If yer looking for an original Christmas present to buy why not have a butchers at these books from North East authors who have featured on the blog.

A big influence on my life was watching and being in the audience of ‘80s live music show The Tube, so when I got a chance to talk to former music TV producer Chris Phipps I didn’t miss the opportunity…

“As an ex-BBC producer I initially only signed up for 3 months on this unknown programme and it became 5 years!

He gave me plenty of encouragement to carry on recording stories from the North East which I am grateful for, but sadly, not long after the interview, Chris passed away. He will be missed.

Chris wrote extensively and had an amazing knowledge of music and the entertainment business. He left an ‘unorthodox autobiography’ of five decades of celebrity and backstage stories from Ozzy to Madonna to Bob Marley in the book ‘Namedropper’.

The book is available at Newcastle City Library or through Amazon.

Growing up in the North East and obsessed with music was former White Heat frontman, now music documentary director Bob Smeaton I was working as a welder at Swan Hunter Shipyards when punk and new wave happened around 76/77 that’s when I started thinking I could possibly make a career out of music. The doors had been kicked wide open”.

What he couldn’t have imagined was having his moment on stage at Madison Square Gardens not as rock singer, but as a Grammy winner.

‘From Benwell Boy to 46th Beatle & Beyond’ is available on Amazon or can be ordered in Waterstones, Newcastle.

Earlier this year I read a great book ‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ and got in touch with the author Vin Arthey who told me…

Newcastle born William Fisher turned out to be a KGB spy, he used the name Rudolf Abel and was jailed for espionage in the United States in 1957. He was exchanged across Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge for the American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. The Tom Hanks film ‘Bridge of Spies’ tells the story of how it happened.

I have a few pristine copies of the Geordie Spy on my shelf but with p&p, it would come out at £10 more than the Amazon price”.

More than four decades after the first screening of James Mitchells iconic BBC TV series ‘When the Boat Comes In’, the creators son Peter Mitchell, has written a novel ‘Jack High’ which tells the story of Jack Ford’s missing years.

“This is a man who has found a family in war. He interacts with union men, upper crusts, politicians….all he knows is how to survive and when he sees a chance he takes the opportunity”.

Jack High’ is available through Amazon.

Gary Alikivi  December 2020.


jazz drummer & author Mark Robertson

pic by Pete Zulu

‘Off Key’ is the latest novel by Mark Robertson… I was playing a residency in a Jazz club that allowed me the chance to play with a lot of UK and Europe’s best mainstream jazz players. These nights usually overran but no one minded, not even the bar staff as musicians from an earlier era would spend almost as much time talking about their previous escapades as playing music.

I put together a patchy screenplay in 2007 before I re-wrote it as a more fully realised novel between 2010 and 2014. But I think the idea came as early as 1986 during a walk in Turnpike Lane, London. I was inspired by a tune from jazz musician, Iain Ballamy, plus many live music sessions over the years and helped by the melting pot that was Jazz Café in Pink Lane, Newcastle.

I came across the Jazz Café one day in Newcastle when rehearsing with The Hangarounds a band Ray Laidlaw was managing. I walked past the Café and at the time the door had a slot in it when anyone wanting to gain entrance would be given the ‘once over’ by the legendary Keith Crombie – if you were lucky you got in. I’ll be honest I was a bit wary of going in at first.

Folklore had it that Keith had been one of a number of locals who had ‘politely’ requested The Kray Twins to return home when they had ventured North looking for somewhere to expand their empire.

The Hangarounds rehearsals went on for a week and eventually I passed when the door was open. I went in and offered my services. Within a fortnight I had a regular gig there and spent the best part of twenty years playing there, up to six gigs a week.

What were your early experiences of the Jazz Café ?  In the early days punters were thin on the ground with the majority coming on Friday and Saturday nights, with seldom more than forty people in a place that could hold up to 160. This left Keith with the conundrum of paying the bands enough to keep them sweet while remaining in business.

This he resolved in two ways, firstly scouring second-hand shops and picking up the best bargains, usually top drawer clothes, which he passed on to the resident musicians. During these early days, pay for your night’s work often included leather jackets or barely worn brogue shoes.

His second life-saver was a number of cash generating parties, the most memorable being themed on Berlin in 1932 and a rather left field Dadaist party. On one occasion I went to the upstairs toilet only to encounter a seven foot (in heels) transvestite, unencumbered by any sort of clothing – Keith didn’t buy women’s clothes.

