‘I’m particularly fond of watching large ships coming in to the harbour, or being brought down river by tugs. I love the Tyne for that reason. It’s a wonderful river’.
From 1960 until his death in 1976 prolific artist L.S. Lowry frequently travelled from his home in Cheshire to the North East.
He used the Seaburn Hotel as a second home and a base to explore the area, but when his usual room at the front wasn’t available, he would occasionally book in at The Sea Hotel, South Shields.
The hotel is based on the seafront near the entrance to the river Tyne. He would sit for hours in the car park between the South Pier and the Groyne, sketching ships and tugs entering the river from the North Sea.
Lowry was fascinated by the relentless power of the sea and subject of one sketch was the Adelfotis cargo vessel who ran aground on the Herd Sands at South Shields in 1963. It’s exciting to think that Lowry was there sketching in the background.
Always Ready is a film I made in 2016 about the work of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, it features excellent archive footage of the Life Brigade’s brave rescue of the crew from the cargo ship. (Check the link below).
Lowry found a number of vantage points to watch the river Tyne – one was the Mill Dam where an episode was filmed of TV programme When the Boat Comes In, and today is where The Customs House theatre & arts centre stands.
From there he walked ten minutes up River drive to the bridge which overlooked the shipyards, a different picture today as the yards have been replaced by housing. On many occasions he travelled on the Tyne ferry between North and South Shields.
Lowry was drawn to buildings that were old, neglected or about to be pulled down, an oil from 1965 titled Old House in South Shields caught my eye as I recognised the building from a photo in South Shields Library archive. Sadly not there now, it was demolished and replaced by flats.
Old House in South Shields. Note the position of the windows and doorway.
The large house was set on The Lawe – a hill top over-looking the entrance to the Tyne. To get there Lowry would have walked from his favourite spot at the seafront up the steep bank.
With its strong connection to the sea, this area would have been attractive to Lowry, with the old Pilot steps and Watch House nearby and standing tall are two beacons – large brick pillars originally used as navigational aids for guiding ships into the river before the piers were built.
Derelict at the time Lowry was there, the house was originally a barracks for soldiers during the Napoleonic invasion scare, then used as a business man’s club and reading room by the gentlemen of the Lawe.
At the back of Lawe House was a large Roman Remains Park – today it’s a partly re-constructed Roman Fort. Being drawn to old neglected buildings Lowry may have wandered over and sat sketching among the ruins – or was just knackered and needed to rest after walking up the steep hill.
Alikivi December 2021
L.S. Lowry by Michael Leber & Judith Sandling
L.S. Lowry in the North East published by Tyne & Wear Museums 2010.
Did you think you would get signed to a major label ?
The first line-up of Secret Sam nearly got us signed with a big advance, but it fell through during Christmas ‘85, we were gutted when we found out.
When I think back to those times I’m not proud of myself either. I was, and still am, pretty difficult to work with sometimes.
Russ Thompson (guitar/vocals) and I really laid the law down about arrangements and harmonies, I ended up falling out with some really nice people.
It got ridiculous in the end, Russ sacked himself and a dozen other people came through the band before I finally wrapped it up in late ‘86.
A year later Mick McKnight (guitar) and Paul Bateson (keys) had a club act and ended up doing Stars In Your Eyes, a big show on TV at the time. They got ripped apart by journalist Nina Myskow, that was fun to watch, but I did feel for them.
I mentioned being in the Jess Cox band, we did the first series of TX45 (music TV show filmed in Newcastle at the time of The Tube) and a couple of shows in London with Les Cheatham on guitar and a couple of great guys from down south, this was around ‘84-86.
Working with Jess (vocals) was a good learning experience, he’d had some success with The Tygers of Pan Tang so he sort of knew what he was talking about, even though he was clearly tainted by the music industry at that point.
In rehearsals for the TV show, he helped me refine my playing by offering suggestions like ‘can you put a blanket over those f**king drums’ and ‘don’t do drum fills’. Of course I will be forever grateful for that advice!
There was an album I did around ’85 with Jess and Rob Weir (guitar) called imaginatively – Tyger Tyger. Me and Rob programmed all drums on a Roland TR-707 then went into Impulse studio to record real hi-hats and cymbals, that was the second most awful studio experience I’ve ever had. I don’t think it ever saw the light of day, it wasn’t that good.
What did the new decade bring for you ?
At the end of the ‘80s, heavy metal band Battleaxe got in touch and I started playing for them. Don’t they say any publicity is good publicity ?
The singer would have crazy ideas like ‘we’re going to make a video on an oil rig and the BBC are coming down to film it’. At first, I thought this is exciting, but soon realised he lived in a fantasy world.
What he forgot to mention was with all our gear we would have to sneak illegally onto one of the oil rigs being built in Sunderland docks, and start playing until news media and police turned up to arrest us.
Incidentally, from 2010-14 I returned to Battleaxe but I’ll not go there, it’s a four year horror story I’d rather forget, it includes the worst band and recording experience I’ve ever had.
By the mid ‘90s I was enjoying playing around the pubs in a little three piece band and one day got a call from the late Eric Cook who managed Venom and others.
He asked if I could do a tour because the drummer they were hoping to use had dropped out. I immediately said yes, it’s a powerful word yes – the tour was the next week, and the band was Skyclad.
I’d never heard of them but did sort of know Steve (Ramsey, lead guitarist) and Bean (Graeme English, bass) from the band Satan. With only four or five days to learn the set, we were off to Europe to play with Blind Guardian, Yngwie Malmsteen and Saxon.
It was great, but I felt like a fish out of water. I’d never played in a folk metal band before and I’d never done that kind of tour.
Big venues, lorries full of gear, half a dozen tour coaches, catering the lot, it was like stepping into the unknown for me – totally routine for the other guys though.
One of the highlights for me was jamming with Yngwie Malmsteen’s band in the sound check in Hannover, a rare opportunity, they were brilliant players, and had to be because Yngwie would dock their pay if they made a mistake on stage.
I stayed with Skyclad for a couple of years, doing a few tours with bands like Riot, Whiplash, Subway to Sally, and recording a couple of albums at top studios like Moles in Bath and Jacobs in Surrey, but I was sick to death of being away on tour.
It all came to a head for me at the end of ’96 in a snowstorm and -20-degree temperatures.
Imagine spending Christmas Day in a freezing hotel in a town where nothing was open, and being away from your loved ones without any means of contacting them but a payphone in the street – totally depressing.
Why anyone thought that would be a good idea was beyond me.
Things got so bad that in true rock star style Andy smashed up his hotel room causing a couple of thousand pounds worth of damage – by the way Andy was the lighting guy, it was the band who were the sensible one’s.
At this point I was in my mid-thirties and realised this is a game for the young, but I appreciated the experience and the band always treated me well.
What have you been doing the past couple of years ?
From 2016-18 I was drumming for American band Bob Dee with Petro, he was a great guy, we did a couple of UK tours, one supporting Chris Holmes from ‘80s metal band Wasp.
So that’s about it, trying to make it in music brought good times and not so good times for me, it’s great to talk about it if someone’s interested in listening, but these days I find myself less inclined to.
What do you think about your time in music ?
I think my ‘80s was a great time, the band scene was vibrant, and anything seemed possible. I often think of people like Karen McInulty from She, Dave Donaldson from the Jess Cox Band,Eric Cook, and others who are sadly no longer with us, and loads of other people who were part of that close knit scene at the time, really fond memories.
For me it’s like telling a story about climbing a mountain, it’s easy to romanticise about it in hindsight and say it was all fantastic, when in reality it was hard work with only the odd moment when the clouds broke.
For me being in a band is all about writing your own songs. When I started playing seriously I just couldn’t see a route to any kind of satisfaction or success playing other people’s material.
By mid ‘80s loads of musician mates were giving up on original stuff and going into the social club scene, I just didn’t see the joy in that. Being in a band actually cost me money and always has, recording studios were never cheap. I was skint most of the time.
What was your experience of recording in a studio ?
The bands I was in were mostly original, so saving up and borrowing money to go into the studio became the norm.
Anyone reading this will remember that recording demos could sometimes be an anti-climax before digital stuff came along.
For example you’d save up your money to go into say Impulse in Wallsend, have a great recording session, get high as a kite sitting next to producer Keith Nichol doing the mix, only to be met with utter disappointment when you got home and played back your cassette copy.
It just never sounded as good as it did through those big studio monitors.
My first time in the studio was around ’78, a great little place in the basement of a house overlooking Saltwell Park in Gateshead. It was a great learning experience, the owner and sound engineer was Ken Black.
He once said to me after a recording session, ‘you’ve got the makings of a really good drummer, but your bass drum foot needs some work’.
It was both a confidence boost and criticism rolled into one, good advice for a 16-year-old but started my love hate relationship with studios over the years.
What bands did you play in ?
Zenith around 1981, a Rush rip off really, we recorded songs like ‘The Trees’ which Alan Robson would play on his Metro radio rock show.
It was my second time in the studio, Dave Shaw was on guitar, a great player who has played with a local band called The Force for years, a nice guy if I remember. But Zenith didn’t gig much.
Then in 1982 I was introduced to two brothers, Brian and Stuart Emerson, they were forming a band and needed a drummer. So we got together in Lemington Church Hall, Newcastle.
The melody and lyric ideas they were coming up with were far superior to anything I’d heard, so it felt quite exciting to be part of. Anyone around the Newcastle rock scene in the ‘80s eventually heard of Emerson.
With just the three of us at first we did a three track demo at Ronnie’s Studio with their in-house engineer, who produced a great result for us.
It was a great little four track place in the basement of a drum shop on Newcastle’s New Bridge Street. The tracks sounded big, but we needed a keyboard player.
Dru Irving came into the band and within a few weeks we went into Impulse in Wallsend to record another demo, Keith Nichol was at the helm this time, again the tracks sounded good.
I remember writing to Dave Wood the owner of Neat Records to see if we could get some sort of deal, but they weren’t interested in melody bands at that time, it was all metal stuff like Venom on the label.
Singer Sam Blewitt, who’s had a great career in music over the last 40 years, came in to the band and took over main vocal from Stu. He had that Steve Perry (Journey) sounding voice, so perfect for that era.
Sam had a mate called Charlie McKenzie, a great drummer who was far better than me. I could see the writing on the wall – I left before I was sacked.
They went on to record a single with NEAT Records called Something Special, or ‘nothing special’ as Brian often recalls. It got played a lot at Mayfair and Tiffany’s rock nights, every time I heard it I would wince.
What were your highlights with Emerson ?
There was one show we did in Scotland in a massive aircraft hanger, the stage at one end and bar at the other half a mile away – what could go wrong?
The organiser said ‘it’s a bit echoey but there will be loads of people and a 4K PA to play through, so the sound will be great’. But none of those things were true.
When we got there it was actually two WEM speaker columns with 4K stencilled on the side in nicotine stained magnolia.
There wasn’t much of an audience but they were appreciative, even though it took a while for the sound of their clapping to reach us at the end of each song. When the gig finished, we were half way to the bar when they started applauding the last song.
Next was Vogue and Secret Sam. Me and a nice Blyth lad called Russ Thompson (guitar) were writing songs together, I don’t know how we met, music just brings people together.
Brian Emerson had left Emerson and joined London band Bronze around 1983. Then around 84/85 he called from the capital saying he’s quit and wondered what we were doing.
Somehow we put a great band together in no time at all, Brian on bass, Paul Swaddle and Russ on guitars, Mick White on vocals, Paul Bateson on keys and myself on drums, it was great.
We were in Impulse in no time recording a couple of new tracks thanks to Russ’s dad paying for it.
Guitarist Tim Jebb took over from Paul Swaddle and we soon went into Fairview Studio in Hull to record some great sounding tracks.
Fairview is a top studio where bands like Def Leppard, Spiders From Mars, Robert Palmer, The Beautiful South have all recorded, it felt big time, and again thanks to Russ’s dad.
Did you have any management ?
One night I was out in Whitley Bay and bumped into Colin Rowell, who at the time was Stage Manager at Tyne Tees TV for The Tube. I knew him from a few months back when I did a Studio 5 spin off show called TX45 playing for Jess Cox formerly vocalist with Tygers of Pan Tang.
The Tube was amazing for live music, and massive for the North-East at the time, but mention it to anyone under 50, and they won’t know what you’re talking about.
Anyway Colin was with Rob Weir who had left the Tygers of Pan Tang, the two of them were forming a management company called Emerald House Productions and looking for a band to sign.
We were playing Mingles in a couple of weeks, so I said why don’t you come down and see us?
Mingles was the place to play on the coast, some great bands built their following there, but they could be a tough audience sometimes, as we later found out.
A week to the gig, and there’s always something that goes wrong isn’t there. With no notice, Mick White left the band, went back to London and joined Samson, so we were stuck without a front man.
Luckily the singer from Hellanbach, Jimmy Brash fancied it, so he came in for the Mingles gig. Rob and Colin said they loved the band but not the singer, so that was a problem.
Jim was a great front man though, I remember there was heckling coming from the back of the room and he said ‘there’s people shouting f**k off at the back of the room, I’m sorry we don’t do requests’. I nearly fell off my drum stool laughing.
