GATESHEAD GET RHYTHM with drummer Steve Laidlaw

One of our strangest gigs was when Pyramid supported the Welsh heavy rock band Budgie at the Newcastle Guildhall. They and the crowd were all denim and long hair. But we were playing Glam Rock, Bay City Rollers, Mud, that sort of stuff… but went down a bomb!

From the 1960’s to the late 80’s Steve played for many North East bands including Pyramid, Busker, Backshift, Flicks and Smokestack. Recently he has returned to the stool… Last year I got back together with Chris Batty from one of my first band’s. We done some busker nights, got my mojo back, and we are getting a band going. My son Andrew is a record producer and is signed to Slam Jam Records owned by Chuck D from Public Enemy. Chris and I are doing drum and bass tracks for his new album. Can you believe it. Talk about being down with the kids (laughs).

When did you first get interested in music ? My dad was a commercial artist who played guitar and piano at home, thing’s like New Year parties. So when growing up music was around the house. When I was about 14 I got friendly with two lads who lived on the next Gateshead estate, Richie Close and Steve Davidson. Richie was already an accomplished musician playing piano and guitar. He later played with major bands such as Camel and was MD for Tony Christie.

We started messing around and Richie suggested I try drums. One day we went to his mate’s house and he had a kit. I got on and found I could separate my hands and feet and whack out a rhythm. We used to record little tapes, it was a hobby.

I remember being influenced by listening to straight four on the floor players like Mick Avory and Mick Fleetwood. No fancy complex stuff for me ! I was never technically gifted as a drummer. I was influenced in my early days by watching the great John Woods from the Junco Partners, Ray Laidlaw (no relation) with Downtown Faction and Brian Gibson of Sneeze (later with Geordie).

Later I met a lad called Peter Chrisp who played bass. He was a blues man and we formed a band with John Gormley (vocals), Ronnie Harris (guitar) and me on drums.

Can you remember your first gig ? My first gig was at the Wesley Memorial Church Hall in Low Fell in 1967. Ronnie could play the John Mayall album ‘Beano’ note for note, so were ostensibly a blues band. We did The Quay Club, Bay Hotel in Sunderland loads of youth clubs and schools. But the band sort of lost interest so I formed my own called Tycho Brahe, with my mate’s Chris Batty, George Curry and Stan Rankin. This was late 1969.

We did the Bowling Alley in Gateshead and the usual round of schools, but only lasted a few months. Then in 1970 I got a call from a guy called Jim Campbell. He was managing a club band which became The Paul Dene Set. I got Chris Batty from my previous band in on bass, but we were only 19, and the other guys were 26/27, a lot older and very experienced. I went from playing Cream/Mayall to Tom Jones and Elvis with dickie bows and velvet jackets.

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Did you have a manager or agent ? Most of my time in bands we were managed by Ivan Birchall or Mel Unsworth who were always fair with us. We started getting regular work in the clubs, and had a van and good PA. We got gigs like the Airport Hotel, Top Hat, Guildhall, these were really decent clubs. That lasted until ‘73 until I formed a band called Smokestack featuring Stu Burns and Steve Daggett. He played a blinder by stepping in at the last minute with no rehearsal, it worked out great.

Then I answered an advert in local newspaper The Chronicle, that was for a band called Pyramid who had been on the go for a while. At first we just rehearsed in a basement in Gateshead as one of the members was ill so the band were off the road. At first the agents didn’t want to know but eventually we got a couple of gigs and literally tore the places apart with comedy and chart music. Straight away we got repeat bookings and our agent Mel Unsworth started giving us work. Subsequently we started to build up what became a huge following and some people had seen us a hundred times.

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Have you any stories from the road ? We auditioned for TV talent show ‘New Faces’ in 1974 – and got on. The panel were made up of Micky Most, Tony Hatch and Clifford Davis who were not keen on us. Arthur Askey was there and he was a lovely gentleman. I remember the night we were on. We recorded the show in Birmingham on a Tuesday and the night it was broadcast we were booked for a club in Ashington, The Central I think, and we watched the show before we went on stage. There were no videos in those days. We got a load of gig’s after that and the work went off the richter scale, doubling our pay from £40 to £80 a night (laughs).

The band went full time but I continued to work. I was working in sales through the day and got very little sleep. We would be doing a club then maybe The Sands which was above the bus station in Whitley Bay or the Burgundy Cobbler also in Whitley Bay. We’d get to Palace of Varieties over in Prudhoe, then a few places in Newcastle like the Cavendish, Stage Door and the Rainbow Rooms. I’d fall into bed around 3 or 4am, then back up at 7 (laughs). We once did 93 consecutive one nighters, but by this time we had two full time roadies, and we went in our cars.

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In 1975 I got married so left the band as my new wife wanted to see me (laughs). But re-joined a couple of year later and did a tour of Germany with the comedian Chubby Brown. I remember being stopped at the East German Checkpoint and they got really funny with us. To get to Berlin we were told to ask for a Russian Officer, who we had to pay off to get through (laughs).

