TOON TUNES – with former Newcastle Dingwalls manager Chris Murtagh

A comprehensive list of gigs at North East venues are being put together, and recently to add to the growing list, pages out of a booking list and diary from gigs at Dingwalls in 1983 turned up on line. Entries included:

26.3.83 – Big Country Fee: £240 – 282 @ £1.50. Excellent band and performance. Perfect timing with release of single. Excellent debut in the North-East.

3.3.83 – Raven & Hellanbach Fee: Raven £300 – Hellanbach £60 – 269 @ £1.50 Terrific stage show. Very good heavy rock band with good repertoire. Good following.

Raven bassist John Gallagher told me about the night… ‘I just remember the place being chilly…at least until we got started! There was a decent turnout and we were promoting the ‘All for One’ album. I don’t remember much more to be honest !’ …well it was nearly 40 years ago. But to find out more I contacted the manager at the time and owner of the book, Chris Murtagh….I don’t have the diary now as I’ve sold it but have a digital copy of the acts who appeared. Like the other Bierkellers around the UK the entertainment promoter Harvey Goldsmith bought all the venues for £1 and re-christened them Dingwalls. Yes only a £1 but Harvey had to service their debts and running costs. They were in the basement of office blocks, mine was in Waterloo Street, Newcastle. It had a capacity of 1200.

I was manager of the venue during 1983, it was Dingwalls from January to June when it went into liquidation and reverted to Vaux Breweries, the biggest creditor. Then from June to December Vaux changed the name to the Bear Pit but I was retained as manager.

How did you get the managers job ? I’d done several promotions there and had threatened to sue Goldsmith for breach of a contract for cancelling one of them. Turned out his General Manager offered me the job instead. I was the only manager who was also a promoter. All the other Bierkeller managers at Sheffield, Hull, Liverpool, Bristol and London were ex-Mecca managers and older than me. They got two for the price of one in me being manager/promoter and Chris Donald from very early Viz comics did all my publicity.

What was the Newcastle venue like ? It was like being buried in a hole in the ground for months without seeing daylight. When we closed and tidied-up well after midnight, we’d go and chill out at Rockshots upstairs till about 3am. Then back at work about 4pm the same day. My bar manager once dragged me to the City baths for a massage which connected me back to my body that I’d totally lost track of.

Martha Reeves was booked for May ’83 and your diary entry reads….Martha chatted me up in the office. Didn’t know where to put myself. She could have eaten me for breakfast. Motown comes to Dingwalls. Brilliant professional show.

What can you remember from that day ? Martha Reeves terrified me as I must have been the youngest manager she’d come across and she was a very experienced older woman.

In the diary for June, Murtagh booked female group Girlschool with support from North East heavy metal band Satan. His notes of the gig included… Girlschool arrived for their first headline tour after supporting Motorhead. They didn’t have any money and asked if I could help them out which I did. Nice girls who put on a good show but treated rubbish by their record company.

Satan a good local heavy metal band with a good following. I’d previously promoted them, famously at the St James & St Basil’s Church in Fenham where the posters read ‘Appearing live on stage, Satan.’ That pulled in a good congregation.

Also that month Dr Feelgood came to Newcastle with support from North East band R & B Spitfires….Full on red-hot rock band with commitment and attitude. Real pros – no messing about with sound checks – Brilliant. Wilko went to college up here so he had his own following.  Local band Spitfires acquitted themselves well in such company.

More entries to the diary with some excellent comments about the bands and gigs….22.4.83 – Gun Club + Sisters of Mercy. Fee: £511.25 – 548 @ £1.50. Sisters, good appreciative following, hypnotic beat with drum machine, bass and guitar. Led by Joey Ramone lookalike. Effective visual presence.

Gun Club, should have been called ‘Gin Club’, Jim Morrison just before he died. Good presence, good songs, terrible sound.

6.5.83 – Miami Steve. Brilliant American band. Shame about Steve and the material. Bruce Springsteen can keep him. Stayed in the tour bus only coming in to play the gig. Oh and don’t touch his bandana. Precious bastard, up his own arse.

10.5.83 – Bad Brains. Turned up 6 hours late so most of the audience left. Refused to pay them which set-up a stand-off between the band and my security. Lots of martial arts posturing until it finally dawned on them they would get severely plastered if they stayed. Bad brains indeed.  

16.5.83 – The Vibrators + Red Alert. Not overly impressed by the reformed Vibrators. Canny lads though. Their guitars were nicked before they went on, then retrieved by Red Alert, who were themselves a very impressive act.  

After you left what happened with the venue ? Harvey Goldsmith owned Dingwalls but his CEO was Peter Gross, an accountant, who’d run a chain of restaurants called The Great American Disaster in London. At each of the venues he’d bring a brewery in as sponsor. In Newcastle’s case it was Vaux Brewery who gave him three quarters of a million pounds. When the receivers Ernst Whinney were brought in because Harvey was going into liquidation for about the seventh time, I talked to him on the phone. ‘You’ll be alright my boy’, were the last words he spoke to me.

