RUSSIA’S GEORDIE SPY with author Vin Arthey

Searching your family history can throw up a few surprises. My Great Uncle Alexander Allikivi was born in Russia at a time of political and social unrest resulting in two revolutions, the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the Soviet Union by the Bolsheviks. Have you ever wondered why some stubborn or awkward people are called bolshy ? Was it Bolshy Alex ?  Little is known about the life of Allikivi. He lived in South Shields during the ‘20s until his death in 1933. I know he received two Mercantile Marine and British Medal ribbons by 1921, but what had he done before that ? When did he first arrive in the UK and why did he leave Russia ?

In the search for some clues I read ‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’, a book by Vin Arthey about father and son Heinrich and William Fisher. Heinrich was born in Russia in 1871 and William was born in 1903 in Newcastle. In 1921 the Fishers were in Moscow. The Spielberg film ‘Bridge of Spies’ starring Tom Hanks features what happened to William.

Reading Vin’s book I came across this…’He (Heinrich Fischer) maintained all his political links. He remained a member of the Russian Socialist Democratic Workers Party and in UK politics aligned himself with the Social Democratic Federation members who seceded to found the British Socialist Party, working for the party south of the Tyne, in South Shields, rather than in Newcastle’.

Was Allikivi involved in politics ? Were other Russians attending the meetings in South Shields and would he be attracted to gatherings with people who spoke the same language as him ? He would look forward to having conversations rather than using a few words or short phrases when meeting friends and family.

Edinburgh-based author Vin Arthey on Fri 12 January 2018.

Vin Arthey photograph by Andy Catlin.

I decided to contact Vin and asked him what was the inspiration behind writing ‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ ? When I was freelancing in the ‘90s I was offered an Associate Producer role by Trevor Hearing who’d just had his series, ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ commissioned by Tyne Tees TV. This was a series of six half-hour dramas and drama documentaries covering true regional stories such as those of the Darlington MP who turned out to be an international outlaw and leader of an obscure Chinese cult, and the Newcastle auction mart owner and television hypnotist who was jailed for swindling his mother out of thousands of pounds, and the County Durham relief bank manager who correctly foretold that his bank would be robbed and that he would be killed during the robbery.

Another story I researched was of Newcastle born William Fisher who turned out to be a KGB spy, used the name Rudolf Abel and was jailed for espionage in the United States in 1957. 5 year later he was exchanged across Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge for the American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. Fisher’s birth in Newcastle had been ascertained by Newcastle University historian David Saunders, and I had a number of meetings with David during the pre-production phase.

Trevor Hearing and I were convinced that the story was worthy of a network production, but it was turned down by BBC 2’s Timewatch and Channel 4’s Secret History. However, I kept on researching and writing, because I was absolutely hooked by the story.

You see, I could remember when I was 12 year old watching the news story on my family’s first, rented, TV set, of the KGB spy Rudolf Abel, who was arrested, tried and jailed in New York in 1957. The Cold War was very real to me as a teenager in East Anglia. My home was close to a number of United States airbases, and there were regular sightings of USAF Sabre, Phantom and Voodoo jet fighters and fighter-bombers.

I remember well the shooting down over the Soviet Union in May 1960 of Gary Powers’s high flying ‘weather reconnaissance’ aircraft, the ‘U-2’. As one of our teachers put it the day the news broke, ‘Awfully high weather we’re having these days,’.  Also I was still at school when the famous exchange of Powers and Abel took place.

You might imagine my excitement when I discovered that the Soviet spy at the centre of perhaps the greatest Cold War drama, the man who featured so strikingly in my school years, was a British subject, Newcastle born, at that. I couldn’t let the story go, and when I was approached by St Ermin’s Press to write a book I jumped at the chance.

St Ermin’s published it as a hardback with the title Like Father Like Son: A Dynasty of Spies. Later, Biteback Publishing bought the paperback rights and repackaged it as The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy: The Man They Swapped for Gary Powers. When the Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies was released in 2015, Biteback reprinted with yet another title, Abel: The True Story of the Spy They Traded for Gary Powers.

Did you do any readings or tour with the book ? The book (or should I say books!) have been well received, although I have to be realistic – Fisher was our enemy during the Cold War, a villain of the piece – a villain of the peace even! Over the last dozen years I’ve given talks on the Fisher story in various places and at a range of venues in Newcastle, North Shields, South Shields, Middlesbrough, Edinburgh, Reading, and there has been great interest in the United States, where the books have been reviewed for the CIA’s ‘Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf’.  I visited the USA for research and subsequently got to speak at the Brooklyn Historical Society and at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC.

What is your background Vin ? I was born, brought up and spent my early adult years in Ipswich, and although most of my life has now been spent in the North of England and in Scotland, I still regard myself as an East Anglian. I follow Ipswich Town football team through thick and thin – thin at the moment as we’ve just been relegated to what I still call the Third Division, and our arch rivals Norwich City have just made it back to the Premiership.

I’ve had a dual career, in education and the media, teaching in schools and a college of education then, when the birth rate dropped and the colleges were closing and merging, I was at Newcastle Polytechnic where I taught drama and media studies.

While this was happening, I started freelance scripting and reviewing for BBC Radio Newcastle and Tyne Tees. In the early ‘80s an opportunity arose to work fulltime at Tyne Tees, so I took it. Researching and producing across the whole range of the station’s output – current affairs, religious programmes, comedy, arts and features.

I went freelance again in the mid ‘90s, but at the end of the decade went back into university teaching and to heading up the TV Production degrees at Teesside University. Now, I’m settled in Edinburgh and supplement my pension with income from writing and speaking.

What are you working on now ? I review books about espionage, the Cold War and Russia for newspapers ‘The Scotsman’ and ‘Scotland on Sunday’. I’ve just finished a piece of ghostwriting – a privately commissioned piece for a retired hydroelectric power engineer, and I’m currently clearing my desk, and my head with a view to tackling a new book – still nonfiction, but still under wraps.

To hear from Vin check this link to an interview with Spy historian Vince Houghton at Spycast

https://www.spymuseum.org/multimedia/spycast/episode/the-real-story-of-rudolph-abel-an-interview-with-vin-arthey/

As for Alexander Allikivi, I am still searching for some answers.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019

WILDFLOWER – South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy 1905-45 timeline.

SEPT 25 1905 copy

In October 2018 I wrote about making a documentary on George Orwell’s first wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy. The short film had a real local interest as Eileen was born just 2 minutes from where I live. Little did I know when I started the search in 2012 that the film would be shown to the Orwell Society and Richard Blair, son of George Orwell, on the Isle of Jura where Orwell wrote the dystopian classic, Nineteen Eighty Four.

Timeline research 2012-13:

In a graveyard in Newcastle you will find a headstone for Eileen Maud Blair who was married to George Orwell, arguably one of the most controversial writer’s of the 20th century. Orwell wrote many books including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Homage to Catalonia (1938), Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty Four (1949).

But who was Eileen?

Eileen’s story starts in Ireland. Her father, Laurence O’Shaughnessey was born in 1866 on the small island of Valencia and Portmagee in County Kerry. His father, Edward O’Shaughnessy was employed in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Aged 25, Laurence moved to England and boarded at 19 East India Dock Road, Limehouse in London and found work as a clerk for His Majesty Customs.

Eileen’s mother, Mary Westgate was born in 1866 in Hempnall, Norfolk. Aged 24, Mary moved south to Greenwich in London and worked as an Assistant Teacher at Lewisham Hill Road School.

Laurence and Mary met and eventually married in Holy Trinity Church, Gravesend, Kent in February 1900. The couple then travelled to the North East and made a home at 109 Cleveland Road next to the Union Workhouse in Sunderland. Laurence continued working as a Tax Clerk for HM Customs at Custom House, based at 138 High Street, Sunderland. In 1901 they had a son Laurence, who went on to become a distinguished Surgeon.

Six years later the family moved to 3 Park Terrace, South Shields and Laurence senior was employed as Port Administrator, Collector of His Majesties Customs and had an office in Midland Bank Chambers, 65 King Street, South Shields. Then on 25th September 1905, Eileen Maud O’Shaughnessey was born and baptised on 15th November in St Aiden’s Church. Park Terrace is now re-named Lawe Road.

After a short time the family moved to 2 and a half Wellington Terrace, now known as Beach Road. They called the house ‘Westgate House’ after her mother’s maiden name. It is still visible above the front door of 35 Beach Road.

Eileen was educated at the local Westoe School then attended Sunderland Church High School and finally in 1924 the family moved south when Eileen graduated to read English at St Hugh’s College in Oxford. Sadly, Eileen’s father Laurence died not long after. He was 62 years old.

After leaving education Eileen held various jobs including work as an English teacher and purchased a small secretarial agency. But she returned to education in 1934 for a Masters degree in Educational Psychology at the University College in London.

By 1935 Eileen was a graduate student and living with her widowed mother in Greenwich. One night she was invited to a house party at 77 Parliament Hill in Hampstead where she met the journalist and author George Orwell, real name Eric Blair. Eric was born on 25th June 1903 in India. The Blair family had returned to the UK, settled in Oxfordshire and Eric received a scholarship to Eton College.

Over the months the couple found they had a great deal in common, a passion for poetry, literature and countryside walks. Eric was attracted to Eileen’s blue eye’s, heart shaped face and wavy dark brown hair, her Irish looking features.  They married at Wallington Parish Church in Hertfordshire on the 9th June 1936 and lived at The Stores, 2 Kits Lane, Wallington.

In Europe, a Civil war had broken out in Spain and in 1936 Eileen’s husband travelled to Barcelona and joined the militia of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification. Orwell wanted to help the revolt against Franco and the Fascists. Eileen followed in early ‘37 where she stayed in the Hotel Continental on the Ramblas in Barcelona. She worked as a secretary for the ‘New Leader’ which was a newspaper for the Independent Labour Party. The party’s General Secretary was John McNair from Tyneside. Orwell was stationed at the front and in battle was shot through the throat. He recuperated in a sanatorium outside Barcelona.

The couple returned to the UK and by 1939 Eileen worked at the Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information. For a time they lived with her brother Laurence and her sister in law Gwen, at their home in Greenwich Park.

Orwell worked at the Empire Department of the BBC as head of cultural programming for India and South East Asia. Unfortunately during the Second World War Eileen’s brother was killed at Dunkirk while serving in the Army Medical Corp, and her mother died a year later. A sad time for Eileen. But good news was on the way as Eileen and George adopted a baby boy and named him Richard. Eileen by now had given up her job at the Ministry and taken well to motherhood. Orwell began writing ‘Animal Farm’.

Growing tired of London and feeling unwell for the last few months, Eileen travelled back to the North East with their son, Richard. They stayed with her sister-in-law Gwen at her home near Stockton and with the Second World War nearing it’s end Orwell was in Germany working as a War Correspondent.

Harvey Evers was a surgeon friend of her brother Laurence. He had a private clinic at Fernwood House in Newcastle a train ride away from where she was staying. Eileen made an appointment to see him but after the examination tumours were found on her uterus and a hysterectomy operation was arranged for 29th March 1945.

Before the operation Eileen was aware that she might not survive, and wrote long letters to Orwell. Sadly, under the anaesthetic Eileen died. Aged only 39, Eileen was buried on 3rd April in St Andrews Cemetery, Newcastle.

With Eileen’s death a deep sense of loneliness overwhelmed Orwell. He put off a return to the family home and went back to Germany to report on the end of the Second World War. Close friends looked after his son Richard at their flat in Canonbury Square, London. His novel, ‘Animal Farm’ was published in the summer and in it he credited Eileen with helping to plan the book. In May 1946 Orwell rented Barnhill, a farmhouse on the remote island of Jura in Scotland and wrote Nineteen Eighty Four. The book was published in 1949.

Sadly on 21st January 1950 George Orwell died of tuberculosis in London aged 46. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire.

Sources: George Orwell biographies by Gordon Bowker and Scott Lucas. Family history research on Ancestry website. Local Studies in South Shields, Newcastle and Sunderland City Libraries. Thanks to David Harland present owner of Westgate House.

 Gary Alikivi.

PUTTIN’ ON A SHOW – in conversation with North East entertainer Helen Russell

 

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First time I worked with a stripper in the club’s. It was a Sunday morning. I walked into the club ‘Are ye’ the strippa or wat ?’ said a bloke there. ‘I’m the what’ I replied (laughs). The stripper walks into the dressing room with just a bag. I walked in with all my gear, microphone, speakers and stage costume. She did a 5 minute act then taxi to her next gig. She did 4 clubs in a morning. Not bad work but I couldn’t do it. I’ll stick to singing (laughs).

A few week’s ago the blog featured stories from entertainer’s who performed in workingmen’s clubs. Ned Kelly, Jack Berry and a few more shared some great memories. Carrying on that theme I spent time with Helen Russell at her home in South Shields. Helen hasn’t been feeling too well lately so I’m very grateful to her for taking the time to share her story….As a kid I was an autograph hunter, all the stars like Laurence Olivier and John Mills. Great times. We weren’t a musical family but my dad could sing, he was in the Royal Navy. You see I was born in the heart of London and when I was 15 I went into Entertainment National Service Association or otherwise known as Every Night Something Awful (laughs).

(ENSA was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War 2).

They held the auditions in the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in London. They liked me and took me on. I toured all over the UK with ENSA. I was earning £7 per week and that was damn good money. Top act’s and names were getting £10 per week. It was a long time ago, I’m 95 now.

Where did you perform with ENSA ? We played in the munitions factories when the workers were having their lunch breaks. We entertained in the theatres and clubs. I sang ‘Hey Neighbour’ and ‘Sally’ that was a big number. I did imitations of Gracie Fields but never sang any Vera Lynn songs and I always finished my act with a tap routine. I gave up when I got married. It was the done thing in those days. We met when I was entertaining in Belfast. Eventually we moved to England and I got a job performing in the clubs.The first club I played in South Shields was on Ocean Road which is long gone now.

At this time we lived in South Frederick Street and had we had no telephone. I used to go down into the street to the telephone box and ring up the clubs to get gig’s. I’d ask for the concert secretary, book the show and arrange the fee. I did that for years before the agent’s came in.

We had no transport in those day’s. For a show in Stanley, County Durham I’d pack my case with stage clothes, music sheets for the pianist, get the bus up from South Shields to Worswick Street in Newcastle, then carry my case across town to Marlbrough Crescent bus station and go to a club in Stanley another 10 mile away. We had to be off stage and out by 10pm to get the last bus all the way back home.

A pianist joined us, he had a car. He charged us 1 and sixpence each for petrol. I also had to pay a babysitter 7 and six a time. The first working man’s club I ever played was Windy Nook and we earned £1 each, there were 7 of us. Johnny Gaffney who wrote for The Shields Gazette, he had a great voice. No stage technique whatsoever but what a beautiful voice.

I went solo after that when agents came in and started working through the Beverly Agency. They got me lots of work around the North East and over to Carlisle a few times, lovely crowds there. Money was coming through the clubs then, so concert chairman would only deal with agency’s. Which was great for me. No running around telephone boxes, made it much easier and as I was solo the money was much better.

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Helen second from right. in Balmbras, Newcastle.

Can you tell me about the photo above ? Yes that was in Balmbras old time music hall, Newcastle. I had been performing there. Bobby Thompson has played there, also Dick Urwin who was a good writer and great comedian. You had to put him on in the first half because by the second he had too many drinks and would insult the audience. In Newcastle I also performed on stage at the Mayfair.

Can you remember the story behind this record ? That was recorded in 1980 over the river Tyne in Impulse Studio, Wallsend. Corrinne Wilde had written a song about Bobby Thompson and she knew I could write, so I added a chorus. It was a lovely thing to do. But selling records is a lot harder than making them. I sold a few at gig’s. Bobby Thompson paid for the photographer which was nice.

Helen starts singing the chorus…..

Bobby T, Bobby T,

You’re the Geordie lad for me

With yer ganzie hangin’

Doon below yer knees,

You’re as Geordie as the Tyne,

And for the sake of Auld Lang Syne,

We’ll tell the world we love you,

Bobby T.

Did you record anymore of your work ? I recorded voice over’s for radio and appeared on TV a number of times. I remember a part on a show with Martin Clunes, he was only 18 or 19 playing the part of a punk. I was in a lot of productions including Emmerdale, that was in 1993, also children’s television and the latest Comedy Playhouse. I also played somebody’s wife in Spender written by Jimmy Nail. It was a nice part and I get paid repeats on some of them. I have a book full of work and gig’s I’ve done over the years plus the fee’s. There’s a Spender episode written down in it as a repeat in Sweden, I got £9.56 for it (laughs).

Were you working through an agent ? Yes Janet Plater, she represents a lot of actor’s in the North East. The original fee for Spender was very good I remember. The last job I did for Janet was a Tesco advert.

You have appeared at your local theatre The Customs House in South Shields…I’ve worked on a number plays at The Customs House where Ray Spencer is now Director and an MBE. I got to know Ray in the 80’s when he was looking for a partner to work alongside him putting on some Geordie entertainment. Somebody recommended me and we worked together for a long time. Our first gig was the Post House Hotel, Washington in 1988. I have my book here and for the Post House there is a note next to it ‘Ray has the receipts’ (laughs).

The writer Tom Kelly put me in a few shows and that got me and the same team work on ‘Dirty Dusting’ written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood. That was very popular, we did it in about 2002. The show still sell’s today in different countries.

Helen recalls another memory from working in the clubs…A lot of times I was the only woman because I was entertaining there and these were men’s clubs. I couldn’t get a drink at the bar. I had to give a man the money. He paid the man behind the bar, got the change and passed it to me with my drink !

Tell you what though, I never want to see another bingo card in my life (laughs).

Finally, what has working in entertainment meant to you ? I wouldn’t still be doing it in my 90’s if it didn’t mean anything to me. I was born to do it.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

DIAMOND GEEZER – with former music manager & promoter Jim Sculley

There was one particular savage night when everyone seemed to be fighting. I was worried about one lad who’s face was just awash with blood. I wiped the blood with a tea towel. ‘You been knifed mate?’ I asked. ‘Nah’ he replied ‘I nutted someone and his teef stuck in me forehead’Who said working in the music biz was a glamourous job ? Jim Sculley was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham where he had a decent education…But when I bought my first guitar, studying went out of the window (laughs). Jim joined local band The Mariners as lead guitarist in 1962 and was working at Hartlepool Steelworks at the time…After lot’s of gigs and personnel changes, the band changed its name to The Electric Plums. Then in 1964 I went for a proper job and answered an advert to train at an old established jewellers shop called Lamb’s. He was a great employer who trained me well and sent me to night school in Billingham to study Gemmology, the science of precious stones.

I repaid him by doing the dirty on him by going in business with my night school teacher. We set up a jewellers in Billingham Town Centre in 1971. I found out afterwards from an ex-colleague at Lambs that the boss admired my bravery for setting up our own business and bore me no malice at all!

Business boomed and they quickly gained 3 more jewellery shops and 2 more partners… I was still dabbling in music at the same time but by then had left the Electric Plums to join a girl fronted band called The Partizans. Around ‘68 we changed name to Whisky Mack. This band was good doing night clubs and social clubs, supporting known artistes such as Karl Denver, the Dallas Boys and Tony Christie.

The band were offered a German club tour but Jim thought it was time to call it a day…The shops were doing well and I couldn’t jeopardise my future for a few months gigging abroad. So around late ‘72 we trained up a new guitarist for the tour and I said goodbye. But a few years later, I was back on the road in a couple of duo’s…couldn’t leave the old grease paint behind (laughs).

How did you get involved in promoting ? I wasn’t a great follower or even an avid listener of rock music at that time. However I’d got into the habit of going to rock gigs at Thornaby Cons club and being a guitarist, started to appreciate the quality of musicianship in rock. This was around ’79. At the club fans were telling me that there was a lack of venues in the area, and that local promoters were finding it difficult to coax new bands with any pedigree. A light lit up! Could I make any money at it, and did I fancy the challenge?

What venue did you use for the first gig’s you promoted ? I was putting the word around for local bands to play my new weekly gig in The Swan ballroom in Billingham. Getting an agency licence wasn’t easy in those days, there were financial checks, but within a month J.S. Promotions & Agency was born. ‘Rock At The Swan’ was an instant success with local bands queuing up to play. They would take a percentage of the door take after costs were taken off for an advert in the local press and pa hire.

After a few months we were getting requests from bands from all over the country due to word of mouth. And not only from bands. Agents were wanting to send bands with newly signed record deals on the road, but were having difficulty finding promoters who would take a chance on unknown bands. Another light bulb moment hit me and I jumped at the opportunity. Provide new blood for the fans and possibilities for local bands to support a signed band.

I asked myself I’m working with big agents who need venues to blood their bands. Why don’t I track down more venues and offer these big agents a full tour for their new bands. It made sense because these agents didn’t really want to take time to blood these bands on the road. They would wait till when the album was out and selling, then take over and put them into major venues.

So I set to work on the telephone and scanning through tour adverts in Sounds and Kerrang. Eventually sorting myself a good amount of venues that I knew I could form into different size tours. It helped when talking to each promoter that I was promoting a venue, same as them, and knew the score. I could be trusted and they knew that. It was a very important point.

By 1981 J.S. Promotions & Agency was well established. I was sending bands here there and everywhere. The Swan gig was bouncing and the jewellery shop was doing great. I often look back and wonder how the hell I kept myself going! Suppose it was because I was still young and kept quite fit. Be a different story today (laughs).

Did you book any big name bands at The Swan ? I ran that Swan gig for about 7 or 8 years and some biggish names have been on that stage. It was a nice venue, being a ballroom, and a decent sized fire regulation limit of 200 plus people. Bands like The Groundhogs featuring Tony MePhee were regulars and would always fill the place. I worked them a lot tour-wise. And what about this for an eye opener of a gig – in 1983 aged 17, son of Led Zep’s drummer John Bonham, Jason formed his band Airrace.

I got a call from his agent asking for a Billingham Swan gig as part of the band’s first tour. Money no problem, they’d just accept percentage door-take. But on one condition. So that the band would be judged on their merits and not the Bonham name, no mention of Jason Bonham could be used in any advertising. Of course I agreed and the band turned up on the date…in a great big pantechnicon van!! Wow!!

I have never been so up and close to a back line like it. Wall to wall, ceiling to ceiling Marshall amps. Not for volume but for clarity. Great sound, great gig, and a reasonably full room, rock fans aren’t stupid, they read the rock mags. And I have to say what a genial gentleman Jason was, no airs or graces, happy to chat to all the fans after the gig.

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New Wave of British Heavy Metal was at it’s peak during the early 80’s. Did you come across any of the bands in the Teeside area like Axis or White Spirit ? In 1982 I’d taken a shine to a rock band I’d given a few gigs to, Black Rose, they were in the Iron Maiden kind of mould at the time and wrote their own material. They had a manager called Barry Clapp but were disappointed they weren’t making any progress. They asked me to manage them. I talked with Barry who gave me his blessing, admitting he’d had enough.

By 6 months we had a single out on the Teesbeat label called No Point Runnin’ coupled with Sucker For Your Love. One of the Sounds reviewers loved it and wrote a nice piece about it which propelled it to no.19 in the rock charts. The band then appeared on two compilation EP’s in the same year. One Take No Dubs on Neat Records, and the other on Guardian Records, called Roxcalibur.

(The album included Battleaxe, Satan & Marauder. ‘One Take No Dubs’ had Alien, Avenger & Hellanbach).

In 1984 the Midlands rock label Bullet Records signed the band. They produced a self-titled EP, also the Boys Will Be Boys album. A single of the same name was taken off the album. All through this studio activity the band were gigging heavily in the UK and Holland where they have a strong fan base. I went with them to a gig in the Dynamo Club in Eindhoven. Brilliant gig.

Coming back from that gig a funny thing happened at the Dover customs. Me and 4 band members were in my Mercedes. We were kept at least half an hour, as the officers were searching the car, under it, in the boot, under the bonnet. They couldn’t believe that a long haired heavy metal band would not have something suspicious on them especially travelling from HollandI had an awful time explaining to the customs officers that none of the band actually smoked, rarely drank and nobody actually bought anything from duty free (laughs).

In 1985 Bullet folded so the band returned to Neat Records and recorded a superb EP titled Nightmare. Then a year later…eureka! The band were noticed in the USA. Neat Records engineered a deal with Dominion Records (an offshoot of the massive K-Tel Records) for a studio album recorded at Neat. Walk It How You Talk It, was pressed, packaged and ready to be distributed. We were in talks to arrange an American tour. After all the hard work since 1982 we’d made it.

Then a bombshell phone call from Neat. The powers that be in America hadn’t done their homework. There was already a band called Black Rose who’d registered their name in the States, they were threatening to sue. Our label Dominion Records took water in and pulled the deal. Neat wouldn’t fight it, so everything was scrapped. Not long after, myself and the band parted company. Gutted to say the least.

Pauline Gillan Band

Did this disappointment put you off being a manager/promoter ? No. I managed The Pauline Gillan Band, from about 1984. I knew two members who lived in the same town as me, Bilingham. Davy Little, a great ex-Axis guitarist, and Chris Wing on bass who could play anything you gave him. He wasn’t called the Wizz for nothing. I’d caught the band at a couple of gigs and was impressed. They asked me along to a rehearsal and I think we all knew when I left them that I’d be their manager.

I had them gigging extensively right through the UK. Including gigs at the London Marquee. We were contacted by a promoter in France who was organising a music festival at a place called Neuvic not far from the Dordogne region. He’d heard about the band through the music press and decided we would add nicely to the festival line-up. Actually we ended up as number 2 to the headline band.

It was a magic time both for the band and the fans. In 1985 we managed to secure an album deal with Powerstation Records based in York. The album Hearts of Fire was recorded in Fairview Studios in Willerby near Hull. While recording the album, Gerry Marsden of the Pacemakers fame popped his head in. ‘Can I pinch 10 min’s of your recording time lads, I’m appearing locally and I need to record an advertising jingle’. Well 10 min’s later, that was all the recording done for the day because Gerry insisted on taking all of us, our roadies, the recording technician, him, his management and entourage down to the pub in the village for the rest of the day. Booze and snacks all paid for. And what a gentleman he was, so friendly.

Gerry told us a great story about one of the pop successes of that time Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who had a number one hit with Relax. On the B side was Ferry Across The Mersey which of course was written by Gerry himself, and that he’d received thousands of pounds in PRS royalties. ‘I love that band’ he laughed.

Did you promote any punk gigs ? There was a few gigs that were memorable for the wrong reasons. Many punk gigs, big names, but mostly trouble with a capital T. Around 1980/82 I was approached by a guy called Don who had just bought the then defunct Rock Garden club which was one part of the Marimba night club in Middlesbrough. Now having owned some before Don knew everything about pubs and night clubs, but knew nothing about the live music scene. So he asked me, adding a financial carrot, to book bands and run live music nights. I agreed but advised him that a new name would be a good idea. So it was a warm welcome to The Cavern.

As part of our licence the Police made us search the punks for weapons and glue, the preferred drug of the day for punks. My missus Marg would handle the takings and tickets at the door and take the glue from them. We weren’t allowed to keep the glue, but return it to them after the gig. One night we couldn’t help laughing when this little 5 foot skinhead surrendered his polythene bag from his sock, then quipped ‘Now dont forget will ye…mine’s the Evo Stick’ (laughs).

The Rock Garden had always done well with punk bands and there was still a good punk fan base in Cleveland, so I decided to alternate heavy rock with punk nights. But battling was always on the cards at punk gigs – never at rock gigs.
First night at The Cavern, if my memory serves me well but I’m not absolutely sure, was well known punks The Destructors supported by a local band. We had a strong security crew (about 8 men) one was a friend, Ron Gray who was an ex-European kick boxing champion. As it happens on that first night, we needed them all! We’d got word through a contact that a mob was coming down who had bad blood with another load of fans. Still I wasn’t worried, we had plenty of cover didn’t we ?

Support band had only been on about 5 minutes when the crowd split into two armies. A bit like the parting of that biblical sea. And then the charge! Marg was stood on a beer crate in the corner directing our bouncers, screaming ‘over there’ and ‘side of the stage’ and then opening the emergency door for me and the lads to eject the brawlers. She was a good help on band nights.

My claim to fame was to convince the Police to allow me to book the Angelic Upstarts who’d been banned in Cleveland for over a year. I knew the police were pleased with our record of not allowing any trouble to spill outside and that was the reason we were given permission to stage this particular show. And what a cracker it was, and believe it or not hardly any crowd trouble.
Other memorable bands were GBH, Penetration and Conflict. I liked Colin the singer of Conflict. He insisted we keep the entrance fee down so that his fans could afford it, even taking a smaller purse himself.

Did you promote punk gig’s at any other venues ?
Early 80’s I was co-promoting a punk gig in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in Redcar and managed to attract a really well known punk band from the late 70s, UK Subs. I booked local band Dogsbody or was it Dogsflesh as support to bring a few extra punters in.
Anyway one of the Subs members copped off with the girlfriend of one of the support band and took her to a room upstairs where the band where staying for the night. The support band went upstairs and a huge battle ensued with carpets ruined with blood and drink. It took an hour or so to restore order. Then the Park Hotel manager presents me with a bill for a huge amount. I can’t remember how much but remember shaking in my boots. As promoter I could have been held responsible in some ways I suppose. But I turned on the Subs road manager and threatened to get the police and the newspapers involved, which would probably curtail or cancel the rest of their tour. Anyway he rang the band’s manager who agreed to foot the bill. Job done. I tried hard to stick to rock gigs after all this trouble, but have to admit the memories of punk will always bring a smile.

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If you can choose one, what is the best gig you have promoted ? Slade in about 1984 at Durham University’s Student Union Hall. Massive sell out, queues right down the road. Great gig but didn’t get to meet them. Went to the dressing room straight after the gig but they’d already left for the hotel.

Have you any regrets as a promoter? Turned down a Tina Turner gig as part of her resurgence tour. Thought the fee was too high. A couple of month later Private Dancer released and the rest is history. That was my Decca/Beatles moment!

There is a regrets number two. I was in the Marquee Club with one of my bands in 1985 and took a call from Bronze Records who wanted to show me a band. I went to Camden next day to see them and basically it was a country & western star, can’t remember the name. Anyway, country wasn’t my scene so turned it down. Then he produced a picture of Tom Petty who was coming over soon to tour. The price was reasonable but I knew he hadn’t released anything for about 3 years so turned that down too. Another Decca/Beatles moment!

What does music mean to you ? For all I was playing on stage continuously for about 17 years, and it was part of my life for so long after that -management, agency and promotions, I don’t really listen to a lot of it nowadays. Weird eh!

But after thinking a little more about it, I’ve concluded that it’s the actual making of music, the playing of it, watching other people playing it – construction really. I was never one for lyrics, it was always the tune, the riffs and chord structures that got me excited. That’s why I tend to like songs with a nice hook to them.

I played my guitar at home quite often untill I had a medical problem with my finger which made it totally inflexible. I can’t even form a chord now, which actually makes me quite miserable! My last time playing on stage was backing local singer Johny Larkin at a Help For Heroes charity gig about 7 years ago.(pic. below)

Having said that we’ve booked both days of the upcoming Hardwick Hall festival. And I do watch Fridays on BBC 4 and we went to The Sage to see Mott the Hoople a couple of months ago. Sod it … looks like music still means a lot to me.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

SECRETS and LIES – based on the life of Baron Avro Manhattan

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I came across Avro Manhattan by accident. I was in the local studies department of South Shields Library flicking through the files looking for South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, I was making a documentary about her life with the author George Orwell. The files are in alphabetical order and before the O’s landed on the M’s.

From research I wrote a script for the film Secrets & Lies (below). A blog from July 2018 add’s details on how I put the film together.

If you want to check out the 12 min film go to my You Tube channel at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AITGzGiC-yU

 

START

Secrets & Lies

Have you heard about the devil having the best tunes ? Well, he also has the best stories. This is a story about my journey, my obsession… my destiny. You could say it was written in the stars.

It was 1990 when I died at our home in South Shields, my friends had a service for me at the local church, and they buried me in a cemetery in Durham. In my will I left over half a million pounds, with bank accounts in London, Switzerland and California. I also had a few titles to my name, including a Baron and Knights Templar. I was an accomplished writer and artist; I have authored over 30 books. My first was published in 1934. My close friends included other artists, poets and a Princess. I had property in London and Spain and a plot of land in the Bahamas.

So I hear you ask, why end my days in a small terraced house in a seaside town? Let me explain.

My name is Avro Manhattan I was born in Italy on 6th April 1910. My parents were wealthy and we travelled around Europe. I was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, where as a student I met the artist, Picasso. This was a great time in my formative years, I used to get, what I called little explosions in my head, idea’s, sounds and colours just popping in, and I knew I had to do something with them.

So in the 1930’s when I went back to Italy and rented an art studio at Lake Maggiore I started to put my idea’s down on canvas. But while there the authorities told me that I had to serve in Mussolini’s fascist army, I refused, so they put me in jail. While imprisoned in the Alps I didn’t waste my time, in my small prison cell I learned to harness my little explosions and wrote a book on astronomy, a subject I was getting really interested in.

They say prison can break some people, but not me, after the experience it made me more determined to make something of my life. I left Italy behind and went to London.

During World War II, I worked in radio and was broadcasting to occupied Europe and also wrote political commentaries for the BBC, for this service two things happened, the British awarded me a Knight of Malta, and the Nazi’s put a price on my head. A feeling that would follow me all through my life, the feeling of dodging a bullet.

While in the UK I was living between London and the North East, where I was invited to important functions, foreign embassies, and film premiers. I worked with HG Wells and helped draw up a bill of human rights. I met with Ian Paisley, the loyalist politician from Northern Ireland.

I held an art exhibition on the riverside in South Shields attended by the very flamboyant son of the Marquis of Bath. The Viscount bought two of my paintings but he confessed his only ambition was to try Newcastle Brown Ale. I met Dr Thomas Paine, the head of NASA. As I’ve said it was a subject I was really interested in and became a passion of mine, I was very interested in space and what else was out there in our universe.

I was a very good friend with the scientist Marie Stopes. She had just read my latest book, and came to an exhibition of some of my paintings in London. We got on well and our friendship grew, there were strong rumours of a love affair.  At the time I was thirty nine, she was 72.

But my little explosions kept me really busy and by now my main work was writing. I talk of the obscenity of some very wealthy world organisations co-existing with poverty. My titles deal with topical issues and are controversial; they deal with current religious and political problems affecting the USA and the Western world. I researched the subjects thoroughly and my style is not to be judge or jury; but to be the prosecuting counsel. In the ‘Vatican Moscow Washington Alliance’ I talked with the Yugoslav General, Milkovich, himself an opponent of Nazism and Communism.

During research I came across a story of a squadron of bombers planning to flatten the Vatican, this was foiled only 24 hours before the attack was to take place. Revealing this brought me many readers across the world, but also many enemies. Ozark Books, one of my publishers, said I risked my life daily to expose some of the darkest secrets of the Papacy.

Many of my books have been translated into a number of languages from French, German and Spanish, to Hebrew, Czech and Russian. ‘The Vatican in World Politics’ ran to fifty editions. One review said that a copy of ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ was hurled across St Pauls Cathedral in London, the book was criticised, condemned, banned, destroyed and even burned as frequently as it has been recommended and praised in many parts of the world.

In 1983 Chick Publications in America published ‘The Vatican Billions’ where I explain how the popes stole the wealth of the world through the centuries. I expose the incredible tricks played on kings, and papal involvement with the Bolsheviks. I reveal the story of how millions are missing from the Vatican Bank, the suicide of the banker Calvi under a London Bridge, and the jailed Vatican Bankers.

As I’ve said the subject matter of my writing had brought me many readers across the world but also people who would like to see me silenced. In 1986 I was in America to deliver a speech and promote my book ‘The Vatican’s Holocaust’ when I was caught in the cross hairs of one organisation. The Ustasha was a revolutionary movement from Croatia, they specialised in the assassination of prominent people. After my speech I was standing at the bar when I was approached by a man and he whispered to me in a matter of fact tone of voice “I came to the convention to kill you”. He departed as other people came up to me for signed copies of my book. One of these men was my bodyguard and when I told him of the incident he froze and told me that he recognised him as one of the most ruthless Usthasa killers. Something had changed his mind; you could say I had dodged a bullet – again.

But the love of my life and best friend was Anne Cunningham – Brown. She was very loving, caring and kind. We were never apart for more than a few days, it was like we were meant to be together. I first met Anne at a cocktail party in London in 1963; she worked in a hospital there. She was originally from Shotley Bridge, a small town in the North East but her mother was living on the coast in South Shields and Anne invited me up there.

I was greatly surprised by it – especially the beauty of the parks and the seafront. It is a real pleasure to be able to look out and see the horizon. It is where I can work in peace and quiet, or just sit in the house that my dear wife decorated, with its heavy drapes, antiques, cherub figures and a piano in the corner, all very bohemian. Some days I just take our dog for a walk, buy fish and chips, and sip Newcastle Brown Ale.

I remember during the 1970’s Anne was commuting to work at a hospital in London. I used to phone and write to her.  

‘Dearest Love, I miss you very much after you left last week the house seemed so empty. It was a strange sense of absence and void. Which proves that when I’m near you I love you very much, and that you are part of my life and work. I love to hear your voice on the telephone. Somehow it completes my day’.

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We were together nearly 30 years and our life was fantastic, we loved to holiday, especially in the United States. We spent time in Los Angeles, California and Utah with its beautiful canyons. From time to time we stayed in Kensington and sometimes fly over to our flat in Sitges in Spain, but lived mostly in South Shields. We used to go to the local theatre and enjoy watching the shows and regularly hosted dinner parties and barbecues. As a couple we were always together, when my dear wife died in 2008, she was buried with me.

But there was a time in my life when I took a break from writing as I felt I had put myself under so much pressure with the amount of research I was doing plus trying to meet deadlines, it all got too much and I needed to stop, or at least slow down.

Anne gave me guidance, extra confidence in my writing, but I felt the work was getting to me, the stories that I was finding out and revealing to my readers were suffocating me, at times I felt that I couldn’t breathe. I was carrying important information around with me, and it was getting heavier. It felt like my head was going to explode.

Ann was very worried about the effect it was having on my health, I always said it was the nurse in her, wanting to take care of me. I really needed to take a vacation, and recharge my batteries, but I felt compelled to look further, to progress and soak up more of the stories then let my readers know what is going on in the world around us. I really felt I was doing the right thing by exposing all these secrets and lies.

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Since coming to Britain 40 years ago, I had been working on a book about an imaginary god invented by primitive man to give himself courage and hope in his struggle for survival, The Dawn of Man is better than the garden of Eden….my hero, Azor is better than Adam. I talk about how a new world will emerge, and the start of a brighter future for mankind. I thought it was my finest work so I got in touch with Lyle Stuart one of my publishers in the USA asking if he would like to release it.

But the irony was that as soon as it was ready, to my surprise I had a heart attack on my 75th birthday. After a short stay in hospital I made a recovery and was straight back to work, and we released the book. To say the least, Anne was very disappointed in me putting my work, my passion ahead of my health. It will kill you in the end she used to say.

I was still working to my last days, I was planning a new book and my research was leading to a links with The Vatican, the CIA, and murders of very prominent people in the western world. This was a conspiracy which would shake the foundations of these organisations. There is no proof – yet. But the truth will come out in the end, believe me my friend. Someday it will be known.

So that’s it, that’s my story. I ended my days here in South Shields where I produced my best work living close to the sea and where I could see the stars more clearly.

END.

Yes that’s it, for now.  A story of a fascinating character who ended his day’s in a small seaside town. The research is on-going and new information has come to light. Part two of his story is being written revealing more about the man who called himself Baron Avro Manhattan.

Further reading about Manhattan on earlier blogs:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/17/secrets-lies-documentary-based-on-the-life-of-baron-avro-manhattan/

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/08/13/secrets-lies-new-documentary-about-baron-avro-manhattan/

Gary Alikivi 2019.

WESTOE ROSE – The story of Amy Flagg, South Shields Historian & Photographer 1893-1965

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Amy Flagg is fondly remembered as the lady in a hat and trench coat, who quietly went about photographing buildings and recording the history of a town she loved. But who was Amy ? This is a story of courage and determination of a very unique woman who captured some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century.

At the end of the nineteenth century the North East was the industrial heartland of the UK. Collieries, Shipyards and Steelworks covered the landscape. Small villages dotted around the area offered their residents some clear breathing space away from the hazy smog of the town.

Westoe Village in South Shields was home to many notable people of the town. The shipbuilding family the Readheads, Robert Ingham MP, and in Chapel House was the Flagg family. In this grand 20 roomed house was Ambrose, his wife Annie and their only child Amy who was born on 30th of September 1893.

Amy’s father originally came from South London, and was educated at Cambridge University. In 1889 he married Annie Broughton of Westoe and was appointed Headmaster of the Marine School in the town. He was also member of the Ancient Vestry of St Hilda’s where he rubbed shoulders with influential people. He arranged for Amy’s private education.

The young Amy had a brief romance with a neighbour in the Village but sadly like many men from the town he went to fight in the First World War and never returned, throughout the rest of her life she never married.

There is no record of her being employed so what did she do with her education ? This was a time when women had just fought for the vote, was she involved in the Suffragette movement ? Reports describe Amy as a shy, quiet and gentle woman willing to help others. There is accounts of her spending hours in the garden of Chapel House and having an active role volunteering in the local hospital and library. Whether helping someone find information about the town or reading to a patient in hospital, was Amy now becoming aware of her surroundings and her purpose in life ?

By 1930 she was a member of the local photographic society. At a time when only a few female photographers worked in the UK, a woman behind the camera was very unique. This is the time when Amy blossomed and began to see the world around her in a different light. She was fascinated by the changing landscape of the town and photographed the housing clearances along the riverside. But the camera techniques that she had been using were brought into sharp focus in a period that would be Amy’s defining moment in her creative life. She captured the town’s suffering through one of it’s most traumatic episodes: the Second World War. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera. Amy’s father had died in 1936 and her mother died during the war, plus the town she loved was falling apart from the German air raids. Her life was crumbling around her. These were her darkest days.  

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But Amy was determined that these events would not destroy her, having a purpose and remaining active helped strengthen her. She gained recognition for her work and became the town’s official photographer during the war. After receiving permission from the Ministry of Information and the Chief Press Censor, Amy produced a series of booklets of the Air Raid Damage.

An intelligent, determined and very courageous woman, at nearly 50 years old, she was climbing into demolished houses and onto bomb sites to capture the photographs. To accompany the photographs she documented as much information as possible about the area’s and streets which were hit by bombs. She also recorded in great detail the time of the air raids and if there were any casualties or deaths.

‘On January 11th 1940 shortly after 10.00 hours South Shields felt the first impact of warfare by the Luftwaffe. The Air Ministry announced: Enemy air craft crossed the coast near Newcastle today. No bombs were dropped. Fighter patrols were sent up and Anti-aircraft guns opened fire’.

The pictures are haunting and as time passes they take on a new meaning for a wider audience. It is as if she was aware of the effect and importance they would have in years to come. In her dark room she printed every photograph herself of the devastation caused by air raids on the town. With the traumatic events revolving around her, Amy would go to the darkroom where she could feel warmth and security in her own home as images she had taken that day were revealed by the mix of the chemicals. She would watch the magic happen in front of her eyes.

Even the Flagg family home didn’t escape from the German bombs.

‘At zero 45 hours on the 16th April four bombs fell in the grounds of residential property in Westoe. The first on the edge of a field at Seacroft failed to explode and was dealt with by the bomb disposal unit at a later date. The second and third fell in the gardens of Fairfield and Eastgarth respectively. The last one on the lawn ten yards from Chapel House. No casualties were reported but considerable damage was done to a large number of houses in the neighbourhood, including over forty roofs of houses in Horsley Hill road which were penetrated by lumps of clay thrown up by the explosions’.

These incredible photographs are considered to be her most valued and precious legacy. In her very extensive diary notes of October 2nd 1941

‘At daylight on Friday morning the Market Place looked like the ruins of Ypres; nothing could be seen but broken buildings; the square was littered with debris and a tangle of fire hose; all the remaining windows in St Hilda’s Church were shattered, the roof dislodged and the old stone walls pitted and scarred with shrapnel. The Old Town Hall suffered heavy interior harm and none of the business premises were left intact. All the overhead wires were down and it was not until the afternoon of October 9th that buses were able to pass along King Street’.

Experiencing the two world wars, a changing landscape to her town, and both parents recently deceased, creatively and emotionally events of this magnitude would of tested the resilience of most people. But she picked herself up and threw herself into a frenzied period of her life. Recording information from parish records, researching family tree’s from notable people in the town, collecting various reports and photographs from the local paper that she would then cut out and paste in scrap books.

She was continually surprising librarians by asking to see little known documents, and then by hand she would record facts then type them up at home. Amy was tireless in her thirst for knowledge about the town she loved, and with a lot of buildings disappearing during the war she thought it important to record as much information as she could. Sadly this lead her to the last piece of work which was published by South Tyneside Library Service in 1979. It took Amy eight painstaking years of research to produce the book ‘Notes on the History of Shipbuilding in South Shields 1746-1946’.

‘Shadwell Street and Pilot Street. It is very fitting that these two streets should be the first section in these notes; the eastern extremity of the old township of South Shields was the birthplace and for long the nursery of shipbuilding in our town.

John Readheads story is that of an extremely successful industrialist in South Shields, from being a practical blacksmith, he built up one of the most prosperous shipbuilding firms on Tyneside. He made his way from wood and iron tugboats to large steamers for every part of the world. John Readhead died on the 9th March 1894 at his home Southgarth, in Westoe Village; he had been in failing health for some time but had visited the West Docks almost daily until the last few weeks’.

Amy also noted the huge effort by Readheads during the First World War. Amongst the constant procession of merchant vessels which needed repairing after being torpedoed or mined, they supplied 20 cargo vessels, 3 armoured patrol boats and one vessel which was converted into an oil tanker for the Admiralty.

Amy noted in the book that nothing better illustrates the importance of Readheads than the genuine rejoicing when local newspaper the Shields Gazette announces in large headlines ‘ANOTHER ORDER FOR READHEADS’.

In her later years it was reported that Amy put as much work into her garden as she did of her house. She spent countless hours planting unusual flowers and plants. Family, friends and neighbours were constant visitors to it, and she delighted in showing them the statues and conservatories. Even turning the crater caused by a world war two bomb into an ornamental garden.

Amy lived in Chapel House until 1962 when she gave the house and grounds to South Shields Corporation to enable the expansion of the Marine College. This was a heart breaking decision as she lived there most of her life.

‘I have not the slightest idea about the value of the house, but I shall not leave yet. I intend to spend one more summer here’.

But it was something that would of pleased her father as he devoted his life to education in the town. The Marine and Technical College being the successor to the Marine School where he worked for most of his life.  Amy stayed in the village for another three years until her death from stomach cancer on the 22nd February 1965. Her body was cremated and the ashes buried in the family grave in Harton Cemetery.

Amy requested a quiet affair but her popularity meant her funeral was attended by over 200 people including the Mayor of South Shields, her close friend and Librarian Miss Rosemary Farrell and a contingent of medical staff and nurses from the Ingham Infirmary. In a last generous gesture Amy left a substantial amount of money in her will to Ingham hospital. A small remembrance in the town is Flagg Court, and the local photographic society where she was a member hold a yearly competition where the winner receives the Flagg Cup.

Amy’s extensive papers, research and photographs were all placed with the local library and are still held there to this day. Amy Flagg will be remembered as one of the town’s most important photographers and local historians.

 Research from the documentary ‘Westoe Rose’ 2016.

To watch the 12min film check the You Tube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gB1a3Y-yFhM

 Gary Alikivi 2019.

HOME NEWCASTLE – snapshot from the life of musician, manager and record producer Chas Chandler 1938-96

For many Tynesiders 1st February 1967 was a defining moment in music history. A packed New Cellar Club in South Shields saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience live on stage, a unique musician from New York who had been brought over to the UK by Chas. An audience member told me ‘After watching Cream play the opening night at the Cellar people picked up the guitar, but after Hendrix played, loads of bands formed on Tyneside’.

Brian James Chandler was brought up in Heaton, Newcastle, and after leaving school he worked in the shipyards. His early years as a musician were spent playing bass in local band’s like The Kon-Tors. Another band on the scene were Kansas City Five, one of their member’s was Alan Price.

The Club a Go-Go in Newcastle was the venue, for band’s like The Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and John Lee Hooker. Also getting regular gig’s were the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo formed by Chandler and Price. They were joined by Eric Burdon on vocals. Three down two to go.

With regular gigs at The Old Vic in Whitley Bay and Club a Go-Go, Chas asked drummer John Steel to join… ‘You’ll make £14 per week’. Next up was North Shields guitarist Hilton Valentine and finally by September ’63 the Animals line-up was complete – Burdon, Price, Chandler, Steel and Valentine.

In 1964 the band opened a UK tour for Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. By the summer of ’66 The Animals were hugely popular after many TV appearances and hit’s including House of the Rising Sun and We Gotta Get Out of This Place. ‘We toured non-stop for three years but hardly got a penny’. But on their last American tour things were about to change.

Chas walked into a Greenwich Village club in New York to watch a young guitarist. It took one look for him to decide he wanted Jimi Hendrix to come to the UK. After helping him arrange a passport Chas phoned the airline ‘I’d like two first class tickets to London. One way’.

The UK capital in 1966 was aptly called ‘Swinging London’ and Chas thought it was the perfect launch pad for Hendrix’ new career. At his expense, Chas rushed the Jimi Hendrix Experience into a studio to record Hey Joe which opened the doors for them. Purple Haze followed and the rest is history.

Through the 70’s Chas bought Portland Studio in London and ran a number of record labels including Barn Records, Six of the Best and Cheapskate Records. He was also very successful as manager and producer of 70’s chart regulars Slade who had a run of hit singles, before he briefly played in a reformed Animals. By the 1980’s Chas was manager and producer of 21 Strangers, a North East band that had two UK singles on the Charisma label.

By the 90’s large entertainment centre’s were springing up around the UK where live music and sporting events were held in the same venue. Chas and his business partner Nigel Stanger were the brains behind a new venture. They secured financial support and on the 18th November 1995 the 10,000 seater Newcastle Arena opened for business.

Sadly on 17th July 1996 Chas died in Newcastle General Hospital. But he left behind a rich musical history including The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Slade and Newcastle Arena.

Gary Alikivi June 2019.

THE LAMPLIGHTER’S SON – The long hard route from the North East coal mines to the House of Commons. Richard Ewart M.P. 1904-53

VOTE EWART copyIt’s a rare post when any politics touch this blog but this is about a relation of mine so I’ll make an exception. Watching news programmes in 1984 about the miner’s strike brought politics to my attention. The Battle of Orgreave was civil war. I knew whose side I was on. Nowadays it’s TV repeats of Yes Minister, The Thick of It and American show Veep – all I need to know about that game.

As I write two Tory clowns argue, the LibDem’s are having a 6th form t-shirt protest and Labour are stuck in the middle. All look’s a bit ‘schoolyard’ really. But this post is a story about a young politician and ask’s, would he have got anywhere near the House of Commons today ?

My Great Uncle Richard Ewart was born on the 15 September 1904 in South Shields, County Durham. He was the only son in a family of seven daughters. His mother’s family were from County Derry, Ireland and his father’s family were from Longtown on the border with Dumfries. His father worked as a fishmonger’s assistant, hawker, knocker upperer and municipal lamplighter. The family lived in the Holborn and Laygate area’s of the town.

Richard was educated at St Bede’s Roman Catholic School in South Shields. He left school at 14 and worked as a hewer in Whitburn Colliery. But at the age of 21 Richard suffered a back injury and had to leave the mine. During his employment at the Colliery he was a member of the Durham Miner’s Association and when he left the pit he immediately joined the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (NUGMW). Unemployment was very high in South Shields in the 1920’s, and the only work he could find was a marker in a local billiards hall in Laygate. He eventually became manager of the hall.

Richard joined the Labour Party in 1925 and on 1 November 1932 was elected to the South Shields Town Council for the Holborn Ward to become it’s youngest member at that time. From 1936-39 he was Chairman of the Housing Committee and Vice Chairman of it’s Public Assistance Committee. In December ’36 he became full-time branch secretary of the NUGMW and in August ’38 was appointed Union Organiser.

Apart from his Trade Union and Council work Richard was a keen billiards player and a member of Robert Monteigle’s Studio Players who performed at the Alexandra Theatre in South Shields.

The Second World War had started and he served on the South Shields Council until 1943 then transferred to the Cleveland District to help Union Officials cope with the wartime expansion of trade union work on Teeside.

In 1945 he successfully stood as Parliamentary Labour Candidate for the double member constituency of Sunderland as a sponsored candidate of the NUGMW. Along with his Labour partner F.T. Willey they defeated the two sitting members, a National Liberal and a Conservative.

Richard lived in Kensington, London and his first parliamentary duty after his election to the House of Commons was to join the British Parliamentary delegation to Germany in 1946. For most of his Parliamentary career he confined himself to regional and industrial affairs. He also pressed in Parliament for the North East to be given it’s own radio service and urged the extension and completion of television services to the Pontop Pike transmitter. On 8 June 1951 Richard was appointed parliamentary private secretary to Sir Hartley Shawcross, President of the Board of Trade.

Sadly at a young age, just 48, Richard died on 7 March 1953 in St Andrew’s Hospital, London. His death was announced on BBC radio. In memory of his life there was a Dick Ewart reading room in Sunderland Labour Party Headquarters also a street in his birth town of South Shields, named Ewart Crescent.

Information taken from Hansard, Electoral Rolls, Sunderland Echo, The Shields Gazette and personal papers.

Gary Alikivi July 2019.

THE GREAT GEORDIE SONGBOOK – in conversation with North East playwright Ed Waugh

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Ed’s company Wisecrack Productions have booked a November date at The Sage in Gateshead. The show features classic North East songs and comedy…Not much working class history is documented so we try our best to help in a little way said Ed.

The Great Geordie Songbook is a celebration of local songwriters including Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull and Billy Mitchell, 19th century concert hall entertainers Joe Wilson and Ned Corvan…Ned would have been great to talk to. I think I would of got on really well with him. In the 1800’s he had his music hall next to the old South Shields ferry landing on the river Tyne. Apparently it was a den of iniquity and the magistrates were constantly trying to close him down (laughs). But yeah he was a fantastic singer-songwriter and it’s brilliant being in this game because you come across some great stories.

How did the songbook idea come about ? I was approached by Ray Laidlaw of Lindisfarne and Brian Mawson boss of Windows music shop in Newcastle. Brian has a real passion for Geordie comedy and songs. The Geordie heritage really comes across when you talk to him. He has recorded all the stand up comedians like the Little Waster himself, Bobby Thompson.

They had just seen my play Hadaway Harry about the rower Harry Clasper. After the show they asked if I’d heard of Ned Corvan and Joe Wilson, both singer-songwriters performing in the North East during Victorian times. Much to my shame I hadn’t and they asked would I write something about Ned.

How much research did you do for the project ? For the Ned Covan play I done about 40 talk’s with Dave Harker, he’s a North East historian who wrote a book Catgut Jim. The play was based on that. I couldn’t have done it without him. His research was fantastic.

Ned’s songs had great lyrics like the Cullercoats Fish Lass and Mally by the Shore, these were testaments in the 19th century to working class women. He also wrote song’s about workers on strike supporting seafarers. Song’s with lyric’s about day to day working class life. The more research we done we found it was a good story and it’s all about the story isn’t it.

It was a huge success and got a fantastic response which led us onto a play about Joe Wilson. That toured last September and that also got a great response. Both Joe and Ned show’s played at The Sage so after the success they asked us what you got next ? The Great Geordie Songbook was put forward, along with a tribute to Alan Hull so there will be a few Lindisfarne song’s.

The show features some of the region’s biggest theatre stars, Micky Cochrane, Sarah Boulter and Jamie Brown who all appeared in The Great Joe Wilson with Jordan Miller from Sunderland band The Lake PoetsTop musician Rachael McShane from English folk band Bellowhead who also appeared in Mr Corvan’s Music Hall plus musical comedy from Gavin Webster and Josh Daniels…We work with top professional’s, we have a really good team and work well together and enjoy it. To be fair we don’t have the time or the money to muck about. But yes it’s a laugh from start to finish. Our last show was Carrying David about the boxer Glenn McCrory. I told him it was really good to work on a play about someone who isn’t dead (laughs).

Off the back of all this we worked with Newcastle Council and got some blue plaque’s put around Newcastle. They’re all about leaving a legacy for what was achieved. There is one for Harry Clasper on the Guildhall over-looking the Tyne, one for Joe on Stowell Street where he was born and a plaque on the Central Station where 2,700 people came to see Ned at the Olympic Theatre. That was the venue where Joe saw Ned, where he was inspired to write about working class life.

When the chip’s were down they really nailed their colour’s to the mast. We want to keep their legacy going for young people and for the next generation to be inspired. I think for protest song’s young songwriter’s will go and raid the songbook’s of Alan Hull, Joe Wilson and Ned Corvan. And that’s what we want, we need to hear those great song’s again.

Tickets for The Great Geordie Songbook are on sale now only £20. There are two performances on Sunday 3rd November 2019 with the first curtain up at 4pm and then 8pm.

Contact www.sagegateshead.com or

www.wisecrackproductions.co.uk

 Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

THE FLAME BURNS ON for Davy Little ex- guitarist with NWOBHM band Axis


Davy was guitarist with Axis, who along with Fist, White Spirit, Mythra, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang were at the forefront of the North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Axis released their first single in 1980 on Neat Records and appeared on various Heavy Metal compilations. He also played with The Pauline Gillan Band, Kashka and now his latest project Lies of Smiles…. I bumped into former Axis guitarist Mick Tucker at Crash Crallans funeral in 2008. Mick worked with Crash when he was drummer for White Spirit plus working together on Tank’s Honour and Blood album (released 1984). It was a terribly sad occasion, but we chatted about old times and new. In fact it was Mick who kick-started the Lies of Smiles project, he suggested bringing in his nephew Pat O’Neill (Black Rose guitarist) and Tony Thurlow (vocals, Berlyn, Panama). He said he would contribute to the album as well.

The opportunity to work with him and the other guy’s was certainly an incentive. So I got in Chris Wing on bass and keyboards and Keith Naylor on drums from my Pauline Gillan days. We started writing. Pat O’Neill already had the basis of four tracks. We then completed the other songs, which became Cross and Claw released 2010. Absolutely brilliant that I got to play with these great players. Mick guests on a track called Fallen, a beautifully crafted solo.

Pat is an outstanding guitarist as is his Uncle Mick, but Mick trained us both, while I am not in any way in that category of guitar player, I was trained well and I know how to get the job done.  The album was produced by Fred Purser at Trinity Heights studio. Fred used to be guitarist with Tygers of Pan Tang so we knew each other from back in the 80’s. He is a great producer, great musician, a joy to work with.

Do you look back on your time in Axis ? Well back in 2011 Jaap Wagemaker and the MD Steffen Boehm from High Roller Records got in touch with Mick Tucker about an Axis album. I believe their thing is releasing stuff from the NWOBHM era. They already acquired the rights to the single Lady/Messiah and asked if we had any old recordings. I gave them 3 live and 3 studio recordings. What a job they did of the vinyl and cd Flame Burns On, with an 8 page booklet and the original Axis poster for Lady.  They were a great company to deal with, no arsing around, just did the job in spectacular fashion.

What is the story behind Axis getting involved with Neat records ? After a year of gigging we had some interest from Neat Records. They had seen us twice in Sunderland, and then Newcastle Mayfair. I say interest but I always got the impression they weren’t interested at all. I can’t say it was great working with them. Everything was an information fog, if you didn’t see it, it wasn’t true. So my first impressions of record companies wasn’t a good one.

They didn’t think we were heavy enough for the Neat label so put us on a subsidiary label Metal Minded – go figure. Anyway I didn’t really care, it was a way to get something out. The single Lady did really well. Although it seems to be the B side Messiah that gets the more favourable press. We did go back in the studio later with a couple of changes to the line-up. This time Sam Blue was vocalist (Emerson, Samson, Ya Ya) and on bass was Phil Brady (White Spirit). We recorded Flame Burns on, You Got It and One Step Ahead, they have appeared on various compilations.

I’ve only two good memories of Neat. Meeting Chronos from Venom, before he was Chronos of Venom. He worked there and was friendly, articulate, mad on drawing, and he did tell me his band were going to be the heaviest ever! I also met Fist guitarist Keith Satchfield and had seen him play with Warbeck, Axe and then Fist. Great player and writer. When I was in the studio and keeping to the Neat sound of tinny reverby guitar, he told us how to set our amps up so we didn’t get the tinny reverby guitar! Rather kind I thought.

When did you first get interested in music ? I was 15 when I started listening to the first Sabbath and Uriah Heep album’s. When I was 16 I started work at the shipyard so had some money. We would go to Redcar Jazz Club and see Mott the Hoople, Atomic Rooster, Hawkwind and Curved Air.

I also met a great blues player in the shipyard, Kenny Relton. He had a band that did clubs, the White Folks Show band, he used to let me go to gig’s with them. They covered some great tracks, Mountain, Cream, Fleetwood Mac. I think that is really the point I thought this was a good idea. Ken would give me pointers and let me play his Gibson SGs, and L6S guitars. Ken is a great player still, I think he despairs that I play heavy metal (laughs). So I had a basic lesson in all the good things, work ethic, presentation, he was a ‘get it right’ sort of lad.

I also caught UFO and Priest early on at Sunderland Locarno. I actually saw the classic Schenker/Chapman line up. Plus of course one of my great loves Blue Oyster Cult. They influence me lyrically. I don’t think many British bands have the humour, the satire, razor sharp observations, the out there poetry. So my paltry attempts at conjuring images of Sci-Fi wastelands and Starscapes usually falls a bit short of the mark (laughs).

Can you remember your first band ? I had seen Axis live with their original line up. They were great musicians.  I always thought Axis were principally a good blues band, lots of Hendrix, Robin Trower, Wishbone Ash.

In 1979 I was looking for a band to join, I was 23 so late as a guitar player. I went to audition as second guitarist and I remember having to learn a couple of Scorpions, Deep Purple and UFO tracks. However it must be pointed out that I did arrive with a fair amount of cash from my welding job. There were probably better guitar players than me that applied, but I was older and had a decent job. I suspect I bought my way in. You know, give me the job please and I will buy this massive PA (laughs).

The chemistry was good and I got the job and Axis were the first band I was in. Mick Tucker was and is a ferocious guitar player. I knew I could work and learn from him, try to create something different. We had a darker design for Axis.
Who else was in the band ? I was surrounded by great musicians. Mick already had the line-up he wanted. Marty Day (drums) Paul McGuire (keyboards) John Cunningham (bass) Neil Grafton (vocals). They were all very patient with me as I had a pretty steep learning curve. Initially we did lots of covers, Blue Oyster Cult, Scorpions, UFO, Montrose, but our main aim was to have our own stuff as the main part of the set, it just took time.

Can you remember your first gigs ? First gigs were Thornaby Cons club. Lots of the NWOBHM bands played there like White Spirit, Limelight, Son of a Bitch who went on to become Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang and Vardis. The circuit was pretty good, the Warrington Lion, Sunderland Locarno where I sat on every toilet seat in the dressing room so I could have my arse where Michael Schenker once sat (laughs).

Me and our manager John Lancaster were big pals with White Spirit’s manager Mike Sanderson so we supported them a few times. Gigging was always fun with Axis. I was in a band that is all that mattered. We travelled the length and breadth of the country.

Any road stories from that time ? A memorable one was when supporting former Thin Lizzy guitarist Eric Bell at a local gig. We’re in at midday to set up a huge wall of Marshalls, drum riser, lights, smoke bombs the whole nonsense. Hey we were local heroes (laughs). Then Mr Bell and band arrived. You can imagine the headliner walking in and seeing this mountain of shit on the stage. But what a gentleman, we were young and full of it. He was very gently spoken and just said ‘This isn’t really the way it works lads’. Then much to our relief he said ‘but it’s fine, we don’t need much room, not bothered about a sound check’.

I remember it was packed to the rafters for Eric Bell, not for us, but we did ok. His drummer set up after us. Bass player rolled his amp on, Eric Bell rolled either a Vox AC30 or a Fender Twin on to the stage and blitzed the place. No arsing about, no demands, just played like true pro’s. What a lesson, what a professional. Of course we thought he was brilliant, his band were brilliant, his last words… ‘Pleased you enjoyed it, now you know there is no need for all that shit on stage, and don’t ever fucking set up before the main band gets there’ (laughs). A year later went to see him at the Redcar Bowl and he introduced us to his new band with ‘These are the cheeky bastards who set up before we even got to the gig’ (laughs).

Another time our bus had broken down so we had to hire a Luton van to get us to a gig in Wales. We were on the road to Tonypandy when the Luton stopped, back doors opened and we get out looking at a battered bridge over a gorge in Wales. If you were a sparrow you wouldn’t have landed on it! Apparently there had been a lot of storms that caused structural damage so there was a sign that read something like ‘Safe load..?’

Well this Luton with all the kit and us in it must’ve been well over the limit. To turn back would take hours, so our manager John Lancaster and soundman Paul Cleugh said… ‘Just jump in the back lads, we’ll turn round and find another way’. So we did, like fools. Back door shuts, van rev’s like it’s in a drag race, sets off with wheels screeching and us holding on to anything. We go 200 yards then stop and the back doors open. We have just gone over the bridge of death. Mr Lancaster and Mr Cleugh crying laughing to shouts of ‘Are you fucking mental’. I asked why they didn’t just let us walk across the death bridge. The answer was… “That would have been no fun at all”.

What happened to Axis ? The story ends with guitarist Janik Gers leaving White Spirit to join Gillan and Mick Tucker leaving Axis to join White Spirit. We found it hard to replace a guitar player like Mr Tucker, plus we had too many line-up changes in a short time. Axis called it a day. Mr Tucker later joined Tank and is still touring and putting great albums out now, they have a really healthy following.
Pauline Gillan Band

Where did you go then ? I joined the Pauline Gillan Band who were initially signed to Mausoleum Records, but then Powerstation got us out of that deal, so we signed to them. They were good people I liked them. They had Chrome Molly on their roster and later Little Angels. A couple of singles came from the album Hearts of Fire and we took it out on the road touring extensively around the UK and Europe. I brought John Lancaster the former Axis manager in as road manager. He was and is a great fixer. We also had decent management, a guy called Jim Sculley, also Black Rose’s manager. He worked his ass off for us and spent a lot of money. We did a Tyne Tees TV live music show called TX45 and that was good fun.

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What studio did the band use to record the album ? We went into Fairview studio in Willerby near Hull. It was like Club Paradise compared to Neat. In reality we did what we could, but we weren’t great writers. Powerstation did bring in some outside writers and we recorded some of that stuff. Not sure what happened with it, may have appeared on a compilation.

Have you any road stories from your time in the Pauline Gillan band ? I remember playing in Watford and we had a very famous guest backstage, the drummer from The Sweet, Mick Tucker – not to be confused with Mick Tucker from Axis/White Spirit/Tank. He was very straight with us.. ‘I’m looking for bands to produce, I want to take you into the studio and record that song you do, it has hit written all over it’. The song in question unfortunately was Eric Martins Just Another Pretty Boy and it had been a hit for Mr Martin in the USA. We covered it in the set and he could obviously spot a tune, but unfortunately we couldn’t write one. He didn’t finish his beer (laughs).

Whilst on tour we had a particular Spinal Tap incident in Scotland. We stayed in a great hotel for a few days in a place called the Bridge of Allan and got to meet Jack Bruce (Cream) – he lived there. We bought the biggest bass cab you have ever seen off him. This particular night our management had got us a fill in gig, rather than sit on our arses in a nice hotel we had to get out and work. It was a workingman’s club and we knew we were in trouble when we looked at the juke box. All country and western, the stage had silver and gold tassles at the back. They told us to do two 45 minute sets. Which we didn’t ever do, I mean the night before we had played Glasgow Apollo a real hard rock venue.

Anyway we set up, soundchecked and you could see the bar staff with their mouths open at the sheer volume. Lots of shuffling from the committee men. That night we emptied the place in around 5 minutes, but like troopers we carried on at full tilt. I noticed two white haired old dears sat right at the back, drink in front of them, just staring at the stage. Between a break in a song I said to Pauline ‘When we’re finished I’m going to buy them a beer. Who would have thought the two oldest people would stay through this’.

We came off stage, got changed and were told by the committee that our services would not be required for the second 45 minutes, fine by me. I went to ask the two old people what they wanted to drink just as their carers arrived with their wheelchairs… they couldn’t get out if they wanted to (laughs).

But it was hard for Pauline being constantly compared to Ian (Gillan) who is one of the greatest rock singers of a generation in one of the greatest bands of a generation. But in Pauline’s defence she never wanted to call it The Pauline Gillan Band that was the record company insisting. But it worked and we got great gigs, festivals in Europe, great hotels. Oh we also got backstage passes for some spectacular Deep Purple gigs on the Perfect Strangers tour. We did our best as Pauline did, she was great to work with, fun, articulate and liked to party. I enjoyed that time immensely.

I only have good memories of the Pauline Gillan Band. We seemed to gig forever, that made us a tight band and we had fun wherever we went.

Did you work in any other studios ? After Pauline Gillan I recorded with a band, Kashka. That was for Curain Records who put us in Fairview Studios, the Producer was John Spence.  We had Dave Bell, guitar, Chris Wing, bass/keyboards from the Pauline Gillan Band and our friend Mick King on drums. We worked with two great girl singers Lorraine Crosby and Jackie Fox, and we really found our thing as writers. The usual thing tons of interest. Isn’t there always? Even from the Queen management, they called and said Brian May was interested. We got a lovely letter off him saying he had crashed his car whilst listening to the tracks! He particularly liked the two girl’s voices.

So story goes he took it to America with him. However the view from their company in the USA was that they had factories churning out great girl singers and this type of AOR. As it happened neither of the girls could commit to gigging. They both had decent well paid careers as singers, we couldn’t afford them and they understandably didn’t want to do anything on a flimsy promise of stardom.

What are you doing now ?  I always think Lies of Smiles is what I wanted Axis to develop into. You know the Starscapes, Warscapes, God as an Alien, Lucifer misunderstood. Aliens as controllers of the human race and all that heavy metal bollocks in all its glory.

On both albums Cross & Claw (2010) and Dreams of the Machinoix (2015), Lies of Smiles have produced two huge granite slab’s of classic 80’s hard rock enhanced by Ronnie James Dio ‘Mob Rules’ era vocals. Both album’s benefit from slick, solid, meaty production courtesy of Fred Purser at Trinity Heights studio in Newcastle. Ticking all the boxes of any respected heavy rock/metal album.

There may be another Lies of Smiles album, 3 is a good number, it’s enough to tell a story! Dependant entirely on the boys in the band, we have the means to do it so it’s just time and commitment, and for no other reason than to create. Simple as that.

What does music mean to you ? Maybe it’s mathematical, the laws of physics and mathematics apply to the planet, the Solar System, the Universe. ‘There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres’. (Pythagoras). Thing is music is entirely intertwined with mathematics, even a basic major chord can be described mathematically.

But just listening to it is one of the most important things in life. It touches people and has a deeply profound effect on people’s emotions. It elevates people, makes them happy or sad, brings back vivid memories of times and places. The creativity, comradeship and feeling of creating something from absolutely nothing. Looking back it was all fun, still is. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Contact the band on their official website:  https://www.liesofsmiles.com/home

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2019.