ROLL AWAY THE STONES – interview with musician Nick Reeves

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‘During the 80’s I saw Sex Gang Children, Southern Death Cult, Play Dead….wore pan stick, took drugs, sniffed glue, learned to cut hair, got drunk, saw bands, had girlfriends, got on with it. Randomly met Ariel Bender aka Luther Grosvenor (I cut his hair as I had become a hairdresser by then). Became mates. He lent me a guitar and showed me some chords – I took a lot of acid around this time and, sadly, one night, painted the neck board of the guitar in a series of patterns that I thought would help me play better! Fell out with Ariel Bender. Didn’t play much better. By 1990 became friends again with Ariel. Played better. Wrote early songs’.

Any stories from your early gigs ? ‘In ’92 I formed Gorgeous Space Virus. Played The Marquee in London several times. Supported GWAR & Thin White Rope & Smashing Pumpkins’ first UK tour. All kinda blurry. Always on the verge of getting that elusive deal….never happened. One night we drove to Bridlington from London to play a gig. We used to use a lot of smoke machines and this set of the smoke alarms before the end of the first song. The fire brigade and police were called and we were banned from the venue. Drove home. Got chucked out of GSV. Late 90’s formed cassettes and supported The Fall in 2007 over a five night residency at Croydon Cartoon club. That was weird. And ACE!’

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How did cassettes come about ? ’I found myself in 2004 falling out the arse end of another love story, dossing in a mate’s garden shed. I wrote and recorded on a trusty Tascam 4 track what became cassettes’ (small c, no definitive) first album, Old Vinyl & UFO Kids. It was initially a way to pass time and exorcise some ghosts. I was living in Croydon at the time and started playing acoustic gigs with a drum machine and mini disc backing. They were quite drunken affairs. Sat on the floor, surrounded by fairy lights and a kinda grail of old photos. Plus a three foot, brown plastic rendition of the 3 wise monkeys that I had bought as a joke in Norfolk some years before. The monkeys stood upon each other’s head and were a bizarre toilet roll holder – a truly hideous thing! It’s funny the things one saves from broken relationships. I pressed up 100 copies of Old Vinyl & UFO Kids onto cd, art worked myself and numbered the lot and gave them away at gigs. Over the summer I was offered the chance to play some gigs with noise oiks Ten Foot Nun and lo-fi troubadour Superman Revenge Squad in London so I got an early full version of cassettes together and formed a band around a nucleus of mates’.

When did you first get interested in music ? ’We lived in Dorset during the 70’s and my folks had a radiogram that sat in the front room. One day I peered inside and a whole new world opened up. My early influences were Sgt.Pepper, Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Faces, Getz & Gilberto and Dionne Warwick. When I was 12 I found a transistor radio on the way home from school and listened to Stuart Henry on Radio Luxemburg under the bed sheets. This would be 76/77. Ramones, Rezillos, Clash, The Flys, Dr.Feelgood, Tyla Gang, Graham Parker, Sex Pistols….This was the defining moment for me. The moment I saw a (no) future. Hitch hiked to Exeter to see 999. Discovered John Peel…taped furiously! In 1979 the band Martian Schoolgirls’, formed by ex-roadie of The Clash, released a single ‘Life in the 1980s’. This, and mail-order music company (COBB Records) sealed the deal for me. This was what I was going to do – if I could’.

‘We moved to Croydon in 1979 after our house burned down. It was as if I’d landed in the future. We had come from a West Country village. Saw early Killing Joke, Theatre of Hate (met Boy George, lover of Kirk Brandon before he was famous). My folks hung around (somehow…well, they were local) with Status Quo and at 16 I baby sat the Quo kids…and so was allowed to listen to Francis Rossi’s and Bob Young’s record collection (taped furiously!) – discovered Ry Cooder. Joined some school bands none of which ever got off the ground, although a tape has turned up recently of a dreadful song’. 

Who were (are) your influences ? ‘Ray Davies, Patti Smith, Dylan, Bowie, Lowfeye, Ry Cooder, George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov, PIL, Ian Dury, Picasso, Lou Reed, Killing Joke, Graham Greene and, yknaa, all the good folk’.

