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.