LAST GANGS IN TOWN

 

The title reflects the original music scene in South Shields during the 1990s. The town had countless numbers of venues booking bands who played their own music. But it isn’t the case today. Looking through some photographs I took then, I wondered what the bands thought of those times ?

Iain Cunningham, (Cripplin’ Jack) The 90s was a great time for music. In Sunny South Shields by the Sea the original music scene was thriving. There were original bands with lots of venues willing to give them a stage to hone their craft. Whether it be a Sunday night in the Ferry Tavern, Wednesday night was spent in Porters and The Vic was a Monday night downstairs or Saturday night upstairs. There was always somewhere to watch original music.

 

It felt very much like a community and I’m surprised none of the bands actually cracked it and broke through to the mainstream. It was a great scene to be part of. The nights had great crowds, a cracking atmosphere and cheap beer promotions, which usually lead to hangovers and regret.

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Cripplin’ Jack in 1996. Iain Cunningham on the right.

Crippling Jack were formed in 1995 by Ian Maxwell, Dean Walsh, who was later replaced by Paul Westgate, Richard Gardner, Christopher Charlton and myself. We went on to play all over the North East and recorded our demo John Woo E.Q. in the Underfoot studios with Dave and Pete Brewis, who themselves, are enjoying a great career in music with their band Field Music.

Davey Mac was a supporter of the music scene. His rehearsal rooms were legendary and, if they could speak, would tell some stories. I think we still owe him a small fortune as we always ended the rehearsal shouting back up the stairs to him ‘We’ll pay you double next week!

Actually Crippling Jack reformed in 2009 and went on to play more gigs around the town releasing 2 more EPs. After nine years apart, vocalist Ian Maxwell summed up the bands feelings as he stepped up to the mic and declared… ‘It’s good to be back’.

Iain Robertson, (January Blue) This band had many incarnations, and it all started with me and vocalist Woody who were mainstays throughout January Blue and later New Rising. We first played a gig together in April 92 at Cleadon Village Hall with another band called Agadoo Factory. This gig featured the first song Woody ever wrote called Die Forever ! We wanted to keep going and little did we know that we’d be still playing together 8 years later, frequently visiting London having gained a record deal with London records.

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January Blue in 1994. Iain Robertson at the top.

We’d heard Pete Edmonds the manager of Porters bar in South Shields, would pay £300 a gig if you managed to pack the place out. So we hit every bin in King Street with a flyer and our piece de resistance was at 6.30am hanging a bed sheet on both sides of Westoe Bridges to catch the rush hour traffic coming in and going out of town. We got an ear full (and rightly so) for plastering one flyer on the arse of the war hero Kirkpatricks donkey statue in King street, which in hindsight was disrespectful but hell – we had a gig to promote.

Needless to say, Porters was full, we got our £300 quid and Pete Edmonds was bouncing around and grinning like a Cheshire Cat. He booked us again and we were definitely in a good bargaining position for the next gig’.

 

Newts Newton, (Cloud 10) On reflection, I didn’t really enjoy the 90s in general for many reasons but musically, I detested all that ‘mad for it’avin it’ laddish bollocks. It seemed like every new band had curtain haircuts, walked like chimps and stood onstage like tins of milk, wearing tracker tops zipped up to their noses, all while strumming mindlessly with faces like a smacked arse. Trying to be ‘edgy’. Aye right, fuck off man.

Meanwhile, the band I was in at the time, Cloud 10, were writing kitchen sink drama style songs that moaned about all and sundry, while we marched about in overcoats and quiffs thinking we were the fucking Clash, glowering at everyone (laughs).

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Cloud 10 in 1996. Newts on the right.

Locally, plenty bands were springing up and yeah, we in Cloud 10 pretty much sneered at them all. Not that we had much to be smug about mind, we were arrogant and nothing special really.  Looking back, being brutally honest, it was a waste of time as our band were better at talking about things, instead of actually getting up and fucking doing them. Although one night, two of us did go out and do some promotion work with two roller brushes and 10 litres of minty buff emulsion paint. But ultimately, it was all pointless.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

ROAD WORKS with Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist Micky McCrystal

Since we last spoke in March 2017 Micky McCrystal has in his words ‘been a bit busy.’ Guitarist for Tygers of Pan Tang is Micky’s main gig but he also teaches guitar here in the North East and has recently been touring with Marco Mendoza ……This past year has been crazy because I’ve done a lot of touring with Marco Mendoza (ex Blue Murder/Ted Nugent/Whitesnake). We played nearly 100 shows together within 6 months. A lot of the shows were in countries like Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania as well as a lot of shows in Germany and the UK. With the Tygers we played around 30 to 40 shows in 2018.

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Our last shows of the year were in Spain, Japan and the UK. Japan was amazing, the Tygers fans are super passionate out there similar to South America where they’ll figure out which hotel you’re staying in so they can get a photo and get albums signed etc. They’re super polite and kind and would bring gifts for us, however as soon as we hit the stage they lose their minds and sing every word and guitar lick (laughs). Our tour schedule was surprisingly quite relaxed for Japan. We flew out there and had a day off. The gig was the next day headlining our night at 7pm. We had another day off then flew home. I’m hoping when the next album is out we’ll go back and play some other cities too.

How did the Tokyo gig come about ? I’m not 100% sure but I know we received a message from our booking agent who’d been talking with a promoter of a festival out there. We got an email saying ’Do you want to play in Tokyo’. Simple as that really. To be honest I leave that stuff down to our agent I just get told where and when to turn up with my passport and guitar (laughs).

Can it get tiring doing long journeys on the road ? Yeah often depending on the tour schedule but there’s little distractions now which I guess people didn’t have years ago, you’ve got everything in your phone now, camera’s, music, internet etc. I tend to find I’ll listen to music, read or work on things music related to try and occupy the time. Believe it or not the Tygers Spain tour was more tiring than Japan. We had shows everyday with 8 hour drives and the stage times at the earliest are midnight so by the time you’ve signed merch and talked to the fans your lucky if your back at the hotel by 3am then hit the road at 8am and repeat. (laughs) Don’t get me wrong though I love being on the road and the fans were amazing in Spain.

How did working with Marco Mendoza come about ?  I was at the 2017 NAMM show out in L.A. demoing for various companies. We met out there and found we had a few mutual friends. We stayed in touch and later that year we did a 6 week European tour. This year we’ve toured Europe in February, March then May and June. They’re intense tours, very much show after show back to back which I love and to be honest I prefer that. Sometimes having a lot of days off gives you time to think and I end up missing my fiancé and family. Depending on what country you’re in you can go sightseeing but others can be dangerous… certain areas of South America you don’t wander about without knowing where you are or you can get yourself in some serious trouble. (laughs)

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Playing live with Marco we would play everything from rock and blues through to fusion and some latin stuff too. He’s big on improvisation and would give us cue’s on stage ‘go to the bridge’  ‘chorus’ or Micky solostuff like that. Structure of song’s would change every night so you had to be on it, but it keeps you on your toes and it’s fresh and fun. I loved it and have learnt a lot from Marco, he’s a mega talented guy.

Is there a new Tygers album soon ? We’ve got an album’s worth of material but we just need to fine tune it. I’d say it’s heavier than the last album. I feel like the last album was quite diverse but I spoke to the guys about us focusing on more of a hard rock album for the next one, I felt songs like ‘Only The Brave’ on the last album were such a success with the fans that we should focus on that hard rock vibe.

