A FISTFULL OF MELODIES : Durham band Lowfeye

A potion of Velvets/Stooges/Morricone/Springfield – that’s Dusty not the Boss – two self-produced albums behind them, and a third on its way – Lowfeye are a perfect antidote to pop gunk blocking the airwaves.

Durham’s deadly duo are musician & producer Alan Rowland, and vocalist & songwriter Carol Nichol who I arranged to meet in Newcastle’s Centurion bar.

Before 12 noon it’s quiet as travellers with their cabin cases wait in anticipation to board trains and whisk them off around the country.

But today it’s a Friday, and there’s a stag do on heat, one bloke dressed as a crocodile and another in a silky white wedding dress. We search for a quiet corner.

What came out the blue was we had done a Ennio Morricone type track. I love his soundtracks on the Spaghetti Western films with Clint Eastwood. We shared it on a Quentin Tarrantino website (Reservoir Dogs/ Jackie Brown/Inglorious Basterds) and a label in Europe picked it up.

They said a Swedish director is making a five part drama for TV called The Partisan, he’s looking for analogue sounding, quirky stuff and really like’s your track. We got in contact and a year later he signed it up and added it to the programme.

In The Partisan the leading actor is an undercover cop (played by Fares Fares) living in an idyllic part of Sweden. Some dramas are very grey and set in the city, but he wanted to capture how beautiful the country was with the darkness lying beneath the cornfields. The actor reflected that with a lot of skeletons in his cupboard.

The track was played around his character and had that spaghetti western feel, that was great because I’m obsessed with The Good, The Bad & the Ugly type films. Since I was young I‘ve been obsessed with Ennio Morricone. Forget your Mama bloody Mia I’m into cowboys and old films.

Afterwards, the Director got in touch and personally thanked me for the track saying it was very Sergio Leonne (A Fistfull of Dollars/Once Upon a Time in America). 

It’s been shown in Sweden, France, Australia and America but not the UK yet. I got some footage and watched it, I’ve been in music since I was 14 and it was surreal hearing your track on something as good as this. One of the best days of my life.


I love the sound and films from the ‘60s and ‘70s and had an overload of pictures and music when I was young. Written on the back of my biker jacket was Black Sabbath and underneath The Stranglers, people would say how do they go together ?

But I also like tracks by Chic, the bass playing is excellent. Then the Russian classical composers, and Sabbath who have a really heavy sound that I love, the riffs from Toni Iommi were very original for their time. I also loved punk, Pistols, Damned then got into Joy Division and Magazine.

I saw The Stranglers, Smiths then Nirvana with Cobain at the Newcastle Riverside, who were really good but unheard of at the time. They ended up giving the ‘90s a kick up the arse. I remember I wasn’t allowed to go see Ozzy with his wild reputation but I did see AC/DC with Bon Scott. I’ve seen lots of local bands at Fowlers Yard in Durham and small venues in Newcastle.


I fronted a punk band and got some good gigs and support slots but didn’t want to keep on playing live so decided to concentrate more on working at home in a studio. We’ve got a good little set up now. We work from an eight track, a computer and instruments.

I’m a melody writer and bring up the ideas, Alan’s a great arranger and musician. The melodies just pop in really, anytime of the day, I play guitar or keyboard and record them on my phone. It comes quickly we never slog at it.

We love the old analogue stuff, as Lowfeye we try to get that warmer analogue sound. We experiment a lot with the soundtracks we are doing and get away from the digital sound.


We’ve recorded our third album, just need to mix it. I love Raw on the second album (Poor Little Rich Girl) it’s a really heavy song and we’re looking at getting heavy tracks on the new one.

The last three month we’ve also been working on soundtracks and The Partisan are doing a second series. the Director gave us a brief about what it is about, so we sent him six soundtracks and he said there is two he might use in the new series.

Poor Little Rich Girl is available from Lowfeye via Facebook

or email cnichol66@btinternet.com

Check this link for review of the album:

POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL -new album by LOWFEYE | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Check this link for review of their first album Pow:

LOWFEYE – Deadly duo trip hop into the sunset on their debut album | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Link to music videos via You Tube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhdNiSGr3ho

Interview by Gary Alikivi   September 2021

CHATTERBOX: with musician Drew Gallon 2/2.

In this second part Drew talks about recording with Forgodsake and Automatic, plus bringing his story up to date with new band Dawn after Dark.

At the same time as Shotgun Brides was ending, I was doing a few gigs with our former singer Kev Wilkinson’s new band – Drill. They were a wall of sound. Three guitars, bass and a drum machine. All on full volume.

Very entertaining and great fun, but I like having a drummer to bounce off so after a while I backed out and made way for Simon Moore to take up the reins and I left to concentrate on the new band I was in.

The new one had a different sound and feel to The Shotgun Brides, more rock focused with everyone’s influences coming to the fore, so we decide to leave the past behind and changed the name to Forgodsake.

We started writing songs and quickly went into the studio. The early demos got picked up by the rock press and independent radio stations and we got good coverage across Europe.

With influences that spanned punk, heavy rock, rock ‘n’ roll and the new grunge bands, Forgodsake played a load of styles all blended into one, it worked well. We toured with Skyclad, Dogs D’Amour and Mr Big among others, and headlining shows in various places around the country.

Also one-offs with the likes of Neds Automic Dustbin, Honeycrack and The Wildhearts. An eclectic mix, but some great bands and some really sound people. We also did a Marquee show with Johnny Thunders to close the circle.

As well as gigs out of town we played lots of local gigs, two of which were the pre- and opening nights at Trillians. The first night was for the brewery staff and we put the vocals through the CD PA – the Public Address system the pub played their Compact Discs through.

We were asked to advise the pub on what PA to get in to make it a viable gig for touring bands and we gave them the PA specs, but they decided to save money and put the band through their CD player. Luckily the free alcohol got us through the night.

