IT WASN’T ABOUT BECOMING ROCK STARS – in conversation with songwriter & producer Steve Thompson

An interview with Steve is on the blog (The Godfather of North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017 link below) where he talks about his songwriting and production work with Rodger Bain, Pete Waterman, Venom, Tygers of Pan Tang, The Hollies, Neat Records, Sheena Easton (!) and more.

But before that he started out as bassist in North East rock band Bullfrog, who were active during the early ‘70s. I wanted to know more about his early days in music to add to his story. In November 2019 as chance happened he was in a recording studio in my hometown South Shields, so I arranged to drop in.

Before recording with engineer Martin Trollope, we had a half hour chat an’ a cuppa where I asked Steve was he looking to ‘make it’ at being a musician, getting a record deal and moving to London ? When I left school I was working at Consett steelworks and I learnt more there on how to be a record producer. I learnt how to communicate and in particular using humour. So I don’t regret going into the steelworks. But I think not having to work there might have been the motivator.

It’s interesting to look back because we saw everything through a lot younger eyes. If I’d been armed then with what I know now I would have been invincible – but we were young and naïve. Really my motivation and maybe not the other guys in the band who were all older than me, I just wanted to get into this making music thing and I figured I just had to get into a band. It wasn’t about becoming rock stars it was all about getting the first gig. Then get more gigs and to just do it.

How old were you then ? I was 16/17 year old and had a couple of stabs at rehearsing with people but it was going nowhere. There was another apprentice a year above me that had been at the same school so we sort of knew each other – a lad called Robin Hird. The first year you are in the training centre and the second year that Robin was in, you go out onto the plant.

We made contact and got talking about music, guitars and bands we liked such as Cream and Hendrix, then he sold me an amp. When I got it home the speaker cabinet was a drawer from a chest of drawers with some foam backing and a circular hole cut in with a speaker fixed in.

Robin said let’s form a band, I have a guitar and a bass which I’ll give to you. I agreed and then he brought a drummer, Mick Symons, to my parent’s house. I played them a few songs I’d been working on and Robin said ‘I told you he’s got talent’. I was in.

Where did you rehearse ? We got a room where the local brass band rehearsed, we shared the place for years. We started to live and breathe the band. I’m not sure that we thought about a record deal then because that was just a distant dream. The dream that was closer was to get gigging on the local circuit. So for us this was The Freemasons Arms in Consett.

We’d go there every Saturday night and watch who was on and say how much better we were. Then the obligatory fight would break loose, the glasses would fly, bodies, tables and chairs all over – that was Saturday night.

Can you remember your first gig ? We went to see a Mrs Eiley and she gave us a date for The Freemasons, it was her only gig. The week beforehand we went to the pub and got up to play with the band who were on, that was my first time on stage. I remember one of the songs we played was Sunshine of Your Love by Cream. The following week on our own show we stormed it. Afterwards I went home and told me mam, it was a life changing moment for me.

We got loads of shows after then but we always returned now and then to The Freemasons Arms. We once done a sort of homecoming gig there and the punters were queuing down the side street, along the alley – we got such a following.

Did the band talk about what you were going to wear on stage ? No, it just didn’t enter our imagination. Although we were doing some clubs we were doing them on our terms and not in sparkly suits. I suppose we would have dressed like Free, Sabbath, Deep Purple you know. The perception was that they were wearing the same clothes that they had just walked in off the street.

In those days we never played any pop stuff it was all rock, then we started introducing our own stuff and got away with it. Although when we had two sets of 45 minutes each to fill we never done a gig with just all our songs. You had to play The Hunter or Child in Time and you’d be stupid not to do them, the audience wanted to hear those songs.

Did you have a manager ? We had a few, but looking back I was doing a lot of the organizing, I wasn’t in charge but was doing a lot of stuff. This whole thing of a bunch of young guys going out on the circuit attracting the attention of some guy who might be a plumber but has more money than you and fancies a dabble in management, well we had a few of them who had no background in the music industry.

We had one guy called Skippy who said we need to have one of those moments like The Beatles on the rooftop. So one Saturday afternoon, it was reported in the Sunday Sun, we went down to Old Eldon Square in Newcastle broke into an office and ran a cable up to the monument in the middle and performed. It was the first time anybody had played there and it hit the papers. It didn’t end well for Skippy, he got arrested and deported back to Australia.

What venues were you playing ? The North East agent Ivan Birchall got us masses of gigs supporting name bands. Venues like Newcastle Mayfair, The Viking in Seahouses and the thing was I never drove the van so I just got picked up and we drove out into the wilds.

At The Viking we loved that gig it was a big trek to get there. There was Bellingham Village Hall and a really good one was St Johns Chapel in Weardale. I can only imagine that the populous was starved of entertainment because they went crackers when a decent band turned up.

I remember we supported Suzi Quatro at the Mayfair and this was just before she cracked it and everybody was gobsmacked at not only a girl playing the bass but she was really rocking it out.

We nearly always got booked into the right places but eventually got a gig where we ended up in a place where no matter how quiet you turned down they were going to hate you. We really should of seen it coming and not got up to play. The concert chairman came up to us and said I’ll give you half your money lads and off you go. The thing I remember was the shame of carrying yer kit out from a packed club.

Every now and then you would do a gig where there would be two bands. One night we played The Rex Hotel in Whitley Bay and there are two stages there. Now this was a sign of our ambition cos we used to try and arrive later than the other band so we could headline the gig – we were top of the bill at The Rex (laughs).

The other bands would do it as well cos we saw them driving slowly along the back lanes. Beckett were one of the bands cos I recognised their posh Merc – we only had a van. We done a gig with a band called Jasper Hart. The singer was Brian Johnson, the band must have been the forerunner to Geordie, and of course he ended up in AC/DC.

