DARK THOUGHTS with Gateshead musician Esme

At the start of 2017 Penance Stare started as a solo project. Now it’s a duo comprised of Esmé on vocals, guitar and electronics and Graeme on drum kit and electronics. Esme remembers the first gig…

It was in the dark Boiler Room at the Old Police House in Gateshead. I was using a broken microphone so I had to yell, unamplified over the music.


The Old Police House is bringing incredible shows to Gateshead. Drone/noise/ambient gigs at either the Soundroom or the Art Gallery. Across the river Tyne in Newcastle we have places like the Star & Shadow. Bands are still playing in bars just as much as DIY indie venues.

Newcastle and the surrounding area have a really good scene for both metal and experimental music, with a lot of crossover between.

What’s your music background ?

I was a child in the ’90s when Britpop and Alternative rock were popular. The earliest music I owned were the Shine cassette compilations of indie hits from around ’95/96. I still revisit that music occasionally. .

Our influences include Cranes, Velvet Cocoon, Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. We’ve both played in bands for many years before this, and have projects outside of Penance Stare. We currently rehearse in Gateshead’s Soundroom.

Are you from a musical family ?

My dad played guitar, not well or in bands but he would pull faces while jamming bad blues licks. He bought me some used equipment as a teenager.

My mother exposed me to a lot of music too. Growing up I would steal her records and tapes. She sang a lot, not very well, but she got a lot of enjoyment from it. I can relate to that.

When did you first pick up an instrument and what was it? 

Aged 12 or 13. My first electric guitar was a black Encore Stratocaster. A horrible guitar, the quality of cheap instruments has increased dramatically since then. I plugged it into a tiny Kustom amp.

Like a lot of kids my age I was really into Kurt Cobain. I moved on to Sonic Youth and started writing my own songs.

What do you think of crowdfunding, have Penance Stare taken that route ?

We haven’t done anything like that. I’m not sure its what listeners want. I note that one of the big platforms recently went bust.

Have you recorded any of your songs ?

Penance Stare recordings are deliberate in their rawness and intimacy and all of the recordings thus far have been made at home. We anticipate that future recordings will continue in this tradition. All releases were made available on limited edition cassette and digital download.

Much like a lot of the UK underground at the moment, we deal in cassettes and downloads. That’s out of necessity as much as anything. Hardly anyone can afford to make vinyl now.


House Of Bastet EP  (summer 2017)

Scrying (spring 2018)

Solananceae (early 2019)

What are the Penance Stare plans for this year ?

We won’t be playing any shows in a while as we’re writing a brand-new live set. So far, progress has been fast, so we expect to be back by the summer. There will also probably be another release by the end of the year.

 Contact Esme at  https://www.facebook.com/penancestaremusic/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi     February 2019.

SOUND OF THE UNDERGROUND with Davy Craig former guitarist for North East noise merchants Drill

Drill formed in the late 80s. A live review in Sounds said…’when the massive guitar barrage is coupled with vocals they sound like they’re fresh off The Exorcist. Drill have a magnificent intensity’….

For my first gig we were booked at the Riverside on Wednesday 18th July 1990. I was 21. A few of my mates were in the audience and by the time we went on stage I was a shaking mess.

But once the drum machine counted us in for the first song I was in the zone. The audience stood as if they’d been sonically blasted into submission. That was my first proper gig and I wanted more.


Davy Craig on the right playing his first gig at The Riverside, Newcastle.

Who were your influences ? I’d read an interview with Will Sergeant from Echo and the Bunnymen. A lot of music journalists and ‘musos’ gave him a hard time, because of the simplistic style of his playing. He sounded incredible to me though.

He said something along the lines of ‘I’m not very good at playing anyone else’s stuff, or like anyone else…but no bastard can play like me! That was the whole key for me.

How did getting the job with Drill come about ? 

There was an advert in The Sunday Sun in July 1990 for a band who required a third guitarist. That intrigued me. They were into Big Black, The Band of Susans stuff like that. I spoke to a lad called Kev Wilkinson and arranged to meet up.

I went along to the rehearsal rooms and Kev said…‘Well get inside and set up, because I’m fucking sick of all of the metal heads we’ve had so far!’

The first thing I noticed was no drummer, then the bassist Drew Gallon, who played for The Shotgun Brides and later Forgodsake. He was helping the band out.

