In September 2020 the review of Raven’s latest album Metal City declared that ‘on this evidence Raven consolidate their title of Chief Headbangers’ and signed off with ‘any contenders?’
Last week one of the original North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, Tygers of Pan Tang, hoyed their hat in the ring.
Their new single Edge of the World released on the Mighty Music label was as the kids say ‘dropped’ last Thursday and after the first time on hearing, the Tygers have sharpened their swords and hoyed the kitchen sink at the production. It’s epic.
Starting with a hint of Eastern promise the guitars will put lightning back in yer tired bones, and with that chorus we have the next superhero soundtrack. Someone put a call in to Hollywood blockbusting film maker Christopher Nolan (Batman/The Dark Knight/Man of Steel).
There’s no idle shilly-shallying here with layer upon layer of glossy finesse, ultra-tight drumming from Craig Ellis, bassist Huw Holdings accomplished maiden recording, plus a searing twin lead break from guitarists Robb Weir and Francesco Marras, while vocalist Jack Meille faces down the beast.
Edge of the World doesn’t lead you to the dead zone with no follow up record as the Tygers are about to launch their new album and on this evidence alone, wrestle the crown from Raven.
The first post of 2023 looks at TV and Film productions using South Shields locations. The latest being TV cop drama series Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn with her fake Geordie accent. Gateshead born Jill Halfpenny shudda’ been a shoo-in for that role.
And not forgetting an episode of Inspector George Gently with Martin Shaw filmed in the Rose & Crown pub at Holborn docks. Back in the ‘90s Catherine Cookson films were shot along the riverside and scenes from an episode of Spender starring Jimmy Nail were set up on the South pier.
Rewind further to the 1970’s and BBC TV series When the Boat Comes In, created by local Shields lad James Mitchell, they used The Customs House building at the Mill Dam as a backdrop.
But I remember in 1982 when a convoy of film trucks landed in South Shields. To be precise, Devonshire and Porchester Street in the Tyne Dock area of the town, and there was not one, but two projects filmed there. Those days I lived just two minutes away so took the chance to see the action.
There was BBC TV series Machine Gunners and a film called Ascendancy starring Julie Covington, who alongside Rula Lenska, had featured in popular ITV series, Rock Follies.
In March 2021 I interviewed Punishment of Luxury vocalist & actor Brian Rapkin, where he talked about his music and acting career on North East productions. So I recently got in touch and asked him about it…
‘Yes it was 1982 when I had a part as a Polish officer in Machine Gunners for the BBC. I was acting in a speaking part for the first time ever, and I remember being very nervous and excited.’
Brian was in demand during the ‘90s, as well as the aforementioned Catherine Cookson films, he worked in Newcastle on the TV series Byker Grove with Jill Halfpenny and Ant and Dec ‘They were just kids then’. He also featured in Spender starring Amanda Redman and Jimmy Nail ‘Mr Nail knew the actors were on tenterhooks so he chivied the crew along, that helped my nerves’.
I remember a few nights nipping over to Porchy watching Ascendency being filmed. I have a hazy memory of huge lights shining on a scene where a family were dragged out of a house in pyjamas and nighties and put up against the wall by armed soldiers. I haven’t been able to find any copies of the film to check the scene, or if it made the final cut.
Unfortunately I was still at school so a bit busy during the day, but straight after the bell I went to Porchy to see what was happening in Machine Gunners. I remember where one scene a milkman with his horse and cart was delivering bottles, and shouting at a group of kids ‘Where you going now’. Funny what sticks isn’t it?
Other locations in South Shields were used in the Gunners, one of them was Westoe School. I can’t remember exact details – wey it was over 40 years ago – but at the time of filming half the houses in Porchy were empty, and not long after the crew left, the street was knocked down. Devonshire is still there today.
For an interview in October this year with seventies rock band Fogg, I met North East musicians Dave Robson and Bob Porteous in North Shields Heritage Centre near the fish quay – hey its al’ rock n roll my friends!
Afterwards I went over to see Fiddlers Green, the sculpture by Durham artist Ray Lonsdale which was unveiled in 2017. I was reminded of Seaham’s ‘Tommy’, who featured in the last blog, as Lonsdale again presents us with a lone figure deep in thought.
