This is the sixth post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The Stasi aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens, but they weren’t the only ones spying on Berlin.
Devil’s Mountain is an abandoned NSA (National Security Agency) spy station in Grunewald Forest just 30 minutes out of Berlin. The sophisticated listening station was built to eavesdrop by the UK and USA on the Eastern Bloc during the cold war.
Originally a swamp and forest, a technical college for the Nazi’s was being built on the land in the 1930’s. World War Two stopped the project. The war turned Berlin to ashes, a landscape of total ruin. The rubble from houses, shops and buildings was dumped on the land where the Nazi college was. The British and Americans became interested in the uses of this man made mountain which reached 120 metres high.
By the ‘60s various antennas with protective domes were installed by the Americans and the British. For decades NSA workers listened in on East Berlin. Until the end of the cold war, Devils Mountain only served as a military station.
After the Wall fell and the station was finally closed, there was an unsuccessful bid from a group of investors with plans to develop the area.
These days the abandoned spy station is home to an artist community who look after the structure. They also offer guided tours of the complex.
In the fifth post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Stasi aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens.
They arrested, interrogated and imprisoned anyone they chose. They would use the distress of people who were in prison by offering to let them out if they spy for them.
Intercepting thousands of phone calls, bugging hotel rooms and spying on diplomats was all part of their mission for complete observation. They steamed open mail in secret rooms above post offices. They copied letters then taped the envelope back together with a sticker ‘Damaged in Transit’.
As a way to find criminals they developed ‘smell sampling’. The theory was that we all have our own odour, which we leave on everything we touch. These smells can be captured in jars, and with the help of trained sniffer dogs, compared to find a match.
Mostly, they would collect smell samples underhand and what they called ‘operating in the shadows’. They would break into someone’s house and take a piece of clothing worn close to the skin.
Or a person would be brought in for questioning, and the vinyl seat they had sat on would be wiped afterward with a cloth. The piece of stolen clothing or cloth off the seat would be placed in a jar with the ‘suspects’ details on.
The Stasi would take its dogs and jars to a location where they suspected an illegal meeting had occurred, and see if the dogs could pick up the scents of the people whose smells were captured in jars.
They were also reported to use radiation to mark people it wanted to track. Radioactive tags like pins were made for clothing, magnets to place on cars and a spray to spread on people in a crowd or spray their floor at home so they would leave radioactive footprints everywhere they went.
To keep information safe from satellite surveillance the Stasi archive building had a copper lined room planned for it – Berliners used to refer to the place as ‘TheHouse of One Thousand Eyes’.
Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Policeby John O. Koehler
Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.
Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).
Behind the Wall (2011) a film by Michael Patrick Kelly.
If you have any stories related to the Berlin Wall or the Stasi don’t hesitate to get in touch.
This is the fourth post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
They aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens. This post reveals that the Stasi had their own design for life.
A smear campaign was a huge part of the propaganda war with the west, and extreme measures were taken to prevent any contamination seeping into the east. Inside the GDR the Government controlled newspapers and magazines. Access to books was restricted and censorship was a constant pressure on writers.
There is a story in Stasiland by Anna Funder, of a woman who was living with her partner and they were both under surveillance. The Stasi would come over from time to time and search the apartment.
One of the officers was up a ladder searching the bookshelves when he found George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The officer looked at the cover containing a red flag and pigs, on what looked like a collective farm. He thought that meant it was all right so he put it back. He mustn’t have known that Orwell was banned in the GDR.
Training as a journalist was effectively training as a Government spokesperson. As well as using journalists to plant stories in western media, a Department X was set up to spread disinformation – fake news from the GDR. It collected sensitive information from agents in the West and leaked it to cause harm.
The Stasi manufactured documents and edited audio recordings of conversations to damage reputations and spread rumours about people, especially about them working for the Stasi.
Interference in West German politics also came to light – exclusives were given to journalists about a West German politicians link to a Nazi past, and backbenchers were bribed for votes to keep preferred people in power.
The only mass media the Government couldn’t control was the signal from Western television stations – but it tried. The Stasi used to monitor the angle of peoples antennae hanging out of their apartments, punishing them if they were turned to the West.
