OUT OF THE DARK in conversation with Newcastle Artist Aidan Doyle

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‘It was 1993 at Westoe Pit I was in there taking photographs. I was in there off and on over a year. The pit was ready for closure. Originally the purpose of the photo’s was to have some source material to do some paintings. But as the closure became imminent I began to take photo’s in their own right. For a record you know. I began to develop techniques by taking photo’s in very little light, all the dark spaces. I must have about 10,000 negatives or there about’s. During that time I began to collect a lot of oral testimonials from the lads and I realised what was being destroyed wasn’t just the pit’s themselves but the good humour amongst the lads. The upshot of that was I was invited to do a book with Durham County Council and that led onto a PhD at Durham University’. 

I like paintings by Bacon, Goya and Valasquez, are there any artists that you admire ? ‘I tend to lean towards Caravaggio because he uses the approach called tenebrismo where a figure emerges from the darkness. I like paintings by Tintoretto from Venice and Jack Yeats from Ireland who does more like yer everyday life. Not long ago I went to see a huge exhibition by Bacon at the Tate which left me cold, a lot was the same style’.

Do you stick to the same style ? ‘I try to remain faithful to what I’m trying to represent but if you look around I’ve got figurative stuff and now becoming a little more abstract. (shows painting) Using how the light falls on the face’.

What got you interested in drawing, was it in your family ? ‘Not really, although a cousin of mine was in Detroit and painted cars on billboards. I was about 10 year old at St Albans school in Pelaw looking out the window and seen the tar works with a puffer train going in and out the factory. The teacher sent me down the river with a great big piece of paper to draw the tar works. And for a lot of years that drawing hung on the wall in school. Then I got into drawing people which was a challenge. I worked down Westoe pit in the 1970’s then done a degree in Fine Art. I worked as an artist and labourer a lot of the time. Also worked in theatres backstage moving the scenery around, and I used to draw the actors. In 1986 I was working as the Artist in Residence at the Tyne Theatre. It had burned down and they invited me to document the re-building of the place – enjoyed that. I was also at the Ingham Infirmary in Shields for a year as Artist in Residence’. 

I met you a couple of years ago at The Central Library in South Shields what project were you working on ? ‘I was at the Library as the building was being planned for closure. I drew some residents of the town that went there. Some notorious, others not so haha. I also collected a few testimonies from there. They invited me back to draw and paint the building of the new library, The Word. That was great to watch the construction of it especially during the winter. I did a bit of live drawing but worked a lot from photographs. The men and women working there would stop and smile for the photo. It was nice they photocopied the drawings, blew them up and stuck them around the site’.

 

Have you got anything planned that’s coming up soon? ‘Some of the negatives from the pit are being put in an archive at the refurbished St Hilda Pit Head in South Shields. The Heritage Lottery have funded the refurbishment. It was one of the last pits working on the Tyne. Well I’ve done what I originally set out to do that’s make 100 or so oil paintings from my mining photographs and that’s created a body of work. It would be great to exhibit the paintings in other mining areas around the world. Plus, I can make applications to the mining museums around the country to show the work. I was always shown kindness from the lads in the pit so I have to do right by them, play fair ya’ knaa’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2018.

SECRETS & LIES – New documentary about Baron Avro Manhattan

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As the blog hits 35,000 views Journalist Peter French wrote in The Shields Gazette 7th August 2018….The life and times of Avro Manhattan, an Italian born Baron whose artwork and writing made him friends and enemies throughout the world, and who chose to spend his final years, living with his wife in South Shields are truley fascinating. But don’t take my word for it – let the man himself revael to you all about it’.

To read the story go to…www.shieldsgazette.com/lifestyle/nostalgia/hit-man-s-target-settled-in-south-shields-1-9288202

Or watch the documentary ‘SECRETS & LIES’ posted on 17th July 2018.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.

LIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN – in conversation with writer and TV producer Peter Mitchell

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Peter Mitchell

‘Who shall have a fishy on a little dishy. Who shall have a fishy when the boat comes in’….lyrics to the opening tune from the TV series ‘When the Boat Comes In’ which first broadcast in January ’76. Hearing the song it had a whiff of a twee sunday afternoon show playing straight after The Big Match and before Little House on the Prairie. I never saw it when it first hit our TV screens, was too busy watching The Sweeney. But after catching it a few years ago the little twee telly show was actually a hard hitting drama. It deals with the reality of a soldier (Jack Ford played by James Bolam) returning from the 1st World War and his struggles with poverty and politics in the fictional town of Gallowshield in the North East of England. The first episode ‘A Land fit for Heroes and Idiots’ set’s the tone… ‘In series one there were 13 scripts in which my dad wrote 7. His creation, his characters, with other writers during the series. I was 16 and first watched it with my mother. That first episode was quality drama. My mother turned to me and said ‘You better go and ring your dad because he’s just done something remarkable’. The programme was created by South Shields born James Mitchell and now his son Peter is adapting the show for theatre…’The play is based on series one and begins with Jack returning from the war where he meets the Seaton family, Jessie and Billy trying to get him involved in politics, he falls in love with Jessie and the problems he gets into when dealing with industrial strikes’.

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South Shields born Writer, James Mitchell.

Is there anybody out there today in business, political or celebrity world that you could compare to Jack Ford ?  ‘Do you know nobody has asked me that before. (Slight hesitation)….Well I’m not sure I should say this but…. I would say Donald Trump. (Both laugh)…Because love him or hate him. Trump can hold an audience. Massive ambition. Massive selfishness. What other people might call focus. Great desire for more to the extent of not really caring about the consequences. A winner, an influencer, a persuader. I would say there’s a little bit of Jack inside Donald Trump’.