The Vaux management were there and we told them it was utterly shit, so we got them to hire in Don Morton’s rig for the first public night and pinned everyone to the back wall. It was loud as. They then upgraded the in-house spec immediately so there was a decent PA there.

Forgodsake made two albums for Bleeding Hearts record label managed by Venom’s management company Bear Dawn. It was a subsidiary of Music For Nations I think, or was it licensed through them? They owned Lynx Studios in Shieldfield, Newcastle which had previously been owned by AC/DC’s Brian Johnson.

Both albums were self-produced as our vocalist Kev Ridley was their studio engineer. The first with the original five-piece line up of Wallace/Binns/Gallon/ Ridley/McCormack on guitar. And the second record with me, Gary Binns and Kev Ridley singing and on guitar.

They got great reviews and I think both stand up after all this time. I was, and am, proud of the two albums, but we didn’t have that bit of luck you need, so nothing sold in great quantities.

I also recorded a few tracks on a Venom tribute album around this time, adding the bass to the tracks recorded to Abaddon’s (Antony Bray) original drum tracks by Kreator, Nuclear Assault, Candlemass and Paradise Lost. The album was called In The Name Of Satan. I enjoyed giving my mum a copy of that one. 

And then that was it for Forgodsake. Kev Ridley went on to sing for Skyclad, Chris McCormack formed 3 Colours Red, Steve Wallace put a new band together, Automatic, with his brother Mal on drums and a guy called Weeb on vocals.

Steve asked me to join Automatic, around ‘96, and we were back to our earliest roots. A high energy punk influenced band, with nods to the Clash and Compulsion.

Part way through my time in the band we got in Billy Gilbert as a second guitarist. The gigs were great and the audiences seemed to take to it well. We didn’t tour as such but played gigs around the country with a couple of Marquee shows thrown in and did local gigs with China Drum, Feeder and A, and a few with Stiff Little Fingers, including two Riverside shows and one at Newcastle Mayfair.

Automatic released one four track ep for Dental Records which Dave Hills, who manages Newcastle Trillians, may have recorded – not sure. We certainly recorded some stuff with him. Another album which unfortunately didn’t get released.

In 1999 I called it a day, but Automatic kept going for a while after. I headed south, working in Indonesia as a diving instructor for a while, then going to London and then Brighton where I now live.

Although I did do some recording with a group of musicians who came together for a week and hired a studio to see what we could come up with – Jef Streatfield from the Wildhearts, Paul Bate from Plan A, and Nathan Maddison from Hydra Vein. And that should have been it.

But earlier this year I was approached by Howard Johnson from Dawn After Dark, the ’80’s goth/groove/rock band who I saw back in the dim and distant past.

Howard is a journalist and had written one of the first Forgodsake reviews and we had become good mates after I moved down to London. So I’m now playing in a band again.

The first single came out on 27 August. We’ve got an album, headlining gigs and a short tour with Balaam And The Angel all before the end of the year with more planned for 2022.

I go to as many gigs as I can. Once you’re hooked it’s always part of your being, I just love live music. I tried to get bands together in Brighton, but it never seemed quite the same without Steve and Gary.

Steve is in Penetration and Gary is working with Pauline Murray and Rob Blamire in The Invisible Girls. Maybe we will get up on a stage together one day – never say never.

To get a free download of the new single Maximum Overdrive join the mailing list at www.thedawners.com

Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/M6dbQajOwsI.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2021

CHATTERBOX: with musician Drew Gallon part 1/2

Now based in Brighton, Gallon originally lived in Newcastle playing on the music scene during ‘80/90s. This first part features his time in glam punk bands Sweet Trash and Shotgun Brides.

A group of mates from Walbottle High School in the west end formed a band in 1982. We were young and punk influenced, and briefly toyed with the name Razor Cuts after the last line of a Buzzcocks song.

My dad wanted us to call ourselves Luke Puke and the Sickeners ? He’d obviously read the wrong press when he formed his opinion on punk rock. But it was never going to last because we had four guitarists and a synth player.

Eventually everyone went their own way leaving just me and Steve Wallace to soldier on, Steve now plays guitar for Penetration. We were in most bands together and he thinks I’ve got a crap memory so he’ll no doubt tell me I’ve got the timeline wrong and bands muddled up. 

I decided to swap a guitar for bass, and Steve and I looked around for other kindred spirits and found a lad in our local pub, Mickey Parris. We also found a local drummer called Gary Binns. He was playing in a heavy rock band but as soon as we heard him we knew we had to have him in the band, so we convinced him that his future lay with us.

We were listening to New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders Heartbreakers, Hollywood Brats, and that’s where the band name stemmed from. English glam, The Sweet, and a term used for American glam, Trash Rock.

Drew and guitarist Steve Wallace.

So the first band I was in was Sweet Trash who rehearsed at a place called The Scout Hut. It was a lonely building in the middle of a field. An old two-storey house which had the rooms downstairs knocked into one. We could play as loud as we wanted for as long as we wanted without disturbing anyone – it was perfect.

We started off playing covers. Some never made it to a gig, like Time Warped Garden Of Love by Cuddly Toys, but others did. First gig we played The Stones Get Off My Cloud, The Pistols No Feelings and Bodies.

Over time we played stuff by New York Dolls, Hanoi Rocks, and in later bands R.E.M. and The Clash. Towards the end of Shotgun Brides we played one that Sounds magazine referred to as our ‘rapidly becoming famous encore’ which was one of our songs – Stop Looking – into bits of Whole Lotta Love, Babylon’s Burning, Silver Machine and Bomber, then back to Stop Looking to finish off. It was quite long.

We did a couple of gigs then Mickey departed and was soon replaced by a singer called Carl Smith who I spotted on the #73 bus. He looked right for the band, but unfortunately only lasted for a little while then left. 

We played as a three-piece for a gig or two around this period, which would have been mid-’84, then we got a lad called Keith ‘Cosmic’ Forster in as second guitarist and he and Steve shared vocal duties. The jigsaw was finally completed when we got Kev Wilkinson in as singer.

