ALL FOR THE RECORD – with Jack Meille, vocalist with Tygers of Pan Tang

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Music is life. It showed me I could follow my passion and make it my job. I’m a lucky guy.

Is there a country you haven’t played that you would like to ? Australia! That would be a dream come true.

How did you get the job with the Tygers ? In the past I have been lucky not to have had to audition for a band. Firstly, I was contacted by a Swiss management company who said a British band are looking for a new singer. Without knowing the name of who it was, I sent my CV and recordings from the album released by my band Mantra. So when I got the confirmation it was the Tygers and they wanted to audition me, I said to myself ‘Why not? Let’s do the first and hopefully, only audition of your life’. I went to Darlington on November 4th 2004 ….and got the job!

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Is there a good balance of characters in the band ? It’s a five piece band and we all have different characters, more important, very different musical taste’s. This is a bonus but sometimes it’s not easy to combine everyone’s point of view on a song, if you know what I mean. We are all very passionate when it comes to Tygers songs.

You just recorded the new album, how did that go ? It was tough, but rewarding. We were force to delay the recording twice because we didn’t feel we were ready to record. It wasn’t an easy decision to take but the best. The 11 tracks on the new album are the best we could ever record. I know it sounds like a cliche, but after all the hard work, we’re all very proud of the result.

How did you get on with the producer and former Tyger, Fred Purser ? I personally enjoyed every moment spent in the studio with Fred. He is such a talented guy and made me feel at home. I only had 6 days to record, and believe me it’s not very much when you have to record 11 songs plus a couple of bonus tracks. But I made it and have to thank him for that. Also we discovered we have a passion for craft beers. So after recording we managed to ‘indulge’ drinking some really good ones.

Who were your early influences in music ? I love rock ‘n’ roll from Chuck Berry to Slayer but the first record that really blew me away was Dark Side of the Moon. I have memories of me, about 4 or 5 years old, listening constantly to ‘On The Run’. The first record I bought, or should I say I asked my father to buy was the Queen album A Night at the Opera. Still one of my favorite albums of all time. I’m a record collector – the boys in the band can confirm that – so you can find me at festivals looking at record stalls. When it comes down to singing, the choice would go to Robert Plant, early David Coverdale, Phil Mogg, Paul Rodgers…the list may go on and on.

What has been your best gig with the Tygers so far ? There has been a few. I always enjoy playing the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany. A memorable day was at a festival in Northern Spain where we played a great set and then had the pleasure to hang around with Cheap Trick, then saw the set by John Fogerty with Ty Tabor from King’s X.

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Have you got any gigs lined up for the new album release ? During November we are going to play the UK and Europe. Before that we play Dusseldorf with Diamond Head, Doro and Saxon on 26th October 2019. (Since this interview Saxon have been forced to postpone all upcoming gigs in 2019 due to frontman Biff Byford undergoing heart surgery. Get well soon Biff).

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

WHITE LINES – interview with Craig Ellis, drummer with Tygers of Pan Tang

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The Tygers have just shot a music video for the new single ‘White Lines’, how did that go ? The video shoot went well really, the location was Dynamix Extreme Skate Park in Gateshead. A fantastic place with lots of options for backgrounds to shoot in and around. Moving a six piece drum kit into three different areas was a pain in the a**e but worth it after seeing the superb screen captures on the cameras.

How did you get the job in the Tygers ? Robb had been working on some new material with an ex-Sergeant band member and two friends of mine were drafted in the play bass and guitar. The initial demos were cut together using a drum machine so when it came to the recording a live drummer was needed and my two friends suggested me. The end product of that recording was ‘Mystical’ in 2000 and I’ve been here ever since!

Even though I’d written lyrics and melodies previously in other bands, it wasn’t until our vocalist Jack joined the Tygers that I started to contribute. From day one there was a chemistry that has worked ever since.

Before gigs do you have a warm up routine ? Some stretching exercises, specifically arms and hands to loosen up and a mash-up of sticking exercises/rudiments to get comfortable. I don’t eat anything three hours before a show and if I’m going to have any alcohol, it’s after the show.

 How did you start on drums and who were your early influences ? I didn’t start playing drums until the age of fifteen but I’d been listening seriously to music from around nine or ten year old. My Dad had a reel to reel player and I was infatuated with not only the machine itself, but also the music the spools kicked out…Hendrix, Foghat, Lynard Skynard, Blue Oyster Cult and Led Zeppelin.

Programmes on the TV like Top of the Pops, The Tube and of course The Old Grey Whistle Test were like a drug, I never missed an episode! With the pocket money I saved, I bought vinyl. Even back then I had a varied collection of music as my tastes have always been eclectic, however, once I started playing drums, rock and metal was where I found my niche. Drummers such as Cozy Powell, John Bonham, Ian Paice, Bill Ward and Neil Peart and the bands they played in resonated with me hugely and have never left me.

Where I’m from, we were very fortunate to have venues including The Coatham Bowl in Redcar, Middlesbrough Town Hall, Crypt and Rock Garden and Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall. So I got to see almost all my favourite drummers and favourite bands.

Who were the first band you played for and what venues did you play ? My first cover band at around sixteen was called Overload. We played rock covers by Sabbath, Status Quo, Golden Earring, AC/DC etc in and around the Teesside/Cleveland area. There was a huge Working Men’s Club scene back then, which I played in most venues in the North East, in various cover bands. I’ve always had a passion for original music so I took every opportunity presented to me to work alongside musicians creating original music. From very early on I learned a great deal about the recording process both at home and in studios.

Have there been many memorable gigs with the Tygers ? There’s been quite a few Gary, in no particular order …The fact we were touring in South America and the audiences were insanely awesome was amazing but the night we played Carioca Club in São Paulo on Micky’s Birthday – the whole room sang Happy Birthday to him.

Japan Assault Festival was a humbling experience for this tub thumper from Teesside to have had the opportunity to travel to and perform in Japan to a crowd of people who were so pleased to see the Tygers. Supporting the Dead Daisies at the 02 Academy to a Newcastle home crowd who were just awesome.

The Spodek in Katowice, Poland is a venue that is an assault on the mind! Its incredible both inside and outside. We’ve been very lucky to have been invited back a few times to the incredible Bang Your Head festival in Balingen, Germany. Bully-On-Rocks Festival and Raismes Festival have been our most recent shows in France both with amazing audiences.

Belgium is a special place for the Tygers, we performed some of our very first shows there and met many wonderful people who have remained friends to this day and always do their utmost to get to the shows.

Have you any road stories you want to share ? Robb’s your man for the funny he stories, he collects them! But here goes a couple… When on tour in South America we took an internal flight and got split up throughout the plane. As we were disembarking there were shenanigans going on at the front of the plane. Robb and Gav were sat in the cockpit, Captains and Officers hats on, having a laugh and chat with the crew. Turns out the captain was a huge Tygers fan and invited them in!

Around twelve years ago, travelling to Belgium in what was then the bands tour bus we were badly rear-shunted by a delivery truck late at night on the A1M. We were all thrown around the cabin like rag dolls and the back end of the tour bus was a mess but, we limped on ‘because we had gigs to do!’ The rear footstep had been shoved so far down and as we went up the ramp to board the ferry, sparks were flying from it and the noise was horrendous.

At that same point we also discovered the steering was in a bad way too so we were gliding like a sail boat up the ramp. When it came to getting off the ferry the bus wouldn’t start but the ferry mechanics got us going! With the ignition now faulty at the end of almost every gig fans would give us a push to ‘bump-us-off’! Embarrassing but a laugh and main thing was, we did the shows.

The new album ‘Ritual’, did you feel recording went well ? Time is of the essence when it comes to Recording Studios because as the clock ticks away its costing money. But, you want to enjoy the experience and to do that it’s all about the preparation. Although writing the material for the album had begun over a year prior, regular, concentrated writing and rehearsal sessions started in January of this year right up to going into the studio in April.