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What you been up to in the last couple of years ? ‘In 2014 moved to South Shields. Recorded a complete version of Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks in the broom cupboard. Then 2017 moved over the river Tyne to Whitley Bay. Got involved in local Busker scene. Lost my job. Met local legends Mike Waller, Alan McCulloch, Phil Mitchell, Your Casket Or Mine. Recorded Somme Girls at home. Met John E Thornton, Hannah Brown & Brad McVay and formed Clown Electrics. We’re ganna kick it all around the Bay Area all summer 2018. Play some gigs, record an album and split up so Hannah can go back to university in the autumn, or the Fall as our American cousins would have it.

Over the years cassettes recorded albums – some as solo ventures, some as a band or whoever was around at the time. Some were recorded at home, some studio ventures if money allowed’.

Old Vinyl & UFO Kids (2004.) – Planet of The Tapes 001 –  four track recording 100 copies.

Rain Later, Good (2007) – Planet of The Tapes 002 – 16 track studio recording 100 copies.

Bell Hill (2009) – planet of the tapes 003 – 8 track cassette recording 100 copies.

Wizard of Was (2010) planet of the tapes 004 – studio EP.  100 copies.

God’s Trousers (2012)- planet of the tapes 005 – home recorded EP 50 copies.

When Bowie Had English Teeth (2012) – planet of the tapes 006 – studio 200 copies.

West Country (2013) – split 10” vinyl single with Magic Brother – Onomatopoeia records.

Blood On The Tracks (2015) – reworking of Dylan’s album – 100 copies.

Somme Girls (2018) – planet of the tapes 007 – 50 handmade CDs/digital download.

And that’s the story so far…..

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

Wavis O’Shave, Felt Nowt, 6th June 2017.

Lowfeye, POW (album review) December 15th 2017.

PIANO WORKS – interview with North East singer & songwriter Jen Stevens

You played at the South Tyneside Summer Festival this year how did that go ? ‘I was supporting Pixie Lott and it went really well. There were around 12,000 there. Also played there in 2012 supporting Scouting for Girls with a similar sized crowd. We had just brought out an album then and that gig definitely helped sales and local recognition.’

When did you get into music ? ‘I started playing piano when I was four, my dad and my brother where both playing at the time. And I sang in the church choir. I had piano lessons by two doddery old women who charged 40p per lesson and if I got it wrong they used to whack me over the knuckles with a metal ruler! Singing lessons at school and college followed. Then at Uni I studied Jazz and Contemporary music. When I was young I listened to what tapes my dad was playing in the car. Bob Dylan, Queen, Eagles and Dolly Parton. As I got older I wasn’t really into to boy bands, and  Fleetwood Mac are my favourite’.

What is your process of songwriting ? ‘I’ve got a massive list of song ideas on my phone. I can overhear a snippet of conversation on the bus, or I’ll sit at the piano and put a few chords together, it changes song to song where I get ideas from. Sometimes I write using another character or a lot of imagery and metaphors. After my mum died in 2012 we found some poetry that she had written. Really good stuff mixed with swearing and the odd fart joke ha ha. But I took inspiration from it all. I wrote a song ‘Child of Earth’ for my mum’s funeral, it’s an uplifting song with words taken from bits of poetry that she wrote in the hospice. Some people have said the song calms down their kids when they are throwing a tantrum. Mum would of loved that. A song she had a part of writing in, calming kids down – because she loved kids – a real mother earth. More recent songs tend to be based around mental health issues and bereavement. Recently a guy got in touch and said he liked the stuff I was doing around mental health and he really opened up. He told me that he has made an appointment with a doctor to talk through his problems. Well that’s amazing – if somebody feels they can seek help after listening to my music…that’s a pretty good feeling’.

