for North East musician Paul McCarte
If you tune into space rock of Ride/Spiritualized/My Bloody Valentine, you’re on the right dial for Hartlepool band Procession, who in 1992, went into Sarm West studio in London and recorded a 12 hour session for Trevor Horn’s record label ZTT – Where they going to be another North East band who snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory ?
Vocalist & guitarist Paul McCarte looks back and tells the story of that time.
‘Going full time was always going to be hard and we were hanging our hopes on landing a record deal. The engineers on the day loved us, they said we were just the kind of band the label should go for as we were something different’.
Who were Procession ? Along with Paul, members were Terry Booth (guitar 86-93), Nick Crozier (guitar 93-95), Ken Napper (bass 86-94), Andy Wain (keyboards, sequencer programming & bass guitar in 1995) & Mark Lloyd (drums & rhythm programming).
‘We’re all still good friends today and guest on each-others recordings. We have three studios between us and all make music in various guises’ said Paul.
How did Procession first get together ?
The band started around the end of ’85 by myself, Ken Napper and Terry Booth. Our first gig was in December 1986 at Hartlepool Sixth Form college supporting the top local band at the time – Fluke. We played as a four piece, there was myself, Ken, Terry and Andy Wain with a drum machine.
What venues did you play after that ?
Our second gig was the realisation of our first ambition, which was to play The Town Hall and we shared the stage with another young band from the town called Taste.
After playing quite a few gigs around town our first gig outside Hartlepool was a battle of the bands at Rafters in Manchester, famous as the place where Rob Gretton found Joy Division. Predictably a Manchester band who brought a big crowd with them won on the night, can’t remember who they were. We took a fifty seater coach to the gig so we had a good showing from our fans and mates on the night.
Our next big ambition was to play The Riverside in Newcastle as we loved the place. We achieved that in 1990 eventually becoming very popular with the venue and playing there often as one of the North East scene bands at the time. In their recommendations for the year we were picked as ‘most likely to’ in Paint it Red magazine circa 1992.
What size venues were you playing and was there more than a bus queue of punters turning up to the shows ?
Our favourite venue, and the place we had the biggest following, was The Arena in Middlesbrough. It was known originally as The Rock Garden, and famously where The Sex Pistols played. The upstairs capacity was 400 and when we played on the club nights from ’92 – ’94 it was always really busy.
We began to play more widely in the North East area, we were friends with Newcastle bands Hug and Puppy Fat and The Poppyfield from Darlington. We got on really well with Shrug, also Rhino from Middlesbrough.
Although we were part of the Newcastle scene, the fact of the matter is that all touring band support spots at The Riverside went to Newcastle bands and we were never offered an opening slot.
Have you any road stories ?
We toured extensively from ‘91 to ‘94. It was fantastic fun and a great adventure. Sleeping on the beach at Eyemouth around a campfire, driving out of Leeds after playing The Royal Park and camping in the middle of nowhere. Having a flat in Fife while we toured around Scotland was a blast as we had our DJs on tour with us so every night was party night.
When we played the Cafe Drummond in Aberdeen our guitarist Booie was comatose the next morning so we picked him up in his sleeping bag and left him in the middle of the street while we went and loaded all of the gear out of the venue. Then we all got breakfast buns and parked 100 yards away and watched people having to step over him while he slept through it all.
Did you record any of your material and what was your experience of recording studios ?
Like every other Hartlepool band we recorded our first material at Durham Street Studio. In 1990 we recorded 8 tracks at Teesbeat Studio in Stockton which we made into a Procession tape and that became the first thing we ever sold at gigs along with a run of T shirts and badges. We were never happy with the recordings so we don’t count it as our first album, more of a demo.
Going full time was always going to be hard and we were hanging our hopes on landing a record deal so we next recorded three tracks at High Level Studio in Newcastle around ‘92 and used them to hit the record companies in London. We arranged as many meetings as we could over a weekend.
We got in to see Simon Aldridge who was A&R at ZTT and he really liked us.