The absence of anywhere open after 11p.m, other than nightclubs, led to an increasing stream of the city’s most interesting residents and visitors taking in the Jazz Caff as its popularity grew. Scottish Opera, Opera North, The Royal Ballet, The RSC and numerous visiting musicians plying their trade in musicals at the cities theatres would sit in with whatever band was earning their threads for the week.

Keith was never happier than when engaged in conversation with these groups, keen to show all, but especially those from London, that we had culture of our own in the North-East.

Who else was playing the Café ? The artistic freedom of the Caff made it a training ground for musicians as diverse as Seb Roachford, drummer from the Mercury-nominated Polar Bear, to Matt Jones, currently playing keyboards for Liam Gallagher.

It also saw its fair share of jazz legends come through the door to sit in and play, people like Wynton Marsalis, Russell Malone and Harry Connick Jnr. The change in licensing laws hit the Caff badly and, in all honesty, it never really recovered.

Although the pinnacle of his happiness, in my opinion, was the night Keith had to turn away thirty punters because, even had they queued all night, there still wouldn’t have been room for them. This made Keith laugh quite a lot and, after the struggle he’d had to keep the place open, who could blame him. These were the Jazz Caff’s heydays and I thought there was no finer place in the world to be making music.

The film director Abi Lewis made an award winning, feature length documentary on Keith Crombie – The Geordie Jazz Man which is well worth catching if you can. It really is a potted history of music in the North East from the ‘50s to almost the present day.

pic. Dave Taylor Photography

Are you from a musical family and what got you first interested in music ?  On the 29th of January 1969 the six year old me, in bed, could hear the euphoric music on Top Of the Pops wind its way up the stairs.Fleetwood Mac had hit No.1 with Albatross. It wasn’t anything like nursery rhymes or the music on children’s television but I knew it made me feel blissful.

Whilst my parents liked music we didn’t own a record player and there wasn’t any older brothers or sisters to ‘educate’ me. The very idea of ‘owning’ music was beyond me. This was an era when you could still pay to listen to the number one by calling Dial a Disc on your telephone.

After my father’s early death in ‘72, a record player appeared in the house. The first thing I was compelled to buy was The Theme to Colditz and then The Best of Val Doonican. Suffering that lack of older sibling guidance again. I bought the odd single but little stood out. The next light bulb moment was in ‘74, seeing Cozy Powell play Dance with the Devil.

That wise sage Dolly Parton once said ‘Find out what you like to do and get someone to pay you to do it’ which I really should get tattooed somewhere. Next I bought an £8 drum kit, and I was off. I started in a few bands with friends before hitting the North-East club circuit.

Have you any memories from club land ? Sometime ago I was doing a dep gig in a club outside the North East, for Kevin Scott who was in Small Town Heroes. When we went in the whole venue had an air of the ‘wild west’ about it, not least the number of small children roaming around inside.

During our second set a ‘lady’ of a certain age clambered on stage and began propositioning the band, sexually . . . mid song. It transpired that it was her birthday and her daughter’s attempt to remove her from the stage came to naught.

Eventually a bouncer appeared and tried to reason with her. In a move that wouldn’t have shamed Lionel Messi she managed to nut the bouncer and then knee him in the balls as he went down. As this went on the whole club began to get a bit lively the phrase ‘The next dance is a fight’ may have got a mention.

It was at this point I became aware of our crew dismantling the equipment and removing it from the stage at a speed which could only be described as Olympian. I’d done enough gigs that this sort of altercation wasn’t unique. What was a first was the ‘lady’ concerned was still in the club as we left, arguing the toss with the bouncer.  

Next on the cards for Robbo was a journey doon south….I left University in ’85,ended up in London and three months later doing the show Godspell. At the end of the show’s run I got a gig in what was, to all intents and purposes, a brothel in the West End. The band played six sets a night, 45 mins on 15 off, from 9pm till 3am, six times a week.

I didn’t drive at the time and after trying to catch twenty winks during the last set I would walk into Trafalgar Square where I would get a night bus home that would have me comfortably in bed by 6am.

I stayed in London for five years, did a little teaching and formed a jazz trio with session guitarist, James Woodrow and bass player Phil Scragg who was playing with Robert Plant at the time. I was still looking for a more commercial band whilst I did this. I played in many weird and wonderful outfits but never found anyone to progress with.