The venue reverted to Vaux Breweries with them being the biggest creditor. When Paul Nicholson CEO of Vaux arrived, he asked what Harvey had done with all the money. I said he’d stuck a black plastic crow on the wall and extended the stage. You’ll notice every poster advertising a Goldsmith promotion has a little fat man in the corner. That’s Harvey. He also used a black crow as the logo for Dingwalls. ‘I hope that bloody crow lays golden eggs’ was Paul’s reply.

Basically, Harvey used all the money for running costs. If he’d taken the time to run the venues himself it might have worked, but he was too busy touring the Stones, Dylan, Bowie etc and left the running to Peter Gross, who was clueless about the music industry. Vaux wanted to appoint their own manager of what they now branded ‘The Bear Pit’. My staff refused to work for them so I was retained as manager.

Murtagh came across North East manager and promoter Geoff DochertyMy first encounter with Geoff Docherty was when he was looking after Preacher, a band led by Tony Ions. I needed a rehearsal place for my new band Fan Heater and Tony who I’d played with in Slaughter House, suggested I approach Geoff to see if I could share their rehearsal rooms in the derelict Hydraulic Crane pub on Scotswood Road, Newcastle.

Not only did Geoff give us the pub but he said he’d get us a gig at the Marquee Club and Rock Garden in London supporting The Showbiz Kids who he also managed. ‘Oh yes, of course you will’ I thought being very sceptical. I couldn’t believe it when he was as good as his word. Total respect.

What did you do after Dingwalls ? After leaving there I continued promoting in Newcastle, Leeds and tours around the UK, including with my own band. 1994 I became a director of the pan-European touring organisation the Newcastle Free Festival inaugurating Cities of Culture, including being the first festival to perform under the Berlin Wall when it came down in 1989.

That same year, as part of the festival, I brought over the Peruvian band APU. 30 years later I’m still their manager. This also drew me into World Music which I’ve promoted ever since. As part of being a promoter, I worked as an A Level sponsor for the Home Office for over 25 years issuing visas for non-EEC artists to tour the UK. I still enjoy playing all over the world and organise festivals and events internationally.

Contact Chris on the official website:

www.line-up.co.uk

Interview by Gary Alikivi   June 2020.

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (13)

BASQUE REFUGEES IN THE NORTH EAST

Another report in the Postcards from Spain series comes from Don Watson. Don is an author and independent historian based in North Shields.

In 2005 he gave a talk to the North East Labour History Society that was based on an article he wrote, ‘Politics and Humanitarian Aid: Basque refugees in the North East and Cumbria during the Spanish Civil War’.

Don explained…‘It came from my long-standing interest in the Spanish Civil War and how the North East participated in the international solidarity against fascism and in support of the Spanish Republic. The issues of fascism, the treatment of refugees, and international solidarity are as pressing now as they were in the 1930s.

In an edited version of Don’s article, he writes….Around 400 Basque children were looked after in the North East of England and Cumbria, most of them for up to two years. Some stayed at Brampton near Carlisle, others in Hexham, Northumberland and some at 40 Percy Park in Tynemouth. Another colony was at Hutton Hall near Guisborough in Cleveland. About half of them were taken care of by the Catholic Church in children’s homes and convents in Newcastle, Carlisle, Spennymoor and Darlington.

Basque children arriving in Newcastle. Picture courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives.

The biggest single colony was at Brampton, within the constituency of Wilfred Roberts M.P. – a prominent member of the Basque Children’s Committee and committed supporter of the Spanish Republic. The children were put up in an old workhouse converted by local trades unions and church members. It accommodated up to 60 children, who must have had an impact on the small town. Elsewhere sympathisers let out properties to the local Basque Children’s Committees: large houses in residential areas in Hexham and Tynemouth.

The hostel at Hexham had to close after a few months due to lack of local financial support. There was some political opposition to the Basque evacuation in the prosperous town. This was in marked contrast to the hostel at Percy Park, Tynemouth. Here Nell Badsey, the hostel manager, countered initial opposition from some local residents by using the local press to describe what the children had gone through at home and the amount of local support she was getting for them.

The boys took full part in local football and sports events through the Scouts and the YMCA, so that after a year a newspaper described them as having settled in so well they were ‘as much a part of the area as Percy Park itself’.

Len Edmondson, a member of the Independent Labour Party in 1937 and involved with the hostel in Tynemouth, recalls the Basque children’s supporters often had a hard job to convince the public that the children were not getting a penny from the British Government.

All food, coal, clothing, and everything else had to be raised through the efforts of the local volunteers. Apart from Hexham these efforts were successful. In North Shields for example, the Methodist Ladies Sisterhood performed plays to raise funds, and Nell Badsey, Tynemouth hostel manager, was always full of praise for the consistent funding she received from the Northumberland and Durham miners’ lodges.

Supporters in the local committees included local clergy, trades unionists, and political activists from the Liberals to the Communists, frequently people involved in other areas of Republican solidarity work. They also included humanitarian people with no background in any political causes.

The colony committees encouraged the children to exhibit their traditional music, song and dance, frequently in national costume, at fund raising concerts and meetings or simply at village occasions and other local events.

Some of the children were present at political meetings too. They were on the platform at the Newcastle May Day rally in 1938, supporting Labour and Communist speakers at an International Brigade memorial meeting in Blyth Miners Welfare Hall, and on the platform in Bedlington, where Labour MP’s attacked the British Government for supporting non-intervention.

In this way, true to the trades union and Republican sympathies of their parents, the presence of the children was part of the political campaign for the Republic and against Franco’s war on the civilian population.

In the North East, as in the rest of the country, joint work with the Catholic Church did not last long. The refugee children were a propaganda setback for Franco’s supporters and, through the Vatican Secretariat, pressure was exerted to repatriate them as soon as possible.

In the North East, children from the Catholic colonies had returned to Spain by May 1938 but most of those looked after by the local Basque Children’s Committee remained.

The North East committees were intent on ensuring that when children were repatriated, it would be to conditions of safety and at the genuine request of their families. Some harsh exchanges between Catholic spokesmen and Basque Children’s Committee members took place in the local newspapers, and showed in fact that they represented the two sides in the civil war.

At the start of the Second World War most of the ninos in the North East had been repatriated to Spain, but a few remained here permanently. They included a señorita, Carmen Gil, who married one of the Labour Party activists on the hostel committee. Nell Badsey adopted one of the boys, Angel Perez Martinez – as Angel Badsey he worked until his retirement in the Sunderland shipyards.

Don would be delighted to hear from former refugees who were looked after in any of these colonies, or from their own children and families.

Contact:

dfwatson35@gmail.com

or  

Basque Children of ’37 Association:UK.

This article was published in North East History vol. 36 in 2005, an amended version is available on the Basque Children of ’37 Association website.

Don Watson is the author of two books:

‘No Justice Without A Struggle:

The National Unemployed Workers’ Movement in the North East of England 1920-1940’ (Merlin Press 2014).

‘Squatting in Britain 1945-1955: Housing, Politics, and Direct Action’  (Merlin Press 2016). 

 Gary Alikivi  June 2020

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (12)

Based in Discovery Museum in the heart of Newcastle, Tyne & Wear Archives is home to thousands of documents relating to the five local districts of Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside.

The documents range from 12th to 21st centuries and include building plans, school, hospital and church records as well as business records, especially those of important local industries such as shipbuilding, engineering and mining.

Recently I contacted Tyne & Wear Archive about a photo they have in their collection.

’This photo was taken on 29th July 1937, the Basque children are being welcomed to Newcastle by the Lord Mayor, Alderman John Grantham – it’s from a photograph album documenting his period in office.

We also know from a diary in the Archive collection that a group of Basque refugee children were staying in Tynemouth in the autumn of 1937, but it isn’t clear whether these were the same group or another contingent.

It is a sad foreshadowing of the evacuation of British children from the cities at the start of World War 2. And these kids were arriving in a foreign country where few if any of them probably even spoke the language’.

Independent Historian Don Watson has been in touch with further information about the Spanish refugee’s. His article will be posted soon.

For more information about Tyne & Wear Archives contact: https://twarchives.org.uk/

If you have any information about the photograph or the North East men and women who were involved in the Spanish Civil War please get in touch at garyalikivi@yahoo.com

Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

 

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (11)

UNLIKELY WARRIORS BY AUTHOR & HISTORIAN , RICHARD BAXELL

In the series Postcards from Spain we look at the stories surrounding the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, and particularly the International Brigade who fought against the fascists.

In this post we ask why travel thousands of miles to a foreign country to fight a war ? A new book by Author, researcher and historian Richard Baxell looks for the answer. The book provides a detailed account of the British volunteers who traveled to Spain as part of the International Brigade.

Baxhill also includes fascinating stories from the volunteers and Spanish villagers. Over a 2 hour drive from the capital Madrid, is Madrigueras, where the church priest ‘Had been a Franco supporter, he got up to the bell tower with a machine gun and fired on anyone who went to the fountain for water. The priest was killed and hung on a hook in the butcher’s front window’.

Volunteer stories are just as graphicThe first ten minutes of the attack were worst. I was just plain scared – I’m not ashamed to admit it. The zip, zip, zip got louder then suddenly the air was thick with machine gun bullets’.

Where did the idea of an international force to fight against fascism originate ? Baxell confirms that ‘The role of the national Communist parties provided the network for recruiting large numbers of anti-fascists to fight for the Spanish Republic. The idea of raising an International Brigade of volunteers was first mooted at a meeting in Moscow in August 1936 after Soviet military intelligence had reported the dire position in Spain. Communist International provided the crucial mechanism that made it possible to recruit thousands of men and women from around the world and transport them into Spain’.

Baxhill adds that the decision to fight was not an easy one as expressed by volunteer, Fred Thomas… ‘Nobody cajoled, coerced, or bullied me, certainly not the Communist Party, even though they provided the means’.

Russian involvement was cemented by Stalin on ‘6 September he gave preliminary instructions to sell 50 bombers to Spain, supported by 20 pilots who would train the Spanish pilots’.

Fascism was sweeping across Europe and now attempts were made by Sir Oswald Mosely to bring a similar situation in Britain, leaving no doubt from this volunteer from AberdeenIt is my duty to go and help the people of Spain. And the fight, whether it be here in Aberdeen against the British Union of Fascists or against Mussolini and Hitler, was exactly the same fight to me’.

Baxell add’s ‘The final decision to create the International Brigades was taken by the Comintern Secretariat on 16 September 1936. Many of the volunteers saw themselves as anti-fascists, not Comintern warriors’.

But who would lead these unlikely warriors of the International Brigades ? Baxell makes note of a ‘Manfred Lazar Stern, a former captain in the Austrian army who had fought with the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. Under the assumed combat name General Emilio Kleber, he arrived in Spain to become the first military commander’.

In over 500 pages Baxell draws out some fascinating and inspiring stories in a book about the Britons who took up arms against General Franco and the fascist leaders.

Unlikely Warriors is out now on Aurum Press.

 Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

 

POSTCARDS FROM SPAIN (10)

TYNESIDE VOLUNTEERS IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR.

The International Brigade Memorial Trust keeps the spirit alive of men and women from around the world, who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain from 1936 to 1939.

But who were the volunteers ? Over 20 years, Archivist Jim Carmody and historian Richard Baxell worked on putting together a list of their names.

A list of over 2,000 volunteers are available from the International Brigades on the link at the bottom of the article.

For some young men it was more than a shock to the system to see the brutality of war. On arrival in Spain 19 year old American Frank Neary was shot in the head on the first day and died in a Madrid hospital. German Artist Stephen Pollock, born 1914, was badly wounded at Brunete. From New Zealand came Doctor Douglas Jolly who was in charge of a mobile surgical team.

Angus MacLean travelled from Scotland but was ordered home after one month as ‘Since leaving Britain he spent most nights in brothels’.

There was a miner from Wales, Tim Harrington, who was withdrawn from battle as ‘he suffered with old lung injury after being gassed in WW1’.

Irishman Thomas Delaney volunteered in December 1936 but by February ’37 was ‘sent home, too young’.

Volunteers from the North East of England included Francesca Wilson born in Newcastle 1881. She was a Teacher who left England in 1939 and worked with refugees in Murcia where she founded a children’s hospital.

From Sunderland was NUWM officer Frank Graham, in Spain he served as a scout and intelligence officer, also Broadcaster on Radio Barcelona.

Included here is a detailed list of volunteers from Tyneside:

Name: Thomas Atherton

Place of birth: Jarrow 1903

Political organisation: None

Occupation: Seaman

Date of arrival: 27 September 1937

Brigade ID: 1312

Date of departure: October 1938

Comments: Captured in Aragon. POW San Pedro de Cardea. Accused of being Russian for having a bushy beard and almost shot.

Name: John Corby

Place of birth: North Shields 1902

Political organisation: None

Occupation: Painter

Date of arrival: 16 January 1938

Brigade ID: 1576

Date of departure: December 1938

Comments: Assessment: ‘Disrupter and deserter’.

First name: William Z Morrison

Birth: Wallsend on Tyne 1908

Political organisation: Communist Party

Occupation: Radio Expert

Date of arrival: 5 November 1937

Brigade ID: 1421

Date of departure: April 1938

Comments: In transmissions unit of the XV IB at Teruel. In Hospital in Barcelona with suspected appendicitis from 25 March 1938. ‘Deserted? Former Comintern radio operator in house in Wimbledon?’ 

Name: William Tattam

Place of birth: Whitburn 1907

Political organisation: Communist Party

Occupation: Miner

Date of arrival: 21 December 1936

Brigade ID: 339

Date of death: 17 July 1937

Where killed: Brunete

Comments: Believed to have died when the lorry he was riding in overturned on the way to Brunete.

‘When the British Battalion was moving up to the front at Brunete, William Tattam was sitting at the back of one of the trucks. The truck hit an obstacle in the road and William was thrown out of the truck and fell under the wheels of the following truck, he died instantly. His body was probably buried near the roadside where he was killed’.

Name: Eileen O’Shaughnessy

Place of birth: South Shields 1905

Date of arrival: 17 February 1937

Date of departure: June 1937

Comments: Worked in Independent Labour Party Office in Barcelona.

Name: Stephen Codling

Place of birth: South Shields 1907

Political organisation: Communist Party

Occupation: Lorry Driver

Date of arrival: 13 May 1937

Brigade ID: 1028

Date of death: 31 March 1938

Where killed: Calaceite

Comments: Acting commander of the British Battalion’s Communications Company. Captured at Calaceite on 31 March 1938. ‘Rumoured to have been seen in Barcelona in civilian clothes’.

 Name: Frank Antrim

Place of birth: South Shields 1904

Political organisation: Communist Party

Occupation: Auto-electrician

Date of arrival: 2 October 1937

Brigade ID: 1351

Date of departure: December 1938

Comments: Worked in Auto-Park. Believed to have trained Lewis Clive’s company in shooting and was asked to be a political commissar (information from conversation with his son).