Most times we’d be out gigging and finish around 2am in the morning and coming back we’d go to a cafe near Central Station in Newcastle that was open all night. All the bands would go there, we discovered we didn’t need sleep

I remember visiting Ivan Birchall one day and up on the wall he had lists of the bands he had on his books. There was an A list and a B list. We were on the B list and I wasn’t happy. He said the A list are his priority bands, if a show comes in at short notice I go to my A list and as priority they pay me 15%, and the B list pay me 10%. ‘Do you wanna be on the A list ?’ I replied ‘I insist’. In one fell swoop I gave him 50% more commission (laughs).

Did you meet with any record companies ? Well it was a struggle. We had some demos and we were going to set the world alight so we went down to London, our first time there. To save money Robin and I booked return rail tickets travelling on a weekend cos it was cheaper then. But as we found out it was the day’s when record companies were shut (laughs). So we just had a weekend in London, the closest we got was Orange had a music store selling amplifiers and they also had a record label so we gave them a tape.

I remember typing hundreds of letters sending them out one at a time cos there was no photocopiers them days, I must have been a mug and the rest of the band were having a life ! I have some of the responses and out of the blue got a nice letter from Brian Auger, he was organ player with Julie Driscoll (Wheels On Fire). So clearly I wasn’t just sending to record companies. I think I went through the Melody Maker yearbook getting address’ and pitching stuff left, right and centre. It was a tape I sent out that finally got us a deal.

How did that come about ? Cube Records who were formerly the Fly record label based in Soho, London with Joan Armatrading, T.Rex, Procul Harem on their roster, so they had a big track record, then we came along (laughs). They ran an advertising campaign looking for bands so I sent them a tape about the same time we had won 3rd prize in a competition run by EMI. We went to a recording studio in Manchester Square, EMI’s headquarters in London, yes we had two record companies chasing us.

Cube told us that at EMI we would only be a small part of a big machine. But on the day of going to the EMI reception we thought we couldn’t make it cos we had a gig in Durham on the same night, but they organised a flight for us to get to London and make it back to Durham for the gig. Our roadies had set the gear up and just as we were going on stage we saw the concert chairman and told him we’d just made it here as we have flown up from London. I don’t think he believed us (laughs).

Cube Records were really keen and they came up to Durham to watch us live and we couldn’t have arranged it better. The punters were swinging from the rafters going ape shit, after our first set Cube came into the dressing room and they were gobsmacked. They signed us there and then.  Now we signed everything, publishing, recording, management to that one company and the one gig that came from that was for the Newcastle Odeon supporting Wishbone Ash.

What did you record on Cube Records ? I remember taking a guitar lick into the rehearsal room it was a Jazz sort of thing and Pete the singer said it sounded like riddly, tiddly, tum. So we wrote a joke song called that. Cube were looking for the first single and we had done some recordings with Rodger Bain (Black Sabbath) and Hugh Murphy who done a lot of Gerry Rafferty stuff but when they heard Riddly, Tiddly, Tum they said that’s the single. We were mortified, it was only done as a joke. No it’ll be a hit they said.

They allowed us to change the title to Glancy, Mick Glancy was our original singer who had been replaced by Pete McDonald. To promote it we pulled a stunt with Tyne Tees TV where we were driven around Newcastle in an open topped car, but we promoted the B side of the record, In the City, we were embarrassed about the A side. That put a nail in our coffin as far as the record company were concerned.

Unfortunately that was when the dream became muddied by what the music business is about. They had the means to get our songs out there but they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. Maybe releasing a novelty song was going to be a good idea but I’m glad I’m not saddled with it – and having to do a follow up (laughs).

About 10 years ago Glancy ended up on a compilation album called 20 Powerglam Incendiaries and went to the lower regions of the album charts.

How long did Bullfrog last ? Initially we started out as Mandrake until we found another band was going out under that name so we changed it fairly quickly. It got to the point where it became our lives. We were gigging every Friday and Saturday plus some mid-week nights. I’ve still got my diaries from then and we were going out for £15-£20. It was really exciting to be out there.

Our first gig was in 1969 and we were at it until ’74. We sort of got a taste of the big time making demo recordings and sending them out to the record companies, we did have a burning ambition. There were other local bands getting record deals and the scene was really vibrant.

Eventually we took to drugs, our drummer introduced us, there was a certain brand of cough medicine and if you drank the whole bottle it would send you crackers, we all done it bar the singer. I remember doing a show in the Amble Ballroom and that was a strange one cos the stage sloped to the front so the vibrations off my bass amp pushed it towards the edge. Anyway we finished what we thought was a great gig and when we got off stage the singer said ‘Guy’s lay off that cough medicine cos I can’t sing those songs at that speed’. Apparently we played all the songs at double speed (laughs).

When did you know the dream was over ? I remember doing TV show The Geordie Scene twice. One live and the other miming, and I felt really silly miming. I always hated seeing bands giving it what fettle and not even being plugged in. So I plugged mine in to make it look at least legit. But I was embarrassed and you’re not rock star material if you are embarrassed flaunting yersel in front of TV cameras. We almost cracked it but I wonder if I was cut out for it cos I went on to become more of a backroom boy – song writing and producing.

But there was also another North East band, Kestrel, who signed to the label and the label put their guitarist Dave Black together with our singer Pete McDonald essentially destroying two bands.

We reformed as Bullfrog 2 adding keyboards and a female singer but my heart wasn’t in it. I had lived this thing from being a kid, it was all consuming, but now at 22 after working with producers Hugh Murphy and Rodger Bain, who also introduced me to Gus Dudgeon, I thought I’m gonna pull back from this thing.