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In the studio do you work with a producer ? On the last album we had Mark Broughton producing the album with us. He works with Andy Taylor (ex Duran Duran/Power Station). He gave us input and had some great ideas. We also do that with each other within the band. One of us might say ‘maybe that’s not working, try this,’ and we’ll work together to try and get the best possible result. For myself I find that really helpful and Craig (Tygers drummer) has a great ear for melodies so I’ll tend to run a lot of ideas particularly my solo ideas past him first.

Working like that do you come across any happy accidents ? The main riff in Glad Rags from the last album was me literally messing about in a rehearsal and I played it as a joke. The guys said ‘What’s that?? It’s good’.  Sometimes you’re not the best judge of your own work and you need someone to say that’s the take or that’s the riff or else I would sit in the studio until I’m a skeleton (laughs). For the Tygers, I try and write solos like a composition within a composition. In my mind I always think of guys like Randy Rhoads who’s solo’s are like a song within a song.

What’s in the diary for 2019 ? There’s an album’s worth of Tyger songs nearly ready and it’ll probably be the same team that worked on the last album. Søren Andersen (Glenn Hughes) mixing and Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) mastering. Once the album is released we’ll be following it up with a tour. I’m also looking to release a few more guitar lesson products through Jam Track Central in 2019.

For Micky’s latest lesson package releases go to…http://www.jtcguitar.com/store/artist/micky-crystal/

and for the latest Tygers of Pan Tang news go to…http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

SQUARE ONE in conversation with songwriter & producer Fred Purser

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pic by Rik Walton

Fred has just released new album Square One with former Tygers vocalist Jon Deverill. Fred was guitarist in North East bands Penetration and Tygers of Pan Tang, and I was a long haired 16 year old when I saw the Tygers at a packed out Newcastle Mayfair in 1982….I remember with affection the gig at The Mayfair. The likes of AC/DC had played there and in the same dressing rooms, same stage, here we were! It was fantastic and with a local audience that was icing on the cake really.

The Cage tour was in support of the 4th album from The Tygers, and it took them in a different direction…. I was involved in writing a few songs from that album. After a lot of touring and writing there was a lot of pressure on the band and with the new writing going towards an AOR, polished kind of sound. Our producer Pete Collins was trying new sounds to bring into rock that hadn’t been done before like Simmons drums. It was strange hearing these synthetic and polished sounds in the recordings. Def Leppard used them all over their next albums. We could have paralleled their success if we didn’t have problems with our record label.

We were riding high, the atmosphere in the band was great we were getting on really well but the guy who signed the Tygers was moved up a notch in the record company so he had other priorities. We didn’t get the commitment that we were hoping for from MCA, and as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden were getting huge support we weren’t.

We had released the cover Love Potion No.9 it had done really well and someone in the record company thought it would be a good idea to adopt the same approach for the next songs. ‘Play Motown covers with a rock sound’. But we didn’t really want to do that so we entered into an impasse situation with MCA.

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I had come up with some other material with Jon’s (Deverill) voice in mind and they liked it but there was still this situation between us, and it kind of all just slowly fell apart. We had a heavy weight around our necks. Things were slowly getting worse. They were ok with the demo’s but MCA knew they would have a huge bill for recording, so it was getting harder and harder to get this thing out. Subsequently I got more involved with the studio and started doing session work. Jon took the Tygers on further with songwriter Steve Thomson, and he did a few more albums after that. We’ve always stayed friends over the years. He lives in London and I’m here in the North East so if he was on tour or I was down there we’d met up for a drink and a curry. Phone calls back and forth you know. But the project I was writing I always felt it had something because it had such positive feedback.

What did Jon Deverill do after the Tygers ? ‘He’d always liked stage work so he went to an acting school in Wales, learned his craft and qualified from there. He’s forged a career out of it because acting is a really difficult thing to get into. Theatre is his preferred thing.

 

The album that you and Jon have just released ‘Square One’ was all of that wrote at the time of leaving the Tygers ? Not all of it, I had about four songs and since then at various times have developed them and added more through writing sessions and recorded the vocals when Jon was available. Life got in the way over the years so it was a case of attending to it when I could. Engineering and recording work took over and performer, producer, had to take second place. To revisit it was a nightmare because technology has moved on. From analogue, tape alignment, just digging out those tapes presented technical problems. Using pro-tools had it’s advantages seeing the problems right there, and not using razor blades to cut the tape anymore (laughs).

What was the feeling first time listening back to those songs, was it a pleasant surprise ? With anything you do you would do it different, some of them were from 30 years ago. You always reappraise things you know ‘Could have had more of this or less of that’. I probably over scrutinised some of it and been a bit finnickity about it but I enjoyed working on them. Having an external producer is a good idea because they can hear things in it which you might not. They would say yes that’s the one with it’s happy accidents in it rather than the straight jacketted version I was going to use.

How did you get into studio work ? I was just fascinated with the whole process. When I was in Penetration we would go in a studio and it was wow, really impressed by it, and I just asked loads of questions. For session work I was working at studios in London like Snakeranch, Marquee, Phonogram I would ask the guys what’s this, how does this work and they would tell me, encourage me and said I had good ears. They’d say ‘Why not consider doing this, because you can’.

This was to their advantage because I would come down to do some backing vocals, keyboards or guitars for a mainstream act and I could also engineer it. They could then get on the phone for that next production job for Roxy Music or somebody (laughs).

What type of session work did you do ? People like Elaine Page, Tracey Ullman, even Alvin Stardust are the one’s I remember that had mainstream success. I had done some stuff with Peter Collins (Tygers producer) and he was working with Gary Moore. When it came to the time when your name was to be added to credit lists I just wanted to add my name but Peter said I wasn’t sure you would want that because Gary Moore doesn’t like to be credited, he thinks it’s uncool cos he’s a rock guy. I thought about it but went ahead with my name, I didn’t think it wasn’t cool (laughs).

How did you get interested in music ? I was born in an industrial town and went to school where some of the teachers thought they were doing you a favour by knocking any type of wonder out of you. Exactly opposite to the American ethos of you go for your dream. I ended up getting a place in Newcastle University to study architecture. I took a year out of that to work on a trading estate to get the money to buy a guitar. I got out there and played with local bands. I grew up listening to Bowie, Mick Ronson, The Who and when the punk thing came along I loved the energy of it. I also wanted to improve on my technical side of playing guitar.  

What does music mean to you ? Excitement and evocation of atmospherics and emotions.

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 How did the Penetration job come about ? Penetration came along after they were already signed to Virgin for a couple of singles and were looking to do an album deal. The record company wanted the band to have another guitarist/writer involved and as I’d already played with Gary Smallman the drummer he recommended me to the band. When I met them they had a real chemistry, the atmosphere was good so I gave it a go and we played The Marquee. It was really exciting, loved it and Virgin signed us that night on an album deal.

The architecture thing was still there and the sensible voices were saying architecture means a steady job but the music biz ooh no (laughs). But I was young and didn’t want to arrive at 45 look back and say what if you know. I joined Penetration in 78 and was with them until the end of 79.

