STRIKE UP THE BAND in conversation with Gary Miller and Mick Tyas from The Whisky Priests

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Gary Miller, Gary Alikivi & Mick Tyas.

North East folk rockers The Whisky Priests released their first album Nee Gud Luck in 1989…

Gary Nee Gud Luck was done quickly which made it quite exciting really. Later on with other albums I found it a stressful experience because being a perfectionist it was difficult to relax in the studio. I was quite uncomfortable in that situation and once you press that button you know.

Mick Thing is, recording is very clinical and very mechanical you know, you do your bit and add the overdubs. But live you play it warts an’ all, you make mistakes and we still play those songs.

Listening back would you change anything on that first album ? 

Gary No, looking back we wouldn’t change anything about the music. It’s like looking back on old photos isn’t it. They are defining moments. Creative people keep searching for perfection, improving on the last thing you’ve done. Always feeling you can do better and that’s how it should be you know. No, wouldn’t change anything.

ALBUM

Mick That cover picture was taken outside The Cluny, you can see the old cobbles, the River Tyne is behind us.

Gary There is nothing to suggest there’s a recording studio in the warehouse.

Mick We have talked about going back there and re-staging the photo with the new line up.

Gary Our image is authentic. If it was fake people would see through it and it would fall apart. At school I’d wear white shirt and crombies. When I got into music in the 70s I was into The Clash, XTC, Post punk stuff but a band I was heavily into was The Specials. Jerry Dammers was a genius, creating the whole black/white image, second-hand suits, and the way the band was presented with all their energy. Here was a band that looked like a gang. Myself and my brother took a lot from that.

Similar to bands like the Ramones ?

Gary Yeah, when we started we wanted to reflect that because we didn’t do things by halves. It was 100%. On stage we were putting our heart and soul into it. It was who we were.

Mick We did a festival in Belgium and were second on the bill to the Ramones. We met them and Joey said he liked our show but the others were kind of introvert. I remember we were in Italy and got on the guest list for a Ramones gig. My memory of that night was being asked for my autograph at a Ramones gig not a Whisky Priests gig (laughs).

Gary We’ve always had our integrity. We’ve always tried to be honest and never be pretentious about it. Not being calculated about it or commercial, we’ve just followed our creative heart.

Mick There’s been various people trying to get their hooks in and manipulate and change us but the integrity of the band stops that.

The Whisky Priests - Photo Session 1989 (Nee Gud Luck promo) 3 - Copy

Founder member Gary Miller remembers how the name of the band came about… We had been rehearsing, our first gigs were arranged and we needed a name. My brother and I wrote down a few names and that was the best of the bunch. It came from a character in a book The Power and the Glory by British author Graham Greene, which is set during the Mexican revolution. The main protagonist is an anonymous priest and referred to as The Whisky Priest.

Mike We called one of our albums The Power and the Glory as a homage to the author. There was no real story behind it but it had a few advantages.

Gary Yeah, we were at a gig in Germany and half way through a guy came on stage with a tray full of glasses of whisky for us (laughs). And once we were playing in Holland and there was an article in a newspaper warning people not to go to see this band cos apparently we were encouraging alcoholism. As a result, the gig was a sell-out (laughs).

Mick Yeah there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

There has been a reunion lately but when were The Whisky Priests first active ?

Gary From 1985 to 2002 officially, then we kind of went into hibernation, we did a few gigs here and there but that was it until the reunion tour last year. We enjoyed it and the majority of material was from the early part of our career. It was great to revisit it and we adapted some songs, it had a freshness because we now have 30 years of experience behind us. And not just musicality but life you know.

Mick Some of the stuff we were playing were better versions I thought. We were out there enjoying it.

Gary Yeah we were doing it for different reasons. Back then everything rested on it, you never had time to step back and appreciate it. It was relentless. So this time was a celebration really of the band’s history and legacy.

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Multi-instrumentalist Mick Tyas joined The Whisky Priests in ’88, adding vocals, banjo, mandolin and bouzouki… I had been on a Christmas holiday with some friends and we were driving back when I heard an interview with the band on BBC Radio Cleveland. The band were only a three piece then and were looking for a bass player. My friend’s wife said why not ring them up, I think I remember the phone number. At first I got the number wrong then tried again, got it right and went along to the audition. Which was at your parents’ house wasn’t it ?

Gary Yeah, in my bedroom (laughs).

In the early years the band had already created a loyal following…

Gary Yeah, we’d only played a few gigs in local pubs around Durham. Our first gig was in October ’85 and the band were just in a fledgling state, none of us were full-time then and were holding down day jobs. We had a loyal following and one of them was called Nigel Wreford, and his dad had a dairy farm near Haswell. He used to deliver the milk and one of the houses on his route belonged to a producer at Tyne Tees Television who produced The Tube, his name was Malcolm Gerrie.

We hadn’t released any records by then but we did have some demo tapes. On his next round the farmer dropped off the milk as usual but put a tape next to the bottles with a note attached saying…Have a listen to this, think you might like it.

This was early ’86 and I was working my first job as a clerical assistant in Social Services at Durham County Hall when the phone rang and my colleague shouted over… Gary, it’s for you… I thought it must have been someone ringing from one of the care homes when someone on the other end said… It’s Tyne Tees Television can you come and do The Tube this Friday. This was at five-to-five on a Wednesday afternoon (laughs).

I did meet Malcolm Gerrie later and he said he was driving in his car when he remembered the tape, listened to it and thought I must get these guys on The Tube. We loved the experience and opportunity for what was a young band then. We were sat in the studio canteen seeing all these famous people off the telly…I recognise him he does the news (laughs).

TUBE

Did more opportunities come off the back of your appearance on The Tube ?

Gary Yeah, suddenly we had the chance to play outside our immediate area. We were The band off The Tube, you know. In the bar at The Tube we met these two guys who were getting into artist management. One was a sort of music mogul who knew about the industry and the other was purely business and knew nothing about music. It looked promising at first, they signed another act as well, but the guys fell out with each other. So one took one act and the other got, well we ended up with the businessman who knew nothing about the music industry.

The other guy became head of Go Disc records and signed The Housemartins, bands like that. So it could have been a different scenario. Our manager put our first single out which kick-started our recording career but nothing after that… he needed the other guy! Eventually we parted company and started doing it ourselves.

 Was this the start of Whippet Records ?

Gary Our first recording was down the Newcastle Quayside at a place called Prism Sound that ended up on a compilation album of bands from Durham. Then we put a single out, The Colliery on 7inch that set up Whippet Records then put out two 12inch ep’s in 1988. That’s when Mick joined and we recorded our first album Nee Gud Luck in ’89 at The Cluny recording studio, now a music venue.

Mick Yeah, originally it was an old whisky warehouse. We went down into the bowels of the place in a big service lift. The engineer was Mickey Sweeney who used to record a lot of folk acts around the North East. It was all done in about 6 days, mostly recorded live including the mixing. We had a lotta fun but could have done with more time.

Gary Yeah, it was bang, bang, bang… and the brass band was in there. I was in the control room singing and to avoid any sound spillage the rest of the band where in the studio.

Mick It was very seat of yer pants recording. No cans (headphones) or soundproofing really. The engineer saying I’m just nipping over to The Ship to sort sumthin’ out (laughs).

Gary We put it out through Celtic Music who we ended up having a big court battle with. But at their insistence we recorded it there cos it was their in-house studio. They recorded all their acts in The Cluny.

But on our subsequent albums we were looking for an alternate studio and Mick mentioned Trinity Heights run by Fred Purser (former Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist). We went there in January ‘92 for our second album.

Mick Yes, I already knew Fred, originally from school, so the link was there and I think we were one of the first to record in Trinity Heights. As well as producing he played on one or two of the tracks. We recorded three or four albums there.

Gary It was great because we became good friends with Fred, he’s such a laid back guy and a good atmosphere was created to record in. No matter how disastrous it became in the studio he was always calm and collected which rubbed off on us.

When was your first magic moment listening to music, a time that stands out as really special ?

Gary That would go right back to when I was 4 years old and my dad was into Italian opera but he was also into military brass band music. Me and my twin brother used to listen to the records marching around the room banging toy drums and playing trumpets. That was a real buzz. That tied in with going to the Durham Miners Meetings and seeing the brass bands, that had an influence as well because both my parents’ families were miners. It was in my blood and had a big impact.

Then at junior school we’d listen to the radio and sing these folk songs from all around the world. Songs like Jesse James, The Streets of Laredo, Casey Jones and the Maid of Amsterdam. Then local stuff like The Lambton Worm and The Blaydon Races. It opened up my mind that songs could tell stories. Then teenage years listening to rock and pop records in my room standing in front of the mirror miming along, that’s when I decided I wanted a guitar.

Mick The first band I saw live was The Beatles, I was 8 year old. We were living in London at the time cos me father worked for the prison service. He had bought four tickets, there was my father, mother, sister and me sitting in Hammersmith Odeon. I’ve never forgotten it cos at the time I knew it was something important.

We moved back up here (North East) in time to see England win the World Cup and I got into folk music and prog rock, bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span then Led Zeppelin. Punk came along and I had a connection with Penetration through their guitarist Fred Purser. Then I got into The Pogues, The Men They Couldn’t Hang you know that whole Folk slant.