Popular entertainment programmes in the East where deliberately timed to appear alongside important but depressing news of protests and political upheaval in the west. A phrase came out of these times – ‘The value of the clueless’ where parts of East Germany were not able to receive TV programs from the west.
Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Policeby John O. Koehler
Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.
Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).
A new book ‘Closest Thing to Heaven’ capturing the atmosphere surrounding the Newcastle music scene of the ‘70s and ’80s has been produced by MiE Fielding and Simon McKay.
The 96 page book is a photographic montage of fashion, faces, venues, record shops and home-made flyers – and readers of this blog will be familiar to some of the bands featured.
‘We refer to Newcastle having more of a ‘village’ feel to it back then as everyone seemed to know everyone else. Thing is, how were those gigs organised as they were often well attended. There are faces that I’m sure will be remembered, and not a tattoo or mobile phone in sight…explained Mick.
The main focus of the book are black & white photographs of North East bands Raven, Danceclass, Venom, White Heat, Angelic Upstarts and Tygers of Pan Tang tightly packed in with The Fauves, The Carpettes and Punishment of Luxury.
Mick added…‘As well as established acts playing in front of large audiences we tried to reflect the increase in energy as punk, new wave and electronica caught hold. What unites them all is that they were performing in Newcastle in an era that has to be the most creative in the city’s illustrious history’.
There’s even a couple of early shots of Prefab Sprout in a pub in Jesmond, a young Jimmy Nail before TV fame as Oz in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and is that a snap of Neil Tennant pre Pet Shop Boys?
How did the idea come together Mick?
Closest Thing to Heaven was very much a side project as it’s not the kind of thing I generally get involved with as I’m heavily into the avant-garde in both music and art. I’m a member of dumdum SCORE previously known as Ju JU Pell Mell pictured in the book. Simon was a member of the band The Said Liquidator and runs the fanzine Eccentric Sleeve Notes, he also DJ’s on Post Punk Britain.
I put the idea of a book forward to Simon who I’ve known for many years and he agreed to get involved immediately. We needed a ‘reason’ to do the book and decided we’d like to raise money for a music charity.
That lead me to fellow Northumbrian musician Kathryn Tickell who had set up the Young musicians fund with the aim of providing money for instruments for kids who couldn’t afford their own. So it was arranged that our royalties would go directly to the fund.
What was the inspiration behind the project ?
Like Simon I was part of that Newcastle scene, plus I had a number of 35mm negatives and photographs that were taken during the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I knew Simon was also a meticulous collector of artefacts of the time. He saw the importance of stuff back then so he also came up with a treasure trove of related material.
Once we’d put our collective resources together it was a case of trying to contact other musicians who had been active during that period – many are still going – and asking for help. Luckily everyone was extremely helpful including rock photographer Rik Walton.
How long did the project take ?
The book came together over a period of around 18 months in which time a lot of the pictures needed restoration so I spent many hours on photoshop.
The next problem was how to present the book whilst avoiding the need for accuracy of names of band members as we soon realised that including individual names would be an impossible task after all these years.
What are your aims for the book ?
I think we’ve done a pretty good job in reflecting the Newcastle scene around that era and hopefully it will bring back some great memories for people as it did for Simon and myself, and above all it will raise cash for the Young Musicians Fund.
Looking ahead, the book was to be launched with an exhibition in Newcastle City Library, and an event featuring some music and associated art. However like many other things of 2020 they had to be cancelled but hopefully we’ll have a proper launch in the Spring of 2021.
Note that Tyne Bridge (Newcastle City Libraries) operate a skeleton staff because of Covid. To date they have shipped 100+ advanced orders, any potential buyer would need to be patient if ordering direct from them.
Emma ‘Velvet Tones of Teesside’ Wilson first appeared on the blog in May 2019 talking about her early influences…’I learned a lot about performing and technical stuff in those early years. That’s when I developed my big voice. It was no more chirping from me. It was get big or get off!’
This week Emma has just released a new four track EP… I was lucky to be able to get to the studio for one afternoon between Lockdowns and recorded the vocals for the EP, Loveheart. As with my last EP Feelgood, Dean Stockdale recorded his beautiful piano parts from home.