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Jack Ford played by James Bolam.

Does the play reveal more about Jack ?  ‘He served all the way through the war and became staff seargant but still didn’t have enough so signed up again. He joins the North Russia Expidicary Force where he goes to Murmansk and does an extra year. It tells you a lot about Jack. He’s alone the minute he comes back. All the friends he’s got are the one’s he made in the army. This is a man who has found a family in war and really the only thing he is good at, is war. He interacts with mates, union men, the upper crusts, politicians, a full spectrum of society. He has learnt to fit in with any group but I don’t think he knows where he belongs. All he knows is how to survive in any given circumstance. He see’s a chance and takes the opportunity. You know it’s live for today and tomorrow you might die which is something you learn when you are in the trenches for four years’. 

The TV show aired on BBC1 and at it’s peak reached audiences of 15 million, with all 4 series available on DVD. Do the actors realise the enormity of what they are taking on ? ‘The cast are great, they are all young, as were the soldiers coming back from war. What is impressive is the energy and passion that they are bringing. We had research and development, a read through, started rehearsals and in them I have seen new things brought to the play helped with Katy’s vision as director. This is all Tyneside people, I’ve been massivly impressed. There’s a great team working their socks off down there and that makes me feel good on behalf of my dad. There will be a lot of people like you who have seen it on TV or DVD and there will be an element of expectation. But I want to go on a slightly new journey in the way it’s delivered. What’s been lovely for me was working with Katy Weir the Director because I’ve seen some of her work before and really enjoyed it. When we met I was very impressed with some of her ideas and I was very keen to have a woman direct because a woman has never directed When the Boat Comes In. In the 70’s when it was made there were no female directors in television and the series is full of very powerfull women characters’.

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The Seaton family with Jack in uniform.

I can confirm that. Some of the stand out performances of the TV show are with women holding court. Just check the performances from Jean Haywood playing Bella Seton, her daughter Jessie played by Susan Jameson and Rosalind Bailey who plays Sarah Headley. The writing and performances never drop pace. In season 4 episode 2 contains an outstanding scene with Sarah and Jack where she tells him her husband and his best mate Matt has died….’Yes I love her character, Rosalind is a great actress. Excellent on the show. It’s been really interesting to revisit again and work out the characters with the same basic arc of the story but transform it onto the stage. Mechanics of stage are different to what I’ve been used to as my background is in journalism and television’. 

How did you get interested in writing and eventually working in TV? ‘Well I’m a Shields lad who went to the Grammer school. Unfortunately my parents divorced in 1966 so I was travelling down to London on weekends to see my dad who was a published author by then. My mam Norma was a school teacher in Shields and looked after me and my brother Simon. She never re-married, it was her and her boys you know. My mam was a wonderful, devoted woman and a natural born teacher. Plus a great actress. She performed at The Peoples Theatre in Newcastle, also at the Westovians and met my father at Cleadon Village Amaetur dramatic club. They both had a love of the arts so there was a bit of showbiz in my life from when I was young. But I was really interested in journalism so after University I got a job at a weekly newspaper in Chesire, then an evening paper in Carlisle. A few years later I was in London freelancing for national papers and researching for London Weekend Television. Then I saw an advert for a researcher at Tyne Tees TV, applied and got it. Great times there and worked on screen drama, mostly documentary then promoted to Director of programmes until I left in 1997. Then I was at Zenith North where programmes like Byker Grove and Dale’s Diarys were made – loved working on that. Then had my own production company and done a bit of media consultancy work. My career path has always been about screen work so theatre is a new challenge finding out how it all works’. 

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During the TV series some scenes were shot outside The Customs House in South Shields and that’s where the play is being performed…’Yes it’s come home in many ways, very pleased about that. Ray Spencer (Director at Customs House) and I talked about the possibility 4 years ago and I was going to write a treatment for it. Then a London based production company were interested in buying the rights. While we were negotiating with them we couldn’t go forward with the theatre side. They took out an option with a time limit but never did anything with it, never commisioned any scripts. So when the time expired I rang Ray back up and said how about we look at it again. The timing feels right, it’s 100 years after the war. He said great let’s do it’.

‘When the Boat Comes In’ is on from Thursday 16th – Saturday 25th August for tickets contact   https://www.customshouse.co.uk/theatre/when-the-boat-comes-in/

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

ZAMYATIN: THE RUSSIA – TYNESIDE CONNECTION. Making the video.

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Diary entry 12th December 2016: Reading a post by Leslie Hurst on the Orwell Society blog, a possible link between Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin, author George Orwell and his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Zamyatin was an author also on Tyneside in 1916 to supervise the building of icebreakers for the Russian Navy. Looked into this and found Zamyatin an interesting character and worth following up. 

Monday morning jumped on a metro to Newcastle City Library to check out Zamyatins link to Tyneside. Got the lift up to the local history section on the 6th floor and asked the library assistant if they had any material about him. She came back from the archive with three pieces of information, dates and index number. There was a local biography note, a page from Alan Myers book ‘Myers Literary Guide to the North East’ and a date of an article in the Journal from September 19th 1988. These were all photocopied. 

Within 20 minutes I had found what I was looking for. Normally in local history there is a bit searching, photocopy runs out of paper, the microfiche is difficult to thread and its running slow etc., but no it all went very smoothly.