I could of kept going at it but wanted to switch to song writing which led me to production. And that is where I was meant to be because here we are today in a recording studio talking about it and I’m getting ready to record some of my new stuff.

New album ‘The Long Fade’ is available here: http://thelongfade.xyz/

Read the first interview here:

https://garyalikivi.com/2017/06/27/the-godfather-of-the-north-east-new-wave-of-british-heavy-metal/

Gary Alikivi November 2019.

FUNK OFF – The Punishment of Luxury & further tales of musical adventures.

Avery, Thwaite, Red Helmet, Liquid Les and Malacabala all signed up to an adventure with Newcastle based post punk band, Punishment of Luxury. But from 1979-83 the line-up settled into a very creative recording and live unit signed to United Artists – Brian Bond (keyboard/vocals) Jimi Giro (bass) Steve Sekrit (drums) and Nev (guitar/vocals).

I got in touch with Nev to find out exactly who were Punishment of Luxury and where did the name come from ? A friend, Rob Meek visited Liverpool and sent me a postcard from the Walker gallery. It was a picture of Giovanni Segantini’s ‘Punishment of Luxury’. I thought this was a perfect title for a wonderful adventure.

How did the band first get together ? It all began in Walker Terrace, Gateshead. I’d just returned from studying music in India and Afghanistan and was sharing a house with Rob Meek. Rob created the first independent Gateshead street press, and the radical theatre company ‘Hour Glass’, which we performed with in local pubs.

This was 1975 when I met Brian Rapkin, an actor, singer and songwriter who was working with the Mad Bongo Theatre group. I had previously formed a band called Kitch 22 who experimented in a combination of theatre and music and Brian said he saw me play at the Newcastle Guildhall and liked the rendition of Wild Thing and Little Red Rooster delivered up from my tuned Hofner Galaxie and kitchen quilted Vox AC30.

One night Rob and I had a party and invited the Mad Bongo Theatre group where we offered them Garibaldi biscuits, Old Jamaica chocolate curious wine and Alien cake. We played and shared songs with electric exhilaration, the seed was planted for future ventures. We were visionary collisionaries occurring in the same space.

We rehearsed in a basement in Gateshead at Rawling Road, where our songs Jellyfish and Blood of Love were created. Eventually we rehearsed in a church hall in Tynemouth which I believe was also used by Lindisfarne.

What was the process for writing songs ? The writing was both a collision and collaboration of different musical styles and approaches which were amalgamated with some visual and dramatic opinions.

For example I would offer a song such as Puppet Life, All White Jack, and Brian would embellish keyboard and add lyrics. Alternatively Brian would write the main body of a song such as Obsession and we would combine musical structures and lyrics.

But commonly we would come together from two very different views and styles. This is evident in writing Brain Bomb which developed from a ballad Brian had written where I proposed the musical opposite and the idea worked, so some strange and interesting combinations were successfully created.

Jellyfish was another example of the unity of opposites whereas I would suggest a structure and some lyric or theme and Brian would apply some great lyrics, musical variations and ideas to make them unique. I think humour somehow connected us along with our range of various theatrical and visual ideas. The Message and Laughing Academy are other examples of creative unions. I think we had a very open approach which worked so well.

I remember in Tynemouth, writing the riff for Radar Bug and Jimi applied a great rhythmic phrase which lifted the idea into what it is. His bass playing offers excellent precision and very creative phrasing with invention. Stephen created some brilliant percussive pieces to compliment songs such as Secrets, he also offered massive drive and energy. While I offered many structures and concepts.

Brian also created words, images and imaginings, Jimi laid ululating foundations then Stephen wove it together. It was of course more than this and everyone was essential in creating the sound and spirit of that time.

It is worth mentioning that a great friend called Vicki who was a wonderful support to us from the Laughing Academy period, always offered us space to rehearse and develop ideas when writing new songs.  

Punishment of Luxury played their first gig at the Blue Bell in Gateshead in 1978, not long afterwards the band went to Impulse recording studio, Wallsend. How did you fund your early recordings ? We funded initial demos from our own back pockets. We recorded, Blood of Love, Let’s Get Married and Puppet Life. Rob Meek also enabled us to record and rehearse at Spectro Arts centre in Newcastle.

Signing a record deal – how did that come about, and was it successful ? After a long and tiring tour of record companies who displayed a range of disinterest, curiosity and admiration we decided in the end that we had to find a label who had some idea of what we were trying to do. We therefore embarked on our excursion to Walthamstow in London and a meeting with the owner of Small Wonder Records, Pete Stennett. Immediately after he played the tape of our first demo recording of Puppet Life, he offered us a deal.

He was certainly a visionary person who signed other bands and performers from that post punk period and gave them that all important first break to express their music. The label was small but created wonders for us in as much as our first single Puppet Life/Demon (1978) was recorded in London’s Berry Street Studio and our recording journey began.

We were pursued by a few larger record companies who after they had heard our first single, came to our gigs. Charisma and Virgin were certainly of interest to us but we thought United Artists were the best company as they offered much more artistic freedom. We all warmed to their very sincere and talented A&R scout, Tim Chacksfield. In the end we signed to them and went on to record the Laughing Academy album (1979) and several singles.

Tim could see what we were trying to do and helped us be free in our musical expression and eventually introduced us to Mike Howlett. Mike was former bassist and writer with Gong and Strontium 90 (a forerunner to The Police).

Mike helped us capture all the energy of our live set with his approach of recording many straight live takes, which embellished with the required overdubs, helped create a wonderful recording experience.