A story from one night involved Allen Mechen, who was the front man and guitarist Brian Pick. We used to start the act with me and Brian on stage and Allen used to run out of the gents. One night we started playing and were going over and over the song with no sign of Allen. After 5 minutes our roadie went to find him. He was asleep on the bog with the door jammed (laughs). John poured some water over him.

Incidentally Brian used to be in well known Tyneside band The Sundowners and Allen ended up playing the character Terry in the Tudor Crisps adverts. After recording an EP I left the band again, then went back for their last gigs in 1983.

What studio did you record in ? We recorded the EP at Soundlink in Newcastle and sold it in the clubs, but I haven’t got one cos I gave my copy away. We also recorded a couple of tracks at Impulse Studio in Wallsend. That was for  North East TV show Geordie Scene, but in the end they decided not to put us on. We recorded a new single at Impulse but it was scrapped at the last minute for some legal issues.

Not long after Pyramid I played in a band called Flicks. Terry, the keyboard player, was asked to join another recording band called Busker who had a huge hit with ‘Home Newcastle’. The song was a massive hit locally, and is still played at St.James’ Park. The band didn’t really exist but songwriter Ronnie Lambert wanted to put a band on the road. He also played guitar and harmonica. He asked us if we could get a few of our old mate’s in and do a few gigs, so we did. We also recorded a new single, and a new version of ‘Home Newcastle’ with a few different lyrics but the band drifted apart. I think Ronnie just wanted to be a recording entity.

After that I joined Backshift, who became an 8 piece soul band, fronted by legendary Junco Partner, Ronnie Barker. This went on for several years, we done some good gig’s and had a great laugh, but finished about ‘88. I always meant to go back to playing but had two kids and things just drifted. I had 23 years in bands by then.

What does music mean to you ? I always felt music should entertain and not educate. The general public are bored shitless by drum solos. As Brian Gibson from Geordie always said, get the girls dancing then you are ok (laughs).

 Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2019.

FOOTING IT TO EUROPE with Tyneside poet Keith Armstrong

In the week of the 50th anniversary of Newcastle United’s victory in the Fairs Cup, a 6-2 win on aggregate against Ujpest Dozsa in the final. Tyneside poet and lifelong supporter of the Magpies, Keith Armstrong, reflects on their journeys through Europe.

Bobby Moncur, Newcastle United, with the Fairs Cup

I hate to give away my age but my dad took me piggy-back to see Stanley Matthews play at St James’s Park in the days when peanuts were only a tanner a bag and the ground capacity was well over 60,000. Since then, I’ve followed the lads through thick and thin, usually thin, across Europe and back home.

It might surprise you, but United in Europe isn’t new you know. They toured Italy, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Austria, in 1929 – just after the last time they won the League, with the legendary top-scoring Hughie Gallacher at number 9. In Milan, full-back Tommy Lang had a nasty set of bite marks on his neck when he left the pitch and the club’s bus was hit with bottles and stones and the players had to barricade themselves in their hotel room. Not to worry, the team was guarded by the stalwart men of Mussolini’s blackshirts!

After an 8-1 defeat in Czechoslovakia, the lads were accused of not trying by the Czech officials and then it was off to Budapest for another ‘friendly’ where Gallacher was sent off after a punch-up and the locals spat and threw coins at him as he was escorted through the crowd by armed soldiers. The Hungarians accused Gallacher and the rest of the team of being ‘drunk and disorderly’ on the field and withheld the guaranteed fee. United left the country quickly.

A Football Association enquiry exonerated the team after Gallacher had explained that he and some of his teammates had been so thirsty in the heat that they ‘rinsed their mouths out with a drop of Scotch’. The Hungarians spotted them passing the bottle round and jumped to the surprising conclusion that the boys were on the piss! European sporting ambassadors, don’t you know!

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And, just so’s you really know how old I am, I have to say that I was ‘on the hoy’ as well in Hungary, with the Supporters’ Club back in 1969, belting out the ‘Blaydon Races’ on Budapest High Street when we last won a major trophy, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. It never seemed to be part of a plan to win then, they just stumbled into the Final, and, with Wyn ‘The Leap’ Davies nodding the ball down to Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, and no real midfield to speak of, we had those continentals, used to playing the ball on the ground (the mad fools!), completely baffled when faced with our Geordie ‘laeng baell’ game. A one-off but the toon went crazy when the lads came back with that Fairs Cup.

It worries me a bit just how crazy the toon will gan should we ever bring another bit of silverware home – not that that’s likely, let’s be honest, a trophy is never on the packing list, if you’re following Newcastle United.

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Captain Bobby Moncur with the cup in Newcastle.

FAIR’S FAIR

The Blue Star shone in Budapest

as West met East on Europe’s streets;

the night the Magpies skinned the Magyars

and the Fairs Cup was ours.

Across the desert of fifty years,

the Inter Cities trophy glitters,

like a beacon in the wilderness,

all that burnt energy, just this success.

And what a crazy night it was;

the shorts flowed in black and white bars:

away goals, of course, counted double

and, after a few, we were seeing double!

We’d danced through Feyenoord and Zaragoza,

skipped from Setubal to downtown Glasgae;

and we came back singing through it all,

with Clarkie, Craigie and McFaul.