First name: John Richardson

Place of birth: South Shields 1919

Occupation: Metal Polisher

Date of arrival: 21 May 1938

Date of departure: December 1938

Comments: Stretcher bearer. Wounded 28 July 1938. In Vich hospital 14 October. Repatriated.

Name: Arthur C P Teasdale

Place of birth: South Shields 1913

Political organisation: Communist Party

Occupation: Bricklayer

Date of arrival: 24 February 1937

Brigade ID: 872

Date of departure: 23 July 1938

Comments: Hands damaged by shrapnel. Deserted from 20th Battalion of mixed Brigade citing family difficulties. ‘Been in and out of jail in Spain. He was last arrested in Barcelona in May 1938. While in jail managed to get a bomb and set it off in the cell. He has become an enemy of the working class. He should be kept in mind as he was once a secretary of a branch in Communist Party Great Britain’. Repatriated.

Name: Samuel Thompson

Place of birth: South Shields 1916

Political organisation: Communist Party

Occupation: Miner

Date of arrival: 13 May 1937

Brigade ID: 1052

Date of departure: October 1938

Comments: A good report. ‘He was a good steady comrade, though not a brilliant brain.’ Originally believed killed, but actually taken prisoner. POW at San Pedro de Cardea

Name: John Palzeard

Place of birth: South Shields 1916

Date of arrival: 14 December 1936

Brigade ID: 625

Date of death: February 1937

Where killed: Jarama

Comments: Company runner at Las Rozas in No 1 Company.

This information was collated by IBMT archivist Jim Carmody and historian Richard Baxell between 1996 and 2016. The list drew upon a wide range of sources held in Britain, Spain and Russia, though principally those held in the International Brigade Archive in the Marx Memorial Library in London and the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History in Moscow.

http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/.

Gary Alikivi  May 2020.

 

TUNED UP – with Sound Engineer, Stu Keeble

Dingwalls was a live venue in Newcastle operating in the early ‘80s and many signed and unsigned bands played there. Pages from a 1983 diary and booking list for the venue were posted on-line and some of those pages are pictured here.

I got in touch with Stu Keeble who was sound engineer at the Newcastle venue at that time….I think my first gig at Dingwalls was John Martyn in 1983. After the venue closed and re-opened as the Bear Pit I was still the engineer. I then did 3 years with the Bay City Rollers!

Have you any road stories with the Rollers ?  Apart from the sex, drugs and rock and roll plus the large amount of whisky they consumed,  I’ve lots of stories but I’m not sure how many are fit for public consumption (laughs).

The story we remember was a nightmare journey. The van broke down on the way to Ayr in Scotland, we were about 10 miles away from the gig. We had AA cover so they came and towed us to the venue and we did the show. That wasn’t too bad but now the big problem was getting back.

I phoned my mate Barry Hodgson from Stanley in County Durham, Barry hired a 7.5 ton Ford Cargo which he drove all the way up to Ayr and towed the van back – a nightmare journey as the engine had blown up in the Transit. We hadn’t thought that the battery wouldn’t last the return trip – the lights died as we passed Carlisle.

I had to call on a friend in Haltwhistle to borrow the battery out of his Mini which just got us back. Unfortunately this was in the days before cameras in the mobile phone so there are no photos of the nightmare !

How did you get interested in sound engineering and what were your first jobs ? I was a Hi-Fi nut and loved music. I used to go to a lot of gigs, mostly names like Sabbath and The Who, but I was also into west coast American acts so bands like CSNY, Poco, America and Jackson Browne. 1979 was my first paid sound engineering job with a band called 747 in the North East workingmen’s clubs. I’d only done amateur stuff before that.

Did you engineer for any North East bands ? My first tour was with Tysondog, I also mixed for Warrior, there is a live record – For Europe Only.  I worked with Danceclass and did a few shows with the Toy Dolls in fact most North East bands even Prefab Sprout.

When you were at Dingwalls what was the plan for your day ? A day at Dingwalls would start around 11-12noon depending on the bands arrival time and how much gear they had. We would load them in – I had a stage tech called Kremen, who’s sadly no longer with us. Then sound check them once the offices upstairs in the building had finished work. We would have something to eat before it would be time for the doors to open, can’t remember when that was maybe 7.30/8.00 pm.

The gig would happen and when it finished we would get ready to pack up and load out. It would take us another hour or so to get the band out. We would get a taxi so maybe get home by 2am.

What are your highlights from your career ? As for highlights I have a few, a couple at Dingwalls/Bear Pit where Man – what a band, they were awesome, and the time Roy Harper came in with a young girl looking like he had slept in a shop doorway. He proceeded to give the young house engineer a lesson in compression, when the song is quiet it’s meant to be quiet ‘DO NOT COMPRESS MY SOUND’. That was easy to do as in the early ’80s compressors weren’t as common as they are now and we didn’t have any!

I got the call to do a Christmas party for TV show The Tube at the Jewish Mother pub in Newcastle and after setting up the system Joe Cocker turned up to sound check – that was a gig to remember.

