ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE TOON – Alikivi blog makes the news

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On the blog in February, Roksnaps featured photo’s of bands playing live in Newcastle over 30 years ago. The rare pic’s were by music fans Ian Coult, Tony Maddison and John Edward Spence – their memories of gigs from the 70’s and early 80’s. Photo’s which capture the atmosphere and excitement at Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall. On Friday May 18th journalist Dave Morton wrote an article and featured the photo’s in The Chronicle newspaper and on it’s website. The blog is coming up to 30,000 views, so a great way to mark that milestone is with a double page in the local newspaper.

 

Gary Alikivi May 2018.

 

Recommended:

Roksnaps #1 18th February 2018.

Roksnaps #2 22nd February 2018.

Roksnaps #3 27th February 2018.

Roksnaps #4  4th April 2018.

1980 The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside 11th February 2018.

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #2 with SPARTAN WARRIOR

 

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Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded there: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7” single. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

SPARTAN WARRIOR 

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Dave Wilkinson (vocals): ‘Spartan Warrior recorded at Guardian Studio in 1983/1984. My abiding memory of recording there is that the studio was said to be haunted and that made for a lot of winding up. There were occasions when although we’d been booked into the studio during the day time Terry Gavaghan, the producer of Spartan Warrior’s first two albums, would often have us recording throughout the evening and into the early hours of the following morning… that was just his way of working. In fact it wasn’t uncommon for us to arrive for a midday start on a Saturday and be finishing up at 5:00am on the Sunday! Needless to say that a lot of the overnight sessions involved a lot of ghost story telling by Terry. The control room had a large glass window next to the mixing desk and and from there you could see into the room in which the band was set up to record. It was quite dark in that room and I think it was only dimly lit with a red light. I found myself in situations where there would be a couple of hours spent with Terry in the control room and he’d tell us about the various sightings of the ghost of a little girl and there had been occasions when peoples headphones had inexplicably flown off across the room during a take. We’d all be sitting there listening and making light of it and then in the early hours Terry would send me into the other room to do a vocal in the dimly lit room while the rest of the band stayed in the control room. To say that I was apprehensive would be an understatement!!

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‘On one occasion we were in there recording a track called Witchfinder for the Steel n’ Chains album and Terry thought that it would be cool for the five of us to record a Satanic Chant at the opening of the track. So after a lot of the usual ghostly tales we all went around the vocal microphone while Terry remained in the control room with a lad who I think might have been a neighbour of his who was helping him in the studio that day. We had a few runs through this chant and it was an unrehearsed shambles but he called us back in to the control room to have a listen. Terry set the analogue recordings running and we listened back… then the tape machine just ground to a halt and he pointed at the digital clock which measured the length of the track and it came up as six minutes and sixty six seconds… 666… just like that. Terry looked really worried and said you can’t have a clock showing 666 seconds and he was  telling us something sinister was at work probably brought on by the Satanic Chant. He said that we ought to abandon the idea before anything horrendous happened… he said the Chant could bring about terrible things if blood was spilled… I think he actually said “all you need is blood”. Then the lad got up to go into the kitchen to make us all a cup of tea and he banged his head off one of the monitors and split his head open… that was it… blood was spilled and we were all terrified. It was almost certainly a wind up. I’m pretty sure Terry could have done something to make the clock show 666 but the lad did actually split his head open. The Chant never made the album!

‘On another occasion during the Steel n’ Chains sessions we took a mate of ours along and of course the ghost stories started mid- evening. I was about to put some vocals down so the other four lads plus our mate went down the street to the pub and while they were away Terry hatched his plan. He wrote himself a one way conversation and then recorded himself whilst leaving gaps at the end of each sentence so that when he played it back he could speak to ‘the voice’ live in apparent conversation. He then speeded up the recording so that it sounded like a ghostly child speaking and not just that but speaking to our friend… to protect his identity I’ll call him ‘Steve’. Terry then rigged up a ghostly model using an old Airfix model skull with a wig on it, a microphone stand at half mast with a coat hanger and child’s nightgown hanging on it. So it just looked like a little girl in a nightgown with this awful skull face and long black hair. Then we waited for the lads to come back. Once everyone was settled Terry again started telling his tales of the ghostly sightings into the early hours of the morning. He’d managed to let the other Spartan Warrior guys know what he was planning to do when ‘Steve’ was in the toilet as he was going to need their help to pull off the prank. Guardian Studio consisted of three terraced houses and the recording facility was in the middle. Because of that there were multiple points of access and exit. So once Terry had had an hour or two of his scary stories he turned to recording and set away his pre-recorded ghostly conversation which went something like:-

Steve, Steve’.

