DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #4

Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

MYTHRA – Death and Destiny 7”EP 1979. Tracks: Death and Destiny, Killer, Overlord, UFO.

MYTHRA

JOHN ROACH (guitar): ‘With Mythra we saved some cash from our gig money with the intention of recording a demo tape to see if we could get any interest from record companies. We checked out Impulse and Guardian studios and decided to go with Guardian. From what I remember we were offered actual vinyl records for our demos, rather than cassette tapes’. 

MAURICE BATES (bass):  ‘The first recording session was a new experience and opened our eyes to another part of being in a band.The owner Terry Gavaghan was more of an engineer than producer, he just said to us no slow songs lads keep it up this is good ! 

JOHN ROACH:Guardian Studios was in a very small terraced house in Durham. If you entered from the front street you ended up in the main recording room, with a very small isolation room for the drums. Through a door you entered the control room which was actually the back of the house. Terry Gavaghan lived next door. He kept disappearing during the recording, going for something to eat or answer the phone to the big record companies!

MAURICE BATES: ‘We slept upstairs to the studio so we could get on with recording straight away in the morning. But as we were recording our own bit seperately, everyone else had to leave the studio so we ended up in the pub! Happy days’.

JOHN ROACH: ‘We released the vinyl EP in November 1979. It is well documented that this was one of the very first records to be released of what would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.

HOLLOW GROUND – Flying High 7’ 1980. Tracks: Flying High, Warlord, Rock On, Don’t Chase the Dragon.

HOLLOWGROUND

JOHN LOCKNEY (drums): ‘Because we had our own material we were trying to get the money together to get in the studio and record it. It was so nerve wracking then cos we were green as grass. Doing overdubs and things something we had never done before’. 

MARTIN METCALF (guitar): ‘One night we went to a Raven gig at Newcastle Mayfair and Steve Thompson who was producing at NEAT studios then, pulled me to one side and said there’s a deal at NEAT if you want. I liked the idea but told him we had just sorted something out with Gaurdian. We went down to the studio in Durham and recorded 4 tracks. It cost around £500’. 

JOHN LOCKNEY: ‘It really was great. I mean you’ve been brought up and bought singles. Now suddenly you’ve got one of your own. We were proud of the songs. We think they still stand up today and we went round selling them to local record shops. It’s still one of the proudest things I’ve ever done you know’.

MARTIN METCALF: ’I still remember the smell of the brown cork tiles in the studio and having to sellotape the headphones on my head when recording as they kept falling off ! In hindsight maybe NEAT would have turned out better for us in the long run’.

JOHN LOCKNEY: ‘We went back to record another 2 for a compilation album Roksnax. The production and the way we played was better then. We weren’t as green and went back again and done another 4 tracks for demos to flog around record companies. You can tell the difference how confident we were with more experience in the studio’.

SARACEN – Roksnax compilation LP 1980. Tracks: Speed of Sound, Fast Living, Feel Just the Same, Setting the World Ablaze.

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STEVE DAWSON (guitar): ‘We went into Guardian Studios where our friends, Mythra, had recorded their Death and Destiny EP. Most of us were friends from school or through the scene, you know, being thrown together in this cauldron of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. We booked a day there and recorded 3 songs’. 

LOU TAYLOR (vocals): ‘I saw it as moving up to the next level and felt excited to be in the studio and something happening for Saracen. When we went down to the studio we first drove past the place and double backed on ourselves to find it. It looked just like an ordinary house, later we found it was two terraced houses knocked into one’.

STEVE DAWSON: ‘After the initial recording session, we were invited to attend a meeting with the owner Terry Gavaghan who proposed an idea to us about putting our tracks on a compilation album. It was going to feature local bands Saracen, Samurai and Hollow Ground. So we decided yeah let’s go for it’. 

LOU TAYLOR: ‘I can’t remember much from the sessions apart from recording my vocals quite late at night and the drum booth being tiny. When Dave was behind the drums we had to pass him refreshments every so often as it was such a tight squeeze to get in. Terry was forever nipping out of the studio and coming back with a smelly cheese sandwich or something to eat, and he loved to talk about the resident ghost !

STEVE DAWSON: ‘The album was basically a ‘live’ performance in the studio with minimal overdubs. I spent my 21st birthday in that place…I’ll never get it back!’

LOU TAYLOR: ‘On reflection we might have been better off recording at NEAT, as they were more loud and proud, you know the whole crash, bang and don’t forget the wallop’.

This needs to be confirmed by a visit down to Pity Me, but  a quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. If the studio was there I wonder if customers buying their tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, was that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be much appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

MYTHRA: Still Burning 13th February 2017.

Lou Taylor SARACEN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.

GUARDIAN STUDIO STORIES

#1 TYGERS OF PAN TANG May 3rd 2018

#2 SPARTAN WARRIOR May 20th 2018

#3 STEVE THOMPSON (Songwriter & Producer) July 11th 2018

BUNGS, BLAGS & SHOOTERS – in the world of 70s cop drama The Sweeney

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I’ve been thinking about double act’s that have been prominent in the entertainment world – McCartney & Lennon, Morecombe & Wise and my favourite – John Thaw & Dennis Waterman from UK TV programme The Sweeney. The 70’s gritty police drama was a big favourite back then and still is now. Over 40 years later the show has a release on DVD box set, regularly repeated on TV and even a Facebook page has been set up by fans. A testament to it’s enduring quality. The two coppers, Detective Inspector Jack Reagan and his Seargent George Carter, survive in a London world of crime and violence. They also attempt to hold their personal relationships together. My world stops when repeats of the show are on TV. I imagine Lemmy watched an episode before he wrote Ace of Spades. From the explosive opening soundtrack to the melancholic score signalling the closing credits, they don’t always solve the crime, but win or lose it’s still great TV. 

