MIDNIGHT MELODY MAKER in conversation with songwriter Bernadette Mooney

When you’re young you have energy, you’re fearless and full of passion and drive. I didn’t realise how different I was being a female heavy metal singer – there wasn’t many about in the UK. I loved that time.

When I think back to the ‘80s playing live we’d have all our gear in a tiny venue plus we had pyro all around the stage, you wouldn’t get away with it now. We came on stage to a big explosion then the crowd were shocked to see a female at the front for a heavy band called War Machine.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

It was my 21st birthday and I remember it well. The band were travelling to a gig in Yorkshire I always sat in the front and the rest of the band and roadies piled in the back with all the gear. But the van broke down and we spent the whole night at the side of the road drinking cans of lager. We eventually got back to the bassist’s house and all he had in to eat was tins of beans (laughs).

Things were really happening around then, Neat records had released our demo tape and the track Storm Warning got a lot of interest. Someone got in touch with Kerrang and they asked me to come down to the London studio for a photo shoot, the photographer was Ray Palmer. We were also busy recording the album Unknown Soldier so it was great timing.

HEAVY METAL TREATMENT

Neat had just got a new mixing desk and you could add samples so a lot of our songs had a foghorn, sound of chains on, a few other pieces – yes we were their first band to do that.

All my songs tend to be laid back and moody and I write from life experiences. Storm Warning was wrote on an acoustic first like most songs. I wrote the lyrics and melodies on the War Machine album then Steve and Les put it all together – they were given the heavy metal treatment with guitars and drums.

But we felt rushed in the studio, Venom were the main band at Neat so they got the most time, we would go in around 10pm till 2am. In all it took a couple of weeks.

NEVER SAW A PENNY

Being young and naïve about contracts we didn’t realise that we signed everything over to Neat so when the album sold, and it done well over in Europe, we never saw a penny – it still sells now.

We also featured on a Neat records compilation album and never received anything from that. People say I should be loaded ‘Never seen a penny’ is my answer.

Les Fry & Steve White

HOT ‘N’ HEAVY

Our bassist Les Fry handled all the promotion and used to send tapes all over that’s how it got popular on European radio. I once remember doing an interview on French radio. I used to co-host the Hot ‘n’ Heavy Express show with Alan Robson on Metro radio here in Newcastle, done that five or six times plus he interviewed the band.

We had a following in America but now it tends to be the European market where there’s still a big culture of ‘80s heavy metal bands – I still receive messages and requests for autographs. War Machine have still got a big fan base in Germany, Poland and Russia and the photo session from Kerrang is still about (laughs).

Lady Killers photo shoot for Kerrang magazine.

MIDNIGHT MELODY

People search for the War Machine heavy metal songs from 1983 but also hear my new stuff which is a different style. When I’m song writing a lot of times the lyric comes first then I pick up the guitar and a melody comes, sometimes it’s strange as the song is just right there when I pick it up.

Being creative is in our blood, I’ve got an Irish Catholic background and a lot of Mooney’s came over from Ireland to Wallsend in the North East, my uncle was a guitarist and my Mam and her sisters were singers and used to go out on tour.

When I was 14 I used to write lyrics and poems all the time then bought a guitar to put melodies to them. I was self-taught and started joining bands at 15 to sing and play rhythm guitar. It always felt natural to do, and a compulsion really.

HUM THAT TUNE

I record on an old eight track Tascam but sometimes if I’m in the supermarket or somewhere I use my phone. It can be embarrassing when you’re on the metro humming in a tune to a voice recorder (laughs).

I remember for the song Still Waters I woke up around 2am and had this tune in my head I don’t know where it came from. I recorded it and finished by 4 in the morning. I record during the night as I’m more of a night person for my music, I’m more creative then and my ideas come together.

I wrote Rush for a DJ called Tony Devino, that done well and last year I wrote Soul of Me. I have another three songs which I hope to get in a studio to record. I’ve always been song writing wherever I am, in the ‘90s I was working in London as a theatre designer doing costume and props for stage and when I moved back up North I was doing a lot of studio backing vocals and guitar for different musicians.

In the 2000’s I played a few gigs and wrote some songs including Still Waters. Some are available on Reverbnation and I’ll be uploading more onto Spotify soon and will send you the link.

A LIFE IN SONG

At gigs people would prefer to watch a full band so I spend more time writing and recording as my songs are more laid back – I’m planning to contact some musicians soon to go in the studio and record them on better equipment.

My passion is song writing and that’s what I continue to keep doing, I’m comfortable and happy doing that. I’m still in touch with the other members and would love to get up on stage and play a War Machine song, not sure if my vocals are strong enough for heavy metal though (laughs).

A previous interview with Bernadette from April 2018

LOST IN MUSIC – with North East musician Bernadette Mooney. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Interview by Gary Alikivi  November 2021

SPREAD THE LOVE #4

And more messages to celebrate the quarter million milestone.

Big thanks to all the contributors and readers – keep spreading the love!

Bri Smith (The Fauves) ‘250,000 views that’s brilliant Gary. You’ve done a great job and proud to be part of it. I’m sure there’s more to come and it’s great for the North East. All the best for 2022’.

Wavis O’Shave (Surreal Entertainer and Global – particularly South Shields – Enigma) ‘Here’s hoping for another 250,000 to match the number of pints – give or take the odd hundred – that The Hard has drunk since last New Year’s Eve’.

Dan Green (Author, Broadcaster & Researcher into all things mysterious) ‘It’s no mystery that 250k have dropped by’.

Jan Wilson  ‘You know how much my guitarist husband Alan Burke enjoyed visiting his history with Southbound for your interview…you just ‘get’ the importance of our local musical heritage’.

Brian Rapkin (aka Brian Bond, Punishment of Luxury, Punching Holes, Actor)

‘Gary’s blogs are incredible. Great to do and great to read. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes them work so well. Doing a blog with him is liberating and emotionally satisfying – it takes you back to childhood, younger times, important things of life that stay with us forever.

His editing is the work of a master surgeon – he pares it down to the marrow of the bone, the real events and the real consequences. Thank you Gary for the magic lantern show, the time machine that reveals the truth! You done a good job, Gaz’.

Robb Weir (Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘A very big thank you to our ‘Gary’ for keeping the world in touch with ‘Geordie Land’ and all it’s amazing characters. Here’s to the next 250,000 readers !’

Dave King (Battleaxe) ‘Hey ALIKIVI. A BIG thanks for highlighting the great talent of North East bands and musicians who are often disregarded and unappreciated by main stream music mags, and some journalists, especially in the Metal Scene which actually thrives up here in the North East.

With 250 thousand views of your blog, it could be a good idea for a full featured film on the subject? Just look what the Anvil video done for those guys as an example. Anyway cheers again and keep rocking’.

Nev (Punishment of Luxury) ‘It has been a great experience to work with Gary on Punishment of Luxury blogs. His enthusiasm is inspiring and encourages the best possible answers because of the quality of his well-researched, thoughtful and searching questions resulting in such masterful and brilliantly written blogs.

I like the way he creates such interesting themes and explores so thoroughly to bring to life excellent stories and histories about all things musical and creative in the North East.’

Jean Alicia Stokes (Tyneside Historian & Author) ‘What a delight the ALIKIVI blog is, offering such insight to our local culture. A wealth of information for the local historian which I turn to often, continually enhancing my understanding of our North Eastern area. Love the interviews as they offer such a primary resource.’

Will Binks (Photographer) ‘When Gary asked for my inclusion in one of his blogs I jumped at the chance. My ramblings about the ‘seven songs that shaped my world’ were a joy to choose and describe my connection with, perhaps only of a passing interest to some but so incredibly important to me that they were documented and published. Thanks mate, keep up the great work and well done on a quarter of a million views’.

Ray Cooney (Theatre producer) ‘You’re on course to hit 250,000 views! Well done!! It’s been great being involved with you and keep up the good work.’

Tony Wilson (Singer/Songwriter/Storyteller) ‘Gary has covered so much of our local North Eastern life in both written, audio and video form and has created hundreds of hours of informed and informative, entertaining and edifying aspects of our own great part of the world. The man is a marvel!’

Robert Olley (Artist) ‘The informal, light hearted talk with Gary was a great indicator of how my work as an artist has progressed since the first interview we did some time ago. It’s also proved to be an informative and invaluable update for the many people that have followed the progress of my career over some fifty years, thanks Gary!’

Glenn Howes (songwriter/guitarist) ‘My congratulations on this important milestone. 1/4 Million wow! I’m proud to have contributed and grateful to Gary for putting this together and keeping us entertained with all the wonderful stories in his articles of people from the North East UK scene. Well done!!’

Steve Thompson (Songwriter) ‘Congratulations on the success of your blog Gary I can see how much work you’ve put into it. My first chat with you was in the early days and since then you have given me several opportunities to tell more stories. The lifeblood of a storyteller is having a willing listener. Thanks for listening ….and of course you giving me that ‘Godfather of North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ moniker has come in handy too’.

There’ll be no idle shilly-shallying here I’ll just push on to the next batch of interviews – who’s next ?

SPREAD THE LOVE #3

More messages to celebrate the quarter million milestone – great stuff but where’s all the interviews man ! New one’s posted soon from songwriter Bernadette Mooney, former ‘She’ guitarist/keys Lee Robertson and actor Craig Conway – is that enough for now? 

Michael McNally (Performer/Musician) ‘These interviews have enriched my knowledge of music and the arts in the North East. Such an eclectic mix of articles filled with in-depth information about our cultural heritage’.

Paula Dudley (author) ‘I love your posts as they are so various. Some are political, some are about local heroes and heroines, some are about music, some are interviews. Thank you for including Ellen Wilkinson former Jarrow MP among them.’

Dave Morton (Journalist, Newcastle Chronicle Live) ‘Congratulations to Gary for hitting a milestone on his blog that expertly covers all aspects of North East culture and history. It’s always a great read – and on more than one occasion he’s kindly shared content with me for use in my own work on ChronicleLive. Here’s to the next 250,000 views.’

Bob Smeaton (Music documentary director) ‘Congratulations well on course for 250,000 views. Performing a valuable and always entertaining service for North East Talent. As Neil Young once said ‘Long May You Run’.

Howard Baker (Singer/Songwriter) ‘The North East culture blog Alikivi is definitely the place to find out about the music scene of yesteryear with ‘60s and ‘70s in particular. I played through years with some of the finest bands in the North, they were fantastic. I’m glad I met Gary and for him making all of this happen, thanks so much for all that you put in’.

