We all remember our first gigs. Sabbath, AC/DC, Motorhead, Ozzy and Judas Priest at Newcastle City Hall and at the Mayfair with it’s over 18 policy was Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Hanoi Rocks with my last one before it was demolished, were the Fun Lovin’ Criminals in ’98.
I remember the distinctive green and orange day glo posters advertising gigs at The Mayfair. Recently I talked with former stagehand Mark Johnson, who with his friends Dave Mitcheson and Steve Smith, have recently opened Bad Moon Prints and aim to reproduce those iconic posters….
Basically, we were reminiscing about all the great gigs we had seen at Newcastle Mayfair in its heyday. My first gig was the Pink Fairies in ‘76 and then I saw AC/DC, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Cheap Trick, there were loads. Every Friday we would be there.
We thought it would be a great idea if we could reproduce the gig posters from all the iconic acts that played the Mayfair including Zeppelin, Floyd, Sabbath, Queen, Bowie, The Who and Nirvana.
Very few, if any of the early originals are now in existence. We managed to get originals of the Led Zeppelin posters from both Sunderland and Newcastle in ’71. They were in very poor condition. But I have a few originals which I nicked off the wall from when I worked there (laughs).
When did you work at the Mayfair ?
I was on the stage crew for a couple of years. My first job was in November ‘78 when AC/DC played. Then it was every Friday with the likes of Judas Priest, The Clash, Police, Cheap Trick, Ramones and Journey to name a few.
I also worked at the Newcastle City Hall from summer ‘79 till around summer ‘81. I was in the same squad that also worked the Newcastle Polytechnic and Sunderland Mayfair which was a lot easier venue to load in.
How did you get on the crew ?
I was a student at Newcastle College and this guy I knew who already worked there just asked if I fancied earning £10, a cheeseburger, drinks tokens and seeing AC/DC ? (laughs).
We would start loading in from 11am and it ended up around ten to twelve of us long haired types unloading two articulated trucks and taking the gear down an old service lift and using the fire escape stairs.
How much gear are you talking about ?
Well, these were big bands, AC/DC, Journey, Sammy Hagar, The Police, with all their sound and lighting gear, tons really. The bands would have their own professional crew, we would just hump the gear in and out.
Their crew would be the drum and guitar techs, lighting and sound guy’s etc. Those guy’s would know where everything went while we were just a rabble of young daft music fan’s getting in the gig for nowt (laughs).
When would the band appear ?
They would rock up in the afternoon for the soundcheck, we would sit and watch them. Maybe hang around for a few drinks then go back to the hotel.
When the bands were on stage, we would either be tasked with doing follow spots, standing at the side of the stage or nicking their beer from the backstage area.
Some of them were really canny guy’s, usually the techs had more of an ego on them than the actual band members, but we had some great laughs.
After the gig we would bring all the equipment back up the stairs. The load out would take until around 4-5am. I think one night it was Molly Hatchett’s sound desk that went flying back down four flights of concrete stairs because the local crew were rather a bit too refreshed. Their tour Manager wasn’t chuffed.
We didn’t have any stage management or anything, half the time it was chaos, and we used some dodgy characters. We were on the 5am train going home once and one of the lads had nicked half a side of beef from the kitchens which raised a few eyebrows.
Are there any stand out gigs that you can remember ?
Yeah, the Two-Tone tour with The Specials, Selecter and Madness. Basically, there was a sea of skinheads, mods and punks and there was one big fight from start to finish. Tables chucked off balconies. Mayhem.
All of the stage crew had long hair, so we just stood at the side of the stage or backstage and kept out of it. Think it was the night when the police with dogs turned up – or was that The Clash ?
Can you remember your last gig working at the Mayfair ?
My last gig working there was The Clash. Around that time, I had done five or six crew gigs in a row to save money to see Pink Floyd on The Wall tour. To be honest it wasn’t the most professional set up compared to the set up at Newcastle City Hall.
They had a plan to work from, a Stage Manager for a start. No alcohol whilst working, a set time to be there. A guy called Colin Rowell ran it and it was very well run. We were the best stage crew in England.
You have to remember most of the Mayfair gigs would be on a Friday night, but there were concerts on at the City Hall every night.