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‘I have a song based around mental health called ‘Gravity’. After my mum died my whole world went tits up. My marriage broke down and I quit my job teaching due to stress and anxiety. If I was depressed, Mum would be the one to get me through it. I relied heavily on her, but now she was gone. Everything came to a head when one night I went to the beach, very much alone. My phone rang and it was my dad. He didn’t know how down I was. I never told him why I was there. But we had a talk and put the world to rights. He said at the end ‘Right, little one, are you ready to go home?’ And I was. So ‘Gravity’ was a turning point where, yes, I’ve been through a lot of crap, but I’m still here. The main chorus lyric is ‘Would a rose still smell as sweet without the darkness of the street,’ meaning, would I be the person I am today if I hadn’t been through that?  I wasn’t going to be pulled down again. I’m on the up. It was a real turning point. ‘Gravity’ was originally a piano ballad on my album ‘Little One’ but the band re-arranged it. (Tony Pottinger, bass, Adam Barnes, drums, Aaron Dixon-Cave, guitars). We put a video together with our friends holding up cards with quotes on about their personal journey through mental health. As the song progresses they hold up more positive quotes, followed by embraces with their nearest and dearest. We didn’t let them know beforehand that they’d be getting a cuddles, so the responses on camera were genuine. There are some really lovely moments in it. When we watched it back there wasn’t a dry eye in the house’.

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Would you consider selling your songs to another artist ? ‘If you asked me five years ago I would of said absolutely not. I’ve always been precious about my songs. But I look at other well known artists and find they were songwriters at first selling their songs. So yeah I think it would be a viable way to go. Once I’ve written, recorded and played a song, it’s out there. People listen to the words, maybe like the music…but it’s gone, it’s out there.’

What do you think about crowdfunding ? ‘As a kid I wasn’t allowed to go trick or treating or carol singing because my parents saw it as begging. So I’ve grown up with this thing in my head that you should sustain yourself. But music is changing because of downloads, Spotify, YouTube bringing out a new platform, i-tunes changing next year… So less money is going in the pocket of the artist which results in less money to put into future production. So now crowdfunding is a sort of viable way to go in as much as it’s just a different way for an audience to give back. I’ve been thinking about it for the next album. I am lucky that I have access to a grand piano and my other half is an excellent producer – he worked on the last album. There’s less demand for physical product now, with streaming and downloads taking over. So obviously these things keep costs a little lower, but it’s necessary to put a lot of money into advertising etc. the way things are in the music industry right now. But I still prefer to have the physical product of a CD or vinyl. I grew up buying cassettes at Woolworths, pouring over the lyrics and notes on the bus on the way home. I love listening to a record as opposed to something on Spotify in the background’.

What does music mean to you ? ‘Everything. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for music. I can turn around a bad day by sitting down at the piano for a couple of hours. Music has saved me’.

For more information, music and live dates contact the official website: 

https://www.jenstevens.co.uk 

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018. 

 

Recommended:

Dave Taggart, Music Still Matters, 15th April 2018.

Tony Wilson, For Folks Sake, 10th May 2018.

Ben Hudson, Bees & Bouzoukis, 24th May 2018.

Celia Bryce, Folk Law, 1st June 2018.

OUT OF THE BLUE with French bands Breaky Boxes and September Again

After watching her beloved French team win the World Cup, who were easily the best team in the tournament, Valentine Kip got in touch. She helps run PR agency Distrolution. In the past year Valentine has promoted bands Bare Teeth, Hightower and The Rocket who have featured on this blog. The latest bands she is working with are September Again and Breaky Boxes… ‘I am very happy to announce that we have just signed with the French indie rock band Breaky Boxes. The band has not only released its debut EP, ‘From the Shelter’. But also won the huge ‘Sziget Festival France’ contest. ‘Breaky Boxes’ are very promising and I sincerely believe that they will be able to do great things, not only in France, but also abroad’. 

The band have been recording lately so I asked them how did that go ? ‘From the Shelter’ has a great meaning for us. The shelter we are talking about in the EP is a reference to our home. Everything that makes us a band comes from this shelter. Our house is really important to us. This is the place we live, where we compose music, the place we rehearse and record our tracks. It is between these walls that Breaky Boxes grows up and become something’.

Who are your influences ? Our main inspirations are bands like Mumford and Sons, Bear’s Den, The Lumineers, Sons of the East, or artists like John Mayer. Folk music is something big in the band, we try to make something new out of it. We listen to a lot of different music and try to keep the best of every kind and manage to put everything together and create Breaky Boxes’.