On a visit home in 1989 I went to Impulse Studio, Wallsend to meet up with an old friend who was working with Sunderland band the Faithful Colours. The band I was looking for in London had been under my nose all along. I told them if they ever needed a drummer to give me a ring.

Next summer they did and I still play with them to this day. They’ve had some near misses notably recording an album with Elvis Costello’s label in ‘97 before it was taken over by the people who owned Woolies’.

Are you still playing now ? After Keith Crombie’s death in 2013 a lot of my jazz work dried up and I found myself playing in a Housemartins/Beautiful South tribute band working the O2 Academy circuit. Nobody ever tries to pays us with second hand garments.

For more info contact the official website: offkeythenovel

‘Off Key’ -The Greatest Story Ever Told About Love and Jazz (in Sunderland) by Mark Robertson is available now and on kindle through Amazon.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  December 2020.


If yer looking for an original Christmas present to buy why not have a butchers at these from North East musicians who have featured on the blog.

Alan Fish former White Heat guitarist now in the Attention Seekers, got in touch….

In 2020 with all gigs cancelled, The Attention Seekers diverted their energies into recording.

We released three singles in total which are now available to download/stream….

The Girl With The Jukebox Mind (Fish), Chain Reaction (Fish/Smeaton) and Is It Too Late? / 21 and Wasted (Fish/Smeaton). Our albums The Curious And Deranged and A Song for Tomorrow are also available.

Visit our website and check out the shop section.

With multiple vaccines within grasp in the words of Pete Townshend  “got a feeling twenty-one is gonna be a good year“. Here’s the link

Wishing all our friends who have supported us through the years a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and see you on the other side as life returns to normal.

Read more interviews on the blog from Alan back in September & November 2019.

Steve Hall former guitarist with East Side Torpedoes now in The Questionnaires, sent over some newspaper and radio reviews from the new album Atlantic Ridge….

‘As soon as people start listening to Atlantic Ridge, they’re going to fall in love with the album…. they’re absolutely going to fall in love with it’ – Dave Englefield, West Somerset and Sedgemoor FM

‘Sumptuous playing, Jane Wade’s perfect diction and wonderfully warm vocals combine to make both albums what I would describe as proper ‘adult’ orientated pop offerings. Chuck in exemplary self-production and this is, indeed, ‘music for pleasure’ – Pete Whalley, Get Ready to Rock

‘The cream of the crop of local musicians…. song-writing talent flows across an album that any true music lover should have in their collection’ – Brian Clough, The Northern Echo

‘Stunning vocals by Jane Wade. Impossible to pigeonhole but, if you must, file under ‘proper music’ – Stephen Foster, BBC Radio Suffolk

‘An accomplished, ultra-professional set of quality songs’ – Neil Vessey introducing Atlantic Ridge as album of the week on Folk Pilot, Deal Radio

The album is available to buy from:

Read interviews on the blog with Steve from March 2019 & October 2020.

Gary Alikivi December 2020.


with John Gallagher from Chief Headbangers, RAVEN

This post takes the blog over 175,000 views – a BIG thanks to ALL the readers not just the top views from UK, USA, Germany, Spain and Australia plus the 37 readers last month from China! 

Back in September I wrote about Metal City the new album from Raven….

’The Chief Headbangers have tooled up heavy. They’re carrying the torch, or flying V, for metal into the future. On this evidence Raven consolidate their title of Chief Headbangers… Any contenders?’

The week of the album release saw my social media timeline bunged up with Metal City reviews streaming out media outlets like a virus. The word was out.  Czech, Italian, Dutch and especially the number of German reviews dialled in. Ears were popping across the globe. This record was making all the right noises. And Fast.

‘In a class of their own’ (Classic Rock)…‘Metal City is an explosive and exhausting affair’ (Metal Hammer)…‘Raven remind fans that they were one of the early progenitors of the thrash/speed metal’ (Metal Express)…’A definite contender for album of the year’ (Frenzy Fire).

I got in touch with Raven main man John Gallagher and asked him about the response to Metal City… ‘The reaction to the album has been overwhelming really. Basically every review has been positive and more importantly the fans ‘get it’ and it’s reaching new listeners too which is great! We are also gonna’ put out another video within the next two weeks so that’s something to watch out for!’