The fisherman, at ten foot tall and weighing in at two ton of steel – have the locals named him yet? Sits guard over the entrance to the River Tyne and the fish quay with its fishing boats, row of cafes, restaurants, fresh fishmongers and the aforementioned Heritage Centre.
I was interested where the name Fiddlers Green came from, so got in touch with Joyce Marti who is team leader at Discover, the Local Studies Department, North Tyneside.
I first met Joyce in 2014 when researching a documentary I made looking at the connection between North and South Shields.
Joyce explained “The memorial site was given the name Fiddler’s Green, a term that originated in 19th century maritime folklore. It was a mythical afterlife location for sailors and mariners who served their time at sea. There is said to be a fiddle that never stops playing, dancers who never tire, and drink which flows freely”.
“The sculpture was funded by North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project and North Tyneside Council who wanted to see a permanent memorial to North Shields fishermen lost at sea”.
On the back of the sculpture the plaque reads…
Directly across the river, South Shields has its own sculptures connected to the sea with the Conversation Piece.
Placed near the Groyne pier at the entrance to the River, are a large group of ‘weebles’ – the local name for the 22 bronze figures, which are in small groups talking to each other and checking the time waiting for their men to return home from sea.
The figures were unveiled in 1999 from an idea by Spanish artist Juan Munoz. He must have created a number of these pieces as a couple of years ago I saw some fenced in behind a cage near the beach in Barcelona.
Word is, another sculpture is planned near Fiddlers Green, that’ll be one more pinned to Lonsdale’s map of the North.
Joyce Marti added “The group who raised the initial funds for Fiddlers Green have now commissioned Ray to start a ‘Herring Girl’ statue to be placed on the Western Fish Quay, North Shields”.
A visit to former industrial mining town Seaham revealed two contrasting stories separated by 100 years.
At the time there was a wedding reception being held in Seaham Hall so no chance of having a look around, but it’s another wedding that it’s noted for.
On 2nd January 1815 romantic poet and world traveller Lord Byron married Anne Millbanke. These passages taken from the book ‘The Life and Writings of Lord Byron’.
‘Anna, the daughter of Sir Ralph Millbanke was an attractive looking, learned, prim young lady. They were married in the drawing room at Seaham, Sir Ralph’s place. At first all went smoothly’.
‘But Byron’s money difficulties, drinking bouts, orgies, liver disease and now took laudanum habitually. Trembling in the balance between sanity and madness his conduct was very unkind. Lady Byron talked of him keeping loaded pistols in the room’.
‘Her husband’s resolve to travel either with or without her, she preferring to stay in England. He told her in a fit of rage, he never cared for her, and would free himself from the bondage of matrimony. The marriage barely lasted a year and shortly after he left England for good’.
In complete contrast just over a mile away on the seafront terrace is a nine foot tall statue of a First World War soldier I’ve visited a few times.
Originally created as a temporary display in 2014 by prolific North East artist Ray Lonsdale, the sculpture is officially named ‘1101’. Referring to the first minute of peace as armistice started 11am 11 November 1918 – now it’s known affectionately as ‘Tommy’.
Local residents and business’ felt strongly enough about Tommy they raised enough funds to buy the statue outright and make him a permanent fixture on the terrace green.
Made of rusty red steel Tommy is sitting with his helmet on, gun in hand and looking down. Has he just found out that war is over and is by himself catching his breath thinking about what he witnessed on the battlefield and all his marras who were killed?
Each time I’ve visited there’s been a quiet reverence shown by people of all ages paying respects laying a flower or small wooden cross, thinking about how wars have affected loved ones, relatives, and friends.
The soul of the sculpture is its emotional heft. Placed in the middle of the terrace green with his back to the sea he looks inland and finally able to say ‘We’re comin’ home’.
Ray’s work featured on this blog in September this year.
Autoleisureland is the new project by former Kane Gang members Dave Brewis and Paul Woods.
The Kane Gang, with Martin Brammer completing the line-up, formed in the former coal mining town of Seaham on the North East coast in 1982, and signed to Kitchenware Records.
The pop soul band notched up several UK and USA hits including Respect Yourself, Closest Thing to Heaven and Gun Law.