What are your future plans for the band ? ’We always try to think of tomorrow while living today. From the beginning of the band, we have always been planning something new. We are going to continue to tour all year long. We already played 170 shows in 3 years and we are not going to stop anytime soon. We love too much being on stage. We also plan on releasing our first album next year. It takes us a lot time because we really want to release something complete and that will matter. We want something to last. Before that, a new EP will come out in the beginning of 2019, with a new video clip in October 2018’.

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Talk of Verane, Pogba and Mbappe are very much part of most conversations in France but the Distrolution agency and Valentine keep on working… ‘I’m really happy to announce that Distrolution has signed with the alternative rockers, September Again. The band unveiled on July 3rd 2018, a music video for their single ‘In Vitro’ from the band’s debut album Insomniac. It is available to watch on You Tube’. 

September Again’s bassist and vocalist Loïc Chanut got in touch….In  Vitro is a very special song for us. In fact, it was the first song composed by the band. It really laid the foundations of our identity. The album is very dark, because it was written during a rather hard and lonely period for some of us. In fact, I think the album oscillates permanently, between darkness and brighter passages, between clean and dirt. Maybe we are bipolar in the end…or worse’.

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For more information about Breaky Boxes and September Again contact valentine@distrolution.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi  July 2018.

 

WESTOE ROSE – making the documentary about historian and photographer Amy Flagg

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Amy Flagg is fondly remembered as the lady in a hat and trench coat, who quietly went about photographing buildings and recording history of the town she loved. But who was Amy ? By the Second World War both her parents had died, plus the town she loved was falling apart from the German air raids. Her life was crumbling around her. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera. This is a story of courage and determination of a very unique woman who captured some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century.

Just some of the script from my documentary about South Shields photographer and local historian Amy Flagg. I came across her photo’s a few years ago when I was part of a group who volunteered to digitize the photographic collection held in South Tyneside Library. They were excellent photographs especially her record of the Second World War bomb damage in South Shields. A brave woman. In my research I found out that Amy had a darkroom so was able to print her own photograph’s. I know the magic that can happen there as I had my own set up during the early 90’s. My darkroom was in a cupboard under the stairs where I’d print my black and white’s. Before I had the home set up I went on a short course in photography and darkroom techniques at the local community centre. If I was investing time and money I wanted to know my way around a darkroom first. For the course I’d go out with a roll of film and shoot some photo’s. I developed the photos into a roll of negatives which I then put into the enlarger and exposed the photographic paper to the light shining through the negative. Then put the paper through the tray of chemicals. The image started to come through –  it was like magic. Real magic. Not the Paul Daniels showbizzy stuff. This was the real thing… like voodoo. I knew I had to do more of this. And I did.

In June 2016 the time was right to make a short documentary about the life of Amy Flagg. Using archive information, diary entries and photograph’s from South Shields Library I put a script together. North East playwrite Tom Kelly provided the narration, local journalist and writer, Janis Blower, added the voice of Amy. We recorded the voice over’s at The Customs Space studio in South Shields. As with many documentaries I’ve made, North East musician John Clavering captured the mood with some great music. On March 8th 2017 ‘Westoe Rose’ was screened at The Word in South Shields on International Womans Day.

Watch the documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ and to check out some of my other films go to You Tube and subscribe to my channel.

Gary Alikivi June 2018.

SECRETS & LIES – documentary based on The Life of Baron Avro Manhattan.

 

A11The time has got to feel right to work on a project. I came across Avro Manhattan during Summer 2012 in the Local Studies section of South Shields Library. There are a couple of large cabinets, inside are files with photographs and cuttings from local newspapers. All in alphabetical order. At the time I was researching Eileen O’Shaughnessy, the wife of George Orwell, when I came across Manhattan. I flicked through to the O’s but landed in the letter M’s and came across a name which was unusual for Tyneside. I pulled out the file and inside I was gobsmacked what I was reading. Manhattan was born in Italy in 1914, he was a Writer, Poet and Artist. He had met Picasso, had homes in London and Spain, and in his will left over half a million pounds. Impressive story for someone who ended their days in South Shields. I needed to find out more but had a few projects to complete first. A week later I was in a charity shop when I came across a small book ‘Poems by Manhatten’ – he was still about. At the entrance of South Shields library there was a small plinth about 5ft tall with a bust of Manhattan on top. As I walked past I used to tap his head a couple of times for luck. I gathered a lot of information about him and it wasn’t until June 2015 when I went to the Blackhill cemetery in Shotley Bridge and found the grave and headstone for Baron Avro Manhattan. 