Vin Arthey (Author) ‘I was delighted to be interviewed by Gary in 2019, and to feature in The North East Culture blog! I now check the blog regularly, and have learned so much about North East bands, entertainment history and about, say Ellen Wilkinson, George Orwell, the Spanish Civil War, which have gone on to illuminate my own work. I’m proud to be one of your interviewees, and one of your many readers, Gary! Thank you’

Martin Blank (Author) ‘I have been an avid reader of Gary’s blog since it started in 2017 and since then it has gone from strength to strength. I like Gary’s interview style – straight to the point – and he’s very knowledgeable about not only the North East music scene, both back in the day and now, he’s also very knowledgeable about North East history in general – especially his native South Shields.

Another great thing about the blog is that you never know what to expect next – it could be an interview with a world famous rock star, an ex-cast member of Auf Wiedersehen Pet or an up and coming local comedian. The fact that the blog has reached 250,000 views with readers, not just in the North East but worldwide, is staggering and well deserved’.

Bernadette Mooney (Musician) ‘I would like to say I have been very privileged to been interviewed and included in this blog and thank everyone that took time to read my interview.’

John Roach (Mythra) ‘Congratulations ALIKIVI on a quarter of a million views! Thank you for enriching our lives and reminding us of our fantastic North East cultural heritage. All the very best and here’s to the next 250,000’.

Jim Saxton (Temple of Blah) ‘Despite my focus on Roadrunner Records, I find myself coming back to Alikivi time and time again. The focus on the resources, key personnel and general moods of the North East music scene – especially in the early 80’s, is profoundly vivid and extremely helpful to my own reading.

Additionally, just one good interview, never mind hundreds, is a colossal undertaking – and Gary deserves every ounce of credit coming to him for filling the knowledge gap on this topic so substantially.’

Tom Kelly (Writer/poet) ‘I have worked with Gary on a number of films, telling stories of our area we felt needed to be told. The first film we worked on together was ‘Little Ireland’ in 2009 which has been seen by more than sixty thousand throughout the world. Gary has far exceeded that number with over a quarter of a million – keep on giving it six nowt Gary’.

Martin (Harbourmaster Productions) ‘Alikivi is a brilliant website, packed full of really interesting interviews and stories from culturally significant figures. I have always enjoyed reading the articles, and watching Gary’s films too’.

Daniel Clifford (Singer/Songwriter, Amateur Ornothologist) ‘It’s amazing to see the success of the blog and range of artists and projects covered over the years. Congratulations on reaching this milestone and I can’t wait to be interviewed again.’

Ian Slater (Entertainer)  ‘Well done that man! Thanks for your continued dedication to North East music, past and present and thank you for featuring me in one of your blogs. I continue to read it with great interest and enjoy having my memory and interest piqued by some of the acts that I thought I had long since forgotten. It brings it all flooding back’.

Julia Northam (Fietscher Fotos) ‘Congratulations Gary for creating the best North East blog on the net and thanks for letting me contribute, it was an honour x’.

Drew Gallon (Sweet Trash/Shotgun Brides/Dawn After Dark) ‘250,000 views by people checking out the past, present and future of music from the North East is an amazing number, a great boost to keeping music foremost in people’s minds, and keeping music alive and kicking. And it’s certainly a welcome boost after the 18 months or so that musicians, crew and venues have had to suffer. Thanks for making this happen Gary, and keep up the great work mate’.

John Gibson (Journalist, Newcastle Chronicle) ‘Congratulations Gary on reaching such a wonderful milestone richly deserved. It was a pleasure to take part as so many have done down the passage of time. Long may it continue’.

Steve Hall (East Side Torpedos) ‘Proud to feature on the Alikivi blog. It’s your own North East cultural history, so be part of it and check it out whenever you can.’

Brian Ross (Satan/Blitzkreig) ‘It was great chatting to Gary about the old days. It was a pleasure to relive those days in the words of my story. The memories all came flooding back’.

Alan Knights (Musician) ‘The North East is the best breeding ground by far for musicians to serve their time and I have been one of the lucky ones to have had music provide well for my families and a brilliant lifestyle – music has made me a happy man’.

Angus McDonald (South Shields museum) ‘I enjoy reading your blogs and interviews with North East rock bands, they bring back memories of when all the local clubs featured rock bands, especially the British Legion Club in South Shields – happy memories’.

J. Vincent Edwards (Songwriter) ‘You are fantastic for keeping our history alive. I’ve also did this around the world with my music. People love us Sand Dancers. We are fun and that’s what our world needs. I miss and love my old home town South Shields. Bless you for keeping the memory alive, love and peace x’.

John Edward Spence (Photographer)  ‘This blog has been a great insight to the talent within the North East music scene over the years, really enjoyed the interviews and features on the bands I used to love go and see at the Newcastle Mayfair and Mingles in Whitley Bay. Keep up the good work, so proud that my photos are part of it’.

Peter Chapman (Author) ‘Alkivi, the North East culture blog, is a unique and enduring record of regional history. You should be very proud to have been its creator.’

Big thanks to all you lovely people…keep spreading the love !

SPREAD THE LOVE #2

And the messages keep coming in to celebrate the quarter of a million milestone of the North East Culture blog.

Dave Curry ‘Congratulations on the fantastic milestone you’ve achieved. I would like to say that without your interest and drive the photos that were recently included in the 40th anniversary of Motorhead’s ‘No Sleep’ CD would still be sitting in the loft. Keep up the excellent work’.

