ROAD RATS – with Robby Robertson, guitarist from North East punks The Fiend

How long have you been a member of The Fiend ?

The Fiend started way back in 1982. At that time I was guitarist in the Public Toys playing old school punk when the opportunity arose to play in a band with my brother Robert and two good friends Moony and Jamesy.

After mulling over a few band names, we settled on The Fiend.

My last gig with the Public Toys was at Miss Kinks in Hebburn. The other support band were an alternative band from South Shields called Next, they played first to a full house full of punks and went down like a lead balloon.

Don’t think the punk audience were ready for what they had to offer. 

The Fiend played next and went down really well which dispelled any doubts I had about leaving the Public Toys. The next wave of punk was about to hit and I just think we were there at the right time with the right sound.

The music we were looking at creating was a much harder version of punk along the lines of Discharge with a real edge to it, also a lot more politically motivated. 

The Fiend, 1984. (pic. Will Binks)

Where was your first rehearsal and your first gigs ?

Our first rehearsal space was in Hedworthfield Church Hall in Jarrow on a Sunday afternoon. One time we turned up on a sweltering day and Kev our singer just had a pair of Jean’s on and no top. The vicar refused to give us the keys till he was fully clothed. Then we found a room in Frederick Street, South Shields which was above Goldfingers second hand shop.

We played at Gateshead Trinity Church. We ended up in a bit of bother and the gig ended in a riot. Things moved on quickly from there playing a few gigs round the country also playing numerous gigs at the now world renowned Station club in Gateshead.

What was your first experience in a recording studio ?

The first recording we ever done was at Desert sounds in Felling next to the Tyne & Wear metro line. There was no toilet, no heating, it was dark and a plastic sheet for a back wall. We recorded four songs – Help Me, Weird Boy, On the Dole and IRA

We put the tracks out on tape for release available for £1 by mail order available from my home address in South Frederick St, South Shields. We were then contacted by Endangered Records and asked if were interested in a recording deal.

We went back to Desert sounds to record our first record the infamous Stand Alone EP with our new drummer at the time, Nelly. Again we recorded four tracks. Fires of Hell, Stand Alone, Religion and Remember Who We Are.

Stand Alone was originally a four verse song but as we were recording the Metro train went past and spoilt the recording so we recorded it as a three verse song – nothing like improvising (laughs).

The EP was released a few months later but the first we knew of it was when we went into Volume records in Newcastle to find it number 1 in their charts, Nelly actually bought a copy from the shop. The single sold out after a few weeks and become a bit of a collector’s item selling upwards of £50 in record fares.

It was also bootlegged on a Brazilian label as a split album with Icons Of Filth. The record was also put out on a re-release by a German label but was sold out by pre-order before it even got to the shops. 

pic. Will Binks

Did you have a manager or agent ?

We’ve always managed ourselves through our own contacts. We did a tour a few years back through MAD tour promoters in Berlin. 

A tour of Europe was announced and immediately we thought there may be trouble when someone commented on the tour posters ‘have these f***ers not got a map’ !

We were sent an information pack we called the bible, it had our fee, venue details, capacity, hotel location and the distance from the last gig which I think they just made up. They chased the money so we often ended up passing a venue to get to another venue, then came back the next night.

We played Cologne, then the next night Copenhagen. They booked our ferry for 9am next morning. We literally came off stage at 1am packed our gear into the van then drove to Rostock to catch our ferry to Copenhagen then back to play Rostock the next night.

We went on to play a venue in Germany, then from there to Krakow in Poland. The bible said 320km after driving for four hours we reached the border of Poland where the sign read another 350km. As I said I think they just made up. It was actually 620 miles to the venue. 

What other countries have you toured?

As for playing abroad we’ve played all over most of Europe including France, Holland, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany and Slovakia. Most bands will tell you the European scene is far removed from the UK scene. 

The venues tend to be far more welcoming and I think the audiences are much more appreciative. Every gig I’ve played in Europe we’ve been fed and watered which isn’t always the case in the UK. 

We’ve also had the chance to play some unbelievable venues which my favourite has to be Kopi a huge squat in Berlin where we always get a great crowd in. We’ve actually had people from Israel, Russia, Turkey as well as the UK to see us in Berlin.

I found that mind blowing when local bands can’t even get 100 people to a local gig in Newcastle.

Another such venue was a place called Exile a former concentration camp so much history there. It was a really weird feeling when being shown round the place as not many bands get the chance to play there, it was a real honour.

Liepzig is another great city, we’ve actually played in three different venues in the same street each time we went back we played a bigger venue than the last. Not forgetting to mention Frankfurt AJZ, the hospitality is second to none, it also helps we played to 2500 people. 

One moment was playing AK47 in Warsaw and our guitarist at the time Barteks family turned up as well as a couple of locals were celebrating – one being the singer Darius of Polish band Incuivicta.

Halfway through the set he is down the front in the mosh pit when he picks up Barteks dad – who is also in the pit! and flings him about 30 feet across the dance floor. 

The Fiend live at The Station, Gateshead 14/12/84. (pic. Will Binks)

Any road stories you want to share ?

Probably the best story from touring was at a gig in Kunstverein, Germany. It was an old SS training camp left over from the war. The gig goes ahead amidst the worst thunder and lightning I’ve ever witnessed which added to the ambiance of the place.

We played the gig which was great, then as usual the lads went on the drink. With me doing most of the driving on tour and our drummer Steve James also being a non-drinker, decided it was time for some kip around three am. Our accommodation was a long barracks type room with about ten bunk beds.

While choosing our beds for the night Steve picks what he thinks is the best bunk while I’m further from the door. As he’s getting into bed he asks me to turn the light out, so there’s me trying to find my bed wondering round in the pitch black only illuminated every now and then by the lightning. It must of looked like a scene from a Frankenstein film. 

Just before I found my bed Steve jumps up screaming ‘put the light on, put the light on’. In a panic I manage to find the light but there’s something in my bed. As the light goes on we see a huge rat disappear under the sleeping bag.

We rush over pull back the sleeping bag there’s a huge rat and its owner in the bed – it was a lad from the gig. 

‘Who’s that’ Steve asks. ‘I don’t know you got into bed with him’. After a good old laugh about it and him getting a different bed, off to sleep we went to see what tomorrow would bring. 

What does music mean to you ?

As you can imagine being associated with a band for almost 40 years it’s been as pleasurable as it has been hard. As long as you enjoy what you do and you can still do it why retire. 

It becomes a bit of your identity when you speak to people, people introduce you not as Robby but Robby from the Fiend.

Also it’s about leaving your identity through records gigs etc and hopefully leaving life long memories for people. You get the chance to meet a whole lot of great people you would never have met without the band, also visiting places you could only dream of going to.

After all these years I can honestly say I enjoy it as much as ever. Still look forward to rehearsing and gigging with some of the best and most down to earth people you could hope to meet.

Interview by Alikivi  December 2020

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