OUT OF THE DARK in conversation with Newcastle Artist Aidan Doyle

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‘It was 1993 at Westoe Pit I was in there taking photographs. I was in there off and on over a year. The pit was ready for closure. Originally the purpose of the photo’s was to have some source material to do some paintings. But as the closure became imminent I began to take photo’s in their own right. For a record you know. I began to develop techniques by taking photo’s in very little light, all the dark spaces. I must have about 10,000 negatives or there about’s. During that time I began to collect a lot of oral testimonials from the lads and I realised what was being destroyed wasn’t just the pit’s themselves but the good humour amongst the lads. The upshot of that was I was invited to do a book with Durham County Council and that led onto a PhD at Durham University’. 

I like paintings by Bacon, Goya and Valasquez, are there any artists that you admire ? ‘I tend to lean towards Caravaggio because he uses the approach called tenebrismo where a figure emerges from the darkness. I like paintings by Tintoretto from Venice and Jack Yeats from Ireland who does more like yer everyday life. Not long ago I went to see a huge exhibition by Bacon at the Tate which left me cold, a lot was the same style’.

Do you stick to the same style ? ‘I try to remain faithful to what I’m trying to represent but if you look around I’ve got figurative stuff and now becoming a little more abstract. (shows painting) Using how the light falls on the face’.

What got you interested in drawing, was it in your family ? ‘Not really, although a cousin of mine was in Detroit and painted cars on billboards. I was about 10 year old at St Albans school in Pelaw looking out the window and seen the tar works with a puffer train going in and out the factory. The teacher sent me down the river with a great big piece of paper to draw the tar works. And for a lot of years that drawing hung on the wall in school. Then I got into drawing people which was a challenge. I worked down Westoe pit in the 1970’s then done a degree in Fine Art. I worked as an artist and labourer a lot of the time. Also worked in theatres backstage moving the scenery around, and I used to draw the actors. In 1986 I was working as the Artist in Residence at the Tyne Theatre. It had burned down and they invited me to document the re-building of the place – enjoyed that. I was also at the Ingham Infirmary in Shields for a year as Artist in Residence’. 

I met you a couple of years ago at The Central Library in South Shields what project were you working on ? ‘I was at the Library as the building was being planned for closure. I drew some residents of the town that went there. Some notorious, others not so haha. I also collected a few testimonies from there. They invited me back to draw and paint the building of the new library, The Word. That was great to watch the construction of it especially during the winter. I did a bit of live drawing but worked a lot from photographs. The men and women working there would stop and smile for the photo. It was nice they photocopied the drawings, blew them up and stuck them around the site’.

 

Have you got anything planned that’s coming up soon? ‘Some of the negatives from the pit are being put in an archive at the refurbished St Hilda Pit Head in South Shields. The Heritage Lottery have funded the refurbishment. It was one of the last pits working on the Tyne. Well I’ve done what I originally set out to do that’s make 100 or so oil paintings from my mining photographs and that’s created a body of work. It would be great to exhibit the paintings in other mining areas around the world. Plus, I can make applications to the mining museums around the country to show the work. I was always shown kindness from the lads in the pit so I have to do right by them, play fair ya’ knaa’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2018.

SECRETS & LIES – New documentary about Baron Avro Manhattan

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As the blog hits 35,000 views Journalist Peter French wrote in The Shields Gazette 7th August 2018….The life and times of Avro Manhattan, an Italian born Baron whose artwork and writing made him friends and enemies throughout the world, and who chose to spend his final years, living with his wife in South Shields are truley fascinating. But don’t take my word for it – let the man himself revael to you all about it’.

To read the story go to…www.shieldsgazette.com/lifestyle/nostalgia/hit-man-s-target-settled-in-south-shields-1-9288202

Or watch the documentary ‘SECRETS & LIES’ posted on 17th July 2018.

Gary Alikivi August 2018.

LIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN – in conversation with writer and TV producer Peter Mitchell

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Peter Mitchell

‘Who shall have a fishy on a little dishy. Who shall have a fishy when the boat comes in’….lyrics to the opening tune from the TV series ‘When the Boat Comes In’ which first broadcast in January ’76. Hearing the song it had a whiff of a twee sunday afternoon show playing straight after The Big Match and before Little House on the Prairie. I never saw it when it first hit our TV screens, was too busy watching The Sweeney. But after catching it a few years ago the little twee telly show was actually a hard hitting drama. It deals with the reality of a soldier (Jack Ford played by James Bolam) returning from the 1st World War and his struggles with poverty and politics in the fictional town of Gallowshield in the North East of England. The first episode ‘A Land fit for Heroes and Idiots’ set’s the tone… ‘In series one there were 13 scripts in which my dad wrote 7. His creation, his characters, with other writers during the series. I was 16 and first watched it with my mother. That first episode was quality drama. My mother turned to me and said ‘You better go and ring your dad because he’s just done something remarkable’. The programme was created by South Shields born James Mitchell and now his son Peter is adapting the show for theatre…’The play is based on series one and begins with Jack returning from the war where he meets the Seaton family, Jessie and Billy trying to get him involved in politics, he falls in love with Jessie and the problems he gets into when dealing with industrial strikes’.

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South Shields born Writer, James Mitchell.

Is there anybody out there today in business, political or celebrity world that you could compare to Jack Ford ?  ‘Do you know nobody has asked me that before. (Slight hesitation)….Well I’m not sure I should say this but…. I would say Donald Trump. (Both laugh)…Because love him or hate him. Trump can hold an audience. Massive ambition. Massive selfishness. What other people might call focus. Great desire for more to the extent of not really caring about the consequences. A winner, an influencer, a persuader. I would say there’s a little bit of Jack inside Donald Trump’.

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Jack Ford played by James Bolam.

Does the play reveal more about Jack ?  ‘He served all the way through the war and became staff seargant but still didn’t have enough so signed up again. He joins the North Russia Expidicary Force where he goes to Murmansk and does an extra year. It tells you a lot about Jack. He’s alone the minute he comes back. All the friends he’s got are the one’s he made in the army. This is a man who has found a family in war and really the only thing he is good at, is war. He interacts with mates, union men, the upper crusts, politicians, a full spectrum of society. He has learnt to fit in with any group but I don’t think he knows where he belongs. All he knows is how to survive in any given circumstance. He see’s a chance and takes the opportunity. You know it’s live for today and tomorrow you might die which is something you learn when you are in the trenches for four years’. 

The TV show aired on BBC1 and at it’s peak reached audiences of 15 million, with all 4 series available on DVD. Do the actors realise the enormity of what they are taking on ? ‘The cast are great, they are all young, as were the soldiers coming back from war. What is impressive is the energy and passion that they are bringing. We had research and development, a read through, started rehearsals and in them I have seen new things brought to the play helped with Katy’s vision as director. This is all Tyneside people, I’ve been massivly impressed. There’s a great team working their socks off down there and that makes me feel good on behalf of my dad. There will be a lot of people like you who have seen it on TV or DVD and there will be an element of expectation. But I want to go on a slightly new journey in the way it’s delivered. What’s been lovely for me was working with Katy Weir the Director because I’ve seen some of her work before and really enjoyed it. When we met I was very impressed with some of her ideas and I was very keen to have a woman direct because a woman has never directed When the Boat Comes In. In the 70’s when it was made there were no female directors in television and the series is full of very powerfull women characters’.

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The Seaton family with Jack in uniform.

I can confirm that. Some of the stand out performances of the TV show are with women holding court. Just check the performances from Jean Haywood playing Bella Seton, her daughter Jessie played by Susan Jameson and Rosalind Bailey who plays Sarah Headley. The writing and performances never drop pace. In season 4 episode 2 contains an outstanding scene with Sarah and Jack where she tells him her husband and his best mate Matt has died….’Yes I love her character, Rosalind is a great actress. Excellent on the show. It’s been really interesting to revisit again and work out the characters with the same basic arc of the story but transform it onto the stage. Mechanics of stage are different to what I’ve been used to as my background is in journalism and television’. 