Julie Clay (Promoter) ‘Wow what a milestone, 250,000 hits on your blog….well done Gary! Great to meet you and be part of such a great blog. Good luck and all the best for 2022.’ 

Jon De Ville (actor, ex-vocalist Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘I spent some of my best years of my life in the North East and I love returning. My very best wishes to everyone and here’s to a rockin’ 2022’.

Alison Stanley (Actress, Writer & Theatre producer) ‘I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Gary on a couple of occasions, both of which have been thoroughly enjoyable. Gary’s blog has been an excellent means of telling everyone about my work as an actress/writer and has allowed me to reach a much wider audience.

I love reading Gary’s pieces and was really chuffed to join the ranks and be interviewed myself. I would definitely recommend reading’.

Carol Nichol (Lowfeye) ‘With social media there is often an overload of mundane feeds, so when you see an Alikivi review you are keen to hit that button with interest, whether it be a review of a band, a character from local history, there is always something brilliant in the creation of these blogs/reviews, through the research and the way they are written and presented, they are a little jewel in the world of social media today. It’s very evident how passionate Gary is in seeking out these largely unknown stories. Fantastic stuff!’

Garry Hunter (Creative Director) ‘This resource is key to continuing and reaffirming Tyneside as a cosmopolitan centre, with quarter of a million views it’s testament to Alikivi’s global reach, proving that Geordies get everywhere in the world, whether as engineers, artists or musicians, our impact is immense.’  

Tom Noble (Music manager & Promoter) ‘Gary’s blog has contributed significantly to the promotion of culture in the North East at a time when it’s increasingly difficult to get coverage for anyone but the most successful acts, he has supported local music admirably.’

Par Can (former stage technician) ‘A few years ago I had a major health issue which left me with time to read and take proper notice of things I’d previously just skimmed over. One of those was a site run by Film Maker Gary Alikivi. If you can’t find a plethora of interesting, amusing, informative articles to entertain you then you have somehow ended up on ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Boris dot com’ ! Thank you for all your hard work Gary. Look forward to many more great articles’.


Tony Hodge (The Pirahana Brothers) ‘Great news hitting 250,000 views of your excellent blog. I love reading the stories you feature covering many aspects of the North East especially its huge contribution our entertainers make. Keep up the good work and here’s to the million mark’.

Jon Dalton (Jazz guitarist & Composer) ‘Thanks for all the work you’ve been doing here and particularly your focus on the NWOBHM. Not just music from the North East but also bands like ours from the opposite corner of the country. That was an important time for so many of us and it’s great to see those stories recognized and remembered’.

Sam Blewitt – aka Sam Blue, (singer for Ya Ya, Ultravox, The Streets, The Young Punx, Dizzee Rascal, The Attention Seekers). ‘The history of North East music is a very important piece of cultural history, Gary chronicles it beautifully. His interviews and historical pieces are carefully and thoughtfully put together, making them a joy to read. I really enjoyed being interviewed by Gary, his questions allow scope for a wider answer. I had to really dig deep to remember dates and locations, but it was great fun and brought back some wonderful memories. Great Job Gary, keep up the good work’.

Jeff Brown (BBC Look North) ‘Enjoyed being a part of the project, Gary – keep telling the world about the region’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.’

Antony Bray (Abaddon/Venom Inc) ‘After forming Venom Inc I was lucky enough to begin touring in Europe again followed by the Far East and USA, this continued and we toured the world for three years. Of course many, many interviews went hand in hand, but none more satisfying and relaxing than the one I did with Gary Alikivi right on my doorstep.’

Micky Crystal (Tygers of Pan Tang/New Breed Revolution) ‘Huge congratulations on a quarter of a million readers Gary. Honoured to be part of the Alikivi North East blog’.

Quentin Kopp (Chairman, The Orwell Society) ‘Gary continues to do a wonderful job of keeping aspects of the history and people of South Shields alive. For me, as Chair of The Orwell Society, a highlight was Gary’s evocative film Wildflower about Eileen O’Shaughnessy, Orwell’s first wife who grew up in South Shields where her Father was the Chief Customs Office.’

Richard Blair, Patron of the Orwell Society and son of George Orwell ‘Since the start of 2017 I have been amazed by the number of people who have shown so much interest in both my father and mother. Eileen was a child of South Shields, who fell for an impecunious and relatively unknown young author, but she had great faith in his ability. The tragedy was that she was to die before the publication of Animal Farm, a book that she contributed so much to when George Orwell was writing it.

The Orwell Society has identified with the Tyneside area with the help of interested people from the North East, and from time to time we are able to bring some of the members up to see her birth place, the area she was brought up and also buried. I hope that we might meet some of you when the Society visits in March to unveil a plaque to Eileen.’

Joe Peterson (Big Red & the Grinners) ‘I love reading posts on ALIKIVI the North East culture blog, it’s the only true record of what it was like to be a musician in bands in the North East, it’s a great piece of archive for future musicians too who will be able to look back and get a sense of what it was like for us.’

Big thanks to all you lovely people for the messages…keep spreading the love !

SPREAD THE LOVE #1

To celebrate the quarter of a million milestone the next couple of posts include messages from contributors to the blog.

Mond Cowie (ex-Angelic Upstarts) ‘Well done on the milestone Gary, great achievement, it was a pleasure being involved. I love reading the posts, it brings back so many great memories of gigs, bands, friends and pigs heads! What a blast we all had eh…long may it continue.’

Lou Taylor (Satan, Blind Fury, Heaven or Hell) ‘Extremely proud and honoured to have been asked to contribute to the Alikivi Culture and Music Blog, it’s so amazing that we have someone with enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to the scene – long live the Alikivi Blog !’

John Gallagher (Raven) ‘Congrats on hitting that 1/4 million mark.. and telling so many cool stories of our NE music scene!!!’

Emma Wilson (Singer/Songwriter) ‘When I released my first EP Gary offered to do a piece for the North East culture blog. Since then he has approached me at every milestone of my career – often even before I have decided to start my promotion he messages me “Get your info over to me”.

He helps promote me and often gives me a cherished page on his magnificent blog enabling my music to reach a huge audience. As an independent artist the exposure I get from Gary’s blog is invaluable. Thank you Gary you always get the exclusive x’

Tom Hill (Geordie) ‘Gary you put some great stuff on the blog and I always enjoy reading it…keep it coming mate’.

Dave Ditchburn (Brass Alley, Geordie, Talisman) ‘I’ve never been one for interviews, mainly because I have a terrible memory and sometimes get mixed up with dates and people. When Gary asked me to do the honours I was a little bit dubious but he has a great technique and makes you feel right at home. As usual since then I have remembered and forgotten again a hundred things that could have been part of the story. I think Gary does a fine job and long may he be able to keep it going. I very much enjoy reading his interviews’.

Lorraine Crosby (Singer/Presenter) ‘So thrilled to have been part of this amazing blog. Thanks so much for a great interview Gary x’.

Ed Waugh (Writer & Theatre producer) ‘What you’ve done is an incredible job of recording North East cultural and social life in your tremendous blog. It’s a fantastic feat achieving 250,000 hits but I’m sure the millionth hit will not be too far away.

I look forward to reading every interview, not least because I lived through most of what you write about and it gives a fascinating perspective of what other people were doing at the same time. Not only that, you’ve recorded history for future generations – what a magnificent legacy! Keep up the great work’.

Ray Spencer MBE (Director, The Customs House) ‘Alikivi is a rare and beautiful thing. Not seeking praise for its self but always a celebration on the subject. Gently incisive interviews cut to the heart of the subjects beliefs and motivation without them even being aware they had sat in the psychiatrists chair’.

Steve Dawson (Geordie) ‘Gary is a staple of North East cultural awareness. Working tirelessly to keep the region’s heritage of music, art and local celebrities of all genres alive and kicking in living memory. Long may he continue.’

Jan Graveson (singer & actor) ‘The North East runs in my veins. I’m a proud miner’s daughter and absolutely love where I am from and the people. It’s incredible really that while as a teenager most of us were in bands, performing, singing, playing music. It wasn’t until I moved away from my beloved North East that I realised not everywhere is like that.

I learnt over the years that it’s all about the ‘soul’ of the people and the inherent talents passed through families, the strong communities and passion that creates such love. Thank you Gary for being so devoted in showing the world what we, of the North East are all capable of !’ 

Dave Taggart (Belinda Carlisle, Danceclass) ‘Well done Gary. The North East culture blog is going from strength to strength. Keep it going and spread the gospel to the ‘yoof ‘ out there that there was and still is a thriving music scene in the North East’.

Jim Sculley (former Musician, Promoter & Manager) ‘Wow ! That’s some achievement Gary. But I’m not surprised to be honest. I’ve read almost every interview and most other things that you’ve written and never felt the urge to stop reading or to question or doubt what you’ve written.

Everything feels right, obviously written from the heart and absolutely smacks of the truth. You’ve laid out in words what you know to be the North East’s fabulous past, culture and heritage. Whether it be music, the arts, everyday life or it’s wonderful characters albeit sometimes wacky, but always funny, likeable and very musically talented.

You’ve done a fine job these last five years Gary and our area owes you a huge debt of gratitude for keeping us in the spotlight. I hope fervently that this is just the beginning and there’s a lot more to come. This is not bluster buddy – it’s from my heart.’

Phil Sutcliffe (Sounds/Mojo music journalist & author) ‘North East culture reaches out around the world in the endless circle of seeking and finding inspiration and using it and sending it back out again with a different accent. Lit the fire under me when I lived in Newcastle during the ‘70s. Keeps on rolling around and around (until the seas run dry?) Congrats and keep on keeping on!’

Sheila Graber (Animator) ‘Gary is a very experienced and well respected documentary maker so he fully understands the process involve in making any art form –  this makes him a great Blogger.

He asks all the right questions and summarises answers into a readable and interesting form. He has been a pleasure to work with over many years – here’s to the next 250,000 viewers’.

Davy Little (Axis, Pauline Gillan Band, Lies of Smiles) ‘Congratulations on a wonderfully informative blog. Nearly 5 years, 250,000 views, a wonderful depiction of the lives/culture/music/art of the North East.

Artists, Photographers, Animators, Sculptors, Writers, Poets, Musicians, Playwrights, Broadcasters, Journalists, Authors, Actors, Entertainers, Stage crew, Tech Crew, Managers, Promoters, Film Makers, Record Company execs, the full gamut of the North East’s incredibly creative community can be found here, stories that will evoke the full range of human emotion.

From the Animals to the Tygers of Pan Tang, from the Dark Arts of the Stasi to Postcards from Spain. An incredible body of work’.

Richard Laws (ex-Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘Congratulations Alikivi for reaching the landmark of a quarter of a million readers and shining a spotlight on North East music and culture. An outstanding achievement’.

Big thanks to all you lovely people…keep spreading the love !

BINGO ! NORTH EAST CULTURE BLOG HITS QUARTER MILLION

Big thank you to all readers of the blog – very much appreciated. Some of the messages you sent will be posted soon. Reaching the milestone people said why not interview yourself you must have an interesting story ? I thought ok why not – here goes.

Leaving school in the 1980’s there weren’t many options for a working class kid on Tyneside, I drifted aimlessly from Government employment schemes, factory work and signing on the dole – one time I found myself packing blocks of cheese!

Eventually I found the peace of mind I was searching for after studying photography and video production at Gateshead college. Then I dove straight in at the deep end – no art grants or funding just full time self-employment. Since then my life has been dedicated to photography, video production, making social documentaries and the past five years writing the blog.

It can be relentless forming ideas from the minute you wake up to working seven days a week – but to be honest it’s the only way to do it. If you’re not prepared to put the time in you might as well shut up shop and hand the keys in.

The Tube was broadcast from 1982-87 at Tyne Tees Studio, Newcastle.

There were a number of big moments that inspired me. I was fortunate enough to get audience tickets for live TV music show The Tube – looking around the studio I was surrounded by cameras, lights and stages – that was a buzz right there.

The first time I developed one of my photographs was magic, I had a similar reaction when I first saw a videotape editing machine. Plus I was and still am, curious about stuff – Who made that ? How does it work ? When did that happen ? All very useful when talking to people and searching for the sharp end.

Why call the blog Alikivi ?

I was looking for a short, original name and discovered my Great Uncle Alexander Alikivi was born in Russia around 1880 and left the country around the time of the revolution. He came to live in South Shields as a merchant seaman. His name is pronounced Ally-kivy.  

Why did you start writing a blog ? At first I didn’t have a theme it was to be another outlet for interviews I’d filmed over ten year ago with South Tyneside musicians called We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll.

I thought they still had some juice in them so I updated them, contacted more musicians, added more stories and in February 2017 the blog went live.

The next few years snowballed as the blog covered culture across the North East – writers, artists, photographers – all very popular as the amount of hits show. I never thought I would end up talking to actors from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and producers of The Tube.

Have you got an interview style ? I try to make it a relaxed, light conversation, and being genuinely interested in what they have to say. It seems to work as hundreds of interviews later the blog has hit over quarter million views worldwide.

The Angelic Upstarts, pic. by Rik Walton.

Have you any highlights ? There is so many but in one Mond Cowie, former guitarist with Angelic Upstarts, remembers being on a USA tour in 1983.

‘We walked on stage, the lights blazed and Mensi screamed ‘We’re the Upstarts, we’re from England, 1,2,3,4’ – then bang there was a huge power cut’.

Another highlight was Danny McCormack from The Wildhearts, he told me his parents were only convinced he had a real job when they saw him on telly.

‘Being in a band with a plank of wood and four wires hanging around your neck doesn’t cut it with your parents. After we’d done Top of the Pops my mam and dad stopped asking if I was going to get a proper job’.

A lot of stories were bands trying to ‘make it’ and one band who set alight to the Tyne but unfortunately not the Thames, was White Heat. Former singer and songwriter Bob Smeaton, now award winning music documentary maker, told me…

‘I was working as a welder at Swan Hunters shipyard when punk and new wave happened in ‘76,’77, that’s when I started thinking I could possibly make a career out of music’.

Lesley Saint John with Bill Patterson in series two of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. pic by Newcastle Chronicle.

Who else have you featured on the blog ? One show that had me glued to the telly on a Friday night during the ‘80s was ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’. So I didn’t miss the opportunity to talk to one of the stars of the show, Lesley Saint John.

‘You wouldn’t believe how much attention the show attracts. I done five years on Byker Grove, and a Catherine Cookson film, but Auf Wiedersehen is the one that’s talked about the most’.

South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy.

‘Wildflower’ was a documentary I made about South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, George Orwell’s first wife. I interviewed his son Richard Blair who revealed Eileen’s influence on George.

‘She done some re-writing of his manuscripts, certainly when he was writing ‘Animal Farm’ he would read out what he had written during the day and she would pass comment on certain aspects’.

I was proud to hear The Orwell Society screened the documentary on the Isle of Jura where Orwell wrote his masterpiece ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’.

The late Chris Phipps, author & TV Producer.

One man I interviewed, sadly just a few weeks before he passed away, was author and TV Producer Chris Phipps who worked on live TV music programme The Tube. I told Chris it was being in the audience of the programme that inspired me, Chris offered bags of encouragement ‘to go and dig out more stories, there’s plenty out there’.

Are you proud of the number of hits ? Aye can’t smile wide enough.

How long do you plan to keep the blog going ? I suppose I’ll keep going until the juice runs out.

Check out the You Tube channel : ALIKIVI – YouTube

TALKING NUMBERS

Big thanks to all readers of the North East culture blog as we reach the quarter million milestone these are the 30 most read interviews to date:

1.TALKING PICTURES Lesley Saint-John, Auf Wiedersehen,Pet

2.DEATH OR GLORY Danny McCormack, The Wildhearts

3.MAN FOR ALL SEASONS Dave Ditchburn, Brass Alley/Talisman

4.ANGELS OF THE NORTH Mond Cowie, Angelic Upstarts

5.MUSIC MATTERS Les Tones & Arthur Ramm, Beckett

6.MUSIC STILL MATTERS Dave Taggart, Danceclass/Belinda Carlisle

7.RUN FOR HOME Michael McNally, actor/musician

8.JARROVIANS Vince Rea, photographer

9.ROKSNAPS Motorhead, Newcastle City Hall

10.LITTLE IRELAND Jarrow documentary

11.KEEP ON ROCKIN’ Tom Hill, Geordie

12.BACKLINE Par Can stagehand/lighting

13.LETTERS FROM JARROW I.R.A on Tyneside

14.HOWARDS WAY Howard Baker, musician

15.WESTOE ROSE Amy Flagg, photographer/historian

16.1980 The Year Metal Forged on Tyneside

17.ENTER STAGE RIGHT Jon Deverill, Tygers of Pan Tang

18.THE BOY FROM BENWELL Bob Smeaton, White Heat

19.ALL RIGHT NOW Michael Kelly, Southbound

20.RUNNING MAN Ray Laidlaw, Lindisfarne

21.FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE Micky Crystal, Tygers of Pan Tang

22.GROUND ZERO The Fauves

23.BOLD AS BRASS Marty Craggs, Lindisfarne

24.THE ENTERTAINER Kev Charlton, Hellanbach/Bessie & the Zinc Buckets

25.THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT Ray Spencer, The Customs House

26.STORMY DAZE Jim Clare, Venom

27.THE FIXER David Wood, Neat records

28.THE HOUSE THAT OLGA BUILT Olga, Toy Dolls

29.TYGER BAY Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, Tygers of Pan Tang

30. LAST GANGS IN TOWN, Tyneside band photographs

Click on ‘About’ for a full list of interviews and features.

To read an interview just enter the name in the white search bar on the home page.

WORKING THE HARD YARDS: in conversation with Adam Bell

Following on from an interview with Artist, Bob Olley (8 November 2021) where he talked about his latest work – Tyneside Shipyards, I met up with Adam Bell, Assistant Keeper of Social History in South Shields Museum & Art Gallery who revealed the theme for next year’s main exhibition.

A lot of people have said that when you left school there was two opportunities for work – the pits or the yards. A few years ago we done an exhibition about the coal mines that was very popular and I think we need to complete the picture, it’s high time we done an exhibition about ship building and ship repair on South Tyneside.

Launch of the Turkistan at Readheads, South Shields, 1962.

When are you opening the exhibition to the public ?

It begins in May next year and runs until November so it’s going to be our big, main exhibition right through summer 2022. We have started now because it takes a long time to do all the research, make contacts, meet former shipyard workers and listen to stories about their time in the yards.

It’s a fascinating process I really enjoy this aspect of the job. I really enjoy the history that is within living memory. You get to meet people who have actually lived through that history and they can tell you in their own words just what it was like.

So far there has been around thirty oral histories and I’m still looking for people to come forward to share memories and tell their stories about what it was really like to work in the docks.

What topics have the dockers talked about ?

The Health and Safety, or lack of, has appeared – they were eventually given hard hat’s and ear defenders. A lot of people talk about how quiet it is on the Tyne now compared to back then when it was constant noise.

One thing that always comes over is pride – they all talk about how proud they were to take part in building a ship from scratch. Or how it was repaired in double quick time with everyone pulling together to get the ship refitted and out on the seas again.

People were working night shift to dock ships as they were at the mercy of the tides, and there was sometimes three ships lashed to each other stretching across the river. They paint such an evocative picture of their time in the yards.

Tracers at Hawthorn Leslies, Hebburn, approx. 1950. Image courtesy of Irene Hills

You think of shipyards being a men only occupation but a woman called Irene Hills told her story of serving her apprenticeship in Hawthorn Leslie’s as a Tracer. This was before you could just run off copies – they had to make full size traces of the plans for all departments.

We’ve had someone from Australia get in touch about his Grandfather who was managing director of T.D.E and inventor of the quick release lifeboat. Apparently he donated the patent to the British Government and they rewarded him with a C.B.E. – who knows we might get that on loan!

The cross over from the mining exhibition and this one is the humour, practical jokes and one particular welcome to the yards. Many dockers tell of just leaving school, starting in the yards and being sent to the stores for a ‘long stand’. The young docker though it was a tool – after half an hour the storeman would tell him to clear off as ‘you’ve had your long stand!’

A retirement presentation in the blacksmiths shop at Middle Docks, South Shields, 1970s. Image courtesy of John Embleton.

This exhibition is special for me because my Grandfather worked as a plumber in the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast and I loved hearing his stories of life in the yards. My Granda passed away a few years ago but the stories are very much fresh in my mind. I wish he was around and I could share with him what I’ve been told by the Tyneside shipbuilders.

It was his stories of the past that got me interested in history and ended up working where I am today in the museum. It’s very important to do this exhibition now when people are still around and memories are still there, we want them to share their stories.

Anyone who worked in the South Tyneside’s yards, or individuals with something they could lend for display, should contact Adam Bell, adam.bell@twmuseums.org.uk or (0191) 211 5599 during museum opening hours. 

Interview by Gary Alikivi  November 2021.

WHEN THE SHIP COMES IN: in conversation with artist Bob Olley

After leaving school Bob worked in Whitburn Colliery from 1957 until he left in 1968, his love of everything Geordie inspired him to capture on canvas the heart and humour of the North East.

His first gallery showing was in Bede Gallery, Jarrow in 1971, he sold his first oil painting in Gosforth’s Novo Gallery and in South Shields Library in 1972 the painting Westoe Netty featured, it almost closed the exhibition down due to ‘indecency’ – amongst all of his work this has been the most popular.

Westoe Netty.

Somebody told me a few years ago they had been in America and were filling up at a petrol station. He was talking to his partner when the petrol attendant recognised the accent ‘Hey whereabouts in England are you from ?’  ‘We’re from the North East, South Shields’. ‘Do you know Westoe Netty?’ he replied. ‘I have a print from there’.

By the ‘70s Bob was a full time artist and sculptor and received commissions from a number of organisations including Tyne Tees programme What Fettle. He also held a number of exhibitions around the North East displaying his oil paintings of the coalmining industry.

In the seventies all my work was about North East culture and I knew there were Geordies scattered all over the world but trying to contact this potential market by letter or telephone was impossible, that is until the internet came about.

But when I first kicked off I discovered the open air art market on the Armstrong Bridge at Newcastle where I sold my work every Sunday for almost 25 years. I was one of the first with prints which gave you the freedom to get on with new work as the prints sold.

The bridge was where I learnt how to handle people, you got good comments and some not so good. There was one guy who was looking at a painting, they’re all framed with glass in, he was staring closely at it and I was thinking I’m getting a sale here. ‘Can I help you?’ ‘No’ he replied. ‘I’m just combing my hair’ (laughs).

Along with a number of statues around Tyneside – war hero John Kirkpatrick in South Shields and film actor Stan Laurel in North Shields – Olley drew caricatures of celebrity guest speakers including Tony Blair, Jo Brand, David Walliams and Alan Bennett at the David Miliband lectures in South Shields – David was former MP of the town.

What are you doing now ?

I’ve lived in the town most of my life but never took much interest in the shipyards although I knew a few people who worked there when I was a pitman at Whitburn Colliery.

So lately I’ve been working on paintings about the shipbuilding industry because I’ve moved away from the coalmining subject which I’ve done for many years plus I’ve been through a dry period where I was struggling to do something new which is rare for me.

I done a lot of research about the industry, photographs, old black and white film footage, and found it extremely interesting. What really caught my interest was how many trades there was in shipbuilding and finding the safety aspect was virtually non-existent. It was fascinating watching how they work.

Men were walking on a seven inch wide plank 80 feet in the air without a safety harness, or a rivet catcher armed with only a ladle to catch white hot rivets hurled at him from 15 or 20 meters. They’d have a flat cap on – not a hard hat, and clothes that look like they wear in the pub.

In the coal industry we were lucky because we had showers, they just walked straight out of the shipyard and went home. Loss of limbs and the mortality rate might have been higher than the coal industry, it’ll be interesting to find out. It’s a fascinating subject for me, a totally new direction and I’m enjoying the challenge.

When I was in Whitburn Colliery we stayed with the same set of blokes working an area, you never went off and worked anywhere else in the pit, but in the shipyards once the ship had been built the workers split off into different areas of the yard.

As a coal miner you usually work with the same work mate or “Marrer” within a group of say twenty men on the same coal face in the same district for years at the same colliery. But as one ship was launched many moved to another yard, the industry didn’t appear to have the same bonding that coal mining had.

In research the word oakum came to light. I found that the prison service in Victorian times used to buy miles of old rope from the shipyards and part of the prisoners punishment was to unravel it and then put it together with oakum.

They would then roll it up and sell it back to the shipyards – that’s where the saying ‘money for old rope’ came from. The yards would then use it to seal the joints on the deck planks. You could have five trades working to get the deck laid – could you imagine the noise they made.

These paintings I’m working on now have a greater depth than the coalmining just because you are working in a smaller space down in the pit. You have a much bigger background for shipbuilding and I enjoy putting in the cranes and seagulls. The paintings become much busier.

In South Shields the yards around Commercial Road, Holborn and Laygate areas had a few pubs and small cafes for the workers. It’s amazing how an area of the town can change its use once the area gets taken over by new technology or housing. In a matter of thirty years the industry and all the people who worked there were gone.

I’ve been working on these paintings around four months and for one of them it’s the longest I’ve worked on any one piece of work. There was a point you can get to where it isn’t working and to get over that I just push through, then it’s a downhill cruise to the finish of the painting.

The Museum and Art Gallery in South Shields got in touch about contributing to their new exhibition about Tyneside shipyards next year. I’ll put in about half a dozen paintings and the museum staff are also on the hunt for items to display such as photographs, certificates, tools, workwear and any associated memorabilia. 

Anyone who worked in South Tyneside’s yards, or individuals with something they could lend for display, should contact Adam Bell, adam.bell@twmuseums.org.uk or (0191) 211 5599 during museum opening hours. 

For more information on the work of Bob Olley check the official website:

Welcome to the home of North East Artist Robert Olley

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2021.