I asked Dave and Paul how did the project come about ?
PW: It started a few years ago when Dave was working on his instrumental album.
Every week before we popped out for a pint he’d drop off a new mix or new track. I really liked them and started on lyrics to turn them into songs. It snowballed and I started giving him lyrics and ideas for new ones.
DB: Paul and myself have remained in touch and seen each other regularly over the years since the Kane Gang was active. When I quit lecturing at Gateshead College I was still doing session gigs, but fancied writing again.
I recorded a set of tunes, and Paul thought he would write lyrics, so that got the ball rolling. Before long we were full on writing and recording, something we always enjoyed. So we thought we’d name ourselves and start a band project.
PW: Eventually we came up with the song Autoleisureland and that was the catalyst for the sound we were going for in our heads. Sort of all of our influences coming together.
After that we were off and running. I’ve never enjoyed working on something so much.
Have you a best time for song writing ?
DB: Definitely not in the mornings. A few days a week we work two to three hours at a time in the afternoon on recording.
After that length of time we lose our judgement so we stop, but evenings are when we usually write and that is done separately. Then we exchange ideas and continue. It’s quite efficient as we usually know what we are after. But it can take time.
PW: I tend to have the best ideas at night for hook lines, titles and choruses. Sometimes when I’m listening to some other music and I mishear the lyrics, it sets me on a different train of thought. The rest of the daytime is used for the mundane lengthy task of actually finishing it.
What do you consider for the final running order of the songs on the new album ?
PW: We had a number of catchy songs that kept going, all rather upbeat and positive and we didn’t want to break the mood. So, we didn’t really want a slow number until about the seventh track in.
DB: We start with something upbeat that is representative of the album – Autoleisureland, then try to run four or five strong bangers in a row. Pop in a slow one then kick off again.
We have a few reflective ones but we finish this album with the title track Infiniti Drive, as it bookends with the first track Autoleisureland.
Do conversations ever turn to ‘remember in the ‘80s when this happened’ ?
DB: Yes sometimes. The odd daft thing that happened with taxis, airports, interviews. For me, thinking back to studio work mainly. That was very enjoyable, I think we preferred that side of it.
PW: The Kane Gang was and is a big part of our lives so it’s natural we have some thoughts about it. Obviously, the older you get, the less you remember.
For instance, a few weeks ago a thought came to me and I asked Dave, ‘were we on Soul Train?’. All of a sudden I had a flashback of the dancers and the show’s set. We performed Motortown.
However, on its official website it says we were never on. They mustn’t have used it, I guess.
What does music mean to you ?
DB: Music is a part of my life. I feel somewhat frustrated if I haven’t played or written something for a while. We can create and shape something out of nothing that entertains and feels worthwhile.
PW: This is difficult. For Dave, I believe it’s simpler. He’s a musician. That’s what he studied for, that’s what he practised for, that’s what he does, that’s who he is. He doesn’t think about it. And then there’s me.
When it comes to music I’ve always had imposter syndrome. Never believing I’m good enough to sing, write, record. All the time I was in The Kane Gang I was plagued by that.
It was only until this latest project that I thought, ‘yeah this IS what I do, and I’m going to keep doing it’, so I apologise in advance.
What are your hopes for the new album ?
PW: Who knows anymore. I’m just pleased it’s done, out, finished. I’m prouder of this than anything I’ve done. So I’m pleased it’s out, people can hear it and then we can get more stuff out and even more recorded.
DB: We hope we can reach a lot of people who like this style of music, worldwide. Obviously some Kane Gang fans, but also the people who listen to our contemporaries like Tears for Fears, China Crisis, Prefab Sprout.
And people who like some of the more interesting newer bands. It’s good to try to be fresh but ultimately do what you do.
Autoleisureland is released on 25th November 2022 on all digital streaming and download platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube & Bandcamp.
Held on Saturday November 26th by North East playwright & theatre producer Ed Waugh (Dirty Dusting, Hadaway Harry, Sunday for Sammy), the event in Bewick Hall will be a celebration of fantastic stories about working class heroes from Tyneside.
“I’m really excited about this. It’ll rock. There’ll be Geordie songs, stories, and a video link – it’ll be great crack” said Ed
The Harry Clasper, David & Glenn McCrory and The Great Joe Wilson stories were successful stage plays in their own right, now the scripts have been compiled together and released into one book – Geordie Plays.
Harry Clasper’s story follows his journey from working class pitman in Jarrow to rowing Champion of the World.
North East singer and song writer Joe Wilson chronicled working class life in song including the Geordie classic Keep Yor Feet Still Geordie Hinny.
“North East actor Jamie Brown who starred in both plays Hadaway Harry and the Great Joe Wilson will be singing some Geordie songs at the event”.
“We have the top journalist and sportswriter John Gibson coming along, he will regale us with stories about Glenn McCrory’s rise to boxing world champion stardom and the inspiration he got from his severely disabled brother David”.
“We’ll also have a video link to the three plays’ director Russell Floyd” explained Ed.
Some may know of Russell from his time acting in UK theatres and TV shows including Eastenders and The Bill.
“There’s also a special 5-minute video by Canadian, Kas Wilson, talking about what it means to be Joe Wilson’s great-grand-daughter”.
“I would like to give my thanks for continued support to all audiences, supporters, organisers – everyone involved in making this happen”.
The launch is on Saturday, November 26th 6pm, Bewick Hall, Newcastle City Library.
The previous post featured South Shields born Will Binks, who at 16 started a successful North East punk fanzine, in this second part he talks about his passion for photography.
Will can often be seen ‘doon the frunt’ at North East punk gigs so if you see him give him a shout.
After the fanzine and short-lived tape label I was ready for something new, and even as a child I always had a passing interest in photography.
When did you start taking photos, was it with North East punk band The Fiend back in the 1980s?
When I was eighteen years old, in 1984, I got a Pentax SLR camera and flash from Alan Brown’s shop on Frederick Street in South Shields. I took it to gigs and yes I did do a photoshoot with the lads from The Fiend.
(The Fiend featured on the blog in January 2021)
However, it was a bulky camera, with film, batteries and developing not cheap at all. I was at the age where I wanted to socialise and enjoy a drink with friends, so I often left the Pentax at home and took out my parents’ Kodak Disc camera. It was pocket-sized and you just pointed and clicked.
Great I thought at the time, but in retrospect a mistake. The quality of photos was to put it bluntly, terrible. I wish I persevered with the Pentax. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
What was the atmosphere like at punk gigs?
To be truthful, it was scary sometimes but mostly it was okay, although I know folk who suffered violence. There were times when you could sense trepidation in the air, and you just knew what was gonna happen.
Thankfully, I sidestepped any trouble but I definitely had a few lucky escapes.
There seemed to be a lot of that irrational tribalism between different areas. I never did understand folk wanting to assault someone just because they were from another town or city. I’m pleased to say that nowadays it is much, much better.
For you what is the difference between taking photos on film back then, and digital now?
Back in the day, I was restricted by how much film I could afford to buy and having the cash to get those films developed. It wasn’t particularly cheap. Photography was, and still is, an expensive hobby.
The good thing was once I had taken my pics and had the film developed that was that. You had your images and there was no post editing back then.
Nowadays, your time is split between taking pictures then spending hours, if not days, at home editing your images to your own specifications. It is very time consuming but I thoroughly enjoy it.
I’ve always said I take pictures for my own gratification. If anyone expresses a liking for any, then I’m pleased, but I should stress that it’s not the reason behind why I do what I do. I am non-commercial. I am not motivated at all by financial gain.
Hard to say, I know, but what is your best pic?
A very difficult question. Regarding my live music photography, it changes constantly. Here’s one I took of a sunrise from back in 2016, something that I always enjoy witnessing.
Where can people see your pics ?
I’ve had some of my images used in books and by bands on their record or CD sleeves. All I ask for in return is that I am credited, and that I get a copy of the product once released. I don’t think I can be much fairer than that.
All my pics are public and viewable in full resolution on my Flickr page. I invite everyone to follow the link and check out the many albums of pictures there. Hope you enjoy what you see.
I know doing a fanzine wasn’t exactly momentous historically, however it was our small involvement in our local scene. It might not be important to everyone, but it was very important to some.
After leaving school in 1982Will was looking to contribute to the punk scene on Tyneside…
I never possessed natural talent or had the opportunity to play an instrument, I was never gonna be a vocalist by any stretch of the imagination.
Thinking back, I don’t think my parents had the kind of disposable income to fork out on a guitar, amp or drums. Times were tough back then as anyone from that era can confirm.
But I did have an admiration for the Sunderland fanzine Acts Of Defiance which I bought from The New Record Inn next door to the infamous Old 29 pub in Sunderland where many bands played. I would read the copies enthusiastically and wondered if I could do something similar.
Will set about typing stuff out using his sister’s typewriter.
I would be creative using Letraset or permanent black marker pens with stencils. I would cut pieces out of the weekly music paper Sounds and daily newspapers to create collages or backgrounds by gluing them together. Back then ‘copy and paste’ meant using scissors and adhesive!
For a name I saw ‘Hate And War’ in a magazine, that would fit perfectly across the top of an A4 sheet of paper. I cut it out and it looked great, so that was that sorted.
Obviously we didn’t endorse hate or war – quite the opposite in fact. To us it was just a great song by The Clash, and it was completely by chance that I found that cutting and it fit perfectly.
Were you working alongside anybody to produce the fanzine?
During that period I was very close with my cousin Paul Briggs. We would arrange to meet bands or write to those further afield with postal interviews. Basically I’d send them a bunch of questions and they’d reply with their answers in a week or two.
What bands did you feature?
We featured bands like Vice Squad, Dead Kennedys, U.K. Subs, The System, External Menace, Riot Squad, The Adicts, Instant Agony, and lots more.
We also focused heavily on local North East talent such as Uproar, The Fiend, Psycho Faction, Total Chaos, Toy Dolls, Sadistic Slobs, Public Toys, Negative Earth, Red Alert and tons of others.
The next hurdles to overcome were how to get it financed and printed.
We were just kids relying on pocket money so things didn’t look good. Then I mentioned it to my grandmother who worked as a cleaner at the police station in South Shields.
I think the office staff turned a blind eye when she photocopied the odd knitting pattern but I’m grinning remembering that before anyone turned up on a morning my grandmother photocopied our fanzine in the police station offices.
She must’ve had some bottle knowing that getting caught could cost her the job she loved.
How many issues of the fanzine did you put out?
We put out two issues of Hate And War. Admittedly, they were basic and primitive but I mentioned this recently to my mate Nelly, he pointed out that ‘our whole punk scenewas basic and primitive‘ – it’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
We set about a third issue including interviewing Total Chaos at the Bier Keller in Newcastle where I crossed paths with Gary Payne. When I said wor – Geordie slang for ‘our’ – Paul had lost interest, he suggested going into cahoots with him.
He even had the new fanzine name and first front cover assembled – Still Dying was born. If Hate And War was basic and primitive then Still Dying was a bar or two higher as we raised our game.
Where did you sell copies of the fanzine ?
We sold lots by taking them to gigs at places like The Station in Gateshead and The Bunker in Sunderland. We’d ask folk if they fancied buying a fanzine and before we knew it they were gone. We had some for sale in Volume Records in Newcastle and lots were sent out by mail-order too.
I’m guessing we got about 200 of each issue printed and they all sold. The two issues of Hate And War sold for 10p, and Still Dying was a bargain at 20p.
My grandmother helped again by getting the first issue of Still Dying photocopied. We put out three issues of Still Dying during 1983 which I’m still proud of.
The second issue was printed by a lad called Ian, who did Testament Of Reality fanzine and owned his own photocopier. The third and final issue was printed by our friend’s sister who did Edition Fanzine.
By the end of that year Gary bowed out saying he’d completed what he set out to achieve and left me to forge on. My intentions were to continue but it wasn’t the same, so I gave everything we had typed out with all the artwork for our proposed fourth issue to a lad called Marty.
It featured in his fanzine ‘Remember Who We Are’. After that, I did pursue a short-lived tape label before stepping back altogether.
Do you think the fanzine had an impact on those who bought it ?
In recent years some folk have told me that they still own the issues they bought back in 1983. They’ve kept our little fanzine for nearly four decades, so it must’ve left some impression on them. I’ve heard good comments over the years and even the suggestion that we should resurrect it.
Next up read As I See It part two with Will Binks talking about his passion for photography.
Part one of the interview featured stories of gigs in working men’s clubs and recording in Abbey Road, in this second part Bob and Dave remember more shenanigans in ‘70s band Fogg.
At the time Tyne Tees TV were building a team to produce music shows resulting in the ground breaking Tube exploding on our tv screens in November 1982, but before The Tube was a programme called Geordie Scene.
Dave: We were on the Geordie Scene a few times. One time we were on with the band Geordie, Brian Johnson (AC/DC) was their singer. On the last song both bands got up and jammed on Blue Suede Shoes, we were the daaarlings of the North East scene (laughs). There was a party afterwards, it was great, both bands got on really well.
Bob: Yes, we did a few shows. Heidi Esser from EMI Electrola flew us out to Cologne to do a TV show and we stayed in a beautiful hotel all expenses paid. Boney M and Gilbert O Sullivan were on the bill too.
After the show we wanted a drink but like most bands we didn’t have any money. However there was a mini bar in our room which we’d been told was off limits. Chris and me looked at each other and said well just the one!
I’m ashamed to say that we disgraced ourselves by drinking it dry by 4am. I was told that it cost a fortune. Apologies to Heidi and EMI. It’s no excuse but we were just young lads and were very very thirsty!
Bob: The excellent Vaingloriousuk site does have many of our TV performances on video. (link below)
Mind the result of a little known FOGG/Geordie football match is still a sore point for us. Tom Hill, Geordie bass player ‘It’ll just be a quiet kickabout’. Aye that’ll be right Tom. (laughs)
Dave: Geordie were signed to Red Bus Records. I’ve got three songs on a Geordie album, and never had a penny. But that’s the music business.
Bob: Thinking back about that we were lucky to have John Reed and Derek McCormick on our team, they were dead straight with us. In fact they still look out for us. The re-release of the album This is it is their project.
How did the re-release of the album come about ?
Bob: Over the years John Reed stayed in touch with Mike Heatley at EMI who had worked on the initial This is it release and was a huge fan of Fogg. Cut to the present day and the new CEO at Warners music is Mike’s friend and ex colleague.
Our manager Derek McCormick has been beavering away on the legal side whilst John and Mike discussed a digital release with Warners. Success – what a team.
Talking about team members, our guitarist and main songwriter was Dek Rootham. Dek had a great sense of humour which certainly enlivened long journeys. He was often seen with Archie, a ventriloquists dummy.
We once had a small fire in the back of our Ford Transit whilst flying down the A1 at 70 mph. We are all thinking like Basil Fawlty ‘F-F-F-Fire!’ but Dek just turned around, warmed his hands on the blaze, turned back and continued reading his newspaper. What a guy. (laughs)
What caused the band to call it a day ?
Bob: A number of things really. In the mid-70s a few things were happening around the UK – recession, middle east oil shocks, venues closing down, three day weeks, power cuts. Just lots of things that really added up. But we gamely carried on playing gigs for a while surviving on the money from them.
We eventually decided to wrap it in. Chris went on to form his own band Shooter. Dave, Dek and I worked the clubs for a few months as a trio named Jingles(laughs).
Dave: By the late ‘70s Brian Johnson was re-forming Geordie to play the clubs, he already had a drummer and he asked me and Dek to join. We joined and had a great time with gigs pouring in. We had a few with Slade as Brian knew Chas (Chandler, ex Animal, Slade manager) quite well.
Then 1980 came round, Brian left for an audition in London, my wife was in hospital giving birth to my son, and I got a call from an American called Peter Mensch.
‘Hello is that Dave Robson, my name is Peter Mensch, I own AC/DC. I believe you have some contracts ?’
I said best to ring me back as my wife has just given birth. Well really I was devastated, Geordie had being doing well, now suddenly I was out of work. We continued with other singers but it was hard to replace Brian, he was very funny and had an instant connection to the audience soon as he got on stage.
(Along with many tales about the band Geordie, Brian Johnson’s story of the AC/DC audition can be read in the new book ‘The Lives of Brian – A Memoir by Brian Johnson’).
Bob: I went on to work with other bands and really enjoyed working on several unique projects with Steve Daggett (Lindisfarne). After studying at Newcastle University I joined Raw Spirit again for a while who I was in before Fogg.
Sadly Chris (vocals) passed away in 2014. He is still greatly loved and missed by the lads and indeed by all who met him. Dave, Dek and myself still do occasional gigs in our respective bands. Music is always in your blood I guess
Dave: But looking back it was a fantastic time.
Bob: Yeah such a magnificent period in our lives. We are so blessed to have experienced it and have This is it come to light once again.
Dave: And you can always dine out on the stories (laughs). Although some don’t believe you about Abbey Road.
Bob: Yeah there are a wealth of tales which are true but usually met with disbelief. Did we tell you about the time the Duchess of Devonshire asked us to pop in for tea, or Freddie Mercury’s market stall, or our near fatal adventures on Aberystwyth beach or when recording the album This is it, Olivia Newton John walked by and simply gave us a dazzling smile ?
I met up with rhythm players Bob and Dave to get a clear picture of the FOGG story, but first let’s find out where the name come from…
Dave: It had something to do with the book about Phileas Fogg and his travels around the world in 80 days didn’t it ?
Bob: Nah it stands for Fairly Old Grumpy Geriatrics (laughs).
During the 1970s FOGG were based in Newcastle and signed for EMI and Warner Brothers. They released four singles and an album ‘THIS IS IT’ recorded at Abbey Road. Warners are now re-releasing the remastered album (links below).
Bob: Iwould say This is It…is really a mix of hard rock, boogie, pop stompers and even a smidge of prog. Very tight instrumentally with great vocals, harmonies and guitar. Warners have remastered and digitised the album.
To my ears it sounds quite contemporary and hasn’t dated. Ok I’m biased but I love it all over again.
Dave: The album sounds very fresh today, I really like it. I’m proud of what we did. We were just a little band playing workingmen’s clubs who were suddenly catapulted onto a higher level and suddenly recording in the world famous Abbey Road studios.
The first version of Fogg started in 1971 and was formed by guitarist Dek Rootham ex-Sect, and bassist Dave Robson ex-Toby Twirl. They played the working men’s club circuit with drummer Ronny Levey and Colin Anderson on guitar.
By 1973 Ronny and Colin had moved on and were replaced by ex-Raw Spirit drummer Bob Porteous and Chris McPherson on vocals.
Dave: I was playing bass when I first joined a band at 19, they were called Toby Twirl who were a pro band doing gigs every day and night all over the UK. The drummer was John Reed, John was also a songwriter, later he moved from Sunderland to London but we stayed in touch.
Don’t wanna get ahead of myself here but he was very influential in Fogg because he got management involved and to this day is fully committed to the band.
John called Derek McCormick from Corus Music who had pedigree because he used to manage The Moody Blues and had a lot of industry contacts.
Bob: That was around 1973, we were playing the clubs at first then the work expanded via Derek and John and their contacts. Dek Rootham and John Reed began to write songs together.
Chris McPherson sounded like Noddy Holder from Slade, and was a charismatic front man. He took a break for a short while so we got Davey Ditchburn in on vocals during Chris’s time out.
We did several shows on Tyne Tees TV for the Geordie Scene. A You Tube channel dedicated to North East music called VainGloriousUK has several videos of Fogg performing on the show. My personal favourites are Ask No Questions and Captain Moonshine but there are many more to choose from.
Dave: Then later on Chris re-joined the fold. I remember Chris was a great character, god bless him he passed away a number of years ago.
Bob: He owned every stage he walked on. We all loved him.
Bob: Fogg worked hard on the College circuit, did a tour of Finland and TV & Radio work. By this time the band was developing a great synergy and the competition with other pro bands on the circuit had created a highly charged performance involving great audience rapport.
Dave: Yeah yer’ had to ! It was sink or swim.
Bob: Jumping in at that level generated massive confidence and camaraderie within the band.
Dave: We also did a lot work in the Bailey Clubs run by Stan Henry, a friend of our manager.
Sadly, Stan Henry died in September this year. From their South Shields headquarters Stan and business partner John Smith ran the Bailey Organisation. They opened a number of clubs around the UK.
Notably The New Cellar Club in South Shields where Cream opened the venue on 2nd December ’66 and Hendrix played on 1st February ’67.
Bob: One night we played the Bailey club in Watford and the top act was Dana (Hugely popular Irish winner of Eurovision song contest in 1970 with ‘All Kinds of Everything’).
She was absolutely lovely and invited us to her dressing room which was a different world. She was like a beautiful Queen with her make up and wardrobe people swanning around offering drinks and even lighting up other people’s cigarettes.
This, coupled with our week long soiree at a Hampshire health farm where we met the legendary Ava Gardner gave us a little glimpse into ‘70s fame.
Dave: The Bailey clubs were great, very pro, but I remember a lot of the CIU workingmen’s clubs were also run really well, Concert Chairmen keeping things right, great audiences, yeah loved them.
Bob: They always gave you a round of applause and there was always a dressing room, no changing in the toilets. And being paid well.
Dave: I wish they were back.
Bob: Concert chairmen had a bad rep but often they were smashing guys. There was a chairman called Edgar at one of the clubs and he would like to sing the last song of the night with the band.
‘What do you want to sing Edgar?’ ‘Blaydon Races’ he replied. We found that the song had about 20 verses and he knew them all! Still shiver and feel apprehensive to this day when someone says Blaydon Races (laughs).
How did the band get signed ?
Dave: As well as song writing with Dek, John Reed was the band manager and got us a gig in a Covent Garden pub where he invited Derek McCormick and various music industry people.
Derek was very impressed and we signed a management contract with him. John arranged a session in the EMI recording studio in Manchester Square and we did a successful demo there.
Bob: This was during the late summer of ’73. Derek was friends with Joop Visser, a lovely Dutch A&R guy in EMI and this opened the door to a recording contract.
In 1974 the band went into the legendary Abbey Road studios where The Beatles had recorded. They produced several singles, one of which Water in my Wine had significant sales in Germany and Japan.
EMI then helped realise the bands ambition by recording a full album at Abbey Road. This is It…was produced by Wally Allen from the Pretty Things.
Dave: It was like ‘yeh just going into the recording studio today’, that’s just what you did in those days you know.
Bob: Back then it was the arrogance of youth! (laughs)
Deep down though, we were ecstatic to be at Abbey Road even though we were being outwardly cool and professional about it.
Dave: Now it’s revered as a holy place but don’t get me wrong it really was a fantastic place to be.
Bob: The first single was Doing the Best I Can which got a few radio plays when released in 1974 but nothing major. All the band were involved in writing for the album but it was Dek and John Reed on the majority of songs.
Our first producer was Ian McClintock who we thought was good but not entirely tuned in to our music.
Dave: We needed more direction from him as we hadn’t been in a 16 track recording studio before.
Bob: When you are new to studios and the red light goes on it can be nerve wracking but we must have done ok because if I remember rightly we only did a max of three takes on most songs .
Dave: Eventually McClintock was replaced by Wally Allen who was bassist with The Pretty Things – he was brilliant. We moved into The Beatles studio and the sounds were fabulous there. You go into the control room to hear back what you’ve recorded and it’s a genuine ‘Is that us !’
Bob: That was Studio Two where the whole thing had a different vibe.
Dave: And the harmonies had a much better sound.
Bob: I don’t believe in ghosts but you could just feel an atmosphere of all the other musicians who had passed through there.
Dave: And on the piano there was the marks where (Paul) McCartney had left his tab burning!
Bob: One day the others were laying down some overdubs so I went for a wander around the other studios. I went into the huge Studio Three where I started playing a wonderful set of timpani drums. A severe looking security guard heard this and popped his head in and asked what I was doing in there.
‘Just from the band recording in the other studio’. After hearing my accent he asked where I’m from ‘Newcastle’ I replied. He let out a delighted laugh ‘Wey I’m from Gateshead man!’
We really felt a part of the Abbey Road family. Incidentally a couple of tracks from the album have a real North East vibe, Northern Song and Water in my Wine.
In 1975 the band moved on from EMI, signed to Warner Brothers and released two singles Dancing to the Music and Rock n Roll Star.
Next up read Rhythm Kings part two with more FOGG stories from Bob and Dave.
The remastered FOGG album ‘THIS IS IT...’ is now available in digital format from: