FRAMING HISTORY #2 Photos Capture a Decade of Changes

In an earlier blog – Framing History, 11 January 2022 – I posted about being invited to add my photographic collection to the South Tyneside History website managed by the library. The site celebrates the heritage of the borough by preserving photographic and printed history.

For over 25 year I’ve taken photographs around South Tyneside and this first collection that is being added to the site holds over 2,000 images from 2008 onwards – a unique documentary record of a decade of changes in South Shields.

Photographs were taken all year round to capture demolition of buildings and new construction work at different stages. There was also a lot of early morning and evening visits to locations avoiding people and cars.

‘Constance Ellen’ shipwreck, Herd Sands, South Shields.

Finding the right angle or getting close to the subject meant climbing a fence or plodging in the sea to get close to the Constance Ellen shipwreck who ran aground on Herd Sands near the South pier over 100 year ago.

On a cold wintry morning you need to get out of your nice warm bed like the time I turned up at the seafront on a bitter December day. Over the past year I’d taken hundreds of images showing a new seawall and promenade being constructed on South Shields seafront.

‘Littlehaven Eye’ being lifted into place with a sunken trawler in the background.

There was a large crane taking the ‘Littlehaven Eye’ off the back of a lorry and putting it in place. Also adding to the landscape, framed by the North and South piers, was a sunken trawler in the sea, plus ten minutes later a large car carrying ship entered the river Tyne.

If I didn’t turn up that morning I would have missed an important part of the development.

Thanks to Catrin Galt, Community Librarian based at The Word, South Shields, and her team of volunteers who work on the project to keep history alive.

Check out the website:

GARY WILKINSON COLLECTION – South Tyneside Libraries (southtynesidehistory.co.uk)

A NEW HEARTBEAT with Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist Robb Weir

In the early 1980s the North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal included the big five of Raven, Fist, Venom, Satan and Tygers of Pan Tang. After a load of gigs played, records made and over 40 year experience in the music biz you’d think Tygers guitarist Robb Weir had seen it all.

The last three live shows the Tygers played were back in March 2020 when we went to Holland, Belgium and in Germany with Saxon. When we returned back to the UK a national lock down was imposed and that meant no more live appearances for a few months, or so we thought.

Here we are in February 2022 nearly two years on and our live shows are still being postponed, what is really going on? If you know please tell me as I have run out of patience!

The new Tygers line-up left to right Huw Holding (bass) Jaco Meille (vocals) Robb Weir (guitar) Craig Ellis (drums) Francesco Marras (guitar)

How did you handle the lockdown ?

I write music all the time so when we were confined to our ‘living spaces’ I took the opportunity to demo some of the ideas I had with thoughts of the next album in mind.

Along with all this lock down caper we changed our guitar player and welcomed the amazing fretboard talents of Mr Francesco Marras into the Ambush – if you didn’t already know an ‘Ambush’ is the name for a gathering or group of tigers in the wild!

What was the recording process ?

I demoed about twenty songs and sent them to Francesco to get his input and fresh ideas on them. Francesco re-recorded them in his studio and with his musical additions took them to the next level. The only problem we had was deciding which ones were going to make the final cut onto the new album as they were all contenders.

At the same time we also decided to record an EP to give everyone a taste of what’s to come, also to showcase Francesco’s ability to play a lovely melodic guitar solo, so two new tracks were written.

We also asked Francesco which was his favourite track from Wildcat our first LP in 1980. He said ‘Killers’ was always one of his favourites and I had a bit of a passion to re-vamp ‘Fireclown’. 

We set about recording these four tracks remotely in our own studios, I recorded my parts in Gav Gray’s studio as mine is out of the ark. The finished tracks were sent to Marco Angioni, at Angioni Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark to be mixed and then across to Harry Hess in Canada to be mastered.

Is there a release date for the record ?

‘A New Heartbeat,’ is officially released World Wide on February 25th with an accompanying video but can be purchased pre-release online now from the Tygers web shop (link below) also our record company’s web shop Target Records.

What’s next for the Tygers ?

Gav Gray (bass) decided he wanted to visit ‘pastures new’ after we finished the new recordings so we have now welcomed a new bass player into the Tygers family, Huw Holding.

I’m very excited about the new Tygers material as I feel it’s the strongest yet, but we’ll let you be the judge of that….best Tyger wishes to you all!

