ALL HANDS ON DECK – interview with North Tyneside musician Aaron Duff from Alt-folk rock band HECTOR GANNET

After recently signing a deal with Wipe Out music publishing and supporting fellow North Shields musician Sam Fender, Aaron and fellow band members, Jack Coe (drums), Joe Coady (bass) and Martin Wann (guitar/korg) need all hands on deck as they prepare to release their first single ‘All Hail, All Glory’. The track sounds not quite ‘War on Drugs’ but easily nestles alongside ‘The Maccabees’, it has a release date of November 15th, a huge significance to songwriter Aaron Duff…..It marks the 51st anniversary of the sinking of the Hector Gannet. It was the name of a stern trawler that my Grandad sailed on. The boat was working as a support vessel for gas and oil rigs off the Great Yarmouth coast. In November 1968 there was a blowout on the Hewitt A rig and while attempting to rescue workers from the drilling platform, the bad weather caused the Hector Gannet to capsize, tragically resulting in the loss of three crew members. Thankfully my Grandad survived the disaster and is still alive to tell the tale. For me, the name means a lot, and sort of symbolises my heritage in a way.

23 year old Aaron also writes and performs solo. In 2017 he wrote an original music score to be performed alongside archive film footage of North East England. Ironically the film contained footage of his grandfather and other family members working at sea…. Like most people from the North East, I’m very proud of the place and the people that I come from.

When did you first start playing guitar and who were your influences ? I can’t ever remember not being interested in music. There was a guitar in the house that I’d pick up from time to time but it wasn’t until I was about ten that I started to actually learn the instrument.

I’ll listen to anything that’s played with conviction. The Clash were a massive band for me growing up. Their sentiment is something I completely latched onto. Their attitude and their ideology, I’ll stick by it for life.

Today people have described my music as Alt Rock/Folk. There’s a lot of folk influence in there, the likes of Lindisfarne/Alan Hull are huge local heroes for me and I’m influenced by artists like Dylan, CSN&Y, The Band etc.

But my heavier influences lie with bands like The Pixies, without doubt one of my favourites. There are current artists that I find inspiring too, Courtney Barnett has to be my favourite at the moment. Just brilliant song writing. Genius lyrics, really catchy.

Does your song writing happen quickly or take time for the lyrics and music to come together ?  Most of the time it starts with a subject but it has to be real to me. I suppose it goes back to that ‘Clash’ mentality. I have to write about things that really mean something to me, that I’m passionate about, enough to want to share with the world. Hopefully that way they’ll mean something to other people too. Sometimes it can happen straight away, sometimes it can take an age. I’ll sit for hours messing about on guitar and sometimes a tune will come out of it, then I’ll come up with some lyrics to fit in around it and the melody evolves around them.

What’s your thoughts on crowdfunding ? Some highly regarded artists use it, not just little known ones like us. It has its place, and a lot of artists have used it successfully. There’s always the worry that it won’t work or people won’t invest, but that’s the same with releasing your music anyway, people will invest time and money listening, or they won’t.

New single ‘All Hail, All Glory’ is released on November 15th 2019.

The band are due to support Sam Fender again in December 2019. For further information check the social media contacts:

https://www.facebook.com/hectorgannet/

https://twitter.com/HectorGannet

https://www.instagram.com/hectorgannet/

Or the official website: https://hectorgannet.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

 

 

 

 

THE FIXER – in conversation with former Impulse Studio and Neat Records owner David Wood

The next person to feature on this blog was owner of probably the most influential independent heavy metal record label in the 1980’s, a label that spawned Chief Headbangers Raven and Venom, who were major influences on the multi-million selling Americans, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeath.

So what was he like ? Was he the Don Arden of Tyneside ? Am I to be flown out by private jet to a yacht on the French Riviera or picked up by a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and driven off to an exclusive restaurant ? Sadly no, it was just a misty September morning when I nipped on a ferry, crossed the river Tyne and taken to a café in North Tyneside by a man wearing a fez.

What or who inspired you to start Impulse Studio ? When I left school I ended up as a Park Keeper in Wallsend Park then found a half decent job as a Technical Assistant at Proctor and Gamble. I was there for 3 year, it was well paid at £11 a week so I had a few quid to go out on a Friday night with me mates, but I couldn’t see myself staying there. For a 21st birthday present off my parents I was given a ticket to go to America on the Queen Mary.

While sightseeing in New York I came across this recording studio called Talent Masters. I went in and got talking to a guy who worked there called Chris Huston. I found out he used to be guitarist in The Undertakers from Liverpool. They had a hit record but he left the UK to be a tape technician in the studio. I’d always liked music, my instrument is the piano while not much of a player, but was really interested in this studio.

So when I returned home on the Queen Elizabeth ship I began to play around with a bit of sound recording. At that time a teenagers club was open in The Borough Theatre in Wallsend called The Manhole. This was around 1966 and people were listening to The Beatles and locally The Animals had made their name. It was a great meeting place was The Manhole, graphics painted on the walls, flower power you know, and a lot of good bands played there. That’s where I really got interested in the music scene. There was a similar place in Tynemouth called The Cave which was underneath The Gate of India Restaurant. (There was also a teenagers club in Beach Road, South Shields called The Cellar Club run by Stan Henry and his mother. Stan later opened The Latino and The New Cellar Club where Cream and Jimi Hendrix played).

cellaradvert

Advert for the opening of The New Cellar Club, South Shields. Taken from The Shields Gazette December 1967.