Did the band have a manager ? In the beginning a friend from Newcastle called Frank helped get us gigs and open the door to various management companies such as Quarry management and well known management such as John Arnison. Frank eventually connected us to the Asgard Agency in London who enabled us to put together UK tours. This is where we met Richard Hermitage who eventually became our manager.

Richard was a very positive, honest and fair person who managed to get us considered by several record companies and was instrumental in getting us introduced to United Artists.

Richard decided to stop managing the band and return to Agency work. We were introduced to Tony Fraser who tried to help develop the band’s vision and came on tour for some of the gigs, especially in Germany and Holland.

Did the band record any TV or radio sessions ? Soon after the release of Puppet Life (1978) we discovered that John Peel was interested in our music and we were invited to perform our first live session at the BBC in Maida Vale where we played Funk Me, Let’s Get Married, You’re So Beautiful and Babalon. We played on Tyne Tees show Alright Now, hosted by Darts singer Den Hegerty. Also on were Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Goldie and Geordie with Brian Johnson who joined AC/DC. We also played a live version of Puppett Life for a Belgian/German TV show. Laughing Academy I believe, was doing really well in their charts.

Were there any stand out gigs ? We played several Rock Against Racism gigs at Newcastle Guildhall and other local gigs in the area. We also enjoyed gigs at Newcastle City Hall with the Skids, then with Penetration. The Marquee in Wardour Street, London was another gig we played several times, it was such a great venue.

In the early period of our gigging we played the London Hope and Anchor, and on one occasion we remember a huge back line, approx. 15+ AC 30’s courtesy of Status Quo (we reckon), provided by their management company who were pursuing our scribbles at that time. It was a very full house so the crowd absorbed all the delivered frequencies. This is where we played early versions of ‘Funk Me’ and ‘Babalon’.

The following day we were driving through London and noticed these colourful headpieces being sold by a man on a corner with a cardboard box in Oxford Street. We grabbed several of these Peruvian ski masks and ended up subverting their use with fun, menace and madness in our live performances.

I recall the London Nashville gigs being excellent sharing the tiniest of dressing rooms with bands such as the Adverts, 999, Toyah and Siouxie and the Banshees.

On one occasion the National Front turned up and the lyrics at the end of ‘Puppet Life’ rang out, they started to climb onto the stage and attempt to destroy the show and muffle the message, but the band along with our tour manager, Sista Suzie and the Nashville staff, kicked them off stage which must have reinforced the song’s affirming lyric, ‘The Fascist always ends up on the floor’.

We toured the UK extensively then eventually travelled to Europe. Our first journey involved sharing a plane journey with Wishbone Ash and a brilliant band called Home, famous for their album The Alchemist, and apparently a favourite of the late John Lennon. It followed that we played our first gig together in Belgium with these bands which was quite a mysterious and unusual musical mix.

Do you have any road stories or magic moments when touring ? When our Laughing Academy album was being released endless gigging ensued and part of our excursion took us to The Milky Way and Paradiso venues in Amsterdam, and eventually via Cologne and Dusseldorf to the great city of Berlin. The Wall was still stood and divided East and West Germany, so great things could happen here! Although our Berlin Wall encounter at Checkpoint Charlie was a bit scary.

Steve Sekrit now had long hair and a strange beard, which didn’t balance with his passport photo and only after a long exchange with an authoritarian, now in possession of a copy of our album Laughing Academy, were we able to pass across the border. Thankfully he looked at the images on the outer sleeve cover as the inner gate fold sleeve would have offered no means of verification.

Our gig in Berlin that evening was at the Kant Kino and access to the famous venue was a long walk across a suspended structure overlooking parts of the bustling street below. It was a brilliant, receptive, bouncing crowd, full of anticipation – it was a very memorable gig.

We played the 19th Reading Festival on 24th August 1979 and John Peel introduced the band to what was a raucous gig. We were one of the first wave of bands to play an alternative style of music and many in the rock crowd were bemused at our musical approach, but they soon mutated and amalgamated to engage with this new expression.

Did the band run out of steam or money ? The lack of record company support to develop our musical vision punctuated by them dropping the band from their label, led us speedily to impecunity. We were rejected and bemused. United Artists had died and EMI were the new victors.

This was the period when we were recording Gigantic Days and for a moment, that awful feeling of rejection descended, but our spirits were alive, and we fought on for what we believed in. Perhaps it was because of the proposition of ‘making rockets miss’ in our songs as EMI were linked to Thorn at that time, or it could have been down to the satire ‘Money talks, money lies’. Or maybe simply that we didn’t fit into a commercial pop template.

A breakthrough came with Red Rhino, a record company based in York who liked the band. (Rob Aitch (guitar/vocals) was added to the line up during their deal with Red Rhino and for live performances, they brought in Tim Jones (guitar/vocals).

In 1983 we recorded the album 7 at Alaska and Greenhouse studios. This period marked a time when we had emerged tattered from legal lashings and management muddles with miraculously diminished funds.

What happened then ? After the album 7, Brian and I began exploring other directions this was perhaps compounded by lack of record company support and different musical and creative visions. Brian continued his brilliance and developed his theatrical roots with the application of excellent songs in a band called Punching Holes. While I continued the music with the integration of visual approaches, retaining the Punishment of Luxury theme while experimenting with different players, new collaborations and experimenting with musical inventions (Alien Contact) while living in London.

What are you up to now ? Brian will be releasing his Punching Holes album on April 17th 2020 which will be an historic record to what he was creating then along with the excellent Richard Sharpe and Tim Jones.

I am currently busy writing, and both Brian and I are exploring and assessing the possibility of creating a new album as we exchange our ideas and songs, along with Jim and Steve.