We played loads of gigs in pubs around the area. The Mitre in Benwell, The Cyprus in South Shields, Talk of the Tyne in Gateshead. We played the opening nights of Edwards Bar at the Crest Hotel and that started things moving for the band as it used to get packed.

We also played at Sunderland Mayfair and did a few gigs at Newcastle Tiffanys with The Vibrators and one with Guana Batz, as well as headlining gigs.

We were managed at the time by Tony Fiddes who ran The Monday Club in Tiffanys and The Drum Club in Sunderland Mayfair and I think it was him who got some of the North East TV crew Malcolm Gerrie and – I think – Chris Cowey to come down to see us play in Newcastle’s Edwards Bar.

Our gigs were always raucous affairs with a load of weirdly dressed overly enthusiastic northerners going for it in the audience, with the band very much the same. So that was how we got the slot on TX45, the local show filmed in The Tube studios at Tyne Tees.

Looking back on it now we calmed down a bit for the programme and it looks quite tame compared to how I remember the gigs, but they did get a great shot of Kev diving into the audience at the end of the two-song set to close the show.

With Tony managing we did a self-financed single called Burn It Down which was recorded at Steve Daggett’s (ex Lindisfarne) studio in Gosforth. I think it might have been the first single cover designed by the lads at Viz records, but unfortunately they took a sensible approach and there aren’t any Viz characters lurking in the background.

We also played out of the area, about the time of TX45 we did our first decent London gig, on the same bill as Flesh for Lulu, Turkey Bones and the Wild Dogs, and Dogs D’Amour.

But Sweet Trash had ran its course and we were getting into other types of music. So one October night in 1985 we went on stage as Sweet Trash and then changed our name to The Shotgun Brides for the encore.

The Shotgun Brides played quite a few gigs around Bradford and Leeds playing with the likes of Salvation and Loud and ended up being managed by Andy Farrow at Far North Music.

We signed to Neat Records and did an album that was never released, and a single called Restless, both with Keith Nichol at the controls. We lasted about three or four years with various line-ups, playing gigs around the North East and further afield, but eventually the usual musical differences raised its head and The Shotgun Brides played their last gig at the end of the ‘80s.

It was still me, Steve and Gary, but with Kev Ridley on vocals and Chris McCormack on guitar. We thought that keeping the name would attract some people in, and we still had some t-shirts left over to sell.

I’m not sure where Shotgun Brides last Shields gig was. Some social club I think. We probably did play The Venue in South Shields, and I’m sure Forgodsake did too.

Read the second part of the interview where Drew talks about recording with Forgodsake and Automatic, plus bringing his story up to date with Dawn after Dark.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2021


Sky Arts has screened some great documentaries including ZZ Top, Go Go’s, Lynyrd Skynyrd and latest programme about Birmingham band The Moody Blues.

Early in their career the Moody’s toured with Chuck Berry and Sonny Boy Williamson while signed to a London management company who in turn had a deal with Decca records.

The first recording was Steal Your Heart Away in 1964, then after sprinkling some magic on an already great song by Bessie Banks, they released Go Now, landing at number one in the UK charts.

The profits were paid from the record company to the management who – you guessed it – never passed a cut onto the band and done a runner with all the dosh.

After this set back the band signed directly to Decca and produced a hit album ‘The Magnificent Moodys’, but unfortunately didn’t follow it up. By this time Denny Laine had departed, and John Lodge and Justin Heywood stepped in, Heywood was recommended to the Moodys by Eric Burdon of The Animals.

The Stockton Fiesta club.

With the coffers running low The Moodys went out on their first tour with the new line up on the Northern cabaret circuit played by TV stars Dusty Springfield, Morecambe & Wise, Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones – leading to one memorable night at Stockton’s Fiesta Club.

Justin Heywood: We had finished our second set and their was a knock on the dressing room door.

John Lodge: We thought ok they want autographs or photographs.

JH: A guy said ‘You’re the worst band I’ve seen in my life, you’re f’ing crap’. My bottom lip trembled, we were in silence. We packed our gear up and on our way home we got to Scotch Corner, when from the back of the transit a little voice from our drummer said ‘That blokes right. We are crap’.

JL: We looked at each other and said ‘I agree completely’.

JH: Next morning we went to rehearsals threw away the blue suits and wrote new material.

A completely new set was written ‘more powerful songs with melodies’, and in 1967 the Moodys released Days of Future Passed reported to be one of the first successful concept albums.

The record featured the classic Nights in White Satin which became the biggest selling single of their career with a re-release in 1972 reaching UK and USA top ten.

Who knows what would have happened if the gadgie from Stockton never knocked on their dressing room door.

Gary Alikivi  September 2021

CARGOES in conversation with Creative Director, Garry Hunter

For his new project looking at the connection between the Tyne and the Thames, former South Shields lad Garry, now based in London,  was inspired by a poem written by English poet and writer, John Masefield –  you’ll find a Masefield Drive in Biddick Hall where Hunter grew up.

The poem Cargoes is all about sea trade and it starts with the romance of travel by ship, the second verse is of a Portugese war ship full of gold coins, with the third about a collier travelling between the Tyne and Thames full of coal. It’s a beautiful poem.

The main aim of the project is to engage with young people to learn about trade in the late 19th century and we look at innovation and technology from the 1800’s and compare it to now. Plus highlighting the type of work that William George Armstrong was doing here in the North East producing hydraulic machinery, cranes, bridges, then artillery.

At the eastern end of the Thames river in London are the high rise buildings of Canary Wharf, in their shadow is Cody Dock, which was operational until the mid-60s. A lot of colliers from the North East would take coal down there for the coal powered gas stations which are now being redeveloped into housing estates.

I set up a community pub in Poplar in 2018, to honour locally born engineer Tommy Flowers who designed the world’s first computer for Bletchley Park in 1943 and was given an honorary doctorate by Newcastle University in 1977.