Gary Alikivi 2018

WILDFLOWER – documentary about George Orwell’s wife, South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy

SEPT 25 1905 copy

First reaction when I tell people about Eileen O’Shaughnessy is ‘Who…really!’ I tell them a bit more. ‘Orwell the writer. THE Orwell. 1984 and all that ?….Yep, that’s him’ I reply. S’pose everybody’s got to come from somewhere right ? But I had the same reaction when I found the connection between George Orwell and South Shields. In May 2012 I was in the Local Studies library when the librarian showed me a birth certificate with the name Eileen O’Shaughnessy. She thought Eileen was the wife of author George Orwell. (Real name Eric Arthur Blair). A few weeks passed and I was doing some research in the library when I saw a display at the back of the room. There were three large boards. On the left was a birth certificate and census records. To the right was a photo of George Orwell, a newspaper cutting and a picture of a cemetery in Newcastle. This looks interesting. In the middle was a large black and white photograph featuring about a dozen men standing near sandbags and a machine gun at the front. It was obviously a war image. Then I noticed a dark haired woman crouching behind the machine gun. I looked closer. Hair’s stood up on my arms. Goose bumps. I needed to know more. 

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Their wasn’t much information out there about Eileen, just a few bits and pieces that had been mentioned in Orwell books. So there was extensive research over the next year or so. Phone calls, letters, checking and re-checking details. Interviews on camera were arranged around the country. One lead to another and to another. It felt like being gently nudged along to find more about her. Weeks and months passed by while information was gathered but I never come across any obstacles. Everybody I asked wanted to be part of the documentary. During Summer 2013 I put the research to one side and started working on a film ‘Designs for Life’. The short film was about the growing demand for tattoo’s and that women are increasingly becoming part of the tattoo’d tribe. I’ve found having a couple of projects at different stages helps in the film making process. Spending time on something else gives you space away from the other project and finally return to it with fresh eyes and ears. ‘Designs for Life’ kept me busy until Autumn 2013 and further sales of previous documentaries funded my time to start piecing together the film about Eileen. 

Who knew that a library visit in 2012 would take me and my camera, from South Shields to Sunderland, Newcastle, Stockton, Warwickshire, Oxford, London and finally Barcelona. I remember I had the camera in my backpack walking through Barcelona Airport thinking how did I get here. It seemed so effortless, the whole process just fell into place. On 26th March 2014 I screened for the first time, Wildflower the documentary about Eileen O’Shaughnessy. Her son Richard Blair, and friends from The Orwell Society came up north to watch the film.

A short clip from the documentary edited this year. Why not check out other ALIKIVI films on You Tube and subscribe to the channel.

Gary Alikivi June 2018.

Recommended:

Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

BOBBIES, BOOKIES & BEER – author John Orton talks about the stories of police in 1920’s South Shields

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In times of hardship when people had next to nothing, they were forced into a world of low-level crime. Burglary, prostitution and gambling all appear in ‘The Five Stone Steps’ a fictionalised account of life in South Shields Police Force during the 1920’s. I asked author John Orton, who is originally from South Shields but now lives near Bristol, where did he find the inspiration and how long did it take to write the book ? ’A long time, Gary. After I’d retired from work due to stress I’d started writing as a hobby – just to keep myself occupied, really. I’d taken up family history and become fascinated by the story of my forbears who’d arrived in Shields in the 1890s. My Grandmother, a real Geordie Hinny, used to come round to our house every afternoon for tea – once she started talking she never stopped. Her family had come from Norfolk and landed in Maxwell Street. I had an idea of writing a whodunit set in Shields in the 1900s. I needed some info about the police in Shields and thought that my very good friend, Tommy Gordon might be able to help. His father had served in Shields Police and Tommy told me some of his stories. Tommy rummaged around on his bookshelves and pulled out a dog eared manuscript of his Dad’s ‘Memories’ of his days in the Shields Police. Tommy’s Dad, Jock, had gone to live with his son when he was too old to look after himself. He was depressed and at a loose end. Tommy and his wife Marilyn suggested that as he was always telling old stories then why didn’t he write them down as ‘memoirs’. So he did. Of an evening, sitting at a table by his electric fire, a glass of whisky at hand, he’d write down his reminiscences’.

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Thomas Renton Gordon.

‘When I started reading them I could almost hear the gravelly voice, and smell the whisky fumes, as I discovered the lost world of 1920s Shields – pubs galore where Bobbies got their pint, bookies and runners on every street corner, working girls who used to hang out at the Market Place, and so on. It was the same world that my Grandmother used to talk about – apart from the girls ! At that time I had no idea of writing a book but thought that this very important piece of social history ought to be preserved. The ‘Memories’ themselves were just that – a couple of pages a night, not in any particular order, just what came into Jock’s mind. I set about transcribing them, putting the stories into some sort of order, cutting out the duplication, and doing some very light handed editing’.