Have you any final memories from the early years of Punishment of Luxury ? We played at an event created by the adventurous pioneer  promotor John Keenan. It was called The Worlds First Science Fiction Music Festival (aka Futurama, Leeds Queens Hall, Saturday September 8th 1979). This was where we played with Joy Division and Public Image.

Our lighting system was in London and Hawkwind, who were playing the next night, kindly let our lighting maestro Rob Meek use their laser light rig. What great people, and an excellent show followed.

After watching our first official gig for many years at the Three Tuns, Gateshead in 2008, music critic Dave Simpson wrote in The Guardian about his experience at Leeds in 1979 and said it ‘changed his life’.

I went to Futurama liking Sham 69. I came out rejecting everything I knew, having realised that music could be about power, passion, psychology, even the genuinely futuristic, and be far more than “entertainment”.

That principle colours my thoughts on music to this day. If I hadn’t gone, it’s almost certain that I wouldn’t now be writing about music for a living, never mind still experiencing the unique thrill of watching bands’.

Certainly a lasting impression on Mr Simpson, and no doubt on many others in the audience. If you were at Futurama that day get in touch and let me know your memories.  

If you haven’t heard the band check out the recordings from the gigs at Nashville, Kant Kino, Hope and Anchor and Reading Festival which are on the Punishment of Luxury box set released by Cherry Red in 2019.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

SPIRIT OF RADIO with DJ Paul Kirsopp

Nova Radio North East is a community based radio station based in Newcastle, North East UK. Broadcasting 24 hours a day they launched in 2007. One of the programmes features local music and presented by Paul Kirsopp. I got in touch with Paul and asked him, what got you interested in radio ? Nova radio posted an advert on Facebook looking for local DJ’s. I made enquiries, completed a training course and then created my own radio show and named it North East Live Music Is Alive.

I wanted the show to be inclusive regardless of age or sex, to include bands past and present and include all genres of music to satisfy all listeners. The show would highlight original music and most importantly all singer/songwriters would have a North East connection.

Was focusing on original music a ‘must’ for the programme ? I am very passionate about original music, especially North East music, past and present. We have a wealth of talent in the North East and it is such a shame that many of our North East artists go unnoticed and fall by the wayside without the recognition they deserve.

I feel that my show can give them a platform to be heard and recognised locally at least, I have every respect for these people stepping out and having the courage to create original music.

58 year old Paul from Dilston Hall, Northumberland recalls the first time he heard music and it’s effect on him….As long as I can remember I have always been interested in music, listening to music, creating music and trying to sing and play an instrument. From an early age I wanted to play the drums in a marching jazz band, however that all changed when my mother bought me an acoustic guitar for my 10th birthday. During my teens I fancied myself as a bit of a chanter and gravitated towards local musicians trying to sing and playing a little guitar.

Did you take your passion further and join a band ? In those days it was all about creating your own songs and taking the music to a local youth club and then when we became of age we would look for gigs in the local pubs. At this time I began to watch local bands like White Heat at Newcastle Polytech and The Mayfair for their farewell gig in February 1982. Southbound at the Gosforth Hotel where they had a residency on a Monday night, Nato/Eldron at Balmbras Music Hall in the Bigg Market, these bands were all playing original music.

I began writing a few of my own songs and began to enjoy the creativity and fun during this process. But soon realised how difficult it was to write original songs, especially songs that punters would listen to and songs that people would pay to listen too.

Do you receive any support to your radio show ? Former White Heat guitarist Alan Fish contacted me to give me some advice, contacts and cd’s by local musicians. Obviously it’s a two way thing and as Alan is a local singer/songwriter my show benefits his music and I’m very grateful for his continuing support of the show.

I also receive regular contributions from local artists from around the North East – Newcastle, Northumberland, Durham, Darlington and Teeside. There is a hell of a lot of very talented singer/songwriter/musicians /bands out there and we need to support them.

There is regular contributions from local music promoter Steve Willis, who organises the very successful Crossing the Tyne Festival and who is very close to young up and coming artists in the North East, this benefits the show immensely. Plus a special thanks to Neil Owen Kipling, Dean Wears and all other staff at the station for making this show possible.

Where can musicians and bands get in touch ? If you have a connection with the North East and you’re writing and recording original music please get in touch on the contact below, and I will play your music on the show.

Contact Paul at https://www.facebook.com/paul.j.kirsopp 

or email pkirsopp@blueyonder.co.uk

Listen in to ‘North East Live Music is Live’ on

Mondays 2-4pm,

http://www.novaradio.co.uk   102.5fm    or www.mixcloud.com/hoppa25

Interview by Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND – snapshot of musician & teacher Jack Brymer (1915–2003)

A post last summer featured professional jazz musician Kathy Stobart (link below). The post highlighted her link from being born in South Shields to playing residencies in London, New York and Los Angeles to sharing a bill with Radiohead. But what about a link from South Shields to The Beatles via Dracula ?

A few weeks ago I received a message from a friend ‘Have you heard of Jack Brymer ? He used to live in South Shields. He was a famous musician’. I hadn’t come across the name so checked him out and was surprised to find he was a session musician who played on Hammer horror movie soundtracks starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I got a bigger surprise to find he appeared on The Beatles track A Day in the Life.

Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus pandemic the Local History library in South Shields is closed, and I would usually check details there, but this is what I’ve found using Ancestry, Musicians Gallery, and various BBC interviews and video clips on You Tube. Facts were checked as much as possible.

In 1911 John and Mary Brymer lived at 92 South Woodbine Street, South Shields. They had two children, then on 27th January 1915, John was born, later to be known as Jack. 