THE TOMMY FLOWERS Community Pub, with Colossus operator veterans Betty and Rene in front of Tommy Flowers portrait created by Jimmy C who made the famous Bowie mural in Brixton.

Berkeley Homes have a partnership with the National Grid including Beckton which is where Stanley Kubrick shot scenes for his film about the Vietnam war, Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick didn’t want to go to Vietnam so they changed the east London gas works into Saigon (laughs).

We also look at tin plate photography of the 1850s used by Edward Sheriff Curtis who photographed Native American Indians, to glass plate techniques when Sunderland born inventor Joseph Swan brought his process into photography.

Wet Collodian 10 x 8 inch tinplates using mid 19thC technology.

The different techniques used are really interesting and young people can compare them to today’s mobile phone camera which basically does all the thinking for you.


When I was about 12 year old I started messing around with a camera taking pictures of street scenes, snap shots, stuff like that. I didn’t get a decent camera with a good lens until ’82 and started taking pictures of bands.

Around this time I went on a year’s course studying Marine Engineering at South Shields Marine & Technical College. Then a job came up for processing and printing photographs at Tynecolour, South Shields, at the same time a letter arrived from Charles Taylor Foundry offering me a job, but that was for £1 a week less (laughs).

So I was at Tynecolour for over four years which was a great grounding on all the technical side of processing film and using colour, and when nobody was looking I would print my own photos.


As well as bands I photographed live comedy. I was at Sunderland Empire in ‘83 and had a front row ticket for The Young Ones. With six frames left on my camera I had to be careful because I didn’t have much money for new film. But ended up with three good shots which I printed.

The next year Rik Mayall was supported by a young Ben Elton and I got in the soundcheck. I took a few pictures, Rik was really great ‘You gotta come to London’ he said. So off I went he introduced me to a few people and I got my first pictures published – £25 for an hours work really, this was when I was only getting £30 a week at Tynecolour.

To be honest that’s when I was looking to get out I didn’t want to be here for the rest of my life. My Dad had gone round the world which gave me a sense of wanderlust. 1985 was a bad time in Shields, the pits had been on strike for a year, shipyards were closing, it was all grey and miserable I just had to get away. I felt it was important to try something new.


So I moved down south and ended in The Lodge recording studio in Suffolk as in house photographer. Basically it was a farm house in the middle of nowhere run by semi classical musicians.

The studio was all analogue with quarter inch tape, and during my time there was a lot of recording done, one time in the studio was a French experimental band Orchestra Rouge, who were really interesting. But bands were getting into synthesisers and some of them should’ve stuck with what they were doing and not try to be trendy.

I remember coming down to breakfast one morning and punk band The Anti Nowhere League were moaning about their mortgages – even anarchists need a roof over their head (laughs).

At the studio Mal Tootill who designed all the record sleeves and tour merchandise was a lecturer at Swansea University and asked me if I’ve thought of going to art college. He phoned ahead to check it out while I hitch hiked from Suffolk to Bristol then on to Swansea and saw the head of the Art Department. The course was a really good move for me.

After that about 25 ex-students all moved to London so we weren’t alone there, and these were days when you could still squat and get along without much money, that saved me.


Fast forward to over 30 years later and after a successful career in professional photography, I came back up North in 2013 and started working on a project called Street Art Heroes supported by Cultural Spring for public engagement inspired by the street names of Biddick and Whiteleas.

There was a lot of work bringing international artists over from Brazil, Canada and New Zealand, to create murals in north Sunderland and Shields, when we all stayed at Hillhead Farm on Lizard Lane in Marsden. 

They created artworks in the area, one of which is a mural on the side of Chuter Ede training centre, it’s still there now. Chuter Ede used to be the school where I attended and it was great going back because when I was a teenager there I got caned for doing some graffiti (laughs).

Alice at Chuter Ede nearby Carroll Walk on Biddick Hall, South Shields commissioned by Garry Hunter for Cultural Spring mural artist Irony.


Next year is the International Year of Glass, that’s an interesting link to the collier ships going down to London and sand being used for ballast on the return journeys. It is reported that was a different sand from the beaches, it was better for glass making and used in the North East glass factories.

Nearby to where we are now (The Alum House pub, South Shields) was Cookson’s glass factory, half of the chimney is still standing next to The Custom’s House. In the latter part of the 19th century some people from the North East would go down to London and work in the glass works.

I’m really interested in all those industrial innovations and how people have used technology to progress trade and industry and with a successful Heritage funding bid we’ve been given the go ahead for a project.

We’re in the early stages of planning now, I’m working with Graham Carrick, a fine artist from Gateshead who is Director of Digital in our Community Interest Company, Fitzrovia Noir. Plus we’re bringing in two other organisations to work alongside us. I find it all very exciting and interesting – we’re making innovations in industry sound sexy (laughs).

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2021.

LORD OF THE RING – in conversation with Sunderland boxing coach & fire fighter Preston Brown

The fantastic four of Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard were my era and I loved them. I’ve met Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler and went to see Tommy Hearns box as he was my favourite.  He was a great boxer, very skilful.

His fight with Marvin Hagler in 1985 is the most exciting three rounds of boxing. If Hearns boxed he would of won, but they both went at it hammer and tong and Hagler knocked him out in the third round remembers Preston.

Then every now and then you get a freak of nature like a Mike Tyson, he was powerful, had agility, and skill yes, but he was a fighter knocking people out. Boxing matches bring a clash of styles.

Today in the ring you have Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, Billy Joe Saunders who just fought for a world title, there’s still good boxers out there. They came from amateur boxing but it’s not as popular as it used to be as there are more distractions now, kids can be in their bedrooms on their computers where parents can keep an eye on them.

17 year old John ‘Pasty’ Brown.


I was born and brought up in Hendon in the east end of Sunderland and my Dad, John, was a boxer. In the ‘60s a boxing club was opened and my Dad ended up coaching. Through boxing he helped a lot of kids and hopefully I can do the same. Boxing can learn you discipline and respect – it can do a lot of good.