In the corner standing in front of a huge double stack of four cabs was Tony O’Brien. Kev and Tony had previously been in The Shotgun Brides.

I was asked to play a few things which sounded absolutely deafening. Having enjoyed it I left and when I got home got a call from Kev. He told me that I was in the band, but I had to learn all of the songs for a gig that Wednesday at the Riverside!

I was also told that I couldn’t use my strat or my Fender Amp as they weren’t powerful enough. I borrowed a Marshall cab from Tony, along with a Fender guitar, the humbucker being crucial to the sound, with a borrowed 2 x12 cab.

I learnt the songs and rehearsed a couple of times prior to the gig and felt confident. I was ready to play my first gig with Drill.


Things were going well with the band ?

Yes, Kev would pick me up for rehearsals and gigs so we had a lot of time to chat. He was very forthright in his view of what the band should be like and I loved being part of it.

We started writing new songs together with Kev at the helm. Part of me wondered if he was just making it up as he went along or he was a genius with real vision. It felt great to be part of something that seemed so different to anything else around.

I became mates with the other lads from The Shotgun Brides. I got on well with Chris McCormack, later of 3 Colours Red and Professionals.

Who was in the line up and what equipment did the band use ?

I had to sell my beloved Fender Strat at Grott Guitars in Newcastle. I put what money I had to buy a Simms Watt 4 x 12 cab from Rock City and picked up a Burman 100 Watt Amp that was in Grott Guitars.

I needed a guitar, Kev wanted me to have something with a meatier sound.

I entered McKay’s on Westgate Road and saw two guitars that were ideal. One was a Yamaha, and the other was a bright green Gordon Smith Gypsy II, with double humbuckers and a coil tap.

Tony put a new bridge on it, along with a brass nut, for ridiculous sustain. I was geared up.  I was encouraged to join in writing.

Simon Moore eventually joined on bass. We worked on each other’s sound and everyone was happy to experiment. Si used Marshall’s ‘The Gov’nor’ pedal on his bass. It took a while to get the sound right as we wanted that cutting distortion, without losing the bottom end.

His style of playing suited the band perfectly. Kev used a Fender Mustang guitar which gave a great top end cutting through the rest of us.

Tony used multiple guitars, but mainly Gibson models, Les Paul Special, Firebird, a couple of Flying V’s plus a stunning Gibson L5-S. His 4 x 10 cabs made his guitars sound quite trebly, but Tony was playing what was closest to being lead parts.

I suppose I was in the middle, with the Simms Watt 4 x 12, then aside from the drum machine, playing in various time signatures. Kev’s voice was the ingredient he wanted to get spot on. He picked up a zoom guitar effect, which was the size of a Walkman.

I think he initially wanted to use it for his guitar but decided to use it on his vocals instead. He utilized a number of effects, but the main ones were distortion and harmoniser/octave controls.


What venues did the band play ?

We didn’t play many gigs just the Riverside and a few local venues in Newcastle. At The Broken Doll I was always asked what the fuck was I playing, but in a good way and many just marvelled at the E-bow, as they scraped themselves off the walls pummelled by our sonic assault.

I very quickly felt that I was going to keep playing in the band and see where things were going to take us.

The clincher for sticking with it came when we signed to Abstract Records with Edward Christie. In September 1990 we joined the stable that previously had New Model Army and UK Subs as it’s main bands.

What was your experience of the studio ?

We booked into Impulse Studios in Wallsend with Kevin Ridley, the singer with Forgodsake. Kevin was a really nice bloke and he really pushed us.

We went in on 17th January 1991, the day the Gulf War started. We had no idea what was going on in the outside world as we were walled into the studio. It felt really claustrophobic and I think we captured that on the album, which was completed in five days.

At first, we started with one of our favourites, Compressed Head. We played everything correctly, but Kevin Ridley wasn’t happy and said it sounded flat. Not having been in a studio before, even to do a demo, I had no idea but Kevin was right. It didn’t sound like it should.

We were paying for the studio time, or at least the record company were and we felt like we were wasting it. We scrapped that song for now and said that we’d come back to it.

We moved onto other tracks and I think the first one we did was Pylons. When we came back in to listen to it, it sounded spot on and somehow the studio, the desk and ourselves had come alive.