John senior was a house builder who played clarinet, and with no formal instruction, his young son attempted to play the wind instrument. Throughout his young life Jack appreciated listening to a wide range of musical styles from jazz to brass-bands. He later insisted that all these genres had been of great value to him professionally.

In a BBC interview he said ‘Playing the clarinet was a natural thing because after all I can’t remember not playing it. From the age of 5 I can’t remember life without the clarinet’.

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Jack trained as a teacher and joined the teaching staff at a school in Croydon. He taught the odd combination of physical education and musical appreciation. In his spare time he played in amateur musical ensembles.  

During the Second World War Jack served in the Royal Air Force. After basic training he was promoted to corporal as a physical training instructor.

After the war he returned to his teaching post, and in 1947 on the recommendation of professional musicians, Jack received a surprise telephone call from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra inviting him to audition. At first Jack thought it was one of his friends winding him up. But he went along and after playing, badly he recalled, a call came in next day – and a contract.

Throughout his career Jack enjoyed an interest in mainstream jazz and performed as a soloist with many of the leading British and American jazz players.

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He said ‘I don’t think musicians should just be musicians. I’m quite sure having a University degree in Physics is going to make you a better musician. You know more about life, it must make you a better musician. Admittedly academic knowledge is not the be all and end all but it must have a reflection on your whole outlook on life’.

He was a frequent broadcaster, both as a player and presenter, and made recordings of solo works with orchestras. He also played in both BBC and London Symphony Orchestra and was professor at the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Military School of Music.

Now to the recording of A Day in the Life by The Beatles during January and February 1967. The song appeared on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and was recorded in Abbey Road Studio. I watched the music video for the song and there he was, at 13 seconds in, laughing with a colleague while putting his coat over a chair.

The song crescendo features forty musicians selected from the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. Producer George Martin said that Lennon requested ‘A tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something like the end of the world’.

Martin added ‘When I went into the studio the sight was unbelievable. The orchestra leader, David McCallum, was sitting there in a bright red false nose. He looked up at me through paper glasses. Every member of the orchestra had a funny hat on above the evening dress, and the total effect was completely weird’.

The recording for Jack was surely a highlight from a very distinguished career, did he think it would be one of The Beatles greatest songs and still listened to over 50 years later ?

To celebrate his 70th birthday the LSO paid Brymer tribute with a special concert, and another to mark his 75th at the Barbican Hall, London. He published two volumes of memoirs and a book about the clarinet. Sadly, Jack died at the age of 88 in Redhill, Surrey.

He didn’t do too bad for a builder’s son from South Shields, who had many day’s in his life to remember.

 Link to Kathy Stobart feature:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/06/25/all-that-jazz-snapshot-of-the-life-of-professional-musician-kathy-stobart-1925-2014/

 Gary Alikivi   March 2020

 

PEDAL TO THE METAL with Steve Zodiac from rock n roll speed merchants VARDIS

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The late ‘70s saw Vardis slogging around the Northern workingmen’s club circuit – vital experience for what was to come. In 1980 they released a live album ‘100mph’ and embarked on a brutal touring schedule. Starting on a hot summer day at the Heavy Metal Barndance held in Stafford’s Bingley Hall with Motorhead, Saxon, Girlschool, Angel Witch and South Shields metal band Mythra, this was the high point for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal – What did you think of that time ? Very pleased and proud to be part of the scene, however we are just a rock n roll band really. We played hundreds of clubs and UK gigs travelling around in a van. We also played with many different bands over the years, like Hawkwind and Slade.

1981 was a year of momentum with total commitment from the band, they recorded and toured their first studio album ‘The Worlds Insane’, then got a call from BBC radio DJ Tommy Vance inviting them to record a session on the Friday Rock Show, they were regulars in the Heavy Metal singles charts and in August saw them opening the legendary Heavy Metal Holocaust festival held at Port Vale football ground.

I have great memories of all the bands who played, Riot, Triumph, Frank Marino, Ozzy and Motorhead. What are your memories of the day ? I remember that it was a very hot day. We opened the show and it seemed to pass in a few seconds. The crowd enjoyed it and so did we. Afterwards I said hello and had a brief chat with most of the others on the bill, however I had met most of them before at other events or in studios.

Did you hit the road in Europe and have you a following in any country ? Recently we’ve played in most EU countries, and gigged there during the 80’s. We also had releases in Japan but never visited. We still get fan mail from all over the world.

Did you have a manager and how did you get on with the record company ? Yes we had a few managers and they all took too much, too soon. They all let us down in the end and that’s the main reason why I walked away from the business for 30 years.

The early ‘80s saw a vicious two year court battle where Steve finally won back the rights to his songs, and in ’86 released the album ‘Vigilante’. It all went silent for nearly three decades until in 2014 the album was re-released on Hoplite Records and a headlining slot at Brofest and festival dates in England and Germany had the band back on form. They also played an emotional show in Wakefield, Northern England were it all began.

Have you had any magic moments on stage when everything went right ? We always strive to make every show the best so our last one we do is always the most magic. Every show is special to us and we are always improving on what we do.

What have Vardis planned for 2020? We have just recorded a new live album at the 100 Club in London and hope to get it out later in the year.

Contact Vardis on the official website:  www.VardisRocks.com

or social media: facebook/twitter or Hoplite Records.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

GIVE THEM A LEADER – New single out now from Electro:Goth:Punks, Calling All Astronauts

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March 2018 was the last time I featured Calling All Astronauts. Now 2 year later Grammy Award winning producer Alan Branch (NIN, U2, Depeche Mode) has worked on their new single ‘Give Them a Leader’. How did working with Alan come about ? Alan is an old school friend of Paul’s, when we thought we’d finished mixing it Paul sent him a copy to have a listen, and Alan very kindly came round to my house and gave me a crash course in mixing like a Grammy winning producer. He mixed ‘Give Them A Leader’ while he was demonstrating to me, although he subsequently mixed it again. He gave me loads of tips and help, the album sounds fantastic thanks to him.