Some musicians often talk about missed opportunities to take their music to a larger audience. Did you experience this ?

Gary We played Cambridge Folk Festival 1990. Colin Urwin, journalist on the folk scene wrote in The Gaurdian that We’re going to be the next big thing. So there was a definite buzz. That was our window of opportunity but we were stuck in this contract with an independent record company. Our manager at the time, who had also managed The Strawbs, said I’m going to get you signed to a major label. After about a year we went to his office in Tottenham Court Road and he sat us down and showed us all these letters from A&R guys at major record companies EMI, Sony, BMG, Arista loads all desperately wanting to sign us. At the time The Pogues had been hugely successful and all these companies were looking for a band that could be part of that.

Mick There was only The Pogues, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and ourselves were the main ones that were around. The Levellers were on their way up.

Gary Yeah, but we were already in a contract with an independent label and couldn’t get out.

Mick Our manager eventually dropped us, he couldn’t invest in us anymore. The Musicians Union eventually got us out after 3 year in all, plus we couldn’t record during that time.

Gary By then we’d missed the boat. That was our big opportunity. We couldn’t get bookings at festivals because the company owner, who we took to court, blackened our name.

Mick Yeah it was… Don’t book the Whisky Priests, they’re trouble. For every up, there’s half a dozen downs. You think yeah there’s something happening here… then you just don’t get the break.

Gary Ironic thing was that if we had done something with a major label he would have been in for a percentage.

There was a label from France interested and we were top of their list. But with everything happening they went with the second band on their list, The Levellers – look what happened to them. It’s all if’s, but’s and maybe’s. But we still soldiered on with our career just not on a major label.

After the success of the reunion tour last year the band are busy booking European dates for this year…

Mick Well you’re never too old to rock n roll and I enjoy it now much more than I ever did. I’ve been a musician all my life and getting up and doing it is still the most thrilling thing you can do. To play in front of an audience and get a reaction is great, especially in this band.

We were playing a concert by Skype last week to 2 guys and it was as thrilling as getting up at a festival in front of 20,000 people. Still great, still got a buzz. This reunion has been great because once you’ve done it you just want more. It’s yer lifeblood.

Gary For me music has always been in my blood. I’m a songwriter, I create my own music and will always be doing it. I’ve always had my own vision and been driven. When we weren’t performing as a band in the intervening years I was a Community Artist, held songwriting workshops, worked as a music agent and tutor. Always maintaining a link with the music industry because that’s where I felt I belong. That’s where my heart is.

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019.

For more info contact The Whisky Priests on the official website

https://www.whiskypriests.com/

Recommended:

Interview with Fred Purser 30th Dec 2018.

LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET

What price music ? Is it just another product on the shelf ? Is the value of music being overlooked, and do we need to handle it with more care ?

Three North East musicians, Carol Nichol (Lowfeye/The Relitics), Paul Binyon (Mandora) and John Clavering (Cortney Dixon band) are passionate about music and reflect on what it means to them today.

Carol Nichol: Being creative, writing and recording your own material is worth nothing now in society. It’s a struggle for any working class artist or band to survive. Apart from middle class students from the Brit Acadamy and their connections in the music industry, does anyone have a voice now ?

Paul Binyon: Tyneside has always been a hot bed for musical creativity and over the years has produced some outstanding musicians/bands. I do however feel more concerned for originality these days. Original music has always been of the utmost importance to me.

Although I’ve been involved with cover bands too it’s always the shear buzz of creativity that excites me most. To see an audience enjoy and respond to songs that you’ve written is the ultimate reward and of course I thoroughly enjoy being in the audience appreciating other bands original music.

John Clavering: Up here in the North East you’ve got The Cluny, The Star and Shadow who promote original stuff. But there is hundreds of pubs who would only pay for a cover band. I’ve been offered gigs on keyboards with cover bands but I’m just not interested. Bands playing Queen covers at a wedding – it’s an industry itself. That is ok there is a need for that but I don’t think it encourages creativity and new music. Pubs don’t want to take the risk of a band playing it’s own stuff.

Carol Nichol: When you hear of the venues closing which had character especially the decor of old ballrooms, it’s heart breaking.

The independent music scene is extremely important for the survival of original bands to exist and be discovered. For decade’s this has always been a great platform for a lot of bands. There is nothing more exciting than a small intimate venue when a band are level with a crowd.

Paul Binyon: My concern is the lack of independant venues. They seem few and far between these days. Even the few that we have tend to lean more toward the covers and tribute scene than original. I understand that there’s a risk involved with booking original bands for fear that there’ll be a small turn out and the venue won’t make any profit or lose money. But this is catch 22 because more venues need to support original bands so that they can build a following and fill rooms.

Carol Nichol: I think the future of independent venues looks very bleak especially with a younger generation who are more obsessed with social media and computer games. Kids don’t venture out as much and are too obsessed with reality music programmes on tv or should I say karaoke shows. People are more into mainstream and cover bands so aren’t willing to discover something new.

Paul Binyon: With it getting harder to secure gigs and with the amount of pub closures I’m afraid one day, originality on the local scene will become a thing of the past.

Without working together to try and fix the current situation, I gotta say it looks bleak. But I live in hope that sooner rather than later it goes back to somewhere close to what it was like in the mid 80’s where the choice was a difficult one to make as to which venue you went to, and to see which band because there was so many.

John Clavering: There are original bands out there who use the internet as their only outlet. A lot of niche stuff getting heard on Soundcloud and Spotify. But there is nothing like standing in the front row of a gig. You will never get that feeling from watching You Tube on your phone (laughs).

Got a music story to tell ? Get in touch and leave a message.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi January 2019.

ALL RIGHT NOW with Michael Kelly former drummer with North East band Southbound

SOUTHBOUND 76

Southbound ’76

Was music in the family ? The music thing probably started long before I was born. Both parents served in the R.A.F. and shared a musical interest in big band music like Glenn Miller. After the war my father left the R.A.F and started playing drums at various places around Sunderland. Farringdon social club committee said go and choose a kit at Saville’s music shop. So off he went and ordered a brand new Premier drum kit.
He never read music and just played by ear and when one act turned up, Dorothy Squires, she gave him some dots to follow. He said I don’t follow sheet music, she nearly passed out and said my reputation is at stake here. At the end of the evening Dorothy came over and said You’re one of the best drummers I have ever played with and I’ve played with quite a few.

In 1967 a little known guy by the name of Gerry Dorsey came to the club with no money and said to my dad I have a single coming out next week and if it doesn’t make it I’m packing in. My dad felt sorry for him, bought him a pint and said best of luck for the future. Gerry Dorsey changed his name to Engelbert Humperdinck and his single Release Me went to number one, the rest is history.

Who were your influences ? Growing up we always had music in our home The Beatles, Cliff Richard and the Mersey Sound were big players on the Dansette. At the age of 10 I asked for a guitar for Christmas but found it difficult to play so my brother took hold of it and quickly picked it up. He started singing and playing along to folk music like The Spinners, The Dubliners and old sea shanties on vinyl.

As he came in from work he would go straight upstairs practising guitar until his hands froze, literally, as we didn’t have central heating just a coal fire so the ice formed on the inside of the windows.

Shortly after leaving school at 14 I was travelling to my first job and a song came on the radio. I said Turn that up it was totally different to what I’d heard before. It was All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix.

I developed a liking for drums and started playing along to tracks by Free and Led Zeppelin. I would take the record player into the coal shed and play on my dad’s old kit. As I became more confident I would take the kit into the house and played along with my brother on guitar, what a noise!

When did you first join a band ? After going to the The Bay Hotel and Locarno Club in Sunderland we met people who had the same interests. It was 1971 and were ready to rock. We just needed extra equipment to play with. We got an old Rediffusion speaker and an old amp off the guy over the road. Then an unexpected thing happened, my dad had a heart attack and his job at Sunderland Catholic Club was in jeopardy. So I stood in for him playing with the resident organist, what an eye-opener.

But it helped me to become more disciplined as a drummer. I formed a band called The Virgins with my brother John, Rob Walker from Herrington and Ken Vardy from Sunderland. Soon after Rob went to London to seek fame and fortune and Ken went on to form another band. We went to the local music shops meeting people and finding out who’s who in the area. We met two guy’s from the Redhouse area of Sunderland, Dave Taggart and Tony McAnnaney. They were looking to start a band but unfortunately nothing transpired. My brother and I eventually formed Northern Rock Band with local musicians Mick Thompson, Ev Colgan and Barry Cameron.

During this time we had been going to see bands like  Zeppelin, Free, Purple, Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd playing at venues in the North East like The Mecca in Sunderland, Newcastle City Hall and Newcastle Mayfair.

Where was your first gig ? The Londonderry pub in Sunderland. NRB had been rehearsing for 3 months and people were waiting in anticipation to see what we were like. A full house on a Saturday night, a fee of £10… this was the big time. The lights were dimmed and with all our energy and enthusiasm we let the music flow. My brother John took on lead vocals and bass. What a night, I remember coming off stage absolutely sweating but really pleased to have played our first live gig.

We went on to play a few more gigs around the North East playing our own songs and covers. We even got a support with Fusion Orchestra who were an up and coming rock band. We went to record a demo in Multichord Studios run by Ken McKenzie in Sunderland around ‘72. Things were really moving for this band. Now when I listen back to the recordings I cringe.

What other musicians and bands were around then ? In 1973 a guitarist called Les Dodd came knocking on my door and asked if I would like to join the band he was in. Glider was a working band which meant regular work and extra money. I went for the audition, got the job and the work just kept on coming. Eventually the bass player left and my brother was drafted in. We played quite a few workingmen’s clubs doing covers by David Bowie, Taste, Free and The Doobies.

Playing in clubs was good to learn what you wanted to do in music and get experience playing week in week out in front of a live audience…notice the word live as some of the crowd were half dead. We even got to support The Bay City Rollers at The Viking in Seahouses, Northumberland. But you know how bands are, we eventually split up.
stamp

What year was this ?  It was 1975 and we formed a band called Stampede with Cliff Stoddart, Steve Reay and Steve Daggett, who went on to play with Lindisfarne. This band did the same as Glider, playing clubs around the North East. One night on our rare night off from playing we went to a club in Washington, Tyne and Wear to see a band, they were called Southbound. We thought they were reasonable but little did I know that in a few months time I would be auditioning for them.

What happened with Stampede ? They folded in ‘76 and I got the job with Southbound soon after. At the audition I was asked to play along to one of their own songs, High Time, which was a real good song and I thought if they could write songs like this I would like to be in. I passed the audition and started rehearsing straight away. They were already established so immediately we were playing 3 to 4 gig’s a week.

My brother went on to form a band with some guy’s from Sunderland called the JPM band. A guy called Mark Taylor was in them, he eventually went on to play with Simple Minds. Southbound line up was me on drums, Alan Burke on lead guitar/vocals, Malcolm Troughton lead vocals, George Lamb lead guitar/vocals, and Davey Giles bass guitar.

What venues did Southbound play ? Southbound played North East workingmen’s clubs but their real intention was to write and perform their own songs then make a push to recording them. They began to explore and develop their songs which were starting to come thick and fast.

We tried hard to get as much work as possible with the help of agents such as Birchall Entertainments Agency in Newcastle. We also had the chance of playing the pub rock circuit in Newcastle with other bands in the area. Summer ‘77 we won The Melody Maker Folk/Rock competition at Durham and a festival that was becoming popular was Dome Fest in Durham which we played several times.

It was becoming very vibrant as the music scene was developing quickly not only up here but the rest of the country.

DURHAM

Durham Festival.

What other bands were around ? White Heat, Sabre Jets, Neon, The Pirhana Brothers, Arbre, Punishment of Luxury, The Squad, Oasis and many more were making things happen for themselves. This was an exciting time for any band playing, the buzz was real.

Did you appear on tv or radio ? Southbound were becoming very popular and after taking over the residency from Last Exit and East Coast at The Gosforth Hotel in 1977  word soon got around to the guy’s from Newcastle Radio. The chance also came to record a track, High Time, for the Bedrock album All Together. This was to be recorded at Impulse studio in Wallsend.

The studio was owned by a chap called Dave Wood and the engineer was Mick Sweeney. Some of the bands who featured on the Bedrock album were Kip, Sidekick, Young Bucks, Hot Snax, East Coast and Junco Partners.
What was your experience of recording ?  We recorded some songs at Impulse Studio’s in Wallsend with the help of producer Steve Thompson and engineer Mick Sweeney. We done several tracks to send to record companies also arranged to go to London, appointments had been made to approach Virgin, Rocket, A&M, Decca, Island, WEA and others. We thought that someone must take a liking to us.

I remember going into one record company’s office and I Feel Love by Donna Summer was playing and another office was playing Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello. This doesn’t sound like us as we were playing AOR music. After days of stumbling around the streets of London we headed home with hope that someone might pick up on what we left them.

When we got back to the North East we were offered an interview on Radio Newcastle. I went with Malcolm Troughton to Archbold Terrace in Newcastle to do the interview which was filled with jabs about New Wave/Punk taking over from normal rock music. I must have had blinkers on because we were in the middle of a musical revolution that was sweeping across the country. Our music was becoming old hat and as one record company said…You’re 2 years out.

Did the band feel maybe time’s up ? No we decided to keep going regardless as AOR was still going strong with bands like Foreigner, Doobies, Eagles and Lynyrd Skynryd.

Some band members were showing concerns about the lead singer so we looked at adding another vocalist to the group, a guy called Bill Sharpe from Sidekick. We even acquired a lighting guy by the name of Kev Cain from South Shields who had been working with other local bands in the area. Kev stayed with us for quite a while before establishing himself as a professional lighting engineer and today touring with many well known artists. He’s built a good reputation in the entertainment business. Check out his work portfolio http://www.kclighting.co.uk/

Were the band still playing around the North East ? Yes, this line up lasted a few months and Southbound went from a 6 piece to a 4 piece band with Malcolm Troughton and Bill Sharpe leaving. Bill Sharpe went on to become a really great blues and harp player and Malcolm Troughton went on to perform with different bands around the North East.

Auditions were held in Sunderland for a new singer but after hearing from over 30 singers it was decided that the singing would be covered by George Lamb and Alan Burke. The band felt a new resurgence and with new songs tailored to suit Alan and George’s vocal style, things felt more compact. The work didn’t stop in fact it increased as we started to feel confident and happy with the set up that we had.

We continued to have some great support gig’s with Babe Ruth, Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven, The Junco’s and many more. With headline gigs such as The Mayfair in Newcastle and University gig’s, these helped raise the profile of the band. We decided to go back into the studio and again contacted Steve Thompson to see if he could help with three tracks which we felt were really strong songs. George Lamb and Alan Burke were finding new idea’s for songs and their confidence was obvious with songs like Keep on Winding, Pretty Girl and Don’t Deny Me Your Love.

Did you plan to send the new songs to record companies ? When the songs were finished we decided to approach some record companies and push our style of music. Now that new wave/punk was starting to settle we felt that all kinds of music was now being listened to and accepted. More live work came in and this time we contacted numerous record companies to come and see the band live.

A chance turned up in the form of Brian Oliver, an A&R guy from State Records. He showed some interest in one of our tapes so he arranged to come and see one of our gigs at The Gosforth Hotel and gave us some positive feedback.
It was about this time that Neon Records got involved with Southbound and it was through Steve Thompson a suggestion came up for us to maybe have a go at one of his songs which was co-written with Gary Maughan.

This was shelved as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands were coming through the studio and the attention was switched. Unfortunately interest from State Records and Neon Records faded but we kept on pushing our songs. We had lots of replies from other record companies with comments like …We have to pass on this…or Our label has its full quota of artists. It was very frustrating.

Was this the end for Southbound ? In 1983 I left the band as I was feeling a bit despondent as the direction had changed. But before I left we entered a Battle of the Bands competition run by RCA held at The Mayfair in Newcastle. Another well known band from the North East was in the competition, The Eastside Torpedoes, so we thought we had no chance, but somehow we won.

We had lots of regular live work including our residency, but we somehow drifted and ended up doing covers more than original material. We enlisted another singer from a band called Big Picture. He was a good singer but we ended up playing songs from his old band. Southbound folded about a year after I left. I went on to play with several local bands. One was B15 whose members included Bob Andrews from Raw Spirit and ex-Burlesque guitarist/sax player Eddie Martin.

What does music mean to you and what has it given you ? Music still carries within my family. All of my children have played an instrument at some time or other. From trumpets to violins, saxophones, guitars, piano and flute. One of my boys, went on to play with Richard John Thompson (RJT band) from the North East, who has supported Midge Ure and Jules Holland.

My daughter Rachel recorded some songs of her own. She plays guitar, piano, saxophone and sings. Listening to my family play has given me lots of enjoyment. If they can, I think every family should give their child a chance to play an instrument.

As you get older your music tastes tend to vary a lot more. Having said that I still find myself listening to some old West Coast music, Pink Floyd and other prog rock. I also have some old Southbound stuff recorded from times gone by.
Music has given me enjoyment of playing drums for years, and still have the kit bought in ‘73, a Pearl export with Paiste and Zildjian cymbals.

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019.

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DURHAM BLUES with Steve Hall former guitarist of North East band East Side Torpedoes

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When did you first become interested in music and who were your influences ? I was brought up in a musical family. My grandfather played violin in local band The Rascals during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. They played around the dance halls in County Durham and Newcastle, including regular gigs at the tea and supper dances at the Oxford Galleries in Newcastle. My uncles played saxophone and drums in local bands. My mother didn’t play in public, but played piano in the house.

As a young lad in the 60s and 70s I was more interested in sport. I played rugby and cricket at school in Consett and for local clubs. But I had always listened to music and started to dabble in playing guitar and piano at about 13.

My early influences were very eclectic, everything from rock and blues to jazz, soul and funk. I couldn’t make up my mind what I liked best. But when I heard American guitarist Terry Kath play on their first album Chicago Transit Authority it inspired me to practice harder and take it seriously. He knocked me out. Jimi Hendrix had described him as the best electric guitarist in America and I agreed.

I also listened to the great blues players like Freddie King and B.B. King, and the great rhythm players like Steve Cropper and Cornell Dupree so I could develop my rhythm playing, which to me has always been as important as lead. By the time I was 20 I had given up rugby and cricket to focus on music.

Where was your first gig ? It was at the Consett Methodist Church Youth Club in 1969. It was me and a few pals from school. We were OK as individuals but crap as a band. We had to put the bass, guitar and vocals through one WEM 30-watt amp. After that, me, the piano player and bass player got together at the YMCA and started practicing every week to get better.

We saved up and over a couple of years made our own wooden speaker cabinets for the backline and PA, powering them with second hand Sound City, Selmer and RSC amps. We couldn’t afford the up-market stuff like Vox, HiWatt and Orange. We played weird bluesy progressive rock, all our own songs.

Our drummer was Dave Storey, who ended up with prog rock band The Enid and stayed with them until a hip operation forced him to retire in 2016. We did a few local gigs 1970-72 and went down surprisingly well. One was recorded but the tape is long lost.

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How did the East Side Torpedos get together ? In 1973 Dave Storey left to go pro and the other guys all left town to go to various jobs and colleges. I bummed around for a few years, spending some time abroad busking and doing various jobs. I worked on building sites, steelworks and so on. I played in a couple of club bands doing covers and at the Grand Hotel in Tynemouth with the resident band, headed up by pianist Mike Waller. In 1978 I was spotted by local singer and record-company entrepreneur Mike Maurice. We formed a band called Roxoff, with ex-Animals guitarist Hilton Valentine on rhythm guitar.

We played the college circuit and had a residency at the Red House on the Quayside in Newcastle. We had a sort of Dr Feelgood style. By 1980 the band was starting to wind down when its single, a cover of Morning Dew, flopped, that’s when I was asked to join the Eastside Torpedoes.

In 1979 they had been runner-up in a Melody Maker contest and had a record deal with EMI. So I started a four-year stint in the band on lead guitar and backing vocals. We played all over the country but also had a residency every Sunday at the Newcastle Playhouse, taking over from the Newcastle Big Band and Last Exit. The band was very popular live, one of promoter Harvey Goldsmith’s favourite live bands.

Did you record any of your songs ? EMI dropped the band in 1981 because they thought our style, soul/R&B with a four piece brass section, was out of date and a big band would be expensive to cart around on tour. In 1982 Chas Chandler recorded the band’s first and only album Coast to Coast at Portland Studios in London.

But the album was poorly produced and we weren’t happy with it. Critics and Radio DJs who had loved the band live were waiting to play and review it, but we were so unhappy we buried it. We sold the first pressing through a local record company to our North East fans only and didn’t bother with promotion or a second pressing. We remixed the master tape at a local studio. It sounded a lot better but decided not to press the remix because we were unhappy with some of the arrangement changes forced on us by the production team during recording.

In 1985 the band recorded a single that was an airplay hit, but by then I had left. Recently, the first track from Coast to Coast has been given some proper mastering and sounds a hell of a lot better, more like the band’s actual live sound. What a pity it wasn’t properly mastered at the time.

Did you record any radio or tv ? We did lots of radio and some TV. In 1982 we did a full live recorded show for Metro Radio. The same year Tyne Tees TV made a documentary about us and we appeared regularly on Friday Live.

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Did the band have a manager or promoter ? The band went through more managers than Newcastle United. We had a bit of a reputation for obstinacy, so some didn’t last long. We didn’t like being told what to play or what to look like. When I was in the band the managers were Warren Haddrick, Hilton Valentine and Germaine Stanger. Various promoters took on the band, including Harvey Goldsmith, and we were active up and down the country on his Dingwall’s circuit. Our finest moment, probably, was playing at the Knebworth Jazz Festival in 1982 in front of 21,000 supporting Ray Charles. That year everything happened for me – married, first child, album, Knebworth. Never had another year like that.

Can you think of any funny moments being in the band ? Funniest moment I can remember was with Roxoff. We were playing upstairs in The Cooperage on the Quayside. We did a Dr Feelgood number called Lights Out, and when the chorus came in hard me and the bass player used to jump in the air. The ceiling in the upstairs room in The Cooperage was very low and we ended up on the floor with mild concussion. We took a long break and managed to carry on and finish the gig.

How and when did the band split ? I left the Eastside Torpedoes in late 1983. After that I played with a couple of club bands and got involved with commercial productions, writing a few jingles for radio and the advertising industry. The band carried on, I think, until 1986. I’m not sure why it eventually split up, but I know they had bad luck with their single, a cover of Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher. It was an airplay hit – Luxembourg power play and Dave Lee Travis’s record of the week – but the record company had trouble with the distribution so it got to the shops too late. Wouldn’t have happened today with online distribution.

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Are you still involved in music now ? In 1988 I left the music business to become an academic. I wanted to see more of my kids, and decided that touring wasn’t for me. I had a successful career in academia, eventually becoming a Professor of Criminology and writing a number of books. In 2017 I got a lifetime achievement award.

But I couldn’t give up music entirely. I played with numerous local bands including The D7s, the Richard Kain Band, The Questionnaires, The Wendy Saint Band and The Short Blues Line. The Questionnaires, played the Fish Quay Festival in 2003, supporting Paul Young.

What does music mean to you and what has it given you ? Throughout my life music was in tension with other things. First with sport, then with writing. So it was never second but it was never first, if you know what I mean. I wish I had been more dedicated, although in the early years I used to practice up to 6 hours a day. I was never in love with the lifestyle. I’m an ordinary working-class guy from a pit village in County Durham and I never had any real ambitions apart from seeing my kids grow up. And I like my Sunday dinner.

Life on the road didn’t suit me. But I loved the writing and recording side of things. I would have loved to own my own studio and just pump out albums, but it wasn’t to be, because I never earned enough money or became well-known enough to do that. Looking back, it gave me a lot of great memories and some good friends who I’ve kept in touch with for a long time. That’s enough for me..

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019

MANTRA FOR THE MASSES with Nod the Geordie Poet

These days semi-retired university lecturer Alan Clark is married with two grown up kids and lives near BBC studios in Borehamwood, London. But back in the late 70s he was on the dole living in a house full punks in Jesmond, Newcastle… We lived in Chester Crescent which must have been grand at one time but some of the houses were decaying and the council took them over and let them out cheaply. One of the first Northern punk bands, the Big G used to practice in our living room. I think we lived next door to a vicar and he may have complained from time to time.

When the Big G split in 1979, The Weights formed and played Newcastle, the Edinburgh festival and gigs in London… I used to perform at their gigs and then got opportunities all over the place, including the telly.

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Allen Ginsberg

Who were your influences ? I was really interested in the Liverpool Poets, especially Adrian Henri. I thought that punk needed poetry as Adrian Henris generation of freaks and hippies did. I was also reading Allen Ginsberg poems and in fact met him at Newcastle Uni when he did a gig there.

I always liked writing at school and wrote daft things just to amuse my mates. About ‘78 I wrote a poem about Daz and one of my housemates Walter from The Weights said I should come and do a gig.

Where was your first gig ? That was at The Guildhall on the Quayside. It was a Weights gig with other bands on too. They played backing for some of my poems, including 12 bar blues for Daz and a trippy poem about magic mushrooms.

We were all into Frank Zappa. Micky Emerson aka Red Helmet was the experimental lead guitarist. Norman, his brother, was the drummer, Walter aka Peter Howard was and still is a well-known man about the Toon and Anth Martin was the singer and main songwriter. He went on to do a literature degree at Oxford.

As for my experience, well I was quite nervous, but the alcohol and herb helped. I remember I nearly got in a fight with some squaddies for being critical of the government and the army!

You supported The Clash at Newcastle City Hall in 1982. Was this the highlight ? I enjoyed doing the gig with The Clash and meeting and joking around with them afterwards. But they were strange times for me. I was badly beaten trying to get in to the City Hall. I explained on the door that I was the support act and they didn’t believe me. I saw one of the roadies and lurched in to get his attention but was set upon by a mob of City Hall stewards. They got me on the floor and kicked the shit out of me.

By the time I got on stage I was bruised and bewildered. I performed mostly with a backing track. One poem was War On The Scroungers, and in parts, I mimicked a posh Tory accent. I had a distinct impression that people didn’t really get the satire!

Curiously, I’d worked at the City Hall as a steward in the early 70s and knew the head guy Ivor, who looked very apologetic afterward, but wouldn’t say so. I took a case all the way to the council committee in charge of the Hall and explained to them I had done some non-violence training. The stewards said I was foaming at the mouth and that was their excuse. The council committee agreed and I never got an apology.

You mentioned TV opportunities…I was on John Walters programme on BBC Radio 1, you may remember him as John Peel’s producer. I was on local culture programmes for BBC North East and Tyne Tees around 1980-82. I performed Daz on location in Wallsend. They filmed me in front of an old washing machine with Swan Hunters shipyard in the background.

Then I recorded some work in the BBC studio, and a performance for Come In If You Can Get In on Tyne Tees. I was pursued by The Tube at one stage, but didn’t have a manager and was a bit too disorganised to follow up.

What were your poems dealing with ? I was quite political and involved in anti-nuke politics. I was fascinated by nuclear issues and went to CND meetings in Newcastle, but also got involved in the campaign to stop Torness nuclear reactor which is just over the England-Scotland border.

I lived as part of the occupation for a while and travelled up and down to Newcastle. I also went on big marches in London and actually got invited to play at the womens peace camp at Greenham Common.

What was the attraction to nuclear issues ? I had a strange experience when I was young. I was standing at a bus stop waiting to go to school when the whole sky lit up bright pink. I traced the date and it looks like I was seeing effects from what is called the Tsar Bomba. The 50 megaton largest nuke ever let off in Russia. Tyneside is nearly 2,000 miles from where it was set off on Novaya-Zemlya island. Neither the UK or any other European nations set off a nuke in Europe. The Tsar Bomba was the only explanation I could ever find for what happened. I have yet to meet another person who can confirm that they saw it.

Was performing taking a back seat to protest ? I moved to Whitby in pursuit of love, then after falling out of love, moved to Corbridge. I was living in an old pottery and used to practice guitar and singing in the large kiln chimneys. I was busking all over the North East, and made good money in the Monument Metro in Newcastle. I kept on performing in various venues and events and would regularly work at The Cooperage and did some recording with The Weights.

By 1984 the rock and roll lifestyle was taking it’s toll. I decided to give up the material world and ran away to join the Hare Krishnas who I’d met when doing a gig in Suffolk. I went cold turkey working in a restaurant at the Krishna temple in Leicester.

Being a Hare Krishna involved a lot more than chanting on Oxford Street and I was eventually involved in the running of the movement in the UK. I met some very kind and thoughtful people, but also, some people for whom the religion seemed to be a cover for extreme selfishness.

I was lucky to make friends with some of the original devotees who came to the UK in 1968. Through them I met George Harrison a few times at his house in Henley and we had a few chats about gardening.

I began to have doubts about the philosophy of the movement and after an extended period in India I stopped being so involved. One of the main benefits was meeting my wife Akinchana, who is Indian. We have a daughter who is 27 now and a son who is 21.

When I left the movement, I ended up doing a degree, as a very mature student and then an MA, getting work as a lecturer in media at the University of Hertfordshire.

What are you doing now ? I’m still teaching, although cutting back as I’m close to retirement. It means I have more time for writing and recording. I’d like to do some performing one day. The most recent track I recorded and mixed was just over a year ago and is on soundcloud.

Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

TWIST & POUT – with songwriter John Reed, former drummer with North East 60s psychedelic pop band Toby Twirl

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We gave people music they wanted to hear. In return they kept coming back to see us. Promoters wanted to book us. Our diary was never empty. It was a fantastic time.

The band were so professional. Very good at what they did and were great entertainers. We all got along really well, everyone had a great sense of humour and that made it fun.

We also had a fantastic roadie in Colin Hart from South Shields. He was definitely the sixth member of the band. Very efficient and did his job well. So well that after we broke up, he went on to work with Deep Purple and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.

Through contacts that I made with Toby Twirl and songwriting, when the band broke up we kept in touch. That eventually led to a job offer in London working for a music publisher. I also worked for Radio Luxembourg running their publishing company and produced many records for EMI, Sidewalk, Sonet Records etc. I’ve had over 50 songs recorded.

I worked for RCA and Polydor Records in promotions and worked with many famous artists including Eurythmics, Starship, Bruce Hornsby, Mr. Mister, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Rick Astley, Five Star, Vanessa Paradis……..the list is long.

How did Toby Twirl get together ? Barrie, Stu and Jim Routledge (original drummer) got together at Rutherford College in 1963. They were joined by Norman Errington on guitar and Graham Bell singer. This band was called Shades of Blue. Graham soon disappeared to London and was replaced by Dave Holland and Norman left, replaced by Nick Thorburn. I joined the band late ‘67 as Richie McConnell was getting married and didn’t want to do all the travelling. The band had three drummers over the time, Jim Routledge, Richie McConnell and myself.

Who were your influences and did you come from musical families ? At the time I would say The Beatles had the most influence on us but anything in the charts that rocked our boat left a mark on us. We sang some pretty good harmonies and did a very good Hollies medley which is on the CD we released last year of old recordings.

I don’t recall any of us coming from what you would call musical families. Barrie was the only one classically trained. My mother played piano and sang in the church choir so there was music in our house on a regular basis. Just not my kind!

I think in the 60s we were typical of many young guys who were bewitched by the music of the day and wanted to play and emulate all the bands that were having hits. Also, worth remembering that there were literally hundreds of clubs around the country that employed bands most nights of the week. I remember that Sunderland alone, at the peak of the working men’s club era, had over 200 clubs that had acts on every night of the week.

Did you have a manager ? Initially we were managed by Mel Unsworth and then signed a management agreement with The Bailey Organisation who owned all The Bailey Clubs. At their peak, they had 26 clubs around the UK!

What venues did you play and what other bands were about then ? Working men’s clubs were the order of the day but occasional club dates like The Cellar Club in South Shields, Club A Gogo in Newcastle and La Cubana in Sunderland. There were the Junco Partners, John Miles Set (The Influence), to be honest, we were working almost every night and never had the chance to see other bands.

Any funny stories from that time…One story that sticks in my mind is we used to play a week’s cabaret at The Casino Club in Stockport. The owner also had a bingo club which was an old cinema with proper stage and lighting. We played there on a Sunday when The Casino Club was closed.

As I was on drums at the back of the stage I couldn’t see too much of what was going on up front. Half way through our act, the entire audience (mainly pensioners) rose to their feet and rushed towards the stage. It certainly wasn’t Beatlemania but were freaked out by the invasion!

We kept playing and giving each other strange looks until Nick leaned forward and started to laugh. At the front of the stage was an old orchestra pit. Through the doors to the pit came caterers with trays of pies, mashed potato and mushy peas. The pensioners were after their free supper which was included in the admission price and they weren’t going to miss it for some group. It certainly brought home the old saying The pies have come.

1960s. Toby Twirl group.

Photo session at Trinity Towers, Lawe Top, South Shields 1968.

Can you remember the photo session on the Lawe Top in South Shields ? To be honest, none of us really remember this session. It was a pretty crazy life and there was something going on most days. If not a photo session then a rehearsal or travelling to the next gig. I am in the photo, blonde hair, scarf and stripy blazer. I have no idea where that came from as I didn’t wear scarves. Might have been part of the props the photographer had.

Others in the photo are Holly on a bike, Barrie with a cuddly toy Nick with his guitar and Stu. None of these items other than the guitar are anything to do with us.

Until recently I would not have been able to tell who the photographer was, but thanks to Facebook, his daughter, Julia Northam posted the photos on our page. She informed us that they had been taken by her father, Freddie Mudditt who worked for Fietscher Fotos, who did freelance work for the Bailey Organisation. She reckoned we were appearing at The Latino, South Shields in October 1968 and that is when he was asked to do the shoot.

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How did the record deal come about ? Before I joined the band, Barrie sent a demo of their song Utopia Daydream to Wayne Bickerton at Decca Records. He liked the track, saw the band and signed them. This track ended up as the B side of our third single for Decca, Movin’ In.

The band had three singles out on Decca. The only release we actually played on as musicians, was the second single  Toffee Apple Sunday / Romeo & Juliet 68. The other tracks were played by session musicians and we just added the vocals. All tracks were recorded at Decca Studios in West Hampstead, London.

Interestingly, the single that garners the most attention is the second single Romeo & Juliet 68. It’s regarded as a psychedelic classic. If you manage to find one, they sell on Ebay and other sites for between £850-£1000. It cost the grand sum of 6/8d when it was first released.

Why did the band fold ? A variety of reasons led to the break up. Frustration that our records never got any decent airplay yet we were filling clubs every night and going down a storm. As there were five of us and a roadie, a van to maintain and living costs, solo acts supporting us were getting over twice what we were earning individually, yet we were top of the bill and packing them in!

We knew without a chart record we couldn’t raise our fees significantly to make a difference. The final blow was when Stu was drowned off the North East coast in Tynemouth in a canoeing accident. That knocked the stuffing out of us. We tried to carry on but realised it just wasn’t working. Our last gig was in Hartlepool late 1970.

What has music given you ? Music has always been very special to me. I guess it got me out of the mundane jobs I could have ended up doing. I was following a dream that became a reality.

I am grateful to music as it has given me a whole life doing what I love and not many people have that opportunity.

 Contact Toby Twirl on their Facebook page.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

THE LADY ROCKS with Victoria Glynn-Jones, vocalist with UK rock band Black Roze.

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Pic. by Nigel Marsh

For 10 years VJ has been on the music scene fronting rock bands around Kent and London, gaining a biker following gigging at rallies and festivals. We last spoke a year ago when she was working with ex-Samson drummer Thunderstick, and UK rock band Black Roze – time for a catch up…To be honest it’s been a musical tornado for me with my bands…I’ve loved every minute.