Terry tells everyone to be quiet and asks ‘did you hear that’. 

Then it goes on –

Ghost: Steeeeeve.

Terry: Who are you?

Ghost: Steeeeve, Steeeeve.

Terry: What do you want?

Ghost: I want Steeeeeeeve

Steve: Tell it to fuck off!!

‘So the tape finishes and of course ‘Steve’ is concerned so Terry told him to go and put the kettle on. Off Steve goes to the kitchen where the Ghost Model is set up and of course he sees it, screams and runs back into the control room saying that he’s ‘seen it’. Of course we go to investigate but it’s not there because one of the guys has moved it into the toilet during the commotion. So ‘Steve’ gets calmed down and after about 40 minutes is asked to go and get some toilet paper out of the toilet to clean the tape heads with. Of course he sees the Ghost Model again and runs back into the control room screaming blue murder and we have to calm him again. In fact I think Terry told him that if he was going to mess about and unnerve the band he would have to go home and he gave him a bit of a telling off. Terry then walks ‘Steve’ to the toilet, puts the light on and no ghost… of course it’s been taken out of the back door and round to the front entrance and stood in the porch at the entrance to the studio. We all have a cup of tea and a bit of light banter then we get to work again but this time Terry asks ‘Steve’ to nip next door to get whatever the hell he was asking for this time. I forget, but naturally ‘Steve’ is reluctant to go. So one of the lads tells him that he’ll come with him. So the two of them head out of the control room into the adjoining recording area which is in darkness save for the red light. They walk beyond the drum booth to a set of double sound proofed heavy doors that lead to the porch and front street as well as Terry’s living accommodation. The first door was opened by whoever was with ‘Steve’ and he opens the second door to the porch which is of course in darkness and guess what he sees!

‘Steve’ comes hurtling back through the recording area, into the control room absolutely panic stricken, almost to the point of tears, just gasping for breath and in a right state. I honestly thought he was going to collapse and I really felt it had gone too far not realising that he was of such a nervous disposition. The icing on the cake though was when we all had to sit down with him and calmly tell him what had been done and he was reluctant to believe it. To convince him somebody went to get the ghost model and brought it through to the control room to show him. We all fell about laughing when he lost his temper and punched the skull in the face. Looking back it’s a wonder we ever got any recording done’.

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This needs to be confirmed by a visit down to Pity Me, but a quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. I wonder if customers buying their tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, is that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Kev Charlton HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Neil Wil Kinson SPARTAN WARRIOR: Invader from the North 21st September 2017.

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.

GARAGELAND UK – interview with former punk vocalist Ian McRae

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During the 1980’s Ian McRae was vocalist with two Newcastle punk bands. The Mysterons and Phantoms of the Underground ‘Hearing Pretty Vacant and Neat Neat Neat absolutely changed my life. Once I got into punk, I like many others just wanted to be with my mates and forming a band seemed an obvious idea. Although we didn’t have a clue how to go on’.

How did you get interested in playing music and was there a defining moment when you said “I want to do that” ? ‘I think I must have been 10 years old when I remember seeing Jerry Lee Lewis on black and white tv……’Whole lotta shaking going on’…It was fantastic to see. That was my pivotal point. I later listened to The Damned, Pistols, Clash, Stooges, The Doors and early punk stuff’.  

When did the band get together ? The Mysterons were formed when I was at school around 1980/81 and the original line up was myself on vocals, Micky Ruddock on guitar, James Bowes drums and Tom Emerson on bass. Later The Phantoms of the Underground were formed and again me and Mikey guitar, David Craig on bass and David Stobbart on drums. I didn’t style my vocals on anyone really, wouldn’t know how to. But I did admire both Iggy and Jim Morrison because of their freedom they used while singing. Me and Mikey loved bands like The Rezillos and The Undertones. I also had the LAMF album by The Heartbreakers. ‘One Track Mind’ for a rock n roll pop song it was the best single I heard. We also loved the Ramones with their fun lyrics and fast songs. In very early gigs we did a version of Loose by the Stooges. We played that most shows’.

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The band wrote their own songs, who wrote the lyrics and the music ? ’Music was written mostly by Micky and I chipped in with the words. He would have a riff going and we kinda clicked together and end up with a song’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play. Was it in the immediate area or did you travel long distances and did you support name touring bands ?  ‘Initially as the Mysterons we played The Garage, The Bunker and other small places in Newcastle. As the Phantoms formed our first gig was at at Spectro Arts with the New Kicks. We then did The Station several times, Broken Doll, Bunker, Edwards Bar, Peterlee College, Middlesbrough University and The Guildhall in Newcastle. There was a venue in Leeds with Chelsea. Gene October said over the mic that we were the best live band he had seen in years. He offered us support slots for 2 nights at the Marquee, but we had split up two weeks before ! We played with Subhumans, Chelsea, Amebix, Antisect, and others at the Station and the Bunker. We toured Northern Ireland with Toxic Waste through the Rathcool music collective playing Belfast and the Antrim coast, Port Stuart and Portrush’.