We blasted through the songs and Kev added his vocals, deciding to run a lead out of the recording booth and into the old Victorian toilets which was covered in tiles. It sounded fantastic. Kev doing his vocals sat on the netty was a masterstroke.

With an instrumental called E the sample was played backwards and by pure chance it sounded like someone saying Eee, ya fucker…! It was hilarious and fitted.

I loved playing that song as I was given free range to create atmospheric sounds over sparse chords that it was built from. I scraped the E-bow, holding it with my ring and little fingers, at the same time holding a plectrum and changing from one to the other very quickly. Plus employing my made up chords and even using a wee bit of string bending!

Anyway, the album was finished and mixed with us having completed Compressed Head, a great way to end. Overall, I’m very proud of the whole thing.


Skin Down was released in June 1991 and billed as Industrial Noise Guitar music. It was met with some excellent reviews across the board, most giving us 10/10.

Some local music writers had really championed the band, none more so than Kriss Knights and especially Lee Conlon who was a big part of the Paint It Red magazine. The big nationals also seemed to love us with Melody Maker describing it as ‘a musical white knuckle ride’. 

Written press weren’t the only ones to champion the album. The record company on hearing what we’d delivered, pushed us to the forefront of the label and it sold quite well.

National radio got involved, with us being played and championed by John Peel. We got album of the month on BBC radio, ahead of the first Blur album.

I loved all of this and wanted more. It felt like we were riding a huge wave and were about to sign to an agency for tours. I thought it was all about to happen!

With an album recorded how did you promote it ?

We only played a handful of gigs. One was supporting Swervedriver at Riverside. After our second song the house lights came on as there was a technical problem. We looked out and saw Swervedriver stood next to the desk, mouths agape.

We just laughed, got on with it and showed them what we were made of. It went down a storm with the crowd going crazy at the front. When Swervedriver came on the crowd moved back from the stage and were very subdued.

We also did a gig in a pub near Blyth. Not many turned up, but those that did were going mad. Four people were sat in the corner and asked to speak to us after the gig. They’d come over from America to see us, having been told about us by the label.

They loved us and wanted us to go to L.A. for a four venue residency, with a view to moving on through the US. I couldn’t believe it.

We thought they were mad coming all that way but they were genuine. I had my bags packed in my own mind and I think Si was up for it as well. But Tony and Kev were married, with mortgages and well paid jobs. They didn’t fancy getting stranded in L.A. so it didn’t happen. The same thing happened with tours that were in the offing in Europe and Japan.

We hadn’t even played London and our only gig outside of the North East was in a working men’s club in Burnley. It was booked by a group of fans from the area.

As we sound checked people coming out of the snooker room were shouting ‘What the bluddy ‘ell’s this flamin’ racket?’ The atmosphere wasn’t good to say the least.

We set up on stage, instructed not to move the house organ, drum kit, or bingo machine. The place was jam packed when we went on. A crowd of around 30 kids were at the front jumping around and absolutely loving it. The rest of the ballroom consisted of pensioners out in their finest clobber.

With the drum machine we knew the songs by names, but also by the numbers that were programmed in. Kev did away with the set list and said Davy, what number will we play next?  I shouted out a number, he pressed it and we launched into it. As I shouted the number, I noticed that most of the crowd suddenly sprang into life.

No, they weren’t going to start headbanging or crowd surfing, they were looking for their bingo dabbers and cards! I couldn’t stop laughing. We’d broken the unwritten code of never mess with the bingo!

I read a number of years later that club was the inspiration for Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights!

On reflection what do you think of your time in the band ?

I left having only been in the band for just over a year. It was great when it lasted. But I felt that so many opportunities were missed.

What am I up to now ? Well, I’ve been in a few bands since but my health, both physically and mentally wasn’t very good and I become disabled around five years ago. I haven’t played since but hoping to improve and maybe get out doing some solo stuff.

It’s nice to hear people still talking about the band, both online and in conversation. I’m very proud of it all, but it seems a bit sad that it didn’t take off and it just ended with a whimper.

Interview by Gary Alikivi    January 2019.

ONLY A NORTHERN SONG in conversation with Tyneside songwriter John Clavering

What projects are you working on ?