Tygers Of Pan Tang – The Official Site 

Interview by Gary Alikivi January 2022

TYGERS TAKE ON RADIO BEDROCK 

Music journalist Ian Penman (RIP), Newcastle City Hall photographer Rik Walton and Tygers of Pan Tang manager Tom Noble presented the Bedrock radio show on BBC Newcastle during the late 70’s and early ‘80s. The programme featured music, a gig guide and interviews with local and international bands.

I was sent some copies of the shows and one programme featured an interview with guitarists Robb Weir and John Sykes from Whitley Bay band Tygers of Pan Tang. Sykes had just been added to the Tygers line up.

John Sykes & Robb Weir

Ian Penman talks to Robb Weir and asks him how do you feel about John joining the band?

‘I didn’t like the idea at first, but Tom (Tygers manager) said when we were playing with the Scorpions and Saxon the sound lacked and we needed to do something about it. I’ve got enough confidence in the guy, I’ve known him a long time and he doesn’t often come out with bad ideas so I went along with his suggestion.’

‘When we’ve recorded in the past I’ve done a backing track no matter how far down in the mix it is, it’s always there. Rocky’s never wanted another guitarist, it might steal a bit of thunder in his bass lines, we’ve never considered one and we’ve never wanted a keyboard player’.

‘But having John in is good because he’s a tremendous guitarist and a much better guitarist than I am at playing lead guitar. I’m not resentful whatsoever, he adds to the sound in the band and seems very grateful to be in the Tygers as we have an LP out and are selling out shows.’

‘I took an open line with him saying I’m happy for you to play what you feel fits with my original guitar parts. If you have any more ideas chuck them in! I was very keen for us to share guitar solos with the likes of ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ where John plays the first I play the second. In ‘Rock n Roll Man’ he plays the first half of the guitar solo and I play the second and so on’.

‘Because he’s so good I’m not going to keep him down and restrict him to a couple of solos in the set. I wrote them all but he’s shit hot. We were having a game of space invaders and I said to him don’t worry if there’s any other guitarists out there who think they’re better than you, they won’t be! A big smile came across his face. The guy is very, very good, you can be the best guitarist in the world but if you haven’t got the songs then you are nobody’.

Penman: Will John be writing any songs?

‘Yes definitely we’re going to write together then take them to the band and if we all like them we’ll develop them further. Writing songs is not an exact process for example with ‘Rock n Roll Man’ I wrote five riffs took them to the band and chose one, the other four went to the wind’.

Robb Weir & John Sykes

Penman: There’s a swagger in your walk, like a star before you’re a star…

‘I’m very sure of myself, things are looking very good at the moment, but if it all goes down the drain and fails and I didn’t have this bit of thunder now, I would never have had it in my life. So if it goes from strength to strength and I get stronger, we do another album, a headline tour and go further up the ladder I’ll get more cocky (laughs)’.

Penman talks to John Sykes: What did the band ask you to do at the audition?

‘They gave me a chance to get my guitar out and tune it up. Brian sat on his drums and said to me what we’re gonna do is play a beat on the drums and we want you to just improvise along with it’.

‘He started off with a slow rhythm, when I was improvising I gradually got faster and faster then Rocky got up off his chair and walked over to his bass and started playing along. Then Robb joined in and we really started rocking it sounded tremendous’.

‘A couple of days before the audition the band invited me down for a chat to see what I was like’.

Tygers of Pan Tang backstage waiting to go on at the Reading Festival.

Penman: How did you end up in Blackpool?

‘I come from Reading originally but I was in Blackpool working on a building site. I left Reading when I was 14 and moved up to Blackpool with my family. I’m 21 now, but when I was 14 we moved to Spain for three years, I came back when I was 17 and got a job labouring on a building site in Blackpool, it was good money’

‘As time went on things just got worse, I used to dread 8 o’clock in the morning going to work I hated it and one day I just thought I’m wasting my time here, I’ll have to do something. I had a look in the music paper’s and saw an ad for the Tygers auditioning for an additional guitar player. It was just what I was looking for and the timing couldn’t have been better’.

Penman: How often was your previous band Streetfighter playing?

‘I was playing about two or three times a week and it was going ok. We had a track coming out on a compilation album before I left. It was something to do with Geoff Barton and Des Moines it was called the ‘New Electric Warriors’. I don’t think Streetfighter were going hit the big time, but the Tygers….’

Unfortunately some of the programmes are incomplete and the interview cut off here.

Gary Alikivi, January 2022

Thanks to Jimmy McKenna & Rik Walton for Ian Penman’s Bedrock radio tapes. More articles will be added in future posts.