One night you could be loading in Motorhead and the next night it would be The La Sagesse School Choir (laughs) and the next night it would be Queen for two nights.
By the end of the week there could have been a soul band on, an orchestra on, Shirley Bassey or someone like that and then back to a big act like the Jam or UFO.
So, you were there virtually every night. Sometimes we used to sleep on the stage or backstage for the early load in next morning –Which usually involved mischief.
Can you remember your last working gig at the City Hall ?
I think it may have been the Van Halen gig. They brought in enough gear to fill St James Park. It was ridiculous.
I think most of the Stage crew would not carry on doing it forever unless they get picked up by a band and go out on tour with them – which occasionally happened if they were crew down or get a job with a light or sound company.
Some of lads I know went on to work for various lighting or sound companies, I know other lads, and lasses who went on to work full time for Ozzy, Queen and The Tubes.
I eventually decided I needed a proper job (laughs) – with some regret later on when I heard their tales.
Now you’re involved in printing the posters of the bands that were on at The Mayfair…
Yeah, the main reason was to bring those long-forgotten nights back to life. Anyone who went to either Sunderland or Newcastle Mayfair between ‘67 and ‘97 will know where we are coming from.
These were great, great bands that defined a generation, whether you were a mod, punk, biker, rocker, hippie or whatever.
Producing these posters will hopefully keep those memories alive and the spirit of those fantastic nights going. They were great times for live music, and personally from a nostalgic point of view that variation and quality of artists will never be repeated.
I’m sure everyone has their favourite Mayfair gig…
Yes, for the folks in Sunderland it seems to be the Faces or Free, at Newcastle it seems to be one of the six or seven times when AC/DC played. Or the nights when the Specials and Selector came to town on their Two-Tone tour.
The most interesting gigs for me is finding Pink Floyd played there in 1968 and the fact that Led Zeppelin played their first ever UK gig at the Mayfair as The Yardbirds.
This was a fact unearthed by North East music historian Marshall Hall who was met with derision by the Zeppelin ‘academia’ when he first published his findings.
But they all had egg on their face once it was established as fact. This had been lost for years until Marshall’s discovery and now he has rewritten the Zeppelin history books.
Another little fact was Queen supporting Vinegar Joe in ‘73 and another piece of history was Bowie just before he hit the big time.
How do you produce the posters ?
The posters are produced to the exact original spec. It took painstaking research of the adverts in the British Newspaper Archives where we looked at dates, support acts, ticket prices and the promoters.
We also researched all of the original fonts used on the posters, a lot of them now defunct.
After a period of about six months we started to reproduce and build the original posters. We had to purchase the original fonts and source the original day-glow paper. Which wasn’t easy as it isn’t cheap and now not widely produced.
So, the whole job has become a bit of a labour of love. Some of the originals have imperfections because they were done cheaply so we’ve even reproduced them to be as authentic as possible.
How many posters have you produced ?
There is about 50 on the site with more to come. You have to remember at the time these posters were a minimal no frill affairs with only the band, date and price on. They were produced as cheaply as possible.
As it was left up to the Mecca to promote the gigs, very rarely were there any images on the posters compared to the bands that were playing at the City Hall up the road.
We really love these posters, we have enjoyed making sure they are spot on with regard to exact copies. Just great times. Great posters.
Check the official website at https://badmoonprints.com/
Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2019.
One thought on “MOTLEY CREW – former stagehand Mark Johnson remembers the crazy Mayfair nights.”
Man… you were a GLUTTON for Punishment Mark 😉
I did maybe 6 gigs at The Mayfair in 4 years and that was 5 too many… lol
They were the very best of times though, there just aren’t the number nor variety of musicians today as there were back then BUT it has to be said, there aren’t the venues for musicians to perfect their art either.
You were right about the Crew in Newcastle being the BEST on the circuit back then. Road Crews would groan when they thought about the load in/out in both venues BUT, only a quiet groan, because they knew we knew what we were doing.
The Mayfair & City Hall as they were, would never be allowed today; I mean, WHO would be stupid enough to be a Stagehand if the venue you’re working in, kicks your arse out before the show and only allows you back inside in time for load-out… wanna see the show YOU just built?
BUY A TICKET !
The Academy Group have just taken over the City Hall… whoopee…
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