In order to take advantage of this lucrative management offer – he says with tongue in cheek – me, Russ and Paul on keys pulled a new band together, this time with Russ on main vocal, Mick McKnight on guitar – who I’d played with in the Jess Cox Band, and Mick Bettridge on bass.
We quickly signed a 25 year management deal with Emerald House Productions and we took the name Secret Sam – imagine if we’d made any money? Things happen quickly when you’re young and starry eyed.
The band got the full image treatment from design teams at Tyne Tees TV and we did a bunch of shows and TV work including TX45 and Get Fresh.
Russ and I helped out with things like screen tests at Studio 5, and other productions like Razzmatazz. It was great fun hanging around The Tube TV studio meeting all the big artists of the day that had come to appear every Friday night.
Get Fresh, the show produced by Janet Street Porter, had two small stages for the band to set up on, and attached them to fork lift trucks with cable ties or string or something. The thing would never pass a health and safety test today.
We thought we’d be playing on a big stage to a national audience, but no, they wanted to drive us around the car park on these makeshift stages miming to our latest song ‘She Keeps Running’ – what a laugh!
It was both embarrassing and brilliant, we felt like stars for the day signing autographs for the kids.
Read part two of how Paul joined Battleaxe, Skyclad, Tyger Tyger, and what he is doing now.
The incredible story of the rise of women’s football in WW1 is the emotive topic of a new stage play by internationally produced playwright Ed Waugh (Hadaway Harry, Carrying David, The Great Joe Wilson).
On December 5, 1921 the Football Association (FA) banned female teams from playing on FA grounds, using FA officials or any FA-run facilities – effectively banning women’s football.
To bring this scandalous decision to light Waugh uses the story of Bella Reay – the free-scoring Blyth Spartans centre forward of the Munitions Ladies in Northumberland.
Who was Bella Reay?
Bella was born in 1900. She bagged 133 goals in 30 matches for The Spartans and earned the affectionate Geordie title of ‘Wor’ – meaning ‘Our’ in English – even before the great Newcastle centre forward ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn.
To evoke a more recent Toon superstar, Wor Bella is today warmly regarded as the Alan Shearer of her day.
Who were the munitionettes?
When male military conscription was introduced in 1916 hundreds of thousands of women flooded into the munitions factories to save the WW1 war effort.
The munitionettes, as they were called, worked dangerous, physical 60 hour weeks in shipyards, armaments factories, docks, steel mills and yet still found the energy to play football to raise money for injured soldiers, widows and orphans.
Where did they play the football matches?
Initially on minor football grounds and miners’ welfares but as women’s football became more popular – with thousands of fans paying six old pence entry (£1.50 today) the teams graced professional stadia.
But women’s football took an almost fatal blow when the war ended in November 1918 and war-time industries closed down, causing the munitionettes to be thrown out of work to accommodate returning war veterans.
Was that the end for woman’s football?
No. It had a resurgence in 1921 when teams again formed and money was raised to help families of locked-out miners.
After being nationalized for the war, the government gave back mines to coal owners, and bosses immediately demanded a huge wage cut to ‘restore profitability’. This led to terrible deprivation where families were thrown out of company houses and faced starvation.
The thought of women’s football becoming more popular than men’s football plus the political aspects of football teams during the 1921 miners’ strike led to the FA’s political and vindictive ruling.
How popular was the woman’s game?
On Boxing Day 1920 a match at Goodison Park, home of Everton FC, had more than 53,000 crammed into the stadium and thousands more locked out. Those days a world record for football attendance.
How was woman’s football received in the North East?
While hundreds of teams were formed through the UK, the North East was unique in that the sides competed for a trophy donated by a Sunderland businessman – the Alfred Wood Cup.
The 1918 ‘Munitionettes’ final at St James’ Park, Newcastle, between Blyth Spartans Ladies and Bolckow, Vaughan from Middlesbrough attracted 18,000 people.
After a 0-0 draw the replay was hosted at Ayresome Park – back then home of Middlesbrough FC. Blyth Spartans won 5-0 in front of a crowd of 22,000 and Bella Reay scored a hat-trick.
How is woman’s football received today?
It’s the fastest growing sport in the world but the players of today stand on the shoulders of those selfless munitionettes from more than 100 years ago.
The sad upshot is not a single statue or war memorial exists today to the millions of heroic munitionettes who saved the WW1 war effort. They have been largely forgotten…until now!
Northumberland and Durham FAs are enthusiastically supporting the play which will initially tour the North East in March/April 2022.