2018 was a big year for Thunderstick. 6 months rehearsals and 3 huge shows. The first was a showcase in Leo’s RedLion in Gravesend. A special night being the first Thunderstick outing in 30 years and the first with the new line up. The energy was on fire and the show was enjoyed by Thunderstick fans old and new.

The second was an outdoor summer gig at the New Day festival in Faversham. Our thunderous midday set woke the sleepy audience who had been up late watching Hawkwind the previous night. It was definitely a show to remember seeing the crowd expand from around 50 to 1,000 by the end of our set.

Our third show was the biggest of them all at Hard Rock Hell in Wales. We played the main stage on the Friday, it was packed. The atmosphere was electrifying and the show went down a storm.

Are you still working with Black Roze ? Yes, and it feels like we made our mark on the classic rock scene in the UK. Until October 2017 Black Roze was a covers band playing pubs, clubs and festivals. Then we got offered an amazing gig at the Hard Rock Café in London, on the premise that we included some original material. So we put our energy into writing and realised we were good at it.

We released In the Darkness in January 2018 and our video has hit nearly 35,000 views on YouTube.

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Is there a main songwriter in the band ? We all have a part in the creative process and I tend to come up with the lyrics and vocal melodies. I write about personal experiences, my performance is emotional and passionate. I sing from the heart and I‘m incredibly moved when people relate to our songs.

In September 2018 Black Roze was asked to perform at the Hard Rock Hell event at the O2 Academy in Sheffield. I attended the Sleaze event the previous year and said if there was one festival I’d like to play, it would be that one. So you can imagine how made up I was. We wrote another 5 original songs for the show and were received amazingly well, with some unbelievable reviews.

As I’m sure you can imagine being in two bands is exhausting with all the rehearsals, shows and planning. I put my heart and soul in to everything I do but I couldn’t maintain it for both bands. In November last year I decided to leave Thunderstick.

My passion is writing and being creative. Although I was able to be creative with costumes and theatrics I wasn’t involved in writing the music. For me there is no better feeling than performing your own music and people feeling it.

I went with my heart and left Thunderstick to put all my energy in to writing, and it’s paid off!

What are the plans for Black Roze ?  We have been writing and recording an album, set for release in late spring. Spiritual Hell conveys the paradoxical themes in our music. The songs encapsulate the extremes of human emotion and experience. If the song sounds upbeat and cheery look out for the dark lyrics. If it sounds dark and gothic, check out the positive twist. The track In the Darkness has a gothic/metal feel. It’s about the battle of depression but the tempo change halfway through unveils a message of strength and courage to finish the song. I am a woman of paradox!

 

Any live dates planned this year? We have some prestigious shows planned for 2019. March 29 we play the O2 London Islington and May 31 in Margate supporting the amazing Warrior Soul. June 2 we play Camden Rocks festival. Once the album is ready we will be taking it on tour in the autumn. All set to be a rocking year!

I’ve also got another writing project with a band called Lucifer’s Daughter. We have written the bones of 10 monstrous tracks and can’t wait to get them recorded and play live. The music has a massive NWOBHM feel with a modern twist and the creative process has been a lot of fun. We hope to get this out to you by the end of 2019, so keep your eyes peeled.

In the past few years have you seen many venues closing down ? Sadly yes. Being from Kent I check out the London Rock/Metal scene on a regular basis and have seen many venues die. It’s sad for rock fans and bands because in our world there is definitely an audience for it. Property is so valuable in London and some venues simply can’t afford to keep going. However us fans always find somewhere to rock out!

It’s always encouraging when we travel up the country. The Midlands and the North of England have a thriving rock/metal scene. That’s where it’s happening. What’s even more encouraging is the variety of ages on the scene, there is definitely a new wave of classic rock and metal amongst the youngsters. Men with long hair and eyeliner and girls in leather and lace are back!

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Back in the 80s I saw Girlschool and Rock Goddess and both are still touring now. Are they an inspiration ? Oh Yes! The Rock/Metal scene has been largely dominated by men. It’s getting better these days but back in the 80s those women were revolutionary. I saw both bands at Hard Rock Hell in Wales last year, we even shared a dressing room with Girlschool.

I love the fact that they have been rocking for 30 plus years and they still play with hunger and passion. That’s what it’s all about. If the band isn’t in to it, the crowd won’t be.

So for me if you still have the passion and the love for what you do there is always a place for you on the scene. I’ll be doing this until they kick me off stage…or I fall off! (laughs).

As I said earlier Black Roze debut album out this spring, Lucifer’s Daughter later in the year… both bands are literally bleeding songs. So it’s just a case of getting them rehearsed and recorded, then out for live shows…it’s all so exciting!

Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

HERE COME THE DRUMS in conversation with Harry Hill, drummer of North East rock legends Fist

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The stories and laughs were coming thick and fast. Lucky I had the dictaphone cos I wouldn’t be able to write them all down, I’ve included the clean one’s. North East rock legends Fist are back in rehearsals…Yeah we’ve just filmed 4 songs at The Queen Vic in South Shields for a promo video. We had to play them 6 times each. It was like doing 2 full gigs back to back (laughs).

We have an album’s worth of new songs but for this we played existing tracks Vamp, Name Rank & Serial Number, Lost & Found and Lucy which we last played on a radio session for Tommy Vance.

We used a local team to put it together, Colin Smoult on the live sound and lights by Glenn Minnikin. The results are pretty good. Mind you I was playing drum fill’s that I made up when I was 22 – it’s a bit harder to play them now (laughs).

Local musician and producer Tony Sadge done such a great job on the sound mix that we’ve asked him to get involved with recording a new album. There’s a few labels interested so with all that happening we’re back up to full strength.

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Sandy Slavin, former drummer with 80s American rock band Riot writes on social media about his experiences in music. Have you come across any of the stories ? Yeah certainly have. You know what it is, he hit’s the nail on the head. When we started playing live there were no mic’s on the drumkit. You just had to hit them, and hit them hard. There was none of this ‘just turn it up in the mix’ that you can get today.

Before Fist and even before Axe I was in a band called Fixer in the early 70s. On stage there was 2 Marshall cab’s, a big bass cab and the p.a. which you had to compete with to be heard.

I agree with Sandy you had to play hard to be heard and balance that up with plenty feel for the music. Any drummer can learn techniques but if you haven’t got feel you’re wasting your time. Simon Kirk (Bad Company) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) were masters at it.

Drummers have different styles. Bonham played along with riffs that Jimmy Page was playing on guitar. It’s interesting to hear it. Keith Moon sometimes followed Roger Daltry’s singing in The Who and then Townsend’s guitar. He was a phenomenal drummer. Very erratic at times but brilliant. I’ve played with Dave Urwin (Fist guitarist) for such a long time we just link in.

You mentioned being in a band called Fixer…Yeah the band was put together around 73. Fixer had a singer called Tom Proctor. He recently got in touch and said he had a cassette of a tape we made. We recorded it in a barn using 3 mic’s. 1 for vocals and 2 on the drum kit. Sounds great. I remember we rehearsed every night. Listening to the tape you can tell.

As a result of those tapes guitarist Geoff Bell and I got an audition for Whitesnake through producer Martin Birch and Tony Edwards (RIP) who was manager of Deep Purple. This was around ‘76. We went down to a rehearsal studio in London and they asked us to just jam together. We knew our styles of playing so well, we were comfortable together, they were impressed. We passed the audition and said You’ve got the job. But in the meantime out in Germany, Coverdale had just formed a band.

Sounds like a mix up in communication ? Well with a couple of mates, Terry Slesser (vocals, Beckett) and Paul Thompson (drums Roxy Music) I went to see their first gig at Ashington Regal. Afterwards we chatted with Coverdale and he explained what had happened. That was it. Just not to be.

Fist supported UFO on a UK tour during 79 & 80. What are your memories ? We had a great time. Someone reminded me a few days ago of an incident that I’d forgotten about. We were playing Hammersmith Odeon and a guy was heckling us. Really pissed me off. So I put my sticks down, jumped off stage and chased him into the foyer to give him a good kickin’. Thinking back, the Hammersmith had a high stage so I must have been fit to get down and run after him (laughs).

I remember playing Sunderland Locarno (6 miles from Harry’s hometown South Shields). That was a great Friday night gig. We played it a couple of times after that and done a few other venues in Sunderland by ourselves.

There was the Boilermakers Club and the Old 29 pub which was only a very long thin shaped bar. We never got much reaction and nobody clapped cos there was nowhere to put their drinks (laughs).

One Friday night we played the Newcastle Mayfair (2,000 capacity) with a 10,000 watt pa that we’d hired. We asked the sound man Stosh, when the p.a. had to go back and he said not till Monday. Champion, we booked a gig for Saturday afternoon in the Old 29 pub. We knew there’d be a reaction this time.

As we blasted out the p.a. in this little pub the audience were pinned against the back wall (laughs).

Can you remember any other bands gigging around the North East at the time ? Yeah Raven, who we played with a few times. There was Tygers of Pan Tang…wiped the floor with them. Then next time John Sykes and Jon Deverill were in and that was a different band. That was a kick up straight away. Robb (Weir, guitarist) is still playing in the Tygers and has got a great band now. Really solid.