Yes I used to go to The Cellar. I’d drive to the ferry at Howdon, get on there with my car, you could in them days, then get off at Jarrow. It was a great building I think it was in the basement of their house where Stan’s mother ran the club. South Shields and Sunderland had their own places to run music from, it was great. I ended up doing some work for Stan, we ended up doing his sound equipment and for a lot of other people to keep the business ticking over.

In the Manhole club I met a band called The Chosen Few, and in them were Alan Hull, Alan ‘Bumper’ Brown on bass, singer was Rod Hood, guitarist I think was John Gibson and keyboards was Micky Gallagher who eventually played for The Blockheads, and he’d also played in The Animals when Alan Price left. They were really good and had a recording contract with PYE records. They recorded down in the West End of London at Radio Luxembourg studios. They put a couple of singles out.

Going back to The Manhole Club, that just shut one day and never reopened. I don’t know why maybe someone out there knows something about that. The Borough Theatre was built in 1906, it was a music hall at first, then a cinema, then a bingo hall. I got to know the manager and asked him for some space to run a studio. The studio was in the dressing room and the entrance to the studio was through the old stage door. There was a little booth where the doorman would of sat, well before our time (laughs).

How did you develop the space into a recording studio ? Literally built it up from scratch Gary, it took years to get it all done. At first we used egg boxes for sound proofing then bricked up all the windows. Anything was used for padding because we never had enough money then and at first we only had a mono then a stereo studio. We then purchased a 4 track, then an 8 track, eventually a 24 track machine but this was done over 10 or 12 years. This was all by the 1980’s and by then we had the run of all the building and moved the studio to the top floor, which wasn’t very popular with the bands as we had no lift. Eventually Impulse Studios were on all 3 floors.

What bands did you record and who did you get in as sound engineer ? One day I bumped into Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) by then The Chosen Few had split up, he was working as a nurse at St Nicholas Mental Hospital and still writing songs so I invited him down to record some. Impulse at that time recorded local bands. We were a progressive studio and probably recorded most people in the region who sang and played at one time in their careers. Everything then was recorded onto quarter inch tape. At that time we started to organise pressing records.

Sound engineer was Micky Sweeney, a great character, really popular with everyone. I used to do some recording as well. Micky ended up working with Lindisfarne who were born in the studio because it was there that Alan Hull got together with various members of Downtown Faction. They played together and got to know each other and it all came together.

You recorded an album with North East comedian Bobby Thompson, how did that come about ? I knew his manager Brian Shelley and he said Bobby is doing really well around the clubs do you fancy recording him ? I thought yeah we’ll give it a go. So we recorded him in Rhyope Poplars Club and Newcastle Mayfair. This was around 1978. It was around an hours recording that we put out and got Vaux breweries to sponsor it, ironically Bobby didn’t drink then and there he was on a promo poster with a pint of beer.

Soon as we put the record out it took off, they couldn’t get enough off it, straight to number one in the local charts. Every shop was selling bucket loads. It was phenomenal. Nobody could of appreciated the way it took off like it did, he even appeared on the Wogan show. But his humour didn’t travel well, he was shy of being in other places but up here in the North East he was absolutely fantastic. He could relate to the man in the street up here – the debt, the poverty, the wife and the war, he was incredible really.

With the label doing well, was Bobby responsible for Neat records ? Ha ha well with the profits from Bobby the studio came on in leaps and bounds in no time at all, so yeah we’ve got to thank him for it. We started Neat records as an alternative to what we were doing. A couple of early singles and one by a band called Motorway which was pop, not heavy metal, then a song by Jayne McKenzie written and engineered by Steve Thompson. Then Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Fist came along and suddenly we’ve got what became a New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom added to that and before we knew it we’ve built up a library of metal records.

Was there any rivalry between the top four North East metal bands – Fist, Raven, Venom and the Tygers ? Ha ha yeah they probably hated each other. No, listen, musicians are very much their own people you know. I don’t blame them. If they are the guitarist they are a ‘great guitarist’, you can’t perform in front of a dozen, hundreds, or thousands of people if you haven’t got an ego. You couldn’t stand on stage if you are a wimp, you’ve got to have something about ya – and they all do.

For Venom, first gig they played was at a church hall in Wallsend and they decided to have pyrotechnics and smoke. That all went off at the start and that’s the last we saw of the band for the whole set – they were playing behind a screen of smoke.

Did you deal with any managers or did the bands represent themselves ? I dealt with Raven directly but some of the bands had managers. One of them was a butcher (laughs) then Venom ended up with Eric Cook who really worked hard for them.  He was very enthusiastic and got a lot of things going for them. Thing was he had no experience but nobody else did really with this New Wave of Heavy Metal, it was all new. And that is something to remember about that whole scene, they were trying to play and we were trying to market, we (Neat) were all on the same level. We were balancing the recording, arranging tours, marketing, it was all interesting times, sort of in development, and some nightmare situations.

How did recording on the Neat label work for bands ? We did singles at first and they were tasters trying to get some interest, get picked up by bigger labels, that sort of thing. Some of them would end up on compilation lp’s later and some of the early Neat stuff were the demos. The first Raven album went into the national charts which was a surprise to all of us. But that was the progress we were trying to make.

How did Tygers of Pan Tang end up on MCA record label ? MCA were interested in the Tygers first single and put it out on their label which put the Tygers in a position to sign an album deal. Through their enquiries I got to know Stuart Watson who was head of A&R so I took the whole Neat project to MCA. They ended up recording albums by Fist and White Spirit. But MCA didn’t get their teeth into what we were doing so it all came back to us. It could have gone further but major companies are looking for big numbers, they didn’t want to sell 5,000 albums they wanted to sell 50,000 albums. We would have been happy to sell 1,000!