How did you get interested in writing and eventually working in TV? ‘Well I’m a Shields lad who went to the Grammer school. Unfortunately my parents divorced in 1966 so I was travelling down to London on weekends to see my dad who was a published author by then. My mam Norma was a school teacher in Shields and looked after me and my brother Simon. She never re-married, it was her and her boys you know. My mam was a wonderful, devoted woman and a natural born teacher. Plus a great actress. She performed at The Peoples Theatre in Newcastle, also at the Westovians and met my father at Cleadon Village Amaetur dramatic club. They both had a love of the arts so there was a bit of showbiz in my life from when I was young. But I was really interested in journalism so after University I got a job at a weekly newspaper in Chesire, then an evening paper in Carlisle. A few years later I was in London freelancing for national papers and researching for London Weekend Television. Then I saw an advert for a researcher at Tyne Tees TV, applied and got it. Great times there and worked on screen drama, mostly documentary then promoted to Director of programmes until I left in 1997. Then I was at Zenith North where programmes like Byker Grove and Dale’s Diarys were made – loved working on that. Then had my own production company and done a bit of media consultancy work. My career path has always been about screen work so theatre is a new challenge finding out how it all works’. 

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During the TV series some scenes were shot outside The Customs House in South Shields and that’s where the play is being performed…’Yes it’s come home in many ways, very pleased about that. Ray Spencer (Director at Customs House) and I talked about the possibility 4 years ago and I was going to write a treatment for it. Then a London based production company were interested in buying the rights. While we were negotiating with them we couldn’t go forward with the theatre side. They took out an option with a time limit but never did anything with it, never commisioned any scripts. So when the time expired I rang Ray back up and said how about we look at it again. The timing feels right, it’s 100 years after the war. He said great let’s do it’.

‘When the Boat Comes In’ is on from Thursday 16th – Saturday 25th August for tickets contact   https://www.customshouse.co.uk/theatre/when-the-boat-comes-in/

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

ZAMYATIN: THE RUSSIA – TYNESIDE CONNECTION. Making the video.

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Diary entry 12th December 2016: Reading a post by Leslie Hurst on the Orwell Society blog, a possible link between Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin, author George Orwell and his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Zamyatin was an author also on Tyneside in 1916 to supervise the building of icebreakers for the Russian Navy. Looked into this and found Zamyatin an interesting character and worth following up. 

Monday morning jumped on a metro to Newcastle City Library to check out Zamyatins link to Tyneside. Got the lift up to the local history section on the 6th floor and asked the library assistant if they had any material about him. She came back from the archive with three pieces of information, dates and index number. There was a local biography note, a page from Alan Myers book ‘Myers Literary Guide to the North East’ and a date of an article in the Journal from September 19th 1988. These were all photocopied. 

Within 20 minutes I had found what I was looking for. Normally in local history there is a bit searching, photocopy runs out of paper, the microfiche is difficult to thread and its running slow etc., but no it all went very smoothly.

Then went out into the town with grey skies and spit of rain. Over the road I caught sight of some graffitti. I had my small Canon camera with me so nipped over and took a few pics. The slogans were on the back of a muti storey car park with small slits for windows. Brutal architecture. Very East European. Amongst the slogans was a red hammer and sickle ! Went straight to Waterstones and bought a copy of his novel ‘We’.

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While working on this blog during 2017 I put aside the Zamyatin project untill I had more time. Then in May this year started to fully research and write the script. 

Diary entry 4th June 2018: Got on the metro to Jesmond and found the address where Zamyatin was living when he worked on Tyneside. As I went to knock on the door the owner walked up the path behind me. That was fortunate. Introduced myself and told her what I was there for. We talked for 10 minutes about Zamyatin then exchanged contacts. Took photo’s outside the house and the blue plaque on the wall. Then walked about 5 mins to St Andrews Cemetery to see the headstone of Eileen, Orwell’s wife. The grave is in good nick with a few flowers planted nearby. Did Eileen have any contact with Zamyatin ?

A short script was put together using A Soviet Heretic by D.J.Richards. The voice over’s were recorded at The Customs Space  studio in South Shields. Tyneside actor’s Iain Cunningham  with Jonathan Cash adding the voice of Zamyatin. Again, as on many projects North East musician John Clavering captured the mood.

The finished story of ‘Zamyatin – The Russia-Tyneside Connection’ can be seen here. To see more documentaries you can subscribe to my channel on You Tube.

 

Gary Alikivi July 2018.

WORKING MAN with North East UK drummer Micky Kerrigan

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Who were your influences in music ?  ‘I was inspired in my early years by classical and jazz, in particular big band jazz including Cuban big band musicians like Stan Kenton, also Louis Bellson, The Buddy Rich Big band and Billy Cobham. My main focus was on Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Nice, Rush, Queen and Heavy Metal bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer. I was also really fascinated by Liberty Devitto (Billy Joels drummer)’.

How did you get interested in playing music ?  ‘I guess, just listening to the sheer power behind Carl Palmers playing. Then late one night on TV I watched Jazz at the Philharmonic and saw Louis Bellsons drum solo. It just blew me away. Gob smacked and shaking. Also watching Liberty Devitto playing on Billy Joels concert from Leningrad was pretty special. The more I listened to Rush and The Proffessor, made me really want to define what style I wanted to play as a rock drummer’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ?  ‘I started playing around the age of 11 and played all throughout my teen years. But then joined the RAF at 17 and left the drum sticks behind. It was about 8 years later I met a couple of musicians on the base and we put a rock covers band together. I came out of the RAF after 9 years in 2001 and began to focus on music again, playing with a few local blues musicians from the County Durham area and attending a few jams. Then I got the gig with The Force around 2002 replacing Franco Zuccaroli (Jack Bruce etc). I guess being asked to headline Newcastle City Hall with The Force was quite nerve racking and special. We went on to play other huge crowds like the motorbike rally Storming the Castle. Although The Force played mainly local gigs, I decided to branch out and after parting from the band I put my own 3 piece Rush tribute together and more recently Deep Purple in Rock. At the same time I played with Iron Maiden tribute Maiden England’.

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‘At this time I was asked if I wanted to audition for Blitzkreig – I jumped at the chance. After recording Back from Hell, a couple of world tours and 3 years later we parted ways. Last year (2017) I was asked to play a 55 minute set in Sao Paulo, Brazil with the brilliant NWOBHM band Tysondog which was surreal. I was picked up from the house, taken to Manchester airport and flown to Sao Paulo via New York. Done the gig. Then back via New York and Atlanta to Manchester before being dropped off at home. All within 4 days. Leading up to this point I had already played on a couple of European tours with Blues Hall of Fame musicians Sweet Suzi and John Puglisi from Long Island in New York. I continue to play in New York with various musicians and I’m a regular visitor. God I even pick up the accent ha ha. I’m now a regular session player in New York and jam regularly with some of Billy Joels past and present band members. That’s pretty defining so far right….ha ha’.

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What are your experiences of recording/studio work ?  ‘This is an area, I actually don’t have a great deal of experience in. I’ve recorded a few albums with local musicians but you would have to say my main recordings to date are live shows and The Back from Hell studio album, with Blitzkrieg’.

Have you recorded any TV appearences or filmed any music videos ? ’Im sure there are lots of bootleg dvds of Blitzkrieg. I wouldn’t know where any of those copies were though, ahem…. haha. There is a documentary on You Tube following part of one of our tours’.

Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ’Far too many to mention, but it usually involves silly behaviour and alcohol. My most recent one involves arriving at JFK airport from Sao Paulo en route to Manchester. I had 5 hours, so I met up with a friend, who shall remain anonymous, who picked me up from the airport when I arrived at 08.30. I’d taken some minature gins from the flight and something to smoke. It was great fun especially when her car runs out of gas on the outside lane of the southern state parkway, pushing it across 4 lanes baked was really funny. My defining moment then after being rescued and going to a diner was thinking I was on a boat when we were nowhere near any water ! Anyway we parted ways and I continued my onwards travel bound for Atlanta, Georgia. Like I say I have plenty of great stories to tell, but we would need a few hours and a good bottle of Scotch to go on.’ 

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What are your future plans in music ? ’I’ll continue to play in New York around the UK, and Europe with some amzing musicians I’ve met there. However the big news is, I’ve just joined brand new Prog rock band Stuckfish who’s brand new album, Calling has just been released and has a great write up by Dave Ling of Classic Rock mag amongst others. Calling features on the front cover of Prog Rock magazine next month (August 2018). The album is also at number two in an Austrailian rock chart. So watch this space for tour dates’. 

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

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

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.

Jim Clare : Stormy Daze 2nd August 2017.

Tysondog: Back for Another Bite 5th August 2017.

WRITING ON THE WALL In conversation with North East music journalist, broadcaster & producer Ian Ravendale

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Ian Penman has been a television and radio presenter, researcher, producer and journalist for more than 30 years, generally writing as Ian Ravendale to avoid confusion with the Ian Penman formerly of the NME. He returned to music journalism (and Ian Ravendale) seven years ago writing for Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Vintage Rock, AOR, Vive Le Rock, Iron Fist, Blues Matters, American Songwriter, The Word and many more. Ian has interviewed literally thousands of musicians from multi-millionaire rockstars to local indie bands on the dole…‘I worked in television for Border, Tyne Tees, Channel 4 and also ran River City Productions an independent production company based in Gateshead. In addition to making lots of local programmes I also worked on national music shows including Get Fresh, Bliss and (to a lesser extent) The Tube. The Tube was shot at Tyne Tees Television’s Studio 5 on City Road in Newcastle. The site is now a Travel Lodge! It was interesting going to the canteen on recording day for shows like shows like Razzmatazz  and The Tube and seeing who was in. I remember standing behind Phil Everly as he got his cod and chips!’ 

‘The music programmes I worked on were mainly produced by Border Television in Carlisle and I spent a lot of time there in the 1980’s. At Tyne Tees I worked mainly in the Arts and Entertainment department. Anything different or off the wall it would usually be me doing it. We produced a programme about rock poetry, presented by Mark Mywurdz, who at the time was a Tube regular. For some reason Mark wanted to present the programme just wearing a raincoat. Nothing underneath! After we finished recording the show one of the camermen came up and congratulated me; ‘That was the biggest load of rubbish I’ve seen in my life!’  I did a lot of alternative stuff. Some was challenging but none was rubbish!’

Talking about alternative stuff, can you remember Wavis O’Shave ? ‘He had a number of names – Wavis, Fofffo Spearjig, Rod Stewart, Pans Person. When I was writing for Sounds he saw me as a way in as the paper liked the off-beat stuff. He was a great self publicist. And still is! He once told me about getting £1,000 out of the News of the World for a tip-off about a forthcoming witches coven scheduled for Witton Gilbert-or wherever Wavis said it was!’ 

What can you remember about working on Get Fresh ? (kids 1986-88  morning weekend TV show produced by the regional ITV companies taking it in turns for Saturday and Border producing all the Sunday editions). ‘For Get Fresh and Bliss, Border’s 1985 summer replacement for The Tube, most of the guests came up to Carlisle the night before so I’d take them out. People like Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible from The Damned. We’d go into the music pubs and clubs around Carlisle and people would love seeing them there. Rat got up a few times to play with some of the local bands. When I met him I said ‘What do I call you?’ (His real name is Chris Miller). (Adopts cockney accent) ‘Just call me Rat’. So I did. Nice guy. At the time he was really hoping to get the drum job with The Who, as Keith Moon had recently died. Didn’t happen, unfortunately.’

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Bliss was presented by Muriel Grey and produced in Carlisle by Janet Street-Porter. We featured live bands, got them to play for half an hour, used two songs on the weekly show, then repackage the 30 minutes for a Bliss In Concert special. There wasn’t that much going on in Carlisle at the time so we had no problem getting local kids in as the audience. One week we didn’t have a live band and I’d got an advance copy of the famous animated video for Take On Me by A-Ha, who at that point were totally unknown. Graham K Smith, the other music researcher and I thought it was really good so I rang their record company to see if A-Ha were available and importantly if they could play live. A resounding ‘Yes, they can do it’ was the answer. Bliss was aimed at a teenage audience so A-ha would have fitted in perfectly. Janet-Street Porter comes in and looks at the video and goes (adopts cockney accent) ‘Oh no, that’s art school stuff, it’s boring. Draggy!’. Border TV could have had half an hour of A-Ha playing live in concert for the first time in the UK. But no. The band she booked instead were King Kurt, a well-past their sell-by date punk band. So up they come in their ratty old bus with dogs on pieces of string and a stage act that consisted of throwing slop at each other. We – or rather Janet – turned down what became one of the biggest bands of the eighties’.

When you were reviewing gigs in the early 1980’s for Sounds were there any bands that surprised you or were disappointed with ? ‘It took me a while to ‘get’ punk. I was never into the boring British blues bands and prog acts which still show-up on the BBC’s compilations of 70’s rock. With the exception of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band who I liked. When punk came along it started to make more sense. I was also into what is now classed as Americana. Along with more-left field bands like Sparks and Be-Bop Deluxe.’

I’m reading the book ’No Sleep till Canvey Island -The Great Pub Rock Revolution’ the book mentions the early careers of Joe Strummer, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello…’There were bands that were like a doorway between punk and the boring rock bands and Brinsley Schwarz, with Nick Lowe were one of them. I saw them play Backhouse Park, here in Sunderland. Dr Feelgood were another. I saw The Damned support Marc Bolan at Newcastle City Hall and it was a short, sharp, shock. And I thought; ‘OK. What was that…?’ Phil Sutcliffe, my predecessor at Sounds did an interview with The Damned for Radio Newcastle’s Bedrock show that we both worked on. It was 30 seconds long and finished off with someone shouting ‘Oi! Who put duh lights out’!

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The big article you wrote for Sounds in May 1980 featured local metal bands Mythra, Fist, Raven, Tygers of Pan Tang and White Spirit. How did that come about ? ‘I was freelancing at Sounds, writing articles and reviewing gigs, some of which were of local bands. I was also working on the Bedrock programme and one of my co-presenters was Tom Noble who was managing the Tygers. I’d already written individual articles about the Tygers, Fist and Raven and Geoff Barton, the assistant editor at Sounds asked me to source a few more bands for a 4,000 word article. The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ was born!’

NWOBHM had Iron Maiden in London, Saxon in Barnsley and Def Leppard in Sheffield…. ‘Yes. As a reviewer I went as far as Redcar. A lot of the local bands I reviewed were from here in Sunderland, Newcastle and South Shields. Sounds also had a guy called ‘Des Moines’, a pseudonym for a writer from Leeds called Nigel Burnham who is now an agricultural journalist and Mick Middles, based in Manchester. Between the three of us we had the north covered. One time the Tygers of Pan Tang were supporting Saxon and I’d gone along. I’d previously written a review of Saxon which included something along the lines of ‘in six months time they’ll be back playing social clubs’. At the gig Tygers’ guitarist Robb Weir came up and said ‘Biffs lookin’ for you!’. Fortunately he didn’t find me….Not yet, anyway.’

Was there any conflict between watching a band that you weren’t a fan of and writing something positive about them ? ‘Geoff never said to me, ‘We’ve got a big metal readership here can you go easy on them?’ He never wanted me to do that. But I found metal bands easy to take the piss out of – and I did. This stimulated very angry letters like ‘How dare Ian Ravendale slag off Ozzy. I’ve seen him and he was great’. I remember my opening line of a review I did of Ozzy, ‘What I want to know is how is Ozzy Osbourne so cabaret’. I interviewed him a few times for Bedrock but my interviewees tended not to click onto the fact that ‘Bedrock’s Ian Penman’ was also sharp-tongued Sounds scribe Ian Ravendale. One time a few years after the Sounds ‘cabaret’ comment I was working at Tyne Tees and on the Friday Ozzy was playing The Tube. The Arts and Entertainment office was next door and I saw him in the corridor looking lost.  So I went up to him and said ‘Hi Ozzy, The Tube office is just over there’. He thanked me and then said ’I’ve met you before haven’t I’. He still remembered me from the radio interviews we’d done’.

How did you get interested in writing ? ‘As a teenager I was a huge music fan and also into American comics. I wrote for a few comic fanzines then published some of my own which occasionally still turn up on Ebay. That gave me an insight into writing for public consumption’. 

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The Bedrock team with Ian sitting on the right.

What about radio? You were involved in Bedrock for nearly ten years…‘Dick Godfrey was producing a programme called Bedrock for BBC Radio Newcastle which featured interviews from national and gave local bands exposure which was otherwise very hard for them to get at the time. I had always been interested in the nuts and bolts of the music industry and how it all worked and listened to programmes like Radio 1’s Scene And Heard. Dick had a feature called Top Track where each week a different listener would come in and play his favourite track and talk about it. ‘Some Of Shellys Blues’ by Michael Nesmith was my choice. This went down well with Dick so I asked if he’d be interested in me contributing features. ‘Yes but there’s no cash involved’. Nesmith was soon going to be playing in the UK and I was going along to the gig so I asked Dick if Bedrock be interested in me trying to get an interview with him. ‘Definitely’ replied Dick. So I phoned a record label I’d heard Michael was about to sign to and they gave me his hotel number. As ‘Ian Penman from BBC Radio Newcastle’ I arranged an interview, which I did a couple days later in London, the day after the gig. That was my start in radio’. 

How did you start with Sounds? ‘Phil Sutcliffe, who was the North East correspondent for Sounds, was a friend of Dick Godfrey and also worked on Bedrock. When Phil moved to London he recommended me to Geoff Barton, Sound’s reviews editor, to be his replacement. Phil wrote a lot about the Angelic Upstarts, he liked the music but also had a sympathetic ear to what they were doing. He wrote the first articles about them. Same for Penetration, Neon and Punishment of Luxury. I’d also been involved in the music fanzine Out Now which Tom Noble had produced, so I was becoming pretty proficient at interviewing and writing reviews. I was out at gigs four nights a week and was known enough to be able to walk straight into Newcastle City Hall via the stagedoor. This put me in touch with Tyne Tees TV and when a researcher vacancy came up I applied for that, got it and carried on at Sounds for a short while. I also wrote a few pieces for Kerrang, which Geoff Barton had moved across from Sounds to edit. I wrote the first article on Venom. Yes, I’m responsible for Black Metal.

Then as now, my attitude was regardless whether I liked the music or not if I could write something positive about local bands, and it was a entertaining ….I’ll do that. If you write something negative about a local band you could do them major harm. Also, a person in Aberdeen doesn’t want to know whether a band from South Shields are crap. Why would they?’

For the work that you were doing how important do you think research is? ’Some writers think of an idea then write a piece in support of that. I don’t do that. For me it’s about the facts and information presented in an interesting way. Opinions and personal taste are what they are. Maybe you like a band that I don’t. That’s fine.  But facts stand. I do my absolute level best to write as accurately as possible. It’s really important for me to do that. Sometimes information comes from two or three sources. And if the information is contradictory, I’ll say that’. 

Any memorable incidents in your career ? ’I interviewed Debbie Harry at Newcastle City Hall when Blondie had just broken big. We were in one of the really small dressing rooms. It was tiny. The record rep said ‘Ok Ian you got seven minutes’. He introduced me to Debbie who was standing with her back to me. She was leaning on a shelf writing stuff down. I said ‘Writing out the song lyrics ?’ She replied ‘Yeah, well I don’t really know them from the new album yet’. It felt a bit awkward. I literally spent the next three minutes just watching her writing with her back to me, stunning in her jumble sale collection of clothes. Eventually she sat down and off we went. All of this was fairly new to her, she had just been playing CBGB’s (small club in New York) and now it was to gigs with 2,000 fans like the City Hall. She was trying to get used to all this Debbie-fever that was going on around her. By minute seven we were finally getting somewhere and she was opening up when the record rep walked in ‘Right Ian. Times up!’

I did actually interview the solo Debbie on the phone for Get Fresh nine years later and she was much more forthcoming.  (The  City Hall interview is on Rocks Backpages if you fancy a listen. RB is a paysite but there’s lots and lots of great stuff up there).

For more information contact : http://ianravendale.blogspot.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.