Fist were playing at Norbreck Castle down in Blackpool around 81 /82 and John Sykes popped in. He just lived in the area. He came over and introduced himself. Chatting with him he said he’d made a huge step up in joining the Tygers. And he was right.

We had the same record company (MCA) and with a lot of bands they look and sound ok but in a studio there’s nowhere to hide. Well there probably is now, but we can’t find it (laughs).

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There was the famous article in a 1980 edition of Sounds, when North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands were interviewed by Sunderland based music journalist Ian Ravendale…I bumped into Ian a few years ago and we got chatting about the interview. I said I remember two things you wrote. ‘Fist maturity shines out like a lasar in a coal shed’ (laughs).

The other was ‘If Harry Hill gets any heavier he’s gonna need a reinforced drumstool’. Cheeky sod I was only 12 stone ! (laughs)  They were great those rags Sounds, NME, Melody Maker every Thursday. Nowt like that now.

Full article in Sounds by Ian Ravendale 17th May 1980.  http://ianravendale.blogspot.com

I saw Fist at the British Legion in South Shields around ‘82. Would you ever think then that you’d still be playing together in 2019 ? Fist has been my life. It’s always been there. I remember getting to 25 and thinking I’m too old to be a drummer in a rock band. But I look at music back in 1970 when I was listening to Zeppelin, that’s 50 years. Then go back another 50 year to people dancing to the Charleston in the 20s. Then forward to the rock n roll explosion. Maybe now we’ve reached saturation point. Old stuff blows all over the new music. Although recently I heard a band called Greta Van Fleet who were like a breath of fresh air. Great little band.

What do you think of live music today ? Back when I started playing you went to see local bands and they could really play. Every one of them. Today you will see some who maybe haven’t put the time in. For any band to get tight they have to be on the road.

I stepped in for a band called The Radio Set who had a single produced by Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order). It was indie stuff completely different for me but it was good. In rehearsal they complained I was too loud (laughs). But they only done about 5 or 6 gigs, with a couple of festivals. The band sounded confident and correct, but they never had that bit magic that you need.

Are there many independent venues on Tyneside ? I think it’s getting harder and harder. The beauty of Fist is there is some international work. We’re going over to Belgium and Germany later this year. The following is amazing there. But with the local scene economically it is so difficult to keep going for any venue. Some need to take £1,000 just to break even. When pubs are struggling like they are now the first thing they do is put live music on to drag a few people in. It might get them in but it won’t necessarily make you any money.

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Fist have got some live dates planned…Yeah the first gig back for a few years is the Grimm Up North Festival. Steve from TysonDog asked us to come along and as it’s for a charity close to my heart we said yes. It raises money for diabetes and heart disease. We’ve got Norman Appleby back on bass, Glenn Coates on vocals and Davey Urwin on guitar. So it’s back to the original line up from 82.

We’re scheduled for the Friday and we’ll do about 50mins before Blitzkreig top the bill. Then there’s a Newcastle date to launch the new EP at Trillians on 4th of July. We’ve got Bannermans in Edinburgh after that and The Unicorn down in London. We’re deciding what tracks to put on the EP. We’ve got around 10 match perfect songs so far, with another 2 we’re putting together now. So plenty to choose from, it’s really exciting times.

What does music mean to you ? Absolutely everything. At times probably totally cocked my life up but I’ve got no regrets what so ever. It’s not just music it’s everything around it. Creating things, the friends you make, I couldn’t imagine life without music.

Check the Fist facebook page for latest gig dates.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

DARK THOUGHTS with Gateshead musician Esme

At the start of 2017 Penance Stare started as a solo project. Now it’s a duo comprised of Esmé on vocals, guitar and electronics and Graeme on drum kit and electronics. Esme remembers the first gig…It was in the dark Boiler Room at the Old Police House in Gateshead. I was using a broken microphone so I had to yell, unamplified over the music.

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The Old Police House is bringing incredible shows to Gateshead. Drone/noise/ambient gigs at either the Soundroom or the Art Gallery. Across the river Tyne in Newcastle we have places like the Star & Shadow. Bands are still playing in bars just as much as DIY indie venues. Newcastle and the surrounding area has a really good scene for both metal and experimental music, with a lot of crossover between.

What’s your music background ? I was a child in the 90s when Britpop and Alternative rock were popular. The earliest music I owned were the Shine cassette compilations of indie hits from around 95/96. I still revisit that music occasionally. .

Our influences include Cranes, Velvet Cacoon, Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. We’ve both played in bands for many years before this, and have projects outside of Penance Stare. We currently rehearse in Gateshead’s Soundroom.

Are you from a musical family ? My dad played guitar, not well or in bands but he would pull faces while jamming bad blues licks. He bought me some used equipment as a teenager. My mother exposed me to a lot of music too. Growing up I would steal her records and tapes. She sang a lot, not very well, but she got a lot of enjoyment from it. I can relate to that.


When did you first pick up an instrument and what was it? Aged 12 or 13. My first electric guitar was a black Encore Stratocaster. A horrible guitar, the quality of cheap instruments has increased dramatically since then. I plugged it into a tiny Kustom amp. Like a lot of kids my age I was really into Kurt Cobain. I moved on to Sonic Youth, and started writing my own songs.

What do you think of crowdfunding, have Penance Stare taken that route ? We haven’t done anything like that. I’m not sure it’s what listeners want. I note that one of the big platforms recently went bust.

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Have you recorded any of your songs ? Penance Stare recordings are deliberate in their rawness and intimacy and all of the recordings thus far have been made at home. We anticipate that future recordings will continue in this tradition. All releases were made available on limited edition cassette and digital download.

Much like a lot of the UK underground at the moment, we deal in cassettes and downloads. That’s out of necessity as much as anything. Hardly anyone can afford to make vinyl now.

Releases:

House Of Bastet EP  (summer 2017)

Scrying (spring 2018)

Solananceae (early 2019)

What are the Penance Stare plans for this year ? We won’t be playing any shows in a while as we’re writing a brand new live set. So far, progress has been fast so we expect to be back by the summer. There will also probably be another release by the end of the year.

 Contact Esme at  https://www.facebook.com/penancestaremusic/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

SOUND OF THE UNDERGROUND with Davy Craig former guitarist for North East noise merchants Drill

Drill formed in the late 80s. A live review in Sounds said…’when the massive guitar barrage is coupled with vocals they sound like they’re fresh off The Exorcist. Drill have a magnificent intensity’…. For my first gig we were booked at the Riverside on Wednesday 18th July 1990. I was 21. A few of my mates were in the audience and by the time we went on stage I was a shaking mess. But once the drum machine counted us in for the first song I was in the zone. The audience stood as if they’d been sonically blasted into submission. That was my first proper gig and I wanted more.

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Davy Craig on the right playing his first gig at The Riverside, Newcastle.

When did your interest with music begin ? I always thought that being able to play guitar was a mystical gift that you were born with and was unattainable. But I knew a lad who was selling a bass for £20. I had some money left over from Christmas and begged my parents to lend me the difference. They did and I headed home with the guitar. After a few months I became bored at the limitations of the bass so sold it for £25 and bought a guitar with an amp. Immediately I felt I was in business. I just played what I heard…badly, but I loved it.

Who were your influences ? I was brought up with The Beatles, The Moody Blues and Donovan,  Then U2, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Big Country. Amongst 60s bands like Velvet Underground, The Doors and a number of Punk and Post Punk bands.

I’d read an interview with Will Sergeant from Echo and the Bunnymen. A lot of music journalists and ‘musos’ gave him a hard time, because of the simplistic style of his playing. He sounded incredible to me though.

He said something along the lines of ‘I’m not very good at playing anyone else’s stuff, or like anyone else…but no bastard can play like me! That was the whole key for me.

Had guitars started to become an obsession then I had two part time jobs and saved every penny to upgrade my guitars, amps and effects. By the time I was 17 I had an early 60s Japanese reissue Candy Apple Red Stratocaster and a Fender Amp with upgraded pedals. I knew about chords by then and was learning more and more, but still in my own style. I got to find out about the world of effects and tried to get my hands on as many cheap second hand Arion effects. Phaser, flanger, distortion and an analogue delay which was a real game changer.

My dad would just turn off the house electricity and have everyone sat in the dark rather than tell me to turn my amp down! Loads of other crap was going on and I started bunking off from school to get home and play guitar in peace.

I also became friends with members of local band Candleman Summer and roadied for them. I thought the guitarist Graeme McCulla, was superb. I watched closely and learnt from him.

When I went to university in London the first thing I bought with my grant was an E-bow in Denmark Street in Soho. That changed everything and I spent hours playing with big delays, slide, distortion and other effects to create all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds.

When were your first gigs ? I played in a few bands at a Community Centre in Hebburn. But I left because I didn’t want to play Dire Straits, OMD, Level 42 and the like. I wanted to make a racket!

How did getting the job with Drill come about ? When I started my second year at Uni I had plans of joining a band in London but after a few problems came back to the North East and looked in various music ads.

There was an advert in The Sunday Sun in July 1990 for a band who required a 3rd guitarist. That intrigued me. They were into Big Black, The Band of Susans stuff like that. I spoke to a lad called Kev Wilkinson and arranged to meet up.