There are four songs on the EP and they have a theme. I lived in London away from my North East family for years where I met many good friends who now are scattered around the world. This year has made me reflect on life’s complex human relationships and how precious they are.
Won’t Be Long (J Leslie McFarland) The version I know is by Aretha and one of my favourites by her, I love the rhythm of the track – like a train.
I Needed Somebody(Ann Peebles/ Don Bryant) You know I love Ann Peebles and this in one of her more heart breaking songs.
Border Song(Bernie Taupin/Elton John) Again I know Aretha’s version she called it Border Song (Holy Moses), I only realised it was by Elton and Bernie when I came to do the credits. Aretha puts the life into it. I hope to do it justice.
Need Your Love So Bad (‘Little Willie’ John/ Mertis John Jr) Wow I love Little Willie, his story is incredible. I know this song has been covered a lot but I wanted to give it a go, hoping to look back to Willies original style.
If yer looking for an original Christmas present to buy why not have a butchers at these books from North East authors who have featured on the blog.
A big influence on my life was watching and being in the audience of ‘80s live music show The Tube, so when I got a chance to talk to former music TV producer Chris Phipps I didn’t miss the opportunity…
“As an ex-BBC producer I initially only signed up for 3 months on this unknown programme and it became 5 years!”
He gave me plenty of encouragement to carry on recording stories from the North East which I am grateful for, but sadly, not long after the interview, Chris passed away. He will be missed.
Chris wrote extensively and had an amazing knowledge of music and the entertainment business. He left an ‘unorthodox autobiography’ of five decades of celebrity and backstage stories from Ozzy to Madonna to Bob Marley in the book ‘Namedropper’.
The book is available at Newcastle City Library or through Amazon.
Growing up in the North East and obsessed with music was former White Heat frontman, now music documentary director Bob Smeaton“I was working as a welder at Swan Hunter Shipyards when punk and new wave happened around 76/77 that’s when I started thinking I could possibly make a career out of music. The doors had been kicked wide open”.
What he couldn’t have imagined was having his moment on stage at Madison Square Gardens not as rock singer, but as a Grammy winner.
‘From Benwell Boy to 46th Beatle & Beyond’ is available on Amazon or can be ordered in Waterstones, Newcastle.
Earlier this year I read a great book ‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ and got in touch with the author Vin Arthey who told me…
“Newcastle born William Fisher turned out to be a KGB spy, he used the name Rudolf Abel and was jailed for espionage in the United States in 1957. He was exchanged across Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge for the American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. The Tom Hanks film ‘Bridge of Spies’ tells the story of how it happened.
I have a few pristine copies of the Geordie Spy on my shelf but with p&p, it would come out at £10 more than the Amazon price”.
More than four decades after the first screening of James Mitchells iconic BBC TV series ‘When the Boat Comes In’, the creators son Peter Mitchell, has written a novel ‘Jack High’ which tells the story of Jack Ford’s missing years.
“This is a man who has found a family in war. He interacts with union men, upper crusts, politicians….all he knows is how to survive and when he sees a chance he takes the opportunity”.
‘Off Key’ is the latest novel by Mark Robertson… I was playing a residency in a Jazz club that allowed me the chance to play with a lot of UK and Europe’s best mainstream jazz players. These nights usually overran but no one minded, not even the bar staff as musicians from an earlier era would spend almost as much time talking about their previous escapades as playing music.
I put together a patchy screenplay in 2007 before I re-wrote it as a more fully realised novel between 2010 and 2014. But I think the idea came as early as 1986 during a walk in Turnpike Lane, London. I was inspired by a tune from jazz musician, Iain Ballamy, plus many live music sessions over the years and helped by the melting pot that was Jazz Café in Pink Lane, Newcastle.
I came across the Jazz Café one day in Newcastle when rehearsing with The Hangarounds a band Ray Laidlaw was managing. I walked past the Café and at the time the door had a slot in it when anyone wanting to gain entrance would be given the ‘once over’ by the legendary Keith Crombie – if you were lucky you got in. I’ll be honest I was a bit wary of going in at first.
