TOON TUNES – with former Newcastle Dingwalls manager Chris Murtagh

A comprehensive list of gigs at North East venues are being put together, and recently to add to the growing list, pages out of a booking list and diary from gigs at Dingwalls in 1983 turned up on line. Entries included:

26.3.83 – Big Country Fee: £240 – 282 @ £1.50. Excellent band and performance. Perfect timing with release of single. Excellent debut in the North-East.

3.3.83 – Raven & Hellanbach Fee: Raven £300 – Hellanbach £60 – 269 @ £1.50 Terrific stage show. Very good heavy rock band with good repertoire. Good following.

Raven bassist John Gallagher told me about the night… ‘I just remember the place being chilly…at least until we got started! There was a decent turnout and we were promoting the ‘All for One’ album. I don’t remember much more to be honest !’ …well it was nearly 40 years ago. But to find out more I contacted the manager at the time and owner of the book, Chris Murtagh….I don’t have the diary now as I’ve sold it but have a digital copy of the acts who appeared. Like the other Bierkellers around the UK the entertainment promoter Harvey Goldsmith bought all the venues for £1 and re-christened them Dingwalls. Yes only a £1 but Harvey had to service their debts and running costs. They were in the basement of office blocks, mine was in Waterloo Street, Newcastle. It had a capacity of 1200.

I was manager of the venue during 1983, it was Dingwalls from January to June when it went into liquidation and reverted to Vaux Breweries, the biggest creditor. Then from June to December Vaux changed the name to the Bear Pit but I was retained as manager.

How did you get the managers job ? I’d done several promotions there and had threatened to sue Goldsmith for breach of a contract for cancelling one of them. Turned out his General Manager offered me the job instead. I was the only manager who was also a promoter. All the other Bierkeller managers at Sheffield, Hull, Liverpool, Bristol and London were ex-Mecca managers and older than me. They got two for the price of one in me being manager/promoter and Chris Donald from very early Viz comics did all my publicity.

What was the Newcastle venue like ? It was like being buried in a hole in the ground for months without seeing daylight. When we closed and tidied-up well after midnight, we’d go and chill out at Rockshots upstairs till about 3am. Then back at work about 4pm the same day. My bar manager once dragged me to the City baths for a massage which connected me back to my body that I’d totally lost track of.

Martha Reeves was booked for May ’83 and your diary entry reads….Martha chatted me up in the office. Didn’t know where to put myself. She could have eaten me for breakfast. Motown comes to Dingwalls. Brilliant professional show.

What can you remember from that day ? Martha Reeves terrified me as I must have been the youngest manager she’d come across and she was a very experienced older woman.

In the diary for June, Murtagh booked female group Girlschool with support from North East heavy metal band Satan. His notes of the gig included… Girlschool arrived for their first headline tour after supporting Motorhead. They didn’t have any money and asked if I could help them out which I did. Nice girls who put on a good show but treated rubbish by their record company.

Satan a good local heavy metal band with a good following. I’d previously promoted them, famously at the St James & St Basil’s Church in Fenham where the posters read ‘Appearing live on stage, Satan.’ That pulled in a good congregation.

Also that month Dr Feelgood came to Newcastle with support from North East band R & B Spitfires….Full on red-hot rock band with commitment and attitude. Real pros – no messing about with sound checks – Brilliant. Wilko went to college up here so he had his own following.  Local band Spitfires acquitted themselves well in such company.

More entries to the diary with some excellent comments about the bands and gigs….22.4.83 – Gun Club + Sisters of Mercy. Fee: £511.25 – 548 @ £1.50. Sisters, good appreciative following, hypnotic beat with drum machine, bass and guitar. Led by Joey Ramone lookalike. Effective visual presence.

Gun Club, should have been called ‘Gin Club’, Jim Morrison just before he died. Good presence, good songs, terrible sound.

6.5.83 – Miami Steve. Brilliant American band. Shame about Steve and the material. Bruce Springsteen can keep him. Stayed in the tour bus only coming in to play the gig. Oh and don’t touch his bandana. Precious bastard, up his own arse.

10.5.83 – Bad Brains. Turned up 6 hours late so most of the audience left. Refused to pay them which set-up a stand-off between the band and my security. Lots of martial arts posturing until it finally dawned on them they would get severely plastered if they stayed. Bad brains indeed.  

16.5.83 – The Vibrators + Red Alert. Not overly impressed by the reformed Vibrators. Canny lads though. Their guitars were nicked before they went on, then retrieved by Red Alert, who were themselves a very impressive act.  

After you left what happened with the venue ? Harvey Goldsmith owned Dingwalls but his CEO was Peter Gross, an accountant, who’d run a chain of restaurants called The Great American Disaster in London. At each of the venues he’d bring a brewery in as sponsor. In Newcastle’s case it was Vaux Brewery who gave him three quarters of a million pounds. When the receivers Ernst Whinney were brought in because Harvey was going into liquidation for about the seventh time, I talked to him on the phone. ‘You’ll be alright my boy’, were the last words he spoke to me.

The venue reverted to Vaux Breweries with them being the biggest creditor. When Paul Nicholson CEO of Vaux arrived, he asked what Harvey had done with all the money. I said he’d stuck a black plastic crow on the wall and extended the stage. You’ll notice every poster advertising a Goldsmith promotion has a little fat man in the corner. That’s Harvey. He also used a black crow as the logo for Dingwalls. ‘I hope that bloody crow lays golden eggs’ was Paul’s reply.

Basically, Harvey used all the money for running costs. If he’d taken the time to run the venues himself it might have worked, but he was too busy touring the Stones, Dylan, Bowie etc and left the running to Peter Gross, who was clueless about the music industry. Vaux wanted to appoint their own manager of what they now branded ‘The Bear Pit’. My staff refused to work for them so I was retained as manager.

Murtagh came across North East manager and promoter Geoff DochertyMy first encounter with Geoff Docherty was when he was looking after Preacher, a band led by Tony Ions. I needed a rehearsal place for my new band Fan Heater and Tony who I’d played with in Slaughter House, suggested I approach Geoff to see if I could share their rehearsal rooms in the derelict Hydraulic Crane pub on Scotswood Road, Newcastle.

Not only did Geoff give us the pub but he said he’d get us a gig at the Marquee Club and Rock Garden in London supporting The Showbiz Kids who he also managed. ‘Oh yes, of course you will’ I thought being very sceptical. I couldn’t believe it when he was as good as his word. Total respect.

What did you do after Dingwalls ? After leaving there I continued promoting in Newcastle, Leeds and tours around the UK, including with my own band. 1994 I became a director of the pan-European touring organisation the Newcastle Free Festival inaugurating Cities of Culture, including being the first festival to perform under the Berlin Wall when it came down in 1989.

That same year, as part of the festival, I brought over the Peruvian band APU. 30 years later I’m still their manager. This also drew me into World Music which I’ve promoted ever since. As part of being a promoter, I worked as an A Level sponsor for the Home Office for over 25 years issuing visas for non-EEC artists to tour the UK. I still enjoy playing all over the world and organise festivals and events internationally.

Contact Chris on the official website:

www.line-up.co.uk

Interview by Gary Alikivi   June 2020.