In 2016 representatives from Newcastle United were looking to recreate a new version of The Blaydon Races that would capture the fan’s imagination. Rob Byron the announcer at St James’ Park had been playing some pre – match tracks by The Attention Seekers, so got in touch with the songwriter Alan Fish….The version of Blaydon Races that they’d been playing for the past 20 years had originally been copied from vinyl so the quality wasn’t great. Rob asked if I was interested in coming up with a new version. The biggest challenge was every version I heard was a jolly, lightweight novelty song and sitting playing it on guitar or piano just added to that, The song didn’t have any of the dynamics that fans give it!
What was your initial idea about recording a new version of the song ? At the games we attended during the research phase of the project it was evident that the fans rarely sing the song, so what I wanted was to reach back to the nostalgia of how I heard it back when I first started going to the matches and try to create a fan’s version.
I’m thinking back to 1968 in the Leazes End covered stand where it sounded really powerful and loud like through a loudspeaker. You would get to the match early to get your place and sing with all the other fans, it was a real communal thing and helped pass the time before kick-off. Now people can walk in 5 minutes before because they know they have their seat.
How did you put your idea into practice ? I had a chat with representatives of the club and they wanted a single voice to create a sense of unity and pride, Rob added that the fans only sing one verse, I thought this is going to be short then (laughs). But it was one of those 4am thoughts when I got the idea how I was going to put it together, not have one voice but 50,000 voices as one. That’s where the challenge was, to make it sound like that.
I contacted sports radio stations to see if any audio of the fans singing the song without being contaminated by the match commentary existed. One person got back to me, Chris Watson used to be in a Sheffield electronica band called Cabaret Voltaire, now he’s a top sound engineer who has worked with everyone including Sir David Attenborough. With him living up here now, he had taken sound gear into the ground and got loads of recordings. I bought quite a bit of audio off him. Chris is also a big NUFC fan!
I also set up an evening where members of fan clubs Wor Hyem 1982 and Gallowgate Flags came to a pub and we recorded them singing The Blaydon Races. Then back in the studio, to build the track we mixed in the audio from Chris Watson’s ‘Toon Army’ chants, referee whistles, cheers, goals, crowd reactions….. in place of conventional instrumentation. We then added Stu’s tribal drumming.
All of this was to stay away from the jolly, comedy feel. However listening back it still didn’t sound how I wanted, so we then asked for full access to the Stadium and pitch side areas in order to pump the track through the St James’ sound system, then re- record the mixes of the fans singing, from different areas of the stadium. RESULT! Sounded great!
Originally the club wanted Jason Isaacs to sing it, he’s like the Michael Buble of the North (laughs). We met up and got on well and agreed we needed someone to lead the song, but this was going to be a fan’s version not a celebrity version so I asked him not to sing it but be ‘five pints in’ belting it out (laughs). He loved the idea ‘I go to the match and sing along so it’s no problem’. He done a brilliant job and belted it out like a fan – five pints in!
How do you feel about the song now ? It’s still being played at St James’ and I see it as an ongoing project which I can add to. Using photos and visuals of matches from past to present is an idea I’ve been looking at, and how The Blaydon Races has been sung at matches over the years. I would love to have recordings of The Blaydon Races from the 50’s, 60’s, 70s…. to mix in to the track and create an audio/visual exhibition. (anybody out there with any recordings?)
Stu Haikney was my co-producer on this and he’s done a brilliant job. Stu is also a big Newcastle fan and we felt it had to be right. We wanted to get it to transition from a music hall song to a real football chant. We wanted the true authentic sound of fans singing at St. James’ Park and not take the easy option of using a ‘stadium simulation’ studio plug- in. Football fans spot that sort of thing a mile off (laughs).
It’s like a call to arms, a Northern anthem which captures the tribal spirit of the beautiful game and the roars at St James’ on a match day.
More stories soon from Alan about The Loud Guitars and current band The Attention Seekers.
For further info contact the official website
where the track is available as a download/stream on Spotify, Amazon & iTunes.
Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.