During that time we would video and record everything for reference and when a song is complete I write out the drum notation so I get it completely under my skin. Both Jack and I write the lyrics and melodies to the majority of the songs and because of that I automatically absorb a songs structure. Because of the prior work put in, we each completed our parts in a very short time. What also makes for a good recording session is the engineer and studio, and Fred Purser at Trinity Heights made the whole thing an absolute pleasure throughout.

Will the Tygers be promoting the album ? Absolutely! We’ll be doing four, maybe even five, songs from the new album and featuring them in our November shows and from there on. There’ll be a selection of merchandise available supporting the release too. I’m particularly looking forward to gigging with the Festival sized backdrop we’ll have for those shows, the Ritual Mask in giant-size taking ownership of the stage!

What does music mean to you ? It pretty much makes my world go around Gary. I play music, I practise music, I write music and I teach music. It takes me mentally to a different state of mind and physically to many incredible places I likely wouldn’t get to see otherwise. I’m extremely lucky to be doing what I love.

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM – in conversation with Gav Gray bassist with Tygers of Pan Tang

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After their last album in 2016 and touring throughout Europe, the Tygers are back and about to release their new record ‘Ritual’. The second with the line-up of Jacko Meille, Robb Weir, Micky Crystal, Craig Ellis and Gav Gray….. Yes it was a lot of hard work, three months of prep, writing and arranging. So when we got into the studio we were ready for it. We knew we were gonna make a great album – and we have.

The band used Trinity Heights Studio in Newcastle, former guitarist with the Tygers, Fred Purser is owner and producer…..Yeah lovely bloke, we got on really well, he loved my tea and morning hugs (laughs) ! He would say to me during a take, ‘Try and play less hard’, so I tried, and then he`d say, ‘Nah, just play the way you do’. He had a plug in to pull it back in (laughs). Some of the lines I’d written and rehearsed with the lads sounded fine until the guitars were layerd. Being in a two guitar band sometimes requires that ‘less is more’ and most times that’s true, the bass doesn’t need to be too busy, just a really solid rhythm is all that is needed on a lot of hard rock songs. My thing has always been for the rhythm and timing over busy, it’s all about the one. I was never a practising musician, just a frustrated drummer !

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How did it go in the studio ? On day one we just set up, got some drum sounds, got comfortable and worked towards day two to have some drum and bass takes with guide guitars. This is how we do it. We will play the songs that have an easier approach, leaving the harder ones for later. Craig is in the live room. Me and Mick would be in the control room with Fred. We had worked on the songs for months so when it came time to record the song’s it didn’t take long. We were well prepared. Me and Craig (drummer) did a couple of the songs in one take as a drum n bass jam, which are on the album.

Robb added his guitar and Jackie flew in from his home in Italy on the last week of recording to do the vocals. It all worked well, everyone’s playing on the record is fantastic and because we were tight, the songs just came together as we expected.

The whole session and working with Fred was, for me, one of my best yet. It`s a great place to make a record.

How did the songs come together for the new album ? We each work on ideas at home doing demos and then take them into reheasal’s and work out how it`s all going to fit together. ‘This is the bridge, That’s good for a chorus’, Big riff intro`sort of thing and dissect the structures for each song until we have a rough arrangement. Then all the bit’s that make a song special, you fine tune them. When they get into the studio we play them through and maybe somebody make’s a mistake but sometimes that’ll work within the song – a nuanced piece, a happy accident really. When that happens, it’s a great feeling. That’s a great part of making music – just by playing, those accidents can become your favourite part of the song.

Do you write some songs just to be recorded in the studio ? No, all songs are wrote to play live. Whether or not we play all of them live is another thing. I don’t know any band who plays just for the studio and to be honest you should be able to play all your songs live.

How did you join the Tygers ? This latest run has been since 2011. But back in the ‘90s I originally met Jess Cox at a gig I was playing at the Riverside, Newcastle. He approached me after the gig, told me about owning Neat Records and having a few bands on his roster. He was looking for a bass player for future touring and recording. This was a big deal for me cos I was just playing around local bars on Tyneside. We met up and he mentioned Blitzkreig who I had heard of and I said yeah sounds good so I done that for a short while, doing a handful of shows and a festival in America.

Then Jess wanted to get the Tygers back together, this was 1999. Robb Weir was already in and me and Chris Percy the drummer came as a rhythm section cos we had bounced together from band to band. I said to Jess he (Chris) was really solid and will kill it. And he did. Then a guy you interviewed not long ago, Glenn Howes was brought in on guitar. We rehearsed for a couple of months in the Off Quay buildings near The Cluny in Newcastle then went off to Germany to play the Wacken Festival in front of 10,000 people. The biggest gig of my life at the time.

But when we got back to the UK there was some bitterness within the band and it ended, it’s the way it goes sometimes. But Jess had always been good to me and got me a lot of gig’s. I think around that time I must have been in about 3 bands on his roster.

Then out of the blue I got a call from The Almighty. They were a big name so what ya gonna do eh ! I turned them down haha! I was fed up with the music scene and wanted out. It wasn’t til a few months later I came home from a night out and my girlfriend told me that the Almighty management had been on the phone again. I thought, hell, why not, it’s what I wanted to do so jumped on a bus down to Oxford after learning 5 songs, talked to the band, played a bit and got the job. Loved my time there but unfortunately only lasted about 18 months cos the band were dropped from the label.

A couple of years later Ricky ends up in Thin Lizzy, he’s a great bloke and I still keep in touch with him. In fact he just got the Tygers the gig supporting Saxon in the Dusseldorf Arena. He called me up and said ‘Can the Tygers do it ? I talked with the rest of the band and our manager and agreed it would be great for us to play in front of 7,000 people just before we release our new album.

(Since this interview Saxon have been forced to postpone all upcoming gigs in 2019 due to frontman Biff Byford undergoing heart surgery. Get well soon Biff).

In the Tygers live set the band play a few songs from their first album Wildcat…..Love playing those songs from the first album, it’s my favourite, there was just something about it. It’s got a great, dirty sound – it’s got attitude, and Robb wrote song’s from the heart. When it was released in ’79 they were just out of the punk explosion and ‘Insanity’ was one of my favourite songs. Around that time I went to see local bands Fist, Hellanbach and Angelic Upstarts in South Shields. The first single I bought was Hanging on the Telephone by Blondie, still one of my favourite ever songs. Then I saw Lemmy on Top of the Pops and thought ‘That’s what I wanna do’.

It wasn’t until I was 21 when I started playing bass in bands. Everyone wanted to be a guitar hero so I thought that if I buy a bass I might get a gig haha. I played along to my favourite records for a year and just wanted to join some band’s, have a laugh, have a beer and just have some fun playing. Being from South Shields I started looking around the Tyneside, Sunderland and Washington areas to get a few gigs. That’s where I joined a band called The Junkies around ‘89/90. That was my first band and first gig.

Are you looking forward to the new album release in November ? Yeah, the record company will set the exact date. The mix is now finished by Soren Anderson he worked on our last album. Harry Hess will be mastering it again, making it as fat and big a sound as you possibly can – basically sprinkling fairy dust on it (laughs). Finally it goes to print so yeah the record company will have a date soon. I’m just really looking forward to hearing the final tracks cos we worked so hard on that album. I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we really feel it is one of the Tygers best albums.

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

LIVE IN JAPAN with Rick Bouwman, main man with Dutch Metal Maniacs, MARTYR

Martyr were active for 5 years during the ‘80s recording two albums and appearing on compilation albums released by Roadrunner and Metal Blade. They reformed in 2001, played the European metal circuit and recorded new material. Extensive road work gained a strong fan base leading to a Japanese tour in 2017. When Rick got in touch I asked him what have the band been up to since we last spoke in April 2017….We mainly focused on supporting the ‘You Are Next’ album by playing many live shows in Europe. Also the album was released in Japan followed by a tour in the Land Of The Rising Sun after our big 35th anniversary show in Autumn 2018. A dream come true as we are very much influenced by Japanese metal.