I had the contract for the Northumbria Uni/Poly for the best part of 30 years and I was house engineer at the Astoria in London for a couple of years too. I did playback for Wet Wet Wet’s first Tube video and I appeared in Crocodile Shoes (TV drama with Jimmy Nail) as the sound engineer at the live show.

There have been a few gigs to remember over the 40 odd years but they all sort of merge into one. Friends of Harry at the Radio One roadshow in Exhibition Park, Newcastle when the mixing desk was behind the stage and I had to produce a PA mix, 5 monitor mixes and a broadcast mix was a lot of fun ! The bands single that I had mixed at High Level Studio, Newcastle was the record of the week.

Doing PA for the Queen Mother at Team Valley Trading Estate, Gateshead in 1986 was an eye opener when Special Branch wanted to look inside the speaker cabinets or Alexi Sayle at Newcastle City Hall for the miners strike in ‘84 was a laugh when he walked on stage and said hello you c@#*s and half the audience left.

But two great moments were at The London Astoria meeting and mixing for Bruce Willis and Mike and the Mechanics.

What are you doing now ? I’m still working, currently doing the Northumberland Live festival in Blyth. I’m really enjoying helping to bring quality acts to Blyth for a free festival. I’ve really enjoyed my time as a sound engineer and I wouldn’t have been happy doing anything else.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

EARTH WORKS for Teeside artist Andrew McKeown.

A current photography job I’m working on is documenting the regeneration project near the seafront in the North Marine Park, South Shields – really handy because I only live 2 minutes away. Within the building and restoration work pieces of public art are planned so I got in touch with the artist commissioned for the work…..I am currently working on designs for a large contemporary steel Beacon in North Marine Park, South Shields. The Beacon takes inspiration from the Lawe Top Beacons built in 1832. The words on the Beacon preserve maritime trade names and celebrate the character of the people of South Shields. The words and trade names have been suggested by the local community.

Do you always involve the community in a project ? Involving local communities is an essential part of my working practice. I have over 25 years of experience and knowledge in this area. For previous projects I have devised a wide range of community consultation programs involving local people and schoolchildren, from presentations through to hands on practical sculpture workshops and longer artist in residence programs. This work helps me refine ideas and sometimes new ideas are formed which develop into final sculptures.

It’s also equally important that local people have an opportunity to work together and create something positive for their community, to gain a sense of pride and ownership in the process and the final artwork. The processes involved in the engagement work is as important as the resulting artwork.

An interesting example of this approach can be seen in the sculpture ‘Breaking the Mould’ which takes the form of a giant seed which has emerged from an old industrial mould. The mould is broken and no longer useful but the last cast to be made is a new natural life form. The symbolism creates a striking resonance with the former and future uses of many of the 21 regeneration sites across England and Wales called Changing Places.

(The £60 million Changing Places program transformed 1,000 hectares of post-industrial derelict land into parks and open spaces).

Where did the idea come from ? During dialogue with East Manchester Ladies knitting group I distinctly remember writing some of the things they were saying to me, like ‘turning over a new leaf’, and ‘Breaking the Mould’ as we discussed their desire to move on and leave behind the scarred industrial landscape, changing it into a urban park and community facility through the Changing Places project.

What got you interested in art, was there a ‘wow’ moment when you saw something ? Not really, my upbringing was probably the biggest influence on that. It was a very creative upbringing.

McKeown grew up in a working class area of Middlesbrough, Teesside, UK, as the youngest in a family of four children…. We had a large garden where my father, a lifelong steelworker grew an abundance of fruit and veg. My mother was a primary school teacher and we were always building, making, cooking and exploring.

The family lived only a couple of miles away from the shipyards, coke ovens, blast furnaces and rolling mills of British Steel and the chemical plants of ICI… If we were feeling energetic, we would walk or cycle to Redcar beach or Eston Hills where iron ore was mined to fuel the industrial revolution.

At school, art was always my favourite subject and this inspired me to attend art college and then a Fine Art degree in sculpture at Coventry Polytechnic.

Following education, Andrew worked as a community artist delivering school and community based workshops and small art projects…These were low budget projects such as one-off workshop days and artist in residence projects. Gradually larger projects became available and I was able to create my own artwork with the involvement of local communities, rather than solely community generated art.

What inspires you ? The industrial processes of casting and mould making influence my work in both a practical and conceptual way. I often create multiple cast sculptures in iron, steel, bronze, aluminium and stone – these are very durable materials for external artworks.

McKeown uses recurring themes within his work of growth, change and renewal…. I like to work within the environment and this often means I have to build identity and add character to a space that has very little. Often I am working in empty fields or urban parks that only have a few shrubs and paths or working off landscape plans while looking at building sites and piles or earth.

Rather than creating one giant sculpture I often use the available budget to create a family of related sculptures that link to each other and draw your eye to the environment they are in. Other times I create entrance features that hope to draw people into a space. I prefer that people can engage with my sculptures becoming almost part of them for a brief moment.

