LAST GANGS IN TOWN – South Shields ’90s Music Scene

The title reflects the original music scene in South Shields during the 1990s. The town had countless numbers of venues booking bands who played their own music.

But it isn’t the case today. Looking through some photographs I took then, I wondered what the bands thought of those times ?

Iain Cunningham, (Cripplin’ Jack) The 90s was a great time for music. In Sunny South Shields by the Sea the original music scene was thriving. There were original bands with lots of venues willing to give them a stage to hone their craft.

Whether it be a Sunday night in the Ferry Tavern, Wednesday night was spent in Porters and The Vic was a Monday night downstairs or Saturday night upstairs. There was always somewhere to watch original music.

It felt very much like a community and I’m surprised none of the bands actually cracked it and broke through to the mainstream. It was a great scene to be part of.

The nights had great crowds, a cracking atmosphere and cheap beer promotions, which usually lead to hangovers and regret.


Cripplin’ Jack in 1996. Iain Cunningham on the right.

Crippling Jack were formed in 1995 by Ian Maxwell, Dean Walsh, who was later replaced by Paul Westgate, Richard Gardner, Christopher Charlton and myself.

We went on to play all over the North East and recorded our demo John Woo E.Q. in the Underfoot studios with Dave and Pete Brewis, who themselves, are enjoying a great career in music with their band Field Music.

Davey Mac was a supporter of the music scene. His rehearsal rooms were legendary and, if they could speak, would tell some stories. I think we still owe him a small fortune as we always ended the rehearsal shouting back up the stairs to him ‘We’ll pay you double next week!

Actually Crippling Jack reformed in 2009 and went on to play more gigs around the town releasing two more EPs. After nine years apart, vocalist Ian Maxwell summed up the bands feelings as he stepped up to the mic and declared… ‘It’s good to be back’.

Iain Robertson, (January Blue) This band had many incarnations, and it all started with me and vocalist Woody who were mainstays throughout January Blue and later New Rising.

We first played a gig together in April ’92 at Cleadon Village Hall with another band called Agadoo Factory. This gig featured the first song Woody ever wrote called Die Forever !

We wanted to keep going and little did we know that we’d be still playing together eight years later, frequently visiting London having gained a record deal with London records.


January Blue in 1994. Iain Robertson at the top.

We’d heard Pete Edmonds the manager of Porters bar in South Shields, would pay £300 a gig if you managed to pack the place out. So we hit every bin in King Street with a flyer and our piece de resistance was at 6.30am hanging a bed sheet on both sides of Westoe Bridges to catch the rush hour traffic coming in and going out of town.

We got an ear full (and rightly so) for plastering one flyer on the arse of the war hero Kirkpatricks donkey statue in King street, which in hindsight was disrespectful but hell – we had a gig to promote.

Needless to say, Porters was full, we got our £300 quid and Pete Edmonds was bouncing around and grinning like a Cheshire Cat. He booked us again and we were definitely in a good bargaining position for the next gig’.

Newts Newton, (Cloud 10) On reflection, I didn’t really enjoy the ’90s in general for many reasons but musically, I detested all that ‘mad for it’avin it’ laddish bollocks.

It seemed like every new band had curtain haircuts, walked like chimps and stood onstage like tins of milk, wearing tracker tops zipped up to their noses, all while strumming mindlessly with faces like a smacked arse. Trying to be ‘edgy’. Aye right, fuck off man.

Meanwhile, the band I was in at the time, Cloud 10, were writing kitchen sink drama style songs that moaned about all and sundry, while we marched about in overcoats and quiffs thinking we were the fucking Clash, glowering at everyone (laughs).


Cloud 10 in 1996. Newts on the right.

Locally, plenty bands were springing up and yeah, we in Cloud 10 pretty much sneered at them all. Not that we had much to be smug about mind, we were arrogant and nothing special really.

Looking back, being brutally honest, it was a waste of time as our band were better at talking about things, instead of actually getting up and fucking doing them.

Although one night, two of us did go out and do some promotion work with two roller brushes and 10 litres of minty buff emulsion paint. But ultimately, it was all pointless.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi    December 2018.

2 thoughts on “LAST GANGS IN TOWN – South Shields ’90s Music Scene

  1. What an excellent period it sounds! In reading this you immediately have the sense that these were/are creatives of the higher order: they have something to say; a fire to burn. I would say the same of my previous hometown (Croydon). The nineties were a hotbed of innovation. This certainly stood strong until some point around the first decade of C21, when local hostelries & venues began to lose interest in original music. Why was this?

    Perhaps the revolution had started to eat itself?

    I’ve only been in the NE for four years now. Three of which were in South Shields. I rarely came across original bands. I live northside now & it seems to be a different beast over here. Weekly (nearly always unpaid, I add – but no one, surely, gets into rock n roll for the money any more? If ever!) gigs can be found at Surf Cafe in Tynemouth, The Exchange (on occasion – they certainly had a brilliant weekend festival two years ago…’Mouth of The Tyne’ which i visited from SS. It was chock with local original talent; so much so, i remember thinking “ah, so this is the underground I’ve been looking for!”, that I relocated to the northside.

    Perhaps some of this regrowth in original independent r n r is blooming out of the ‘open mic’ scene – which is strong in the NE. A creative hotpot brew.

    My Cold Poison
    Go-Go Midgets
    Chalk Figure
    Hannah & The Wick Effect
    Anti Bastard
    Clown Electrics
    are all worth seeking out.


    Great work, as always, Gary.

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    • thanks Nick yes it was a big creative time as well as photos I saw the bands from the DJ box putting on a few cd’s before and after the bands played at The Vic on a monday ‘Student’ night. A lot of them from local college had a bottle of lager and 3 straws. But where is it now ? maybe something for the next blog….cheers

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