ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE TOON – Alikivi blog makes the news

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On the blog in February, Roksnaps featured photo’s of bands playing live in Newcastle over 30 years ago. The rare pic’s were by music fans Ian Coult, Tony Maddison and John Edward Spence – their memories of gigs from the 70’s and early 80’s. Photo’s which capture the atmosphere and excitement at Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall. On Friday May 18th journalist Dave Morton wrote an article and featured the photo’s in The Chronicle newspaper and on it’s website. The blog is coming up to 30,000 views, so a great way to mark that milestone is with a double page in the local newspaper.

 

Gary Alikivi May 2018.

 

Recommended:

Roksnaps #1 18th February 2018.

Roksnaps #2 22nd February 2018.

Roksnaps #3 27th February 2018.

Roksnaps #4  4th April 2018.

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

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #2 with SPARTAN WARRIOR

 

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Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded there: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7” single. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

SPARTAN WARRIOR 

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Dave Wilkinson (vocals): ‘Spartan Warrior recorded at Guardian Studio in 1983/1984. My abiding memory of recording there is that the studio was said to be haunted and that made for a lot of winding up. There were occasions when although we’d been booked into the studio during the day time Terry Gavaghan, the producer of Spartan Warrior’s first two albums, would often have us recording throughout the evening and into the early hours of the following morning… that was just his way of working. In fact it wasn’t uncommon for us to arrive for a midday start on a Saturday and be finishing up at 5:00am on the Sunday! Needless to say that a lot of the overnight sessions involved a lot of ghost story telling by Terry. The control room had a large glass window next to the mixing desk and and from there you could see into the room in which the band was set up to record. It was quite dark in that room and I think it was only dimly lit with a red light. I found myself in situations where there would be a couple of hours spent with Terry in the control room and he’d tell us about the various sightings of the ghost of a little girl and there had been occasions when peoples headphones had inexplicably flown off across the room during a take. We’d all be sitting there listening and making light of it and then in the early hours Terry would send me into the other room to do a vocal in the dimly lit room while the rest of the band stayed in the control room. To say that I was apprehensive would be an understatement!!

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‘On one occasion we were in there recording a track called Witchfinder for the Steel n’ Chains album and Terry thought that it would be cool for the five of us to record a Satanic Chant at the opening of the track. So after a lot of the usual ghostly tales we all went around the vocal microphone while Terry remained in the control room with a lad who I think might have been a neighbour of his who was helping him in the studio that day. We had a few runs through this chant and it was an unrehearsed shambles but he called us back in to the control room to have a listen. Terry set the analogue recordings running and we listened back… then the tape machine just ground to a halt and he pointed at the digital clock which measured the length of the track and it came up as six minutes and sixty six seconds… 666… just like that. Terry looked really worried and said you can’t have a clock showing 666 seconds and he was  telling us something sinister was at work probably brought on by the Satanic Chant. He said that we ought to abandon the idea before anything horrendous happened… he said the Chant could bring about terrible things if blood was spilled… I think he actually said “all you need is blood”. Then the lad got up to go into the kitchen to make us all a cup of tea and he banged his head off one of the monitors and split his head open… that was it… blood was spilled and we were all terrified. It was almost certainly a wind up. I’m pretty sure Terry could have done something to make the clock show 666 but the lad did actually split his head open. The Chant never made the album!

‘On another occasion during the Steel n’ Chains sessions we took a mate of ours along and of course the ghost stories started mid- evening. I was about to put some vocals down so the other four lads plus our mate went down the street to the pub and while they were away Terry hatched his plan. He wrote himself a one way conversation and then recorded himself whilst leaving gaps at the end of each sentence so that when he played it back he could speak to ‘the voice’ live in apparent conversation. He then speeded up the recording so that it sounded like a ghostly child speaking and not just that but speaking to our friend… to protect his identity I’ll call him ‘Steve’. Terry then rigged up a ghostly model using an old Airfix model skull with a wig on it, a microphone stand at half mast with a coat hanger and child’s nightgown hanging on it. So it just looked like a little girl in a nightgown with this awful skull face and long black hair. Then we waited for the lads to come back. Once everyone was settled Terry again started telling his tales of the ghostly sightings into the early hours of the morning. He’d managed to let the other Spartan Warrior guys know what he was planning to do when ‘Steve’ was in the toilet as he was going to need their help to pull off the prank. Guardian Studio consisted of three terraced houses and the recording facility was in the middle. Because of that there were multiple points of access and exit. So once Terry had had an hour or two of his scary stories he turned to recording and set away his pre-recorded ghostly conversation which went something like:-

Steve, Steve’.

Terry tells everyone to be quiet and asks ‘did you hear that’. 

Then it goes on –

Ghost: Steeeeeve.

Terry: Who are you?

Ghost: Steeeeve, Steeeeve.

Terry: What do you want?

Ghost: I want Steeeeeeeve

Steve: Tell it to fuck off!!

‘So the tape finishes and of course ‘Steve’ is concerned so Terry told him to go and put the kettle on. Off Steve goes to the kitchen where the Ghost Model is set up and of course he sees it, screams and runs back into the control room saying that he’s ‘seen it’. Of course we go to investigate but it’s not there because one of the guys has moved it into the toilet during the commotion. So ‘Steve’ gets calmed down and after about 40 minutes is asked to go and get some toilet paper out of the toilet to clean the tape heads with. Of course he sees the Ghost Model again and runs back into the control room screaming blue murder and we have to calm him again. In fact I think Terry told him that if he was going to mess about and unnerve the band he would have to go home and he gave him a bit of a telling off. Terry then walks ‘Steve’ to the toilet, puts the light on and no ghost… of course it’s been taken out of the back door and round to the front entrance and stood in the porch at the entrance to the studio. We all have a cup of tea and a bit of light banter then we get to work again but this time Terry asks ‘Steve’ to nip next door to get whatever the hell he was asking for this time. I forget, but naturally ‘Steve’ is reluctant to go. So one of the lads tells him that he’ll come with him. So the two of them head out of the control room into the adjoining recording area which is in darkness save for the red light. They walk beyond the drum booth to a set of double sound proofed heavy doors that lead to the porch and front street as well as Terry’s living accommodation. The first door was opened by whoever was with ‘Steve’ and he opens the second door to the porch which is of course in darkness and guess what he sees!

‘Steve’ comes hurtling back through the recording area, into the control room absolutely panic stricken, almost to the point of tears, just gasping for breath and in a right state. I honestly thought he was going to collapse and I really felt it had gone too far not realising that he was of such a nervous disposition. The icing on the cake though was when we all had to sit down with him and calmly tell him what had been done and he was reluctant to believe it. To convince him somebody went to get the ghost model and brought it through to the control room to show him. We all fell about laughing when he lost his temper and punched the skull in the face. Looking back it’s a wonder we ever got any recording done’.

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This needs to be confirmed by a visit down to Pity Me, but a quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. I wonder if customers buying their tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, is that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

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.

Kev Charlton HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Neil Wil Kinson SPARTAN WARRIOR: Invader from the North 21st September 2017.

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.

GARAGELAND UK – interview with former punk vocalist Ian McRae

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During the 1980’s Ian McRae was vocalist with two Newcastle punk bands. The Mysterons and Phantoms of the Underground ‘Hearing Pretty Vacant and Neat Neat Neat absolutely changed my life. Once I got into punk, I like many others just wanted to be with my mates and forming a band seemed an obvious idea. Although we didn’t have a clue how to go on’.

How did you get interested in playing music and was there a defining moment when you said “I want to do that” ? ‘I think I must have been 10 years old when I remember seeing Jerry Lee Lewis on black and white tv……’Whole lotta shaking going on’…It was fantastic to see. That was my pivotal point. I later listened to The Damned, Pistols, Clash, Stooges, The Doors and early punk stuff’.  