Then went out into the town with grey skies and spit of rain. Over the road I caught sight of some graffitti. I had my small Canon camera with me so nipped over and took a few pics. The slogans were on the back of a muti storey car park with small slits for windows. Brutal architecture. Very East European. Amongst the slogans was a red hammer and sickle ! Went straight to Waterstones and bought a copy of his novel ‘We’.

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While working on this blog during 2017 I put aside the Zamyatin project untill I had more time. Then in May this year started to fully research and write the script. 

Diary entry 4th June 2018: Got on the metro to Jesmond and found the address where Zamyatin was living when he worked on Tyneside. As I went to knock on the door the owner walked up the path behind me. That was fortunate. Introduced myself and told her what I was there for. We talked for 10 minutes about Zamyatin then exchanged contacts. Took photo’s outside the house and the blue plaque on the wall. Then walked about 5 mins to St Andrews Cemetery to see the headstone of Eileen, Orwell’s wife. The grave is in good nick with a few flowers planted nearby. Did Eileen have any contact with Zamyatin ?

A short script was put together using A Soviet Heretic by D.J.Richards. The voice over’s were recorded at The Customs Space  studio in South Shields. Tyneside actor’s Iain Cunningham  with Jonathan Cash adding the voice of Zamyatin. Again, as on many projects North East musician John Clavering captured the mood.

The finished story of ‘Zamyatin – The Russia-Tyneside Connection’ can be seen here. To see more documentaries you can subscribe to my channel on You Tube.

 

Gary Alikivi July 2018.

WORKING MAN with North East UK drummer Micky Kerrigan

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Who were your influences in music ?  ‘I was inspired in my early years by classical and jazz, in particular big band jazz including Cuban big band musicians like Stan Kenton, also Louis Bellson, The Buddy Rich Big band and Billy Cobham. My main focus was on Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Nice, Rush, Queen and Heavy Metal bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer. I was also really fascinated by Liberty Devitto (Billy Joels drummer)’.

How did you get interested in playing music ?  ‘I guess, just listening to the sheer power behind Carl Palmers playing. Then late one night on TV I watched Jazz at the Philharmonic and saw Louis Bellsons drum solo. It just blew me away. Gob smacked and shaking. Also watching Liberty Devitto playing on Billy Joels concert from Leningrad was pretty special. The more I listened to Rush and The Proffessor, made me really want to define what style I wanted to play as a rock drummer’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ?  ‘I started playing around the age of 11 and played all throughout my teen years. But then joined the RAF at 17 and left the drum sticks behind. It was about 8 years later I met a couple of musicians on the base and we put a rock covers band together. I came out of the RAF after 9 years in 2001 and began to focus on music again, playing with a few local blues musicians from the County Durham area and attending a few jams. Then I got the gig with The Force around 2002 replacing Franco Zuccaroli (Jack Bruce etc). I guess being asked to headline Newcastle City Hall with The Force was quite nerve racking and special. We went on to play other huge crowds like the motorbike rally Storming the Castle. Although The Force played mainly local gigs, I decided to branch out and after parting from the band I put my own 3 piece Rush tribute together and more recently Deep Purple in Rock. At the same time I played with Iron Maiden tribute Maiden England’.

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‘At this time I was asked if I wanted to audition for Blitzkreig – I jumped at the chance. After recording Back from Hell, a couple of world tours and 3 years later we parted ways. Last year (2017) I was asked to play a 55 minute set in Sao Paulo, Brazil with the brilliant NWOBHM band Tysondog which was surreal. I was picked up from the house, taken to Manchester airport and flown to Sao Paulo via New York. Done the gig. Then back via New York and Atlanta to Manchester before being dropped off at home. All within 4 days. Leading up to this point I had already played on a couple of European tours with Blues Hall of Fame musicians Sweet Suzi and John Puglisi from Long Island in New York. I continue to play in New York with various musicians and I’m a regular visitor. God I even pick up the accent ha ha. I’m now a regular session player in New York and jam regularly with some of Billy Joels past and present band members. That’s pretty defining so far right….ha ha’.

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What are your experiences of recording/studio work ?  ‘This is an area, I actually don’t have a great deal of experience in. I’ve recorded a few albums with local musicians but you would have to say my main recordings to date are live shows and The Back from Hell studio album, with Blitzkrieg’.

Have you recorded any TV appearences or filmed any music videos ? ’Im sure there are lots of bootleg dvds of Blitzkrieg. I wouldn’t know where any of those copies were though, ahem…. haha. There is a documentary on You Tube following part of one of our tours’.

Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ’Far too many to mention, but it usually involves silly behaviour and alcohol. My most recent one involves arriving at JFK airport from Sao Paulo en route to Manchester. I had 5 hours, so I met up with a friend, who shall remain anonymous, who picked me up from the airport when I arrived at 08.30. I’d taken some minature gins from the flight and something to smoke. It was great fun especially when her car runs out of gas on the outside lane of the southern state parkway, pushing it across 4 lanes baked was really funny. My defining moment then after being rescued and going to a diner was thinking I was on a boat when we were nowhere near any water ! Anyway we parted ways and I continued my onwards travel bound for Atlanta, Georgia. Like I say I have plenty of great stories to tell, but we would need a few hours and a good bottle of Scotch to go on.’ 

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What are your future plans in music ? ’I’ll continue to play in New York around the UK, and Europe with some amzing musicians I’ve met there. However the big news is, I’ve just joined brand new Prog rock band Stuckfish who’s brand new album, Calling has just been released and has a great write up by Dave Ling of Classic Rock mag amongst others. Calling features on the front cover of Prog Rock magazine next month (August 2018). The album is also at number two in an Austrailian rock chart. So watch this space for tour dates’. 