I’m in the studio writing and arranging with musician Cortney Dixon. Cortney is like a creative soul mate we have a lot in common the way we work. She is also working with a writer called Jim Lowe – Grammy award winning producer whose worked loads with bands like Stereophonics and the Charlatans.

So the songwriting is really coming on and she plans on releasing something this year. I also play keys for her live.


On stage with John and Cortney Dixon.

It’s really interesting stuff as Cortney is not interested in pop or the girly image. She’s interested in making an album with two sides, the cover, the whole product you know. Really old school. I’m enjoying that stuff.

She has management who benefit her with contacts and wisdom as they’ve been around a long time.

A couple of year ago when I was engineer at The Customs Space Studio in South Shields I was working with Martin Francis Trollope who is engineer there now, Cortney and Jade Thirlwell who went on to be in Little Mix. Obviously, Jade went through the whole TV route while Cortney went opposite to that but they are both talented and great singers.

It’ll be interesting to see where Jade goes after Little Mix and the crazy pop world that she is in. Cortney has been offered that route, she met the Cowells and all of them you know but she didn’t want that. I’m proud that she’s took her own path. Quite a punk ethic really.

What is your background in music ?

I was in a few bands in the ’80s and ’90s. One was 3 Kicks a Newcastle based funk/pop sort of band then The Ghosts of Soul. For that band we done our songwriting, gig’s and video all funded by playing the workingmen’s clubs.

We would have a different name doing the covers, make some money then put it all back in and do some recording. I remember how hungry we were. We would of done anything to make enough money.

We were at college when Ghosts of Soul were about so we had a grant but that wasn’t enough. We could use the studio gear at college which was great but to be a travelling, touring musician can be expensive.

Were you making a living as a full time musician…..

I don’t think you can make a career out of it you’ve got to be lucky to play more than a couple of gigs a week. But if you get a couple of corporate gigs, you can get paid £600 for a night’s work.

In my experience some people aren’t interested in creative stuff when they do covers. Unfortunately people don’t see you as a real musician in the industry.

How do you think live music is seen now ?

I worried a few years ago that it was going to be everybody singing along to a MacBook (laughs). But it hasn’t gone that way, it’s gone back to bands. There has been a huge resurgence in the sales of classic guitars, Fender, Gibson and old analogue keyboards.

As a keyboard player and music technologist that really interests me. But still can’t afford the buggers (laughs). As a ’80s/90s musician it feels good that it’s going back to that as it worked really well. It’s fascinating.


John 2nd from left and Cortney (in blue) with the live band.

There might not be the financial returns from music but it’s still valuable….

Yes, like you with film and video you do it because you want to do it. It’s a need. You get an idea in your head, you create it and put it out there. The only way you can justify your existence is by people saying that’s good and that’s a kind of ego rubbing there.

But I find it sad that in this commercial world so few people can make their way by just being an artist. A lot of artists I know have another job.

People don’t pay for stuff now with Spotify, and on You Tube there is visual tours of art galleries now. So they don’t have money for new art.

There are original bands out there who use the internet as their only outlet. A lot of niche stuff getting heard on Soundcloud and Spotify. They’re not playing live so not making any money at it.

But there is nothing like standing in the front row of a gig. You will never get that feeling from watching You Tube on your phone. I love going back and watching the ’70s/80s stuff that I missed like Led Zep.

That’s all great but seeing stuff live like Sam Fender is amazing. Sam is a good friend of mine from North Shields. He is a singer/songwriter. He has a really good band, it’s exciting, he’s touring again this year.

Some of his songs have a strong meaning and tackle things like suicide. He get’s it across well. Really visceral with hundreds of students at the gig jumping around. Me standing there like an old fart but it’s really great.

On stage it’s all live. There is no tech running. Just guitar, bass, drums, singing.

Sam has built a following with drip feeding a few original songs on-line, and with good management he has been guaranteed live gigs, TV stuff. He was on the Jools Holland show a few months back.

He is very media friendly, and I think you will see a lot of him. It’s very interesting watching his career develop.


What does music mean to you ?

Music is a huge part of my life. It’s kept the wolf from the door in a financial sense but creatively it’s my steam valve. I feel really good when I write a song. It’s a soul thing, part of my make up is to be making music.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   January 2019.

TWO YEAR LATER…. Alikivi blog in the news.