 How did that come about ? ‘We had a mate come manager, a guy called Conner Crawford. He was from Belfast and knew of the collective in Rathcool and set up an exchange with a punk band there, Toxic Waste. We played over in Northern Ireland and brought them back to Newcastle. We done that tour on giros, we were all signing on the dole. It was the only time we got payed for gigs. We were charging like 3 quid entry and got 90% of the door takings! We played to 700 plus at Portrush, and got our first taste of a real encore, it felt mad. They were chanting for us to come back on..fantastic! Then we went to Rochdale and Oldham with The Instigators from Wallsend and played some gigs there. Also reggae played a big part. Matamba, were a reggae outfit from Leeds we befriended. They were an awesome band. We all packed into Newcastle Guildhall for a gig…great times. Also played with Conflict at some point, where we did a gig at Birmingham University with bands from The Station in Gateshead’. 

What were your experiences of recording ? ’In the studio we didn’t have a clue really. We had no management or direction. Instead of recording two excellent songs we just recorded 8 in one go. With no overdubs. Our first was a demo at Spectro Arts 8 track studio that cost us £90.00. Then we done a demo in Desert Sounds in Felling that cost £70 for 4 tracks. Then back to Spectro to record a live demo in one take that cost £70’.

Have you still got copies of the demos and did you sell any ? ’I have a tape of all the demos, which needs to be put onto CD. I will be doing that soon through a local studio and try to clean it up. Maybe put out a single on vinyl. Maybe an album – but that would be to ambitious and costly. We sold demos at gigs and through Volume Record shop in Newcastle. We sold over 700 tapes which was time consuming as I had to copy them all on a tape to tape, then photocopy the covers. It was all do it yourself in those days’.

Have you any stories from playing gigs ?  ‘There was a few moments I remember from then. At a gig in Belfast people turned up wanting our autograph! That was weird, never been asked for a signature before. Subhuman listened to our demo but didn’t like it at first. When we played with them they apologised, said we were brilliant and would have liked to record us. At a gig in Leeds I went to the chippy and when I came back I had to buy a ticket to get back in. Yep I paid to see myself..haha’

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ?  ‘I run a youth project in the North East. A few years back we had a great scene going with band nights twice a month. Looking back on that time being in a band is like being in a family. It takes over everything and was a fantastic time in my life. You have to trust people with everything as you are sharing ideas and inner thoughts through writing songs. You also rely on each other as if someone let’s you down you can’t play, which is the whole purpose of being in a band in the first place. When it’s over its like a divorce, people who were close mates falling out, not speaking or trusting each other. It’s a learning curve, but well worth it when you look at what you did…..and the fun you had..happy days!’

Contact Ian at http://www.galleryyouthproject.org

Flyers by Netty and Northeast Underground. Pics by Brett King.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

Mond Cowie, ANGELIC UPSTARTS, Angels of the North 12th March 2017.

Neil Newton, ANGELIC UPSTARTS, All the Young Punks 4th June 2017.

CRASHED OUT, Guns, Maggots & Street Punk 6th July 2017.

Steve James, WARWOUND, Under the Skin 9th July 2017.

Danny McCormack, THE MAIN GRAINS, Death or Glory 8th September 2017.

Steve Straughan, UK SUBS, Beauty & the Bollocks 1st October 2017.

Carol Nichol, LOWFEYE, Radge Against the Machine 15th November 2017.

Danny McCormack, THE MAIN GRAINS/WILDHEARTS, Comfort in Sound 15th February 2018.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS – with Peter Whiskard bassist for North East eighties metallers Alien.

The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NENWOBHM) was immortalised on the ’One Take No Dubs’ 45 released by NEAT Records in 1982. The 12” featured Black Rose, Avenger, Hellanbach and Alien.  I talked to Peter Whiskard bassist for Felling metallers Alien… ‘Derek our singer had a reputation for a no-nonsense approach to life. During a gig at the Mayfair he found himself the unwilling target of several beer vessels – thankfully plastic – thrown by a miscreant in the audience. He jumped off the stage, felled him with one blow and jumped back onstage without losing his composure or his place in the song’. 

