HEARTBREAKER : in conversation with Lee Robertson, former member ‘80s rock band ‘SHE’ (part 1)

‘She’ were a rock band based in North Tyneside who recorded two singles in the 1980’s. Fronted By Karen McInulty, bassist Billy Germaney, drummer Paul Defty, guitarist Ken Riley and Lee Robertson guitar & keyboards who I met up with earlier this month.

I was surrounded by music, there was always instruments at my Nana’s house and my uncles played guitar, when I was at Tynemouth college I played guitar and wanted to be in a band.

In 1981 I got in touch with a lad called Ken Riley, we started jamming together in his house then formed a band. We were playing cover songs and bounced a few original ideas around. Ken had a superb ear for melody, chorus and memorable hooks.

Then it was a constant revolving door of trying out drummers, bassists, singers, it wasn’t working so we put an ad in the Newcastle Chronicle. Bernadette Mooney, who you have already interviewed, answered the ad and fitted in, we eventually started rehearsing with a drummer.

We were rehearsing in Preston Grange Community Centre in North Shields when Billy Germaney walked by, heard us and asked to be in the band. I went to see him play live in his band and he was streets ahead in quality, he also looked the part so we rang him up and he joined the band.

For a name we knocked a few ideas around but I think it was Billy who came up with ‘She’.

When did you start playing live ?

We started gigging with our first at Preston High School, North Shields in 1982. Our set was a mixture of rock covers and raw originals, we got on like a house on fire with Bernadette but with the style of our new songs the vocal wasn’t working out so we parted ways after a few gigs. She went on to front War Machine and done well releasing an album on Neat records.

So it was back to the drawing board for us. A friend recommended listening to someone she knew, it was good of her to do that but we were after more serious people not just friends of friends, as we were devoting more and more time to the band.

Eventually we did invite her along to the Church hall where we had the gear set up. I’ll never forget this as long as I live.

In walks a really shy person and sits down on the seat in front of us while we were warming up. We started playing the Pat Benatar song Heartbreaker. We could hear her singing along really ripping into it – this was sitting down without a mic!

I looked at Ken, he looked over to me, it was a moment we knew something special was happening. We turned up our backline and nodded for her to pick up the mic. The power of her vocal was incredible.

The range, the timbre, the softness of her voice – that was the job on the spot right there…..and that was Karen McInulty.

We knew we were a bit rough so got stuck in to rehearsals to polish up and tighten. Then we recorded a few songs to tape and took it to Mingles rock bar in Whitley Bay – famous for Tygers of Pan Tang playing their early gigs there – the pub management said yes and the gig went well. We played a lot of pub gigs after that all north of the Tyne up to Blyth.

One night at Mingles we were approached by the Tygers of Pan Tang management, Tom Noble and Graeme Thompson, they asked if we were interested in signing up so I took the contract and looked it over, handy as I was a Law student then. We had our heads screwed on and were determined not to fall in to any traps.

It was understood that this was a management contract to get to a certain point and then it would be revisited. First thing they suggested was getting in Paul Defty on drums, as I’ve said before sometimes friends don’t work out as we were taking it more seriously.

Paul was well known as a great drummer throughout the music scene in the North East and adding him to the line-up was the final piece in the jigsaw, he and Billy just clicked.

We all thought we were tight as a sharks arse but when Paul came in the band were solid as a rock and he locked everything together. The impact was immediate.

The management got us working every day, Monday to Thursday was rehearsal and gigging Friday, Saturday and Sunday where we travelled further – even to the Iron Butterfly in Peterlee with the Pauline Gillan band opening for us!

During the early gigs did the band have any laughs along the way ?

I remember one gig we had just played the Friday rock night at Sunderland Mecca when Karen said ‘you’re going to have to stop the van’. After drinking a few sherbets we thought she might be ill so we pulled over and all got out.

Can you remember Rik Mayall and the Comic Strip who done the spoof TV documentary about a metal band on the road called Bad News ? Karen said ‘I’m not getting back into the van until you all say we’re Heavy Metal’! (laughs)

Did management have a positive effect on the band ?

The management contacts really started to come into play with our Newcastle Mayfair debut supporting local band Emerson. I spent a lot of time watching bands at the Newcastle Mayfair so to be on stage there was incredible.

That was around 1984 and we played the Mayfair a few times supporting Terraplane, Wishbone Ash and Vow Wow then eventually headlining with local metal band Tysondog opening. Other North East gigs were Redcar Coatham Bowl and Newcastle Riverside.

We were virtually guaranteed an appreciative audience up here but we put on a coach for our first gig in London at the Tunnel club which was beside a glue factory – it stunk when you got off the bus all you could smell was dissolving horse bones.

But it was a great experience playing in front of strangers and we went down well.

What was your experience of the studio ?

We went into Neat recording studio in Wallsend to record the 7” single Never Surrender and Breaking Away produced by Keith Nichol. The 12” included On My Way which to be honest I preferred.

Later it was remixed by Jon Verity (Argent) and Fred Purser (Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang) in Jon’s Yorkshire studio, the track got into the top ten of the National rock charts.

Did the band do any radio, appear on TV or film music videos ?

For promotion DJ Little Jeff was always good to us, he supported the band by playing our single at his rock nights in Newcastle Mayfair. In 1985 Karen and I were interviewed on The Tube talking about the new single and some upcoming gigs.

We were also asked to play TX45 which was produced by the same team as The Tube. The show had North East unsigned bands playing every week and we done two tracks Breaking Away and Still Need You. ‘One Hand, One Heart’ was the other band that night, and the comedian Chubby Brown.

I’m not that tall and our guitarist Ken is a little shorter than me but when Chubby came into our dressing room he looked Ken up and down and said ‘F***ing hell when you’re on we’ll have to put up a sign saying do not adjust your TV set the guitarist really is only 5 foot tall’. He was brutal with his jokes, they had to stop filming a few times. 

The Neat single also got us on the Channel Four rock show E.C.T, we played our current single Never Surrender and our next single New Start. That was a superb experience because it was the last show of the series and they had a big after show party.

We were rubbing shoulders and having drinks with all the bands and rock stars we had watched playing live at the Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall.

Video still from tv music show E.C.T.

How did the TV appearances come about ?

The management would ring and say get the band together and we’ll meet at The Cannon Inn, North Shields. We walked in and Chris Cowey was there, Chris was the main man for TV he worked on Check it Out, The Tube and went on to do many other music programmes including Top of the Pops.

He had already heard our single, we had a great chat in the pub and then asked are you interested in being on the telly ? So it all went from there, it was a no brainer really.

On E.C.T we were on with Warlock and Magnum. We had the dressing room next to Magnum who were a lot older than us, seasoned pro’s really, we were all 20 year old Geordies let loose in London living the rock star dream appearing on TV!

We were shouting, laughing, joking, just very loud when Wally the Magnum bass player knocked on the door and in his very dour Brummie accent asked us ‘Can you please keep the noise down people are trying to sleep in here’ (laughs).

Read part two featuring Kerrang, Girlschool, London Marquee and find out what Lee is up to now.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   November 2021

One thought on “HEARTBREAKER : in conversation with Lee Robertson, former member ‘80s rock band ‘SHE’ (part 1)

  1. I travelled to London to see She but missed the bus so travelled from Wallsend to Middlesbrough by taxi and then a train to Kings Cross but I still did not know where they were playing so hit the drink and bought a Time Out magazine, I eventually found a tiny notice with She playing at the tunnel club in Greenwich where I joined the band in their room for a few hours then we hit the bar, unfortunately I had to much to drink missed the show and missed the bus back home so spent the night in Greenwich police station and got the train home the following day but we had some brilliant nights with Karen and the lads and they played at my club Which was East Howdon Social club and later renamed the Tunnel Club.

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