When I was young I was out in the street, bird nesting, playing on railway lines. But I drifted over to the boxing club with the other lads and my Dad was in there. I wasn’t forced into it. I’d sit ring side and took an interest in it.

What I’m doing now is a continuation of what my Dad did. Some kids when they first come in to the gym are not sure about it, but about 90% of them end up respecting the place, have determination and dedication to turn up training each week, and learn discipline. You’ve got to put the time in. It’s a tough game you can get hurt.

Preston in the gym.


When I became a member of Sunderland Amateur Boxing Club I started boxing competitively through the ‘70s and ‘80s. I slowly progressed from boxing to coaching and become official through the A.B.A. (Amateur Boxing Association).

Sunderland lad Tony Jeffries was one of the gym’s proteges, he represented GB in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won a Bronze medal. At the gym with Tony was a kid called Stuart Kennedy, I thought he was a very good boxer, but just like in life, you’ve got to have a bit of luck. Stuart glided around the ring with his footwork but didn’t get the lucky breaks.

A kid called Anthony Wilkinson boxed with me, he won three British titles two years in a row and at 17 turned professional. I thought he was a bit young for it but he was making money. I think he could have been the best boxer we produced.


I got a job in the fire brigade, 22 year I’ve been in now, and there was a couple of firefighters who were boxers, they knew I had coaching badges so asked me to help out with some training.

We got on for a couple of year arranged a few charity matches with the police and then got invited to go over to Boston and Denver plus a small club in Ireland where we go annually.

The firefighters loved the boxing training and after using other gyms, with the total backing and support of Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther, I set up our own in an old storage building in the Sunderland fire station grounds.

We got help with funds for equipment from the local council who said ok as long as you open it up to the community. We kitted the gym out with the best because the council were totally onboard with the whole idea and we had a big opening night in April 2019.

When we first opened the doors to the kids we were only getting a handful but that quickly grew to 35 a night so we extended to two hourly sessions. We got loads of kids off the streets.

The youngest is 9 year old when they train, you can’t box until you’re 11. From 11 to 15 you’re a schoolboy, 15 to 17 classed as a junior, at 17 you can box men. My first senior fight was at 17 the other lad was 34. I got beat but we’re still good friends (laughs).

I was classed as a boxer not a fighter, I had boxing skills with my feet, hand speed and technical ability. I boxed him in the first round, dancing round him you know. Second round he thought it was time to slow me down and hit me with a body shot and knocked me down I had a standing count of eight to compose myself. That’s the difference between a boy and a man.

Kids start off at three rounds of a minute and a half, as you get older you go to two minute rounds and seniors box three minute rounds. Our gym aims to channel the energy of young kids, it gets them interacting with people, better than them playing on their phones.


We’d love to produce Olympians or World Champions but if they come out just feeling better about themselves we’ve won. In the gym we’ve had police officers mixing with criminals, different people who wouldn’t normally get on but who’ve got a love of the sport. The atmosphere is fantastic everybody loves it and you can forget about what is happening outside – like being in a bubble.

There’s no better feeling in the world when the referee holds up your hands to say ‘and the winner is’. In the same breath if you get beat by the better man you think ‘I’ll do better next time’. The fire lads and the kids have a thing where they say ‘I didn’t win that fight but we learnt from it’. And that’s important because it’s all about competing. The gym’s motto is creating champions in the ring, creating champions in life.

Anyone that can step in the ring has my total respect. You’re stepping into the unknown, the man across from you might be better. So have you done enough training ? Have you worked with the coach enough ? You will be put in the ring against someone with similar experience.

Although our club has fought against a team that’s put in ringers – fighters with a lot of fights – matched against someone with only two or three. That’s not on really, it’s about giving the lads a proper fight, they’ve got to be matched up correctly.

Preston coaching in the gym.


Head guards were brought in a few years ago and the kids and females need to wear them but the bigger lads can agree to wear them or not. I’m a big believer in them when you are training but they are uncomfortable to wear when competing.

I will insist on everyone wearing one when sparring and training. The women may not be big and powerful as the lads but they are very skillful and I appreciate that, it’s an art.


Britain has produced some good boxers over the years who have come through amateur gym’s but in the past year covid has restricted that so it’s a problem, we’ve got to work something out to go forward and make progress.

For more information contact Preston on: 07740 285 966

Sunderland Central Fire station, Tyne & Wear Fire & Rescue Service,

Phoenix building, Railway Row, Sunderland SR1 3HE

Gym address: Unit One, Westbourne Road, Sunderland SR 1 3SQ

Interview by Gary Alikivi   August 2021

CARRYING DAVID in conversation with North East actor, Micky Cochrane

Before acting, Cochrane’s game was fronting a Newcastle band from 2008-13.

It was great being in front of a live audience and the buzz you get off it. We had interest from an American label who said we had to change our name because ‘We can’t sell you over here called The Soviets’ (laughs).

We done a single launch and one review said the ground was moving so we changed our name from The Soviets to This Ground Moves. We shot a couple of video’s and our track ‘Soldiers of Fortune’ got played on American TV series CSI New York.

All of a sudden we had some fans from the States and released an album in 2011. But unfortunately we split up six month later.

Fast forward to 2019 with Cochrane signing up for a new show ‘Carrying David’. North East writer & theatre producer Ed Waugh scripted a play about the McCrory brothers from County Durham. One severely disabled and the other became boxing’s Cruiserweight Champion of the world. Former Eastenders actor Russell Floyd was drafted in to direct the one man show.

I totally believe in the piece and think it’s a really important story to tell. Glenn was interviewed by Ed and he asked him just tell me everything what you remember about the fight. Glenn recalled what happened in each round and I do my best to perform that on stage. 

First out was a short tour around the North East in 2019 and then we took it to Northern Ireland for a week. The very first night was in the Newcastle Tyneside Irish Centre. I really wanted the ground to swallow me up, but after that every show got a standing ovation. The responses we got were overwhelming and it’s a lovely feeling knowing the audience have enjoyed the show.