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross SATAN/BLITZKREIG: Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Jim Clare : Stormy Daze 2nd August 2017.

Tysondog: Back for Another Bite 5th August 2017.

WRITING ON THE WALL In conversation with North East music journalist, broadcaster & producer Ian Ravendale

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Ian Penman has been a television and radio presenter, researcher, producer and journalist for more than 30 years, generally writing as Ian Ravendale to avoid confusion with the Ian Penman formerly of the NME. He returned to music journalism (and Ian Ravendale) seven years ago writing for Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Vintage Rock, AOR, Vive Le Rock, Iron Fist, Blues Matters, American Songwriter, The Word and many more. Ian has interviewed literally thousands of musicians from multi-millionaire rockstars to local indie bands on the dole…‘I worked in television for Border, Tyne Tees, Channel 4 and also ran River City Productions an independent production company based in Gateshead. In addition to making lots of local programmes I also worked on national music shows including Get Fresh, Bliss and (to a lesser extent) The Tube. The Tube was shot at Tyne Tees Television’s Studio 5 on City Road in Newcastle. The site is now a Travel Lodge! It was interesting going to the canteen on recording day for shows like shows like Razzmatazz  and The Tube and seeing who was in. I remember standing behind Phil Everly as he got his cod and chips!’ 

‘The music programmes I worked on were mainly produced by Border Television in Carlisle and I spent a lot of time there in the 1980’s. At Tyne Tees I worked mainly in the Arts and Entertainment department. Anything different or off the wall it would usually be me doing it. We produced a programme about rock poetry, presented by Mark Mywurdz, who at the time was a Tube regular. For some reason Mark wanted to present the programme just wearing a raincoat. Nothing underneath! After we finished recording the show one of the camermen came up and congratulated me; ‘That was the biggest load of rubbish I’ve seen in my life!’  I did a lot of alternative stuff. Some was challenging but none was rubbish!’

Talking about alternative stuff, can you remember Wavis O’Shave ? ‘He had a number of names – Wavis, Fofffo Spearjig, Rod Stewart, Pans Person. When I was writing for Sounds he saw me as a way in as the paper liked the off-beat stuff. He was a great self publicist. And still is! He once told me about getting £1,000 out of the News of the World for a tip-off about a forthcoming witches coven scheduled for Witton Gilbert-or wherever Wavis said it was!’ 

What can you remember about working on Get Fresh ? (kids 1986-88  morning weekend TV show produced by the regional ITV companies taking it in turns for Saturday and Border producing all the Sunday editions). ‘For Get Fresh and Bliss, Border’s 1985 summer replacement for The Tube, most of the guests came up to Carlisle the night before so I’d take them out. People like Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible from The Damned. We’d go into the music pubs and clubs around Carlisle and people would love seeing them there. Rat got up a few times to play with some of the local bands. When I met him I said ‘What do I call you?’ (His real name is Chris Miller). (Adopts cockney accent) ‘Just call me Rat’. So I did. Nice guy. At the time he was really hoping to get the drum job with The Who, as Keith Moon had recently died. Didn’t happen, unfortunately.’

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Bliss was presented by Muriel Grey and produced in Carlisle by Janet Street-Porter. We featured live bands, got them to play for half an hour, used two songs on the weekly show, then repackage the 30 minutes for a Bliss In Concert special. There wasn’t that much going on in Carlisle at the time so we had no problem getting local kids in as the audience. One week we didn’t have a live band and I’d got an advance copy of the famous animated video for Take On Me by A-Ha, who at that point were totally unknown. Graham K Smith, the other music researcher and I thought it was really good so I rang their record company to see if A-Ha were available and importantly if they could play live. A resounding ‘Yes, they can do it’ was the answer. Bliss was aimed at a teenage audience so A-ha would have fitted in perfectly. Janet-Street Porter comes in and looks at the video and goes (adopts cockney accent) ‘Oh no, that’s art school stuff, it’s boring. Draggy!’. Border TV could have had half an hour of A-Ha playing live in concert for the first time in the UK. But no. The band she booked instead were King Kurt, a well-past their sell-by date punk band. So up they come in their ratty old bus with dogs on pieces of string and a stage act that consisted of throwing slop at each other. We – or rather Janet – turned down what became one of the biggest bands of the eighties’.

When you were reviewing gigs in the early 1980’s for Sounds were there any bands that surprised you or were disappointed with ? ‘It took me a while to ‘get’ punk. I was never into the boring British blues bands and prog acts which still show-up on the BBC’s compilations of 70’s rock. With the exception of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band who I liked. When punk came along it started to make more sense. I was also into what is now classed as Americana. Along with more-left field bands like Sparks and Be-Bop Deluxe.’

I’m reading the book ’No Sleep till Canvey Island -The Great Pub Rock Revolution’ the book mentions the early careers of Joe Strummer, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello…’There were bands that were like a doorway between punk and the boring rock bands and Brinsley Schwarz, with Nick Lowe were one of them. I saw them play Backhouse Park, here in Sunderland. Dr Feelgood were another. I saw The Damned support Marc Bolan at Newcastle City Hall and it was a short, sharp, shock. And I thought; ‘OK. What was that…?’ Phil Sutcliffe, my predecessor at Sounds did an interview with The Damned for Radio Newcastle’s Bedrock show that we both worked on. It was 30 seconds long and finished off with someone shouting ‘Oi! Who put duh lights out’!

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The big article you wrote for Sounds in May 1980 featured local metal bands Mythra, Fist, Raven, Tygers of Pan Tang and White Spirit. How did that come about ? ‘I was freelancing at Sounds, writing articles and reviewing gigs, some of which were of local bands. I was also working on the Bedrock programme and one of my co-presenters was Tom Noble who was managing the Tygers. I’d already written individual articles about the Tygers, Fist and Raven and Geoff Barton, the assistant editor at Sounds asked me to source a few more bands for a 4,000 word article. The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ was born!’

NWOBHM had Iron Maiden in London, Saxon in Barnsley and Def Leppard in Sheffield…. ‘Yes. As a reviewer I went as far as Redcar. A lot of the local bands I reviewed were from here in Sunderland, Newcastle and South Shields. Sounds also had a guy called ‘Des Moines’, a pseudonym for a writer from Leeds called Nigel Burnham who is now an agricultural journalist and Mick Middles, based in Manchester. Between the three of us we had the north covered. One time the Tygers of Pan Tang were supporting Saxon and I’d gone along. I’d previously written a review of Saxon which included something along the lines of ‘in six months time they’ll be back playing social clubs’. At the gig Tygers’ guitarist Robb Weir came up and said ‘Biffs lookin’ for you!’. Fortunately he didn’t find me….Not yet, anyway.’

Was there any conflict between watching a band that you weren’t a fan of and writing something positive about them ? ‘Geoff never said to me, ‘We’ve got a big metal readership here can you go easy on them?’ He never wanted me to do that. But I found metal bands easy to take the piss out of – and I did. This stimulated very angry letters like ‘How dare Ian Ravendale slag off Ozzy. I’ve seen him and he was great’. I remember my opening line of a review I did of Ozzy, ‘What I want to know is how is Ozzy Osbourne so cabaret’. I interviewed him a few times for Bedrock but my interviewees tended not to click onto the fact that ‘Bedrock’s Ian Penman’ was also sharp-tongued Sounds scribe Ian Ravendale. One time a few years after the Sounds ‘cabaret’ comment I was working at Tyne Tees and on the Friday Ozzy was playing The Tube. The Arts and Entertainment office was next door and I saw him in the corridor looking lost.  So I went up to him and said ‘Hi Ozzy, The Tube office is just over there’. He thanked me and then said ’I’ve met you before haven’t I’. He still remembered me from the radio interviews we’d done’.

How did you get interested in writing ? ‘As a teenager I was a huge music fan and also into American comics. I wrote for a few comic fanzines then published some of my own which occasionally still turn up on Ebay. That gave me an insight into writing for public consumption’. 

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The Bedrock team with Ian sitting on the right.

What about radio? You were involved in Bedrock for nearly ten years…‘Dick Godfrey was producing a programme called Bedrock for BBC Radio Newcastle which featured interviews from national and gave local bands exposure which was otherwise very hard for them to get at the time. I had always been interested in the nuts and bolts of the music industry and how it all worked and listened to programmes like Radio 1’s Scene And Heard. Dick had a feature called Top Track where each week a different listener would come in and play his favourite track and talk about it. ‘Some Of Shellys Blues’ by Michael Nesmith was my choice. This went down well with Dick so I asked if he’d be interested in me contributing features. ‘Yes but there’s no cash involved’. Nesmith was soon going to be playing in the UK and I was going along to the gig so I asked Dick if Bedrock be interested in me trying to get an interview with him. ‘Definitely’ replied Dick. So I phoned a record label I’d heard Michael was about to sign to and they gave me his hotel number. As ‘Ian Penman from BBC Radio Newcastle’ I arranged an interview, which I did a couple days later in London, the day after the gig. That was my start in radio’. 

How did you start with Sounds? ‘Phil Sutcliffe, who was the North East correspondent for Sounds, was a friend of Dick Godfrey and also worked on Bedrock. When Phil moved to London he recommended me to Geoff Barton, Sound’s reviews editor, to be his replacement. Phil wrote a lot about the Angelic Upstarts, he liked the music but also had a sympathetic ear to what they were doing. He wrote the first articles about them. Same for Penetration, Neon and Punishment of Luxury. I’d also been involved in the music fanzine Out Now which Tom Noble had produced, so I was becoming pretty proficient at interviewing and writing reviews. I was out at gigs four nights a week and was known enough to be able to walk straight into Newcastle City Hall via the stagedoor. This put me in touch with Tyne Tees TV and when a researcher vacancy came up I applied for that, got it and carried on at Sounds for a short while. I also wrote a few pieces for Kerrang, which Geoff Barton had moved across from Sounds to edit. I wrote the first article on Venom. Yes, I’m responsible for Black Metal.

Then as now, my attitude was regardless whether I liked the music or not if I could write something positive about local bands, and it was a entertaining ….I’ll do that. If you write something negative about a local band you could do them major harm. Also, a person in Aberdeen doesn’t want to know whether a band from South Shields are crap. Why would they?’

For the work that you were doing how important do you think research is? ’Some writers think of an idea then write a piece in support of that. I don’t do that. For me it’s about the facts and information presented in an interesting way. Opinions and personal taste are what they are. Maybe you like a band that I don’t. That’s fine.  But facts stand. I do my absolute level best to write as accurately as possible. It’s really important for me to do that. Sometimes information comes from two or three sources. And if the information is contradictory, I’ll say that’. 