With attention to detail of real locations in Holborn, Laygate and Tyne Dock. How much research did you do ? ’Looking back, the research probably took a lot more time than the actual writing. In transcribing Jock’s hand written memoirs I would sometimes have difficulty in reading proper names, like streets and pubs. I’d bought some old 1900’s Maps of Shields to help with my family history research and these were often my first source of reference. I was born in 1949 at Wayside on the Marsden council estate and knew the general layout of the old parts of Shields on the Lawe Top, Laygate and Tyne Dock before the slum clearances of the 60s and 70s. The very old parts of Shields along the riverside, Holborn, Wapping Street and Shadwell Street had all been demolished in the thirties. Looking at a map did not give you much of a feel for these old places and that’s where old photographs came in. When I last visited Shields some fifteen years ago, I went to the local history library where they have thousands of old photos and postcards. This invaluable archive is now available online at  https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk  and was one of the major tools in my research’.

Holborn

Holborn, South Shields.

‘Census returns for 1911 and the Kelly Street Directories, were all useful in getting an idea of life in the cobbled terraced streets of Shields. I would research each story as I went along. I am not a writer who plots everything out in advance from beginning to end. I start with an idea and then develop this as the story progresses through the eyes of the characters. What would he or she have done next ? This sometimes caused a problem when I needed to check something. For example, were Woodbine tabs smoked in the 1920s ? (I learned the hard way never to make assumptions.) In checking that out I might come cross something else which would mean that I needed to make some changes in an earlier chapter’. 

How much of the book is fact or fiction ? I met Tommy’s father once. Just a quick hello and goodbye although he left a distinct impression. He still spoke with a Glaswegian accent and was quite a character. But when I started writing the book with him as the narrator, I realised how little I knew about him. So I decided to give him a fictional name mainly to give me free rein to develop his character as each chapter progressed. For the same reasons I gave all characters in the book fictional names apart from one or two who only make the odd appearance. Some of them were criminals or shady characters who might still have family in the town. The fictional Doyle family, for example, was based on a real Shields family of villains. The father was a pimp, the mother a prostitute, the older brother and sister were sent down for incest and the youngest lad ran away to join the Foreign Legion. This is very much the pattern of the book’. 

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Market Place, South Shields.

Are the stories based on real events ? ‘All the stories are based on events that really happened but I have created some characters, and changed some story lines to carry the tale along. I always strove to ensure that what the narrator was saying sounded authentic. For example in a Pair of Boots young Billy Ruffle is caught up in a hunger march from Jarrow to Shields. He steals a pair of boots, he is chased and caught by the mounted officer and marched back to the station, he is birched, finally he is encouraged by the Station Sergeant to take up boxing. In the ‘Memoires’ there was a hunger march in Shields and the Police charged the demonstrators with truncheons drawn. On another occasion a thief was caught by the mounted Polis who threatened to take his horse up the back stairs and through the flat where the culprit was hiding unless he was handed over. Jock Gordon did witness the last birching in Shields, and boxing was a popular sport. The character who I call Billy Ruffle was the thread that brought all these events together into one chapter’.

Did any of Jocks stories stand out ? ‘One of the tales that caught my eye centred on the fact that around the Market Place, publicans would leave out a little pot of whisky by the back door for the bobby on night shift. It had been known for a young bobby not on a whisky beat, to ‘poach’ a pot – the worst trick in the book, according to Jock, and one that would have repercussions. I thought that with a bit of work it could become a good little story, and I wrote A Nip of Whisky. It was then that the idea of The Five Stone Steps was born. Each story was free standing, but together they told the story of Tom ‘Jock’ Gordon’s early years in the Police in the 1920s. The title ‘The Five Stone Steps’ was a no brainer – it was a legend in Shields that whenever a culprit came up in court with black eyes, broken bones, the explanation given was that he’d accidentally tripped down the five stone steps that led into the building. Each story presented its own problems. Jock only ever gave the bare minimum and I would have to fully research the background, and create the odd character, or story line to fill out a tale. It took well over a year before the first draft was finished. It then went through several major rewrites before I had a version I was happy with’.

Mill Dam

Mill Dam, South Shields

How much do the stories reflect the times ? ’The old photos are black and white – as well as helping the reader to visualize Shields as it then was, this also gives a period feel.  Life was a lot harder in those days and so were the people. They would have a laugh and although they would suffer when times were hard they just got on with it. Jock Gordon had served three years in the trenches and survived. He would have seen needless death, and the agonies of the wounded. He told things as they happened, without any pathos or melodrama. Ordinary working people in Shields in the twenties and thirties lived lives that we would find extremely harsh if not unbearable. A pitman would work an eight hour shift in the pitch dark with only his lamp, or his pit pony for company. His wages would not always feed his wife and children. Most families lived in two rooms in a flat with a cold tap in the yard and a netty they shared with the neighbours. Street betting was rife, as punters dreamt of the big win and men would spend their wages in the boozers to forget their troubles. Families and neighbours stuck together and shared good times and bad. The stories in the Five Stone Steps do not deliberately dwell on the light and shade of life 100 years ago, they merely reflect it’.