(ZTT were a UK record company owned by record producer Trevor Horn, his wife Jill Sinclair and NME journalist Paul Morley. First major signing were Frankie Goes to Hollywood).
Simon came up to Hartlepool a couple of weeks later to watch us in rehearsals and took us out to our local indie nightclub ‘The Gemini’ and bought our drinks all night. A couple of weeks later he booked us into Sarm West and we did a 12 hour session for ZTT on the same day as The Beloved were recording.
Durham born and Sarm West studio owner Trevor Horn, had already been the mastermind behind multiple big hitters on the mainstream including ABC, Pet Shop Boys, Godley & Creme, Simple Minds and Frankie Goes to Hollywood – that just scratches the surface on a man who sound tracked the ‘80s. Read more here:
Not many bands get a chance of recording in a quality studio and being heard by one of the UK’s top record producers, what did you think about your time in Sarm West and the big break that the band had worked for ?
We didn’t enjoy the experience as we felt Simon was rushing us, trying to make us into something we weren’t ready to be. I told him as much when we had a sit down in the café.
He wanted to chop bits out of our songs there and then and expected us to just be able to do it. If he had told us he wanted a three minute edit of our song Victoria Day before we got there, he could have had it.
The engineers on the day loved us, but when Simon was out of earshot they told us ‘we were just the kind of band the label should go for’ as we were something different. We knew at the end of the session that Simon wasn’t going to be able to sell us as a band to label owner Trevor Horn, who in the end had the final say. He played the songs to Horn – he didn’t like us, so that was that.
How did you feel when the Big H turned you down ?
We were very excited about it all right up until the time Simon Aldridge had us in the studio. He seemed to change from being pally to pushy. I had a long talk with him and said we felt we were being tortured instead of nurtured.
I remember saying to him ‘listen to Ride’s first two albums, ‘Going Blank Again’ (1992) is much more broad in scope than ‘Nowhere’ (1990) which has a raw and unpolished sound. They had been allowed to grow into working in bigger studios.
I tried explaining ‘we have an unorthodox and difficult sound now, but then watch us grow’.. He replied ‘I don’t think I can’.
After initially showing enthusiasm for the band was Aldridge now heading full steam in reverse ?
We weren’t mouldable like other ZTT bands, and the lads were all sure he just wanted me, and tried to convince me to play along. But I couldn’t do it as the idea of leaving them behind was unthinkable to me. We were a gang – and still are.
It took Simon a few weeks to confirm Trevor didn’t like us and by that point we had decided to go full time and do it ourselves. Members began to tire of having no money and we had to replace original guitarist Terry with Nick which was tough as we all loved Terry to bits – he took it very hard. Nick was touring within two weeks of joining the band which in hindsight, was an impressive undertaking.
We released our first album Threads, and a year later our second album Impact was recorded at Durham Street Studio in Hartlepool, again self-released on APR Recordings in 1994.
When did the band call it a day and why ?
We imploded in 1995, just as we were in the process of recording tracks for our third album. Plus there were many other factors, the biggest of which was losing our APR Rehearsal Studio due to the building being sold.
At that point we were full time musicians running a club called Weaveworld in the town to generate extra income, but it was a struggle to survive. Relationship breakdowns were also a big factor as none of us were bringing money in. Myself, Nick and Ken went on to form demon summer while Mark and Andy formed NEEB.
What are you doing now ?
We have the second demon summer album recorded featuring Mark and Andy from Procession, that will be released in 2021. We also have a new project with myself, Nick and Eddie Rees, which would have played live already if a certain global pandemic had not reared its ugly head.
For both Procession and demon summer we’re releasing the full back catalogue on bandcamp. Plus on social media outlets we are posting lots of never before released songs, a full history, photos, videos and flyers for both bands. Plus stories and memories about gigs and recording sessions (links below).
What does music mean to you ?
Everything – it’s the star around which my life revolves. If I’m not playing it, I’m listening to it or watching it played. Or buying it. Simply put, life sounds better to music.
Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2021.