When I was younger in the ’70s the first time I heard the Queen song Brighton Rock it was an absolute humdinger with guitar ‘n’ drums blistering through a tunnel melting me ears – there was magic in the air alright. Reaching that euphoric moment when you want a song to instantly repeat is a fantastic feeling.
Music also has an incredible power to pick you up, light a fire in yer belly and head off any shit storm coming your way. And there are plenty hard times ahead courtesy of the snivelling Tory party shovelling shit hot off the shovel. When are some grown up’s gonna take over?
But how has music affected me ? Music has always been there it’s been a constant through my life. Looking back my early listening days were a great comfort and education. My first lesson was hearing my mams Country & Western records on the stereo in the sitting room.
I have two older brothers and a sister, one brother was an apprentice chippie (joiner) and our house needed extra room so his woodworking skills created a partition to make extra bedrooms where they would turn on and turn up their record players for my second lesson.
The eldest brother would be playing Dylan or Neil Young, the chippie would be Queen or Elvis Costello, and coming out of my sisters room was a collection of pop singles – I would sit on the stairs and listen to an eclectic mix of music for young ears.
Fast forward to today where I don’t download music, for my fix I visit the South Shields market and charity shops who have an ever increasing stock of cd’s. There’s a buzz to who you might find. The latest booty has included Country & Western compilations. One day when I was searching through a rack there was an old feller next to me, I said to him…
‘These aren’t in alphabetical order so hopefully I might hit lucky and find something by Tammy Wynette’, he shot back ‘Best get the ferry over to North Shields there’s plenty of Country and Western in their charity shops, they love their twang’.
Would the music of today provide an education as strong as those bands I listened to back in the day ? In 30, 40 or 50 year time would Ed Sheeran and all the others who, make radio adverts sound interesting, be remembered ?
It’s said that some things are best left broken, I can agree with that, but in times of extreme worry or stress it’s comforting to know that music is always there in the background ready to step in if needed – it’s good to know there’s still a little magic in the air.
For non-Geordies reading this post ‘Gan Canny’ is a phrase meaning take it easy. It can be said after yakking with yer marra, putting the world to rights – which means talking to your friend and solving all our problems.
Av’ yer got that reet? Champion. I went into Sunderland city centre to check out the new Fire Station music & theatre venue and stayed for a canny bit o’ scran. If non Geordies are still following that means ‘some nice food’. Also on my list was to see the new sculpture just around the corner in Keel Square.
I visit galleries and museums where fantastic paintings and great skill is on show like in Madrid’s Prado, Scotland’s National and Newcastle’s Laing, unlike the contemporary art in Gateshead’s Baltic which leaves me cold.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve seen good contemporary stuff in New York’s MOMA and the Pompidou in Paris but the Tracey Emin tent and unmade bed in Tate London some years ago looked like a sixth form art project.
An outside location is a different challenge, the position is all important. Gateshead got it spot on with The Angel of the North placed at the top of a hill on a former colliery next to the A1 motorway and seen by thousands of cars daily. The artist Antony Gormley originally made small models of the design but it was Hartlepool Steel Fabrications who produced what you see now.
Gan Canny installed in December 2021, is the latest work by Ray Lonsdale and is placed a stone’s throw away from where the Vaux Breweries were in Sunderland. Gan Canny is a life sized sculpture of a driver and his assistant and two horses pulling a cart loaded with barrels and crates of Vaux beer. The detail is fantastic with a bucket and shovel for the horse muck – three balls of it – and the assistant feeding the horse lumps of sugar – no doubt the driver’s gesture is ‘gan canny with that sugar’.
Ray also produced 11.01 the nine foot tall soldier at Seaham,11.01 refers to the first minute of peace, as the First World War armistice started at 11am on the 11th November 1918.
The red steel sculpture now known affectionately as Tommy, is sitting with his helmet on, holding his gun and looking down – is he weary from a day’s fighting and seeing some of his marras being injured or killed ? Or catching his breath and preparing himself to go over the top ?
Each time I’ve visited there’s been a quiet reverence shown by people of all ages, paying respects, laying a flower or small wooden cross, maybe reflecting on how wars have impacted the lives of friends, relatives, or their own lives. I experienced a similar atmosphere the other week when I visited The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge in the Scottish Highlands.