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Article from The Shields Gazette, June 2015.

For more information there were various websites but a lot more digging was needed – talking to his ex-neighbours and friends. I put a request in The Shields Gazette and recieved a few calls in response. The story was on their website and a woman from Germany called Gunda Kraepelin got in touch. She sent over some photo’s of Avro when he was a young artist in Italy. She also told stories about him when he was young as her mother knew him well. Another response was from somebody closer to home. A woman had bought the house he died in. The house was left with carpets, curtains, old bits of furniture and in a spare room upstairs was a box of artwork, books, letters and photographs – full of personal stuff. Lucky she kept hold of it and handed it over. The material took some sorting out and helped fill some gaps in his timeline. 

After months of research and writing the script, I was ready to record and make a documentary of his life. North East actors Jonathan Cash with his wife Helen recorded the narration and musician’s John Clavering and Dom Santos added sound. In The Customs Space studio in South Shields I was sitting with the sound engineer Martin Trollope and Helen Cash in the control room. In the studio Jonathan was sitting next to a microphone with a copy of the script, the rooms were partitioned by a pane of glass. After reading all the material on Avro, writing the story and looking at his photo’s I imagined what he might sound like. I was looking down at the script when Martin said ok let’s go for it. Jonathan read the first sentence and I immeadiately turned to Helen and said ‘Avro’s in the room’. It was brilliant. The rest of the session went really well and I was confident that I had the narration for the documentary. 

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During a project leaving plenty of space and time can allow more information to be collected – a positive aspect of not having to work to a deadline. So it was left for another year as I worked on other projects. I received a couple more leads from interested people but nothing that would add to the film. Then in June 2018 I decided to prepare the documentary to upload onto You Tube – but not until I watched the World Cup first !  – The search isn’t over to find out all the Secrets and Lies.

Watch ‘Secrets & Lies’ here and check out some of my other films on You Tube and subscribe to the channel. 

Gary Alikivi July 2018.

VINYL JUNKIES – Gary Payne, 7 songs that shaped his world

The love for vinyl has always been there and many stories are attached to it. There is whispers in some quarters that vinyl is back, and they are getting louder. Not in the same numbers that it was in the pre-cd day’s of the 70’s and 80’s, but the records are up on display shelves of record shop’s. There is hundred’s of reasons why we like a certain song. Vinyl Junkies is looking for the stories behind them.

Promoter/Manager/Label owner/Vinyl collector – just all round music lover Gary Payne got in touch…

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‘Back in the 80’s I co-edited a punk fanzine ‘Still Dying’ with my friend Will Binks, and along the way managed a few bands here and there. I recall my sister buying me a copy of Lonely this Christmas by Mud for a present. It had a “to” and “from” printed on the front sleeve, which my sister actually filled in with biro. Being someone who progressed onto collecting vinyl, this heinous act of defacing a picture sleeve should surely be worthy of a lengthy spell at her majesty’s pleasure. 

By early ’78  and ’79 , myself and my friends were becoming increasingly attracted to the many bands emerging on the punk scene and I think we could all sense there was just a different feel to what we had been into previously. In the days when the local cinemas always featured a supporting film to the main feature, a trip to see Ray Winstone in Scum was preceded by the short film Punk Can Take It, which was basically the UK Subs in concert.The flame was lit and burned brightly as we meandered our way through many bands that were emerging onto the scene. 