In 2018 we just kept on touring and didn’t cancel one show. We also signed a 2 album contract, there was a 2nd tour in Japan and we released our Live In Japan album over here on Pt78 records and in Japan on Rock Stakk Records with an official Japanese release.

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Have there been any changes to the MARTYR line-up ? Normally I would say that it was unfortunate we had some line-up changes but it has turned out for the better. Our current members are really into the style we are developing now, have spirit that we need in the band and are very creative when it comes to their instruments and songwriting. True metalheads too.

Current line up is Rop van Haren (vocals) Rick Boumann (guitars) Rick Valcon (drums) Vinnie Wassink (bass) and Geoffrey Maas (guitars).

Have you mellowed with age ? Hell NO !! Listen to our Live in Japan album, the songs are being performed heavier than ever. Old classic tunes like ‘Speed of Samurai’ and ‘Snow and Fire’ are sounding again like they are supposed to. And the new material we are currently writing, I promise you, will be heavy and more developed than our previous work.

What was the fans reaction in Japan ? The Japanese fans are so awesome. They treat you with so much respect as musicians, are very loyal, buy all the merch at the stand and just love to make pictures of everything you do (laughs).

So far we toured Japan twice, and I must say to perform a song like ‘Speed Of Samurai’ in Japan which is in fact a tribute to Japanese metal written in 1984, is very special to us. Besides the fans reaction to our music, Japan is a beautiful, crazy country and the people are so very lovely and friendly. We love it.

Can you see Martyr going back there ? For sure. We’ve had many requests to return. We have released ‘Live In Japan’ officially over there and are already making plans to hopefully return in 2020.

What have you got planned for the future ? First of all we’ll do our live shows, festivals and headlining club shows, also supporting Exciter and other bands. We’ll perform in Germany, Holland, Belgium, UK and Austria for sure and are working on more dates. We are aiming for more festivals in 2020.

Also we are in the writing process for a new album that we are aiming to release in 2020. Very soon a new live video from one of the shows in Japan will be released and for touring as I said we hope to return to Japan, with China and Australia in future plans.

For bookings contact MARTYR at:

info@wayland-management.nl  or  info@martyronline.nl

Official websites:

www.martyronline.nl

https://www.facebook.com/MARTYRONLINE

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

ROOT TWO AMPLIFICATION with owner and Geordie guitarist, Steve Dawson

‘The electric guitar is still the coolest instrument  and there will always be a market for amps, albeit boutique in my case as opposed to mass production, but who knows what might happen’.

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It’s a warm summer day and the town hall clock chimes as I enter a large terraced house (pre-Victorian) on Beach Road in South Shields. I’m here to meet Steve Dawson in his workshop and find out more about his business….I’ve been working on amps for more than 40 years. I started tinkering with them in the ‘70s, then privately repairing and modifying them throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. I ended up working for Marshall from 2005-14 as an electronic design engineer. I designed and brought out some highly regarded amps in my time there, such as the ‘Astoria range’, ‘Class 5’, the ‘Vintage Modern’, ‘JMD range’ as well as various reissues from their back catalogue like the Hendrix ‘Super100JH’ and 2012 anniversary ‘Bluesbreaker’ and more.

When did you start Root Two ? I started in August 2015. I believe it’s going to take a good 4 to 5 years to get properly established in repairing, servicing, modifying and upgrading amplifiers and working on the electronics in guitars. Many people still think I work for Marshall!

Are you happy with the way the business has developed so far? I’ve clocked up over 300 customers in four years so I’m doing alright. It’s a sustainable business despite this current economic climate…although I won’t be taking any holidays in Hawaii just yet (laughs).

Have you got any future plans for Root Two? When I’m up to altitude I’ll start producing new products I have already designed.

I’ve been talking to an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) who will build the design and take care of that side. I’m thinking of contacting a few other people who I hope will be interested in getting involved in the project, especially the promotion side. That’s my goal, as well as repairing and servicing etc. because it’s a tough world out there and being able to offer a few things will work out better.

I’ve got a good reputation all over the world from my days at Marshall with a lot of people familiar with the amps I designed, which is worth its weight in gold when I bring out my own product.

Scrolling through the Root Two Facebook page I come across messages left by satisfied customers….

I have an old Watkins Westminster amp which was in need of some TLC. Steve serviced and repaired this amp and I was in contact every step of the way. I am extremely happy with the results and the costs were very reasonable. I fully recommend Steve and will contact him again if I have any problems with my electrical equipment. (Tommy Scott)

My Bugera amp went in dead and came back alive as a spring chicken. Steve is a very knowledgeable and amenable chap with a professionalism, heritage and CV that some can only dream about. I whole-heartedly recommend Root Two for any service/fix/mod/upgrade. (Andrew McCann)

A very fast and efficient service at a reasonable price. Steve understands the importance of getting your gear repaired as soon as possible for your gigs. His enthusiasm comes across about his passion for music and for this reason you’re guaranteed to get your equipment a full MOT before it leaves the workshop. Can’t thank him enough for the excellent job he did on my gear and the professional service I received. (Chris Banderas)

We had a PA problem with our LD Maui 28 line array system. Took it to the Aladdin’s cave that is Root Two’s workshop. Steve worked his magic on what had been a manufacturing problem of several dry joints. He was meticulous, diligent, persistent and an all-round good guy. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without him. Thanks also to Newcastle’s GuitarGuitar shop for their recommendation. It’s not until you get problems that you appreciate dealing with excellent local businesses. (Tim Brown)

Contact Steve at Root Two Amplification on 07931 359 364

Or on the official website: root-two.co.uk

email info@root-two.co.uk

facebook.com/root2two

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

CENTRE STAGE in conversation with North East entertainer Pete Peverly

 

Have you ever had a real job ? I’ve never done a day’s work in my life as me da’ would say (laughs). I’ve never worked in a bar, or had a day job, there were times when I maybe should have. It’s tough not knowing when or if the next job is coming. I’ve always earned enough. I’m not rich but I’ve got a house, a family, 4 kids. I’ve managed. When things have got tough I’ve tried busking a few times, and that get’s you your £25 or so in really difficult times. I’ve had some great jobs, I keep positive and always have something nice to look forward too. Keep optimistic is how to go on.

In the 80s did you watch live music show The Tube ? Yes definitely. I look back at clips of the show on You Tube and there is a fantastic one of Madonna before she broke, she’s dancing and miming to one of her songs and there’s loads of Geordies standing watching her with their arms folded. You know whats this, whos she sort of thing (laughs).

One night I had a ticket to see Ozzy Osbourne at Newcastle Mayfair and beforehand he was on The Tube. I watched it with me dad and Ozzy can be a bit ropey singing live. Well me da’ said How much did yapay to see him ! (laughs). I remember watching a show with the Tygers of Pan Tang and Twisted Sister, I was still at school and on that night we had a rock disco and a heavy metal band playing. It was wow you know. Loved it.

When I started working on dramas in Tyne Tees TV it was great to just be in the same studio where all those iconic performances happened.

When were you at Tyne Tees ? It was the early ‘90s. I had trained as an actor at Newcastle College from ’88 -’90 and there was quite a lot of TV and theatre happening in the region. Writers were working, Byker Grove was starting and a season of new dramas were scheduled so I ended up doing a couple of those. They were like period crime dramas and some were filmed at Beamish Museum. I done a few seasons on Byker Grove, a few days here and there on Emmerdale and Spender but TV’s not something I’ve been able to get a foothold in because I got really busy with theatre. I was with the Northern Stage Ensemble for 15 years, working on big tours for months at a time rather than being a jobbing actor getting work here and there. That’s the choice I made while being a jobbing actor has worked well for others.

 

In 2004 I was at a Sunday for Sammy concert at Newcastle City Hall and you performed a tribute to Bobby Thompson. How did that come about ? A bunch of friends got together and formed the Red and White Theatre Company and we produced a musical about Bobby’s life. We were young and looking back we might cringe a bit (laughs). We toured it around clubs and community venues and we were nominated for a Northern Arts award in 1990. We appeared on the  Northern Arts awards show. It was hosted by Melvyn Bragg in Tyne Tees studio.