Is there a story behind the single ? Yeah, we see politicians from the far right and the far left fighting it out, when what the majority of people want, is a leader that looks after education, the weak, the poor, the elderly, that doesn’t treat the global corporations like Gods, but encourages people to be aspirational.

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Formed in 2013 CAA are David.B (Vocals, Programming, Keys, Producing), Paul McCrudden (Bass, Guitar, Keys), and J Browning (Guitar). They released their debut album Post Modern Conspiracy in 2013, their second album, Anti-Social Network was released in 2016. New album ‘Resist’ is released on Friday 5th June, where did you record it ?  We recorded it in the studio in my house, we spent around 3,000 hours making it, we’d be in hock for the rest of our lives if we’d gone outside to write and record it. We are very happy with it, every album we make we learn from the mistakes on the previous one, and hopefully improve.

What inspires you to write songs ? By watching the news and social media, I am a bit obsessive over politics, and find the empowerment of the far right and nationalists abhorrent, this is what inspires my lyrics.

What is the impact of the Coronavirus on the CAA plans ? It’s actually blown our plans totally out of the water. We are just going to play it by ear for the time being, and see how the singles and album go before making a decision. When people are dying, whether or not you are playing live shows really doesn’t matter.

As well as features on radio stations worldwide, the electro punks played festivals Kendal Calling, Guilfest, Beautiful Days, and opened for bands like Pop Will Eat Itself. Have you gained a following ? Yes, but when you consider the music we make, it’s quite a small pond to be a fairly popular fish in. We definitely haven’t crossed over to the mainstream yet, though that isn’t on our radar, we just enjoy making what we consider to be good tunes.

New single ‘Give Them a Leader’ out now via Supersonic Media.

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Contact Calling All Astronauts:

Facebook www.facebook.com/callingallastronauts

Twitter www.twitter.com/caa_official

Spotify  https://open.spotify.com/artist/0xqglBsPF9COYj64LNl85t

Youtube www.youtube.com/callingallastronauts

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

 

BOB & WEAVE with North East actor Micky Cochrane

‘Carrying David’ is a one-man play reflecting the highs and lows of Glenn McRory’s unrelenting drive and sacrifice to become the first world boxing champion from the North East.  After performances last year, a short run of dates were scheduled for April.

The play was written by Ed Waugh (The Great Joe Wilson, Hadaway Harry) and starring Micky Cochrane. When I caught up with Micky I asked him what impact is the Coronavirus pandemic having ? Unfortunately the shows at the Newcastle Theatre Royal and Canal Cafe Theatre in London have been cancelled. I really hope we can reschedule but it’s all so uncertain now. I’d worked hard to get into really good shape so I’ll continue with that. Long term I don’t know what will happen.

What other work have you done with writer, Ed Waugh ? One of the earliest plays of my career was The Revengers written by Ed and Trevor Wood. I also did Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather by the duo. In recent years I’ve worked a lot with Ed who I get on very well with. I played music hall legend Joe Wilson in the ‘Great Joe Wilson’ in 2018 and grew to have great affection for the man.

Have you had a magic moment on stage when it’s all going great ? Absolutely. It’s a great feeling when you know going into a run how strong the show is and then the audience lift it to another level. I remember doing ‘A Nightingale Sang’ by C.P. Taylor. Most of the cast were on stage for my entrance and I couldn’t wait to get out there. The script is so good and the cues so fast it was such a buzz to be part of it.

With ‘Carrying David’ in every performance I felt I recognised a moment where I knew the audience were with me and with the story. That’s a pretty special feeling.

How did you get interested in acting ? I always acted and performed at school. Got my A for Drama but left school thinking it’s not something that someone of my background does. I maintained an interest from afar but didn’t see it as a career. I had all kinds of offers to join youth theatre and Drama clubs.

After years of many jobs and no direction it was my mother who persuaded me to give it a shot. I took a degree, got an agent and became a professional actor.

Is stage work in your family ? Singing and performing definitely. My mother is an amazing singer with a lovely voice. My older sister and younger sister are both good singers. My younger brother Stephen is a singer and fantastic songwriter and we are in a band This Ground Moves. My niece has an amazing voice. We’re the Geordie Osmonds.

Have you worked in TV or radio ? Yes, highlight was doing Man Down with Greg Davies. A great experience and a good laugh. Done quite a few ads in TV and radio.

What role would you like to play ? It’s ambitious, but I’d love to explore the part of Johnny Byron in ‘Jerusalem’. Maybe a ‘Line of Duty’ villain, love playing shady characters. I also have a real interest in playing strong characters or any who have a vulnerability to them.

Have you any work lined up this year ? I was meant to be working at Live Theatre this summer, with November Club in late summer and at Alnwick Playhouse at Christmas, but Live Theatre has been cancelled for now. It’s fingers crossed for the others. Who knows what happens next. It’s a sad and surreal situation we’re in.

Interview  by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

HUMANITY & COURAGE – South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg (1893–1965)

 

The previous post was a snapshot of the life of Victorian photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. Another photographer featured on the blog is South Shields Historian Amy Flagg (links below).

This post highlights the photograph’s Amy produced during the Second World War. She took some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera.

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Page from inside the pamphlet.

When researching a documentary about Amy (Westoe Rose, 2016) I came across detailed records that she had made of German air raids that revealed the amount of suffering the town endured. The Ministry of Information and the Chief Press Officer gave permission to produce Humanity & Courage, pamphlets featuring some photographs that Flagg had taken of war damage to her town.

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Detailed record of air raids over South Shields.

More images are available on the South Tyneside Library website

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Included here is a picture story from The Shields Gazette showing her friend and Librarian Rose Mary Farrell standing next to a display of Amy’s photographs. They were shown in an exhibition at South Shields Library. The report is dated August 1968, three years after Amy died.

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Links to previous Amy Flagg posts:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/19/westoe-rose-making-the-documentary-about-historian-and-photographer-amy-flagg/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/07/11/westoe-rose-the-story-of-amy-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/21/history-lives-amy-c-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/28/amy-flagg-holborn-the-mill-dam-valley/

Gary Alikivi  March 2020

 

A LIFE IN PICTURES – Snapshot of Victorian Photographer, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (1853-1941)

In October 2017 I was at one of the Goth weekenders held in Whitby on the North East UK coast. The town was revelling in the darker side of life, people walking around in colourful costumes celebrating the dead. The reason behind the spooky theme is the town’s connection to Dracula. In 1890 the writer Bram Stoker stayed in the town where he was inspired to write his vampire novel. Another reason to visit the town was the Frank Sutcliffe gallery.

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe was born in Yorkshire on 6th October 1853. He came from a large family, his parents had six children and made the ancient port of Whitby their home. At 17 Sutcliffe was a photographer and assistant to his father Thomas, an Artist and lecturer. By the time he was 35 he was married to Eliza, the couple had four girls, one son and were living at 9 Burrowfield Terrace. By 1901 the family had moved to Sleights Cottage in the town where his oldest daughter Kathleen was his photography assistant.

Sutcliffe paid the rent by taking studio portraits, but the main subject of his work was everyday working life, with the fishing community a main focus. Capturing Victorian life brought him international recognition and an award from the Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 1935.

Included are some of his photographs taken from a 1988 calendar I have called, ‘A Photographic Heritage’. One of the pictures features two of his children, Horace and Irene fishing for newts. The naff quality copies here aren’t a patch on the images in the calendar, if you search out his pictures they are worth spending time with.

On the Second World War register he is an 86 year old widow, employed as Curator at Whitby Museum. His daughter Irene lived with him until he died on the 31st May 1941.

http://www.sutcliffe-gallery.co.uk/

Gary Alikivi   March 2020.

 

CHANGE IS GONNA COME – with singer, actor & model Emma Wilson

Last heard from Emma in the blog ‘Song for the Siren’ (1st May 2019) where she talked about her influences and career to date. We caught up recently and I asked her how the coronavirus situation is affecting her….. We are certainly living in strange times, gigs that I booked for April, May and June are being cancelled on an hourly basis. It is frustrating and very challenging for the wonderful venues who promote Live Music, I truly hope they survive the next few months.

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Tell me about the British Blues scene that you are a part of ? British Blues is a thriving art, it has been recently reinvigorated by a new wave of incredible artists and an appreciation of existing legendary Blues Bands. The DJs, photographers, journalists and promoters of Blues in the UK and throughout world are the bedrock of the industry allowing us as bands, to float over the top producing our music and performing.

We need to support each other and make sure that (when we are able) we flood the venues with an audience. What we can do now is buy the magazines, tag the photographers and tell everyone about the great blues radio shows.

How are the Emma Wilson Blues Band progressing since we last talked ? We are reaching an upward curve where we are playing slightly bigger festivals and receiving good press. Some festivals have already been cancelled, but others are scheduled for later in the year and for 2021, so I am truly optimistic that we can pick up where we left off, so to speak.

The good news is that I have begun recording my new album. I laid some original tracks down with Italian Saxophone/Harmonica/Keyboard player Alessandro Brunetta in January and the band will be going into the Circulation Studios in Hurworth to add their parts as soon as possible.

I also have 3 incredible guests adding to the record, they are from the world of Funk, Jazz and Rock, frankly they are my 3 dream guests and legends of their genre. Obviously I can’t tell you who they are as that is for the big press release (sorry Gary!) but they are individually working on the album remotely in Amsterdam, New York and California.

Are you still picking up TV and modelling work ? If the TV channels stop doing live shows they may start re-running the classics I have been on so look out for me on Antiques shows ‘French Collection’ and ‘Make Me a Dealer’ (where the BBC bleeped me for saying Sh*t). I was also on ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’, ‘Toast of London’ and an advert for World Animal Protection lottery (it has bears on it).

How are you responding to the Coronavirus situation ?  I say stay, Body Confident, don’t worry if you put on a few pounds while self-isolating but do a few stretches or have a walk, be kind to yourself, sing and breathe fresh air.

Optimistically I am looking forward to giving everyone a hug…but in the meantime A BIG VIRTUAL HUG from me and keep listening out for my music ! My songs are heavily influenced by my admiration for Ann Peebles and early Aretha, with my rock edge inspired by Paul Rodgers and Terry Reid.

I can’t wait to get out playing again soon, in fact I have suggested open air gigs as soon as we are able, that might be a start ?

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For now I am putting lots of fun ‘outtakes’, videos and freebies on my page at Facebook.com/emmawilsonbluesband.   Also updating my website

www.emmawilson.net  and my You Tube page ‘Emma Wilson Blues Band’ with new videos added weekly.

To join Emma’s mailing list or for any other enquiries: emmawilsonbluesband@gmail.com

Or buy the EP:  https://store.cdbaby.com/artist/EmmaWilson

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020