Any memorable incidents in your career ? ’I interviewed Debbie Harry at Newcastle City Hall when Blondie had just broken big. We were in one of the really small dressing rooms. It was tiny. The record rep said ‘Ok Ian you got seven minutes’. He introduced me to Debbie who was standing with her back to me. She was leaning on a shelf writing stuff down. I said ‘Writing out the song lyrics ?’ She replied ‘Yeah, well I don’t really know them from the new album yet’. It felt a bit awkward. I literally spent the next three minutes just watching her writing with her back to me, stunning in her jumble sale collection of clothes. Eventually she sat down and off we went. All of this was fairly new to her, she had just been playing CBGB’s (small club in New York) and now it was to gigs with 2,000 fans like the City Hall. She was trying to get used to all this Debbie-fever that was going on around her. By minute seven we were finally getting somewhere and she was opening up when the record rep walked in ‘Right Ian. Times up!’

I did actually interview the solo Debbie on the phone for Get Fresh nine years later and she was much more forthcoming.  (The  City Hall interview is on Rocks Backpages if you fancy a listen. RB is a paysite but there’s lots and lots of great stuff up there).

For more information contact : http://ianravendale.blogspot.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

ROLL AWAY THE STONES – interview with musician Nick Reeves

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‘During the 80’s I saw Sex Gang Children, Southern Death Cult, Play Dead….wore pan stick, took drugs, sniffed glue, learned to cut hair, got drunk, saw bands, had girlfriends, got on with it. Randomly met Ariel Bender aka Luther Grosvenor (I cut his hair as I had become a hairdresser by then). Became mates. He lent me a guitar and showed me some chords – I took a lot of acid around this time and, sadly, one night, painted the neck board of the guitar in a series of patterns that I thought would help me play better! Fell out with Ariel Bender. Didn’t play much better. By 1990 became friends again with Ariel. Played better. Wrote early songs’.

Any stories from your early gigs ? ‘In ’92 I formed Gorgeous Space Virus. Played The Marquee in London several times. Supported GWAR & Thin White Rope & Smashing Pumpkins’ first UK tour. All kinda blurry. Always on the verge of getting that elusive deal….never happened. One night we drove to Bridlington from London to play a gig. We used to use a lot of smoke machines and this set of the smoke alarms before the end of the first song. The fire brigade and police were called and we were banned from the venue. Drove home. Got chucked out of GSV. Late 90’s formed cassettes and supported The Fall in 2007 over a five night residency at Croydon Cartoon club. That was weird. And ACE!’

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How did cassettes come about ? ’I found myself in 2004 falling out the arse end of another love story, dossing in a mate’s garden shed. I wrote and recorded on a trusty Tascam 4 track what became cassettes’ (small c, no definitive) first album, Old Vinyl & UFO Kids. It was initially a way to pass time and exorcise some ghosts. I was living in Croydon at the time and started playing acoustic gigs with a drum machine and mini disc backing. They were quite drunken affairs. Sat on the floor, surrounded by fairy lights and a kinda grail of old photos. Plus a three foot, brown plastic rendition of the 3 wise monkeys that I had bought as a joke in Norfolk some years before. The monkeys stood upon each other’s head and were a bizarre toilet roll holder – a truly hideous thing! It’s funny the things one saves from broken relationships. I pressed up 100 copies of Old Vinyl & UFO Kids onto cd, art worked myself and numbered the lot and gave them away at gigs. Over the summer I was offered the chance to play some gigs with noise oiks Ten Foot Nun and lo-fi troubadour Superman Revenge Squad in London so I got an early full version of cassettes together and formed a band around a nucleus of mates’.

When did you first get interested in music ? ’We lived in Dorset during the 70’s and my folks had a radiogram that sat in the front room. One day I peered inside and a whole new world opened up. My early influences were Sgt.Pepper, Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Faces, Getz & Gilberto and Dionne Warwick. When I was 12 I found a transistor radio on the way home from school and listened to Stuart Henry on Radio Luxemburg under the bed sheets. This would be 76/77. Ramones, Rezillos, Clash, The Flys, Dr.Feelgood, Tyla Gang, Graham Parker, Sex Pistols….This was the defining moment for me. The moment I saw a (no) future. Hitch hiked to Exeter to see 999. Discovered John Peel…taped furiously! In 1979 the band Martian Schoolgirls’, formed by ex-roadie of The Clash, released a single ‘Life in the 1980s’. This, and mail-order music company (COBB Records) sealed the deal for me. This was what I was going to do – if I could’.

‘We moved to Croydon in 1979 after our house burned down. It was as if I’d landed in the future. We had come from a West Country village. Saw early Killing Joke, Theatre of Hate (met Boy George, lover of Kirk Brandon before he was famous). My folks hung around (somehow…well, they were local) with Status Quo and at 16 I baby sat the Quo kids…and so was allowed to listen to Francis Rossi’s and Bob Young’s record collection (taped furiously!) – discovered Ry Cooder. Joined some school bands none of which ever got off the ground, although a tape has turned up recently of a dreadful song’. 

Who were (are) your influences ? ‘Ray Davies, Patti Smith, Dylan, Bowie, Lowfeye, Ry Cooder, George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov, PIL, Ian Dury, Picasso, Lou Reed, Killing Joke, Graham Greene and, yknaa, all the good folk’.

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What you been up to in the last couple of years ? ‘In 2014 moved to South Shields. Recorded a complete version of Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks in the broom cupboard. Then 2017 moved over the river Tyne to Whitley Bay. Got involved in local Busker scene. Lost my job. Met local legends Mike Waller, Alan McCulloch, Phil Mitchell, Your Casket Or Mine. Recorded Somme Girls at home. Met John E Thornton, Hannah Brown & Brad McVay and formed Clown Electrics. We’re ganna kick it all around the Bay Area all summer 2018. Play some gigs, record an album and split up so Hannah can go back to university in the autumn, or the Fall as our American cousins would have it.