On average how long do you work on a project for a client ? This is very hard to answer but the larger projects can be spread out over years to plan and develop. Then when it comes to manufacturing this can take as little as 2 months or if I am making patterns and moulds for casting this might take six to eight months.

Is there a satisfying moment during the art process ? I think the most satisfying time is when I have the right idea for a project. One that I know that I like and know the client and the community are going to like and buy into. This can often be the most draining and difficult process and it can take a lot of research and community work similar to the Breaking the Mould idea which came after maybe 8 months of research and community engagement.

What else are you working on ? I am currently finalizing designs for a Teeside Retail Park called ‘Rolled into One’. For this project I am engaging the local community to provide colloquial job or occupation names from the local iron and steel industry. Up to one hundred of these names will be applied to the outsides of the steel box section arms of the sculpture. There are many unique and interesting names such as Welder, Plater, Catcher, Striker, Roller, Breaker, Burner that will be used and many more. I am currently consulting the local community including my family and friends.

I’m also working on a few other projects, one called ‘Crossing Points’ for Groundwork North East River Tees Rediscovered project, another project is for Middlesbrough Council within its Creative Factory artistic interventions project – my pieces are called ‘Endless Convenience’.

Andrew lives and works in the North East of England and is available for public and private commissions throughout the U.K. and internationally.

For more information and images for previous artwork visit:

www.andrewmckeown.com

https://www.facebook.com/andrewmckeownsculptor/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

TALL STORIES

Painting with L.S.Lowry (1887- 1976)

Hanging on my wall is a fairly large (27 x 22inch) painting printed on wood – Industrial Landscape, Ashton under Lyme 1952 by L. S. Lowry. The original is in Bradford Art Gallery and Museum. I bought it in a charity shop a couple of years ago, the colours are faded as the previous owner must have placed it in direct sunlight, but still a bargain at £7.

When I first saw it I recognised the style as a Lowry – I like how he stretches everything – chimneys, buildings and people, the flat look with no shadows and how the factories fade in the background – capturing the heart and scale of industry.

Industrial Landscape by L.S. Lowry (1952).

During the ‘60s Lowry visited Sunderland and surrounding areas where he produced a number of oil paintings and sketches. In South Shields he produced The Ferry in 1967. After his visit the painting went on display in the art gallery in Sunderland.

Bill Clark, owner of the Clark Art gallery in Cheshire, bought the painting in 2010. He said: ‘Lowry was entranced by the North East and particularly by South Shields. ’The Ferry’ is one of the stand-out pieces he produced of the area in the 1960s’.

The Ferry by L.S. Lowry (1967).

Lowry used to spend short breaks at the Seaburn Hotel near Sunderland, painting and sketching scenes of the beach and nearby ports. The river Wear would be the closest to his hotel but in one sketch Tanker Entering the Tyne is a ship sailing around what could be the view from Comical Corner on the riverside near the boat builders yards on Wapping Street, South Shields. If Lowry was in Shields, is there a record of his visit ?

Born on 1st November 1887 Lawrence Stephen Lowry is on the 1911 census living at 119a Station Road, Pendlebury, Lancashire with his parents Robert, an estate agents clerk, and Elizabeth.

Lucy England, and a few year later 23 year old Alice Powell were employed by the family as domestic servants to help around the house as his mother Elizabeth had become bed ridden and dependent on her son. His father Robert died in 1932.

Lawrence worked through the day as a rent collector, then when he got home cared for his mother, only leaving time to paint through the night.

Lowry painted everyday scenes that he saw around him in England’s industrial North. ‘I never worked in a mill, it wasn’t a job I would of liked. Starting at 6 in the morning and finishing half past 5 at night. But I wanted to put the industrial scene on the map’ he said in a BBC interview in 1975.

He spent about 10 years in Art schools in Salford learning classical techniques, and though he focused on industrial scenes he produced a number of seascapes and portraits using simple materials and colours.

He had small exhibitions and his work was being noticed, but it wasn’t until aged 52 that his work was acclaimed. His mother never saw his success as she died in 1939, it deeply affected him and his work. The scenes he painted where full of people haunted with anger and pain.

Due to class snobbery his work wasn’t recognised by the self-appointed art elite in the south. The Tate Gallery held some of his work in their basement for decades, but it wasn’t until 2013 when they eventually held a Lowry exhibition.

Lowry turned down honours, O.B.E, C.B.E and a knighthood – ‘meaningless in the absence of mother’. He retired from being a rent collector at 65 and during this time visited the North East still making sketches of what he could see around him.

On 23rd February 1976 Lowry died of pneumonia at the age of 88. He had produced over 1,000 paintings and drawings and today there is an art gallery in Salford named after him housing the largest collection of his work. The world record sale for one of his paintings was for over £5 million paid for The Football Match.

Sources: Ancestry family search.

BBC News 2012 & 2013.

L.S.Lowry BBC film The Industrial Artist 1975.

 Gary Alikivi  May 2020.

 

ISOLATION BLUES

Noted members of the UK Blues and Roots community have come together to produce Songs of Isolation. A fabulous one-off 17 track compilation in aid of NHS Charity + Heroes.

