SMELLS LIKE TOON SPIRIT -A new book ‘Closest Thing to Heaven’ captures the atmosphere surrounding the Newcastle ‘70s & ’80s music scene 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.

The book was available from 3rd December 2020 in all high street shops, and available online through Amazon or direct from Tyne Bridge Publishing at Tyne Bridge Publishing | Newcastle City Council

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.

To contact Simon McKay go to the following links:

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Interview by Gary Alikivi  December 2020.