How did you get involved in playing music and who were your influences ? ‘I sang from a very early age and learned classical piano. An early indication of my chosen instrument was when I occasionally played piano duets and always seemed to gravitate to the bass part. A defining moment was when I hit adolescence and something seemed to click when I was jamming along to records. Needless to say the classical piano was abandoned. My influences were from the sixties and seventies, early Status Quo, Free, Cream, Bad Company and The Velvet Underground’.

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When did you start playing gigs and what were your experiences of recording?  ‘I started playing gigs when I was fifteen with friends in the Felling area of the North East. I believe our first gig was at a youth club in the same building where we rehearsed. We didn’t really gig much and the last one was at the Sixth Form Common Room Disco! I went away to University and when I returned I formed a band called Bad Luck with the former singer. We did many local gigs and recorded a few tracks at Neat’s Impulse Studios where I met label boss Dave Wood. A self financed 45 single release came from these recordings. Unfortunately this band didn’t last long. Then I answered an ad in the paper for Alien in 1982. The place where a lot of Neat bands rehearsed was the Spectro Arts workshop in Newcastle and I remember once overhearing the tremendous noise of Venom practising one day when we were offloading our gear. The band had a chequered history in the time we were together but we were offered recording at Neat Records for the One Take No Dubs EP. We still had to pay £50 for the privilege – Dave Wood was notoriously stingy. The recording took perhaps only part of a day because the essence of it was to have a ‘live’ feel and there would be no extravagant nonsense like overdubbing and repeating the process to seek the ‘perfect’ take. Hence the title ‘One Take No Dubs’.

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‘The engineer for the earlier trip to Impulse with Bad Luck and the Alien session was Keith Nichol – a lovely guy who was patient and skilful. The band played together in the studio – this was opportune for Alien’s style as we were capable of flights of improvisation as can be heard in the middle section of ‘Who Needs the Army’, one of the up to now unreleased tracks from that session. In the recording session we were in fine form, especially Ron Anderson the guitarist who recently has sadly died. A track from the recording called ‘Absolute Zero’ also appeared on a compilation cassette called ’60 minutes Plus’ sold only through Sounds and Kerrang. A Neat Singles Collection featured the track ‘Could Have Done Better’ from One Take No Dubs’.

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What can you remember of Impulse Studio ? ‘Impulse Studios lived behind a fairly anonymous doorway in Wallsend, Newcastle. It was a small place, the studio walls were covered in the ubiquitous polystyrene tiles for acoustic absorbtion. There was an office where the day-to-day running of the business took place and also a special ‘green room’ where Dave Wood would make his deals and entertain the celebs. Our relationship with Dave Wood soured somewhat as the singer felt we were being exploited financially. The band fell apart by ’83. We briefly reformed to do a gig at the Classic Cinema in Low Fell.  After Alien I joined a band called The Blues Burglars who were quite popular at the time’.

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Can you remember any high points for Alien, TV or music video’s ? ’I’m afraid we weren’t together long enough to get established to record any TV appearances or film any music videos. Although we did play some gigs with Raven and others at Newcastle Mayfair. I’m afraid I can’t remember much about the gig with Raven but I don’t think we hobnobbed much with the other bands. The audience was pretty appreciative as that was during the heyday of Neat Records. We regularly played gigs in Felling such as the Duke Of Cumberland, and our gigs had a reputation for having a febrile atmosphere with an undercurrent of unpredictability. The singer was a powerful performer and had a great rock voice. We also had several friends in other bands on the Neat roster. I knew the drummer from Hellanbach who lived round the corner, and went to school with the singer from Emerson and Axis: two Neat bands which are relatively unknown. The singer of Axis was originally born Simon Blewitt but is now called Sam Blue and at one point sang with Ultravox as well as singing on The Streets’ hit Dry Your Eyes!

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I have been a classroom teacher since I moved to Kent in 1986, but now I am semi-retired and teach guitar to Primary age students. I still play gigs regularly. I’m afraid I’m now playing in a folk/country band called John Doggerel and the Bad Poets. We comprise me on bass, guitar, and assorted instruments including mandolin, accordion and ukulele! We are based near Margate. I recently remastered and released a track which wasn’t used from the original Neat session called ‘Who Needs the Army’. Now available at iTunes and all good digital platforms’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross SATAN/BLITZKREIG: Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Micky McCrystal, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Steve Thompson,( NEAT Producer) Godfather of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Gary Young, AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.

FOR FOLKS SAKE – interview with North East songwriter & storyteller Tony Wilson

‘Folk music for me is about the human condition and being able to express it without any classical training. The songs can be stories like Shakespeare, but condensed into four verses. They are very emotionally driven’.