 There is a story of a fire in a pub near the station where the police manage to ‘rescue’ a large quantity of alcohol… it found it’s way back to the station. Did you find yourself laughing along with the stories and characters ?  ‘Yes and I still do when I re-read a chapter. The ability to laugh at someone else’s misfortune is a natural way of lightening the load of everyday life. Like Inspector Mullins, a stickler for the correct writing up of incidents in a PC’s notebook, is on the lookout for mistakes. Ruth Lunn was editor and proof reader. She rung me up after a few days of receiving the manuscript and said that she was enjoying the book and had disturbed the others in the office with her laughing. In my serious voice I told her off: ‘You’re not allowed to laugh when you’re proof reading, Ruth – you have to take it seriously’ and then laughed with her’. 

Were there many stories that you left out of the book ? ’Jock Gordon was a Scot who joined the Shields force after the Great War and his take on Shields is that of a newcomer to the town. His memories include first impressions not only of the Police but also of the town itself. He reflects a lot on his early days and the bulk of his early stories appear in The Five Stone Steps – covering the period from 1919 to about 1924. He did of course continue his accounts through the twenties and thirties and made a brief mention of the War, but it was clear to me that his fondest memories were of his early days on the beat’.

What else you been working on ? ‘After I’d completed the first version of The Five Stone Steps several years passed before I took the plunge and published the book. During this time I put my hand to writing a sequel using Jock’s later stories. I was never really happy with it and it went on the back burner until after I’d published The Five Stone Steps and then Blitz PAMs – the blitz on Shields through the eyes of a Police Auxiliary Messenger. I then took it up again but it took a long time, with several complete re-writes, before the sequel evolved into A Chill Wind off the Tyne which is both a prequel and a sequel, completes the stories begun in The Five Stone Steps, but as seen through the eyes of characters from the book, or new ones that appear for the first time’.

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John Orton

Where is the book available to buy ?The Five Stone Steps on UK Book Publishing is available on paper back and Kindle at Amazon. It can also be obtained at the Book Depository which gives free postage worldwide on all sales. You can order a copy from The Word. It’s also available for loan at The Word and other libraries in South Shields. The two other books that are companions to the Five Stone Steps, Blitz Pams and my latest  A Chill Wind of the Tyne are also on UK Book Publishing’. 

All images courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries.

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2018.

Recommended:

Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.

Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.

Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.

Peter Mitchell, Life In a Northern Town, 9th August 2018.

Ray Spencer MBE, That’s Entertainment 6th September 2018.

Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

 

 

THE WEARSIDE KNIGHT – in conversation with North East entertainer Alan Knights

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What bands did you see when you were younger ? ‘Used to go to the Newcastle Mayfair on Tuesdays that was for local and up and coming bands. Friday nights was big bands like Deep Purple, T.Rex, Strawbs that’s where I fell in love with Sonja Kristina from Curved Air. Also saw Rory Gallagher there. That’s when I met him. My uncle was a baker and he had a young lad working for him and to subsidise his apprentice wages he worked as a doorman at The Mayfair. Well one night Taste were on and the young lad who worked at my uncles bakers was working that night. He let us in the dressing room and there was Gallagher at the table full of dark drinks, rum or sherry who knows and the drummer was hitting the wall with his sticks. I said ‘Great to meet you Rory’ shaking his hand. ‘What did you get your haircut for ?’ He said ‘It gets in my soup’ haha. But it was sad that time when I was flying back from holiday and the paper just said Rock Star Dies. That was it you know. Aww he was a great player’. 

Can you remember your first guitar ? ‘Aye it was a cricket bat with a fishing line on haha. I never used to do anything right at school. I went away youth hosteling and the teacher taught me how to play the guitar. It was the first time I was praised ‘Well done Alan’ instead of ‘Knights you can’t do that’ you know. Music put me on the right rail. I started work at the Ministry in Longbenton in ’68. We used to sort out pension books, family allowance, national insurance things like that. It was a big complex. A lot of musicians and bands worked there, you had Alan Hull from Lindisfarne and members of Raw Spirit. Dave Black worked there. He went to London and had an album with his band Kestrel it was called The Acrobat. Great stuff prog music you know, fantastic. But at work I’d go round telling everybody I played guitar. This kid sold us a beat up acoustic which only had 4 strings on it and that’s how I learnt to play bass. All self taught. I have a few guitars now but my pride and joy is my Rickenbacker 1973 Fireglow. I paid £275 quid for it, it’s got a bit buckle rash on the back but it’s worth a bit more now’. 

When were your first gigs and what venues did you play ? ‘In the early days I was nervous as anything playing pubs and folk gigs. Once was playing the mandolin in this folk club and couldn’t feel the plec in my fingers. So nervous. But I loved the folky thing starting out in Washington. But when the miners strike happened we couldn’t play the pit places so we reconstructed our set for the pubs. A bit of Irish and pop stuff that worked really well. That was with Beggars Bog. The name is from a farm up Corbridge and Hexham way’.

Have you recorded any of your music ? ‘I was playing solo and heard that fellow North East musician Derek Miller was doing backing tracks. We met up and I felt as if I’d known him all my life. So we put a duo together and went out as El Vivo, recorded a few albums and done a lot of stuff on the radio where presenter Paddy McDee was a great supporter of ours. Then a few more musicians got together and we ended up a 5 piece. We wrote a lot of original stuff with harmonies, synth and a few traditional songs. I went to the studio one day and they had something playing I said I can see ships you know and started singing  Here’s A Tender Coming’. They said what’s that ? It’s an old folk song from South Shields. So we added a middle 8, few harmonies and my daughter played a clarinet on it. We had a song called The Man that Saved the Day it got a lot of radio play. It’s about a guy I worked with on a ship that caught fire at Swan Hunters shipyard. As a young ‘un I was a plumbers mate and thankfully got off the ship in time. The guy who the song is about got a lot of lads out of the engine room’.

Have you any stories from your time gigging ? ’In the 80’s we put a band together called Beggars Bog with Davey Hiles on guitar, Davey Hutchinson on guitar, me on my Rickenbacker bass which I’ve still got. We done this documentary something to do with Nissan and Frank Wappat on the radio. His recording studio was in a church in North Shields. So there was 4 of us in the pulpit with cans of McEwans export. We done the show and at the end of it he said it’s a bit late to go for a pint now I’ll take you to my private bar which was called the Bunker. I‘m a tall lad so I thought it would be a low ceiling sort of place but it wasn’t. It was a room all about the Germans during the war with these orange lights on and listening to Hits from the Blitz. We looked at each other and said this ain’t for us haha.

We ended up on the telly a show called Bog on the Tyne, on Northern Life presented by Paul Frost. But that band folded and I ended up in the Dynamite Twins. We all had club names – I was Kurt Fontaine, we had Tristram St Clair, Jason Saint Maritz and we had the names stuck on our mic stands. We couldn’t do it for laughing’. 

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Alan with guitarist Keith Satchfield.

What’s the pub and club scene like now ? ‘Well you got people going out for buttons you know, the Ed Sheeran types. They are keen. But it’s the money thing, if you can get the bass down on a backing track, the drums thats 2 people they’re not paying for.  We just got back from Corfu and a lot of the acts just have a laptop. Never saw one guitar. But I love working live. Played at a Buskers Night with a fantastic drummer Mick Nevins and former Fist guitarist Keith Satchfield we’re called The Labour Exchange. I’ve also teamed up with a guy called Leonard Brown he was in The Happy Cats. He’s only 26 year old, an accordian player. For a young lad he has a wise head on his shoulders. Great technician and a pleasure to work with. We’re called The Ferry Hillbillies, I get the Bouzouki out for that one. We have a few gigs lined up, one at the Allendale Folk Festival. I also run a few buskers nights with a lad called Dave Moffat, great lad, been on the circuit for years, he’s got no hair now haha. Open mic nights are also a great way to bring new blood through. Cos if you don’t look after the young un’s you’ve got no future. Some great young one’s coming through’.

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Can you pinpoint why in the past few year, Tyneside has had a number of entertainers, singers and comedians who have broke through to the mainstream ? ‘You can go back to Gerry Monroe he was a Shields lad on Opportunity Knocks. Then Splinter with Costafine Town and Bryan Ferry. Then you had Terry Slesser and Davey Ditchburn both with various bands who had been there or there abouts you know. There was Dave Black and his band were on Top of the Pops. Looking back Tyneside has always had a strong entertainment background’.

What does music mean to you and what has it given you ? ‘Howay man, what does music mean to me ? It’s the food of life man. If I don’t have any musical intake for about 2 days I’m like a bear with a sore head. If it’s not driving around dropping posters off, promoting the gig, if it’s not actually being up there and doing it, maybe sitting in behind somebody, putting a few harmonies on in a studio. It’s all I talk about just ask wor lass haha. Music has given me a good lifestyle, a hell of a lot of pleasure, satisfaction. And a big family, the friendship of musicians in the North East is second to none, we always look after each other like’.   

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2018. 

Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.

  

OUT OF THE BLUE (part 2) North American autumn tour planned for punk-folk rocker Greg Rekus

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This blog has featured bands that are working with Valentine Kip at French PR company Distrolution. Valentine has just been in touch about Canadian musician Greg Rekus who featured on this blog April 30th. Winnipeg’s Rekus is promoting his latest album ‘Sibling Cities on a huge tour through Canada and the U.S.A. Playing his own unique brand of punk rock-infused folk music….I’m very proud of my records but playing live is where the extra bit of magic between you and the audience lives. My live show is all about the crowd. There have been so many times I’ve played in front of people that don’t really understand English but somehow every time we still connect on some level. My European tour was great! I hit places in the UK, France, Italy and Eastern Europe but also did a few new places like Greece. I also got to tour with some wonderful friends and I was reminded how awesome the DIY scene is. The hospitality in Europe was like no other. For me playing live is everything’.

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For more information contact the  official  Greg Rekus website or social media on Facebook/Bandcamp/Twitter.

Contact Valentine direct at valentine@distrolution.com

Recommended:

The Rocket, Road Trip, March 15th 2018

Greg Rekus, Getting Away With It, April 30th 2018

Breaky Boxes & September Again, Out of the Blue, July 22nd 2018

 

 

WHEN THE MUSIC’S (not) OVER.

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For the music is your special friend

Dance on fire as it intends

Music is your only friend until the end

Until the end, until the end.