Mike Rivers, promoter at The Crawdaddy Club, Richmond, London, famous for it’s connection to early gigs by the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds…Everyone involved has generously donated their songs in aid of the charity, + Heroes. A small charity set up by NHS staff helping them obtain much needed PPE, childcare, food, financial and emotional support.

In the early days of Covid 19 and the lockdown I had the idea inspired by musician Adam Norsworthy for our musician friends to create a virtual album. We asked contacts in our music community to write and record a song related to the lockdown.

To work his mastering magic we asked music producer/engineer Jon Astley (The Who, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Jools Holland) who kindly volunteered his time. The result is an album that digs deep in the sadness that we all face during these uncertain times’.

UK Blues siren Emma Wilson.

UK blues and soul siren, Emma Wilson from Teeside who has featured twice on this blog, has contributed to the album ‘I performed at The Crawdaddy a few times and promoter Mike Rivers invited me to add one of my songs. I wrote ‘Hold On’ especially for this compilation – it’s about missing my band and friends. The musicians recorded from home and the lyrics mention all the names of Club promoters where I gig, like Mike Pendergrast from Darlington, Saltburn Blues Club Harry Simpson, Pete Rafferty from Eaglescliffe and from Guisborough, Kathleen Whinyates.

The collective have zero costs so every penny will go to the charity, + Heroes. Mike explains ‘We ask for a minimum donation of £8.00, but hope that those of you who can afford it will give more generously. The music mirrors the feelings that only excellent musicians and songwriters can express in song. It is a present-day history of our times’.

The album is officially released on Friday 12th June 2020, and will be available to purchase via bandcamp HERE. A limited edition physical CD version is also planned.

Featured artists on the album are:
The Della Grants , Ash Wilson, Georgia Van Etten, Adam Norsworthy, Rick Cassman,
Frank Collins, Emma Wilson, Peter Harris, Sonja Allen, Ben Hemming, Mike Ross, Marcus Lazarus, Grange McKenna, Ian McHugh, Staff & Stew, Gareth Huggett and The Surreal Lockdown Experience. 

 Gary Alikivi   June 2020

PIT CHORUS

Interview with County Durham singer & songwriter Peter Lee Hammond.

The Queen, Margaret Thatcher and Paul McCartney walk into a bar in Easington mining town – sounds like an opening line of a joke but it’s a link to a song from deep down in the coal pits of the North East.

You might have heard of Easington, the town was used as the backdrop in the film Billy Elliott.

I asked the songwriter and ex-miner of 11 years, Pete Hammond, how did the single Living in a Mining Town come about ? Easington in County Durham used to hold a carnival every year to commemorate the mining community and I was asked to write a song in 1989. A lot of people got on board when they heard the rough version of the song and the Easington council committee wanted it to be made into a single for the town.

The song was originally recorded in The Studio in Hartlepool then mixed at Abbey Road studios in London. I went down and met Paul and Linda McCartney and was given a tour around the studio by Paul. He also showed me an easy way to play his song Blackbird.

Metro Radio, Radio Tees, Radio One and many others played the song and I done a few interviews for them.

The proceeds were to raise money for a local handicapped school, so they could get a hydro pool for the residents. The money from the song also went towards launching a music collective in the area for musicians. Many businesses donated money and it was supported by celebrities like Prince Charles, Her Royal Highness the Queen, Neil Kinnock MP and the Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher.

The Queen asked for a copy of the single to be sent to her and Maggie Thatcher sent me a signed photo of herself to auction and raise money. But no-one wanted to bid given the feelings the miners had for her, so I still have the photo at home.

Were you in a band then ? Yes at the time I was in a band called Just Us. I have won many song writing contests and awards over the years and cut album and cd’s. One prize for winning a contest was song writing lessons from the lead singer of the Strawbs, Dave Cousins, and guitarist Brian Willoughby.

What studio’s did you record in ? I recorded at Guardian Studios in Durham run by Terry Gavaghan. The studio was just in a normal street, it was two houses knocked together with no big sign saying recording studio, I thought I was at the wrong place at first until Terry answered the door.

What were your memories of the studio ? Terry was a great, down to earth kind of guy always made you feel at ease, which was good as it was my first time in a studio or recording a song for that matter. I remember the mixing room being very cramped full of equipment and a large mixing desk. But the session went smooth and the songs sounded great, Terry really knew what he was doing. We recorded three tracks there, Name on a Stone, Thomas Watson and I’m a Loner.

Terry was full of jokes and stories, one was that the studio was haunted by the ghost of a child that had been run over on the road outside the house. He also showed me a fur coat belonging to John Lennon, Terry said when he first started out he worked at Abbey Road studios, he let me take a piece of the lining and a clip of the fur as a keepsake. I have them in a frame at home.

Looking back what does the song mean to you ? The song gave the community a sense of pride when the single came out, I was very proud and honoured to have been asked to do this for the place where I was born and raised.

What are you doing now ? I still write songs and have over 1,000 up to now and record them on my own home studio. They can be heard on YouTube and my song writing Facebook page, you can find it by putting Hammy in the search bar.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2020