When did the band get together ? The Mysterons were formed when I was at school around 1980/81 and the original line up was myself on vocals, Micky Ruddock on guitar, James Bowes drums and Tom Emerson on bass. Later The Phantoms of the Underground were formed and again me and Mikey guitar, David Craig on bass and David Stobbart on drums. I didn’t style my vocals on anyone really, wouldn’t know how to. But I did admire both Iggy and Jim Morrison because of their freedom they used while singing. Me and Mikey loved bands like The Rezillos and The Undertones. I also had the LAMF album by The Heartbreakers. ‘One Track Mind’ for a rock n roll pop song it was the best single I heard. We also loved the Ramones with their fun lyrics and fast songs. In very early gigs we did a version of Loose by the Stooges. We played that most shows’.

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The band wrote their own songs, who wrote the lyrics and the music ? ’Music was written mostly by Micky and I chipped in with the words. He would have a riff going and we kinda clicked together and end up with a song’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play. Was it in the immediate area or did you travel long distances and did you support name touring bands ?  ‘Initially as the Mysterons we played The Garage, The Bunker and other small places in Newcastle. As the Phantoms formed our first gig was at at Spectro Arts with the New Kicks. We then did The Station several times, Broken Doll, Bunker, Edwards Bar, Peterlee College, Middlesbrough University and The Guildhall in Newcastle. There was a venue in Leeds with Chelsea. Gene October said over the mic that we were the best live band he had seen in years. He offered us support slots for 2 nights at the Marquee, but we had split up two weeks before ! We played with Subhumans, Chelsea, Amebix, Antisect, and others at the Station and the Bunker. We toured Northern Ireland with Toxic Waste through the Rathcool music collective playing Belfast and the Antrim coast, Port Stuart and Portrush’.

 How did that come about ? ‘We had a mate come manager, a guy called Conner Crawford. He was from Belfast and knew of the collective in Rathcool and set up an exchange with a punk band there, Toxic Waste. We played over in Northern Ireland and brought them back to Newcastle. We done that tour on giros, we were all signing on the dole. It was the only time we got payed for gigs. We were charging like 3 quid entry and got 90% of the door takings! We played to 700 plus at Portrush, and got our first taste of a real encore, it felt mad. They were chanting for us to come back on..fantastic! Then we went to Rochdale and Oldham with The Instigators from Wallsend and played some gigs there. Also reggae played a big part. Matamba, were a reggae outfit from Leeds we befriended. They were an awesome band. We all packed into Newcastle Guildhall for a gig…great times. Also played with Conflict at some point, where we did a gig at Birmingham University with bands from The Station in Gateshead’. 

What were your experiences of recording ? ’In the studio we didn’t have a clue really. We had no management or direction. Instead of recording two excellent songs we just recorded 8 in one go. With no overdubs. Our first was a demo at Spectro Arts 8 track studio that cost us £90.00. Then we done a demo in Desert Sounds in Felling that cost £70 for 4 tracks. Then back to Spectro to record a live demo in one take that cost £70’.

Have you still got copies of the demos and did you sell any ? ’I have a tape of all the demos, which needs to be put onto CD. I will be doing that soon through a local studio and try to clean it up. Maybe put out a single on vinyl. Maybe an album – but that would be to ambitious and costly. We sold demos at gigs and through Volume Record shop in Newcastle. We sold over 700 tapes which was time consuming as I had to copy them all on a tape to tape, then photocopy the covers. It was all do it yourself in those days’.

Have you any stories from playing gigs ?  ‘There was a few moments I remember from then. At a gig in Belfast people turned up wanting our autograph! That was weird, never been asked for a signature before. Subhuman listened to our demo but didn’t like it at first. When we played with them they apologised, said we were brilliant and would have liked to record us. At a gig in Leeds I went to the chippy and when I came back I had to buy a ticket to get back in. Yep I paid to see myself..haha’

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ?  ‘I run a youth project in the North East. A few years back we had a great scene going with band nights twice a month. Looking back on that time being in a band is like being in a family. It takes over everything and was a fantastic time in my life. You have to trust people with everything as you are sharing ideas and inner thoughts through writing songs. You also rely on each other as if someone let’s you down you can’t play, which is the whole purpose of being in a band in the first place. When it’s over its like a divorce, people who were close mates falling out, not speaking or trusting each other. It’s a learning curve, but well worth it when you look at what you did…..and the fun you had..happy days!’

Contact Ian at http://www.galleryyouthproject.org

Flyers by Netty and Northeast Underground. Pics by Brett King.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

CRASHED OUT, Guns, Maggots & Street Punk 6th July 2017.

Steve James, WARWOUND, Under the Skin 9th July 2017.

Danny McCormack, THE MAIN GRAINS, Death or Glory 8th September 2017.

Steve Straughan, UK SUBS, Beauty & the Bollocks 1st October 2017.

Carol Nichol, LOWFEYE, Radge Against the Machine 15th November 2017.

Danny McCormack, THE MAIN GRAINS/WILDHEARTS, Comfort in Sound 15th February 2018.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS – with Peter Whiskard bassist for North East eighties metallers Alien.

The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NENWOBHM) was immortalised on the ’One Take No Dubs’ 45 released by NEAT Records in 1982. The 12” featured Black Rose, Avenger, Hellanbach and Alien.  I talked to Peter Whiskard bassist for Felling metallers Alien… ‘Derek our singer had a reputation for a no-nonsense approach to life. During a gig at the Mayfair he found himself the unwilling target of several beer vessels – thankfully plastic – thrown by a miscreant in the audience. He jumped off the stage, felled him with one blow and jumped back onstage without losing his composure or his place in the song’. 

How did you get involved in playing music and who were your influences ? ‘I sang from a very early age and learned classical piano. An early indication of my chosen instrument was when I occasionally played piano duets and always seemed to gravitate to the bass part. A defining moment was when I hit adolescence and something seemed to click when I was jamming along to records. Needless to say the classical piano was abandoned. My influences were from the sixties and seventies, early Status Quo, Free, Cream, Bad Company and The Velvet Underground’.

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When did you start playing gigs and what were your experiences of recording?  ‘I started playing gigs when I was fifteen with friends in the Felling area of the North East. I believe our first gig was at a youth club in the same building where we rehearsed. We didn’t really gig much and the last one was at the Sixth Form Common Room Disco! I went away to University and when I returned I formed a band called Bad Luck with the former singer. We did many local gigs and recorded a few tracks at Neat’s Impulse Studios where I met label boss Dave Wood. A self financed 45 single release came from these recordings. Unfortunately this band didn’t last long. Then I answered an ad in the paper for Alien in 1982. The place where a lot of Neat bands rehearsed was the Spectro Arts workshop in Newcastle and I remember once overhearing the tremendous noise of Venom practising one day when we were offloading our gear. The band had a chequered history in the time we were together but we were offered recording at Neat Records for the One Take No Dubs EP. We still had to pay £50 for the privilege – Dave Wood was notoriously stingy. The recording took perhaps only part of a day because the essence of it was to have a ‘live’ feel and there would be no extravagant nonsense like overdubbing and repeating the process to seek the ‘perfect’ take. Hence the title ‘One Take No Dubs’.

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‘The engineer for the earlier trip to Impulse with Bad Luck and the Alien session was Keith Nichol – a lovely guy who was patient and skilful. The band played together in the studio – this was opportune for Alien’s style as we were capable of flights of improvisation as can be heard in the middle section of ‘Who Needs the Army’, one of the up to now unreleased tracks from that session. In the recording session we were in fine form, especially Ron Anderson the guitarist who recently has sadly died. A track from the recording called ‘Absolute Zero’ also appeared on a compilation cassette called ’60 minutes Plus’ sold only through Sounds and Kerrang. A Neat Singles Collection featured the track ‘Could Have Done Better’ from One Take No Dubs’.