Do any moments stand out when you were in Penetration ? Yes we were on tour in the USA and I turned 21 in Boston, Massachusettes. It was a blast. Great fun. We were out there on the same tour that The Police had done, they had done the circuit twice and they broke. Squeeze had done it, they broke. Unfortunateley after the first circuit of that tour we were over worked, burnt out. Virgin were a great label but turn over for albums was quicker in those days and they wanted another one quickly. Just too much. Sadly we split. In hindsight if we had just had a holiday maybe taken four weeks off and come back refreshed, that would of worked.

 When Penetration toured the States you weren’t travelling in luxury then…. (laughs) No the perception is that it can be a glittering world, we didn’t complain about it then because it was a great opportunity. But looking back it was very tiring travelling hundreds of miles every day sitting on your backside for 8-9 hours in the back of a van. When I was young I used to read the Sounds and read the back of albums things like that and think it would be very glamourous. But the reality is it can be quite mundane.

When I joined Penetration we were getting £25 a week. Before we played The Marquee we got a telegram from Ian Dury to wish us luck. But he was only on £25 a week when Hit Me with Your Rythm Stick was number one in the charts! Obviously that money would filter in later on but the record company put a lot of money into the band and until you reach that break even line your just on the recoupment phase. They want their loan repayed before you see any money. So they would pay you per diems of say £10 per day so you can get food and essentials.

There would be bands in great recording studios impressed by it all, rightly so, but in the background is the ching, ching sound of the money register. They are accruing a debt to the record company, and they want it back.

 Did you have management at the time ? With Penetration we had Rory Gallagher and Status Quo management. We had a young energetic manager called John Arnisson who went on to manage Marillion  and I think now he manages Billy Ocean. The Tygers had Graham Thomson as tour manager and day to day and other more important stuff was handled by Tom Noble, still a friend of mine. He also manages Jon and I for the Square One project.

Have you met people who you looked up to as musical heroes ? Yes in Penetration when we were touring USA the tour manager was a guy called Stan Tippins and he tour managed Mott the Hoople. When we went to New York we played a place called The Hurra’s and Ian Hunter came along to see the band. I had problems with tuning on my Gibson SG. All night it had been drifting out of tune and he came backstage. Well here he was, I grew up listening to All the Young Dudes and he was such a nice guy… ‘I know how you can fix that ‘ he said as he worked on my guitar with a graphite pencil. I was gobsmacked. There it was, Ian Hunter sorted out my G string tuning on my Gibson SG (laughs). Then you had Mick Ralphs hanging around, we were backstage in the Whiskey in L.A. with Joan Jett. Unfortunately never met Mick Ronson who was the guy who got me wanting to play the guitar. We also did a French tour supporting Rory Gallagher which was a real education.

When I was in the Tygers I met all the Maiden people, Lemmy, all the guys in the rock bands that were around those days. Your peers really. Not a hero of mine but seemed a canny lad when I met him was Roy Wood. I was in the lift of Hammer House and he got in. He had all the hair and the beard (laughs) Just a short guy with a Brummy accent. This was ‘78 after the Christmas song and all that, this felt like another world.

Any plans on taking Square One out live ? If this album does anything really exceptional I’d love that to happen but I’m realistic enough in today’s climate that I would be happy enough for people just to hear it. Should it get enough interest to make it financially viable it might be there as a possibility. Thing is you want to put out your best and people deserve to hear it fully and at the best quality.

 

Purser/Deverill album ‘Square One’ with Jeff Armstrong (drums) Jon Deverill (vocals) and Fred Purser (keyboards/guitars) out now on Mighty Music.

Contact the band at
 https://www.facebook.com/sparechaynge/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

 

 

ROCK CITY LIVE with Robb Weir, TYGERS OF PAN TANG guitarist

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Since releasing their last album in 2016 the Tygers have had a successful two years equalling or maybe bettering the NWOBHM days back in the 80’s. 2018 has seen them playing gigs around the UK and Europe with Kiss, Ozzy and the Dead Daisies plus a recent headline show in Japan. Can they add more kudos to their well oiled machine? With a live album release ‘Hellbound-Spellbound ‘81’ from the line up of Jon Deverill (vocals), John Sykes (guitar), Brian Dick (drums), Rocky (bass) and Robb Weir (guitar). Was this a recording of that line up at its peak?

Yes absolutely. John Sykes played on the Wildcat tour in September ’80, but not on the Wildcat album and Jon Deverill joined us just before Christmas 1980. We were writing for the next album and with the ‘new blood’ in the line up the sound changed a little bit because those two great guys brought a different edge to the Tygers, more melodic I think. Wildcat had a heavier feel to it and a bit of a punky element to it as well. I played it in its entirety a while ago and didn’t realise how much punk music had influenced me.

The opening track on this live album, ‘Take It’ was written by John Sykes and me. When John first joined the Tygers he came round to my house to learn the songs for the then, upcoming Wildcat tour. During these sessions John said I’ve got an idea for a new song. He played me the front end, (opening) of ‘Take It’ I liked it, added in something I had, played it together and added a chorus and ‘Take It’ was born. Unfortunately it was the only song that John and I wrote together. I was used to writing by myself, John and Jon Deverill lived in the same flat so they worked on songs together. As for both Spellbound and Crazy Nights the song writing guitar riff ideas were 50/50 between John and me. Then we would put them in the pot and they become everybody’s….adding drum parts and bass.

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What were the nuts and bolts of making this live album ? We were on the UK part of the Spellbound tour in 1981, it was the second show of the tour at the Nottingham Rock City venue. Normally you would record a live performance on the last day of a major tour when you’ve had 30 odd dates to have a bit of a practice! But the Tygers never do anything easy, always back to front and upside down, we’re at the front of the queue for that (laughs).

Our record company at the time MCA hired the Rolling Stones mobile recording unit. Which was quite revolutionary in those days, it was an articulated lorry with an amazing recording studio inside of it and was owned by The Rolling Stones. It was a business venture for them and they hired it for location recording. This mobile studio was made very famous in the seventies when it went to Montreux to record Deep Purple and ‘Smoke on the Water!’ It was state of the art at the time. It parked outside Nottingham Rock City running all the recording lines inside so effectively all your equipment was double mic’d. One mic for the live sound in the hall, and one mic that ran back out to the truck for recording purposes.

 Who was engineer on the recording? Chris Tsangarides who had produced both the Wildcat and Spellbound albums had come out on the road with us to do our front of house sound. However, on this special night he couldn’t be in two places at once so he did our sound check for us and set the sound up. The guy who came with the huge sound system that we took on the road with us did front of house sound mix that night.

In those days you took your show on the road with you. It wasn’t like in Academy’s these days where everything like lights and sound system are already in house, and all you need is your backline. In those days when you went into a hall it was empty. So you had to put your sound system and lighting rig in. Consequently touring then was a lot more expensive. When you did a big tour with a big production, you almost lost money but you did it to promote your album hoping next day people would go to the record shop and buy it. That’s where you would recoup your money for the tour.

On the day of recording Chris Tsangarides set the sound up and then went into the mobile where he did the sound check again so he could set the levels and tones on the recording desk. When we were playing live Chris did what you call an ‘on the fly’ mix as well.