(The Doors, When the Music’s Over from the album Strange Days, 1967)

First thing in the morning it’s the squawk from the seagulls, the gush of water as you fill the kettle then turn the radio on. Sound is all around us. At Junior school I remember hearing Jewish songs like ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘Shalom Shavarim’. The radio played ‘Leader of the Pack’ by The Shangri-La’s and ‘Gaudete’ by Steeleye Span. Regular appearences on Top of the Pops meant pocket money bought a 7inch single by Slade or Sweet. I still listen to a lot of music today and buy the odd cd. Last one I bought was a double, a Best of Bob Dylan. I got it at a car boot sale for a quid ! Bargain. There were loads of great songs on so I got my wallet out but only had a £20 note. ‘Struggling for change here have you got nothing smaller ?’ said the bloke. I searched in my pocket for some change and counted out 90p. Holding the note in one hand and the coins in the other. He said ‘No chance, I’m not selling that for 90p….. it’s a double album !’  What value does music hold these days?

I’ve closed a lot of interviews by asking what does music mean to you or what has music given you ? The answers are fired back. No chin stroking, no pause for thought, just an instant reply. Here are some of them….

Michael McNally: ‘Music is an escape, a freedom from whatever ties us down. It can be the medicine we require to soothe or the motivation to move. Without it we are monotone, bland and sad’. 

Bernie Torme: ‘Meeting great people, shit people and doing things that a shy kid with a stutter from Dublin could never have imagined in a thousand years! Gave me everything really, for which I am eternally grateful, I wouldn’t have exchanged my life for anyone else’s. It definitely did not make me rich though! 

David Ditchburn: ‘Got loads of happy memories, I would never change it you know. I’ve done a few other things in life and enjoyed them but still every night I sit down and play the guitar and write songs. I can’t imagine life without it really. It’s what I exist for I guess’.

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Danny McCormack: ’Well it’s got me around the world and it’s like a feeling of belonging. You go to a gig and I feel one of the crowd. I’m with my people, being part of a community of music lovers, and I can express myself in music. Being confident and comfortable in yer own skin which is important. The ultimate that music has given me is freedom’.

John Gallagher: ‘It’s given us so much, the opportunity to travel the world, meet my wife, have my family and just the ability to sit in a room with a guitar and bang out some riffs and create a song. Just to know that you have made something. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do what we do and do not take that lightly, so when we go out its 100% 24/7/365 mate!!!!

John Verity: Music has given me everything – but at times it has taken everything away too. It means everything to me. I have a very long-suffering wife, Carole. She lets me be what I am despite the faults and that’s amazing, the way she accepts my obsession with all things music related’.

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Robb Weir: ‘I’ve loved every second of my musical career, the whole ride has been like sitting at the front of a giant rollercoaster, hands up, screaming with delight! Music is a way of life, it’s a wonderful thing, and it can be your best friend. You can turn to music at any time of your life and it can be a great comforter. I absolutely love it.’ 

Arthur Ramm: ‘Well I can’t live without music. If my hands don’t work I don’t know what will happen. I listen to music all the time and I am in a band now with Les’. 

Les Tones: ‘When I’ve got a guitar I lose loads of time cos I can’t put it down. I’ve also been teaching music and I got into repairing and building guitars. I still play in a band now’. 

Tony Wilson: ‘It was like opening a door to the world – I’ve travelled, met good and bad people. Coming back to the folk scene I’m flattered that people remember me. There’s still some fantastic people who put you up, give you meals, drive you places…just the most incredible thing ever….really….that’s music’.

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David Taggart: ‘Everything. Even more so as I get older. Lying on my back as a toddler in our council house listening to Swan Lake, Ella Fitzgerald or the Fab Four. Or at the Newcastle City Hall to see the now legendary Rolling Stones concert where Jagger introduced the crowd to his new wife Bianca – while Bowie clapped in the wings. Fashions and fads fall along the wayside as your journey progresses and all you’re left with is the thing that really matters. The music’.

Gary Alikivi September 2018.

To read the full interviews just type the name in the white box at the top right hand of the page.

Don’t forget to check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

ALL THE WORLDS A STAGE in conversation with Sound & Light engineer Colin Smoult

What is your background in music ? ‘In 1991 I bought Jump, a second-hand record shop in Station Road, South Shields. Another shop called Excalibur moved in upstairs a few years later. This was a ‘Head’ shop where the owner Roy was selling hippy style stuff, clothing, candles, ornaments, that sort of thing. It was going well until the council started plans to demolish the buildings on Station Road, and as word got around the trade dropped off. So in 1998 I moved to Fowler Street with it’s higher rates and rent. But I also realised the entire record industry was changing with internet downloading, and soon vinyl albums and cd’s were slowly fizzled out. Excalibur had closed down by now, and I had realised there was definitely a trade there. People coming into the shop asking can you get this, can you get that…basically what Excalibur used to sell. So I changed to half records and cd’s, and half of what was a ‘Head’ shop. Then slowly phased out the records side of it to sell 100% head stuff’.

Where you playing in a band then ? ‘Yeah I formed Shovelmouth in the mid 90’s and then a few years later I started booking bands at The Office pub in South Shields. Just as a favour really because I had so many contacts for various bands on the circuit. I used to go and see a lot of bands around Tyneside and if I liked them then I wanted to get them on in Shields too. I was a big fan of live music, and still am. The vast majority of pub bands are hobbiests. You cannot make enough money playing pubs twice a week to make a living. It’s just pocket money for a lot of these bands, although often the gear they have on stage is worth thousands of pounds. They are very proud and want to play through good quality equipment so if they get it stolen then it’s heartbreaking. Guitars are different as they are pretty unique with serial numbers on, so they can turn up, whereas amps and other bits and pieces usually disappear into the ether’.

How did you progress to engineer live sound for bands ?  ‘I used to do Shovelmouth’s sound, and watching other bands you would pick up little tricks on how to get a better and bigger sound. Are the drums miked up? what’s the p.a. output? that sort of thing you know. At first I was sort of playing at it really, nobody teaching me, all self-taught. But there was one moment when it clicked. In the early 2000’s Powerage the AC/DC tribute band had a gig booked for some bikers near Chopwell. They couldn’t get a p.a hired but they could bring a sound engineer. The guy was called Tony Smith from Crook who regularly did sound on the main stage at Stormin the Castle Bike Rally. So I provided the p.a. mic’s and leads, he borrowed a mixing desk and done the sound on the night. I tell ya my little p.a. sounded a million dollars that night. There was my ramshackle gear and he has made it sound unbelievable! And that inspired me. Just spending one gig looking over his shoulder I learnt so much in that one night. About 6 years back I hooked up with a friend Glenn Minnikin, who is an incredible tech head, a very bright lad. We eventually ditched the analogue gear and went digital, plus keep on adding to and improving the kind of light show that we can do. It’s just snowballed from there, to doing sound and lights on a regular basis for numerous bands around the North East’.

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Colin with Glenn Minnikin.

What type of venues do you work in ? ‘Well we can tailor it down to pubs if needed, like Trimmers in South Shields, or up to a full-on spectacle if that’s what’s required. We’ve done many social clubs and some theatres as well. To be honest the bigger venues have way more appeal to us. We can do more impressive lighting and the big rooms let the sound breathe’.

With pubs and clubs closing everyday in the UK, have you seen a change in the venues and audiences ? The pub-band scene isn’t as vibrant as it was perhaps 10 years ago for people my age, and the younger audiences aren’t really coming through at a pub level. They’ll go to festivals to see major bands, but the support for original local live music at a grass-roots level is virtually non-existent unless they are family or friends of the band. University towns or cities tend to be different. The important thing is the limited amount of places they can play these days. But it’s the chicken or the egg isn’t it. Pubs don’t want to take the chance of paying money for a band and not enough people turning up. Back when we were younger we wanted to see why our mates were talking about this or that band, what the buzz was all about. We’d turn up and support them, but by the 2000’s it became affordable to have a home-studio computer software, and you didn’t need to be in a band to perform music. Not needing to work with other musicians, just programing your own drum tracks, bass lines, the lot, …all by themselves’

Earlier this year I went to The Sage in Newcastle and saw Judie Tzuke who complained during the gig of a bad throat. I got to thinking how serious an illness has to be before cancellation ? ’Maybe she was feeling fragile. She’d still have wages to pay and other costs to cover, so she’d still want to do the gig. If you’re talking main players like lead guitarist or singer are so ill they can’t do the tour, they’d have to be bedridden to cancel. Back in the 80’s bands were lucky to break even on ticket sales, so they made it up on the merchandise and record sales. Nowadays due to declining record and download sales, the ticket prices have escalated. Bands do not want to cry off on a tour, that is their bread and butter now’.

Have you come across musicians who want to pull the gig ? ‘I know of singers who with the slightest cold are looking to pull the gig, ha-ha. It’s like hang on, this gig’s been booked months in advance, the rest of the band are fit and ready, just that the singer is not at full strength. You not only let the band down, and the audience, but the pub might struggle to get another act on at short notice’. 

Do you think many backing tracks are used in live performances ? ’There are some name rock bands out there who will use backing tracks on the lead vocals. When the high notes come in the sound guy pushes the backing track up, likely recorded from a previous live show, but it helps him hit that high note. Many years ago it was rumoured that Journey had done that because the singer had trouble with his throat and they didn’t want to cancel any dates. When recording an album in the studio, they know they have to get it right because that album is going to be listened to over and over again, and any bum notes are going to stick out like a sore thumb. But when it comes to live performance it’s experienced in the moment. If something is played a bit faster really who cares, it’s a live vibe, it’s a buzz. Yet for live albums ? I’m not sure about them, it’s “that doesn’t sound so good let’s go in the studio and overdub it” ha-ha’. 

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Colin at Stormin’ the Castle Bike Rally.

You also compere at the Stormin’ the Castle Bike Rally….’Yeah, I just realised it’s been 15 years now. I’d previously played there in 2000 and 2002 with Shovelmouth. I was asked to come onboard and help with compering in 2004 because their guy couldn’t do it one night, and I’ve done the job ever since’. 