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What got you interested in music and was there a moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ ? ‘I think I was always a singer. I sang in the church choir and at school. There was a ‘Time and Tune’ lesson where I’d be the kid who sang really loudly…and in tune. I was brought up on Gene Autry and Johnny Mathis records but with regards to folk music there was a lot on television in the late 50’s, 60’s, and was very popular. There was a feeling in the air that there was something other than Americanisation of folk music. There was a very influential radio programme called Folk on Two with Jim Lloyd which featured live artists. There was Tim Hart and Maddy Prior who later went on to be part of Steeleye Span. They were young, vibrant and sang traditional songs so it was a big leap from the Beverly Hillbillies on tv to finding out about my own culture. Also Shirley Collins who played a folk opera Anthems in Eden, which was a celebration of everything within folk music. Yes, all that was very influential’.

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Was there anyone in your family background who had a musical instrument ? ‘I lived in Tyne Dock, South Shields until I was 7 year old. I was very outgoing, singing a solo in churches that sort of thing but my parents were very quiet, conservative and an attitude of don’t draw any attention you know? Completely opposite to me, was I really their child ha ha? But there was no music in the family apart from a Sunday night when we’d get around the radiogramme and play our 78 records. There were folk songs at school we’d sing Scarboro Fair so there was a burgeoning folk scene coming on. You’d hear Bob Dylan, Julie Felix and Donovan on the radio, they were the acceptable face of folk. I used to try and play loads of instruments. I was given a tin whistle, a harmonica and a jaw harp but I couldn’t get on with them. The Spinners were on the television and The Dubliners were in the charts’.

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‘I’d heard this music and it triggered something inside, it was almost primeval. To be honest it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before and I was very curious about it. Also, at 15, it was a chance to sing rude words. But the thing that really got me going was a folk club at school. I had a 5 string banjo like The Dubliners who we went to see at Newcastle City Hall, and that was ‘wow this is amazing’. So at school I was into the music that was more unpolished, out of tune almost. There was a great wave of making music yourself which was appealing. At the school folk club musicians used to come and play for us, Jim Irvine, Jim Sharp, Jimmy Boyles and world renowned performers like Ed Pickford and Bob Davenport would come. Some of them ran a well established folk club at the Marsden Inn, South Shields. There was also another at The County where we used to go sometimes when there was a performer on. They would get around £10 or something. The mc Bob ‘the gob’ Gilroy would let us in as the underage drinkers helped make up the fee for the performers. We would also go out to other folk music clubs so that would broaden our spectrum of what we’d see and hear. Places like The Glebe in Sunderland’.

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What was your experience of recording ? ‘I only had a reel to reel Ferrorgraph which was guaranteed mono. You had one microphone and placed it almost like the His Master’s Voice dog kind of thing. You didn’t make that many albums because it was a very costly process. We recorded in about 74 or 75 made an album and toured Germany. It was with a band called IONA on Celtic Music here on Tyneside and I was very nervous. We had 8 tracks I think, and did everything live in the studio which was a small room about 12ft x 12ft as I remember. It sold well in Germany, but I didn’t make any money from it. I’d played music properly from 1968, joined bands and busked then went to Leeds University and refined the way I played. I qualified from University as an agricultural zoologist. I started playing a lot of Irish music and met up with a load of old Irish guys in Leeds and learnt from them. If you weren’t good enough they would make a point of telling you. So you would practice, practice and practice. These guys were maestros of their time, in their 70’s and 80’s with this wealth of experience and dry wit. The German folk scene looked toward Ireland as this Utopia of being folk you know, because the music was surpressed by Hitler. So when they took folk on board it almost became more Irish. Why was it supressed ? I suppose, at that time, it wasn’t German music for German people. They eventually found their own folk music and the Irish traditional music sort of went lower in want’.

Did you have a manager or agency ? ‘No it was very low key. In Belgium there was a manager Leon Lamall who ran a music venue called The Mallemolem (Crazy Windmill). He would organise tours in France, Belgium and Holland. I was with IONA 1975-79 and there was a lot of touring, 2-3 month at a time. We had a van to get around, have somewhere to stop and people are always willing to feed you but all the money went into the p.a. and promotion. People would always offer to buy you a drink. You would get money at the end of the tour but people abroad would ask “what is your real job ?” ha ha’ 