What was the set up as far as sound equipment and crew for the Spellbound tour? On the Spellbound tour we had two 40 foot articulated tractor pulled trailers, and a nightliner bus for the crew. We had a 16 man crew working for us. It was quite a big do as they say and in 82 when we did The Cage tour that was an even bigger production, both productions cost a lot of money. Of course you hope to get bums on seats to recoup a bit of that back. Support bands would pay to come out on the road with you because that’s the way it was done. That money all went towards the headline bands costs.

As far as I remember when we went out we took the Malcolm Hill rig out which was famed for AC/DC using it. I’m pretty sure it was a 35,000 watt rig, which was a lot of noise coming out the front of the system at you! Then on stage we had about 12,000 watt’s of monitors. I used to have two 1,000 watt wedges in front of me and they were on full tilt. We used to play loud, really loud (laughs).

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The live recording was at Nottingham Rock City. Was that a memorable day in the Tygers history? Actually there was a prequel to this show. We were staying at The Holiday Inn in Nottingham and we were all absolutely laden with flu apart from John Sykes. We were so bad our Tour Manager called for medical advice. A doctor came out and said we shouldn’t be playing, particularly Brian our drummer because he was an asthmatic. He had an array of inhalers which he used to take in-between smoking his Embassy regals (laughs). The doctor actually wrote us out a sick note to excuse us from playing, I don’t know who we were going to show it to! Maybe Tom our manager has still the sick note? (Laughs). But there was no way we weren’t playing, the gig was sold out and we were recording it.

After the gig did you hear the recording played back? At the end of the show John Sykes, who was as bubbly as ever, went to see Chris in the Rolling Stones recording mobile, they had a discussion and John came back and said Chris doesn’t think it’s very good. I can’t remember whether he had said we had made some mistakes, maybe not played very well, or something had gone wrong in the recording process, I honestly can’t remember. Nothing more was said and I guess the record company (MCA) who paid for the whole deal must have been gutted. Again there wasn’t an inquisition about it, it was just left.

It was all recorded on 2 inch Ampex tape and our manager Tom Noble took them away and they lived under a bed in his spare bedroom for years. It was only Chris and John who had heard anything from the tapes.  Brian, Rocky, Jon Deverill and myself hadn’t heard anything.

The life of the band moved on until 2000 when I said to Tom the Tygers manager, ‘you know those live tapes from ‘81 should we have a listen to them?’  He said, ‘yes, they’re under the bed in the spare room.’ So we asked Fred Purser who replaced John Sykes in 1982 and recorded The Cage album, then toured with the Tygers. When Fred left the band he went into the production side of the music business. Fred now has a wonderful studio called Trinity Heights in Newcastle. He agreed to do it but we had to hire a machine to play the tapes on because they were out dated. There was nothing in the North East so we had to ring down to London and hire a 24 track Ampex tape playing machine. Fred took delivery and transferred the tapes to digital format but because of the age of them we were told we probably would only get one chance to copy them as the Ampex tape could disintegrate! Luckily we did it.

What did the recording sound like? Fantastic, Tom and I couldn’t understand why the tapes hadn’t been used? The only thing that was wrong was because of time, the first four tracks on my guitar had ‘fallen off’ the tape. So I sourced the same pick up I had on my Gibson Explorer at the time, put it on a suitable guitar and went in the studio and recorded my guitar part’s again for the first four tracks. That is the only thing that has ever been touched so this is a complete live album with no overdubs, unlike a lot of live albums back in the day!

It has now come out years later that on some live albums back then maybe only a snare drum was live and the band went back into the studio to record most of it again– a bit naughty, but I understand band’s want their best work recorded. But if you can’t play live should you really be in the business? I’m very proud that ours IS live.

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Robb and Soren Anderson.

Why the re-release now? Well Fred mixed it and it came out in 2000 on general release. Three years ago when we signed with Target Records the C.E.O Michael Anderson, asked whether we would be interested in putting out a remixed version by Soren Anderson, who mixed our current album. So it’s been on the back burner for a while. It just so happened the timing was perfect because Soren started a mix on the album and two weeks later he appeared in Newcastle playing with former Deep Purple bass player, Glenn Hughes. I went to see them at the Academy here in Newcastle and met Soren, he said he had a day off the next day in Newcastle. Michael McCrystal (Tygers guitarist) managed to get us some studio time at Blast Studios, through his academy of music connections. This is where we recorded all the backing tracks for our current album.

So we went into Blast, he put the album up as they say, listened to some of the mixes that Soren had done and I suggested some things. All that’s happened is the tones of the instruments have been sharpened up, levels have been changed, we found backing vocals which were too low in the original mix, it’s come out really well, it’s a huge sounding live album now to be fair.

The record company are bringing it out on various formats, CD, vinyl and a box set including a signed tour poster and a ticket to Nordic Noise Festival next year in Copenhagen. It’s a great package. There’s also a tour pass from 1981.

‘Hellbound – Spellbound 81’ is available 21st  December 2018 via the official Target Records website and in the shops 25th January 2019.

Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

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THE HOUSE THAT OLGA BUILT – interview with The Toy Dolls frontman

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In 2019 The Toy Dolls will celebrate 40 years of being in the business but back in 82 The Dolls played in the foyer of live British tv music show The Tube, broadcast from Tyne Tees Studio in Newcastle. While ripping through ‘She Goes to Finos’ behind the band was a huge yellow backdrop and bank of tv screens. Presenter Muriel Gray said “That incredibly energetic and slightly mad bunch are The Toy Dolls. A Sunderland based band. They were signed with EMI but unfortunately EMI let the contract lapse after only 12 month and one single. But happily a two man Newcastle based recording company called Volume snatched them back from impending obscurity. Well hope they are favouring(?) any damage done in the foyer”.

When did the music bug hit you Olga ? ‘I got into playing music after watching Suzi Quatro on Top of the Pops. I knew from that moment what I was gonna do! Be a bass player. I saved up for a bass guitar for a year by doing a paper round, but when I went to buy it, it had gone up by £1! So I just bought a guitar instead’.

Early influences for Olga were Dr Feelgood, Status Quo, The Pirates…’Also listened to Slade, Suzi Quatro, The Sweet, Eddie & the Hot Rods and most of the early Punk bands, The Jam/Clash/Pistols’.

Since 79 many drummers have been and gone, plus a few bassists, but the line up for The Toy Dolls in 2018 are Olga: Guitar & Lead Vocals. Tommy Goober: Bass & Vocals. The Amazing Mr Duncan: Drums & Vocals. Olga and Duncan both live in London and Tommy lives in Germany.

 

Back in Sunderland during the late 70s Olga played in local band ‘Straw Dogs’ then formed The Toy Dolls… ‘Started in October 1979 and for a long time we just played locally around the North East UK. Then the Angelic Upstarts gave us a support slot on their UK tour, to whom we are eternally grateful. In 1985 we met our manager, Dave (RIP). He got us gigs worldwide for the next 30+ years’.

When you were based in the North East where did the band record ? ‘At first it was Guardian Studios in Pity Me, Durham. That was where we always went from the beginning and for many years to follow. I think it was about £40 a day then, which was expensive for the early 80s. We recorded singles mainly, until 1983, when we recorded our first album Dig That Groove Baby’.

 

At a time when Eurythmics, George Michael and Spandau Ballet were regularly hitting top ten and the Band Aid single was number 1, The Dolls crashed the UK singles chart in December 84 with a cover of ‘Nellie the Elephant’. It entered the chart at 16 and reached number 4. They also filmed a music video for one of their songs at Penshaw Monument in their home town of Sunderland. The band also recorded some TV appearances…‘Yep quite a few. The usual pop shows in the UK like Razzmatazz, Top of the Pops and quite a few TV shows in Germany, Holland and Switzerland’.

Have you any funny stories from playing gigs ? ‘Ha, too many to mention. One story I will never forget is the first time we played in Sao Paulo, Brazil. A skinhead managed to climb over 4,000 people, through the security, got on stage and smashed me in the face, knocking my tooth out. And he was a fan can you believe! He even came backstage after the gig to say how much he loved the show. No apology though!’

 After being involved in music for over 40 years what does music mean to you ? ‘What else am I gonna do ! Busy writing a new Toy Dolls album at the moment, and almost finished! “Music was my first love and it will be my last”…. Ha, pass me the sick bucket, though its true!’

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Along with writing a new album, the rest of the year has a couple of live European dates in December including a sold out show in Geneva. With a feature on the bands website ‘Ask Olga’ where fans ask questions about touring, records or Olga’s chewing gum – he’ll always be busy. Go on ask him!

http://www.thetoydolls.com/index.html

Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2018.

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FEEL THE MUSIC IN ME with British soul artist Sulene Fleming

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A number of vocalists have performed with Brand New Heavies since they formed in London in the 80s. 2016 saw Sulene adding her vocals to the Heavies tour of Europe and Japan. One of the dates was in the North East… Yeah, when I worked with the Heavies we played in Newcastle at the fab Hoochie Coochie club. The owner Warren always treats the artists well, he’s a great guy. It’s an intimate venue and the vibe is quite special, and they were an awesome crowd. I had played there before with another band I work with The Fantastics. We are in the mixing and mastering stage of a third album that will be finished early 2019. I sang and wrote some songs on the second album ‘All the People’ along with the forthcoming album. We will be performing songs when they are booked in’.

 What else have you got planned ? ‘In January I will be recording with a popular band from the mid 80s, but I can’t say who just yet. I’m a fan, so looking forward to working with them. I also write for music production libraries used in TV and Film. I also perform a lot doing private functions. Added with a two and a half year old daughter it’s not easy to juggle everything, but the journey is interesting to say the least’.

Looking back when did you start listening to music. Did your parents sing or play an instrument ? ‘Growing up my brother and me were blessed with the sound of music throughout the house. The music was varied from 50s to 80s from The Everly Brothers, Bob Marley, George Benson to Al Green. I loved looking at the record covers and the inlays, there was so much detail in the artwork.

We all enjoyed listening to a lot of different genres. I don’t think I disliked any of the music that was played, I just loved how it made me feel. We watched Top of the Pops religiously every week and remember hearing ’The Final Countdown’ by Europe, I was rocking out with a sweeping brush haha’

When did you start singing and was there a moment when you said ‘I can do this’ ? ‘I started to sing from a very early age, I dreamed about being a singer but no, I didn’t truly believe it would be my career path. A few things occurred growing up where I thought it could be possible to potentially sing for a living.

When I was around 14 at school I was forever getting into trouble for hanging out in places where I shouldn’t have been. It was a strange place to hang, but all the girls would spend too much time in the school toilets!  Chatting, smoking and I’d always break into song. My friends always said I had a great voice. When the teachers caught me, yet again they used to say…‘Sulene, Sulene the toilet queen!  Not the best way to be greeted I must admit, but true.

My first step into music semi-professionally, was at the age of 15. I had been approached by a youth worker named Maurine. She told me about a new youth centre they had opened. The first time I attended I absolutely loved it. There was a DJ set up and microphones with a small recording studio.

I went there for a few months, then Maurine had set up an audition for me at a small talent show in London for my first live performance. The show was televised but unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the show. I was the youngest of all the contestants and think I came third.

My first paid gig was at a ‘Women Coming Together’ awards. I was very nervous. I think I got around 50 quid which was great for me at that age.

Aged 15 I joined a new band, they were called Tropicana and we cut our first record. This was my first pro-experience in music. I loved being in a large recording studio and learning a little of how the music industry worked. We released a Christmas song and the b side was a cover version of Saturday Night by Whitfield. I think it got to number 50 in the charts or was it 100 haha, I can’t recall.

One of the cover songs we recorded was ‘Do You Love Me’ by The Contours. Then one day we were sitting and chatting in a café when we heard the song on the radio, it had been recorded by another artist! We felt that we had been ripped off as this was too much of a coincidence. That was the day I realised how tough it was in music.

Every song we recorded was a cover with a reggae spin, but even at the age of 15 I knew it wasn’t really going to go anywhere. To cut a long story short, we decided to call it a day. Looking back it was a great laugh at 15 years old and I gained a lot of experience which was to set me up for the future’.

Can you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio ? ‘The very first time was on Pulse radio and I was 15 years old. This was the Christmas song I mentioned earlier ‘Reggae Christmas’. I did think WOW this is a nice feeling’.

As well as being a songwriter Sulene has also added her voice to countless numbers of studio sessions and live backing vocals. She has also performed along side artists including Sonique, Beverly Knight and Mica Paris. What does music mean to you ? ‘It’s scientifically proven that music can help to change your mind set, can aid in relaxation and help when feeling negative emotions. It is an outlet for expressing any feeling you may be having. Particularly for me, when performing live you can let all emotions run free no matter what they are. It’s a beautiful thing!

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 Have you any plans for the remainder of 2018  ? ‘On New Years Eve I’m performing at Cool Cats in Singapore, it will be my third time in Singapore this year. I’ll be backing Leroy Hudson again and the Jazz Café just after Christmas and have quite a few private gigs to keep me busy through December’.

Contact Sulene on her official website https://www.sulenefleming.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2018

DANCING IN THE MOONLIGHT with Sunderland musician Ian Munro

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As a co-founder of the 90s dance band Opus 3, Ian Munro (pic. on right) had a big hit in 1992 with ‘It’s a Fine Day’. But the song had an earlier beginning… ‘In the 80s Manchester musician Edward Barton wrote and recorded ‘It’s a Fine Day’. I first saw him playing on live TV programme The Tube. The song was also played on Radio 1 but didn’t chart. One Sunday evening at our studio in Sunderland I remembered that ‘Fine Day’ was acapella, so we sampled it and in about 3 hours it was basically done. We had no doubt it was going to be a hit !

The song reached number 5 in the UK and number 1 in the US dance charts with  appearences on Top of the Pops, The Word, Jonathan Ross show, and performed live in Paris and Japan.

‘From ‘It’s Crucial’ a band I joined in 1984, to A.S.K. and Opus 3 my constant musical partners were Nigel Walton and Kevin Dodds. We needed new vocals on ‘It’s a Fine Day’ so we recruited Kirsty Hawkshaw who was Kevin’s ex-girlfriend. We met Kirsty during our first stint in London.

Opus 3 was me on keyboards, Kevin was keyboards engineer, Nigel was the drum programmer and our vocalist Kirsty was from Hertfordshire. We were signed to PWL records and Warner Brothers. Kirsty had a good musical background. Her father Alan Hawkshaw had a long and distinguished music career. Playing with The Shadows, co-writing for Elvis, Streisand and popular TV theme tunes. Her Mum used to run the UK Osmonds Fan Club and Alison Moyet lived next door. During the 90s we were in London when it was amazing. Living in the coolest city on earth heading towards a new millennia. It  was a blur of musicians, clubs and parties’.

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‘Our house parties at 131 Queenstown Road in Battersea had a balcony that overlooked the famous Power Station that Pink Floyd used on an album sleeve. One very long night saw some excellent DJ’s grace the long counter in the kitchen. Those nights were magical even the police were okay with us. The extreme was hiring a 2.5 k PA rig for a birthday party. Afterwards the system was cabbed back to my mates flat and along with a few DJs, went on till 10am when the hire company came to collect the PA.

But back then our music management were crap and contributed nothing to help our success. One was a real gangster and threatened to damage my fingers. They had offices in Soho and as their first group we were zero priority. In a vicious meeting one of the managers who was semi-employed by PWL, sided with them and not us. After the disappointing performances of the singles and second album we were dropped.

Orbital sampled ‘It’s a Fine Day’. They spun it backwards and got co-writing credits. We only got 5k out of this. It was a bad deal.

British businessman and polo player Bryan Morrison became our publisher. He had worked with T.Rex, The Pretty Things, Pink Floyd and George Michael. Morrison was the most arrogant man I’ve met. Part barrow boy and part Dracula actor Christopher Lee. He was financially drunk on George Michael’s huge success’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ? ‘Watching The Tube TV show coming from my home area made anything seem possible. At 15 I played my first gig at The Dovecot Arts Centre. In South Shields we played at The Marsden Inn supporting a band managed by Chas Chandler.

As A.S.K we played at the South Shields nightclub Banwells. At large events we were billed with a wide range of bands like Blur, D-Ream, Ramones, dance/techno band 2Unlimited, Ace of Bass, the lovely girl group Eternal and rapper from the States – LL Cool J. Then at a gig in the USA we were playing in a venue off Broadway in New York, where Moby was our warm up DJ !

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What were your experiences of recording ? ‘1984 to 1985 we recorded in Desert Sounds in Felling near Gateshead and then went into Prism studio in Newcastle. We also had some home studio equipment. By 87-90 we used various studios in London including Rooster 2, Pye studios, Matrix Maison Rouge and Mayfair. Then we built a mega home studio at The Elms, West Ashbrooke in Sunderland. Then back in London again we had our own studio in Brixton.

In 1989 ASK released ‘Kiss and Tell’ on EMI. We were signed to Capitol and MCA where we recorded Freedom We Cry in 1990. As  Ashbrooke Allstars we released ‘Dubbin`up the Pieces’ in 1991 on East West records.

Opus 3 released ‘It’s a Fine Day’ and ‘I Talk to the Wind’ in 92. ‘Hand in Hand’ and ’When You Made the Mountain’ was 94. These two from the 2nd album were co-writes with Sunderland lad Martin Brammer of the Kane Gang.

Opus 3 released two albums. Mind Fruit in 1992 and Guru Mother 1994. In 1998 DJ Paul Oakenfolds Grace covered the Opus 3 record ’Hand in Hand’. That charted at 38 in 1997 so we weren’t a one hit wonder !

Have you any stories when you were in the band? ‘Seeing Joey Ramone whilst in a health spa in a Finnish hotel or at breakfast after an all night partying session in Pete Waterman’s studio there was a decommissioned missile in the TV room. Countless moments. After a few early drinks in Clapham my friends and I returned to my flat before going to The West End to be met by a distressed Terrier dog. I took him home and rang the number on his collar to no avail and headed out to a club. The next morning I got a call from a woman with a Northern accent. She said ‘I am Vivienne Westwood thanks for  rescuing my dog’.

Opus 3 played The Supper Club off Times Square in 1994. Moby had remixed the second disastrous single and we all loved his single ‘Go’. That night we got out of the limo and our singer Kirsty was dressed as a cyber Statue of Liberty. She looked amazing and upstaged onlookers the B52s and Miss Keir from Dee Lite. Madonna was invited but didn`t show’.

 

What does music mean to you ?Everything, it’s my love and my torment ! I still play and write. Music to me isn’t work just complicated demanding fun that takes a while. Would I like to change any mistakes made…Yes …Do I regret leaving a boring job as a Clerk ? No. Failing a dream is better than succeeding in a nightmare’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2018.

For more Tyneside stories why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI  You Tube channel.

MARTYR TO THE NEW BLOOD – Def-Con-One are back & release new single

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With a new line up, British metal band Def-Con-One, featuring ex Venom drummer Antton Lant have released a new single ‘Martyr to the New Blood’. Andy Mallaby bassist with North East deathcore band Osiah mixed and mastered the track in Colossus Studios in Newcastle, UK…. ‘Fans and people in the music bizz have responded really well to the new track so I’m buzzing about that and can’t wait to get this band back on the road’ said Antton.

The band have been in the studio writing, rehearsing and recording tracks for the new album, as yet untitled. But promise this to be a killer from start to finish. ‘I’ve been working with Crol for quite a while now and it’s great to work with such a great player and talented musician. I can play guitar as well so we hit the rehearsal room and jam out some riffs. We have about 12 tracks for the album. They keep evolving and growing, nothing is set in stone yet. We are still tightening up on a few of them’.

Plans for future live shows include next years HRH Metal festival in Birmingham… ‘Last time on stage was HRH 2017 so funnily enough we are carrying on where we left off. There has been a few changes since then. Since forming the band the line up has always been evolving and the chemistry between this line-up could not be better. It took a wee while to get everyone on board but it was worth the wait for sure’.

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Vocals Danny Hagar Jnr (vocals)

Guitars Crol ‘Crolossal’ Dunn (guitars)

Brian ‘Sass’ Bell (bass)

Antton Lant (drums)

New single Martyr to the New Blood’ out now.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2018.

 

 

THE BOY FROM BENWELL – interview with Director Bob Smeaton

‘You can play a hundred gigs and reach a thousand people. You can do one television show and reach millions’…..When White Heat broke up in 1982, Tyne Tees art show ‘Check it Out’ filmed a half hour special on the band which Geoff Wonfor directed (later at live TV music programme The Tube). The special was broadcast during February 1982 a week before their farewell gig at the Mayfair… ’When we told Geoff Wonfor that White Heat were splitting up he told us that Tyne Tees should make a documentary about the band. Geoff was able to convince them that they should do it and that he should direct it. We filmed our second last gig at the Gulbenkian Studios near the Haymarket in Newcastle. What a lot of people don’t know is that we mimed a whole set of songs from our album In the Zero Hour and then mixed that in with film from the actual gig. So we in fact played each of the songs twice. After we had mimed to all of those songs I had almost blown my voice out. Even though we were miming I still used to sing the songs. All the audio that was used in the documentary came from the album, none of it was live. We also shot some stuff of me returning to the shipyards. One of the followers of White Heat has put it up on You Tube’.