Folklore had it that Keith had been one of a number of locals who had ‘politely’ requested The Kray Twins to return home when they had ventured North looking for somewhere to expand their empire.
The Hangarounds rehearsals went on for a week and eventually I passed when the door was open. I went in and offered my services. Within a fortnight I had a regular gig there and spent the best part of twenty years playing there, up to six gigs a week.
What were your early experiences of the Jazz Café ? In the early days punters were thin on the ground with the majority coming on Friday and Saturday nights, with seldom more than forty people in a place that could hold up to 160. This left Keith with the conundrum of paying the bands enough to keep them sweet while remaining in business.
This he resolved in two ways, firstly scouring second-hand shops and picking up the best bargains, usually top drawer clothes, which he passed on to the resident musicians. During these early days, pay for your night’s work often included leather jackets or barely worn brogue shoes.
His second life-saver was a number of cash generating parties, the most memorable being themed on Berlin in 1932 and a rather left field Dadaist party. On one occasion I went to the upstairs toilet only to encounter a seven foot (in heels) transvestite, unencumbered by any sort of clothing – Keith didn’t buy women’s clothes.
The absence of anywhere open after 11p.m, other than nightclubs, led to an increasing stream of the city’s most interesting residents and visitors taking in the Jazz Caff as its popularity grew. Scottish Opera, Opera North, The Royal Ballet, The RSC and numerous visiting musicians plying their trade in musicals at the cities theatres would sit in with whatever band was earning their threads for the week.
Keith was never happier than when engaged in conversation with these groups, keen to show all, but especially those from London, that we had culture of our own in the North-East.
Who else was playing the Café ? The artistic freedom of the Caff made it a training ground for musicians as diverse as Seb Roachford, drummer from the Mercury-nominated Polar Bear, to Matt Jones, currently playing keyboards for Liam Gallagher.
It also saw its fair share of jazz legends come through the door to sit in and play, people like Wynton Marsalis, Russell Malone and Harry Connick Jnr. The change in licensing laws hit the Caff badly and, in all honesty, it never really recovered.
Although the pinnacle of his happiness, in my opinion, was the night Keith had to turn away thirty punters because, even had they queued all night, there still wouldn’t have been room for them. This made Keith laugh quite a lot and, after the struggle he’d had to keep the place open, who could blame him. These were the Jazz Caff’s heydays and I thought there was no finer place in the world to be making music.
The film director Abi Lewis made an award winning, feature length documentary on Keith Crombie – The Geordie Jazz Man which is well worth catching if you can. It really is a potted history of music in the North East from the ‘50s to almost the present day.
Are you from a musical family and what got you first interested in music ? On the 29th of January 1969 the six year old me, in bed, could hear the euphoric music on Top Of the Pops wind its way up the stairs.Fleetwood Mac had hit No.1 with Albatross. It wasn’t anything like nursery rhymes or the music on children’s television but I knew it made me feel blissful.
Whilst my parents liked music we didn’t own a record player and there wasn’t any older brothers or sisters to ‘educate’ me. The very idea of ‘owning’ music was beyond me. This was an era when you could still pay to listen to the number one by calling Dial a Disc on your telephone.
After my father’s early death in ‘72, a record player appeared in the house. The first thing I was compelled to buy was The Theme to Colditz and then The Best of Val Doonican. Suffering that lack of older sibling guidance again. I bought the odd single but little stood out. The next light bulb moment was in ‘74, seeing Cozy Powell play Dance with the Devil.
That wise sage Dolly Parton once said ‘Find out what you like to do and get someone to pay you to do it’ which I really should get tattooed somewhere. Next I bought an £8 drum kit, and I was off. I started in a few bands with friends before hitting the North-East club circuit.
Have you any memories from club land ? Sometime ago I was doing a dep gig in a club outside the North East, for Kevin Scott who was in Small Town Heroes. When we went in the whole venue had an air of the ‘wild west’ about it, not least the number of small children roaming around inside.
During our second set a ‘lady’ of a certain age clambered on stage and began propositioning the band, sexually . . . mid song. It transpired that it was her birthday and her daughter’s attempt to remove her from the stage came to naught.