Previous to that we put together a show about the history of Sunderland and in that I performed a tribute to Bobby. It was very popular so that’s where the idea came from to do a musical about his life. For research we met Bobby’s family, it was just after he died, and started a friendship with Keith his son.

How is the show received by the family ? Bobby had two sons. Sadly Michael passed away about 5 years ago but Keith supports it fully. I always ask him about any new stuff going into the show, it’s important to let him know what I’m up to with his Dad’s memory.

Do you think the Bobby Thompson story would travel to audiences around the country ? I’m putting together a short project for the Tyne Idols bus tours around Newcastle so I’ve been thinking about the whole Bobby story again and his accent wasn’t just Geordie it was Pitmatic. That’s very strong and yes it was a barrier but one of the reasons why he didn’t make it outside the region was because I think he didn’t want to, he had everything up here. He might have had more ambition in the early part of his career when he was doing Wot Cheor Geordie for the BBC. Maybe he thought about pushing it further but certainly not during the ‘70s.

All of the other regional comics and entertainers who made it nationally were all- rounders, actors, comedians, song and dance men, Bobby wasn’t. He was a pit comedian from the Durham coalfields talking specifically to that community.

Over the years the tribute show has been very popular but lately the audiences are not there as much now, they are getting much older. He will survive in North East culture as The Little Waster, just like Cushy Butterfield and all those characters, but as for a modern audience I haven’t got the skills as a comedy writer to create strong enough material to bring him up to the modern era. Somebody could do that, the last Sunday for Sammy concert, with the help of writers Jason Cook and Steffen Peddie, we had him as an angel talking about modern day stuff like Brexit and Donald Trump. So who knows it might work.

How did you start in entertainment ? My dad was in bands playing the clubs so I just got into playing in bands when I was a teenager. There was a brilliant scene down at Washington Arts Centre of a music collective, a vibrant theatre group and talented writers. So as well as being a musician I got involved in theatre and really enjoyed it. But it was like spinning plates, I was making a living playing music in the clubs and enjoying the theatre side of things.

In the end I decided to go to college and do drama because in 1988, I got invited for a month to perform in the Furness Mystery plays at Furness Abby in Barrow and really enjoyed, it so that swung it for me. Still kept my hand in playing in bands and after finishing the course I got my first job at Live Theatre.

Who were you listening to when you were younger ? In my teens I was playing guitar and it was rock music, typical ‘80s stuff like Ozzy, Y&T, Journey but then started learning other instruments like clarinet so went through a sort of Jazz phase. Then harmony stuff like The Beatles and The Eagles, today I like a bit of modern country music that’s out now. As a songwriter I try to listen to modern stuff to see what’s going on. Music has always been there and I write, record and perform today.

What made you want to play guitar ? When I was young I wanted to play the drums. I’d mime along with knitting needles to War of the Worlds (laughs). But then I heard Queen and Brian May’s guitar had an amazing sound. The big ‘Brighton Rock guitar solo with the echo’s. I just fell in love with it.

Who was your first gig ? AC/DC in ’82 at Newcastle City Hall. For Those About to Rock tour when they played 3 nights. But I remember seeing Gary Moore around ’84 and he had a sideman called I think Neil Carter. He played guitar, keyboards, backing vocals, he was really good and I thought that looks a good gig. He done loads of sessions with other musicians and bands, I thought that would be great working with lots of different people. So subconsciously that’s always been there so that’s why I do lots of different projects now.

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That can keep you ticking over….Yes when the theatre work slackens off I can jump into playing working men’s clubs and do acoustic gigs. Last year was a good run on theatre work with various jobs around the country then back up north at the Theatre Royal for panto. Next year I have a big tour with a show called Once the Musical.  It’s the first time it’s toured the UK since its West End run 4 years ago.  It’s playing Newcastle Theatre Royal in June 2020

There are actor/muso shows happening now which are popular in theatres where actors play the instruments. Colleges have added specific courses now to specialise in this type of performance so the players are now at such a good standard.

Do you think theatre is still a big gamble though ? Yes you have to duck and dive, it’s hard to make a living, it’s not easy. I’ve done a bit drama teaching in collages and  community groups with young and older people, that’s rewarding, but you have to be dedicated to do it. Luckily it’s worked for me although at my age I couldn’t do much else now (laughs).

I was an audience member of live music show The Tube filmed in Tyne Tees studio. After a few weeks I noticed the camera, lights and stage set ups and thought I would love to be involved in something like this. Have you had moments that you can look back on that have affected your life in a big way ? Yes they happen without you realising it at the time. Those big moments in your life are only realised years later. That big year for me in theatre, 2018, they do happen but you have to be ready for them. There has been opportunities in the past which haven’t worked out but I think I wasn’t ready for them. You’ve got to learn to take the opportunities.

Around 30 year ago I was in a darkroom working on a black and white picture that I had taken, I saw the image on the photographic paper coming through the chemicals and thought it was magic. Have you had any magic moments ?  This sounds horrible and pretentious so forgive me because I’ve read accounts from actors who’ve said things like this and I thought What a wanker. (laughs)

I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company for 3 years and you get understudy roles. I was on a production of Romeo and Juliet in Stratford and was playing Friar Lawrence.  Understudies get a full run as well. So we were playing to a full house and I was going full throttle Shakespearean actor, giving it the welly and I had that feeling that I’d read about, the wanker actors sayingI was shaking with emotion, with those words, how they were coming out, they were just so’. You know how pretentious is that. But it did happen to me. It really was an amazing moment.

Last year I did a show called Beyond the End of the Road with the company November Club, touring village hall’s in Northumberland. Stripped back stage, a couple of lights, I mean where’s the glamour in that ? (laughs). But we had some really amazing moments on that tour. The sharing of telling stories is really magic no matter where you are. It doesn’t have to be profile job that gives you that magic.

 

Another time was when I put together a Playhouse Theatre band for one evening.  One of our guests was Brian Johnson from AC/DC. He was there with the late Brendon Healy and Paul Thompson, who was the drummer from Roxy Music. I had just worked with Brian on the Sunday for Sammy concert and when he arrived he was very complimentary about the band which was nice.  Later in the evening he said ‘Pete I might fancy getting up and doing a couple of songs with ya’ if you don’t mind‘. Wow! Absolutely! So towards the end of the night Brian, Brendon and Paul got up. It was a rock and roll dream come true to play with Brian ‘Johnna‘ Johnson from AC/DC. The first band I’d seen live. Amazing!

Have you had any nightmare moments on stage ? I think we’ve all had moments on stage when we’ve thought we’d rather not be there. I was doing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in London in 2012, I was having a bad time cos I lost my dad not long before that. You’ve got to go on and do the biz tho’. Audiences have paid for it.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve had some great times but the working men’s clubs can be tough. Sometimes you think it’s not where you planned to be, but you have to be disciplined enough to give it your best it terms of your vocals and sound, production. You can just be tired or have a cold, or it’s a Sunday night gig after a long week and in your darkest moment you think I’m 50 I don’t wanna be here, but you are so you have to deliver.

Have you noticed the changes to working mens clubs ? I played the clubs in the ‘80s and saw the changes when I came back around 2007. They are still changing now. I played the Whitley Bay Comrades club last Sunday afternoon. People don’t want to be out on the night now, they have the bingo on, an entertainer, yeah it’s good.

Have you any last thoughts ? As you get older you value the good times even more.  Working in theatre you more often than not are working with amazing people.  The company becomes like a family. Those jobs might not come around again for a couple of years so you have to make the most of them. The Stratford job was great but I was away from home for 3 years but my kids came down for holidays and loved it. You value those times.

Contact Pete on the official website:

petepev.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

NO ORDINARY JOE – in conversation with Alan Fish former guitarist with WHITE HEAT

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Who was the first band you saw ? My first band was Ten Years After in 1971/72 at Newcastle City Hall, supported by Supertramp. It was a fantastic gig with Alvin Lee ‘the fastest guitar player in the world’. He had just come off the back of playing at Woodstock. I had an instant connection to the blues and rock music. I used to go to the match, Newcastle United, and have that feeling of disappointment when we got beat. But going to gigs at the City Hall was a lot more positive outcome to spending my pocket money (laughs). First game I went to was a European game against Feyenoord and we won the Fairs cup that season, I didn’t think it was going to be all downhill from there.

When did you first start playing in bands ? I first started playing in club bands doing covers, I was still at school. We played a lot of night club gigs on the chicken in a basket scene supporting bigger bands like The Fortunes and The Casuals, who were sort of one hit wonder bands. But these were ‘60s bands on the way down really.

There were hundreds of clubs so if you were a competent musician who could put a band together, play some songs off the radio, there was plenty work out there. I ended up playing Thursday night, Friday night, two gigs on a Saturday and a Sunday night. But your gear was expensive, a Les Paul guitar in 1979 was around £300 and I was never away from Mortons in Newcastle having my amp’s repaired.

But one thing about the clubs is the more you played they more you learned a discipline and etiquette. First set not too loud and if you didn’t hit the level of acceptance you would be paid off. And you had to dismantle your gear in full view of the audience with the Concert Chairman telling everyone ‘We’ve paid them off (laughs)’. So by the time I was 19 I was so ready to play in an original band.

How did the job with White Heat come about ? There was a 4 piece band called Hartbraker very much a Zeppelin/Free rock sound and they were playing to young people, and playing loud. They were essentially a Bry Younger band, a vehicle for his prodigious guitar playing. I had been offered a tour of Germany playing American Army Bases with the club band, I wasn’t keen. One night we were playing at the Guildhall and Bry Younger from Hartbraker came in and asked if I would be interested in joining the band. That was a lifeline for me really. This was time to explore my song writing abilities and the band were receptive to that.

Opportunity never comes to the front door it always comes to the side or the back door. Just always have your radar ready. It’ll be something innocuous, it’ll not be a certain thing but it’ll lead you onto the next step.

Line up for Hartbraker was Bry Younger (guitar) Col Roberts (bass) John Miller (drums) Bob Smeaton (vocals) Alan Fish (guitar). White Heat had the same line up with Alan adding backing vocals and when John Miller took a break, George Waters stepped in on drums.

Bands like Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and The Boomtown Rats were around and for some gigs we used to throw in a Small Faces cover into the set. The sound was changing from the blues/rock of Hartbraker so we changed the name to White Heat.  Bob was a big fan of James Cagney so he took the name from his film. This was around the time of New Wave and everything fitted as we shortened the guitar breaks, sharpened everything up and Bob’s lyrics fitted great.

 

How were the song writing duties shared around the band ? In White Heat it was very cut and dried. Out of the band frontman Bob Smeaton had most to say. He had a more challenging life to us and had more to shout about. He would give me a load of lyrics I would leaf through and find bits that could be formulated into songs. I had a gift for melody and you can hear a lot of it in the instrumentation. That would leave space for Bob to have a go at what’s wrong with society (laughs).

Did you play any gigs with name bands ?  If there was a big band in Newcastle at the Mayfair or the City Hall that needed an opener we would be one of the bands who would be contacted. At the last minute we got a call to support Judas Priest at the City Hall. We got on well with them so they asked us to stay on the tour. That was exciting playing to those audiences even though we weren’t exactly the same genre there was a crossover there. The sound crew said ‘You’re going down really well, we know your songs next gig we’ll have it nailed’. But we didn’t get the next gig as another band from the same label as Priest were called in.

What were your highlights from being in White Heat ? As an up and coming band we played the Bedrock Festival and it was a fantastic gig people told us we were the highlight and we picked up management from that gig. Local businessman Brian Mawson said to us ‘I’ll get you in the studio, on the radio, tv’ and he came good on these claims. He ran Rubber Records and was involved with Windows musical instrument and record shop in Newcastle. When somebody else puts faith in you it supercharges it, it was a pivotal moment.

Back in the late ‘70s getting in a studio was a difficult thing, it was an absolute fortune but one of the best thing’s we wrote was the first thing we recorded in Impulse Studios, Wallsend. It was a precise pop song, short and snappy, it was ‘Nervous Breakdown’. That got airplay and John Peel made it his record of the week. It started peaking the interest of record companies. Virgin finally signed us in 1980.

One of your songs ‘Bad Jokes’ has a New York Dolls feel to it. Is that a band you listened to ? Not me. I loved The Who and The Kinks. Maybe Bob was a Johnny Thunders fan (laughs).

 

White Heat called it a day in 1982 and Tyne Tees TV filmed the last ever gig for a 30 minute documentary. What was the atmosphere like around the band knowing it was coming to an end ? It was a really good atmosphere and there was a big sense of relief. For a number of years we were fully committed and chasing the big deal, but towards the end there was an air of desperation when Virgin dropped us. That was a big disappointment because we knew it would be very difficult to get signed again. When you have been signed and then dropped, you still have the debt. So for a second record company to come in and sign you they have to buy you out of your previous deal. That’s not going to happen.

When we made the decision to call it a day we all collectively breathed a sigh of relief. We had put everything into it and it was time to regroup. I remember telling the lad’s that was it for me. They were originally a four piece before I joined so I thought they would go back to doing that. But I was surprised they were having the same thoughts about leaving and glad I jumped first. We left in a constructive fashion because we had good support from management and Geoff Wonfor from Tyne Tees. People had put a lot of time and energy into us and we wanted to go out with a bit of a statement.

Brian Mawson set up our last hurrah at The Mayfair and said let’s finish on a friendly basis and go forward on a friendly basis. I liked that. I can talk calmly about it now but when you are young you think your world is falling apart. There is an amount of rage and uncertainty. So looking back it’s a good thing as a band we stepped away from it calmly.

Having a half hour programme broadcast is big exposure, was there not a thought that an agent might pop in with an offer ? There might have been a small amount of that but the concept of the show was a band in it’s final stages….but you never know (laughs).

Did you make any plans what to do after the band  ? The time you invest and the fact you are paralysed by poverty for want of a better expression, I had to get working again. I was offered a few interesting music projects but wasn’t interested. Fortunately I got a job off shore as an Electrical Engineer in the Petro Chemical Industry. The money was ok and it was a chance to get back pretty even you know. I was taking my guitar off shore I learnt harmonica and we had a bit of a band out there.

Then I heard from my song writing partner in White Heat, Bob Smeaton, he had got a small deal with a spin off company from Virgin called Static. He said I need some songs so I left the rigs and we ended up in 10CC’s studio in Surrey.

I was there only as a songwriter, we didn’t have a band. I was looking for a niche in the music industry just as a songwriter and I’d be happy with that. Unfortunately nothing materialised but we got a call from Geoff Wonfor who was putting together a programme for Channel Four featuring up and coming acts called ‘Famous for Fifteen Minutes’. That’s what led to the formation of a band called The Loud Guitars.

 

Have you any road stories from your time in White Heat ? When we recorded at Townhouse Studio in Shepherds Bush it was Virgins residential studio and there was another band there. It was the time just after Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne was getting Blizzard of Oz together. Randy Rhoades was there, he was a phenomenal guitar player. Ozzy came in the studio to listen to one of our sessions ‘I love you guys you’re great’ he said. He was with Sharon his girlfriend and manager, she was delighted that Ozzy had found someone to play with, not musically just to get him out of her hair (laughs).

We used to go out for a few drinks together, there were no airs or graces he just liked a good drink and a laugh. We’d go back to the residential and he’d be in the best suite, Sharon would be there and order in a Chinese meal cos she recognised we were skint and starving so they looked after us quite well. We used to distract them so we could pinch their booze out of the cupboard. One morning Ozzy came into the studio and said in his Brummie accent ‘Ere lads we must have had a good session last night cos there’s no booze left in me cupboard’ (laughs).

By coincidence we met Sharon’s dad, Don Arden. Years after White Heat split up we were offered a decent amount of money to play a comeback gig at the Exhibition Park in Newcastle. Aswad, Haircut 100 were on and a few others plus us as a local band who went down a storm. After the gig in our trailer in walks this bull like character dripping with gold and says ‘Lads I’m gonna sign you. Meet me at The Gosforth Hotel for breakfast and bring any contracts you’ve got’. We didn’t tell him this was a one off gig but we were interested in what he had to say. But in the end we didn’t get breakfast cos when he looked at the contracts he said he would be throwing good money after bad. ‘Right Alan’ he said ‘You’re stuffed no one will buy you out of this’.

What type of record contract did the band have ? Brian Mawson was still managing us but we obviously had Virgin representation from Richard Draper. The actual record deal was £70,000 and the publishing deal was £40,000. Virgin put a lot of money into us.  What I do know is the money went quickly (laughs). We made a lot of naïve mistakes. We spent more on recording than The Police did on their third album.

White Heat were a really good live band. That’s where we built our reputation. The chemistry between the members contributed to that. But that’s not good enough for the industry cos you are signing a recording deal. You’ve got to make the transition from live to recording. We failed to do that. The money that went into it, it just wasn’t good enough.

Part two of this interview will be posted soon, Alan will be talking about what he is doing now and another few road stories from his time in White Heat.

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

YOU KNOW IT’S ONLY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – in conversation with current Geordie guitarist Steve Dawson

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How did the Geordie reformation come about? Peter Barton from ‘Rock Artist Management’, who handled The Animals when I was a member during the ’90s and early 2000’s, called me and asked, ‘What are the Geordie guys up to these days?’ I told him I wasn’t sure, but said I’d have a word with Tom Hill (original bass player) to see if he was up for a reformation. Tom was interested, but said we’ll need a singer who can handle the dynamics and range of original vocalist Brian Johnson, now of course with AC/DC. Both bands occupy the same stable and play in the same keys (laughs).

I last saw Brian Johnson on TV interviewing fellow musicians on ‘Life on the Road’. A great show including an episode with Dolly Parton who revealed she wrote ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Jolene’ in the same session. Kerching. Back to Geordie. Johnna might be a bit busy for this job?  Indeed. We went to see a few local guys but didn’t really feel we’d found a match for what we required. It’s not an easy gig to sing. Then Peter came up with this guy from Lancashire called Mark Wright, now an honorary Geordie (laughs). He was singing in Bon, an AC/DC tribute band. Peter sent us a link to some YouTube videos. We weren’t immediately convinced. However, Peter was and persuaded us to come down to Clitheroe, to audition Mark with four songs of our choosing, at his expense. Just to have a run through, see what we thought in the flesh as it were. We were shocked how good it sounded, and so relieved we didn’t judge Mark on the YouTube videos alone (laughs).

So,now suitably convinced, Tom got in touch with Brian Gibson (original drummer) to see if he wanted to be part of this new venture. Brian said he was happy to step behind the drum kit once again. We did our first rehearsal and the band sounded great from the get-go.

Was original guitarist Vic Malcolm interested in the reformation? We got in touch with Vic in Cyprus and asked, if it became practical in the future, would he be interested in joining in with live work. He declared that some annoying health issues meant he couldn’t commit to that but would be on board for any new writing and recording. That was great as he was the main songwriter. He’s still a prolific songwriter to this day.

We’ve already started writing new material because we don’t just want to keep trading on Geordie’s back catalogue alone. We want to avoid the nostalgia trap.

How did you set about working in Geordie? I was already familiar with their music, just good old rock n roll, classic rock, simple hooks. It’s all about capturing that magical vibe. Really enjoyable to play, with some great tongue in cheek ‘70s lyrics which are of their time. Much of today’s music can be a bit serious, sometimes people want songs to distract them from the stark reality of life.

What type of venues are you looking to play? We’re looking at festivals, theatres and typical rock music venues. These days, package tours are very popular, so we’re looking in that direction as well. That sort of thing would be great, as getting on something like that would expose us to other bands’ fans. In Germany they’re still very much into bands like Geordie and welcome them with open arms. It’s a shame the band stopped playing a while back, as it takes a concerted effort to get the wheels in motion again. We just need to get out there and show what we can do.

We booked a gig at The Cluny a few months ago, and we asked Dee Dowling from Ginger Music Company in Pelaw, where we were rehearsing, to come along and record it. The intention was to put together a promo package. We had the backdrop, photographer, merch, the lot. It was a fantastic gig and the money we made from it paid for everything. We’ve just released the promo video, because it’s very difficult to get gigs on the circuit we’re aiming for, if you don’t have any kind of professional package to sell yourself. After only one month it’s had thousands of views on social media so it’s doing its job. We are very pleased with how it turned out.

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Can you remember watching music programmes broadcast on Tyne Tees Television, like Alright Now and The Tube?  Yeah, both those programmes. I think Alright Now was presented by Chris Cowey and Lynn Spencer. I remember The Geordie Scene more than Alright Now. That was around 1973-75 and I think it was the first music programme from the Tyne Tees stable. I saw many local bands on there as well as the popular bands of the day and it was the first time I saw Dr Feelgood, who were very impressive.

What does music mean to you?  I’ve always had a major passion for music. I lost my dad when I was 12, so throughout my teens I was on my own because my mother had to go out and work as a barmaid. Music got me through all that. I totally immersed myself in playing the guitar. I still have a passion for playing and could quite happily do it for a living again.

Ironically, these days I seldom enjoy just listening to music. I rarely have music on the radio in the house or car and hardly ever listen to CD’s or albums at home. I’d rather just play music. I think it’s been so long since I heard anything that inspired me.

The last time I remember being affected by something I heard, was back in the early ‘90s with The Black Crowes. Their first album had just come out, it sounded really organic, what I would call a proper performance recording, not a layered production like a Def Leppard sort of thing. But yeah, nothing’s really turned my head since in terms of an epiphanic moment (laughs).

Are you looking forward to any gigs this year? In January this year we played ‘The Giants of Rock’ in Minehead and the ‘Rock and Blues Festival’ in Skegness and we really stormed both of those, we did the business. This confirmed what we already felt about the band. There were a lot of reviews from the press and punters raving about us.

We’re currently talking to journalists in London about which venues to play down there and in particular, which ones are best for getting the band exposure. It’s hard to get gigs, you can’t just turn up and expect a crowd. You’ve got to do the groundwork first.

Contact details:

geordiebandofficial@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/geordiebandofficial/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y57t79VYvwc

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

KEEP ON ROCKIN’ with Tom Hill, bassist with reformed Newcastle band GEORDIE

It’s 1980 and do you really need to know what happened to Brian Johnson ? ‘Nutbush City Limits’ was his audition song for a band he only knew the initials of. He backed the black. And won.

Rewind to ‘72 and with a line up of Vic Malcolm (guitar) Brian Johnson (vocals) Brian Gibson (drums) and Tom Hill (bass) Geordie released their first single ‘Don’t Do That’ and broke into the UK Top 40. 

By ’73 the debut album ‘Hope You Like It’ was recorded for EMI. The same year included two UK hit’s ‘All Because of You’ and ‘Can You Do It’ with appearances on Top of the Pops. Everything’s gaan canny.

Competing with glam rockers Sweet and Slade the band went through some upheaval, Johnson left, Dave Ditchburn came in on vocals and there was a Geordie mark II performing. By the early ‘80s a new Geordie album was released on Neat records but without any major success they changed their name to ‘Powerhouse’. Hoping to change their fortune, they took another throw of the dice and with a new line up released an album, but eventually called it a day in 1986.

Original member Tom Hill remembers how  Geordie first got together… Well it was Vic Malcolm who approached me to join a band he was putting together, but I told him the band I was playing in at that time was better. So Vic came to a rehearsal, heard the band and agreed (laughs). The members in that band were me on bass, Brian Gibson on drums, Brian Johnson, vocals and Ken Brown on guitar. Not long after, Ken left and Vic joined. We named the band USA and away we went. We got signed and changed the name to Geordie. This was late 72. We ended up playing all over the world Australia, Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, all over.

Who were your early influences ? That would have been The Beatles to start with then got into Zeppelin, Deep Purple and bands of that genre.

Who were your first band and what venues did you play ? My first proper working band was with Brian Gibson on drums, we worked together since we were kids. We done the Northern circuit of working men’s clubs and night clubs.

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How did the new version of Geordie get together ? It all came together nicely really. Steve Dawson came in on guitar. Me and Brian Gibson wanted to work together again so that was good and Mark Wright joined on vocals. An agent called Pete Barton pulled it all together. The band started rehearsing and it’s sounding tremendous.

What’s the plan for Geordie ? We are working really hard on projects with the agent trying to get bookings in Rock Clubs, Festivals and any country in the world that wants to rock.

What does music mean to you ? Music has always played a big part in my life and has given me a great deal of pleasure. And I’m hoping it’s going to continue.

The 2019 version of Geordie is Steve Dawson (guitar) Mark Wright (vocals) with original members Brian Gibson (drums) and Tom Hill (bass).

 Contact details:

geordiebandofficial@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/geordiebandofficial/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y57t79VYvwc

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

RUNNING MAN in conversation with Lindisfarne drummer, Ray Laidlaw

We’re in Tyneside Cinema Café in Newcastle talking about the blog….’I put it together because we all like hearing musician’s stories’. Ray fires back Do drummers count ? ha ha’

 

We both live on either side of the banks of the river Tyne, so does he think the river has an influence on who we are and what we do…Oh yes the river is a means of communication. Everything came in and out of the river. It is a barrier but also a conduit for ideas from other people from different parts of the UK and all over the world. Geordies have always been receptive to new ideas……and if they really like them they pretend they were theirs (laughs).

Paul Irwin and I started Tyne Idols. We are big fans of the region and it’s creativity so we came up with an idea of a bus tour around Tyneside celebrating music, TV and visit film locations. We often invite a guest on the bus, maybe an actor, comedian or musician. Last year we had Dick Clements and Ian Le Frenais, and went around locations of their show The Likely Lads. It’s a celebration of the area really.

Can you remember the music TV shows that came out of Tyne Tees studio in Newcastle ? Yeah we played a few, Lindisfarne were on the Geordie Scene. We also had a half hour show to ourselves on Alright Now. That was around 78/79 when we were making our comeback. We came up with a few ideas, in the first half we did a few songs and links in various locations then the second half was all live. Loved it. That was with producers Geoff and Andrea Wonfor. But sadly Lindisfarne never appeared on The Tube. Ray Jackson had a song on where we all backed him but not as Lindisfarne.

The Tube was great. Not just music but comedy as well. Stephen Fry, Dawn French and many others all got their breaks at The Tube.  It was  influenced by the 1960’s TV show Ready, Steady, Go. I’ve been working on a programme about that with Geoff Wonfor. It tells the story of the groundbreaking programme which was one of the first that had the cameras in view. The cameramen were brought in from the sports programmes because they were used to following action. That brought up the excitement when the bands were on stage. The documentary will be on BBC4 later this year.

Lindisfarne played Top of the Pops a few times, what did you think of the show ? It was ok, you just mimed. But the best thing was meeting other musicians. Most of the time you are touring on your own. It was like the early 1970’s festivals. We loved doing festivals because of the other bands you could meet.  Bands like The Faces, Medicine Head, The Beach Boys, Rory Gallagher, Humble Pie.

We played our first festival down in Devon in summer 1970 and on that occasion Free were top of the bill, they were just breaking then. They were supposed to close the show at 9pm with us playing just before them. At 10pm we hadn’t been on. Free had to be back in London for the next morning so they went on while we were backstage having a few drinks. We finally got on at 11pm and opened with ‘Lady Eleanor’. It’s a song which creeps in. A guitar, mandolin bit, a bass bit, drums, then guitar harmonics at regular intervals. Waited for guitar part…. no guitar part. In those days Simon Cowe used to play sitting down so Hully had to go and kick him up the arse cos he’d fallen asleep (laughs).

Do bands have their time, maybe an album or two then come back in the spotlight years later ? Yes there is a bit of that. But when we broke through it was the perfect time because we were so different from everybody else. Also having three great songwriters in the band, most have just one, we had three.

 

Lindisfarne  had a number members but when the band recorded the number 1 album ’Fog on the Tyne’ the personnel were the original five, Alan Hull (vocals, guitars, keyboards) Ray Jackson (vocals, mandolin, harmonica) Rod Clements (bass, violin) Simon Cowe (lead, acoustic, 12 string guitars, mandolin, vocals) and Ray Laidlaw (drums).

We had the biggest selling album of ’71 in Fog on the Tyne. Everyone had that record. We had lots of our own fans but we were also other music fans second favourite group, like Newcastle United in the Keegan era. The Fog album was such a huge success that everything after that was going to be perceived as failure. So the third album only got to number 6 in the charts. Yes, only (laughs). But we weren’t prepared for that. Management didn’t sit us down and say whatever happens it’s going to be a hard act to follow. Plus the record was put out too quick as we were the only band making money on the label. Maybe we should have taken six month off after Fog on the Tyne.

Who was your manager ? Tony Stratton Smith who owned the record company, Charisma. It was a big mistake. Basically Tony was talking to himself (laughs). ‘Do you want an advance’…’No’ (laughs). Charisma was a wacky label with Van Der Graf Generator, Monty Python, the poet Sir John Betjeman, us…where else would you get that ? Fantastically creative but had it’s drawbacks. So the band split in two because we couldn’t agree what to do after the third record.

The band with the same personnel, released the album ‘Dingly Dell’ and charted in the top 10. What recording studios did you use for the album ? In the early days the majority of our records were done in Trident Studios off Wardour Street in London. We used that studio for Nicely Out of Tune and Fog on the Tyne. We also recorded some stuff in Olympic and Island studios and then when we got back together again in 1978 we used residential studios like Gus Dudgeon’s place in Maidenhead, we also went to Rockfield, Chipping Norton and Ridge Farm. By that time we all had young families so using residential studios worked out better as the wives and kids could visit.

Were some songs recorded just for the studio or all written to play live ? I think everything we did we at least attempted to play live. We had a guide that if a song works with one man and a guitar or piano it’ll work with the band. The song has to have a strength of it’s own first, almost with no supporting instrumentation. Live you try different arrangements, build it up or strip it back. Some songs you would only do on one tour then put it back in the box. Some you have to play because the longer you survive the more material you have. It’s the early one’s that made your name. They have to be in the set list.

Do you come from a musical family ? Me Grandad was a pub singer and he could play piano. It was a good way of not buying his own beer. His daughter, my mam, was a good dancer but was a bit nervous to leave home so she never did it professionaly. That’s the only bit of a showbiz background. But it was me Granda that bought me my first drumkit. I just liked the look of drumsets, a bit like some folks like motorbikes. A couple of mates had guitars. I was getting interested in music about 1960 and it was a perfect time because there was so much great stuff about.

When I first started in a group I was with Simon Cowe who was also in Lindisfarne with me. Our first group was a 3 piece, just instrumentals, we couldn’t afford a microphone. We were just learning, playing instrumentals. We did a couple of gigs in social clubs, only during school holidays because Simon was at boarding school in Edinburgh.

Where did you rehearse ? Simon’s family lived in a big old Georgian house, the poshest street in North Shields. His dad was an architect. There were loads of rooms and we set up in one of the spare rooms downstairs. Music wasn’t the only thing we got up to. We also made homemade fireworks and stole fruit out of people’s gardens (laughs).

But yeah I was a bit of a show-off really but didn’t have the confidence to be a singer or guitar player.  Just had an affinity with drums and was pretty good at it.