Aged 16, myself and my cousin made the trip to Newcastle Mayfair in an attempt to see the UK Subs. The night suddenly took a turn for the worse when an over zealous bouncer refused to believe that I could be 18 and therefore wouldn’t let me in. Soon after, we took in our very first gig, Buzzcocks at Newcastle City Hall, although we couldn’t help think that the singer of the support band was a right miserable bastard! Still, I suppose Joy Division, and Ian Curtis in particular, had their well documented demons. I recall standing at that gig commenting to my mate how sad it was to see there were 2 fella’s next to us who must have been in their 50’s. Today, as a regular gig goer, I still wonder if the younger attendees look at me and my mates with the same level of disdain. In true punk rock style though, I don’t care what they think, but in years to come they will hopefully come to know that punk is like a favourite toy you just can’t put down.

I grew up with a new found air of independence and took on the mantle of organising our trips around the country to see a few of my heroes. Highlights would include Dead Kennedys in Liverpool, with Jello in magnificent form, as well as The Clash at Brixton Academy. A few memorable trips were also on the agenda, namely Chron Gen at Preston and Vice Squad at Worksop, the latter of which made us known to the late Dave Bateman, Vice Squad guitarist and all round decent bloke. To add to that, I could have died a happy man after the night we interviewed The Ramones for our fanzine at the Thistle Hotel in Newcastle, just after their Mayfair gig.

Their were lots of gigs that were brilliant along the way, but I especially recall the Christmas on Earth festival at Leeds as being a fun day out, not to mention us being chuffed to bits that the aforementioned Dave Bateman actually remembered us as we passed Vice Squads merch stall. It seems ridiculous reading that back, but to a fan, it meant, and still means everything, perhaps more so as he is no longer with us. I had a lot of friends who turned their hands to playing in various bands, but being blessed with the musical talents of a goat, I had to find some other outlet for my enthusiasm. It was soon after when I decided to put my organisational skills to great use by managing a local band called Public Toys.

Comprising a few of my friends, I would like to think my efforts went some way to raising their profile and their guitarist Robby remains a close mate to this day. My next foray into management saw me take the reins for a band from Peterlee called Uproar. On hearing them, it was hard not to realise that they were a cut above the rest, and several ep’s and albums went some way to confirming that. We endured a long and partly successful partnership over the coming years and again, the band and the punks in their local area remain some of the

finest people I have ever met. In the mid 80’s, I coincidentally timed the lull in the punk scene with meeting my beautiful wife and starting a family, although my love for all things punk never waned. In the 90’s, a host of punk bands seemed to be reforming and over time, the scene became as vibrant as it ever was. I still had the urge to contribute to the scene in some way, so I started my own label Calcaza Records. I started a free website and advertised for any interested bands to send me recordings or demos and all would be considered for inclusion. I have never been money orientated and my only aim was to get as many unknown bands heard by more people. It was important to me that I included a booklet with all lyrics and full contact info for all bands as this would be a starting point hopefully, should anyone discover a band they might like. Maybe it was seen by some as naive, but those that know me will know that I just love being involved in music, so if I made money, great….if I didn’t so what. Most bands who appeared on the 2 cd’s I released took on board my intentions, but one band in particular, who shall remain nameless, were as unhelpful as they could be and had no interest in anything but themselves. 

After my 2 cd’s, I turned to promoting, and put on a few gigs in the North East, again, with no real intention other than to put good gigs on, and hopefully not lose too much money in the process. A John Cooper Clarke promotion made me a fair bit on one occasion, although on the whole, I probably lost more on my other gigs. My main aim was that bands were paid fairly and no one took the piss…..2 criteria that a lot of promoters seem to overlook these days. In the last few years, my son, a very talented musician in his own right, has been in several bands, all of which I seem to have fallen into managing, and I have genuinely loved being involved. Charlie Don’t Dance, for me the best of them, were very poppy, but very, very good, and even though they were a world away from punk, they were pure quality. It all just goes to prove that there are thousands of excellent bands out there, many of whom we will never get to hear, so it’s good that there are folk in this world to give them a helping hand in whatever way they can. 