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What can you remember of Impulse Studio ? ‘Impulse Studios lived behind a fairly anonymous doorway in Wallsend, Newcastle. It was a small place, the studio walls were covered in the ubiquitous polystyrene tiles for acoustic absorbtion. There was an office where the day-to-day running of the business took place and also a special ‘green room’ where Dave Wood would make his deals and entertain the celebs. Our relationship with Dave Wood soured somewhat as the singer felt we were being exploited financially. The band fell apart by ’83. We briefly reformed to do a gig at the Classic Cinema in Low Fell.  After Alien I joined a band called The Blues Burglars who were quite popular at the time’.

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Can you remember any high points for Alien, TV or music video’s ? ’I’m afraid we weren’t together long enough to get established to record any TV appearances or film any music videos. Although we did play some gigs with Raven and others at Newcastle Mayfair. I’m afraid I can’t remember much about the gig with Raven but I don’t think we hobnobbed much with the other bands. The audience was pretty appreciative as that was during the heyday of Neat Records. We regularly played gigs in Felling such as the Duke Of Cumberland, and our gigs had a reputation for having a febrile atmosphere with an undercurrent of unpredictability. The singer was a powerful performer and had a great rock voice. We also had several friends in other bands on the Neat roster. I knew the drummer from Hellanbach who lived round the corner, and went to school with the singer from Emerson and Axis: two Neat bands which are relatively unknown. The singer of Axis was originally born Simon Blewitt but is now called Sam Blue and at one point sang with Ultravox as well as singing on The Streets’ hit Dry Your Eyes!

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I have been a classroom teacher since I moved to Kent in 1986, but now I am semi-retired and teach guitar to Primary age students. I still play gigs regularly. I’m afraid I’m now playing in a folk/country band called John Doggerel and the Bad Poets. We comprise me on bass, guitar, and assorted instruments including mandolin, accordion and ukulele! We are based near Margate. I recently remastered and released a track which wasn’t used from the original Neat session called ‘Who Needs the Army’. Now available at iTunes and all good digital platforms’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

Micky McCrystal, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

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

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

Steve Thompson,( NEAT Producer) Godfather of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Gary Young, AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.

FOR FOLKS SAKE – interview with North East songwriter & storyteller Tony Wilson

‘Folk music for me is about the human condition and being able to express it without any classical training. The songs can be stories like Shakespeare, but condensed into four verses. They are very emotionally driven’.

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What got you interested in music and was there a moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ ? ‘I think I was always a singer. I sang in the church choir and at school. There was a ‘Time and Tune’ lesson where I’d be the kid who sang really loudly…and in tune. I was brought up on Gene Autry and Johnny Mathis records but with regards to folk music there was a lot on television in the late 50’s, 60’s, and was very popular. There was a feeling in the air that there was something other than Americanisation of folk music. There was a very influential radio programme called Folk on Two with Jim Lloyd which featured live artists. There was Tim Hart and Maddy Prior who later went on to be part of Steeleye Span. They were young, vibrant and sang traditional songs so it was a big leap from the Beverly Hillbillies on tv to finding out about my own culture. Also Shirley Collins who played a folk opera Anthems in Eden, which was a celebration of everything within folk music. Yes, all that was very influential’.

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Was there anyone in your family background who had a musical instrument ? ‘I lived in Tyne Dock, South Shields until I was 7 year old. I was very outgoing, singing a solo in churches that sort of thing but my parents were very quiet, conservative and an attitude of don’t draw any attention you know? Completely opposite to me, was I really their child ha ha? But there was no music in the family apart from a Sunday night when we’d get around the radiogramme and play our 78 records. There were folk songs at school we’d sing Scarboro Fair so there was a burgeoning folk scene coming on. You’d hear Bob Dylan, Julie Felix and Donovan on the radio, they were the acceptable face of folk. I used to try and play loads of instruments. I was given a tin whistle, a harmonica and a jaw harp but I couldn’t get on with them. The Spinners were on the television and The Dubliners were in the charts’.

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‘I’d heard this music and it triggered something inside, it was almost primeval. To be honest it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before and I was very curious about it. Also, at 15, it was a chance to sing rude words. But the thing that really got me going was a folk club at school. I had a 5 string banjo like The Dubliners who we went to see at Newcastle City Hall, and that was ‘wow this is amazing’. So at school I was into the music that was more unpolished, out of tune almost. There was a great wave of making music yourself which was appealing. At the school folk club musicians used to come and play for us, Jim Irvine, Jim Sharp, Jimmy Boyles and world renowned performers like Ed Pickford and Bob Davenport would come. Some of them ran a well established folk club at the Marsden Inn, South Shields. There was also another at The County where we used to go sometimes when there was a performer on. They would get around £10 or something. The mc Bob ‘the gob’ Gilroy would let us in as the underage drinkers helped make up the fee for the performers. We would also go out to other folk music clubs so that would broaden our spectrum of what we’d see and hear. Places like The Glebe in Sunderland’.

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What was your experience of recording ? ‘I only had a reel to reel Ferrorgraph which was guaranteed mono. You had one microphone and placed it almost like the His Master’s Voice dog kind of thing. You didn’t make that many albums because it was a very costly process. We recorded in about 74 or 75 made an album and toured Germany. It was with a band called IONA on Celtic Music here on Tyneside and I was very nervous. We had 8 tracks I think, and did everything live in the studio which was a small room about 12ft x 12ft as I remember. It sold well in Germany, but I didn’t make any money from it. I’d played music properly from 1968, joined bands and busked then went to Leeds University and refined the way I played. I qualified from University as an agricultural zoologist. I started playing a lot of Irish music and met up with a load of old Irish guys in Leeds and learnt from them. If you weren’t good enough they would make a point of telling you. So you would practice, practice and practice. These guys were maestros of their time, in their 70’s and 80’s with this wealth of experience and dry wit. The German folk scene looked toward Ireland as this Utopia of being folk you know, because the music was surpressed by Hitler. So when they took folk on board it almost became more Irish. Why was it supressed ? I suppose, at that time, it wasn’t German music for German people. They eventually found their own folk music and the Irish traditional music sort of went lower in want’.

Did you have a manager or agency ? ‘No it was very low key. In Belgium there was a manager Leon Lamall who ran a music venue called The Mallemolem (Crazy Windmill). He would organise tours in France, Belgium and Holland. I was with IONA 1975-79 and there was a lot of touring, 2-3 month at a time. We had a van to get around, have somewhere to stop and people are always willing to feed you but all the money went into the p.a. and promotion. People would always offer to buy you a drink. You would get money at the end of the tour but people abroad would ask “what is your real job ?” ha ha’ 

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Where did you go next ? ‘I had done some solo stuff when I met up with a Tyneside bagpipe and flute player from Jarrow called Mick Doonan. We did a lot of touring in 1980/81, every place we could around the UK. We ended up forming a band with The Mathews Brothers and did really well, incredibly popular but then they had a family argument and split up. After that some money went missing and that soured the whole thing. It left a bad taste. Then I went solo and because I had family by then I stopped touring and stayed closer to home in Leeds and played the workingmen’s clubs. That was the early 80’s before backing tracks came in. My agent used to say ‘Will you play Batley Democratic Irish League Club’…’But last time they paid me off’ I replied…’Doesn’t matter… they’d take anybody’..ha ha. He’d say ‘How much do you want Tony’….’£89.50’ I said…’Bloody hell why do you want that’…’Because that’s how much the shower costs to install at home’…Every song was another part of the shower. Just getting on with it you know. I was doing the folk clubs myself but when backing tracks came into the working men’s clubs I was redundant overnight. A guitar and voice was seen as very old hat. But to keep my hand in I worked on a BBC Leeds folk radio show plus I played at Whitby Festival for 17 years on the trot and compered at folk festivals during school holidays as I was teaching by then’. 