Lonsdale also created Fiddlers Green at North Shields – a memorial to lost fishermen off the North East coast. Loss is a major theme running through here and the Gan Canny sculpture reminds me of the loss of a slower pace of life. I’m old enough to remember a time when the rag an’ bone man with his horse and cart trotted down the back lane shouting ‘any ole rags’.
But this new sculpture by Ray is to celebrate Sunderland’s connection with Vaux Breweries, who for over 150 year were major employers in the city. Although not the emotional heft of Tommy, Gan Canny is worth going back for.
More works by Ray Lonsdale can be seen right across the North from Gretna Green in Dumfries down to Middlesborough on Teesside.
The last post highlighted the work of the Hive Storytellers who are based in Jarrow. It featured a story that group member John Caffery came across when he was researching his family tree.
“Thomas Caffery my Grandfather was born in Hartlepool in 1886, and I came across his army service records. They revealed he suffered leg injuries in a serious train disaster at Jarrow. I enquired more about this and searched through old copies of the Evening Chronicle to see if there were any reports”.
”I found there was a communal grave and headstone in Harton Cemetery, South Shields for the passengers of the train who were killed in the accident, but no names for them. They were buried with three named soldiers and remembered on a Commonwealth War Grave. My curiosity got the better of me and I uncovered full details of the accident and confirmed the identity of 17 people killed.”
Reports tell us that the 17th December 1915 was a cold, damp, foggy morning and a coal train was pushed out of Tyne Dock and up the steep track by a banking engine joining the South Shields to Newcastle line at St Bede’s Junction, a signal box controlled the area.
As visibility was worsening with weather conditions and heavy industrial smog, the banking engine had finished assisting the coal train and waited for the signal to let him know he can return back to Tyne Dock.
A passenger train heading for South Shields passed by as the banking engine driver waited patiently for the signal. After waiting 5 minutes he sent his fireman to the signal cabin to notify them of their position. Sadly this delay proved disastrous as a Newcastle bound passenger train ploughed into the stationary banker train derailing them both, and damaging two carriages.
Shortly after, an empty goods train heading for South Shields also collided into them and was derailed. The carriage’s wooden construction and gas lighting fuelled horrific fires and damage.
John added “I found in the newspaper reports that the noise from one steam engine was deafening and carriages of the train were a mass of burning wreckage. One engine driver had a remarkable escape as he was thrown yards away from his engine which had overturned and rolled over the embankment into a field. Men were lying on the ground receiving first aid, screaming was coming from the carriages as one train was on top of the other”.
“Despite heroic efforts of ambulance men from Palmers shipyards, soldiers from Durham Royal Engineers and Tyneside Irish, and a number of railway and policemen plus nearby residents, rescue was practically impossible”.
William Dunlop, the guard, and William Rowe, fireman of a train nearby, ran over and uncoupled the other carriages before the fire spread. Another man who helped to recue injured passengers was Samson Tolliday. Samson was an off duty engine driver who lived near Tyne Dock station. He was travelling in the passenger train when the accident happened.
At the official enquiry in Newcastle he told the inspector that ‘the first outbreak of fire was from a gas jet. If I had been able to get saws I might have got more passengers out. All water tanks on the engine were broken and water was not available’.
The Chief Constable of South Shields made an official statement reported in the Evening Chronicle 18th December 1915 ‘It is impossible to identify the remains of any of the victims, and only a small proportion of the property found at the scene can be traced to the possession of any of the missing passengers’.
John talked about finding more newspapers reports…
“There was over 200 people on the passenger train, that early in the morning they would have been going to work, among them there was an accountant, cabinet maker, a tripe preparer, and my Grandfather was going up to Newcastle for some army training. The people that were tragically killed were buried on Christmas Eve 1915. I felt strongly that they should have their own headstone with all their names on”.
With a combined effort from local company HVR Electrics, who are based next to Bede metro station where the accident happened, A19 Model Railway Club, Bede Memorials and South Tyneside Council Cemeteries Department, John ensured that an appropriate memorial headstone was installed in Harton Cemetery.
It was late 2012 when Hive community radio station started broadcasting on-line out of Tyneside’s Jarrow Hall. Over the years they took on a number of projects including a new audio drama group who obtained Lottery funding and found a base in Jarrow’s Perth Green Community Centre – Hive Storytellers was born in September 2019.
But when the Covid 19 pandemic hit in 2020 the on line station lost all funding and community contracts, fortunately the group managed to survive the lockdowns by meeting on zoom once a week.
With the radio station closed the Hive Storytellers continued to create new projects and produce a number of audio plays for podcasts on Spotify, Apple and other feeds. With over 2,500 listeners worldwide, the plays covered local Tyneside stories using a mix of fact and fiction.
Rule 55 is a play based on a rail disaster at St Bede’s Junction, Jarrow in 1915. It was written by Lilly Moon from South Shields and Jarrow born Lorna Windham.
Lilly talked about the inspiration for the story…
“I was talking to fellow Hive Storyteller John Caffery one day when he mentioned that his Grandfather was involved in a train disaster at Jarrow. It peaked my interest so I done a bit of research then talked to Lorna about it and we agreed to do something about this hidden story”.
“The project gathered momentum and not only did we write an audio drama, we also put together an exhibition for Bede’s World in Jarrow. We also spoke to A19, the local railway club about this tragic accident who ended up making a diorama model of the train crash, we were very grateful, it was totally unexpected”.
“On the opening night of the exhibition we invited the South Tyneside Mayor and Reverend of the local church St Pauls, she done a blessing. Newspapers and TV crews came and some family members of people who died in the train crash. It was lovely as they met for the first time. We’ve worked on a number of projects now and the local history stories go down really well with the audience”.
The St Bede’s Junction Rail Disaster story will be covered in the next post.
What are you working on now?
“Lorna and I are working on a new series of stories of mystical characters, she has created the characters and we’ve recorded them. They are put on the Woodland Audio Trail at the Lady of the North, Northumberlandia in Cramlington”.
“As people go round the trail they scan a QR code onto their phones that are on the listening posts and hear the stories we’ve recorded. It’s done really well over the summer holidays and we are producing another in November. We’ve had some fantastic feedback”.
Stories are worked on for days or weeks, and some films took months. To knock it into shape there’s always a lot of pushing and pulling, but when they drag on you know it’s time to think about letting go and finding something new.
But sometimes a story just lands in your lap and quickly comes together without too much work, this is one of those rare moments.
Walking along Ocean Road I was stopped outside The Marine pub by a good friend of mine who told me an interesting story about a connection between a South Shields street and a British soldier from the town who fought in the Boer war 1899-1902.
“He is buried in Westoe Cemetery near Ladysmith Street and there’s an inscription on the headstone. Unfortunately I can’t remember his name, it was a while ago when I saw the grave, but I think it was near the main gates” said 60 year old Sand dancer (native of South Shields) and musician Rob Atkinson.
Rob had just come out of the pub and had a few sherbets so I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my chain but it was a story that peaked my interest as I didn’t know much about the Boer war.
After a quick search the name Ladysmith was revealed as a city in South Africa that was a bloody battleground between British and Boer forces, it was reported thousands of British soldiers were killed there. Also as Rob mentioned, Ladysmith Street runs parallel with Westoe Cemetery.
In further research I found Devonshire – a street in the Tyne Dock area of South Shields – is another name of an infantry regiment who not only served in the First and Second World War but also in the Boer War.
I contacted award winning journalist and local history author Janis Blower and asked if she heard about the South African connection to a soldier from the town?
“The siege of Ladysmith between late 1899 and early 1900 was one of the key events of the war. A number of South Shields men served, mainly in the Imperial Yeomanry and Durham Light Infantry, with some 107 eventually awarded Freedom of the Borough. It’s likely veterans are buried at Westoe and Harton. Do you know his name?”
To find the headstone of the unknown soldier I took a walk over to the old Westoe Cemetery with its weather beaten headstones, many buried under a mountain of ivy and some toppled over.
Among the resting, lie famous industrial and political people from the town including Dr Thomas Winterbottom, Robert Ingham MP and members of the Readhead shipbuilding family.
Initially Rob had indicated the area where the grave was and luckily after only a few minutes searching where the headstones were still standing, I found it, as I said earlier this story just fell into place. The grave was a family plot with substantial headstone including our man’s details –
The search for the unknown soldier ended there but when researching in the local history library I heard of someone who had been looking into his relations involvement in the Boer war, it sounded interesting so I left a contact.
A day later John Caffery got in touch and we arranged to meet. He has been researching his family tree for nearly 20 years,
“I started after our parents died, my wife Veronica also searches her side. My brother in law showed me a photo of a family member called John Robertson. I went to the library and searched through their archives and found a few pieces of information – he was born on 28 August 1883 and lived in the Laygate area of South Shields – then it just spiralled”.
“In a loft we found a box of certificates, medals and photographs from the First World War and the Boer War, all for John, with me being interested in military stuff this was great. I don’t think many people know about the Boer War which was a disaster for the British army. Through more research I found the Boers were backed by German artillery and officers”.
“Then we found something special, searching through old copies of The Shields Gazette we got to 1902 and found that he was awarded the Freedom of the Borough along with the rest of the Battalion. We’re proud of what he done”.
Returning to South Shields from South Africa, John married in 1906, lived in South Palmerston Street and found work in the coal pits. But by 1914 the First World War began and he signed up to the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
In 1918 he was wounded and discharged, and after returning home resumed pit work until retirement. Sadly in 1959 John Robertson passed away at 75 year old.
As John Caffery told me this moving story he expressed only pride and respect for a brave young man who after fighting in one war, signed up to serve in another.
John has worked on a few Tyneside history stories which he will be sharing in the coming weeks plus he told me what he is working on next.
“I’ve been looking into the rest of the soldiers who received the Freedom of the Borough, there was over one hundred, and as always you go off on a tangent and taken down another path where I’ve come across some letters from soldiers and their families from the Northumberland Fusiliers who survived the First World War – some of them break your heart to read”.
“They’ve never been published or displayed and with me being involved with Hive Radio storytellers on Tyneside, we are looking to read them out on a podcast on Remembrance Sunday, November 11, 2022. I think they would like that”.
The Roksnaps feature on this blog has photographs sent in by concert goers who captured the atmosphere of gigs at Newcastle City Hall and the Mayfair. Among the many bands pictured were Whitesnake, Motorhead, Scorpions and North East band, Fist.
Whitley Bay’s Tygers of Pan Tang were snapped by John Edward Spence who told me “I used to go to loads of gigs at the Newcastle City Hall and Mayfair. I was lucky enough to see the bands associated with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal – just loved the music around then”.
John’s pics are from 1980/81 with Jess Cox on vocals who was eventually replaced by Welsh frontman Jon Deverill, and a second guitarist John Sykes joined Thin Lizzy and was replaced by former Penetration guitarist Fred Purser. The original Tygers engine room of guitarist Robb Weir, bassist Rocky Laws and Brian Dick on drums completed the line-up.
In 1982 the five piece band recorded one of their most successful albums, The Cage. On the subsequent tour I remember catching them live on their home patch at a packed Newcastle Mayfair on Friday 3rd September 1982.
Recently the Tygers management issued a plea “40 years ago this month The Cage tour began at Newcastle’s Mayfair Ballroom. At the time it was the bands most successful outing and we visited the best venues in the country including Manchester Apollo and Hammersmith Odeon. Support came from our old mate Kev Riddles’ Tytan. It’s a pity we have no photos from The Cage tour, unless of course anyone out there has any?”
“We realise it was 40 years ago but if you can help with the request for any pic’s – maybe they’re in the loft or in a box at the back of the garage – there’s got to be some out there”.
If you can help please don’t hesitate to get in touch. All emails will be passed onto the Tygers management or contact the official website:
In an interview Angelic Upstarts singer/songwriter/leader/chief, Mensi Mensforth (RIP) told me that ‘To be in a band you don’t have to be a prolific musician or go to art school you can just bang a dustbin lid and you’re away mate’.
Over 40 years ago in a working class pit village in County Durham a gang of brothers crashed into each other and were named The Sadistic Slobs.
To sift through the damage I met up with Paddy (vocals) and Gran (bass) in The Littlehaven Hotel, South Shields.
Gran: Me and Paddy first met after I was locked up at Roker Park, Sunderland football ground. What happened was a lad standing next to me had a butchers knife and was banging it on the gates, he saw police coming so passed it to me.
Well I got marched around the pitch and put in a cell, and who else did I find there ? it was only Paddy’s brother. I told him my story wanting to be in a band and you know what he said ? ‘Don’t let our young ‘un sing…..he can’t’. But he’s still here now and doing a great job.
Where did it all begin ?
Paddy: In the ‘70s we were living in Fencehouses near Sunderland and nothing much was happening. I was into glam rock first then suddenly got hit by punk.
Gran:Never Mind the Bollocks changed everything, it opened my eyes, that Pistols album cannot be beaten, then I started listening to The Clash who I still play to this day.
Paddy: Suddenly around the village it was like an institution to be in a band, everybody was wanting to start or be in a group. Bands like The Carpettes were around, The Proles had just put out a single and we all thought ‘we want to do that’. I remember buying the 7” in a record shop in Houghton le spring.
Then starting a band there was lots of comings and goings of different line ups, someone once turned up with only a cymbal and a snare drum.
Gran: We started rehearsing one song and said ‘right that’s in the set’. All the songs were like that, done very fast.
Paddy: I remember our drummer used to bring his kit in a wheelbarrow.
Gran: Yeah we had a roadie as well, and his younger brother came along and made it two roadies!
Paddy: But eventually we got a settled line up in 1982.
Gran: Unlike other punk bands we weren’t political, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Paddy: We did play some Rock Against Racism gigs and done stuff for Animal Charity’s. Funny enough these days we are a lot more popular than we were back then, we have a decent following and the new album is out.
Gran: Five year ago we got back together and added more catchy songs to our set and we’ve recorded an album.
Where did you gig in the early days ?
Paddy: Places like Peterlee football club, Fowlers Yard in Durham, Chester le Street and Ferryhill supporting GBH. We played in the Robin Adair pub, it was notorious as one of the roughest pubs in Newcastle and eventually got burned down. It was a sort of workingmen’s club.
Gran: On the night of the gig we went in with our mohicans and the poster on the wall advertised us as a comedy show group!
Paddy: There were only a few people there, I’m sure one of them had a dog.
Gran: Aye when we finished the committee guy popped his head around the door and said ‘you can rehearse here again next week’.
We played the famous Old 29 pub in Sunderland and a band called Animated Coathangers supported us. When we were on stage our friends were jumping about, the floor was bouncing and going to collapse. The manager ran out threatening them with a baseball bat shouting ‘will ya’ stop pogoing’ (laughs).
Paddy: It was like walking on a sheet of glass with all the broken bottles on the floor.
Gran: Rock bands played there on a Saturday afternoon, I remember before a Sunderland match we went in and two lads were pissing on the fire – imagine the stench! But yeah saw the Toy Dolls in there and The Proles of course who are still very good friends of ours. Aye really good days.
What other bands were around at the time?
Gran: There was and still is Uproar who we played with recently.
Paddy: Red Alert, Red London and we played in a band in the early days with Steve Straughan who’s in the UK Subs now. All good lads you know.
In the North East during the early ‘80s as the shipyards and pits were being closing down and the Miners strike was boiling over did you get involved in any fund raising for the miners families ?
Gran: No but we were pinching coal from the coke works ! We didn’t play any Miners Benefit gigs or charities to be honest we were just happy being in a band. You see its all about enjoying it for us, being with mates, not taking it too seriously and definitely no egos.
Paddy: We were never a protest band and we’re keeping it light hearted even now. A lot of songs are tongue in cheek. We’re nearly 60 year old we can’t be jumping all over the place you know.
Gran: In our songs we can take the piss out of each other, it’s all about having a laugh for us.
Paddy: I joined when I was 16 and probably took myself serious then but times change, life happens.
Gran: With our roadies and followers we all get on so well it’s like a family.
Paddy: Yeah it’s called The Slob Squad and not one of us are a full shilling!
Gran: Sometimes it’s like a day out for everyone like ‘last of the summer wine’. We played Rebellion Festival in August and went on stage 12.30pm, there was a couple of hundred people in the audience but more outside couldn’t get in, not sure why they were stuck outside might have been a problem with security on the main doors. But we just got on and done our thing on stage.
Paddy: We enjoyed it and had a great time, would love to go back and play again.
Where did you record the new album ?
Gran: My mate Wayne Marshall in Pelton Fell has his own digital set up at home that’s why it’s called Bedrock Studios. He was guitarist in a band I was in years ago called The Scream. It’s come out great he’s a talented lad.
Gran: We went ahead and got 500 copies printed of the album and that’s starting to sell and we are looking to record a second one. We’re not in it to make money, not that bands do anyway but to keep ticking over we’ve got a lot of merch on sale, even face masks!
Paddy: The quality is fantastic, ten songs, it’s heavy vinyl with a gatefold sleeve they’ve done a great job for us.
Gran: And on the back of the cover we’ve included a big thanks to people who’ve helped and supported us along the way.
Paddy: Yeah they’ve been with us for nearly 40 year. We done our first recording in Impulse Studio in Wallsend in 1983, I think the guy from Venom was working there then (bass & vocalist Cronos was tea maker/gofer).
What does punk mean to you ?
Both at the same time: Attitude.
Paddy: Now it’s as big as it ever was, we are getting more people at gigs than we used to. They have all grown up and their kids have grown up so they’ve time to go to gigs.
Gran: I’ve always said we are at a funny age – there’s a song in there somewhere! When we’re on stage once we stop seeing people laughing and enjoying themselves we’ll call it a day.
Paddy: In ’85 I was in The Scream we supported UK Subs at the Bunker in Sunderland there was maybe 15 people in the audience, now it’s growing because at a UK Subs gig there is easy 500 – 1,000. Always said that old punks are still punks.
Contact The Sadistic Slobs on social media for info/gigs and email email@example.com for details how to buy the album.
Newcastle’s Lit & Phil Celebrate Anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall
Just two mins from Central Station, Newcastle’s prestigious Lit & Phil historical library are hosting an evening of comedy fun as part of their celebrations to mark the 1900th anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall upon which the library stands.
A radio sitcom pilot written by Ed Waugh (Sunday for Sammy, Christmas in the Cathedral) and Trevor Wood, which was first broadcast on BBC Cumbria in 2011, will have a script-in-hand read through in October.
Kay Easson, Lit & Phil Librarian, is responsible for bringing the laughter to the library on Westgate Road.
“Ed and Trevor have contributed to our cultural heritage with their impressive canon of professionally produced plays that include international comedy hits Dirty Dusting and Waiting for Gateaux, as well as more serious national successes Maggie’s End and The Revengers.”
Kay added “Hadrian’s Wall is an incredible part of North East history and culture so it was a no brainer staging a read-through of their excellent, irreverent but funny radio play about Hadrian cutting the tape to officially open the wall -it’s really daft!”
Jamie Brown, who recently completed a hugely successful tour as Harry Clasper in the one-man show Hadaway Harry – written by Ed – will direct the 40-minute piece that is set in AD 126 as the wall is being constructed.
“Ed and Trev have always had a distinctive voice and perspective on things and it’s wonderful they are collaborating again on this project. Their observations and humour strike a chord with audiences young and old, so I can’t wait to get It’s Grim Up North on its feet”.
“Having read the script and started to assemble an hilarious cast – audiences are in for a proper belly laugh or two”.
Tickets for It’s Grim Up North, which starts 7pm on Friday, October 28, 2022 cost £6/£8.
Mark Fleming is based in Edinburgh, his work has appeared in a number of published books and magazines including the Big Issue. He’s run workshops across Scotland and given talks on creative writing and mental health in schools and prisons.
After spending time in a Psychiatric Care Unit, Mark rediscovered his love for creative writing and music.
As well as documenting my experiences of mental illness in my 20s, my story focuses on the cathartic power of music – said Mark.
I write regular blogs about the revitalising impact of nature and music, the blog promotes positivity through writing about mental health, wellbeing and popular culture.
What is your experience of being in bands?
My first band The Seduced, were formed in 1979 at the tail end of the first wave of punk. We mustered about three songs, including a passable version of X-Ray-Spex’s ‘Art-I-Ficial’ – chosen because we had a female singer called Pauline, just like Penetration. We never played live but did get as far as spray painting our name on our local launderette!
I joined my first ‘serious’ band a year later – 4 Minute Warning, named after a lyric by our biggest inspiration, Killing Joke, and outlining our anti-nuclear/pro-CND political stance.
At the turn of the decade a far more interesting post-punk scene began emerging. Many bands were breaking free of the three-chord, shout-along template – The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, PiL, Punishment of Luxury, Gang of Four, Joy Division/New Order, Scars, A Certain Ratio, The Fall, et al – and using punk as a springboard into a whole new sonic universe.
As our music became more funk than punk we evolved into Desperation AM – named after a Gang of Four lyric. By the mid ‘80s my next band was Little Big Dig, melding post-punk, pop and Can, making it as far as a session on BBC Radio 1.
We never gigged beyond Edinburgh – and once in Glasgow, but did get a residency during the ‘85 Edinburgh Festival, in an ‘open until the wee small hours’ bar, La Sorbonne.
Mental health issues, recovery, marriage, and starting a family brought a lengthy hiatus until around 2002 when I reunited with mates from an old Edinburgh punk band, The Axidents. We covered everyone from The Ruts to Magazine then started writing our own stuff, supporting UK Subs, 999, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Tenpole Tudor.
Desperation AM reformed and were joined by Paul Research (ex-Scars) on violin, leading to another post-punk band, Noniconic. Then Covid struck. I’m currently mucking about with more ambient soundtracks under the moniker Giant Household Names – overheard in an interview with Wire.
Where did you grow up and what type of kid where you – playing football/in a gang/a member of a youth club ?
I grew up in Shandon on Edinburgh’s west side – traditionally the Hearts side of the capital although my dad was from Monaghan in Ireland, so I chose Hibernian. But I was always more into music than football.
In the late ‘70s uptown Edinburgh was a no-go zone, we were too young for pubs, and spiky hair/badges/ripped jeans were a red rag for ‘punk bashing’ by the far more prevalent ‘trendies’ who preferred disco music.
We’d stick to hanging around youth clubs where you could take your own records to pogo to. Youth was much more tribal back then, so if you were into punk, it was like being in a gang. But nothing like the Edinburgh street gangs, with names like Young Leith Team and Gorgie Jungle, where the emphasis was on violent ‘turf wars’ – it was always about the music for us.
By the ‘80s the stubborn punks who refused to embrace post-punk did become much more aggressive. Sporting cockatoo hairstyles and studded biker jacket uniforms, the bands they were now listening to, typified by local exponents The Exploited, resembled heavy metal being played at 78 rpm.
By that time we were into Punishment of Luxury, the North East’s finest sons since Penetration, Angelic Upstarts and The Carpettes!
Check out the interviews with these bands on the Alikivi blog.
What does music mean to you?
Music means everything to me. In my 20s, I struggled with bipolar disorder, and was sectioned in 1987 spending time in intensive psychiatric care. My wee sister Anne, bringing in cassettes of my John Peel recordings during visiting hours, was a pivotal moment in my recovery. I’ve only recently come off long-term medication (lithium) and music remains crucial to my wellbeing.
I’m an avid listener of BBC Radio 6 whose DJ’s include many long-standing musical heroes of mine – Iggy Pop, Marc Riley and Tom Robinson, along with a host of enthusiastic presenters like Craig Charles, Elbow’s Guy Garvey, Steve Lamacq, Mary Ann Hobbs, Stuart Maconie and others.
Although post-punk remains a major influence and I still love playing my now increasingly scratchy/jumpy 45s from 45 years ago, I prefer constructing playlists based on brand new songs introduced across the board on Radio 6. Listening to these on headphones while strolling along the Firth of Forth on my doorstep, is wonderfully therapeutic.
What have you got planned for the Autumn ?
I’ve just completed a memoir that takes in my bipolar experiences of low manic depression to the high of mania and psych wards set against the backdrop of electrifying post-punk scene of the ‘80s that coaxed me back towards stable mental health.
‘1976 – Growing Up Bipolar’ is based on a novel I wrote a while back called BrainBomb. The title is a homage to the massively underrated and still out there being creative and inspirational – Punishment of Luxury.
I’m being interviewed about my book at the Portobello Book Festival on October 1st. Gig-wise, I’ve got tickets booked for Public Service Broadcasting and Pale Blue Eyes at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in September.
I’m also making the trip down to Middlesborough to catch Punishment of Luxury in December. I never saw Punilux first time round so immensely looking forward to that.
Paperback copies of ‘1976 – Growing Up Bipolar’ are available to buy from Waterstones and most retailers. The ebook can be downloaded from Kobo, Nook, Scribd and Hoopla.