 

White Heat. Circa 1978

White Heat (circa 1978)

The blog is heading for 50,000 views so a great way to mark this milestone is to feature Director Bob Smeaton. If you’ve ever watched the Classic Album series, caught a Hendrix documentary or any TV with big names from the music world on- Bob’s probably directed it. Along with being nominated three times for an Emmy as director of music and arts documentaries, he’s a double Grammy award winner. In 2017 he worked with fellow Geordie, and ex AC/DC vocalist, Brian Johnson for the Sky Arts series A Life On the Road. Before working in film and television, Bob was lead vocalist and songwriter with North East rock band White Heat. Signed to Virgin records, the band toured extensively and released one album and two singles. This is his story…..

‘When I was around fifteen me and my mates became obsessed with guitars. I couldn’t afford a guitar so I became a singer, it was the cheaper option. All you needed was a mic and you were up and running. I was never going to be the best singer in the North East. But I had learnt a lesson that if you put on a show that helped hide any bum notes then you stood a fighting chance. There were loads of great singers around at the time, Mick Whitaker, Dave Taggart to name but two. I was never going to be as good a singer as those guys and over the years rather than develop as a singer I was getting better as a front man’.

Who were your influences in music ? ‘My dad had a large record collection when I was growing up. The first records that I listened to were his. I would have been around eight years old at the time. He had records by everyone from Slim Whitman to Elvis Presley. I always loved songs that told stories and I used to love learning the words and singing along to their records. I had no idea what any of the singers looked like aside from what I saw on the record covers. So as far as I was concerned there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the likes of Slim Whitman, Elvis and Tom Jones. They were just great singers who were singing great songs. Then in my early teens I started hearing Tamla Motown on the radio and at my local youth club disco. Again great singers and great songs. But I still had very little idea of what the artists looked like as I very rarely saw them on television. The big moment for me was when I started getting into rock music. This was the first time when the visual side became as important as the musical side. It all came together, the songs, the musicianship and the way the bands looked. Even though I hadn’t as yet been to see a live gig. Just the pictures I saw in the music press, Sounds, NME and the Melody Maker was enough to get me excited’.

‘The first band that I saw performing live that had an affect on me were The Showbiz Kids. I was working as a floor waiter at the Scotswood Social Club and they were one of the bands that appeared. What made them stand out was the singer, Rob Coyle, he grabbed your attention and demanded that you look at him.

Up to that point the audience in the club would pretty much ignore the bands until the end of the evening then they would all be up dancing. With Rob it was different, you had to watch him. He was like Mick Jagger. And he made me realise that if you put on a show you would get the audience attention. I think Rob Coyle is not only one of the greatest front men to come out of the North East, but one of the greatest front men, period. I saw him a couple of years ago fronting Dr Feelgood and he was still brilliant. Rob was a massive influence on me. I remember meeting him for the first time and I was really made up that he knew who I was and had heard of my band’.

 

Was there a defining moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ was it watching a band or hearing a song ? ’Again this comes back to seeing Rob Coyle and the Showbiz Kids. But the moment when I thought ‘I could do that and be a contender’ was when I saw The Clash at Newcastle Polytechnic. Up to that point I had seen loads of bands, Zeppelin, The Who, Bad Company, all who had great singers but way out of my league as far as aspiring to be like them. When I saw Joe Strummer I realised that with punk rock you didn’t have to be a great singer in order to make it. If you had the right attitude then you were well on your way. Strummer had attitude by the shed load and he looked great on stage, you believed in him 100%’.

 

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play. Was it in the immediate area or travelling long distances and did you support name touring bands ? ’I started doing gigs with my first band Hartbreaker around the mid 70s. The band were, me on vocals, Bryan Younger on guitar, Colin Roberts on bass and John Miller on drums. We didn’t want to play the working men’s clubs as we didn’t want to do cover versions and I wasn’t great at singing other peoples songs. Therefore, we started writing our own songs and began playing gigs on the Newcastle pub circuit. The Bridge Hotel, Cooperage, Gosforth Hotel and Newton Park. At the time our goal was to be as good as another local band, Southbound, they were brilliant and we got a couple of gigs supporting them. They are another one of those great North East bands that never ‘made it’. I remember they once brought a demo that they had recorded to play to me when I was still living at home at my mam’s in Benwell. It was brilliant, if they had come from Alabama rather than Sunderland I am convinced they would have been as big as Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Hartbreaker built up quite a following, but it was still just a side-line to our day jobs. 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. By then we had changed our name to White Heat and had added an extra guitarist, Alan Fish’.

 

 

 

 

What were your experiences of recording ? ‘Around 1976 we had acquired a manager, Brian Mawson, who also managed the record department of Windows music store in Newcastle. Brian got us studio time at Impulse Studio in Wallsend. I would nip up the road from the shipyards at lunchtime and lay down a vocal while in my overalls then head back to work.

I never enjoyed the studio as much as I did the live gigs. In the studio there was no place to hide any dodgy vocals. White Heat were much better live than on record.

Mond Cowie (ex-Angelic Upstarts) also worked in the yards and I remember him telling me that he was quitting his job to go full time with the band. I was really jealous. I hated the yards but it was something to kick against and a lot of my lyrics were influenced by working there and wanting to get out of the place.

White Heat released an independent single called Nervous Breakdown which we recorded at Impulse,  it was produced by Mickey Sweeney. Mick produced everyone who came through the door at Impulse, from the Angelic Upstarts to Alan Hull. He was a great guy and full of enthusiasm for the band. The studio was run by a guy called Dave Woods. Dave like Mick loved the band and around this time set up Neat Records. I thought at one time we might have ended up on Neat Records but instead we released Nervous Breakdown on our own label called Vallium. The record did really well in the North East and we started attracting the attention of the major record labels. I quit my job as a welder and became a full time musician. It was the best decision that I ever made. We eventually signed a deal with Virgin music publishing and Virgin Records. We toured with the likes of Judas Priest, the Vapours and did the odd gig supporting amongst others the Climax Blues Band, Gen X, Split Enz and the Tom Robinson band’.

 

By 1981 the band had released their 10 track album ‘In the Zero Hour’ and Bob looks back on that time…‘When we were recording parts of In the Zero Hour at Rock City Studios which is in the film complex of Shepperton Studios, James Cagney was there filming the movie, Ragtime. I went into the canteen one day and saw him sitting there having his breakfast. I asked one of the production people if I could go over and say hello to him. I was told he wasn’t feeling too good and maybe I should ask again tomorrow. The next day he didn’t turn up. Ragtime turned out to be his last ever film. I wish I had got to speak to him as he died shortly afterwards. But it was great to see him in the flesh. If anyone ever asks me who my favourite film actors are I always used to say, Elvis Presley, Stan Laurel and James Cagney’.

 

Did the band have any help or supporters ? ’We we really lucky in that I became great mates with a guy called Geoff Wonfor who was a television director working at the BBC. Geoff would make film clips of the band and get these shown on the local BBC channel. This helped the band reach a wider audience and soon we were playing bigger gigs. By now we were playing places such as the Mayfair.  I loved doing television performances, just to see yourself on the telly was such a buzz. Nervous Breakdown did really well and we were hovering outside the national charts. If we had made it onto Top of the Pops I am convinced we would have been massive, but we only ever did local television.