What was your experience of working on radio ? ‘I was there around 3 years and the show was 45 minutes every week interviewing so many of my heroes. Loved it! At that time I was also writing a lot of my own songs. But as I say I started teaching a lot, still doing bits and pieces with the folk but really it wasn’t until 1999 when I got back playing and singing in folk clubs again. I was offered to join a band again, go on tour, play at the Millenium Dome in London. It sounded so good. I checked the contracts and away we went. The first year was incredible, tour dates, hotels, theatres, festivals, everything fine… even got a bit of money. But unfortunately another family bust up and I found I was only getting a small percentage of the money. But hey that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’d been burned in the past. Now I’d been left high and dry just before an American tour was planned. But through a contact I got some storytelling work in schools and I took that around the country’.

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What are you doing now ? ‘Well at the start of 2017 I started doing floor spots at Buskers nights and Open Mic’s around the North East. Last year I did around 150-180 spots. Nobody owes me a living… doesn’t matter whether I’ve played that club 25 years ago I’ll still play the floor spot. It’s about how to get the best out of the song. Where’s the light, where’s the shade, where’s the point where I can emphasise? I recorded every song that I wrote onto cassettes so I can always refer back to them, as you do with video now. When I play I also drag out all of these songs I wrote 30 years ago and they pass the old grey whistle test! People humm and whistle to some of my songs. In 2009 in Whitby I met up – again – with a folk musician from Scotswood, Tom McConville. We had lived in a house together in the mid 70’s and played as a duo. We got on really well and a year ago we got up and played as a duo. It’s a shame that there’s not as many folk clubs as there used to be. Sunderland had a few, Newcastle about four, it’s a contracted scene now’.

What does music mean to you ? ‘I think any musician might say, “I feel as if I’ve lived three lives. The places I’ve been, the things that I’ve done and the things I’ve experienced.” It was like opening a door to the world – I’ve travelled, met good and bad people. Coming back to the folk scene I’m flattered that people remember me. There’s still some fantastic people who put you up, give you meals, drive you places…just the most incredible thing ever….really….that’s music’.

Interview by Gary Alikiv May 2018.

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES – interview with former Slutt bassist John Hopper

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Neat Records were based in Wallsend, North East UK. The operation worked out of Impulse Sound Studios. Neat were arguably the most instrumental NWOBHM label in the UK. The label is notable for early releases by North East chief heedbangers Venom, Raven and Blitzkrieg who are acknowledged as major influences on American thrash metal bands Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. One of the lesser known albums was from SLUTT. A gang of twisted metallers from Tyneside with their make up, leather and studs. They released one album in 1988. The original bassist John Hopper talks about those times…I remember signing the record contract in the rehearsal rooms. Our guitarist Antton walked in and said ‘right sign there’. We did, then got on with rehearsing. We didn’t think of asking someone to look at it first. It wasn’t ‘Right I’ll let my solicitor see it first you know ha ha’.

How did the band get together? ‘For a number of years Glen and myself worked at the Roman Fort in South Shields and the wages from there helped finance our instruments. Me on bass, Glen Wade on drums and a friend was interested in doing some vocals. We played some rough versions of Kiss songs, we were friends just messing around. Our singer had a friend over in North Shields who knew a guitarist… ‘He would be perfect for your band’ he said. Next thing a guy with a guitar, trem and long hair came over. That was Antton Lant. We didn’t know about his brother Conrad or Neat records but soon we got to know the connection with Venom. Anyway our first gig as SLUTT was I think at The Cyprus pub in South Shields. Later we went on to do a showcase for NEAT at Tiffanys’ nightclub in Newcastle. So that was our first step. In 1987 we played at The Queen Vic pub in South Shields and got paid £300 which we used to rent lights, dry ice etc. That gig was a blast..and was videotaped ..and the audio exists’. 

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How did the record with NEAT come about ? ’We first done a 4 track demo tape at Impulse Studios in Wallsend. We just recorded it live all in one room but additional guitar or anything that was needed we would drop that in later. The line-up was Antton on guitar, myself on bass, Glen on drums and our original vocalist. On that demo Glenn had the use of a Ludwig kit owned by Tony Bray from Venom – we asked them first like! That was in 1986 and the tracks from that demo were lifted and put on the album which was released in 87. That was the first version with the LP and remains unreleased but its archived. The album needed the new singers vocal on it. Antton was friends with a singer so Peter Seymour (RIP) came in, we rehearsed and it was great. Things were becoming real you know. We got forms for our passports as we were going out on tour, NEAT paid for those. Like any band we just wanted a break, yes we were fortunate with the link we had with Neat but we still had to put the time in, the rehearsals. The years going across the Tyne to North Shields, picking up Antton and his Marshalls, then coming back through the Tyne Tunnel to the rehearsal studio. Sometimes twice a week. SLUTT was full on, and commitment was first and paramount’. 

(The album was released on vinyl in 1988 with Neat catalogue number 1043. The album includes Angel, Breakin’ All the Rules, Revolution, Thrill Me and more).  

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Who came up with the idea’s for the songs ? ‘The music was from Antton and the vocalist. The rest of the band would write some lyrics too. We went back to the studio and recorded Peters vocals over the original master tapes. If some things didn’t sound right they were quickly changed. Kevin Ridley engineered and Conrad Lant produced. I remember Conrad sent me out for something to eat a few times he liked his squid and chips! But yeah they had both worked on the demo tape and then the album which was a totally different feel. There was more pressure, there was more ‘Sorry lads them backing vocals are not in key can you do them again’. There were plenty of sound effects put on it, backward drums and live crowd noises. We had a visit from a guy who ran the Venom fan club in France. There is a piece on the track Revolution, about the French revolution and this guy just spouts out something in French and we put it on the track, it sounded great. In all it took about 7 days to record I think’. 

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Who else was in the Neat studios then? I was amazed and sucked in to the Venom thing that had gone on in NEAT. We had heard their records and by 86, 87 they were a big band and basically this was their studio. Funny every other band there the Avengers, Atomkraft all wore leather and studs it was like a blueprint – we were similar to the leather and studs look. The Atomkraft lads were knocking about. Venom’s Tony Bray was always there and guitarist Jim Clare came in with an amp for Antton. He used it for his solo’s. It was only a small Galion Krueger but totally ripped the place apart you know. Venom manager Eric Cook (RIP) came in once or twice as I say Neat belonged to Venom and all their gear was there. I walked past one room and inside was bits of the stage show that they used. Another was Dave Woods’ office he was like the headmaster in his room…ha ha’. 

Did you promote the album ? ‘In 1988 just after we released it we done a few gigs in Poland. Nasty Savage were the main headliner, with Exhumer and Atomkraft. They were doing a European tour and we flew in for the Poland leg. We arrived in Warsaw and went to the train station.The train was like an army train, it was separate carriages with compartments and we got split up. Myself and Glen sitting next to total strangers, us with our tight jeans and long dyed black hair etc.. strange. Eric Cook (RIP) came along and took us to the food carriage. I got a bowl of soup with a raw egg in the middle. Well we hadn’t eaten for hours. For the rest of the gigs we had our own mini bus with a driver. It was only the journey from Warsaw to Katowice we got the train because it was a long trek’. 

Poland Tour Pass

‘Eric Cook took us over there he was with us all the way and Tony Bray was the Tour Manager as Venom were in between albums or something. The tour was an eye opener because a serious edge kicks in. The first gig was at the Spodek Arena in Katowice in the south of the country. The arena is a huge ufo shaped building. The festival was called Metal Battle and started at 10 in the morning. We were the first English band on at 12.30. We only got half an hour at the most with no sound-check. The whole thing was broadcast on Polish Television. I remember at one point we were on stage and a woman with a handbag came on ha ha… I’m sure Eric or Tony pushed her on. The first couple of songs the front rows were fists raised, jumping up and down, there was 15,000 people there, it was unreal.