As I creep past my mid 50’s, I still attend punk gigs and I still get the same buzz I always did and hopefully that will never change. Recent bad health meant I have to take things a bit easier than I used to, but I must profess to joining in with my mate Will Binks during a recent Skids gig and doing the Jobson kick in the middle of ‘Into the Valley’. In all honesty, a lie down afterwards would have been appreciated! On a recent trip shopping with my daughter, I spied a young chap with a Dead Kennedys t shirt serving behind the counter. I was tempted to stay quiet but couldn’t resist almost bragging that I had seen them back in the day when they were at their finest. The lad in question, who must have been about 20 years old, looked me up and down and said, ‘Do you know what it is mate? Old fella’s like you make the scene what it is!’ Cheeky young git, but you know what?…..I kind of like that comment. So, to you all, like what you like and never apologise for it. For me, it will always be punk rock, and that is something I am especially proud of’.

Here are 7 songs that shaped Gary’s world.

1. Sex Pistols: Bodies (1977)

‘Being a punk in those days still upset a lot of people and we embraced the fact that it was fun being differently dressed to the majority of other people. With my tartan bondage trousers, Pistols t shirt and occasionally a chain and padlock around my neck, I revelled in the glory of it. One day we were at my mates house and we spied the Jehovas Witnesses doing the rounds in the local area. Mischievously we tried to come up with a way to get rid of them. The plan was to have the chorus to Bodies playing on full volume just as the guy knocked at the door. Anyway, my mate Geoff answers the knock and as the guy begins talking, the volume was cranked up, and the obscene chorus to Bodies kicked in. Behind muted grins, we revelled in the profanities coming from Johnny Rottens mouth and we felt sure the fella would move on to his next person. To our surprise, he stood back and said ‘Ah, the Sex Pistols….great band!’  We just stood there open mouthed whilst the fella just laughed and walked off’.

2. B Movie: Nowhere Girl (1980) 

‘Like most people, I have never given up hope that one day I will discover a hidden talent that will enable me to play in a band, and when that day comes, I will write a song just like this one by B Movie. My love of punk steps aside to find one of the catchiest pop tunes you will ever hear. I must stress that it is the 12″ extended version that captivates me, and I have always advocated a song going on and on…and on, if it is catchy. The way the song starts with a simple tune and then just builds and builds is a work of pure genius. It is a song I will never tire of’.

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3. Big Country: Chance (1983)

‘My love of The Skids endeared me to the talent that was Stuart Adamson and after their demise. I followed his next band Big Country with high expectations. I was not to be disappointed, and their first album The Crossing was magnificent. Stuart took the reins on lead vocals and guitar and kept me enthralled until his sad passing several years later. One song in particular showcased the raw emotion of the band and it was Chance. Watching them play live always was an awesome experience and to hear the crowd take over the chorus of this song at every gig never failed to move me. It is still a song I find it difficult to listen to for emotional reasons,but it is pure quality’.

4. The Boys: First time (1979) 

‘I bought my first ever compilation album, 20 of another kind, with a spikey,yellow haired punk on the front,which instantly grabbed my attention. It contained several classics, and amongst them was this song by The Boys, which remains one of my favourite songs of all time. Aged 16, I never really got what the song was about, but years later I did ! It cemented my love for pop punk and that is something that has always stayed with me’.

5. The Stranglers: Always the Sun (1986)

‘On meeting my future wife in 1985, I persuaded her to join me in my passion for collecting 7″ singles, although a lot of the punk bands I liked had temporarily called it a day, which meant we bought quite a lot of poppier stuff. Artists such as Status Quo, Madonna and A-ha took up residency in a red vinyl singles box under the bed, but the jewel in the crown was my copy of Always the Sun by The Stranglers. Since the release of the brilliant Golden Brown years earlier, The Stranglers were showing themselves to be a lot more commercial, and this song is just wonderful. Even at recent gigs, you will be hard pressed to find a better performance of any song in their sets, and to hear the crowd singing the chorus just goes to confirm that’.

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6. The Ruts: Jah War (1979)

‘The Ruts debut album The Crack, showed them to be a cut above a lot of the other punk bands around at the time. Fusing punk with reggae was never gonna be easy, but they made it look so. Documenting the vicious attack by the police on a black friend of theirs, they produced one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Malcolm’s vocals are sorely missed and never bettered than on this recording. It upset me greatly when he died prematurely and I still recall a friend telling me the news whilst at college doing my apprenticeship, ironically wearing my Ruts t shirt that very day. I immediately went home and put this song on’.

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7. Flux of Pink Indians: Neu Smell – Tube Disasters (1981)

‘I used to visit my local record shop, Callers at the Nook shopping centre in South Shields, and I would often buy most of the new punk stuff they had bought in each week. Yes, I ended up with the odd rubbish single, but boy did I hit lucky with this one. I have never been a massive fan of the many bands that affiliated themselves to the anarchist scene, but this song by Flux of Pink Indians just has it all. Angry vocals integrate with a catchy beat that just sucks you in. It is a song I still play regularly and love. Whenever I play it now for some reason I feel the need to text my mates and rave about how good this song still is. I’m sure they’re all sick of me, but I’m still gonna keep doing it !’ 

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

VINYL JUNKIES:

Will Binks July 7th 2017

Martin Popoff July 12th 2017

John Heston August 3rd 2017

Neil Armstrong August 11th 2017

Colin Smoult August 29th 2017

Neil Newton September 12th 2017

Tony Higgins October 11th 2017

Vince High December 11th 2017.

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #3

Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. ‘Pity Me’ features later in this story by Steve Thompson, songwriter and ex producer at NEAT records. 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 in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”. 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 had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

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STEVE THOMPSON: (Songwriter) ‘I had quit as house producer at Neat Records in 1981. I had begun to realise that I was helping other people build careers whilst mine was on hold. I was becoming bogged down in Heavy Metal and whilst there’s no doubt I’m a bit of a rocker, I really wanted to pursue the path of a songwriter first and foremost. Production might come into it somewhere along the line but I wanted that to be a sideline, not my main gig. So I set about composing the song that is the subject of this story, ‘Please Don’t Sympathise’. This is what happened.

I had just cut a single with The Hollies. Bruce Welch of The Shadows was in the production seat for that recording in Odyssey Studios, London. I signed a publishing deal with Bruce and remember signing the contract at Tyne Tees TV Studios in Newcastle, Hank Marvin was witness. Bruce had heard an 8 song demo of my songs and selected 4 favourites from it. He asked me to make some more advanced demos of those 4. I could have gone into Neat/Impulse Studio but I still wanted to carve new territory so I went to Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham. I played bass, keyboards and guitar on the session with Paul Smith on drums and I brought my old mate Dave Black in to do vocals. I spent two full days on those demos, Bruce Welch was paying and he really wanted me to go to town on the production. Then a producer called Chris Neil entered the story. Chris had worked with Leo Sayer, Gerry Rafferty, A-Ha, Rod Stewart, Cher and others. Chris and I had just had a massive hit with his production of my song Hurry Home. Chris was by now having a bit of a love affair with my material. Chris had asked Bruce to give him first dibs on any of my new songs that came along. He picked up on two from the four songs I’d just demoed in Guardian. One of them he sang himself under the band name Favoured Nations. But the recording pertinent to this story is his production of Sheena Easton’s new album Madness, Money and Music. He recorded my song Please Don’t Sympathise for that album. The album did very well. It went top 20 in the UK, peaking at 13. It also charted in several other countries and did particularly well in Japan’.

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‘About a year later Celine Dion also recorded the song in French ‘Ne Me Plaignez Pas’. It was a huge hit single in Canada and certified Gold status. The album it was featured on sold 400,000 copies in Canada and 700,000 copies in France. I never did go back to Guardian but that is a lot of action from just one demo session. Interestingly, the literal translation of Ne Me Plaignez Pas is Please Don’t PITY ME ! Spooky huh?’

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‘These days I’m doing this song and many others that I wrote for various artists with my own band. I’ve uploaded a video collage here https://vimeo.com/266141205. It starts with the Guardian demo with Dave Black singing. The demo doesn’t sound that sophisticated after 37 years but that’s where it started. Then there are clips of the Sheena and Celine versions and then my band doing it live. Sadly Dave Black is no longer around to sing the song as he did on the demo but Terry Slesser does a fine job of it. Jen Normandale comes in on the bridge in French ala Celine!’  www.steve-thompson.org.uk

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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, was that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be much appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

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.

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

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