2020 was cancelled for obvious reasons. I was in such good shape for Newcastle Theatre Royal but then Covid hit and I was gutted more so for my family who didn’t get to see me there.

Ed was saying to keep in shape cos we don’t know how long this will go on. Two month later I was eating chips and drinking beer (laughs).

But I was really upset it was cancelled. Glenn rang me and said it’ll be fine because it’s an inspirational story, it’s about not giving up, triumph over adversity.


When I first read the script I couldn’t believe it had happened, it’s remarkable. The defeats, the times he got ripped off, he was really rock bottom with nowhere to go.

Glenn’s disabled brother David was told he wouldn’t live beyond he was 15, yet he lived long enough to see his brother win a boxing World Championship.

It was his brothers bravery and courage to keep on living with a smile on his face that helped Glenn to come back. He put his head down and worked hard.

The final scene is the set piece with Glenn fighting for the boxing world title. I enter the ring as Glenn with boxing gloves and shorts on recreating all the moves talking about the fight as it happens.


I’ve been going to the gym cos if you walk on stage and you’re out of shape it won’t look good. I actually trained with Glenn at first getting his style right and how he threw punches. Added to that I had personal trainers for the weights.

Ed has a few other projects on so I took over the production and rang a few theatres to see what’s available. They were all keen to put something on so I got in touch with a few contacts who stepped up to help finance the show.

My sisters company, Sunhealth, a Swedish business owner who saw the play in Belfast, plus the conservatory company that Glenn does a TV advert for came onboard. It’s all come together.

During North East dates in September we are visiting excellent venues in Newcastle, Blyth, Durham, Barnard Castle, Hexham and Alnwick.

Plus the London dates in the Canal Café where we are looking to get a few producers along to hopefully take it on a national tour maybe this time next year.


I was in panto in June at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre that had been rearranged from last Christmas, I enjoyed it but there was still a few restrictions like the bar being closed and you couldn’t congregate near the stage. It was nice to be back on stage but it was a bit surreal.

This one man show is a test of endurance, it’s a challenge keeping fit and being able to bring the audience along with the story. It’s very energetic, there’s no lull, there is sad moments – I just want to do the story justice.

There is still a little uncertainty out there with audiences thinking should they go to the theatre, is it safe enough ? It’s a hard time and people will have it in the back of their mind what has happened – but now is the time for Carrying David to take off the shackles. I’m in shape for this tour and ready to go.

For ‘Carrying David’ full tour dates contact:


Interview by Gary Alikivi   August 2021

GEORDIE PLAYS new book by writer & theatre producer Ed Waugh

A new book released by the Wisecrack team –  Geordie Plays, is a compilation of North East scripts from successful plays Hadaway Harry, The Great Joe Wilson and Carrying David written by Ed Waugh.

‘In our small way, Wisecrack Productions try to give a voice to our forgotten heroes who have given us so much yet barely mentioned today.

We are taught at school that ‘our’ history is about kings and queens. Rubbish! It’s the working class who create the wealth in society and yet our real history is ignored by the London-centric educational establishment’.

‘One example is children are taught about the Great Fire of London in 1666, yet the great fire of the Quayside in 1854 is never mentioned. That fire started in Gateshead and spread across to Newcastle and laid waste to both quaysides’.

‘Around 700 working people were made homeless and many dozens died. This loss was much greater than the Fire of London but how many Geordies know about our fire?

A script featured in the book is about a former Durham miner, Harry Clasper, the story follows his journey from working class pitman in Jarrow, to rowing Champion of the World.

‘When you tell people about Harry Clasper who invented the sport of rowing that we know today – people can’t believe it. Nor can they grasp that 130,000 people attended Harry’s funeral in 1870’.

Waugh has also included the story of North East singer and song writer, Joe Wilson.

‘Joe chronicled working class life and supported workers on strike, yet he doesn’t appear on the educational curriculum, even in the North East where he was a superstar. The Scots celebrate Burns Night annually. We should be celebrating Joe Wilson Night every year’.

The third script in the book, Carrying David, focused on two McCrory brothers, one severely disabled and the other who became boxing’s Cruiserweight Champion of the world.

Glenn’s story about becoming a world champion is incredible but add in the inspiration he got from terminally ill brother David, and you have something special. Rocky 1 is a great film but Carrying David, about a ‘Country Durham Rocky’ is better’.

‘To be champion of the world at anything is a tremendous accomplishment but as a boxer, that takes dedication and skill. David was the one pushing Glenn to bounce back when it looked like his career was over. An incredible, heart-warming, funny and emotional story’.

Both Hadaway Harry and Carrying David are touring North East theatres, Carrying David in September 2021 and Hadaway Harry in June 2022. Both are planned to be hitting London stages.

The Geordie Plays book launch will be held on Saturday October 16, in Newcastle City Library at 2pm & 7pm. The afternoon show will be a free illustrated talk, evening tickets priced £3 will include songs and entertainment from the cast of the plays.

Ed added ‘Obviously, this is subject to what happens with the pandemic and could change but we are very confident the talks will go ahead on that date’.

Volume One of Geordie Plays can be bought from Tyne Bridge Publishing website, online at Waterstones, Blackwell’s, WH Smiths, Amazon, Wordery and Foyles.

Also available from high street shops Waterstones, Meander, The Baltic and Newcastle City Library. 

Posting soon a new interview with Micky Cochrane who stars in the one man show  ‘Carrying David’ in theatres during September 2021.

For full tour dates contact:


Gary Alikivi  August 2021

SUNDERLAND ‘TIL HE DIES in conversation with football agent & former Sunderland A.F.C footballer, Martin Smith (part 2/2).

It’s a big mix of Sunderland fans here in South Shields (we’re talking in the Littlehaven Hotel) there is the Shields branch and the Jarrow branch. I lived in Spennymoor which at one time was all Sunderland then the Keegan era changed that, same for a few Durham pit villages.

