In late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields.
After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’.
Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.
Included is a transcript of the interview with two contributor’s to the documentary, North East club entertainer’s Michael ‘Mad Dog’ Davis and Joe Peterson, both regulars in the club.
A couple of points -or pints – before the stories, the filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and it’s written in the Tyneside Geordie dialect.
Joe: I tell yer what they used to do, they used to bring their own food.
Mad Dog: They still dae it.
Joe: They bring cheese, crackers things to eat put them out on the table and they would share.
Mad Dog: And everyone used to have their own seat. You can’t seat in that seat. You go into a strange club and sit in a seat. You can’t sit there that’s Harry’s seat. He isn’t here. Doesn’t matter. That’s Jackie’s seat. You can’t sit there. And big fight’s if yer did.
Joe: We were in the club’s for a long time but the ‘70s were different where there was a boom and there was money to be made an’ I remember people from mechanics to taxi drivers deciding to play instruments and do stuff on stage, to go and make a living.
Mad Dog: It was yer apprenticeship that’s what it was.
Joe: For the young ‘uns aye.
Mad Dog: You find out now that everyone who done that apprenticeship in the clubs are a different type of musician that you have now.
Joe: A lot of them in the North East, good players start in the clubs and learnt the trade. It was one of the most hardest club area’s in the country, it was renowned for it. So if you could do it here.
Mad Dog: Same with comedians, any top comedian probably started off on the club’s first. Then the good one’s went onto bigger things.
Joe: We used to have regular meeting places like The Crown at Tyne Dock which is a bingo hall but a nightclub as well. Often we’d go there after gig’s and there’d be a musician’s scene. There was so much work about people were working most nights you’d finish a gig and end up there. If yer were a bit of a distance you would hurry to get back for a couple of pints in The Crown.
Mad Dog: We’re talking Tuesday or Wednesday night you could have 10-15 people playing on stage who made it back to The Crown after their show. There used to be a resident duo of organ and drums, next thing you know there’s a guitar, bass, three singers, brass section. Everybody heading back to The Crown.
Joe: After that everybody head off to..
Mad Dog: The Shah Jan
Joe: Yeah The Shah Jan for a curry. It was renowned. The room was full of musicians.
Mad Dog: I counted once, in a year I had a curry 7 days a week (laughs).
On concert chairmen…
Joe: The thing about the concert chairmen is looking back now they were down to earth solid fella’s, lot of them tradesmen.
Mad Dog: Managers in the dock’s.
Joe: Aye in the dock’s, shipyards, then they were part of an entertainment night with a microphone in front of them and Ladies and Gentlemen. Things they weren’t used to. So as musicians we used to look from the outside in and think that’s crazy. Someone with experience just wouldn’t do.
Mad Dog: They’d get a microphone, and the bingo’s on. They used to have sockets on the wall that you plug into the house system and on many occasion the microphone hasn’t worked so they actually started talking into the hole in the wall (laughs).
Joe: Once there was a whistle noise in the background from the p.a and they were trying to find out where the noise was coming from. We had a listen to our speakers it’s not our gear. Then someone in the lounge shouted up to the concert room where’s that feedback come from, what’s that whistle ? And the concert chairman put the microphone to his ear well it’s not our gear (laughs).
On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…
Mad Dog: The cheapest place in town to drink was the social club and it still is in some of them. Don’t think the kid’s these day’s follow in their father’s footsteps like we did in our era. But it was things like the no smoking, wasn’t a community thing anymore, karaoke, all little things together. Cos it used to be a live thing, you’d go to clubs to watch a live band.
Joe: What’s different about now is people were out most nights. Now it’s once or twice but then there was things on most nights and if there wasn’t you could sit in the lounge with family.
Mad Dog: If yer travel around there used to be thousands of club’s and now there is so many boarded up and haven’t made it. They haven’t moved on, they haven’t tried to change.
‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).
9min edit available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSBp5XD242U
Interview by Gary Alikivi.