After that I was in a band called The Druids with Bob Sergeant who went on to be a producer on BBC radio for John Peel, The Clash, stuff like that. The Druids were playing all covers and gigged youth clubs for about a year. Then I met Rod Clements who was another posh lad from North Shields. His band had just packed in and we got into the blues via the Stones and John Mayall. We loved the Yardbirds. All fast and furious – we decided to get a band together.

We used to watch The Junco Partners and they were the first band we had seen that listened to each other, didn’t all play at once, they realised they all had a part to play within the group. We were inspired and looked for people who had to be as good as they were. It took 4 or 5 years to finally get our dream band together.

How much were Downtown Faction influenced by the folk scene on Tyneside ? We weren’t at first, that all came later. We were into the blues, it wasn’t until we started writing our own songs that we developed that bluesy/folk and rootsy sound. Simon was a great guitar player, finger picking style like Bert Jansch and we started listening to early Fairport Convention, Dylan, intelligent song writing.

We had a bit of arrogance about us, ambitious yes, and we looked down our noses at bands doing nothing but covers. We did play a few covers but we chose unusual tracks, Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, Frank Zappa tunes. We were looking to be original, wanted to be better than everyone else, putting the band together was organic… we gradually found the right people, there was no speedy plan.

13-mayfair-4-10-68

What year was this ? Around ‘67/68. We were the support band on Led Zeppelins first ever UK gig at Newcastle Mayfair. They were still called The New Yardbirds then and had only been going two weeks.

Can you remember much about that time ? Well we used to be on at the Mayfair a lot then, Tuesday would be a couple of local bands and other nights would be a big band who wanted local support. I used to see a lot of bands there, I was always in the Mayfair. I remember that Yardbirds gig but it didn’t make a massive mark.

How old were you then and did you have a proper job ? 20 year old and a window dresser at Shepherds department store in Gateshead. I’d dropped out of art college and needed a job. I got on well at the store so was able to juggle my time with gigs and work. Simon was a photographer at Turners in Newcastle so that was great for arty publicity shots that we could put up in a shop window in the Haymarket. They became a bit of a talking point, we always tried to be creative with what we did.

What else was happening on the music scene ? We did a gig New Years Day 1969 at Newcastle old town hall. Somebody had the brainwave of putting on a blues and poetry day. There was no heating in the place so it was freezing. 2 bands played, 4 or 5 poets were on and about 100 people there. The street poetry was astonishing, I’d never heard anything like it. Poets like Tom Pickard and Tony Jackson, pre cursor to today’s Benjamin Zephaniah and people like that. Very working class, very political.

After that there was a few blues evenings, all very arty, hippy, sit on the floor pay what you can sort of deal.

Did the band have a manager or agent  ? Ivan Burchill was the main agent in Newcastle then, but we wouldn’t compromise about our music so didn’t get as many gigs as some bands. Plus at our gigs we never got the lasses you know, we’d get all the muso’s turning up.

A guy called Joe Robertson got us gigs when we changed our name from Downtown Faction to Brethren. That was when people were taking notice, we were headlining a few shows and Joe was also managing The Junco Partners. That was when Alan Hull joined and his manager at the time Dave Woods from Impulse Studio came in on joint management with Joe. Inroads to record companies started to happen then.

Did you know Alan previously ? He was in a band The Chosen Few who along with The Junco Partners were the big bands in Newcastle. After his band crashed and burned, he took a break then began song writing again. He used to play in the folk clubs where the tradition was they’d let newcomers play 3 songs early in the night. He used to try his stuff out there and so did we because you didn’t want to try new stuff in front of a blues/rock audience.

Beginning as Downtown Faction, the band changed their name again from Brethren to Lindisfarne and were signed to Charisma records in 1970.

Was it an emerging scene then…Yeah it was a bit of an underground song-writing scene on Tyneside that was parallel to the more pop based groups. Bit underground because there were musos coming down from Scotland – Rab Noakes and the JSD Band, there was Prelude from Low Fell, Milesy (John Miles) and his group The Influence from South Shields, many others. Folk guys were influencing the rock guys and vice versa. We were listening to Music from Big Pink by the Band (Bob Dylan’s backing band). They were doing stuff from American roots music with a rock rhythm section and that’s what we wanted to do. Fairport Convention were another band playing rock’n’roll versions of English folk tunes. Now here was music with a bit more history and depth, more gravitas. This is more like it. We loved that.

Our group all had different tastes but agreed on one thing. We loved The Beatles and we loved the way they treated every song as an individual piece of work. It wasn’t a problem for us to leave a guitar or drums off a track. It was all about the song. We were a song-writing band and we had to treat each individual song right. We could write something and if it was alright for Top of the Pops we were ok with that. We didn’t have a problem about being commercial. Some of the songs we had were great pop songs but we never set out to write singles. Same with an album, every song had to count…no fillers. If there was a single in there, great, if not, no worries.

 

Have you got any road stories ? Lindisfarne had a break from 1973-76, we had a few successful one off gigs then made a new album in ’78. The opening night on the tour was Leeds University were The Who recorded their album Live at Leeds. We broke their attendance record that night. Two weeks later the fire brigade came in and told the University ‘With the number of fire escapes you’ve got, you got to cut the capacity by 400’. So our record will never be beaten (laughs).

Anyway the opening night we had some pyrotechnics, we went a bit showbiz like, and they would go off at the end of the show. Balloons and confetti cannons. The big ending you know. At that point the soundman was to mute every channel – and he forgot. So it went down every microphone, the monitors were like tissue paper, the speakers blew out as did the windows behind the stage. We weren’t invited back (laughs).

Did you play any gigs that turned out to be a nightmare ? Some of the usual rock’n’roll stories where the promoter won’t pay you. And you’ve already played the gig. One time we had to get our crew to park our truck across the path of the headliners truck so they couldn’t shift it. Then the word would go out about dodgy promoters so you would ask for half the money up front.

Some tours were great fun with other bands. Genesis were on the same label as us in the early days so we used to be on the same bill along with Van Der Graaf Generator. Depending on what city we were in and who had the biggest following we would take turns headlining. But we used to finish the gig doing a song together. We’d play ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ a Lonnie Donegan song, with Alan Hull, Ray Jackson, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel singing a verse each. All the bands singing together. And nobody recorded it!

What does music mean to you ? It’s given me my life. If I hadn’t been enthusiastic about music and taken the plunge I probably would of ended up being a not very good teacher. I’ve had a really exciting life and it still is, you never know what the next phone call is gonna be. I’m still a music fan and that’s how I maintain my enthusiasm. So many good times with music. I’m just glad me Granda got us me first set of drums.

 

What are you doing now ? We’ve been putting together Sunday for Sammy concerts. Our dear friend the actor, Sammy Johnson died in 1998 and we didn’t just want a plaque for him, we wanted to do more so we came up with a concert idea. I’ve been involved with Sammy since the beginning in 2000 with Lindisfarne, then drummer for the house-band and from 2006 producing the show. The proceeds of the show are put towards the start of creative careers for young people. To date we’ve raised around half a million pound.

It’s fun to do and the audience laugh along with it. We had Mark Knopfler on one year and the running gag was he never got to do his song. He comes on stage playing the opening bars of ‘Money for Nothing’ and Tim Healy runs on shouting ‘No, not yet’. After repeating the gag Mark comes on later and this time Alan Shearer shouts ’Knopfler, play yer hit man’ (laughs). So he never got to sing but eventually played ‘Local Hero’.

Yeah, we have great fun and so do the crowd seeing some well known faces doing things they don’t normally do on stage – singers in sketches, (Brian Johnson played an angel once) actors singing and TV presenters accidently swearing. It’s a family show but we recommend 14 years plus because sometimes people forget their lines and you never know what they’re going to say.

Who scripts the shows ? We have a few people. Dick Clements and Ian Le Frenais who wrote The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen Pet, they write us a new sketch every time. Geordie comedian Jason Cook, Ed Waugh from South Shields. We also have a sketch writing competition for new writers, A Sketch for Sammy, we used two winners on the 2018 show.

Are you looking forward to the 20th Aniversary show ? To be honest I’m terrified and excited in equal measures.

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Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.