Over the years cassettes recorded albums – some as solo ventures, some as a band or whoever was around at the time. Some were recorded at home, some studio ventures if money allowed’.

Old Vinyl & UFO Kids (2004.) – Planet of The Tapes 001 –  four track recording 100 copies.

Rain Later, Good (2007) – Planet of The Tapes 002 – 16 track studio recording 100 copies.

Bell Hill (2009) – planet of the tapes 003 – 8 track cassette recording 100 copies.

Wizard of Was (2010) planet of the tapes 004 – studio EP.  100 copies.

God’s Trousers (2012)- planet of the tapes 005 – home recorded EP 50 copies.

When Bowie Had English Teeth (2012) – planet of the tapes 006 – studio 200 copies.

West Country (2013) – split 10” vinyl single with Magic Brother – Onomatopoeia records.

Blood On The Tracks (2015) – reworking of Dylan’s album – 100 copies.

Somme Girls (2018) – planet of the tapes 007 – 50 handmade CDs/digital download.

And that’s the story so far…..

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

Mond Cowie, Angels of the North, March 12th 2017.

Neil Newton, All the Young Punks, June 4th 2017.

Wavis O’Shave, Felt Nowt, 6th June 2017.

Lowfeye, POW (album review) December 15th 2017.

PIANO WORKS – interview with North East singer & songwriter Jen Stevens

You played at the South Tyneside Summer Festival this year how did that go ? ‘I was supporting Pixie Lott and it went really well. There were around 12,000 there. Also played there in 2012 supporting Scouting for Girls with a similar sized crowd. We had just brought out an album then and that gig definitely helped sales and local recognition.’

When did you get into music ? ‘I started playing piano when I was four, my dad and my brother where both playing at the time. And I sang in the church choir. I had piano lessons by two doddery old women who charged 40p per lesson and if I got it wrong they used to whack me over the knuckles with a metal ruler! Singing lessons at school and college followed. Then at Uni I studied Jazz and Contemporary music. When I was young I listened to what tapes my dad was playing in the car. Bob Dylan, Queen, Eagles and Dolly Parton. As I got older I wasn’t really into to boy bands, and  Fleetwood Mac are my favourite’.

What is your process of songwriting ? ‘I’ve got a massive list of song ideas on my phone. I can overhear a snippet of conversation on the bus, or I’ll sit at the piano and put a few chords together, it changes song to song where I get ideas from. Sometimes I write using another character or a lot of imagery and metaphors. After my mum died in 2012 we found some poetry that she had written. Really good stuff mixed with swearing and the odd fart joke ha ha. But I took inspiration from it all. I wrote a song ‘Child of Earth’ for my mum’s funeral, it’s an uplifting song with words taken from bits of poetry that she wrote in the hospice. Some people have said the song calms down their kids when they are throwing a tantrum. Mum would of loved that. A song she had a part of writing in, calming kids down – because she loved kids – a real mother earth. More recent songs tend to be based around mental health issues and bereavement. Recently a guy got in touch and said he liked the stuff I was doing around mental health and he really opened up. He told me that he has made an appointment with a doctor to talk through his problems. Well that’s amazing – if somebody feels they can seek help after listening to my music…that’s a pretty good feeling’.

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‘I have a song based around mental health called ‘Gravity’. After my mum died my whole world went tits up. My marriage broke down and I quit my job teaching due to stress and anxiety. If I was depressed, Mum would be the one to get me through it. I relied heavily on her, but now she was gone. Everything came to a head when one night I went to the beach, very much alone. My phone rang and it was my dad. He didn’t know how down I was. I never told him why I was there. But we had a talk and put the world to rights. He said at the end ‘Right, little one, are you ready to go home?’ And I was. So ‘Gravity’ was a turning point where, yes, I’ve been through a lot of crap, but I’m still here. The main chorus lyric is ‘Would a rose still smell as sweet without the darkness of the street,’ meaning, would I be the person I am today if I hadn’t been through that?  I wasn’t going to be pulled down again. I’m on the up. It was a real turning point. ‘Gravity’ was originally a piano ballad on my album ‘Little One’ but the band re-arranged it. (Tony Pottinger, bass, Adam Barnes, drums, Aaron Dixon-Cave, guitars). We put a video together with our friends holding up cards with quotes on about their personal journey through mental health. As the song progresses they hold up more positive quotes, followed by embraces with their nearest and dearest. We didn’t let them know beforehand that they’d be getting a cuddles, so the responses on camera were genuine. There are some really lovely moments in it. When we watched it back there wasn’t a dry eye in the house’.

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Would you consider selling your songs to another artist ? ‘If you asked me five years ago I would of said absolutely not. I’ve always been precious about my songs. But I look at other well known artists and find they were songwriters at first selling their songs. So yeah I think it would be a viable way to go. Once I’ve written, recorded and played a song, it’s out there. People listen to the words, maybe like the music…but it’s gone, it’s out there.’

What do you think about crowdfunding ? ‘As a kid I wasn’t allowed to go trick or treating or carol singing because my parents saw it as begging. So I’ve grown up with this thing in my head that you should sustain yourself. But music is changing because of downloads, Spotify, YouTube bringing out a new platform, i-tunes changing next year… So less money is going in the pocket of the artist which results in less money to put into future production. So now crowdfunding is a sort of viable way to go in as much as it’s just a different way for an audience to give back. I’ve been thinking about it for the next album. I am lucky that I have access to a grand piano and my other half is an excellent producer – he worked on the last album. There’s less demand for physical product now, with streaming and downloads taking over. So obviously these things keep costs a little lower, but it’s necessary to put a lot of money into advertising etc. the way things are in the music industry right now. But I still prefer to have the physical product of a CD or vinyl. I grew up buying cassettes at Woolworths, pouring over the lyrics and notes on the bus on the way home. I love listening to a record as opposed to something on Spotify in the background’.

