BURNING ON THE INSIDE with Bill Newton former guitarist of ‘80s post punk band SILENT SCREAM

Silent Scream were very much influenced by what was going on around us. There was so much fantastic music in the late 70’s and early 80’s: punk, post-punk, new wave, futurism, new romanticism, Bowie’s Berlin stuff and really fresh sounding early hip-hop and disco-pop such as Grandmaster Flash and Was (Not Was).

We all loved bands like The Only Ones, The Scars, Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wah! Heat, Japan and The Associates.

Silent Scream were alive between ‘80-82. The line up was Stephen ‘Stesh’ Miller (vocals) Steve Newton (bass) Steve Bell (drums 80-81) Bobby Greenland (drums 81-82) and Bill Newton (guitar)…..

There was a vibrant music scene in Newcastle during the early 80’s with some excellent bands, like Deda, Rival Savages and Treatment Room. I’m surprised things didn’t explode like it did in Manchester and Liverpool. Silent Scream did attract quite a following as we were very much part of the developing new romantic/futurist scene. People came to see us to hang out, pose and be seen. The audience were an intrinsic part of the movement and were as important as the bands at that time.

When did you start gigging ? Around 1980 I had been playing guitar in a band with my brother, Steve on bass, and a friend from school, Steve Bell on drums. I met Stesh at a Chelsea punk gig in Newcastle and decided to form a band there and then.

I remember that Silent Scream had this idea of wanting to be elusive and mysterious so we only played a small handful of gigs between ‘80-81. We played our debut at Newcastle University and I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember much about this apart from being really nervous. Bauhaus had just played a storming gig at the same venue and I remember thinking, ‘How the f*** are we supposed to follow that?’

We played The Cooperage, where we were awful, Balmbras in The Bigg Market, Newcastle, twice where we were pretty good, and Rumours in Sunderland which I thought was our best gig mainly due to a sterling performance by Steve Bell on drums.

We also traveled to London to play at the renowned Moonlight Club in Hampstead as part of a showcase of North East bands. We shared the bill with Zap! and Red Performance. Stesh was sadly lost to us some years ago. He was such a creative talent. He could turn his hand to anything and was acclaimed as an influential DJ in Newcastle after Silent Scream split up. There was also talk of us supporting The Psychedelic Furs at Newcastle Mayfair on their 1980 album tour but unfortunately this fell through.

Who were your influences in music ? Was there a defining moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ ?  Seeing Bowie perform ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972 made me want to be a musician. I’d been playing guitar pretty badly from the age of 13. Punk exploded when I was 15 and gave me that DIY ‘you-don’t-need-to-be-Carlos Santana’ confidence to explore the guitar with a different mind set.

I was massively influenced by the spiky, staccato energies of John McGeoch, Keith Levene, Will Sergeant, Wire, Gang of Four etc. Hearing Magazine’sShot By Both Sides’ in 1978 was a pretty defining moment, and my favorite album of all time is ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’.

Did the band have a manager ? We were managed by Dave Baird who was a guiding influence. He arranged gigs, studio time, photo shoots etc. Dave is still in the business today producing new music.

What were your experiences of recording ? Silent Scream recorded two demos. The first at Impulse Studios in Wallsend in 1980 with Steve Bell on drums. The cost of this would have been laughably cheap by today’s standards and we were so young and naïve. I don’t think we really knew what we were doing or how to get the most out of the experience.

Stesh had already recorded a marvelous single, ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’, with his previous band, The Voice Of The Puppets so he had a bit of savvy. He was also a little bit older than the rest of us so we looked up to him.

The track list of the first demo was Deadline, Fate, All the Promise, Thin Ice, Trapped and Pantomime. Copies have mysteriously disappeared over the years and I haven’t heard it  in ages. Maybe someone reading this will have a copy.

Our second demo was recorded at Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham over two days in October 1981 with Terry Gavaghan as producer. Bobby was drumming at this point and three songs were recorded. This became known simply as ‘EP’. The tracks are: The Maze, Drown and Join Together.

Did you get any press or appear on radio ? Our recorded material and gigs were well reviewed in the local press and I remember we featured in an early edition of i-D magazine. The demo was sent to various labels and was picked up by The Shadows guitarist, Bruce Welch, who loved our sound. We also had interest from various record labels. Unfortunately, before we could even negotiate any kind of deal we had split up.

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ?  I am writing and recording under the name Psykobilly and have recorded a number of songs at Smiley Barnard’s Sunshine Corner Studios. The man himself plays drums, bass and produces. Smiley is, among others, ex-Joe Strummers Mescaleros and is currently drumming with The Alarm and Archive. I’ve released a single ‘Leave It All Behind’ and a low key, lo-fi EP ‘Social Media Influenza’ on all major digital platforms. I’m releasing my first album, with a working title of ‘Black Candle’ in early 2020.

It’s taken a long time for me to do this on my own as I don’t have much confidence in my singing voice and have produced, mixed and engineered over half of the album independently, learning on the go really. I try to write in a way that doesn’t make me easily pigeonholed or categorized. It’s broadly dark pop, but a mix of ballads, rock ‘n roll and ‘80s influenced synth pop.

I’m lucky to have the very talented Trevor Johnson working with me. Trevor has produced official videos for the songs and we like to think of our project as a way of marrying sound and image in a deeper, kind of dark cinematic style. Trevor is influenced by the Situationist movement. His visuals are an important part of my work as they bring new and challenging perspectives to the soundscape.

You can watch all of the official Silent Scream and available Psykobilly videos on You Tube. French label, The Evil Has Landed, is in the process of releasing the Silent Scream EP on vinyl although I think copies might be pretty rare. Worth checking on Discogs. The demo is also available digitally on Bandcamp

The first track on the EP, ’The Maze’, is going to be included on the marvellous compilation album series ‘Killed By Deathrock Vol. 3’ on the Sacred Bones label based in New York, USA.

There has always been an appetite for lost, hard to find and enigmatic stuff that came out in the post-punk explosion, way before the invention of smartphones and social media. The EP is pretty widely available on various YouTube channels and has almost 10,000 views.

These days of course, everything is captured and can be stored for posterity. But in 1981 it was a different story. Thank God photos and footage were taken and kept, and good people like yourself Gary are archiving some of these independent treasures from almost 40 years ago.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2019.

One thought on “BURNING ON THE INSIDE with Bill Newton former guitarist of ‘80s post punk band SILENT SCREAM

  1. Really interesting. Where do all those old recordings end up?! Lost count of the number of cassettes’ material misplaced over the years! T-shirts and tickets, too! Well done on keeping hold of the early handprint/ zerox posters, good work, mate!

    Liked by 1 person

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