They were so entertaining they became everybody’s second team, for a Sunderland fan that was horrible. Although the way things are now with Brucie at Newcastle, sounds like a few Mags might want to come over to our side (laughs).

A message for the Mag’s. Celebrating scoring at St James’ Park (home of Newcastle United) for Sheffield United.

Wherever I’ve been I’ve enjoyed my time, and always got players player of the year that sort of thing. My record for goalscoring was 1 in 4 and scoring a goal is one thing you cannot replace.

I scored at St James’ playing in the FA Cup for Sheffield United, we were a Championship club then. It was right in front of the Gallowgate to make it 1-1. I bent it past Harper and went off to dance around the corner flag. I lost my head, for 15 minutes after that I was on a different planet.

It doesn’t look like the best goal I scored, but it meant a lot to me. It was special. In the end we got beat 4-1. I wasn’t bothered. I had a few songs from the fans in my career ‘Martin Smith, Martin Smith, running down the wing’ and ‘Loved by the lads, feared by the Mags’ (laughs).

I was playing for England under 21’s at Newcastle and got booed every time I touched the ball. People asked if I was upset ‘No I wouldn’t want the Mags cheering for me’ (laughs).

When I was at Northampton we were playing against Mansfield and I scored putting us 3-0 up. Job done. One of our players came up to congratulate me, he seemed to be more excited than usual and I didn’t know why, ‘It’s your hundredth goal’ he shouted. He was the statto of the team – every club’s got one.

I think I played in all, 400 odd games with over 100 goals. With the injuries I’ve done well to notch that many games. The Premier League is so demanding now, have an off day and you get found out – back then I could hide on the wing for 10 minutes and get my breath back.

You look at tactics now and the lengths they go to suss out a team’s weakness, they analyse everything. Back in our day somebody would go to scout the opposition and come back with a few notes and then go through it on a Friday.

A lot of 18 year old players I know have no doubt got the ability, but it’s what they have up there that counts (points to head). Can they handle bitter rejection, what about people having a go at you, you’re not going to be the best when at previous teams you’ve always been the best, can you handle fans telling you that you’re rubbish ? Suddenly it becomes a different game.

A big difference now is the intrusion into your life. When I was playing you only had a letter in the Sports Weekly newspaper that was having a go at you, or someone shouting at you in the pub, but now it’s all over social media, and it can be constant.

Remarks from the crowd from week to week are you’re either great or rubbish, maybe the amount of money the players are getting paid is something to do with that.

Stuart Ripley (Blackburn & Middlesbrough)

A former pro told me that Stuart Ripley who used to play here in the North East for Middlesbrough, during one game when he was playing for Blackburn he was getting a hard time from the fans. There was one guy in the crowd shouting at him ‘Ripley you’re absolutely f***ing useless’.

But Stu was sitting on the subs bench with his head in his hands thinking ‘I’m getting stick and I’m not even on the pitch’.

Footballers now are so different, they are athletes. I was at Northampton later in my career when we were playing Southampton in the cup. Both teams were lined up in the tunnel, I looked around and seen every player towering above me. 6 ‘2 players going to run over the top of you.

I think it was Brendan Rodgers (Leicester manager) that said don’t class yourself as a professional footballer until you’ve played 50 games. Today you see young players with their shiny cars in the carpark, my first game as a pro I only had a Ford Escort.

Sadly, I ended up with 13 operations during my career. I done most injuries like hamstrings and calves, the longest time I missed was a full season. But my main problem wasn’t something you could see like a broken leg, it was a degenerative cartilage in my knee.

You’d have the operation then three month rehab, come back kick a ball and it would go again. This went on for 15 month and the physio’s started to question what was happening.

Martin playing for Northampton.

It all started when I was at Huddersfield, then I went to Northampton, eventually the last one happened at Darlington and I didn’t come back from that. 

I remember we were playing Macclesfield, something just didn’t feel right. I tackled and my knee blew up, I knew I was finished. I retired in 2008. I eventually went back to light training and playing in the Northern league.

Martin had a spell at Blyth Spartans in 2008.

I tried a couple of other things but I had to come back to football, it’s all I know. Now I work for a football agency, Quantum Sports, I do a bit of scouting and some radio commentary for Northampton when they play in the north which I love.

In the agency I like working with the younger lads and try to help them make the right decisions. I talk to managers and try to get the lads signed. I like being involved, seeing players develop and I offer them advice and tell them the mistakes I made.

Actually there is more chances out there for young English lads to come through because of Brexit, I know a lot of foreign lads can’t come in to the country unless they meet a certain criteria.

Scotland and Northern Ireland used to be countries for good players but stopped coming through for many years because there was maybe a Romanian or Slovak player in front of them, but now they are starting to come through again.

I mentioned the camaraderie and togetherness that football gave us as players and even now we keep in touch. We have an ex-players club where four or five times a year we get together and play golf against different clubs around the North East. The FA Cup ’73 lads still get out and a few of us younger lads play – well we’re nearly 50 now (laughs).

I don’t think there is a day goes by when I don’t think about football, wishing I was going into training or playing. I’ve got a 7 a side game tonight, just can’t give it up. For the rest of my life I’d like to stay in football in some capacity – well that’s the plan.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   August 2021

SUNDERLAND TILL HE DIES in conversation with football consultant & former Sunderland A.F.C footballer Martin Smith (part 1/2).

The blog has featured over 500 interviews with North East musicians, actors, writers and much more, but now for the first time, stories from professional football.

In the first part of this interview, Sunderland born Martin Smith talks about his influences, playing for his hometown and the impact Peter Reid had on his career.

I always wanted to be a footballer. My earliest memories in the ‘70s were kicking a ball about, and from my mam and dad’s bedroom I could see the Roker Park floodlights.

Even though I’m a massive Sunderland fan, a player that stood out for me was Spurs player Glenn Hoddle. When you watch him on the ’70s and ‘80s TV football shows there’s never a mark on him.