What does music mean to you ? ‘Everything. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for music. I can turn around a bad day by sitting down at the piano for a couple of hours. Music has saved me’.

For more information, music and live dates contact the official website: 

https://www.jenstevens.co.uk 

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018. 

 

Recommended:

Dave Taggart, Music Still Matters, 15th April 2018.

Tony Wilson, For Folks Sake, 10th May 2018.

Ben Hudson, Bees & Bouzoukis, 24th May 2018.

Celia Bryce, Folk Law, 1st June 2018.

OUT OF THE BLUE with French bands Breaky Boxes and September Again

After watching her beloved French team win the World Cup, who were easily the best team in the tournament, Valentine Kip got in touch. She helps run PR agency Distrolution. In the past year Valentine has promoted bands Bare Teeth, Hightower and The Rocket who have featured on this blog. The latest bands she is working with are September Again and Breaky Boxes… ‘I am very happy to announce that we have just signed with the French indie rock band Breaky Boxes. The band has not only released its debut EP, ‘From the Shelter’. But also won the huge ‘Sziget Festival France’ contest. ‘Breaky Boxes’ are very promising and I sincerely believe that they will be able to do great things, not only in France, but also abroad’. 

The band have been recording lately so I asked them how did that go ? ‘From the Shelter’ has a great meaning for us. The shelter we are talking about in the EP is a reference to our home. Everything that makes us a band comes from this shelter. Our house is really important to us. This is the place we live, where we compose music, the place we rehearse and record our tracks. It is between these walls that Breaky Boxes grows up and become something’.

Who are your influences ? Our main inspirations are bands like Mumford and Sons, Bear’s Den, The Lumineers, Sons of the East, or artists like John Mayer. Folk music is something big in the band, we try to make something new out of it. We listen to a lot of different music and try to keep the best of every kind and manage to put everything together and create Breaky Boxes’.

What are your future plans for the band ? ’We always try to think of tomorrow while living today. From the beginning of the band, we have always been planning something new. We are going to continue to tour all year long. We already played 170 shows in 3 years and we are not going to stop anytime soon. We love too much being on stage. We also plan on releasing our first album next year. It takes us a lot time because we really want to release something complete and that will matter. We want something to last. Before that, a new EP will come out in the beginning of 2019, with a new video clip in October 2018’.

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Talk of Verane, Pogba and Mbappe are very much part of most conversations in France but the Distrolution agency and Valentine keep on working… ‘I’m really happy to announce that Distrolution has signed with the alternative rockers, September Again. The band unveiled on July 3rd 2018, a music video for their single ‘In Vitro’ from the band’s debut album Insomniac. It is available to watch on You Tube’. 

September Again’s bassist and vocalist Loïc Chanut got in touch….In  Vitro is a very special song for us. In fact, it was the first song composed by the band. It really laid the foundations of our identity. The album is very dark, because it was written during a rather hard and lonely period for some of us. In fact, I think the album oscillates permanently, between darkness and brighter passages, between clean and dirt. Maybe we are bipolar in the end…or worse’.

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For more information about Breaky Boxes and September Again contact valentine@distrolution.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi  July 2018.

 

WESTOE ROSE – making the documentary about historian and photographer Amy Flagg

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Amy Flagg is fondly remembered as the lady in a hat and trench coat, who quietly went about photographing buildings and recording history of the town she loved. But who was Amy ? By the Second World War both her parents had died, plus the town she loved was falling apart from the German air raids. Her life was crumbling around her. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera. This is a story of courage and determination of a very unique woman who captured some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century.

Just some of the script from my documentary about South Shields photographer and local historian Amy Flagg. I came across her photo’s a few years ago when I was part of a group who volunteered to digitize the photographic collection held in South Tyneside Library. They were excellent photographs especially her record of the Second World War bomb damage in South Shields. A brave woman. In my research I found out that Amy had a darkroom so was able to print her own photograph’s. I know the magic that can happen there as I had my own set up during the early 90’s. My darkroom was in a cupboard under the stairs where I’d print my black and white’s. Before I had the home set up I went on a short course in photography and darkroom techniques at the local community centre. If I was investing time and money I wanted to know my way around a darkroom first. For the course I’d go out with a roll of film and shoot some photo’s. I developed the photos into a roll of negatives which I then put into the enlarger and exposed the photographic paper to the light shining through the negative. Then put the paper through the tray of chemicals. The image started to come through –  it was like magic. Real magic. Not the Paul Daniels showbizzy stuff. This was the real thing… like voodoo. I knew I had to do more of this. And I did.

In June 2016 the time was right to make a short documentary about the life of Amy Flagg. Using archive information, diary entries and photograph’s from South Shields Library I put a script together. North East playwrite Tom Kelly provided the narration, local journalist and writer, Janis Blower, added the voice of Amy. We recorded the voice over’s at The Customs Space studio in South Shields. As with many documentaries I’ve made, North East musician John Clavering captured the mood with some great music. On March 8th 2017 ‘Westoe Rose’ was screened at The Word in South Shields on International Womans Day.

Watch the documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ and to check out some of my other films go to You Tube and subscribe to my channel.

Gary Alikivi June 2018.