Any stand-out moments from there ? ’I’ve loved every year. There’s always great moments, great bands. Local bands who play always bring their A-game. Name bands play great shows as well. Maybe a stand-out moment was watching Pete Way performing with UFO absolutely plastered. As the gig went on his legs were getting more and more buckled. At the end of the show the band were laughing as he went off stage as they were so used to it. The Quireboys just played a great show this year, and there was Spike (vocals) another man who likes a good sup, a very affable drunk, loveable, likeable guy but you’re thinking, will he last through the gig? As he staggers up the steps with uncertainty to get on stage, you’re thinking this is looking dodgy. Then he gets on stage and click he’s into show mode! Throwing the mic stand up in the air, catching it, singing to the audience, brilliant vocals, so much charisma’.

In the last 10 years there has been a number of successful entertainers and comedians that have come from this area. Can you pinpoint the reason why ?Certain places have had that, Liverpool in the 80’s with Echo & the Bunnymen, Lightning Seeds, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Coventry with the Two Tone, Ska scene. They seem to have musical vibes about them. Obviously South Shields is not on the same level, but undoubtedly there is some talent here. There has always been incidents like when many punk bands started because they saw The Sex Pistols, or a number of rock bands formed because they saw Jimi Hendrix. Live entertainment has always been big in this town, even with the theatre, if people go to see it then perhaps they are inspired to then go and do it themselves. Maybe it’s a snowball effect of the more there is, the more people get inspired by it. But back to your question of why South Shields ? Really I couldn’t pinpoint one thing. Maybe there’s something in the water ha-ha’.

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Shovelmouth at the Ampitheatre, South Shields June 2012.

What does music mean to you ? ‘It’s a passion, it always has been. I started off being a music fan, watching bands and buying the albums. Then playing in bands and started booking bands. I enjoyed being part of setting-up live music up to entertain others and now it’s evolved to the point where I’d rather be behind the scenes doing sound and lighting, enhancing the bands’ performance. I get a buzz out of knowing I can make a good band shine a bit brighter. My satisfaction is knowing I played my part in that. When you see the audience loving the show that’s great. Yeah it’s my passion’. 

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2018.

Don’t forget to check out the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

COUNTRY ROADS – interview with North East singer/songwriter Hayley Ellen

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Hayley Ellen is a singer/songwriter from Corbridge in Northumberland….‘I started playing gigs when I learnt to play guitar, so just out of college. About 2013. I started playing buskers and supporting local artists like Billy Mitchell at charity events, and further afield with Katie Armiger and Holly May on their UK tour. I did a lot of stuff for the local Newspaper – The Hexham Courant and events for Corbridge to get my name out and support my local community. I’ve always wanted to play music but I think my defining moment was when I knew I could do it. I was in high school and was on a performing arts course. I sang a couple of songs and got a huge reaction from the crowd, that’s when the bug bit me’.

Who were your influences in music ?  ‘I definitely took inspiration from my mum and dad’s music while growing up. My mum is very into country, pop ballads, soft rock and my dad is very into rock n roll and things that sound a bit different like Kate Bush and Seasick Steve. I would say I source Taylor Swift as my biggest inspiration from a music, lyrics and business strategy point of view. Others include Nickelback, Savage Garden, Blake Shelton, Lonestar, Journey, Toto, Florida Georgia Line, AC/DC and many many more!’

What are your experiences of recording ?  ‘My first experience of recording was with Isaac Parker, who was a contact of Core Music in Hexham. We recorded the first take of ‘I Deserve Better’ at his home studio, and honestly it was a fun experience. A few years later I recorded my EP at The Loft in Newcastle, with Liam Gaughan who I would highly recommend. Prices are great and so is the attention to detail’.

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Have you recorded any TV appearences or filmed any music videos ?  ‘I did a charity single for the Manchester victims of the terrorist attack last year. That was with other North East artists and we done Arrianna Grande’s ‘One Last Time’. That was televised and a music video is up for that. I barely feature in it but it was a fun experience’.

Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘I particularly like when dogs come and ‘sing’ during a set. I think people can surprise you too, and sometimes have too much to drink. You never know what the crowd will be like’.

What are your future plans in music ? ‘I just want to get out and play gigs! Future plans? I’d like to record an album with my boyfriend and do some music cover vlogging! And if anything becomes of that, then it’s a bonus. Thank you so much for the interview, it’s been a pleasure!’

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Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2018.

Don’t forget to check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE TOON AGAIN -Alikivi blog makes the news.

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On the blog in June this year, Roksnaps featured photo’s of bands playing live over 30 years ago. The rare pic’s were taken by music fan Paul White. Photo’s which capture the atmosphere and excitement at Newcastle City Hall. 

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Music fan Paul White

On Wednesday September 12th journalist David Morton wrote an article and featured the photo’s in The Chronicle newspaper and on it’s website.

Newcastle was becoming a rock music powerhouse. Black Sabbath, Scorpions, Whitesnake, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, UFO among others all trod the boards of Newcastle City Hall’. 

The blog is coming up to 40,000 views, plus this is the 175th post, so a great way to mark that milestone is with a double page in the local newspaper.

Gary Alikivi September 2018

 

Recommended:

Roksnaps #1 18th February 2018.

Roksnaps #2 22nd February 2018.

Roksnaps #3 27th February 2018.

Roksnaps #4  4th April 2018.

Roksnaps #5  20th June 2018.

1980 The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside   11th February 2018.

Rockin’ All Over the Toon  22nd May 2018.

Don’t forget to check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.