Everything looked effortless too him and back then he looked like an athlete, just a different player from everyone else, if he played now he’d be worth £200million.

His passing range was something I tried to do, and his first touch. When I was younger my dad used to say ‘your first touch is the most important touch’. It buys yourself time, and like Hoddle, who always had the ball glued to his feet.

When I was a 17 year old Sunderland apprentice he was managing Swindon and I was in charge of the tea. I knocked on the dressing room door, he opened it, I was staring open mouthed at him, he took the tea and shut the door. I was still there staring at the door.

For great players it was the goal scorers at Sunderland like Marco Gabbiadini, then following football on telly you’d see players like Maradona just going past people, doing something different.

Martin Smith then with Northampton, with Cristiano Ronaldo in an FA Cup game.

When I was at Northampton we pulled Manchester United in the FA Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo was in the team I think he was only 17. He was so quick, absolutely phenomenal. I’ve never played against anybody as good as him.

I watch him now on TV doing his tricks and think back when we played why didn’t I just kick him – but really by the time I brought my leg back he was gone.

You sit back and look at all his attributes, speed, skill, heading ability and yeah you think he’s got to be the number one player, you’ve got to have a level of arrogance to say ‘I’m the man’.

Paul Gascoigne was probably the best player in the world around 1990-91, what a player, he was unbelievable. But that tackle in the FA Cup final against Nottingham Forest done his knee and he wasn’t quite the same after that.

But he was strong as an ox and he did like a tackle did Gazza, he had that streak in him, yeah he could mix it. Plus I’d take him all day long over a Phil Foden or Jack Grealish.

Gazza liked a tackle, pictured in his Newcastle days by Evening Chronicle.

I was actually at Newcastle from the age of 10 to 14 at Benwell training ground. They used to bring Gazza in to train with us because they wanted to know where he was, and keep an eye on him. So he played on a Saturday then trained with us under 12’s on a Monday night. They probably had him in on a Tuesday with some other team (laughs).

It was a great education, but I got my senses and signed schoolboy terms with Sunderland. My first professional contract was also with Sunderland, towards my 17th birthday.

As an apprentice you were in from 8.30am to 5pm working hard and cleaning boots. But signing professional terms you didn’t have to do as many jobs, it was more about focusing 100% on football.

To get the first contract was great. But I tell the lads I’m working with now at Quantum Sports that the first one is probably the easiest to get, and now you’re in with seasoned pro’s are you going to improve ?

The second or third contract is where people are looking different at you, and starting to ask questions. Are your standards improving ? Can you positively effect games ? I was doing well at Sunderland, I’d been in England youth teams so didn’t worry too much, but now if you stand still the bloke behind you is going take your shirt.

I was at Sunderland from around 1990 and left in ’99. I was a winger, I did play the odd games up front, some managers took me on as a centre forward but thought I’d get as many goals with assists. Then later in my career I played deeper, by the time I was at Northampton I was centre midfield.

Peter Reid at Roker Park.

In the 94-95 season in Division 1 Sunderland were in a relegation battle when Peter Reid was brought in as manager. Near the end of the season we were playing Swindon who were also in trouble, a real six pointer. But I scored to keep us up and we won 1-0 at Roker Park to make us safe. I wonder if Reidy would have stayed if we went down ? I think he probably would of gone.

Pre-season was so hard you just wanted it out of the way and the league to start. But you had a belief, you’d look around the dressing room thinking we can do something this year. We got promoted to the Premiership with practically the same team, he only brought in a couple of players, Reidy really moved the club forward.

The progression of Sunderland from Roker Park to the Stadium of Light was something we couldn’t get our head around, from 14,000 to filling that 40,000 plus stadium. It took the club to a new level and the expectation changed massively.

I grew up with a comfy Roker Park, then suddenly you’ve got these big stands bearing down on you. That’s where Reidy done well, he brought in experienced players who could handle it.

The Stadium of Light.

By the time I’d left Sunderland after an away match Reidy had even stopped the beers on the coach home, so he was seeing things had to change.

All coaches and managers made big impacts on my career. With Peter Reid some fans thought I might not like him as I was getting a few runs in the team, but not as much as I had before he came. The truth is Reidy opened my eyes.

Back in the ‘70s footballers wouldn’t think twice about sinking three or four pints after the game, then go into town with the fans and have another three or four. We were brought into that culture and under previous managers football was different, it wasn’t as athletic as it became.

My first two years went so well I probably took my eyes off the ball in terms of fitness, but gradually that all changed and Reidy got me to knuckle down. He could see talent and got the best out of me.

He got us pressing the ball, a high tempo game. People talk about high press now, we were doing it back in the ‘90s, it’s just different terminology.

Truth was, at first I struggled with that so Reidy put me with a fitness coach from the North East called Steve Black, he had a great reputation, and had worked with the Lyons rugby team. I was with him a month and he changed my total outlook on fitness, it was hard work but worth it.

Maybe other managers would have let me drift whereas Reidy got more out of me. There was a big change in my mentality towards that side of the game. I was probably fitter nearer the end of my career than when I was younger.

When he first came to the club Reidy would join in training. In one of the sessions Martin Scott, Reidy’s first choice left back, gave him a shoulder nudge and he went flying into a puddle. Scotty started laughing, the gaffer said nothing. Next time Scotty got the ball it was a two footer down the shins from the gaffer.

Vinny Jones at Wimbledon said our captain Kevin Ball was the hardest player he played against – but every day I had to train with Bally and he was an animal. He had a very strong will to win and he epitomised everything Reidy instilled in us at the club.

The squad at the time was excellent, a tight camaraderie fostered by Reidy and Bobby Saxton. Now and then he would get the lads together and have a bit of a blow out, maybe take us away for weekends. A great bunch of lads with big Niall Quinn in there, yeah great times.

From the lows of battling through injuries to the highs of scoring, how today’s footballers cope with pressure, plus what Martin is doing in football now. Read part two on the next post.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  August 2021