I went along to the rehearsal rooms and Kev said…‘Well get inside and set up, because I’m fucking sick of all of the metal heads we’ve had so far!’ The first thing I noticed was no drummer, then the bassist Drew Gallon, who played for The Shotgun Brides and later Forgodsake. He was helping the band out.

In the corner standing in front of a huge double stack of four cabs was Tony O’Brien. Kev and Tony had previously been in The Shotgun Brides.

I was asked to play a few things which sounded absolutely deafening. Having enjoyed it I left and when I got home got a call from Kev. He told me that I was in the band, but I had to learn all of the songs for a gig that Wednesday at the Riverside!

I was also told that I couldn’t use my strat or my Fender Amp as they weren’t powerful enough. I borrowed a Marshall cab from Tony, along with a Fender guitar, the humbucker being crucial to the sound, with a borrowed 2 x12 cab. I learnt the songs and rehearsed a couple of times prior to the gig and felt confident. I was ready to play my first gig with Drill.

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Things were going well with the band ? Yes, Kev would pick me up for rehearsals and gigs so we had a lot of time to chat. He was very forthright in his view of what the band should be like and I loved being part of it.

We started writing new songs together with Kev at the helm. Part of me wondered if he was just making it up as he went along or he was a genius with real vision. It felt great to be part of something that seemed so different to anything else around.

I became mates with the other lads from The Shotgun Brides. I got on well with Chris McCormack, later of 3 Colours Red and Professionals.

Who was in the line up and what equipment did the band use ? I had to sell my beloved Fender Strat at Grott Guitars in Newcastle. I put what money I had to buy a Simms Watt 4 x 12 cab from Rock City and picked up a Burman 100 Watt Amp that was in Grott Guitars. I needed a guitar, Kev wanted me to have something with a meatier sound.

I entered McKay’s on Westgate Road and saw two guitars that were ideal. One was a Yamaha, and the other was a bright green Gordon Smith Gypsy II, with double humbuckers and a coil tap. Tony put a new bridge on it, along with a brass nut, for ridiculous sustain. I was geared up.  I was encouraged to join in writing.

Simon Moore eventually joined on bass. We worked on each other’s sound and everyone was happy to experiment. Si used Marshall’sThe Gov’nor’ pedal on his bass. It took a while to get the sound right as we wanted that cutting distortion, without losing the bottom end. His style of playing suited the band perfectly. Kev used a Fender Mustang guitar which gave a great top end cutting through the rest of us.

Tony used multiple guitars, but mainly Gibson models, Les Paul Special, Firebird, a couple of Flying V’s plus a stunning Gibson L5-S. His 4 x 10 cabs made his guitars sound quite trebly, but Tony was playing what was closest to being lead parts.

I suppose I was in the middle, with the Simms Watt 4 x 12, then aside from the drum machine, playing in various time signatures. Kev’s voice was the ingredient he wanted to get spot on. He picked up a zoom guitar effect, which was the size of a walkman. I think he initially wanted to use it for his guitar, but decided to use it on his vocals instead. He utilized a number of effects, but the main ones were distortion and harmoniser/octave controls.

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What venues did the band play ? We didn’t play many gigs just the Riverside and a few local venues in Newcastle. At The Broken Doll I was always asked what the fuck was I playing, but in a good way and many just marvelled at the E-bow, as they scraped themselves off the walls pummelled by our sonic assault. I very quickly felt that I was going to keep playing in the band and see where things were going to take us.

The clincher for sticking with it came when we signed to Abstract Records with Edward Christie. In September 1990 we joined the stable that previously had New Model Army and UK Subs as it’s main bands.

What was your experience of the studio ? We booked into Impulse Studios in Wallsend with Kevin Ridley, the singer with Forgodsake. Kevin was a really nice bloke and he really pushed us.

We went in on 17th January 1991, the day the Gulf War started. We had no idea what was going on in the outside world as we were walled into the studio. It felt really claustrophobic and I think we captured that on the album, which was completed in five days.

At first, we started with one of our favourites, Compressed Head. We played everything correctly, but Kevin Ridley wasn’t happy and said it sounded flat. Not having been in a studio before, even to do a demo, I had no idea but Kevin was right. It didn’t sound like it should.

We were paying for the studio time, or at least the record company were and we felt like we were wasting it. We scrapped that song for now and said that we’d come back to it.

We moved onto other tracks and I think the first one we did was Pylons. When we came back in to listen to it, it sounded spot on and somehow the studio, the desk and ourselves had come alive.

We blasted through the songs and Kev added his vocals, deciding to run a lead out of the recording booth and into the old Victorian toilets which was covered in tiles. It sounded fantastic. Kev doing his vocals sat on the netty was a masterstroke.

With an instrumental called E the sample was played backwards and by pure chance it sounded like someone saying Eee, ya fucker…! It was hilarious and fitted.

I loved playing that song as I was given free range to create atmospheric sounds over sparse chords that it was built from. I scraped the E-bow, holding it with my ring and little fingers, at the same time holding a plectrum and changing from one to the other very quickly. Plus employing my made up chords and even using a wee bit of string bending!

Anyway, the album was finished and mixed with us having completed Compressed Head, a great way to end. Overall, I’m very proud of the whole thing.

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Skin Down was released in June 1991 and billed as Industrial Noise Guitar music. It was met with some excellent reviews across the board, most giving us 10/10. Some local music writers had really championed the band, none more so than Kriss Knights and especially Lee Conlon who was a big part of the Paint It Red magazine. The big nationals also seemed to love us with Melody Maker describing it as ‘a musical white knuckle ride’. 

Written press weren’t the only ones to champion the album. The record company on hearing what we’d delivered, pushed us to the forefront of the label and it sold quite well.

National radio got involved, with us being played and championed by John Peel. We got album of the month on BBC radio, ahead of the first Blur album.

I loved all of this and wanted more. It felt like we were riding a huge wave and were about to sign to an agency for tours. I thought it was all about to happen!

Did you film any music videos or appear on tv ? Kev came in to rehearsal with the news that he’d left a tape at Tyne Tees Studios and we’d been picked up to appear on local arts programme Elements. I couldn’t believe how quickly everything was happening. We went to an old steel foundry in Gateshead and set up to mime to a song.

I remember it taking most of the day. I don’t know about the other lads, but I had great fun. When we finished we headed for free drinks in the pub round the corner.

With an album recorded how did you promote it ? We only played a handful of gigs. One was supporting Swervedriver at Riverside. After our second song the house lights came on as there was a technical problem. We looked out and saw Swervedriver stood next to the desk, mouths agape. We just laughed, got on with it and showed them what we were made of. It went down a storm with the crowd going crazy at the front. When Swervedriver came on the crowd moved back from the stage and were very subdued.

We also did a gig in a pub near Blyth. Not many turned up, but those that did were going mad. Four people were sat in the corner and asked to speak to us after the gig. They’d come over from America to see us, having been told about us by the label. They loved us and wanted us to go to L.A. for a four venue residency, with a view to moving on through the US. I couldn’t believe it.

We thought they were mad coming all that way but they were genuine. I had my bags packed in my own mind and I think Si was up for it as well. But Tony and Kev were married, with mortgages and well paid jobs. They didn’t fancy getting stranded in L.A. so it didn’t happen. The same thing happened with tours that were in the offing in Europe and Japan.

We hadn’t even played London and our only gig outside of the North East was in a working men’s club in Burnley. It was booked by a group of fans from the area.

As we sound checked people coming out of the snooker room were shouting ‘What the bluddy ‘ell’s this flamin’ racket?’ The atmosphere wasn’t good to say the least.

We set up on stage, instructed not to move the house organ, drum kit, or bingo machine. The place was jam packed when we went on. A crowd of around 30 kids were at the front jumping around and absolutely loving it. The rest of the ballroom consisted of pensioners out in their finest clobber.

With the drum machine we knew the songs by names, but also by the numbers that were programmed in. Kev did away with the set list and said Davy, what number will we play next?  I shouted out a number, he pressed it and we launched into it. As I shouted the number I noticed that most of the crowd suddenly sprang into life. No they weren’t going to start headbanging or crowd surfing, they were looking for their bingo dabbers and cards! I couldn’t stop laughing. We’d broken the unwritten code of never mess with the bingo! I read a number of years later that club was the inspiration for Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights!

Soon after I became disillusioned with the whole thing. My girlfriend at the time was feeding me lies about members of the band, that they were planning to replace me with Chris McCormack. She just wanted me to get a proper job. I thought that I’d get a writing credit for E but didn’t. No tours or gigs apart from a few local ones. With Kev and Tony saying we were going to continue writing new material and go straight back into the studio. I couldn’t see the point if we weren’t going to promote the debut album.

On reflection what do you think of your time in the band ? I left having only been in the band for just over a year. It was great when it lasted. But I felt that so many opportunities were missed.

What am I up to now ? Well I’ve been in a few bands since but my health, both physically and mentally wasn’t very good and I become disabled around 5 years ago. I haven’t played since but hoping to improve and maybe get out doing some solo stuff.

It’s nice to hear people still talking about the band, both online and in conversation. I’m very proud of it all, but it seems a bit sad that it didn’t take off and it just ended with a whimper.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  January 2019.