergeist in the UK.

For further information about the work of Dan Green contact www.dangreencodex.co.uk/

Gary Alikivi October 2019.

 

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS ON TYNESIDE Dan Green investigates Mysterious Tyneside

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.

Sang Bowie in ’72. Over the years there’s been many songs written about UFO’s and aliens. Back in the ‘50s Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman wrote ‘The Flying Saucer’ which landed at no.3 in the American charts. In the ‘60s The Byrds sung of a ‘Mr Spaceman’ and in the ‘80s the Ramones ripped through ‘Zero Zero UFO’ about aliens visiting earth.

Some Native American tribes believe they have gained knowledge through extra-terrestrial contact with their star ancestors. Stories like these add to the mysteries of the world, and we rely on scientists, archaeologists and storytellers to bring them out of the dark.

But when you find a mystery closer to home, it can add more interest. This was the case for former South Shields resident Dan Green. Dan is a British author, broadcaster, researcher and writer, he recently got in touch and told me some interesting stories that he researched when living in the town. One of them reminded me of an experience I had back in Summer 2013.

It was around 6pm I was walking on South Shields beach, above was bright blue sky with a few clouds. Nearby there is a huge grass hill, at the top is a Roman fort. I was wondering what could be placed on the hill – maybe a sculpture, something like a massive roman soldier – my mind just wandering. I was enjoying the sun and listening to the gentle waves.

Out of the corner of my eye and way up high, I saw a small silver disc moving slowly. I thought it might have been a plane because there is a flight path nearby. I watched the disc move slowly for a minute or two, looking around for maybe a reflection off something else in the sky ? There was no noise or trail from it. It was moving very slowly then suddenly it shot off very fast and didn’t leave a trail. 

Books, TV programmes and films have all featured stories about unidentified flying objects, not all of them are operated by the Greys.

In 1988 Dan Green wrote an article for The Shields Gazette chronicling close encounters in the town including incidents now referred to as ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’. He found that in 1967 the UK was besieged with a flurry of strange lights appearing in the skies. The newspaper reported ‘A bus driver said he saw a cigar shaped object surrounded by a bright green glow over the coast near Brighton. Sparks were coming from it’s tail and for a short time it travelled parallel with the bus’.

Not to be outdone was our own South Shields, with the Gazette reporting some boys claimed to have seen a bullet shaped object hovering over Horsley Hill electricity sub-station. One boy glanced up and saw the glowing green outline of an 8ft long cigar shaped object hovering 100 yards away. ‘It must have spotted us, cos it just shot back up into the sky’.

Here is Dan’s article from 1988….

I was an impressionable 10 year old when the Shields Gazette popped through my letterbox with a page reading ‘UFO over Tyne Dock’.

On the night of October 21st 1967 residents living near the river had been invited to the spectacle of three dazzling white triangular lights stationary in the sky. They had been hanging for a full half hour before vanishing.

People craned their necks out of their windows to witness it, and one in particular had called the police. This enterprising fellow was demanding answers and took his enquiry as far as the Ministry of Defence who eventually sent him a reply that ‘Everybody had seen a weather balloon that had blown over from Liverpool!’ This earned him the nickname – Ronnie Rocket.

In the newspaper report Ronnie said ‘They were very bright just like electric lights. They were triangular shaped and too big for stars’.

That week the Gazette ran a number of stories reporting strange sightings in the sky. By 27th October they screamed ‘Flying Objects Reports Come Thick and Fast’ with one headline ‘Flying cross seen by five more police patrols’. Another claimed ‘Down in Devon they are seeing things again’. Even the Minister of Defence Dennis Healey MP was pressed in parliament to make a statement about the activity.

It was reported that some people in the South believe the unidentified flying objects are British secret weapons being tested out, while some experts put the blame on Venus. Back to Dan’s article…..

That October week saw more puzzling sights in the skies of Shields, as early morning workers catching the ferry viewed a host of fiery ‘Flying crosses’, and a sighting of a cigar shaped object was reported by a couple walking their dog in the Bents Park during the day. Residents in Whiteleas saw an object streaking across the sky ‘like a bullet’.

The 1967 UFO flap was never given any plausible explanation, but I’m sure as hell it wasn’t a scousers balloon.

For further information about the work of Dan Green contact www.dangreencodex.co.uk/

Gary Alikivi October 2019.