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.