In the ‘90s a weekend in Newcastle Mayfair was packed with musicians thinking they’d be the next big thing. As it turns out many were short lived said Ronnie.
Bands like XLR8R had a huge local following but didn’t do much outside the area and others like Whatever and For Gods Sake were making serious in roads.
We were largely doing different stuff so it wasn’t competition, most were good friends – and still are.
What we had in The Reign was mutual respect, you need that. It’s not just about writing and recording, you’re on tour together getting up in the morning traveling all day to the next gig and repeat. So if you don’t get on, it won’t work long term.
When I was younger I was drumming in extreme metal band State of Shock. By the time I was 20 I’d played all over the country supporting bands playing great gigs. We were even lucky enough to play a session at BBC Radio One’s Maida Vale studios.
Following the demise of that band our guitarist Mark Robinson joined The Reign who had been formed by John Cook (bass, vocals) and Mick Storrie (guitar) out of the ashes of Vox Populi. They recorded a demo (Act of Penance, 1991) and got established on the underground scene.
Around this time I went to the USA, I’m lucky enough to have an older brother working in New York so I had somewhere to stay. His contacts helped me get involved jamming in the clubs.
It was a great experience, playing everything from jazz to rock n roll, meeting and playing with some famous and established players. The most amusing to me was Gerry Velez who played percussion with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. I also met a few famous folks including a few of Bon Jovi and even Nile Rodgers.
When Ronnie returned from the States he was hungry to get involved in a band again.
My intention wasn’t to play any more extreme metal, so when Mark Robinson (guitar) called me up and asked me if I’d join The Reign who were rehearsing for a tour, I was sceptical.
They had drummer problems and I presented a quick fix. I said I’d do the tour but wasn’t interested in it long term. The tour was with other unsigned bands starting in Liverpool and concluding at The Marquee in London.
But we had so much fun and played some blinding gigs that when I was asked to get involved in recording another demo I was all in.
The songs had mainly been written by John and Mick but Robbo and me brought some experience and a different dynamic to the band which helped add a bit of colour to the music.
After recording the demo management and record companies started showing an interest in the band.
We signed to a German based management company but not long after fell out with them! I don’t think we were difficult we just had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do.
After a couple of false starts The Reign eventually signed to European based Mausoleum, a subsidiary of MMS.
The line up for the first two albums was John Cook bass/vocals, Mick Storrie lead guitar, Mark Robinson rhythm guitar & Ronnie McLean drums.
We were largely dealing with the Amsterdam and Frankfurt parts of the company. They were established and had good distribution – it seemed a good move.
We recorded the debut album Embrace in December ’93 and went out on tour in Europe as support to Australian band Mortification, this was to coincide with the album release in June ’94. By then for legal reasons the band was called just ‘Reign’.
At that point we’d played everywhere in Britain numerous times so getting on the road in Europe was exciting and the chance to play bigger crowds.
The album was also released in the USA at a time when the college radio scene was big and it exploded for us. Suddenly we were topping playlists and getting immense feedback across the States.
A series of radio interviews made us think we were really onto something and we’d be on tour imminently. But we heard the record company were having financial problems and couldn’t front the money to get us over there – a real kick in the teeth.
Their immediate idea was to get another album out on the back of the vibe. This wasn’t ideal but you’re powerless when under contract to record companies.
We had a Danish management at the time and surprise, surprise, we fell out with them too. Legal paperwork and hot air led to them being out of the equation.
We decided to look after ourselves and by 1995 went into Rhythm Studios near Stratford to record album number two.
Again we made the best of the situation and Mausoleum rushed the album into the shops in America. It was released so quickly that people had bought it before we had seen the end product.
After a brief UK tour supporting Swedish band At the Gates the band decided to tour Europe again.
We got involved with a European tour manager who enabled us to get back on the road in early ’96. We were having a great time – but in the end it took its toll.
Robbo quit and was replaced and his subsequent replacement replaced! We even did two shows as a three piece before bringing in Andy Metcalf on guitar.
We saw a lot of places, from the ghettos of eastern Europe to playing in front of scary crowds of neo Nazis, all this while travelling through the beauty of the Italian and Austrian Alps with their snow-capped mountains. You can’t buy these experiences – but the gigs weren’t making us any money.
Inevitably they fell out with MMS and the band walked away free after the company were found to be in breach of contract.
Next up was Bleeding Hearts/Demolition records based in Newcastle, home of Black metal masters Venom.
They were fresh from the reformation of Venom and had money and a new recording studio in Barnard Castle. It was a difficult recording because we were not allowed to stay at the studio.
Although we were pleased with the end product – Control Over Anger (1998), again we got pretty much zero help from the record company and what was our best album, was our last.
But it didn’t stop us getting back on the road in Europe again. We saw a lot of places played a lot of great gigs and made not a bean along the way – you can’t take away the memories though.
But I felt the attitude and discipline had changed by then and I left at the beginning of 2000. The last line up we had we tried to change things by bringing in a different singer Chris Morrison, who sadly took his own life in 2006.
I also recorded with North East band Whatever on their second album Lies and Gold Dust. I believe it sold well enough in the UK and Japan, but they too had their dreams killed by record company changes. It seems so many of us did.
Looking back we pretty much ticked all the rock n roll boxes, a deceased member, one busted for a drug charge on tour and trouble in so many hotels. We got stopped by police looking for guns, drugs, everything.
We played gigs where the support band showed up with guns because they were scared of the crowds we pulled, and we drank enough foreign beer to fell a herd of rhinos – but we just ploughed on enjoying it all.
The first time experiences like hearing yourself on the radio, seeing your album in the shops, first time you hear yourself on a pub jukebox or have something on TV – as I’ve said you can’t take away those memories.
And now in my 50s I’ve never stopped playing, maybe never will. I just love playing. I’ve been on stage with so many great players. I think I’ve played Newcastle Trillians more than any other drummer. It’s almost a running joke now.
Can’t remember how many bands over the past thirty years I’ve played with in Trillians – I did five gigs last year and there’s a couple in the calendar for this year.
I think the ones that got into it for the attention, the girls, the image an’ all that, they never last. Those of us that love playing just keep going. It’s still fun.
Alikivi May 2023
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