In the TV documentary there is a backstage scene of the band getting together and shouting ‘Nice one’. Was that a pre gig ritual or a set up just for the camera ? ’We used to have a roadie called Paul Elliott who when we came off stage would always tell us that the gig had been a ‘nice one’. Regardless of how good or bad we felt it had been, that always made us feel better. We adopted that line and it became part of our pre-gig ritual. It was a bonding thing, always raised a laugh and was a good way to loosen up the vocal chords. We used to come on stage to the theme song from the James Cagney film, Yankee Doodle Dandy, that was because I was a massive fan of Cagney and he was once in a film called White Heat which was another connection’.

White Heat at the Marquee.

White Heat live at The Marquee, London.

Looking back what do you think of the Bob Smeaton then, and have you still got the white jacket you wore on the documentary ? ’I watched the Check it Out documentary when I was writing my book. I thought I came across like a right cocky bastard. But I was young and I was cocky and I thought I looked great. I even thought that the white jacket looked great, but not sure it quite went with the braces!! I no longer have the white jacket. I threw it into the crowd at the end of the final White Heat gig. A bit like a cowboy hanging up his guns. I still get asked if I can still do the press ups that I used to do during the solo of Nervous Breakdown – and I can. But I feel a bit knackered afterwards.

If anyone looks at the Nervous Breakdown clip on You Tube they will notice that the performance is all captured in a single shot, there are no edits in it. Geoff Wonfor was on stage with the cameraman and I would push the the camera in the direction of where I thought it should be filming. That was all spontaneous and it’s a great clip. In fact, I would probably go as far as to say that Nervous Breakdown is the best song that White Heat ever wrote and that along with that video clip pretty much summed up what the band was all about.

It was a strange dichotomy with White Heat. I never wanted us to be considered a ‘local band’ I wanted us to succeed on a national level but so much of the success we did achieve was because of the following we had in the North East. We did do a number of gigs in London but we really should have moved down there if we wanted to really grow a fan base. But we were all local lads and maybe the desire to make that big step wasn’t present within all the band members’.

Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘I have just written my memoir which is coming out in November and I have written about touring with the band. Those were the best days ever; they were not so much funny as really exciting. Touring is the best thing in the world. I have been fortunate to have made music my life, but nothing compares to performing with a band. White Heat went from playing to fifty people at the Bridge Hotel to selling out the Mayfair at our final gig playing to 2,000 plus. I really miss performing live, the size of the crowd is secondary. It’s as good performing in front of a hundred people as it is two thousand. I have done both in fact we once played a gig just outside of London to eight people. That’s the smallest crowd we ever played too. The biggest crowd was probably around three thousand when we were supporting Judas Priest on tour and played Sheffield City Hall’.

 

After White Heat did any other bands enquire about you as their frontman ? ’After White Heat split I didn’t want to join another North East band I always felt that would have been a come down. I moved to London for six months and joined a band called Agent Orange who were made up of ex members of the mod group The Chords, along with Mick Talbot who used to be in the Merton Parkers and then later formed the Style Council with Paul Weller. I recorded almost an albums worth of material with Agent Orange, the studio time was paid for by Polydor who The Chords used to be signed with. Polydor were keen to sign the band and we were in the process of arranging some gigs so that they could see the band live. But I bailed out as I missed being home in Newcastle. The lads in White Heat were my mates. The Chords were not really my mates. I wanted to ‘make it’ but not at any cost. Those days with White Heat were the best times and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Also I felt we split up at the right time’.

Version 5

What does music mean to you ? ’It sounds like a cliché but music changed my life. If I had not become obsessed with music I don’t know what would have become of me. I have been many things, an actor, television presenter and now a director of music documentaries. But this all came about through my love of music. It has been the gateway to everything that I have done. I still love seeing live bands and hearing new records. There is so much great music around now, you just have to sift through it to find the gems. A good song and a good singer, that is still my yardstick’.

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I was really fortunate in that thanks to my friendship with Geoff Wonfor I got involved in making music videos. This led to working on a great number of music documentaries. For the past twenty-five years or so that is pretty much what I have been doing. I have been lucky to have worked with a number of the bands that I grew up listening too. The Who, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. My background in music, and having played in a band has been a great help when working with those people. They realise pretty early on that when it comes to music I seem to know what I’m talking about.

If any young kids read this and are thinking about playing music, I would say go ahead and do it. You have got to get out of your bedroom and start playing music with your mates. Its one of the best feelings in the world. Even if you don’t ‘make it’ just to walk out on stage and perform in front of an audience is something that you will never regret’.

Bob Smeaton memoir ‘From Benwell Boy to 46th Beatle…and Beyond’ out now.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2018.

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SOUNDS ALIVE: The Power of Music

The adrenalin rush of the thunderclap from Icelandic football fans. The guitar intro to Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers. Kurt Cobains anger on the Nirvana anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit. And what about John Bonhams bombastic drums on When the Levee Breaks ? Sound has a real strength and songs have unforgetable moments. What’s yours ? 

orig 2000

Music has a power to ignite and heal. Rewind to the 80s. A charity single aimed at raising money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Pop and rock stars of the day including the Durans, Spandau, Quo, Sting, Bono and not forgetting Bananarama crammed into Sarm West studio in London. Songwriters Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure realised they didn’t have a nice little charity single on their hands but a major pop record when George Michael and Boy George laid down their vocal tracks on ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’. The song raised millions and the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium followed. Bono becoming Bono. Freddy’s Big Night Out. And Geldof salutes ‘The lesson today is how to die’. History was made. The power of music.

The shelves in my local library are full of music related books. Lately I’ve read biographies by Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing and the Russian classical composer, Prokofiev. Complete contrasts ? Prokofiev has his lighter moments but listen to Dance of the Pagan Master. That’s Heavy Metal from way back. You’ll also find a bit of Prokofiev in Greg Lakes ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’. Check out the horse drawn sleigh in ’Troika’. Wonderful sound. What am I saying here ? Well, not only do we want to listen to music, but read about it and talk about it. That’s the power of music.

Of course we all have our own tastes and top ten lists. But music is a leveller and it can be used to sum up our feelings at any given moment. After the England football team were beaten in the Euro 96 semi finals Walk Away by Cast was played on TV over pictures of the manager Terry Venables head down, hands in pockets walking down the touch line. Knowing this was probably his last match in charge. In that team Geordies Gazza and Shearer stood tall. But football didn’t come home that day. 

orig 1999

 

The internet in the late 90s. Is that when music started to lose it’s value ? I’m not talking about value that rings the till. More of a value that can be considered important. Even cherished. In interviews guitarist Noel Gallagher talked of Oasis not being the most popular band in the 90s, but the most important. Blur might have something to say on that one, but they never had quarter of a million at Knebworth.

What is the attraction of music ? Some songs have great stories. You’ll have your own favourites like the first records you bought. The songs that marked important moments in your life. The inspiration behind them, who wrote the lyrics and what it means to you. And finally your funeral song. Yep, some people have their favourites ready for when they finally check out. Music really is the soundtrack to our lives. From beginning to the end.

Well the music is your special friend. Dance on fire as it intends 

Music is your only friend. Until the end.  (Jim Morrison, When the Music’s Over). 

Gary Alikivi October 2018.

ALIKIVI

Recommended:

1980 The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside   11th Feb. 2018.

Rockin’ All Over the Toon  22nd May 2018.

Rockin’ All Over the Toon Again  14th Sept. 2018.

When the Music’s (not) Over 24th Sept. 2018.

For more Tyneside stories why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.