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Where did you go next ? ‘I had done some solo stuff when I met up with a Tyneside bagpipe and flute player from Jarrow called Mick Doonan. We did a lot of touring in 1980/81, every place we could around the UK. We ended up forming a band with The Mathews Brothers and did really well, incredibly popular but then they had a family argument and split up. After that some money went missing and that soured the whole thing. It left a bad taste. Then I went solo and because I had family by then I stopped touring and stayed closer to home in Leeds and played the workingmen’s clubs. That was the early 80’s before backing tracks came in. My agent used to say ‘Will you play Batley Democratic Irish League Club’…’But last time they paid me off’ I replied…’Doesn’t matter… they’d take anybody’..ha ha. He’d say ‘How much do you want Tony’….’£89.50’ I said…’Bloody hell why do you want that’…’Because that’s how much the shower costs to install at home’…Every song was another part of the shower. Just getting on with it you know. I was doing the folk clubs myself but when backing tracks came into the working men’s clubs I was redundant overnight. A guitar and voice was seen as very old hat. But to keep my hand in I worked on a BBC Leeds folk radio show plus I played at Whitby Festival for 17 years on the trot and compered at folk festivals during school holidays as I was teaching by then’. 

What was your experience of working on radio ? ‘I was there around 3 years and the show was 45 minutes every week interviewing so many of my heroes. Loved it! At that time I was also writing a lot of my own songs. But as I say I started teaching a lot, still doing bits and pieces with the folk but really it wasn’t until 1999 when I got back playing and singing in folk clubs again. I was offered to join a band again, go on tour, play at the Millenium Dome in London. It sounded so good. I checked the contracts and away we went. The first year was incredible, tour dates, hotels, theatres, festivals, everything fine… even got a bit of money. But unfortunately another family bust up and I found I was only getting a small percentage of the money. But hey that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’d been burned in the past. Now I’d been left high and dry just before an American tour was planned. But through a contact I got some storytelling work in schools and I took that around the country’.

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What are you doing now ? ‘Well at the start of 2017 I started doing floor spots at Buskers nights and Open Mic’s around the North East. Last year I did around 150-180 spots. Nobody owes me a living… doesn’t matter whether I’ve played that club 25 years ago I’ll still play the floor spot. It’s about how to get the best out of the song. Where’s the light, where’s the shade, where’s the point where I can emphasise? I recorded every song that I wrote onto cassettes so I can always refer back to them, as you do with video now. When I play I also drag out all of these songs I wrote 30 years ago and they pass the old grey whistle test! People humm and whistle to some of my songs. In 2009 in Whitby I met up – again – with a folk musician from Scotswood, Tom McConville. We had lived in a house together in the mid 70’s and played as a duo. We got on really well and a year ago we got up and played as a duo. It’s a shame that there’s not as many folk clubs as there used to be. Sunderland had a few, Newcastle about four, it’s a contracted scene now’.

What does music mean to you ? ‘I think any musician might say, “I feel as if I’ve lived three lives. The places I’ve been, the things that I’ve done and the things I’ve experienced.” It was like opening a door to the world – I’ve travelled, met good and bad people. Coming back to the folk scene I’m flattered that people remember me. There’s still some fantastic people who put you up, give you meals, drive you places…just the most incredible thing ever….really….that’s music’.

Interview by Gary Alikiv May 2018.

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES – interview with former Slutt bassist John Hopper

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Neat Records were based in Wallsend, North East UK. The operation worked out of Impulse Sound Studios. Neat were arguably the most instrumental NWOBHM label in the UK. The label is notable for early releases by North East chief heedbangers Venom, Raven and Blitzkrieg who are acknowledged as major influences on American thrash metal bands Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. One of the lesser known albums was from SLUTT. A gang of twisted metallers from Tyneside with their make up, leather and studs. They released one album in 1988. The original bassist John Hopper talks about those times…I remember signing the record contract in the rehearsal rooms. Our guitarist Antton walked in and said ‘right sign there’. We did, then got on with rehearsing. We didn’t think of asking someone to look at it first. It wasn’t ‘Right I’ll let my solicitor see it first you know ha ha’.

How did the band get together? ‘For a number of years Glen and myself worked at the Roman Fort in South Shields and the wages from there helped finance our instruments. Me on bass, Glen Wade on drums and a friend was interested in doing some vocals. We played some rough versions of Kiss songs, we were friends just messing around. Our singer had a friend over in North Shields who knew a guitarist… ‘He would be perfect for your band’ he said. Next thing a guy with a guitar, trem and long hair came over. That was Antton Lant. We didn’t know about his brother Conrad or Neat records but soon we got to know the connection with Venom. Anyway our first gig as SLUTT was I think at The Cyprus pub in South Shields. Later we went on to do a showcase for NEAT at Tiffanys’ nightclub in Newcastle. So that was our first step. In 1987 we played at The Queen Vic pub in South Shields and got paid £300 which we used to rent lights, dry ice etc. That gig was a blast..and was videotaped ..and the audio exists’. 

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How did the record with NEAT come about ? ’We first done a 4 track demo tape at Impulse Studios in Wallsend. We just recorded it live all in one room but additional guitar or anything that was needed we would drop that in later. The line-up was Antton on guitar, myself on bass, Glen on drums and our original vocalist. On that demo Glenn had the use of a Ludwig kit owned by Tony Bray from Venom – we asked them first like! That was in 1986 and the tracks from that demo were lifted and put on the album which was released in 87. That was the first version with the LP and remains unreleased but its archived. The album needed the new singers vocal on it. Antton was friends with a singer so Peter Seymour (RIP) came in, we rehearsed and it was great. Things were becoming real you know. We got forms for our passports as we were going out on tour, NEAT paid for those. Like any band we just wanted a break, yes we were fortunate with the link we had with Neat but we still had to put the time in, the rehearsals. The years going across the Tyne to North Shields, picking up Antton and his Marshalls, then coming back through the Tyne Tunnel to the rehearsal studio. Sometimes twice a week. SLUTT was full on, and commitment was first and paramount’. 

(The album was released on vinyl in 1988 with Neat catalogue number 1043. The album includes Angel, Breakin’ All the Rules, Revolution, Thrill Me and more).  

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Who came up with the idea’s for the songs ? ‘The music was from Antton and the vocalist. The rest of the band would write some lyrics too. We went back to the studio and recorded Peters vocals over the original master tapes. If some things didn’t sound right they were quickly changed. Kevin Ridley engineered and Conrad Lant produced. I remember Conrad sent me out for something to eat a few times he liked his squid and chips! But yeah they had both worked on the demo tape and then the album which was a totally different feel. There was more pressure, there was more ‘Sorry lads them backing vocals are not in key can you do them again’. There were plenty of sound effects put on it, backward drums and live crowd noises. We had a visit from a guy who ran the Venom fan club in France. There is a piece on the track Revolution, about the French revolution and this guy just spouts out something in French and we put it on the track, it sounded great. In all it took about 7 days to record I think’. 

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Who else was in the Neat studios then? I was amazed and sucked in to the Venom thing that had gone on in NEAT. We had heard their records and by 86, 87 they were a big band and basically this was their studio. Funny every other band there the Avengers, Atomkraft all wore leather and studs it was like a blueprint – we were similar to the leather and studs look. The Atomkraft lads were knocking about. Venom’s Tony Bray was always there and guitarist Jim Clare came in with an amp for Antton. He used it for his solo’s. It was only a small Galion Krueger but totally ripped the place apart you know. Venom manager Eric Cook (RIP) came in once or twice as I say Neat belonged to Venom and all their gear was there. I walked past one room and inside was bits of the stage show that they used. Another was Dave Woods’ office he was like the headmaster in his room…ha ha’. 

Did you promote the album ? ‘In 1988 just after we released it we done a few gigs in Poland. Nasty Savage were the main headliner, with Exhumer and Atomkraft. They were doing a European tour and we flew in for the Poland leg. We arrived in Warsaw and went to the train station.The train was like an army train, it was separate carriages with compartments and we got split up. Myself and Glen sitting next to total strangers, us with our tight jeans and long dyed black hair etc.. strange. Eric Cook (RIP) came along and took us to the food carriage. I got a bowl of soup with a raw egg in the middle. Well we hadn’t eaten for hours. For the rest of the gigs we had our own mini bus with a driver. It was only the journey from Warsaw to Katowice we got the train because it was a long trek’. 

Poland Tour Pass

‘Eric Cook took us over there he was with us all the way and Tony Bray was the Tour Manager as Venom were in between albums or something. The tour was an eye opener because a serious edge kicks in. The first gig was at the Spodek Arena in Katowice in the south of the country. The arena is a huge ufo shaped building. The festival was called Metal Battle and started at 10 in the morning. We were the first English band on at 12.30. We only got half an hour at the most with no sound-check. The whole thing was broadcast on Polish Television. I remember at one point we were on stage and a woman with a handbag came on ha ha… I’m sure Eric or Tony pushed her on. The first couple of songs the front rows were fists raised, jumping up and down, there was 15,000 people there, it was unreal.

The second gig was at an ice rink in Poznan. It took about 4 hours to get there in our mini bus. It was the same bill but we weren’t looking forward to the gig. We weren’t sure about the make up that we were wearing then, so we talked to Nasty Savage about it and they said ‘Just do what you did yesterday, keep it the same, it’ll be ok’. He was right the crowd went berserk. Eric came back to the hotel with a bottle of champagne ‘Well done lad’s best band of the night’. We got paid and it was ok set ‘em up, vodka and orange, bottle of champagne, just live it up cos we aren’t taking anything back ha-ha’.

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Press day in Poland with Nasty Ronnie, Ian Davison (Atomkraft), Dave Ling & Tony Dolan (Atomkraft).

‘The last gig was in Gdansk in the north, a very industrial town. We went down great there as well. It was just the first date where it didn’t happen for us. Rock journalist Dave Ling covered it for Metal Hammer. I remember doing one of the press conferences with Antton. I didn’t like it though. All the big bright white lights and your make up is all smudged.. ha-ha’.

What was the next move ? ‘By now we had done the album, got back from the Poland gigs and were in rehearsal doing some new material. There was talk of backing Wrathchild at Newcastle Mayfair and doing a few other things but sometimes they don’t come off. There are highs and lows all the way through. So now our drummer Glen becomes uninterested with the band so he goes his own way. We get a new guy in on drums, very talented he was. We were over in Byker at Dons rehearsal rooms. After a period of rehearsals and photo sessions my head just started to drop you know. The dynamics of the band were changing, we were doing things another way and really I just didn’t fancy it. So I stepped back from it all and the band went on. How long was I in the band? Looking back I remember I was at Newcastle City Hall watching Motley Crue on the Theatre of Pain tour in 85 and we were rehearsing around then. That was at The Green Rehearsal rooms in South Shields. So fast forward to the end, I think it was 1990 when I left the band’.

What are you up to now? ’Now I work in the print industry I have been for over 25 years. I still love music and always will, I’ve ticked that box’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2018.

Recommended:

WARRIOR: The Hunger, 12th April 2017.

VENOM INC: Hebburn or Hell, 28th July 2017.

ATOMKRAFT: Running with the Pack, 14th August 2017.

TYSONDOG: Back for Another Bite, August 2017.

AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #1

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Gaurdian Sound Studios were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever’s behind the name, it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7” and there was also an EP released by Mythra. 1980 saw E.P’s from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982-85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

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TYGERS OF PAN TANG – Demo’s & B sides.

ROBB WEIR: ‘When we arrived at the address for the studio I thought we had got it totally wrong! It was a small street full of pit colliery houses. Nothing wrong in that of course, just we couldn’t see a recording studio anywhere. We pulled up to number 32 or what ever the house number was and knocked on the door expecting to be told we were in the wrong area. The door opened and a young man with a ‘bush’ on his head greeted us. “Hi, I’m Terry Gavaghan, welcome to Guardian! As we walked in his front room it had been converted into a make shift studio with sound proofing on the walls. Terry had also knocked a huge hole in the wall dividing the lounge (studio) to the dining room which was now the control room and fitted a large plate glass window. I remember asking him where he lived, “upstairs,” he said as if I should have known. Anyway we recorded the entire Spellbound album there as a demo for MCA our record company and Chris Tsangarides our record producer. We also recorded the “Audition Tapes” there, John Sykes and Jon Deverill’s first Tygers recordings. Which was to be a free 7 inch single to be packaged with Hellbound when it was released. I think we were there for a few days recording and during one of the sessions I was in the studio by myself laying down a solo. When I had finished I put my guitar on it’s stand and as I made my way into the control room my foot caught the stand that John’s guitar was on and I knocked his Gibson SG on the floor! He was watching through the control room window and ran into the studio going ape! I of course apologised but he couldn’t forget it. In the end I told him to shut the f**k up as no damage had been done and if he didn’t some damage WOULD be done! What did come out of Guardian were some fantastic recordings. Terry did us proud I have to say. His studio and his warmth were fantastic! The moral of the story is, “Don’t judge a recording studio by it’s colliery house appearance!”

RICHARD LAWS ‘Tygers of Pan Tang recorded at Guardian twice. Although we were usually associated with Impulse Studios (home of Neat Records). We had sort of fallen out with Impulse and Neat so we recorded the demos for our second album Spellbound at Guardian. We recorded about 5 tracks I think. These demos were later released on various compilations. The demos for Spellbound were the first time we recorded with Jon Deveril and John Sykes in the band. Later we recorded two B sides for singles off our fourth album, The Cage. Whilst we were there doing the B sides our record company came up and did a play through of the fully mixed album which was the first time we had heard the finished product’. 

More stories from Guardian coming soon. A quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. This needs to be confirmed if it is the exact location. I wonder if customers buying  tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment. If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios, much appreciated if  you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

 

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.