Interview with Robb Weir November 2017

DOCTOR ROCK – in conversation with Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist, Robb Weir | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Interview with Ian Penman, August 2018

WRITING ON THE WALL – in conversation with North East music journalist, broadcaster & producer Ian Ravendale | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

25 YEARS OF NORTH EAST RADIO BEDROCK

New Dawn Chorus by Tyneside band Beckett was the first track played on Saturday morning 5 May 1974 by presenter Dick Godfrey for Bedrock, a new radio show from BBC Newcastle.

Originally broadcast from Christina House in Jesmond, the programme featured music, reviews and candid interviews with national and local bands to give them exposure in the music industry.

The presenters ran through a weekly list of gigs booked in pubs and clubs across the region, among them were The Wax Boys at the Burglars Dog in Blyth, Satan at Spectro Arts, Southbound at the Honeysuckle in Gateshead, the Caffreys at South Shields Legion, White Heat at Balmbras Newcastle, East Side Torpedoes at Darlington Arts, Tygers of Pan Tang at Sunderland Mayfair and Raven headlining Newcastle Mayfair.

There was a local band that Bedrock used to play regular, ‘he was a good bassist with a decent voice’ said Godfrey. That was of course pre-Police Sting and his jazz influenced Last Exit who were a major band in Newcastle towards the end of the ‘70s.

Musician John Farmer, formerly of the Steve Brown Band who wrote the signature tune for the programme  ‘What was good about Bedrock was it gave unsigned bands an opportunity to get their stuff on the airwaves, it was a great thrill to do it’.

Ian Penman

One of the most familiar radio voices was Ian Penman (writing as Ian Ravendale, music journalist for Sounds).

‘I first heard about Bedrock when I read a piece in NME. Dick Godfrey called it Bedrock because most rock fans at the time of broadcast 10.30am Saturday morning, would still be in bed. At first it was only half an hour then it got moved to Monday evening’.

‘The first interviews I done were America and Mike Nesmith it was very interesting to be hanging out with American rock n roll stars in the Newcastle Holiday Inn. I interviewed Paul McCartney and had a load of clever questions to ask but when it came to it I forgot them all’.

Penman was a champion of local music regularly playing demo tapes and singles from North East bands including Raven, Mythra, Total Chaos and Penetration. ‘Sunderland punks The Toy Dolls were so keen to get their 7” single ‘Nellie the Elephant’ played on Bedrock they delivered the record to my front door’.

Left to right: Tom Noble, Arthur Hills, Rik Walton & Ian Penman.

Penman, who stayed for four years, was joined in the studio by a local guerrilla team of Rik Walton (Newcastle City Hall photographer), Tom Noble (Tygers of Pan Tang manager) and music journalist Phil Sutcliffe (interview links below).

In a recent interview Sutcliffe recalls the Bedrock team…’Ian Penman was drawn to the media and made a life within it, which must have taken a lot of gumption to prove what he could do because he wasn’t a flash bloke’.

‘Rik Walton was a good friend and photographer of the Newcastle scene, one who worked via mild manner rather than being pushy and sharp-elbowed’.

‘You wanted Newcastle music pix, Rik was the man. Rik’s pix are still valuable in every sense and he’s still the man for images of that time and place’.

Angelic Upstarts (Mond & Mensi) pic by Rik Walton.

South Shields punks Angelic Upstarts brought their own energy to the North East music scene, Dick Godfrey recalls a Bedrock promoted gig at Newcastle Guildhall where the Upstarts had a pigs head on stage.

They were really giving it welly, chewing and gnawing at it, then threw it in the audience where it hit someone and knocked them over, they were laid out for a few minutes’.

When Phil Sutcliffe announced he was leaving for a job at Sounds, Norman Baker joined Bedrock ‘It was the essence of music, getting to terms with it and sussing it out. Bedrock was such good fun and some interviews were spectacular’.

Baker told Godfrey the Angelic Upstarts first single released in 1978 ‘Liddle Towers’ was still on jukeboxes in South Shields and a bit of an anthem. After 25 years the last Bedrock programme broadcast 5 May 1999 and Godfrey played in all its glory ‘Liddle Towers’.

Gary Alikivi  January 2022

Thanks to Jimmy McKenna & Rik Walton for Ian Penman’s Bedrock radio tapes. More articles will be added in future posts.

Ian Penman 2018

WRITING ON THE WALL – in conversation with North East music journalist, broadcaster & producer Ian Ravendale | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Rik Walton 2019

EYES WIDE OPEN – in conversation with photographer Rik Walton | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Phil Sutcliffe 2021

MORE THAN WORDS: with Chief music writer, Phil Sutcliffe | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

FRAMING HISTORY

South Tyneside History website celebrates the heritage of the borough by preserving photographic and printed history. The images have been digitally recorded from original items held by South Tyneside library.

Included are historical maps, old postcards and thousands of images by notable South Shields photographers James Cleet, Amy Flagg and Freddie Mudditt – recently I’ve been invited to add my collection to the site so I’ll be in good company.

pic by Amy Flagg of South Shields Market bombed during Second World War. Courtesy of South Tyneside Council.

For over 25 years I’ve photographed South Tyneside, the main focus of this collection of images (2,000) were taken over the past decade of the changing face of South Shields.

The collection is a unique documentary record of the demolition of buildings at the sea front and market place, to construction of The Word, Littlehaven Promenade, Harton Quays, Haven Point and more – if it was getting knocked down or built up I was there!

Pic taken 11 March 2013 with South pier in the background and a flooded sea front car park, now the site of Littlehaven Promenade and Seawall.

The images will be available to view soon in the meantime why not check the site

 South Tyneside Libraries (southtynesidehistory.co.uk)

Gary Alikivi   January 2022

LOWRYS WAR

One of Britain’s most popular artists L.S. Lowry is best known for painting working class life and finding beauty among dirty buildings, chimneys, factories – the everyday

‘When I was 22 we moved from the residential side of Manchester to Pendlebury, an industrial suburb of Salford. At first I didn’t like it at all then I wanted to depict it. Finally I became obsessed by it and did nothing else for 30 years’.

I read that one of his paintings was in Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery so I went to check it out. In the main exhibition hall there was another painting that caught my eye – Twentieth Century by C.R. Nevinson (1889-1946), I made a note to check out more work by this artist.

C.R. Nevinson, The Twentieth Century 1932-35

Now over to the Lowry, smaller than I imagined there it was amongst other fine works by various artists, the information card notes Laing Art Gallery bought the painting direct from the artist.

River Scene was painted in 1935 at a time when he was looking after Elizabeth his bedridden mother in the family home in Station Road, Pendlebury, his father had died in 1932. It was also the time when the Lowry style of reflecting working class life was cutting through.

River Scene, 1935.

The Royal Academy had previously labelled him ‘a Sunday painter’ when it was known he spent his days as a rent collector, but January 1939 was the debut exhibition of Lowry in London, the first major recognition of his work.

A mixed reception from art critiques followed with 16 of his paintings sold for about £30 each. Although his mother didn’t agree – the show was a success and another exhibition was arranged for later that year.

But in September everything including art galleries and exhibitions were put on hold as the country prepared for restrictions and blackouts as the Second World War was declared.

Lowry, who was now in his 50s, was devastated, adding to this, his mother died in October aged 83, he fell into a deep depression. Even though at times his relationship with his mother was fractious, living at home, making her tea and painting in the attic would have brought a comfortable routine to his life.

Lowry had loved his mother but the relationship was strained with her disapproving of how much time he spent painting, she only liked one of his paintings – Lytham Seascapes with Yachts. After one particular scathing remark Lowry went outside in a fit of rage and built a bonfire of his paintings, fortunately his friend Reverend Geoffrey Bennett saved them from the fire.

Blitzed Site, 1942

During the war Lowry was an official war artist and night time fire watcher on the rooftops of Manchester department stores. Although tired and feeling a deep sadness after his mother’s death, his painting took on a sharper focus.

Part of the city were in ruins after the Luftwaffe bombing raids ‘I remember being first down in the morning to sketch the bombed buildings before the smoke and grime had cleared’.

After the war ended success was around the corner for Lowry with exhibitions and paintings sold. Aged 65 he retired with a £200 a year pension as a rent collector from the Pall Mall property company, plus a move from the family home to a house 20 mile away in Mottram-in-Longdendale.

‘Heaven only knows why I came to this place. I absolutely loathe it! I hate the house I live in now but here I am and here I suppose I’ll end my days’.

Without any family Lowry lived alone in Mottram until his death in 1976, among all the doom and gloom of his life there was a shy smile of contentment that appeared now and then.

Gary Alikivi   January 2022

Notes: L.S. Lowry, The Art and the Artist, T.G. Rosenthal

L.S. Lowry, Michael Leber & Judith Sandling

Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.

LOWRYS LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE NORTH EAST

Known for his paintings of industrial scenes, cotton mills, chimneys and ‘matchstalk men and dogs’, L.S. Lowry from 1960 until his death 16 years later, regularly left his home and travelled over the Pennines to sketch in Durham and Northumberland towns – continuing his great love affair with the North East coast.

He first landed in Berwick in 1932 after his father died of pneumonia aged 74, his doctor advised him to rest before taking on the responsibility of looking after his bedridden mother.

Lowry was devastated after her death in 1939 and with the worry and strain he considered a permanent move to Berwick ‘I’ve not cared much for anything since she died. I’ve nothing left and just don’t care’.

Lowry on Seaburn promenade about 1960. pic. L.S. Lowry estate.

Did he spend days or weeks at a time in the North East ? I’m not sure but after retirement as a rent collector he based himself near Sunderland and a room in the Seaburn Hotel quickly became a home-from-home for one of the UK’s most popular artists. ‘I sometimes escape to Sunderland. I get away from art and artists.’

Leaving the hotel he would walk along Roker seafront making pencil sketches on hotel notepaper and the back of old letters. Lowry was generous with his work and gave a number of his drawings to people he met by chance.

Newbiggin-by-the-sea 1966 oil on canvas. Private collection.

He would catch a train, taxi or a lift with friends up to Blyth, Berwick, Bamburgh or Newbiggin. Constantly drawn to the coast he would stare out to sea, and was inspired to use the sketches as a basis for oil paintings ’Don’t start thinking I was trying to put over some message, I just painted what I saw’.

Lowry was interested in St Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth and seven mile away its twin monastery St Paul’s in Jarrow. Nearby in Bede Art Gallery he would meet Director, Vince Rea, and on a number of occasions enjoyed talking with amateur artists in the gallery.

St Paul’s, Jarrow 1962, pencil and ballpoint pen on paper. Private collection.

As mentioned in a previous post Lowry spent many hours at South Shields where the Tyne meets the North sea watching tugs, ships and fishing boats coming in. On the north side of the river is the notorious Black Midden rocks, before piers were built it was a graveyard for ships.

High up on the headland is Tynemouth Castle and Priory providing a dramatic backdrop. Lowry loved the scenery, the atmosphere, and above all, the sea.

He exhibited work at Newcastle’s Stone Gallery and became a friend of owner Mick Marshall. In later years he encouraged young artists to stay close to their roots rather than assume a move to London was necessary ‘No need to go to London to become a famous painter, you won’t find better lamp posts there’.

Sunderland Museum have an exhibition devoted to him and as a permanent reminder there is a Lowry Road and a new housing estate – Lowry Park, I think his mother would approve.

Gary Alikivi  December 2021

Notes:

L.S. Lowry by Michael Leber & Judith Sandling

L.S. Lowry in the North East published by Tyne & Wear Museums 2010.

SAND DANCING IN SHIELDS WITH L.S. LOWRY

‘I’m particularly fond of watching large ships coming in to the harbour, or being brought down river by tugs. I love the Tyne for that reason. It’s a wonderful river’.

From 1960 until his death in 1976 prolific artist L.S. Lowry frequently travelled from his home in Cheshire to the North East. He used the Seaburn Hotel as a second home and a base to explore the area, but when his usual room at the front wasn’t available he would occasionally book in at The Sea Hotel, South Shields.

Pic in the book L.S. Lowry in the North East.

The hotel is based on the seafront near the entrance to the river Tyne. He would sit for hours in the car park between the South Pier and the Groyne, sketching ships and tugs entering the river from the North Sea.

Lowry was fascinated by the relentless power of the sea and subject of one sketch was the Adelfotis cargo vessel who ran aground on the Herd Sands at South Shields in 1963. It’s exciting to think that Lowry was there sketching in the background.

Wreck at South Shields, pencil on paper 1963. The Lowry Collection, Salford.

Always Ready is a film I made in 2016 about the work of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, it features excellent archive footage of the Life Brigade’s brave rescue of the crew from the cargo ship. (Check the link below).

Lowry found a number of vantage points to watch the river Tyne – one was the Mill Dam where an episode was filmed of TV programme When the Boat Comes In, and today is where The Customs House theatre & arts centre stands.  

From there he walked ten minutes up River drive to the bridge which overlooked the shipyards, a different picture today as the yards have been replaced by housing. On many occasions he travelled on the Tyne ferry between North and South Shields.

Old House in South Shields, oil on canvas, 1965.

Lowry was drawn to buildings that were old, neglected or about to be pulled down, an oil from 1965 titled Old House in South Shields caught my eye as I recognised the building from a photo in South Shields Library archive. Sadly not there now, it was demolished and replaced by flats.

Old House in South Shields. Note the position of the windows and doorway.

The large house was set on The Lawe – a hill top over-looking the entrance to the Tyne. To get there Lowry would have walked from his favourite spot at the seafront up the steep bank.

With its strong connection to the sea, this area would have been attractive to Lowry, with the old Pilot steps and Watch House nearby and standing tall are two beacons – large brick pillars originally used as navigational aids for guiding ships into the river before the piers were built.

Derelict at the time Lowry was there, the house was originally a barracks for soldiers during the Napoleonic invasion scare, then used as a business man’s club and reading room by the gentlemen of the Lawe.

South Shields, oil on canvas, private collection, 1962.

At the back of Lawe House was a large Roman Remains Park – today it’s a partly re-constructed Roman Fort. Being drawn to old neglected buildings Lowry may have wandered over and sat sketching among the ruins – or was just knackered and needed to rest after walking up the steep hill.

Gary Alikivi  December 2021

Notes:

L.S. Lowry by Michael Leber & Judith Sandling

L.S. Lowry in the North East published by Tyne & Wear Museums 2010.

Sunderland Echo

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk

ALWAYS READY (26min) South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade 1866 – 2016. – YouTube

CRAZY FROM THE BEAT: with drummer Paul AT Kinson (Secret Sam/Jess Cox/ /Battleaxe/Skyclad) 2/2

Did you think you would get signed to a major label ? The first line-up of Secret Sam nearly got us signed with a big advance, but it fell through during Christmas ‘85, we were gutted when we found out. When I think back to those times I’m not proud of myself either. I was, and still am, pretty difficult to work with sometimes.

Russ Thompson (guitar/vocals) and I really laid the law down about arrangements and harmonies, I ended up falling out with some really nice people. It got ridiculous in the end, Russ sacked himself and a dozen other people came through the band before I finally wrapped it up in late ‘86.

A year later Mick McKnight (guitar) and Paul Bateson (keys) had a club act and ended up doing Stars In Your Eyes, a big show on TV at the time. They got ripped apart by journalist Nina Myskow, that was fun to watch, but I did feel for them.

The Jess Cox band on Tyne Tees TV show TX45.

I mentioned being in the Jess Cox band, we did the first series of TX45 (music TV show filmed in Newcastle at the time of The Tube) and a couple of shows in London with Les Cheatham on guitar and a couple of great guys from down south, this was around ‘84-86.

Working with Jess (vocals) was a good learning experience, he’d had some success with The Tygers of Pan Tang so he sort of knew what he was talking about, even though he was clearly tainted by the music industry at that point.

In rehearsals for the TV show, he helped me refine my playing by offering suggestions like ‘can you put a blanket over those f**king drums’ and ‘don’t do drum fills’. Of course I will be forever grateful for that advice!

There was an album I did around ’85 with Jess and Rob Weir (guitar) called imaginatively – Tyger Tyger. Me and Rob programmed all drums on a Roland TR-707 then went into Impulse studio to record real hi-hats and cymbals, that was the second most awful studio experience I’ve ever had. I don’t think it ever saw the light of day, it wasn’t that good.

What did the new decade bring for you ? At the end of the ‘80s, heavy metal band Battleaxe got in touch and I started playing for them. Don’t they say any publicity is good publicity ? The singer would have crazy ideas like ‘we’re going to make a video on an oil rig and the BBC are coming down to film it’. At first I thought this is exciting, but soon realised he lived in a fantasy world.

What he forgot to mention was with all our gear we would have to sneak illegally onto one of the oil rigs being built in Sunderland docks, and start playing until news media and police turned up to arrest us.

Incidentally, from 2010-14 I returned to Battleaxe but I’ll not go there, it’s a four year horror story I’d rather forget, it includes the worst band and recording experience I’ve ever had.

Skyclad

By the mid ‘90s I was enjoying playing around the pubs in a little three piece band and one day got a call from the late Eric Cook who managed Venom and others. He asked if I could do a tour because the drummer they were hoping to use had dropped out. I immediately said yes, it’s a powerful word yes – the tour was the next week and the band was Skyclad.

I’d never heard of them but did sort of know Steve (Ramsey, lead guitarist) and Bean (Graeme English, bass) from the band Satan. With only four or five days to learn the set, we were off to Europe to play with Blind Guardian, Yngwie Malmsteen and Saxon.

It was great, but I felt like a fish out of water. I’d never played in a folk metal band before and I’d never done that kind of tour. Big venues, lorries full of gear, half a dozen tour coaches, catering the lot, it was like stepping into the unknown for me – totally routine for the other guys though.

One of the highlights for me was jamming with Yngwie Malmsteen’s band in the sound check in Hannover, a rare opportunity, they were brilliant players, and had to be because Yngwie would dock their pay if they made a mistake on stage.

I stayed with Skyclad for a couple of years, doing a few tours with bands like Riot, Whiplash, Subway to Sally, and recording a couple of albums at top studios like Moles in Bath and Jacobs in Surrey, but I was sick to death of being away on tour. It all came to a head for me at the end of ’96 in a snow storm and -20 degree temperatures.

Imagine spending Christmas Day in a freezing hotel in a town where nothing was open, and being away from your loved ones without any means of contacting them but a payphone in the street – totally depressing. Why anyone thought that would be a good idea was beyond me.

Things got so bad that in true rock star style Andy smashed up his hotel room causing a couple of thousand pounds worth of damage – by the way Andy was the lighting guy, it was the band who were the sensible one’s.

At this point I was in my mid-thirties and realised this is a game for the young, but I appreciated the experience and the band always treated me well.

Bob Dee on tour 2016-18.

What have you been doing the past couple of years ? From 2016-18 I was drumming for American band Bob Dee with Petro, he was a great guy, we did a couple of UK tours, one supporting Chris Holmes from ‘80s metal band Wasp.

So that’s about it, trying to make it in music brought good times and not so good times for me, it’s great to talk about it if someone’s interested in listening, but these days I find myself less inclined to.

What do you think about your time in music ? I think my ‘80s was a great time, the band scene was vibrant and anything seemed possible. I often think of people like Karen McInulty from She, Dave Donaldson from the Jess Cox Band, Eric Cook, and others who are sadly no longer with us, and loads of other people who were part of that close knit scene at the time, really fond memories.

For me it’s like telling a story about climbing a mountain, it’s easy to romanticise about it in hindsight and say it was all fantastic, when in reality it was hard work with only the odd moment when the clouds broke.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  December 2021

CRAZY FROM THE BEAT: with drummer Paul AT Kinson (Secret Sam/Jess Cox /Battleaxe/Skyclad) 1/2.

For me being in a band is all about writing your own songs. When I started playing seriously I just couldn’t see a route to any kind of satisfaction or success playing other people’s material.

By mid ‘80s loads of musician mates were giving up on original stuff and going into the social club scene, I just didn’t see the joy in that. Being in a band actually cost me money and always has, recording studios were never cheap. I was skint most of the time.

What was your experience of recording in a studio ? The bands I was in were mostly original, so saving up and borrowing money to go into the studio became the norm. Anyone reading this will remember that recording demos could sometimes be an anti-climax before digital stuff came along.

For example you’d save up your money to go into say Impulse in Wallsend, have a great recording session, get high as a kite sitting next to producer Keith Nichol doing the mix, only to be met with utter disappointment when you got home and played back your cassette copy.

It just never sounded as good as it did through those big studio monitors.

My first time in the studio was around ’78, a great little place in the basement of a house overlooking Saltwell Park in Gateshead. It was a great learning experience, the owner and sound engineer was Ken Black.

He once said to me after a recording session, ‘you’ve got the makings of a really good drummer, but your bass drum foot needs some work’. It was both a confidence boost and criticism rolled into one, good advice for a 16 year old but started my love hate relationship with studios over the years.

What bands did you play in ? Zenith around 1981, a Rush rip off really, we recorded songs like ‘The Trees’ which Alan Robson would play on his Metro radio rock show.

It was my second time in the studio, Dave Shaw was on guitar, a great player who has played with a local band called The Force for years, a nice guy if I remember. But Zenith didn’t gig much.

Secret Sam (first line-up)

Then in 1982 I was introduced to two brothers, Brian and Stuart Emerson, they were forming a band and needed a drummer. So we got together in Lemington Church Hall, Newcastle.

The melody and lyric ideas they were coming up with were far superior to anything I’d heard, so it felt quite exciting to be part of. Anyone around the Newcastle rock scene in the ‘80s eventually heard of Emerson.

With just the three of us at first we did a three track demo at Ronnie’s Studio with their in-house engineer, who produced a great result for us. It was a great little four track place in the basement of a drum shop on Newcastle’s New Bridge Street. The tracks sounded big, but we needed a keyboard player.

Dru Irving came into the band and within a few weeks we went into Impulse in Wallsend to record another demo, Keith Nichol was at the helm this time, again the tracks sounded good.

I remember writing to Dave Wood the owner of Neat Records to see if we could get some sort of deal but they weren’t interested in melody bands at that time, it was all metal stuff like Venom on the label.

Singer Sam Blewitt, who’s had a great career in music over the last 40 years, came in to the band and took over main vocal from Stu. He had that Steve Perry (Journey) sounding voice, so perfect for that era.

Sam had a mate called Charlie McKenzie, a great drummer who was far better than me. I could see the writing on the wall – I left before I was sacked.

They went on to record a single with NEAT Records called Something Special, or ‘nothing special’ as Brian often recalls. It got played a lot at Mayfair and Tiffany’s rock nights, every time I heard it I would wince.

Vogue

What were your highlights with Emerson ? There was one show we did in Scotland in a massive aircraft hanger, the stage at one end and bar at the other half a mile away – what could go wrong?

The organiser said ‘it’s a bit echoey but there will be loads of people and a 4K PA to play through, so the sound will be great’. But none of those things were true.

When we got there it was actually two WEM speaker columns with 4K stencilled on the side in nicotine stained magnolia.

There wasn’t much of an audience but they were appreciative, even though it took a while for the sound of their clapping to reach us at the end of each song. When the gig finished, we were half way to the bar when they started applauding the last song.

Next was Vogue and Secret Sam. Me and a nice Blyth lad called Russ Thompson (guitar) were writing songs together, I don’t know how we met, music just brings people together.

Secret Sam (second line up).

Brian Emerson had left Emerson and joined London band Bronze around 1983. Then around 84/85 he called from the capital saying he’s quit and wondered what we were doing.


Somehow we put a great band together in no time at all, Brian on bass, Paul Swaddle and Russ on guitars, Mick White on vocals, Paul Bateson on keys and myself on drums, it was great.

We were in Impulse in no time recording a couple of new tracks thanks to Russ’s dad paying for it.

Guitarist Tim Jebb took over from Paul Swaddle and we soon went into Fairview Studio in Hull to record some great sounding tracks. Fairview is a top studio where bands like Def Leppard, Spiders From Mars, Robert Palmer, The Beautiful South have all recorded, it felt big time, and again thanks to Russ’s dad.

Did you have any management ? One night I was out in Whitley Bay and bumped into Colin Rowell, who at the time was Stage Manager at Tyne Tees TV for The Tube. I knew him from a few months back when I did a Studio 5 spin off show called TX45 playing for Jess Cox formerly vocalist with Tygers of Pan Tang.

The Tube was amazing for live music, and massive for the North-East at the time, but mention it to anyone under 50, and they won’t know what you’re talking about.

Anyway Colin was with Rob Weir who had left the Tygers of Pan Tang, the two of them were forming a management company called Emerald House Productions and looking for a band to sign.

We were playing Mingles in a couple of weeks, so I said why don’t you come down and see us?

Mingles was the place to play on the coast, some great bands built their following there, but they could be a tough audience sometimes, as we later found out.

A week to the gig, and there’s always something that goes wrong isn’t there. With no notice, Mick White left the band, went back to London and joined Samson, so we were stuck without a front man.

Luckily the singer from Hellanbach, Jimmy Brash fancied it, so he came in for the Mingles gig. Rob and Colin said they loved the band but not the singer, so that was a problem.

Jim was a great front man though, I remember there was heckling coming from the back of the room and he said ‘there’s people shouting f**k off at the back of the room, I’m sorry we don’t do requests’. I nearly fell off my drum stool laughing.

In order to take advantage of this lucrative management offer – he says with tongue in cheek – me, Russ and Paul on keys pulled a new band together, this time with Russ on main vocal, Mick McKnight on guitar – who I’d played with in the Jess Cox Band, and Mick Bettridge on bass.

We quickly signed a 25 year management deal with Emerald House Productions and we took the name Secret Sam – imagine if we’d made any money? Things happen quickly when you’re young and starry eyed.

The band got the full image treatment from design teams at Tyne Tees TV and we did a bunch of shows and TV work including TX45 and Get Fresh.

Russ and I helped out with things like screen tests at Studio 5, and other productions like Razzmatazz. It was great fun hanging around The Tube TV studio meeting all the big artists of the day that had come to appear every Friday night.

Get Fresh, the show produced by Janet Street Porter, had two small stages for the band to set up on, and attached them to fork lift trucks with cable ties or string or something. The thing would never pass a health and safety test today.

We thought we’d be playing on a big stage to a national audience, but no, they wanted to drive us around the car park on these makeshift stages miming to our latest song ‘She Keeps Running’ – what a laugh!

It was both embarrassing and brilliant, we felt like stars for the day signing autographs for the kids.

Read part two of how Paul joined Battleaxe, Skyclad, Tyger Tyger, and what he is doing now.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  December 2021