The second gig was at an ice rink in Poznan. It took about 4 hours to get there in our mini bus. It was the same bill but we weren’t looking forward to the gig. We weren’t sure about the make up that we were wearing then, so we talked to Nasty Savage about it and they said ‘Just do what you did yesterday, keep it the same, it’ll be ok’. He was right the crowd went berserk. Eric came back to the hotel with a bottle of champagne ‘Well done lad’s best band of the night’. We got paid and it was ok set ‘em up, vodka and orange, bottle of champagne, just live it up cos we aren’t taking anything back ha-ha’.

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Press day in Poland with Nasty Ronnie, Ian Davison (Atomkraft), Dave Ling & Tony Dolan (Atomkraft).

‘The last gig was in Gdansk in the north, a very industrial town. We went down great there as well. It was just the first date where it didn’t happen for us. Rock journalist Dave Ling covered it for Metal Hammer. I remember doing one of the press conferences with Antton. I didn’t like it though. All the big bright white lights and your make up is all smudged.. ha-ha’.

What was the next move ? ‘By now we had done the album, got back from the Poland gigs and were in rehearsal doing some new material. There was talk of backing Wrathchild at Newcastle Mayfair and doing a few other things but sometimes they don’t come off. There are highs and lows all the way through. So now our drummer Glen becomes uninterested with the band so he goes his own way. We get a new guy in on drums, very talented he was. We were over in Byker at Dons rehearsal rooms. After a period of rehearsals and photo sessions my head just started to drop you know. The dynamics of the band were changing, we were doing things another way and really I just didn’t fancy it. So I stepped back from it all and the band went on. How long was I in the band? Looking back I remember I was at Newcastle City Hall watching Motley Crue on the Theatre of Pain tour in 85 and we were rehearsing around then. That was at The Green Rehearsal rooms in South Shields. So fast forward to the end, I think it was 1990 when I left the band’.

What are you up to now? ’Now I work in the print industry I have been for over 25 years. I still love music and always will, I’ve ticked that box’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2018.

Recommended:

WARRIOR: The Hunger, 12th April 2017.

VENOM INC: Hebburn or Hell, 28th July 2017.

ATOMKRAFT: Running with the Pack, 14th August 2017.

TYSONDOG: Back for Another Bite, August 2017.

AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #1

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Gaurdian Sound Studios were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever’s behind the name, it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7” and there was also an EP released by Mythra. 1980 saw E.P’s from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982-85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

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TYGERS OF PAN TANG – Demo’s & B sides.

ROBB WEIR: ‘When we arrived at the address for the studio I thought we had got it totally wrong! It was a small street full of pit colliery houses. Nothing wrong in that of course, just we couldn’t see a recording studio anywhere. We pulled up to number 32 or what ever the house number was and knocked on the door expecting to be told we were in the wrong area. The door opened and a young man with a ‘bush’ on his head greeted us. “Hi, I’m Terry Gavaghan, welcome to Guardian! As we walked in his front room it had been converted into a make shift studio with sound proofing on the walls. Terry had also knocked a huge hole in the wall dividing the lounge (studio) to the dining room which was now the control room and fitted a large plate glass window. I remember asking him where he lived, “upstairs,” he said as if I should have known. Anyway we recorded the entire Spellbound album there as a demo for MCA our record company and Chris Tsangarides our record producer. We also recorded the “Audition Tapes” there, John Sykes and Jon Deverill’s first Tygers recordings. Which was to be a free 7 inch single to be packaged with Hellbound when it was released. I think we were there for a few days recording and during one of the sessions I was in the studio by myself laying down a solo. When I had finished I put my guitar on it’s stand and as I made my way into the control room my foot caught the stand that John’s guitar was on and I knocked his Gibson SG on the floor! He was watching through the control room window and ran into the studio going ape! I of course apologised but he couldn’t forget it. In the end I told him to shut the f**k up as no damage had been done and if he didn’t some damage WOULD be done! What did come out of Guardian were some fantastic recordings. Terry did us proud I have to say. His studio and his warmth were fantastic! The moral of the story is, “Don’t judge a recording studio by it’s colliery house appearance!”

RICHARD LAWS ‘Tygers of Pan Tang recorded at Guardian twice. Although we were usually associated with Impulse Studios (home of Neat Records). We had sort of fallen out with Impulse and Neat so we recorded the demos for our second album Spellbound at Guardian. We recorded about 5 tracks I think. These demos were later released on various compilations. The demos for Spellbound were the first time we recorded with Jon Deveril and John Sykes in the band. Later we recorded two B sides for singles off our fourth album, The Cage. Whilst we were there doing the B sides our record company came up and did a play through of the fully mixed album which was the first time we had heard the finished product’. 

More stories from Guardian coming soon. A quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. This needs to be confirmed if it is the exact location. I wonder if customers buying  tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment. If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios, much appreciated if  you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

 

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.

GETTING AWAY WITH IT – interview with Canadian musician Greg Rekus

Based in Winnipeg, Canada, Greg Rekus plays a brand of folk/punk on an acoustic and a giant stomp box. His band The Inside Job includes musicians Erik Strom (drums) and Tabitha Hemphill (bass/backing vocals).

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Have you played in many towns/countries for the first time? ‘Yes, on this tour I’m doing Greece for the first time. Also Slovakia. Super excited! Greece has so much history and it’s one of those places you only hear about if you are from Canada so I can’t believe I’m actually getting to go there. Slovakia is also awesome and I’ve drove through it a bunch of times so glad I finally get to play’.

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Have you recorded any TV appearences or filmed any music videos? ‘Yeah my friend Randy Frykas did 3 videos for me. I did a few other small internet TV things and just recent Bridge City Sessions based in Portland. I did 2 live recordings of 2 songs off Sibling Cities. It was a lot of fun. My voice was sore so didn’t nail it the first time but Nick and all the guys were great and didn’t make me feel bad about it. No prob just do it again. We ended up getting some rad takes of the songs’.

Who were your influences in music? ‘Moneen and a Winnipeg local band called The Bonaduces are a HUGE!!! reason why I play music today. Those 2 bands are at the centre of why I do this. They were the bands who taught me music can be accessible. Before that every band I knew were big bands. Arena bands. Bands I would never get to play in. These bands were made from normal people. People like me. They taught me to tour, all you need is a van and an email address or some phone numbers to call. Musically bands like Mischief Brew, AJJ, PJ Bond, Jon Creeden are all big reasons I play acoustic’.

How did you get involved in playing music. Was there a defining moment when you said “I want to do that” ? ‘When I was super young I always wanted to play guitar. It just looked soooo cool! My mother insisted the piano was a good starting point and if I really liked it I can have a guitar.  After 5 or 6 years of trying to prove I really liked it I finally saved up my own money and bought a bass guitar. I played it for about a year but it wasn’t till I got an electric guitar and started writing songs and playing in bands that I really embraced music and punk rock. It always feels like I’m getting away with something. Like I should be doing something more responsible but I don’t. Music has taken me to amazing places and brought me together with other like minded people that a young Greg could only have dreamed of meeting or going’.

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When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play? ‘The first real gig I organized was at the West End culture centre in Winnipeg. It was an all ages venue where most of the touring bands and a bunch of the local bands I liked played. It was October 1999 if I remember correct. A bunch of people came and we made enough to even pay the bands! The first time I ever went on tour was with my former band High Five Drive. We did a week or so in the west in 2002 after we recorded our first EP.  After that the tours kept getting bigger and bigger. The biggest tour I ever got to do in Europe we supported a band called Rentokill from Austria for 4 weeks. They were an amazing band and amazing people. Since I started doing the solo thing I have done countless shows with amazing friends and have got to play with tons of amazing touring artists that do the same thing I do. Sometimes I think acoustic punk is retirement for old punk dudes who don’t have a punk band anymore but still have a punk heart’.

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Where do the ideas come from and what is the process of writing a song and what are your experiences of recording/studio work?  ‘I write best if I put aside time each day to work on stuff. I have a practice space I share with a few bands in Winniipeg but no one is ever there till after 7pm so I usually get there around 5.30pm and play till 7. When I’m home I work a lot so it can be hard to find the time but on a good week I’m there 5 out of 7 days. The best songs just come all at once. Chords and lyrics and the tune and everything. Sometimes it takes a few tries and I have worked on a song for years and in the end just trash it cuz it’s just no good. There has to be a bit of magic in the air and it’s something you cant force’.

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‘The studio is great! I’ve recorded the majority of my stuff at Private Ear which is an amazing studio in Winnipeg.  JP Peters who runs it has an amazing ear and can make you feel like you are bullet proof and can do anything after he presses record. I love recording but didn’t always. I think the biggest mistake I used to make is just not being ready. Now for recording I schedule 2 weeks of rehearsal just to bash the songs around the jam space again and again. By the time you hit the studio you can play them in your sleep and you can focus on getting amazing takes and not just trying to play all the right notes’.

What are the future plans for Greg Rekus? ‘I’m going to be doing a bunch of USA and Canada dates in the fall and start to focus on writing a new record. Got a lot of great ideas and a friend who plays sax started jamming with us and it adds a lot. So stoked what the new album will be like!

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For more information, releases and tour dates check Greg Rekus facebook page. 

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2018.

MUSIC STILL MATTERS – for former Danceclass vocalist Dave Taggart

From his early days with The Executives, to packing out North East venues in Danceclass, recording in Germany with LiveRoom, writing TV soundtracks, and now touring with international pop star Belinda Carlisle, Dave Taggart has music in his blood…‘I’m living in Brighton now but always a Sunderland lad, that’s where I was brought up. After I got married we gravitated to the south coast where keyboard player Mark Taylor (Elton John, Simple Minds, Echo and the Bunnymen) landed me the job as guitarist and backing vocalist for the world-famous Belinda Carlisle. Suffice to say I’ve toured the world and we’ve had such a great time’.

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Dave on tour with Belinda Carlisle.

From a very young age music has been the life and love for Dave Taggart. But where was he turned on ?  ‘The first time I was in a Pontins Holiday camp in Morecombe. It was 1966 and we were on holiday for a week. As kids, we were left to our own devices as was the norm in those days. My greatest pleasure was sitting at the side of the stage watching the resident band play the latest hits. I was besotted and quickly became the bands gofor. I would receive a 10 bob note and orders for five ice lollies and packets of polos. This was of course to disguise the smell of the drink on their breath, which was a sackable offence. After that I suppose I was hooked on music and at 11 or 12. I received my first beat up cello guitar with half the machine heads missing and an action on it like the Tyne bridge drop. For influences I had too many to mention, John Martyn, Brinsley Schwarz then of course all the rock stuff. Lifelong friend and cohort Tony Mcananey lived in the same square as me and we would spend every summer night practising, practising, practising without any real idea. One evening he turned round to me and said you’re the singer ok !

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ? ’From school days we were taken to local folk clubs around Sunderland where we would play a bit of Lindisfarne, Fairport Convention, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young and early Eagles stuff before they went shit. Our mentor and driver at the time was our drama teacher Terry Deary. I wonder if teachers are allowed to do that these days. But he just had faith in our talent. Incidentally, that influential educator of young minds would go on to receive fame and fortune himself with the Horrible Histories…true bloody story that ! By 1977 we went out to Germany just to get away from the North-East and learn our chops. We’d play the American army and Air force bases. It certainly was a baptism of fire and we learnt a lot about the craft of performance. But too much innovative and exciting stuff was going on back in the UK. The likes of Elvis Costello, Clash and Ian Dury were happening. So by early ’78 we returned to England and formed a band in Sunderland called The Executives. It immediately took off. Success spiralled into a writing frenzy and low and behold Danceclass was formed’. 

(A split in late ’79 saw some of The Executive members go on to play in Well, Well, Well and The Toy Dolls. The complete line up of Danceclass was Dave Taggart, vocals,  Tony Mcananey, bass, Ali Reay, guitar and Trevor Brewis, drums). 

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’We just gigged and gigged acquiring a massive fan base which then attracted record company interest. By 1981 we ended up on the famous A&M record label. EMI begged us to sign with them but we were rather green and ended up with in the end, the wrong label. First album was recorded in Basing Street in London later to become the famous Sarm West. The producer was Mike Chapman famous for his work with Sweet and later Blondie. We toured with various large acts of the time Sad Cafe, John Martyn and Judie Tzuke. We also performed on the famous live music show The Tube’. (The Tube was a live music show broadcast from Tyne Tees Studio’s in Newcastle, UK. The show ran for five series from November 82 – April 87 and was responsible for introducing Frankie Goes to Hollywood, relaunching the career of Tina Turner and the last ever appearence of The Jam before they split).  

‘But it’s the old story, we went as far as we could with that label. We got the chance to support Blondie at Wembley Arena but apparently Debbie or Chris Stein spat their dummy out and refused to come to the UK. This was devastating news for a young band like us. Our second record signing was to MCA records. Some interesting material was written and recorded around that time. I think at one point we had Judy Tzuke on backing vocals and a coterie of musical acts hanging around so it was an exciting time. Unfortunately our guy at the helm Stuart Watson, was sacked from MCA and they cleared his roster of acts. Including us. Once again the young guys from the North-East were left floundering on the rocks. Left to our own devices in that big London town, I turned to session music mainly singing backing vocals and ended up for some reason on a lot of UK metal albums. There is a Dave Taggart backing vocal credit on the Destiny album by Saxon as well as albums I cant even remember singing on’. 

What are your thoughts on the second album and is it just collecting dust on a shelf somewhere ? ‘Looking back on the Danceclass second album, although the material was a considerate departure from the full speed ahead power pop of its forerunner, the writing especially from Tony Mac had so much more depth and maturity. The basic songs were beaten out at a beautiful rented house overlooking the lake in Bowness, while next door Simple Minds were recording their tracks for the Waterfront album. When we thought we had enough material, it was decided we should go abroad for further stimuli and the plush Wisseloord recording studios in Hilversum, Holland was chosen’. (Officialy opened in 1978 the studio was founded by electronics company Phillips and was used by international musicians such as Elton John, U2, Scorpions, Tina Turner, Def Leppard). 

‘We took along Steve Brown (producer ABC, George Michael, Wham!, Alison Moyet, Freddie Mercury, The Alarm, The Cult, Manic Street Preachers, The Pogues) and we had Richard Cottell on keyboards. It wasn’t easy recording the album as some of the songs changed dramatically as they grew and some just remained as a basic ‘rock out’ vibe. Suffice to say an album that we were proud of didn’t make it for release. We got compensation, but when you’re in your early to mid 20s with a passion for your music, it hurts. All water under the bridge now so … yes, that album will be collecting dust somewhere in a vault and all I have left are some well produced demos on quarter inch tape and a cassette of the album’.

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What was your next move ? ‘By the 1990’s I had returned to Sunderland and started writing more songs with Tony Mac who had got a job writing the music for Jimmy Nails BBC Spender series. While all this was happening our old Danceclass manager got us a deal with a new fledgeling German label who loved the material. We went out to Frankfurt to record the LiveRoom album. Moderate success followed and loving the creative environment, I stayed in Germany writing for TV and film while Tony returned to the North-East to mix the Spender soundtrack. An older countryish song that Tony almost threw away later became the inspiration for Jimmy‘s mid-90s TV hit Crocodile Shoes. These were real fun times as Tony wrote the music for the album with Jimmy Nail and we all ended up performing on it. Then of course touring it. After the Top of the Pops performances and tours I took time out to travel with my guitar to the Middle East and Europe before landing a job writing some of the incidental music for the BBC production ‘Our Friends in the North’.

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Finally, what does music mean to you ? ‘Everything. Even more so as I get older. I might not like some of the crap pumped out but I appreciate the time put in and how they got there. I’ve always had an all embracing love of different genres and that’s down to parental and sibling influence. Lying on my back as a toddler in our council house listening to Swan Lake, Ella Fitzgerald or the Fab Four. My brother taking me to the Sunderland Empire at the tender age of 12 to see Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Bukka White. Or a year later the Newcastle City Hall to see the now legendary Rolling Stones concert where Jagger introduced the crowd to his new wife Bianca – while Bowie clapped in the wings. Fashions and fads fall along the wayside as your journey progresses and all you’re left with is the thing that really matters. The music’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2018.

For further information check http://www.danceclassuk.com

Recommended:

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: 2nd April 2017.

Trevor Sewell 21st June 2017.

Kev Charlton, HELLANBACH: 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson, (Songwriter & NEAT records producer) 27th June 2017.

John Verity, ARGENT/PHOENIX: 7th November 2017.

Dave Ditchburn BRASS ALLEY/GEORDIE/PILGRIM: 1st February 2018.

Les Tones & Arthur Ramm, BECKETT: 9th April 2018.

MUSIC MATTERS – interview with Les Tones and Arthur Ramm founder members of Beckett.

The 70’s and 80’s saw bands playing every night around the North East at mainly workingmens clubs…’Mostly it was two clubs a night with yer first set starting at 8pm. Then travelling to another club, loading in, setting up, playing a set and finishing for 2am. Finally back home and bed. Before you know it yer ma was shouting up the stairs it was time to get the bus for work. Aye them were the days ha ha’….remembers Arthur Ramm. Stories like these have been told many times before in smokey bars and clubs of the North East. But here we are sitting in The Word, a brand new cultural venue in South Shields.  A large circular building with huge glass walls and what looks like a floating staircase. As far removed as you can get from bingo, beer and bands. The stories were pouring out from Les Tones and Arthur Ramm founding members of Beckett. A band which changed line up many times until they called it a day in 1974. During their time Beckett had played countless gigs around the North East with stand out support slots with Rod Stewart and the Faces. There was a two week residency in the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Germany. They notched up 25 UK dates with Captain Beefheart, 33 with Alex Harvey and 25 with Slade. Signed with major labels Warner Brothers and CBS. Released a single and a self titled album.  They also found time to appear on BBC TV music show the Old Grey Whistle Test, and a slot at the Reading Festival. We talked about music in general and the sounds travelling across the Atlantic – Elvis, Chuck Berry, Rock n Roll USA how they influenced a generation of British musicians. Turning on the Led Zepps, Deep Purples, Eric Claptons, who in turn put their stamp on the sound. British rock came out the other end.  Although they were referring to nearly 50 years ago, like a relay team passing the baton, stories from Les and Arthur still sounded fresh and told with good humour. Music really does matter.

When did you first get interested in music ? 

Les: ‘My dad was a piano player, my uncles were keyboard players for the cinema. When I was 14 my brother and cousin had acoustic guitars and my sister played all the 50’s records. I’ve always had music around me. I used to go to the local fairgrounds and there I heard Love Me Do and other songs by The Beatles. I just loved the sound and that changed my direction of what I wanted to do. I got a guitar and I was approached by a fella called Tommy Stead who was in a popular blues band called The Jump. So I joined the band at 15 and learned loads from them’.

Arthur: ‘I was aware of The Shadows but I wasn’t really interested in that, like Les it was The Beatles that kicked me off. It was Paul McCartney, I loved the way he played, he sang, he looked. I just loved The Beatles music’.

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Les Tones aged around 14.

When did you get your first guitar ? 

Les: ‘I was serving my time as a sheet metal worker in Hebburn Palmers shipyard when I bought a Hoffner Galaxy on tick, a loan you know. Then I exchanged it for a Burns guitar until my dad bought me a Gibson 335 for £150. That was great, wish I still had it’.

Arthur: ‘There was a shop called Savilles Brothers in South Shields and there it was in the shop window with a card stuck next to it with £7 10shillings written on. Eventually after a few weeks of pestering my mother, she relented and gave me the money ‘But you’ll have to pay it back’ she said. That’s where I bought not a bass, but my first 6 string guitar.  We had no money for amps so we first started with radios which had valves inside. That could amplify the sound and it had a speaker in so we used the output. But the 5 watts wasn’t loud enough cos when you were in rehearsal with a drum kit banging away you needed something louder. So we got what The Beatles and The Stones were using that was AC 30’s. They were the biggest amplifier at the time and then Eric Clapton started using a 50 watt Marshall. That became the norm until Pete Townsend said he wanted bigger. He wanted 100watt because they were playing big places and no one could hear them at the back of the hall. Suddenly it’s getting bigger and louder with 4 x 12 cabinets and everybodys ear’s gettting used to that level of sound. I remember we were playing Annabels Club in Sunderland  and to load the gear in you used the back stairs. We were loading in 4×12’s and they were so big you couldn’t see your feet’.

Les: ‘It was good having a full house and using all that gear at that volume because people absorbed the sound but if you had a venue a third full it was very different. But now a lot of people are returning to AC 30’s and using larger PA’s’.

Arthur: ‘I’m still using a Marshall now because I’m used to the sound and Les uses a Messa Boogie which is smaller in size but has plenty of power. The technology has changed over the years. We were playing the Birtley club one time and I had just bought my Marshall 100watt head. We were loading the gear in up the steep stairs at the back and I think it was our singer Terry Slesser who said ‘I’ll carry that up for you’. My brand new Marshall head slips out of his hand and goes boink, boink, boink, down the steps to the bottom. The side of the box fell away. I was distraught. We got the gear on stage and thought do I switch it on? Will it go pop! Eventually I turned it on and it worked perfectly. When I got it home I used some glue to stick the side back on. Marshall amp’s are made solidly you know’. 

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Arthur Ramm

Where did you rehearse and play your first gig ?

Les: ‘Around 1964 The Jump used to have house rehearsals at Tommy Steads and played on a Sunday at Aloysius Church Hall in Hebburn. The church ran it and they had bands on every Sunday and served soft drinks. The atmosphere was brilliant we used to look forward to it. When we played I used to push my amplifier up the street to get into the hall, we loved it. Tommy who is still playing today, was all genned up with the American music cos he had the records so we played a lot of soul and blues. But then Tommy moved to London so I left the band and joined Hedgehog Pie. We were classed as an underground band. But yeah that’s how I started’.

Arthur: ’We got a school band together and I was playing sort of bass notes on the heavy strings of my 6 string guitar. Sounded nothing like a bass really but that’s what I was after. So I got one out of the local magazine for £35 and I was away then. Then what changed for me was when I heard John Mayalls Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton and I thought wow I want to learn how to play like that. My first gig was at a wedding in Careme House in South Shields. It was for the guitarists cousin and we done about half an hour of bluesy songs’.

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The Shadey Kases with Arthur Ramm on the left.

How did Beckett form and where did the band rehearse ?

Arthur: ‘I was in a band called The Shadey Kases, who I joined around 65 or 66. I was the rhythm player, just a lonely strummer. One night Les was playing with his band in Sunderland with this great sounding guitar ‘Who is that playing, sounds fantastic’ I said. I was normally a shy person but afterwards went up to Les and said how did you get that sound, your playing is excellent. He was so friendly and showed me the amp and all that. We really got on because some people can be a bit stand off’ish. When Beckett started he was the guy to ask to play guitar and he said yes’.

Les: ’I was in Societys Child and we used to get a lot of work at the Hedworth Hall in South Shields. Alf Josephs from there used to manage us. But the band split over the singer and keyboardist arguing over petty things. The Hedworth Hall was a place all the bands would go to after a gig because it was open till 2am and we’d get in free of charge. There I met up with Arthur who had just left the John Miles band. ‘How would you like to join me and Alan’ (Craig, drummer). So yeah we are the three founding members of Beckett. We got Bill Cambell in on bass. Rehearsals were in a pre-fab building near St Francis Church in South Shields. Alan Craig got it cos he knew someone from the church. We used to go 2-3 times a week to rehearse and we done some Kinks stuff, some Deep Purple’. 

How did the name of the band come about ?

Arthur: ‘When we were talking about what we are going to call ourselves I said why not Becket ? There had been a film made called Becket starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole and I just liked the name.  Sounds good. Just the one word. So yeah we all went with that. If you look at Ringo Starr’s drumkit just the way they write the name Beatles, the style of the writing you know it just worked. The two t’s at the end came about because Ted Hooper suggested we should write it that way. Ted was always hanging around and had a brother who was playing guitar in West One, another Shields band we knew. Next we saw an advert for a gig we were doing at the Golden Slipper in South Shields and we were advertised with the two t’s. From then on in, it just stuck’.

Where did you gig and what venues did you play ?

Arthur: ‘We ended up being very successful starting off around the pubs and clubs. Usually there would be 2x 45minute sets. Early days we’d have lots of current stuff that was in the charts, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Beatles, Stones that sort of stuff. A blessing was the Bailey Organisation because they had the Latino club in South Shields and they would get us to guest before the main artist came on like Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, whoever had been on Top of the Pops. There were venues like Wetheralls, La Bamba in Darlington, La Ronde in Billingham, La Dolce Vita, The Cavendish Club there was so many. Only problem was it wasn’t till 2am when we finished then we had to get back home and we still had day jobs. I was an apprentice tool maker and had to get up for the bus to work at 6.30’.

Les: ‘The band used to play around the North East nearly every night of the week, quite often two bookings a night. We’d be sort of living two lives cos we’d be in a bubble on stage, going down well and everything was great. Then I’d get in at 4 in the morning and my mother would be dragging me out of bed at 6. Then not much later you’d be walking to work in the snow. The band was a job, we’d pay the stamp every Friday and get pay packets every Sunday. Arthur would get a cheque off Mel Unsworth the promoter then share it out. We would only have Tuesday off cos we had girlfriends’.

Arthur: ‘Good thing was you’d have the extra money from the gigs so you could buy an extra pedal or better guitar. One of our first gigs was at a nightclub in Darlington and the stage was big, we were right at the back and the singer was way out at the front. It was an area where all of the audience could see the artist. The lights dimmed, we went on and played an instrumental first called Supernatural. Our singer Rob Turner came on twirling the mic stand, giving it everything and there was only a dozen people there but he got them clapping. We were playing at the back in the shadows and were amazed because at rehearsals he’d just sit on a seat sort of crouched over and sing! When he was on stage his demeanour changed he was a totally different person. I always remember that gig. But I always remember the day he died. We were playing a gig at La Ronde in Billingham and were just coming up to 2am. He said let’s do a blues thing, Les you just kick it off, so we started to play. He started to sing ‘If I Knew You were Coming I would have Baked a Cake for You’ it was a blues song and that’s the last one he sang with us’.

Les: ‘I remember that gig, I remember as if it was yesterday. At the end he had a bit to drink and a girl with him. We had a policy of you go with the band you come back with the band. Then the day’s your own you know. We said your coming back with us just take her number. Arthur and I went home as usual in the Hillman Minx, that was our bassist Bill Cambell’s car and all we talked about was Rob not coming home with us. Next day was a Friday I got out of bed and went downstairs. My mam said someone’s been and left a message to phone Arthur it’s very important. The nearest phone was at the bottom of the street so I went down, phoned Arthur and he told me the bad news. I was shocked, we were upset and got the band together to talk about it. We went to see his parents’.

Arthur ‘We were told the weather conditions were very foggy that night and he was on the edge of the road near the pavement thumbing a lift. A few cars went by then he got hit. By now the girl he was with starts to thumb as Rob is on the ground. But cars just passed by because it looked like a drunken couple. Eventually someone stopped and drove him to hospital but he had too much internal bleeding’. 

Les: ‘He was only 24. The car just drove off. The person driving was caught because he put his car in a garage to have the windscreen fixed. He said to police he didn’t stop because he thought he had just hit an animal. Reports said he was under the influence of drink and drugs. He never got put in prison, just fined’.

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Terry Slesser in the middle.

Did the band make the decision to carry on ?

Les: ‘Let me tell you it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But we had gigs lined up and we knew a singer already who could fit into the band. Terry Slesser was a roadie for the John Miles band The Influence, Terry had also formed a band called Zig Zag. I had seen him a few times and thought he had a good voice. He was confident and had long hair. He joined the band eventually’. 

Arthur: ‘Yeah he learnt the songs very quickly, and fitted in. We done some great gigs especially supporting the Alex Harvey Band. They were so tight, really impressed with them’. 

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What was it that drove you on ?

Arthur: ‘It was just that the gig was so important, it was a simple as that’.

Les: ‘The time Beckett was playing it was magic. When we’d play the workingmens clubs they were queing out the door at 6pm to get a seat to see us. That’s the way it was. We’d play Middlesbrough and go to a gig in Sunderland. We’d go in a seperate car from the road crew who were in a van with all the gear. When we went in the club you would see lots of faces who were at the first gig, they’d travelled up to see us. We really appreciated that’. 

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When did Beckett start songwriting ?

Arthur: ‘Les left the band, and joined Sandgate. We got a guy called Kenny Mountain in. He was in a band called Yellow with Vic Malcolm from Geordie. They had a single out but didn’t do much. I rang Kenny who said he didn’t want to play lead but he would still be in the band. That meant I had to up my game. Kenny came up with some songs and we ended up sticking a couple in the set, then adding a few more, then a few more. That led us to meeting a guy called Geoff Docherty. He was a local promoter and saw us playing in Sunderland’. (Geoff Docherty was a very successfull North East promoter with major bands including Pink Floyd, The Who, Rod Stewart and David Bowie. One of the venues he promoted was The Locarno in Sunderland, a Mecca ballroom that held 3,000. For more information Geoff has authored two books ‘A Promoters Tale’ and ’Three Minutes of Magic’). 

Arthur: ‘Geoff approached our singer Terry Slesser. Geoff said he liked the band and said ‘I can do something for you’. We had other offers but the managers wanted too big a cut out of the money we were earning. It wouldn’t of left us with much. So we arranged a sit down meeting with Geoff, he was straight talking. We were very impressed. The clincher was when he said ‘I won’t take any money, not a penny from you until you are successful. I will have you backing people like Rod Stewart and Ten Years After’. Not long after we started travelling the country playing gigs and what a thrill it was playing in London, especially the Marquee club. He was exact to his words’.

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Did Geoff Docherty get the record companies interested in Beckett ?

Arthur: ‘Yes he got to know them all as he used to book the bands for the Top Rank Suite in Sunderland. He was very pushy. He’d tell them to come and see the band. His rhetoric and the way he put it over. Very convincing. He got us a deal with Warner Brothers and then we went to CBS. We got a £10,000 advance from Warner Brothers. Think our Mercedes van was around £4,000. But I had left before they made the album with Warner Brothers. They got Bob Barton in. The line up kept changing. All the original members had gone by then’.

By the time the album was released on Warners label Raft Records in 1974, the Beckett line up was Terry Wilson Slesser (vocals) Kenny Mountain (guitar) Robert Barton (guitar) Ian Murray (bass) and Keith Fisher (drums). The Iron Maiden connection is a story for another day if one of the members can get in touch. As we were about to leave The Word I asked Les and Arthur one more question.

What does music mean to you ?

Arthur: ‘Well I can’t live without music. If my hands don’t work I don’t know what will happen. I listen to music all the time and I am in a band now with Les’. 

Les: ‘When I’ve got a guitar I lose loads of time cos I can’t put it down. I’ve also been teaching music and I got into repairing and building guitars. I still play in a band now’. 

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2018.

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Howard Baker, WARBECK: 17th August 2017.

John Verity, ARGENT: 7th November 2017.

Dave Ditchburn, BRASS ALLEY/GEORDIE: 1st February 2018.