A 2 year milestone for the blog is four articles which featured in local newspaper The Shields Gazette in the last few weeks. Included in the articles are extracts from some of the interviews I’ve done with musicians.





Gary Alikivi  February 2019


CUSTOM SONGS in conversation with Tyneside musician & studio engineer Martin Francis Trollope

We had John Gallagher from Raven in the studio the other week. He came in to add vocals and bass for something Steve Thompson was putting together. (Steve is a North East songwriter who featured in a post June 27th 2017). 

It was amazing. I only heard of Raven when I went to a Slayer gig last November with Anthrax supporting them. They said it ‘was great to be in Newcastle where Venom and Raven came from’. A few month later here he was hanging out in the studio.

I listened to the album, and I could totally see it. When John came in and put the vocal down, he could still do it. He was screaming and held a note for about a minute and the bass, well he was flying all over the place. Yes, he’s still got it.

Steve was putting these songs together for his publishing company and he was having such a good time it’s ended up for an album. He’s done about 15 songs. He likes it here so just kept coming back.

A lot of people do return, we get reviews on social media saying the studio is just nice and relaxed atmosphere.


Who else have you had in the studio ? 

Lately we’ve had Newcastle musician Afnan Prince in the studio, also Connor Pattison from Durham. They have an Arctic Monkeys sound.

After some recordings here the file of individual tracks of bass, snare drum, vocals etc get sent to another engineer who puts a sort of extra shine on the mix you know and gets it played on the radio.

We had some kids from Sunderland doing like indie rock which is a big thing. We had a band called Tank Engine in doing a real thrashy rock. They are from Washington and used to be in a band called Your Code Name is Milo who did fairly big thing’s in the 2000s.

The drummer is in a band with tv’s The Hairy Bikers. They are releasing stuff in Spring and I’m really looking forward to it, really interesting band.

I’ve done a lot of rap, so I was producing some beats and people were coming on and rapping on them. There was some acoustic stuff like with singer/songwriter Trev Gibb who has branched out on all sorts of sounds now.

Most of what I do now is the finished product. Radio play, You Tube and Trev’s is for an album.

Most of what I record here end’s up on Radio Newcastle at some point. Some end up on BBC Radio 6. One was for a 15 year old called Tom Smith. He played on all the instruments, and we sent it in and Radio DJ Tom Robinson loved it and played it.

Just this Saturday I had four songs produced here on BBC Newcastle so that was good.

Sounds like the studio is getting a reputation… 

Yes it’s building up. Only in the last couple of years it’s started to happen as this has been here about 15 years. First off it was based around a youth club which was a great idea when it was 50p to come in and record. I wouldn’t have started recording if it wasn’t for that.

About 10 years ago Daniel Clifford and I were in a band called Squares and recorded a few EP’s with original engineer John Clavering. We picked up how to record so we made an album.

We didn’t know anything about EQ or compression (laughs). But we learned and I ended up getting a job here.

Do you think there is much original music out there and venues to play ?

As far as I know there is some amazing stuff in the North East. I catch up with it by listening to BBC Radio Newcastle on a Saturday night 8-10pm. That’s their introducing show run by Nick Roberts.

All you have to do is load an mp3 to the introducing site, they have a listen, and your song can go to your local radio or if they really like it a national show like BBC1 Extra.

For venues there is still The Cluny, or The Riverside which is good. The Head of Steam is still going. These are Newcastle but as far as I know nothing in South Shields. You can hire out The Customs House but you’d have to already have a following to do that.

Most pubs are focused on cover bands because that’s what gets people through the doors. I think The Queen Vic were trying out bands but don’t know how that worked. Bands I record haven’t mentioned playing in Shields.

I’m working on putting a funding bid together to organise a live music event mainly for a student audience. Just need to fine tune it.


With home recording made easier why would musicians use this or any studio ?

I love that you can record at home. It’s what I used to do for demos and singles. Had some good sounds recorded in the house. But if you pay what we charge £15 per hour you get access to excellent industry standard microphone’s, guitar amp’s, drum kit to make a big noise which you wouldn’t be able to do in your house. Plus, my years of experience which all counts.

Interview by Gary Alikivi     January 2019.

 Contact Martin on 0191 456 3917

The Customs Space, Captains Row, South Shields NE33 5AS