It was the golden day of three goal Moncur,

of Scottie, Gibb, Sinclair,

of Wyn the Leap and Bryan Pop,

and little Benny Arentoft.

Finally, we had a Cup to show

and the Toon’s faces shone aglow;

no longer drowning in our self pity,

at last, Fair’s fair, Newcassel’s a European City !

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Tyneside poet Keith Armstrong was born in Newcastle. He has travelled throughout Europe to read his poetry and is widely published and broadcast. He is available for events and functions.

tel: 0191 2529531.

Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2019.

TYGER BEAT with former Tygers of Pan Tang drummer Chris Damage Percy

Previously on this blog was an interview with former Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist Glenn Howes. As I’m tracking down former members of the Tygers, Glenn put me in touch with Chris Percy. Chris was drummer around the same time Glenn was in the band….

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I joined the Tygers in 1999. I was asked by bassist Gav Gray, as by then we’d played in a few bands together often joining as the rhythm section. I was with the band up until the time just after the Wacken Festival.

We only played the one gig, Jess Cox had been asked to do something as it was the 20th anniversary of Don’t Touch Me There so that was the focus at the time.

(Don’t Touch Me There was their first single released in 1979 on NEAT record label and produced by Steve Thompson at Impulse Studio, Wallsend).

 

What are your memories of the gig ? (pics above) The Wacken gig for me was fantastic. I had my birthday out there so we had a little celebration. It was great as there was a shuttle of cars every half hour that went from the hotel to the gig so you just got in and travelled to and from the gig whenever you wanted.

I think at the time, the biggest gig I’d played was the bikers festival Stormin’ the Castle with a Guns n Roses tribute band. Now here I am being flown to Germany to play a gig attended by tens of thousands of people!

When did you get interested in music and who were your influences ? I’ve always been interested in music from as far back as I remember. I started drumming from a very early age. My earliest memory is from when I was 5 years old, mimicking drummers I’d watched on the tv.

I was 8 years old when I started getting lessons from a guy called Bill Tennant who was a Jazz drummer around the North East. I didn’t enjoy it very much until I was 11 or 12 when I was introduced to The Meteors, and I was hooked. I joined my first band at 14 called The Dead Travel Fast but we never played any gigs.

 

When did you play your first gigs ? I was 18 and my first gig was at a pub called Images in South Shields with a covers band called Van Goghs Ear. The band featured guitarist Dave Burn, a very good local guitarist who has released loads of solo stuff. He recently played guitar for Paul Raymond of UFO fame who sadly passed away not long ago.

On the night we supported a band called Frenzy and I think Gunslinger might have been there. I was so nervous I drank 6 pints of snakebite before I went on and could hardly remember the songs!

Did you record any of your music ? I ended up in the studio with a few bands. The first time was with my first originals band around ‘93 called FND with Dave Hills (guitar) Gav Gray (bass) Paul Nesbitt (vocals) and myself. It was completely free as Hilly had his studio in his house and we would just stay at his and drink and record songs.

Have you any stories from the Wacken Festival gig ? The first day we get there and I was sharing a room with Gav Gray. Well this bloke turns up at the door, he asked us in this Brummie accent if we had a cigarette so we replied Aye, whey aye, mate. Which as we all know means Yes in Newcastle. He looked at us puzzled and asked very slowly Do you speak English?  He turned out to be the singer from metal band Jaguar (laughs).

When we were setting up for our slot, I was working with the drum tech on my set up which literally took 5 mins as I just played a 5 piece kit, unlike some of the bands who’d had double kits with cymbals and drums all over. I started playing this kit and someone from out front came running back and started shouting Stop playing, we can hear you out front. Saxon were on stage at the time!

Why did you leave the Tygers ? We only planned to play the one gig. Jess had no intentions of doing anything after that. Rob mentioned doing something but I don’t think anyone took it serious. We just went back to what we were doing, our day jobs, bands and waited for the release of the Live album.

 Check the official Tygers website for set list and album http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/discography.html

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What are you doing now ? I’m playing in a fantastic ‘50s rock n roll band called Ruby & The Mystery Cats with Ruby Soho (vocals) Ray Vegas (upright bass) and G-Man (guitar). I absolutley love it.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2019.

DEATH OR GLORY – interview with Danny McCormack bassist The Main Grains/The Wildhearts

First posted September 2017.

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I’m with Danny at his home in Newcastle and notice a black and white photo on the sitting room wall, it’s a picture of The Garricks Head pub in South Shields… ‘Yeah my Grandma Pat used to have it’. I remembered I had my first drink there when I was 16 year old. A pint of McKewan’s Scotch, after the first drink the froth covered the caterpillar growing on my top lip… ‘Yes it was a great pub sadly not there now. She used to have regular lock-in’s, the punters staying behind after hours for a few more drinks. A bloke with an accordian would be in, there was a piano player in the corner and we’d all be singing along with them. Smokey tunes, great times and wild night’s, yes, I can remember all that’.

21248455_865836183566147_6246856805401714556_oWhen living in London Danny McCormack was a member of The Wildhearts. During their…

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