If you did sell that many how would the profit be used ? It would all go in the kitty, we wanted to progress the studio and the label – but we didn’t have any Lamborghini’s you know.

How did the label work for Raven ? We ended up doing 3 albums with them and took them to America and worked with Johnny Z at Megaforce Records based in New Jersey. They did some touring over there and Neat were managing the band at the time, paying them a retainer every week. When they came back the band had signed with the Americans. ‘Thanks for telling us’ I said, but hey that’s all in the past and we came to an agreement to release I think a live album over there.

Was that the bands natural progression to go to a bigger label ? Yes I suppose that’s fair comment to say that. We had gone as far as we could as basically a smaller outfit. I liked the band, I liked the idea of a 3 piece because it makes it easier to ship around. A 5 piece band can be much more challenging to get around on tour and in the studio.

Did the label have contacts to sell records in other countries ? We tried to get like-minded people in European countries, Holland, Italy etc, to do that but sometimes it was hard. A lot of time was spent trying to get it up and running but perhaps the label never reached it’s full potential. We sold to local record shops in the North East but a good outlet was actually mail order.

How does it work for a band if they released a single in say 1980 and the track ends up on a compilation album years later ? All the contracts were given over to Sanctuary and they had a section to deal with all the necessary releases.

What were Neat paying for as in terms of recording and tours ? We would put money up for tours and we once bought a tour bus for Fist, which was a big mistake cos it got wrecked inside. Their first single was ‘Name, Rank & Serial Number’ and ‘The Wanderer’ came much later, Status Quo ended up doing that, sounding very similar. Doing a more commercial song is a way in. Again I liked Fist and thought they had great potential, Keith Satchfield is a great singer and songwriter.

But just managing it all, controlling it all was a nightmare. There wasn’t a bottomless pit to fund it and you just try your best with the resources. What was surprising about bands playing in the UK was there wasn’t many chances to play on the big festivals, England was a hard place to play. America and Europe was mainly where the market was. I remember Holland was a good place for the bands to go.

Neat released a lot of singles would that have put the label in a good position ? Yes it helped the studio, marketing etc when the next single or album come along to record and promote.

Was there a time when Neat weren’t in a good position ? Yes often, I remember one time a band wanted to go on tour and it was £4,000. A lot to lay out because you don’t get it back cos the band don’t make much playing live. There was a lot of costs involved with going on the road.

When did Neat records fold ? Jess Cox (former Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist) got involved and we set up a separate label called Neat Metal, we put a different catalogue together, started licencing from different labels – a different approach to it. At one time we didn’t have any of the original Neat stuff on the catalogue. Eventually Sanctuary Records came in for the label and did some re-releases. A lot of independent labels have been moved around over the years.

With that I checked my watch and time was getting on so we agreed to meet up again soon where Dave will tell more stories about Impulse Studio including Cilla Black, Joan Armatrading and Sir Lawrence Olivier.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

 

HEED’S DOON – with John Gallagher from Chief heabangers RAVEN

By 1980 Raven had released their first single on Neat Records. The Gallagher brothers – the original pair not the lot from Manchester who wanted to live forever – made their way out of the North East …For young lads like us there was only two ways out of Newcastle…..and we weren’t good footballers.

They began slogging the hard yards and laying the foundations for speed metal…It all changed when we made contacts in the US and did our first tour with a young rag tag outfit called Metallica opening for us.

Was there a plan in the early day’s – gig loads, buy a van, get signed ? The running joke was ‘C’mon let’s git in a van and gan doon  t’ London!’. Slightly impractical! We did quite a few one off support gigs. It was in the back of the truck, drive down to London, play the Marquee with Iron Maiden and drive back straight after the gig.

We just worked, playing shows, writing songs. One thing we’ve never had is a lack of song ideas. Often a riff from a sound check turns into a song. Getting the Neat deal changed everything totally. We had worked hard for years so when the opportunity arrived we dove in head first.

The other main bands on the Neat record label were Fist, Venom and Tygers of Pan Tang. Was there any rivalry ? No. We actually got on well with all of them. There was some passive aggressive crap with Venom where we thought time, resources and money were going to them, and they thought they were going to us….of course the money went elsewhere (laughs).

Did you ever play on the same bill ? We actually played two shows with the Tygers. A show pre-Neat at the Guildhall in Newcastle and a show in Wallsend which was John Sykes first gig with them. We also did at least one show with Fist at the Mayfair and a few with White Spirit. All great lads.

Raven went on a UK tour with Girlschool in 1982 where I saw them at Newcastle City Hall… Aye a 27 date ‘City Hall’ type venue tour of the U.K. was very, very good for us. Their crew treated us well and we got on great with the girls. I ‘ave no idea how it came about but we had done a few shows with Motörhead, and Girlschool had the same management.

Was it a good match up in terms of style and audiences ?  It was a great fit and a great opportunity for us, they were at their peak.

Did you have any warm up routines before going on stage ? No I never bother with all the ‘la la la la la LAH’ vocal stuff. I just do it!

Did you play any festivals in the UK ? Festivals (laughs). Well we did the Wrexham festival with Motörhead and Twisted Sister. The only other rock festival then was Reading and that was a bit political I guess.