Eventually a bouncer appeared and tried to reason with her. In a move that wouldn’t have shamed Lionel Messi she managed to nut the bouncer and then knee him in the balls as he went down. As this went on the whole club began to get a bit lively the phrase ‘The next dance is a fight’ may have got a mention.
It was at this point I became aware of our crew dismantling the equipment and removing it from the stage at a speed which could only be described as Olympian. I’d done enough gigs that this sort of altercation wasn’t unique. What was a first was the ‘lady’ concerned was still in the club as we left, arguing the toss with the bouncer.
Next on the cards for Robbo was a journey doon south….I left University in ’85,ended up in London and three months later doing the show Godspell. At the end of the show’s run I got a gig in what was, to all intents and purposes, a brothel in the West End. The band played six sets a night, 45 mins on 15 off, from 9pm till 3am, six times a week.
I didn’t drive at the time and after trying to catch twenty winks during the last set I would walk into Trafalgar Square where I would get a night bus home that would have me comfortably in bed by 6am.
I stayed in London for five years, did a little teaching and formed a jazz trio with session guitarist, James Woodrow and bass player Phil Scragg who was playing with Robert Plant at the time. I was still looking for a more commercial band whilst I did this. I played in many weird and wonderful outfits but never found anyone to progress with.
On a visit home in 1989 I went to Impulse Studio, Wallsend to meet up with an old friend who was working with Sunderland band the Faithful Colours. The band I was looking for in London had been under my nose all along. I told them if they ever needed a drummer to give me a ring.
Next summer they did and I still play with them to this day. They’ve had some near misses notably recording an album with Elvis Costello’s label in ‘97 before it was taken over by the people who owned ‘Woolies’.
Are you still playing now ? After Keith Crombie’s death in 2013 a lot of my jazz work dried up and I found myself playing in a Housemartins/Beautiful South tribute band working the O2 Academy circuit. Nobody ever tries to pays us with second hand garments.
Wishing all our friends who have supported us through the years a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and see you on the other side as life returns to normal.
Read more interviews on the blog from Alan back in September & November 2019.
Steve Hall former guitarist with East Side Torpedoes now in The Questionnaires, sent over some newspaper and radio reviews from the new album Atlantic Ridge….
‘As soon as people start listening to Atlantic Ridge, they’re going to fall in love with the album…. they’re absolutely going to fall in love with it’ – Dave Englefield, West Somerset and Sedgemoor FM
‘Sumptuous playing, Jane Wade’s perfect diction and wonderfully warm vocals combine to make both albums what I would describe as proper ‘adult’ orientated pop offerings. Chuck in exemplary self-production and this is, indeed, ‘music for pleasure’ – Pete Whalley, Get Ready to Rock
‘The cream of the crop of local musicians…. song-writing talent flows across an album that any true music lover should have in their collection’ – Brian Clough, The Northern Echo
‘Stunning vocals by Jane Wade. Impossible to pigeonhole but, if you must, file under ‘proper music’ – Stephen Foster, BBC Radio Suffolk
‘An accomplished, ultra-professional set of quality songs’ – Neil Vessey introducing Atlantic Ridge as album of the week on Folk Pilot, Deal Radio
The week of the album release saw my social media timeline bunged up with Metal City reviews streaming out media outlets like a virus. The word was out. Czech, Italian, Dutch and especially the number of German reviews dialled in. Ears were popping across the globe. This record was making all the right noises. And Fast.
‘In a class of their own’ (Classic Rock)…‘Metal City is an explosive and exhausting affair’ (Metal Hammer)…‘Raven remind fans that they were one of the early progenitors of the thrash/speed metal’ (Metal Express)…’A definite contender for album of the year’ (Frenzy Fire).
I got in touch with Raven main man John Gallagher and asked him about the response to Metal City… ‘The reaction to the album has been overwhelming really. Basically every review has been positive and more importantly the fans ‘get it’ and it’s reaching new listeners too which is great! We are also gonna’ put out another video within the next two weeks so that’s something to watch out for!’
If you haven’t got your copy of Metal City what yer waiting for !
Check the official website for latest merch/albums/video/tour news: