THE GEORDIE WRECKING CREW: Forty Years since The Tube Arrived

In between YOP schemes and signing on the dole in the 1980s I remember queuing outside Newcastle’s Tyne Tees TV Studio to get free audience ticket’s for live music show The Tube. The ground breaking programme was broadcast by Channel Four from 1982 to 1987.

The 90 glorious minutes had a massive impact on my life. Regular doses of The Tube cudda been a prescribed vaccine injected by the NHS to release built up mental pressure in a time of strikes, mass unemployment and living in a post-industrial wasteland.

Talk about pushing boundaries of what live TV can do this show was run by a Geordie Wrecking Crew creating a bigger blast than anything coming out of London. TV bigwigs in the South making envious glances towards the North as every Friday Newcastle Airport was chocka block full of top musicians and celebrities. 

You want exciting car crash box office TV ? it’s all here, the Geordie crew really were the ducks nuts. With the launch show planned, Sunderland punks Toy Dolls were brought in to light the fuse – tune in, turn on, blast off.

Over the past couple of years some of the production team have talked on this blog about how the North East gained a reputation to produce good music shows, and how influential and important the show would become.

Chris Cowey: ‘The Tube was a real blend of old school Tyne-Tees TV expertise and young whippersnappers like me who was obsessed with music and bitten by the live music thing. I was into DJ’ing, Drama, Theatre which led to my TV break’.

‘My mentor was Producer Malcolm Gerrie, who a lot of people will remember from his Tyne-Tees days. A lot of the same gang of music fans were the nucleus of the production teams for Check It Out, Alright Now, TX45, The Tube and Razzmatazz’.

‘Tyne-Tees already did some good old entertainment shows before my time, like Geordie Scene or What Fettle, but they were obsessed about their ‘Geordieness’. The Tube wasn’t, it was all about good music because we were music obsessed. It also had a great mix of time served TV people blended together with new people with fresh ideas, and a kind of irreverence which came out in those shows’.

Chris Phipps: ‘I was at the Tube from the start in ’82 till it’s full run to ’87. I joined as a booker and became Assistant Producer from 1985 to 1987′.

‘A band on the first show that I booked didn’t happen. The Who didn’t do it because their pa system got stuck in Mexico or somewhere. Producer Malcolm Gerrie knew Paul Weller’s father and got The Jam to do it. In a way I’m glad that he did because The Jam playing their last TV gig ever, really said this is what The Tube is all about – that was then, this is now and off we go’.

‘After appearing Fine Young Cannibals got signed, The Proclaimers got signed and there was a time when the Tube crew went to Liverpool to film Dead or Alive. But they weren’t around, someone in a pub told them to go round the corner to another pub where there is a band rehearsing ‘You might be interested in them’. It was Frankie Goes to Hollywood’.

‘The Tube filmed the original version of their single ‘Relax’ and Trevor Horn saw it. He did the deal and re-recorded and produced the single. Frankie epitomised The Tube and the ‘80s – they got what it was all about’.

Gary talks to Radio One DJ, John Peel.

Gary James: ‘I was one of the original co-presenters on The Tube from Series One, which started on Friday November 5th 1982. I applied along with 5,000 other herberts who all thought they were cool, hip and groovy enough to be TV presenters’.

‘To give the programme a bit of extra thrill they wanted to put some unknown faces alongside the two main presenters Jools Holland and Paula Yates. They certainly achieved that as few of us really knew what we were doing. It was all live, pre-watershed national networked TV and no second chances’.

‘None of us on the presenter side, perhaps with the exception of Jools and Paula who breezed through it all without a care in the world, could have had any idea that the show would be as seminal as it was. We certainly knew we were part of the ‘new wave’ and that we didn’t want to be all BBC and Top of the Pops-ish’.  

‘The chaos on it was quite genuine and the edginess a result of the fact that for most of the time we were left to get on with what we were doing without any strict direction or guidance to be pros. I had a good time interviewing Ringo Starr, Eartha Kitt, Tony Visconti, Mickey Finn of T.Rex, John Peel, Kajagoogoo and loads more interesting people who had a part to play in the industry’.

Colin Rowell, Chris Phipps, Michael Metcalf.

Colin Rowell: ‘It was just five years of sheer magic. There was Geoff Brown, Chris Phipps and me sharing an office in Newcastle. They, as producers, had applied for this music television show and asked me if I was interested in joining the team as stage manager’.

‘From years working at Newcastle City Hall I knew the acts, the crews, the managers and they were all glad when they knew a familiar face and voice was going to be there running the stages in the studio’.

‘First off started with two stages, ended up with four and I did the deal with ENTEC who were a big sound company. They ran Reading Festival and owned The Marquee. It was a smooth operation with them providing all the sound and crew. The PA was flown in (hung from ceiling) off the stage making it easier for cameramen to have floor space and no big speakers in their way’.

‘One time me and Geoff Brown were sent to London to check out Grandmaster Flash. It was the first time The Tube were going to have on stage a set-up of a band playing all the scratchy stuff’.  

‘We got to the venue and there was a support band on so we went to a Steak house but it was dreadful and we didn’t eat it so we went back to the venue. The support act were still on and we listened in this time. This was good stuff. It was Paul Young and the Royal Family.’

‘We got back to Newcastle and in a meeting with one of the head guy’s at The Tube, Malcolm Gerrie, I banged the table and said ‘let’s get him on’. And we did. But Malcolm and I felt Paul didn’t get a good crack of the whip first time so we invited him back on again and the rest is history’.

Michael Metcalf: ‘I worked as Personal Assistant to a lot of freelance directors, one of which was Geoff Wonfor who was the husband of Andrea Wonfor, Executive Producer on the Tube’.

‘When the Tube began I continued working with Geoff for the first few years then applied for a vacancy to become a Director and got the job for most of Series Four.  It’s important to remember that at that time we were a bunch of Geordie guys who were working with some amazing people and having the time of our lives’.

‘I remember one trip to New York we hired a helicopter to fly around the Statue of Liberty. I sat in the helicopter alongside the pilot, Geoff was in the row behind and the cameraman was strapped in but hanging out of the side of the helicopter, the door had been taken off’.

‘I had the headset to communicate with the pilot, going down the Hudson, he asked if we wanted to go under or over the bridges, I asked if we could do both, which we ended up doing. It is hard to imagine getting away with that now but we had the time of our life. Every day the job was an adventure’.

Gary James: ‘Because it was live I only ever saw the programmes I didn’t work on. My parents told me they had recorded shows on VHS tape and did I want them? I stuck them in a box and put them in the attic’.

‘There they stayed for years until I watched them from behind the sofa for the first time. The performances blew me away. I can now finally see what everyone was going on about – but until then I genuinely had no idea’.

Chris Cowey: ‘It was really important that it came from the North-East because of the passion the swagger and total commitment. It’s not just that Geordies like showing off – although they undoubtedly do! – it’s because the history and attitude of the region can be really inspiring, creative and hugely fun. That’s how it worked so well’.

Chris Phipps: ‘You can never bring The Tube back. It’s of its time. Chris Evans on TFI Friday in the ‘90s near enough had it, the set was just like The Tube. So yeah it’s had an incredible influence’.

To read the full interviews type in the name in the white search box.  

Alikivi   October 2022

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