Did mainland Europe have better attended gigs or a more organised set up than UK ? Probably both. But it was the fervour of the fans that was surprising. We knew basically in England the further South you went, the fans were more reserved and thankfully that’s kinda gone by the wayside these days. But our first gigs out of the UK were in Italy and Holland…and they were just NUTS!!!

Have you any stories from meeting other bands while on tour – in motorway cafes, gigs in the same town, and you must have come across Lemmy ? Jeez.. actually no! We did run into Fast Eddie Clarke at some motorway cafe back in 2005. But that was it really.

Nearly 40 years since the US tour with Metallica. Did you ever think Raven and Metallica would still be playing in 2019 ? If back then you had told me Metallica were gonna rule the world as they subsequently did, I would have been doubtful. But they evolved fast.

It was great to get to play a stadium show with them in São Paulo a few years back and hear James (Hetfield) tell the crowd how much they appreciated Raven taking a chance back in 1983 and taking Metallica on tour with them. That meant a lot to us.

What was the impact of that tour for both bands ? Well we saw the opportunity and how huge the US really was. We knew this was where we had to be to move forward and escape the ‘indentured servitude’ at Neat.

The tour had a huge impact on us and on Metallica. Their first tour, they soaked it all up and learnt. It really was a hell of an experience !

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Has there been a ‘magic’ moment on stage or in the studio when you thought ‘This is what I should be doing’….Every. Single. Night. We have given blood sweat and tears to do what we do and feel humbled and fortunate to be able to do what we love. Plus to be able to travel the world to do it!

We know we are better at it now and more importantly appreciate it more. We have a new album ready for early 2020 release and are gearing up for lots more touring!

For more info contact the website:  http://www.ravenlunatics.com/

or follow them on Twitter @official_raven

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2019.

 

TALK SHOW – in conversation with former TV director Michael Metcalf

Michael talked earlier on this blog about his career in TV, but knowing he had a few more stories we met up in Newcastle again…I remember working on North East music show TX45 when we filmed AC/DC singer Brian Johnson in a working men’s club near the river Tyne. We had a great afternoon with him because what ya’ see is what yer get. He asked me if I do this all the time but I told him I work on drama as well and one of them was called ‘The World Cup – A Captains Tale’. We filmed it all over the North East and in Turin where the final was played. Tim Healey was in it, Nigel Hawthorne, Richard Griffiths, and the captain was played by Dennis Waterman.

Brian said I know that drama and yer not gonna believe this but we’ve got A Captains Tale on video and we always play it on the AC/DC tour bus. Now we’ve seen it so many times we put it on without the sound and we all take the parts. The thought of AC/DC playing these Geordie characters is amazing.

Another time we heard about a heavy rock band that were getting popular so Jeff Brown (producer) and I went to see them, not my type of music but thought they would be great for the show. We met them after the gig and one of them asked ‘How much will it cost to be on’? We answered ‘It doesn’t work like that. We pay you. We pay you the Musicians Union rate’. They couldn’t believe they were going to be on telly and getting paid for it (laughs). The name of the band escapes me, hey it was over 30 years ago but I remember on the day of recording they brought us a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale.

TX45 was broadcast from Studio 5 on Tyne Tees and hosted by Chris Cowey who features on this blog.  I was in the audience for one of the shows in 1985 that featured Newcastle glam punks Sweet Trash, at the end of the show the singer dived off the stage into the audience….Yes I directed that one. We were working on it all day, setting the stages and lighting. After the show we had to edit the program ready for broadcast. The show was like a baby Tube and all the bands and audience were excited to be there in this inner sanctum of the same studio where The Tube was recorded.

We also had some comedy on. Bobby Thompson was the man in the North East for that but he had stopped working by then. Jeff Brown tracked him down and we went along to his home and had a chat, we didn’t film it. We felt so privileged to be with this icon of Northern Comedy. Bobby had some well documented problems with alcohol so he wasn’t drinking but his housekeeper brought us a bottle of whisky to drink. We sat for hours talking, laughing and of course Bobby was a great storyteller. Tyne Tees had recorded a whole show of his from Percy Main Club so I think we used a bit of that in the feature.

But a Northern comedian that we did get on was Roy Chubby Brown. I think it was his first TV appearance. Off camera a completely different person but as soon as he is on stage and performing – I don’t know who was shocked the most. We were saying in the control room that a lot of editing was needed for this show !

Michael also directed editions of live music programme The Tube and I asked him what was the impact of that show… It got all around the world. I once went for an interview to do some work for New Zealand TV and they looked on my cv and said ‘Oh you’ve worked on The Tube’. When you have worked on something so iconic it becomes your calling card.

We went to Belfast at the height of the troubles in Ireland. It was a surreal experience filming bands over there when all that was going on. We stayed in the Europa which was known as the most bombed hotel in Europe. Housekeeping kept the curtains closed all night so snipers couldn’t see in. There was dimmed lighting in the corridors. We were terrified but had a fantastic time. Every day we filmed a different band and afterwards they’d invite us back to their homes for a sing song and a few drinks.

When we got back to London the team went out and got drunk because we were so relieved to get back because the stress of actually having to be frisked before you went into places, standing with your arms up and seeing armed soldiers everywhere.

The opportunities to travel to places was fantastic, we went to Berlin before the wall came down. As we flew in the pilot said we know when we have hit west Berlin because we see lights, the East will be in darkness. We went on a recce through Checkpoint Charlie to see some bands. We ended up being told to film in a sports centre in East Berlin. A young band were playing with not much equipment. When we got back to the West we met Christiane F. in a club. It was great getting those opportunities, looking back, just incredible.

(Christiane F. was the focus of a cult bio film made in 1981 capturing the drug scene in West Berlin. The film starred David Bowie who also recorded the soundtrack).

What other music shows did you direct ? The Roxy Chart show. CBS were ready to drop the boy band Bros, things weren’t working for them. But I thought they looked gorgeous and would be great for the show so we booked them. When they played the audience went wild. Sometimes something a bit special happens and it did on that night. The senior cameraman said to me ‘I’ve never seen a reaction like that since the likes of The Beatles’.

But we had a policy like Top of the Pops, if a song went down in the charts we didn’t transmit it. We got in touch with their management and asked them to release another single. They did but again we couldn’t transmit it because Tyne Tees went on strike. We eventually got them on a third time with ‘When Will I Be Famous’ and as they say the rest is history.

We had a wide range of artists coming on and one of them was Shakin’ Stevens another CBS act. He had a manager called Freya who had a reputation as being very tough. You didn’t cross her. In rehearsals we were in the studio and as usual I was on the studio floor watching his performance and working out how to film it. He also had four dancers on stage with him. Freya appeared next to me and said ‘What you gonna do here then’? I said ‘I haven’t got a clue’.

Eventually I worked out a routine and plan for the cameras to do multiple passes. Which are recording the same song from different angles. After the performance the CBS plugger Robbie McIntosh came up to me and said you are coming to dinner with us. ‘Freya was so impressed with your work, and you are the first director to tell her that you didn’t have a clue what you were going to do! She loved my honesty and we became great mates over the years.

Were there any awkward performers on the show ? There was an Italian singer called Spagna who had one hit ‘Call Me’. She wanted to call the shots. Her idea was for a white out on the stage, white backdrop and white sides, like being in a white cube. She also had spikey blonde hair so it would all look burnt out. We were reluctant to do this because we thought it would take ages to do. But she insisted on doing it, the toys were out of the pram you know, it wasn’t as if she was a well-known singer with a rack of hit singles. But we did do it in the end and it looked good (laughs).

I directed Big World Café from Brixton Academy for Channel 4, we had Mariella Fostrup and Eagle Eye Cherry presenting. It was a pretty eclectic music show and the line up on one of them was Soul to Soul, New Order, Diamanda Galas and a young indie guitar band who I can’t remember the name of. We were in rehearsal and the indie band would turn their backs on the camera whenever I was getting a shot and the red light was on them. So I came out of the outside broadcast truck and told the floor manager I’m coming onto the studio floor. Which to the crew means I’m not happy. The band said that turning their backs was just their style. I told them that their style ‘Was better suited to radio and stop fucking about or you’re off the show’.

When you have an artist performing and getting the best out of the time they have on screen it’s magical, they’ve really got to work it even if they are miming. In rehearsal I give them a few simple tips that if they want to play to the camera I will stick with the shot. If they take the mic off the stand they are to take the mic stand away from the front of the stage because an empty mic stand looks awkward for the camera.

I also directed for Hits Studio International for Fujisankei Television all done live in a studio in London. It was the first time the studio was used and the program was going out to 28 countries linking up with a studio in America and Japan. We got the countdown to start and just as we were going live the cameras went off one by one. Now you’d think it would be pandemonium in the control room but as a director of live TV you’ve got to be so calm. The cameras were fixed but for 40 seconds I only had two working cameras.

Why did the North East have a reputation for producing quality music TV ? Tyne Tees had a reputation for showcasing Northern talent and having passionate production team members to achieve that. Part of their regional brief was to support and document local talent, and up here there is such a wealth of talent going back to Eric Burdon and The Animals who played at the Club a Go-Go in Newcastle. The murals on the walls were designed by Bryan Ferry who of course was singer with Roxy Music, but everybody who said they saw Jimi Hendrix play at the Club a Go-Go, well the club would be the size of St James’ Park (laughs).

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2019.

DIRECT ACTION – with TV/Media director & producer Chris Cowey.

On Tyne Tees programme ‘Check it Out’ broadcast in 1979, presenters Chris Cowey and Lynn Spencer interviewed punk band Public Image Limited featuring ex Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten (Lydon). The piece also featured Mond Cowie from Angelic Upstarts….Firstly, Mond Cowie isn’t related to me, his name is the rich branch of the family, like Sir Tom, with an ie rather than my Durham pit yakker spelling of ey. Mond is a top bloke and a damn good guitar player. Angelic Upstarts were an underrated band I reckon.

 


The infamous PIL chat was my first live studio interview and a real baptism of fire. I was and remain a big fan of Lydon and his music. The whole pantomime was their way of getting themselves noticed and being in the press, which sells records. The programme of course was instrumental, even complicit, and the interview with Mond was designed to wind them up. I was, as you can tell from the clip, just a teenager and thought I was going to have the shortest TV career ever, but a lot of people realised that and sympathised with me.

Did you think any live interview could potentially be a ‘career finisher’ ? I was kind of numbed by the whole thing. But a sort of survival instinct kicks in, the fact that viewers and press backed me made me feel better, but I still would rather have had a proper discussion, rather than a childish strop.

My memory of the show is that the band had got themselves really relaxed by the time the studio session started, and they were ready to do their usual argumentative schtick, but were out manoeuvred this time. The point of the interview, which gets lost in the aggro, was that they’d just brought out their ‘Metal Box’ album, which was a set of 12-inch singles in an elaborate film-tin type of packaging.
It was hugely expensive, and very designer chic for someone who was supposed to be so street, Anyway everyone won, they sold records, the Check It Out show was on the map, and I did about seven series of it. It was a combination of Check It Out and the music show Alright Now that prompted Channel 4 to commission The Tube, which of course PIL appeared on too, and I had a fabulous five years making the show.

Alright Now, Check it Out, The Tube – why did the North East have a reputation to produce good music shows ? Tyne-Tees already did some good old entertainment shows before my time, like Geordie Scene or What Fettle, but they were obsessed about their ‘Geordieness’. The Tube and all those shows you mentioned really wasn’t, it was all about good music, because we were music-obsessed. It also had a great blend of old school time served TV people, blended with new people with fresh ideas, and a kind of irreverence which all blended and came out in those shows.
Having said that it was really important that it came from the North-East because of the passion and the swagger and the total commitment. It’s not just that Geordies like showing off (although they undoubtedly DO!) it’s because the history and attitude of the region can be really inspiring, creative and hugely fun. It really breaks my heart to see what’s happened, not only to Tyne Tees, but a load of gigs and venues, clubs and pubs across the whole area. I have an unshakable belief that it will rise again though…. don’t get me started though!

When did you first get interested in music and what was your first TV break ? I was always obsessed with music and did school discos in the hall every lunchtime. When I was 17 and doing my A-levels I lied about my age and got a couple of jobs DJ’ing in nightclubs, the biggest of which was The Mecca in Sunderland. It was a great learning curve for me, with a vast range of music from funk to metal. There were some amazing live bands too, Ian Gillan, Tom Robinson, Crown Heights Affair – check them out if it’s before your time! There was live music just about every night I worked, I was bitten by the live music thing. I was also into Drama/Theatre/acting which led to my TV break I guess.
My mentor was Malcolm Gerrie, who a lot of people will remember from his Tyne-Tees days. He’d been my English and Drama teacher from my Comprehensive school, and he suggested I audition for Check It Out. A lot of the same gang of music fans were the nucleus of Check It Out, Alright Now, The Tube, TX45. Razzmatazz, production teams. It was a real blend of old school Tyne-Tees TV expertise and young whippersnappers like me. That’s how it worked so well, we had a good run, but I could see it was going to dry up, so I bailed just before The Tube ended, because I knew it was going to be the last series.

Is entertainment in your family ? My family all worked down coal mines, and some in breweries! I was very lucky that I had an older sister and brother who bombarded me with pop and rock music from an early age. Also my school was a real proper comprehensive that did ‘Tommy’ and ‘Stardust rather than Shakespeare or Gilbert & Sullivan. My school was amazing, great teachers, a radio station, school discos, drama, music, it really help to shape my future. Just a regular comprehensive in a little County Durham former mining village. I loved Ryhope… I still miss it.

Lately I’ve interviewed North East bands Tygers of Pan Tang and White Heat and soon will be chatting to Dave Woods (Impulse Studio/Neat records). Did you come across any of them ? Yeah I knew all that bunch. They really did create a strong identity for the Newcastle music landscape. The city is world renowned as a major centre for good old fashioned rock’n’roll, and there’s nowt wrong with that.

Dave Woods is a North East music legend, we made many a film and studio show with his bands….a film about Venom is a fond memory. He was a really important figure in Newcastle’s rich musical history and heritage, and should be very proud of his achievements.

 

What differences did you find working at Tyne Tees then going to Top of the Pops, and how did that job come about ?  The BBC came and poached me to take over Top Of The Pops after I made a C4 show called The White Room, which was like a stripped down version of The Tube in some respects. It wasn’t trying to re-create The Tube though, it was much more how I thought Top Of The Pops should be if it wasn’t so weighed down by it’s own traditions.
So when I got to the BBC as Executive Producer and director of the world’s biggest music show, I gave it a massive kick up the jaxi, and it worked. It went from a show on the verge of being axed, to a huge national and international success, and I didn’t have any of my mates with me for once, (except Big Clive).

It was great fun and I’m really proud of what I achieved there. I loved working at the BBC too. Massively different in many ways from Tyne-Tees, but I put together a diverse production team again, and made it a happy show, which is critical I think. I did it for six years, but the BBC’s ambitions for the show weren’t the same as mine, so we parted company. The show sadly died after my successor turned it into a kids show again!

Was there a magic moment during your career when you had the feeling that ‘This is where I should be’ ? Yeah, loads of times! Doing Top Of The Pops, The Brit Awards, Glastonbury, The Tube, The White Room…. when there’s an amazing talent on stage, and I’m directing a load of cameras, having booked the act and devised the whole shebang….I get huge job satisfaction from that. I get paid for doing something that it’s a privilege to be involved in. I’m a very lucky lad.

Can you think of a couple of memorable moments in your career and also a nightmare situation where things just went wrong ?  Memorable moments? SO many. The Foo Fighters, working with David Bowie, particularly the banter we had in New York. Or freaking Beyoncé out by taking a Concorde trip to see her. I could go on for hours with stories and bore you to death. Not all good though, I had a bit of a tiff with George Michael, told Ricky Martin to F**k Off with his Persian Rug, and many a drinking session that seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

What you are doing now Chris ? I’m still doing the same thing really, music, events, tv. The business has changed radically in my time, and I’ve diversified into all sorts of areas. A lot of things go straight to Facebook or YouTube these days, but I’m still keen on regular broadcast tv, both here in the UK but also around the world, and there’s always something in development. I’ve even directed video games and London West-End theatre, hi-tech, 3-D, holograms, all sorts really. I love new challenges and to keep learning new skills. Of course my heaven would be to make a new music show, so watch this space!

For further information contact Chris at    http://www.chriscowey.tv

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

GROUND ZERO – in conversation with Bri Smith & Bob Rowland from Tyneside punks THE FAUVES

The Ground Zero for Punk on Tyneside was 1977. For many kids there was no work, no hope and no future as the Queen drove by celebrating her Silver Jubilee. The only highlight that summer was when the King came to town – Muhammed Ali had his wedding blessed. But on one notorious night at the Civic Hall in Jarrow, a major turf war descended into chaos. It was a night that changed lives.

Out of the ashes came a band that signified all the anger and frustration on Tyneside. We know the story of the main protagonists, the Angelic Upstarts went on to Top of the Pops, gigs in New York and notoriety. But what happened to the others who were on stage that night ? First we need to go back and find out who lit the fuse of punk. On the east coast of USA the sound of raw guitar driven rock n roll was making a noise, and the UK was listening.……

Bri: It all seemed to happen so quickly. After listening to rock music in the early 70s Hodge, an old school mate introduced me to The Stooges, MC5, Ramones etc That stuff knocked me out. Hodge, who was learning to play guitar, was down London when the punk scene kicked off. He came back to Shields and told us about this punk thing happening down there with bands like the Pistols, Damned and The Clash. Another school mate Ski invited me round to his house to listen to the Pistols single ‘Anarchy in the UK’. It was so good we played it 10 times. Ski knew I had a bass, he had some drums, so we had an idea to start a band

One Friday night we met in the Mermaids Tale a pub in Shields, Mensi was always in there and we had a good bit crack with him about the punk scene that was kickin’ off. We arranged to go to Seaburn Hall near Sunderland to see The Jam. They were absolutely brilliant. Then we saw The Clash on the White Riot tour those two bands really influenced us. We saw lots of other bands around that time but those two stood out. So that was it, we all said ‘Let’s get this band together’. Hodge called the band the Upstarts and Mensi added the Angelic bit.

(The Jam played the Seaburn Hall on 17th June 1977, £1.00 entry. Price for act was £670. Vibrators & Penetration played 1st July £1.00 entry and on the bill for 8th July were The Saints & Straw Dogs £1.00 entry. Taken from the excellent book ‘A Promoters Tale – Rock at the Sharp End’ by Geoff Docherty with a forward by John Peel).

Bri: There was a DJ from Shields called Billy Cooper and he used to run disco’s around the town. He had a disco at Jarra’ Civic Hall and arranged for us to play our first gig there. A week beforehand some of the band and friends checked out the venue to see what gear was needed but when the lads got to the hall a gang attacked them. Next day The Shields Gazette reported that our mate Skin Brown had to get four stitches above his eye. At first we thought about calling it off but we said stuff it, and went ahead with the gig.

Bob: It was reported that they were attacked cos the way they dressed. What people forget is at that time if you walked around dressed like a punk you got filled in. If you had straight drainpipe pants and short spikey hair you got a strange look.

Bri: On the night of the gig the place was packed – you could say there was a bit of an atmosphere when we arrived. It was the Angelic Upstarts first and only gig with the line-up of Tommy Mensforth up front, Col Hodgson and Mond Cowie on guitars, Leon Slawinski on drums, John Halliday on sax and me on bass. You couldn’t hear the sax much that night but I can remember Hal wearing a white boiler suit. The place was packed full of Jarra lads we also brought a big squad up from Shields.

During our set Skin Brown turned Hodge’s guitar up really loud so Mond pulled his lead out and Hodge walked off stage. Then the fighting broke out. It ended up a riot because of the previous trouble. I spotted me mate Kev Charlton in the audience and pulled him out. We got most of the Shields lads backstage cos they were getting battered off the Jarra’s. It looked like they had it all planned. Next day word got round and the whole night and band became more notorious with the punk and violence thing. We weren’t asked back.

After that gig Mensi and Mond went down a different path, got signed to big record labels and lived in London. Our band The Fauves were formed and we played mostly in the North East but were finished around 81. Nowadays Hal lives in Los Angeles he’s a top film producer and Ski lives in Spain, he’s an electrical engineer.

Who were your early influences in music ?

Bob: We knew each other from the shipyards, we were apprentices together. I had been playing in other bands for a few years so it was good to hear Bri was in a band looking to do something. By then I’d heard the Damned and The Clash and thought they were amazing. It changed peoples consciousness of you didn’t have to sit and play in your bedroom for four years until you were a virtuoso. It’s a cliché but put three chords together and make a band, then it is all about getting the confidence to put a band together.

Bri:  I was into the rock scene but the Stooges, Ramones, Clash etc really influenced me in the early days. Kev Charlton (Hellanbach/Bessie & the Zinc Buckets) was living next door. I was always buying records Kev was never away from the door ‘Can I borrow this, can I borrow that’ ya knaa. Then when I got a bass he was around again, knocking on my door ‘Right I’m getting one of them’ (laughs). We used to blast out records and play guitars in my bedroom. This was maybe around ‘75 or ‘76 just before the punk scene. We had a great time when we were young ‘un’s, listening to music constantly. Kev’s not a bad bass player now, he’s left me for dead hasn’t he (laughs).

In the early days where did the Upstarts rehearse ?

Bri: We started rehearsing at The Dougie Vaults in Shields, we got chucked out so we went to the West Park pub and they chucked us out as well. This was a time when people didn’t want anything to do with punk you know, we ended up rehearsing in Percy Hudson Youth Club. In the early days Hal (John Halliday) and Mensi wrote most of the lyrics and everyone mucked in with the riffs. Hodge (Col Hodgson) was struggling a bit on guitar so Mensi brought Mond Cowie in. That’s when we started rehearsing a few times a week.

The Jarrow gig caused a split in the band. Who went with who ?

Bri: After the gig Hodge was a bit pissed off and wanted out. I was good friends with Ski and Hodge so stayed with them and we called ourselves The Fauves. Mensi and Mond went their way, got Micky Burns in on bass and Decka Wade in on drums. There were no hard feelings and we all remained friends. Sadly Hodge died last year and Mensi said if it wasn’t for Hodge there wouldn’t have been any Upstarts. Which was good to hear him say that and remember Hodge.

After the Jarra Civic Hall gig the Upstarts started gigging regularly around the North East and at Bolingbroke Hall in South Shields where we were lined up to support them. We couldn’t find a good guitarist so we got a hippy lad called Micky Carr to help us out. Micky had long hair so to hide it we put a bathing cap on him (laughs). But in the end we were pulled from the gig. To this day I don’t know why.

I left the band for a while and two lads from Newcastle came in, and eventually supported the Upstarts at Bolingbroke Hall and the pigs head made it’s appearance. (See previous interview with Angelic Upstarts, ‘The Butchers of Bolingbroke June 1st 2017)

Did The Fauves have a manager to arrange gigs?

Bob: Nah we didn’t even have a van. We used to pile our gear in a car. When the Upstarts left for London and got signed there was a vacuum left in Shields. People came to see us and we built up a bit of a following. We had a rehearsal place in the upstairs of The Neptune Hotel in Shields. It’s not there now but it was a massive pub and we used to put on gigs downstairs. It was great that the manageress let us have the run of those rooms.

Bri: We used to play a lot then and get support bands in. One of the bands said The Neptune was the worst place they had ever played. One guitarist told me he went to plug his amp into the wall and it still had like an old fashioned coil connection, he had to sort out an extension cos it was that old (laughs).

Bob: I remember we decided to play our own gig at Boldon Lane Community Centre in Shields. We booked the hall, hired p.a, got a support band, posters, the lot. We were amazed when hundred’s turned up.

Bri: We were playing regular gigs around ‘79 and used to contact Gary Bushell at Sounds newspaper and he printed some good stories about the band. He helped us out a lot. Then we started to play the Gosforth Hotel in Newcastle. A small punk scene was starting to happen up there.

Bob: We also became mates with a label in Newcastle called Anti-Pop who promoted gigs and made a few singles. We supported Arthur 2 Stroke and The Noise Toys up there. One Saturday afternoon we played a great gig at The Casablanca in Newcastle. There was three bands on, it used to attract quite a crowd ya’ kna’. Inside it was done out with wicker chairs, palm trees, ceiling mounted fans and a picture of Humphrey Bogart on the wall.

Bri: Yeah it was a great gig, really popular, but we didn’t know it was a gay club (laughs).

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Did The Fauves go in the studio ?

Bob: We always planned to do some cos it was the days of do it yourself. But we didn’t really have the money for it. Studios were expensive then. It’s one of my main regret’s that we didn’t record anything from that time.

Bri: We booked a session at Impulse Studio in Wallsend for a Monday and we picked two songs we were going to put out on a single. We went to our last rehearsal on the Saturday night and it ended up in a big argument.

What was that over ?

Bri: Nothing really.

Bob: We were just kids.

Bri: It was like ‘Hey we’ve got to get this right we’re in the studio Monda’.

Bob: I think it was a bit of frustration at the lack of getting nowhere. We weren’t making progress. We wanted to get signed and move on.

Bri: I remember going outside with Abbo, who was singer then, and just saying ‘Hey this isn’t working is it’. We drove home that night, you could hear a pin drop no one spoke a word.

That night in total silence the band left their rehearsal room under the railway arches in Newcastle. Next day a phone call was made to Impulse Studio cancelling the session. But Bri remembers a recording……

Bri: There was a reel to reel three track demo that was made at Impulse Studio. I think it was Hodge or Ski who took hold of it and tried to get some tapes made but it disappeared. There’s also a Newcastle radio interview hosted by music journalist Phil Sutcliffe, that’s also gone so we’d love to hear them again if anyone can help.

Bob: The band had just about folded by ’81 and to be fair me and Bri did go on to play and record in many other bands but The Fauves was the best band we played in. We were always disappointed that we never recorded anything with The Fauves so when we got together again 3 years ago I had in mind to record half a dozen original tracks that we done years ago. It went really well so we thought can we put enough material together to make an album. Subsequently we’ve made 2 albums and an ep since then. We recorded tracks at The Garage Studio in South Shields and the engineer Kyle worked with us to get the sounds we were thinking off.

Bri: Most of the songs off ‘Back Off World’ were written between  1978-81. There is a couple of new tracks and theres been a few line-up changes over the years but we think it has come out really well.

Bob: We’ve played some canny gigs lately and to be fair it’s probably been more enjoyable than first time around. We have a few gigs lined up with the new line up of

Mick Smith (vocals) Allen Hughes (guitar) Bri Smith (bass) &

Bob Rowland (drums).

The first one in Newcastle at Trillians on 11th November, then The Wheatsheaf, Sunderland 23rd November and the Philadelphia Club, Houghton le Spring 14th December.

For further info, gig dates, cd releases contact   https://thefauves.wordpress.com/

or via Facebook at  The Fauves punk band

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019