If you haven’t got your copy of Metal City what yer waiting for !

Check the official website for latest merch/albums/video/tour news:

Raven | Official Raven Lunatics Website

Gary Alikivi  November 2020.



This is the third post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Stasi aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens. This post features an artist who tried to survive amongst the strict rules and regulations of the regime.

Born in 1942, musician Klaus Renft led a band singing about rebellion and hope – the lyrics were scrutinized by the Stasi. The Klaus Renft Combo were popular playing to big crowds in villages as they were banned from playing in most towns – in the end they became too hot to handle for the regime.

In his teenage years his live cover set included Chuck Berry, The Animals, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin who he listened to on western RIAS (Radio in American Sector) – his favourite songs were banned in the east.

Renft was targeted by the Stasi who opened a file on him under the code name ‘Wanderer’. After the Wall came down the files were opened and he applied to see his. One entry included a message from Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, who asked his officers about the band ‘Why can’t you just grab them ? Why aren’t they liquidated?’

Another complaint about the band from a club owner where they had just played ‘After the end of the concert, approx. forty bottles of red wine were found….it is incomprehensible to us that a musical ensemble should require the consumption of such a quantity of alcohol to attain the right mood’.

There was further complaints about the band on stage announcing to the audience ‘There are people sitting in this room reporting on us’ and ‘You are the audience that will experience the group Renft for the last time because we are about to be banned’.

In 1975 the bands performance licence was not renewed by the Ministry of Culture. The officer told them ‘You are not banned, you simply do not exist’. They had recorded at the only record company in East Germany – AMIGA, but their records disappeared from shops overnight and the band were never played on radio or written about. The record company reprinted its entire catalogue so it could leave them out.

Rumours were put about by the state that the band had split up. They did, but some members, the slightly less political, went on to form a new band, Karussell and recorded Reft songs note for note and changed the lyrics. The manager was a Stasi man.

Klaus Renft eventually left for the west where he toured and recorded new material. He ended up working as a soundman in a West Berlin theatre. Sadly, Klaus Renft died of cancer aged 64 on 9 October 2006.

Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler

Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.

Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).

Behind the Wall (2011) a film by Michael Patrick Kelly.

If you have any stories related to the Berlin Wall or the Stasi don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Gary Alikivi  November 2020.



A few contacts with North East musicians and writers have dropped into my mail box so I‘ll follow those up soon. This blog, along with legendary myths from rock stars, or in the case for Dave Dawson (Warrior)…

‘Sometimes instead of paying for overnight digs we would save a bit money by sleeping on the floor of the van. But one night someone had stood in some dog crap, needless to say nobody got much sleep that night!’

I’ve included on the blog stories about the Spanish Civil War, the work of photographers, plus some local Tyneside history stuff which has uncovered interesting people, well it’s all about the story isn’t it ?  

For now and the next few posts I’ll take a big swerve and look at some interesting stories in German history. Lately I’ve come across some stories about the fall of the Berlin Wall and followed that up with research about the Stasi secret police.

Some just fell into my lap while others took a bit more research, in particular the book by John O. Koehler ‘Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.

This is the second post on the Dark Arts of the Stasi –

From 1950 to 1990 sinister forces were at work in the German Democratic Republic. Laid out end to end, the files, photos, video and audio recordings the Stasi kept on its citizens would form a line over 100 mile long. Files would contain direct action orders for someone to be either observed, arrested, kidnapped, interrogated or chillingly – ‘liquidation’. The Stasi ruled with an iron fist.

In every school, factory, apartment block and pub there was someone reporting about other people’s lives. People had to be careful about what they said, where they said it, and to who. There was an absolute fear of being reported. At home they would turn the volume up on their radios or TV. ID cards had to be carried everywhere you went. Paranoia had set in.

The aim for complete observation brought out a particularly nasty brand of informers called the ‘IMs’ – ‘inofizielle Mitarbeiter’ or unofficial collaborators.

IMs’ would target artistic and church groups for surveillance. They reported on the work and domestic life of family members, close friends and neighbours without them knowing. They were looking to interfere in every part of their lives.

Unlike uniformed Stasi officers, ‘IM’s never revealed their identity, they were forbidden to talk about their work to anyone. It wasn’t until after the spying activities of the ‘IM’s were uncovered,  that partnerships, marriages and friendships were ripped apart.

Film poster for ‘The Lives of Others’ which featured many Stasi surveillance techniques.

IM’s were motivated by either selfishness, power over others, being somebody, or out of a sincere duty to the GDR. Whatever the reason, once they were in there was no turning back. If they wanted out, their life would be put under scrutiny, exposed to various negative tactics and employment opportunities destroyed.

Finally, after the fall of the regime the Stasi officers were instructed to destroy any documents or files. They shredded until shredders collapsed and burnt out. Some files were ripped up and put in sacks in a neat and orderly fashion so that now it is possible for the ‘puzzle women’ employed by the German government to be able to piece the scraps back together.

Thousands of people targeted by the Stasi have requested to read their files but it will take years to reconstruct documents with many thousands of sacks yet to be opened.

In one file there is detailed plans of the Stasi, together with the army, for the invasion of West Berlin in 1985. No one in the West had imagined the extent of the Stasi’s ambitions.

Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler

Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.

Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).

Behind the Wall (2011) a film by Michael Patrick Kelly.

Gary Alikivi   November 2020.



I remember watching TV pictures of the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989. The wall divided Germany into east and west for nearly 30 years. Further posts on the blog delve deeper into East Germany (GDR) and the Stasi secret police – why they spied on their citizens and the methods they used.

Today, social media would have been their ultimate weapon of surveillance, their crowning glory. First, back to the story of the Berlin wall…..

(pic. BBC History)

After the Second World War, Germany was split between the Soviet Union in the east, and in the west, the UK, USA and France. A cold war developed between the hostile superpowers of the USA and USSR, with East Germany on the front line.

Looking for a better life in the west, up to 3 million people escaped from the east. As a result the East Germans built a 28 mile long wall that went up overnight on Saturday August 12th 1961. By Sunday morning people woke up to find themselves cut off from friends, relatives, work and school. Soldiers with binoculars and dogs, barbed wire, guard towers and light pylons, with an area known as the ‘death strip’ attempted to keep people in.

Bus routes were altered, train stations cleared and road blocks set up along the border. The GDR leader, Honecker, believed ‘the wall will last for 100 years’. Eastern Communism pushed back hard against Western Capitalism.

In 1985 the leadership of the Soviet Union changed  – Chernenko was out and Gorbachev was in, bringing in perestroika and glasnost – his policy of restructuring and openness. East German government was normally in step with Soviet Union policies but believed glasnost was wrong and put a newspaper ban on any Gorbachev speeches.

The people disagreed, although many of them wanted to stay in the East they just wanted change. On the streets they publicly criticized Honecker and praised Gorbachev.

On 7 October 1989 parades in Berlin celebrated forty years of the GDR. Gorbachev stood next to the much older German leaders including Honecker and Mielke who was head of the East German Ministry of Security (Stasi) and oversaw the building of the wall. Gorbachev was there to try and convince the leadership to adopt his reformist policies. Honecker and Mielke ignored him. A decision that changed the world.

On 9 October 70,000 people went out onto the dark streets of Berlin carrying candles. Protesters were coming together around the country, momentum was growing. Outside Stasi offices they demanded ‘Reveal the Stasi informers. We are the People. Free elections’. Peaceful protests increased real pressure on the government.  

On 9 November the Politburo policy making committee arranged an urgent meeting. They knew freedom of movement was a big problem to the people so to help squash the protests they decided to relax travel restrictions. A press conference was called and Politburo member Schabowski was given instructions to read a note on live TV – ‘a phased relaxation of travel restrictions’ was the plan. But it didn’t play out that way.

A journalist asked ‘When will this come into force?’ Schabowski was embarrassed as he looked at the note then turned it over. It was blank. ‘It will come into force….to my knowledge…. immediately’. Within hours of his blunder 10,000 people on foot and in their Trabant cars were at Berlins Bornholmer Bridge checkpoint. The border guards were swamped and the Stasi held their fire.

(pic. BBC History)

People streamed into West Berlin, crying, singing and dancing on the wall. It was all over. On 10 November as fireworks exploded in the night sky, people used hammers and pick axes to attack the wall, it wasn’t taken brick by brick – it was smashed wide open. Demolition trucks rolled in on 11th. Finally, after nearly 30 years the Wall came crashing down.

In the reformed Germany free elections were held on March 18th 1990.

Parts of the Wall are in 50 countries around the world where it is seen as a symbol of freedom.

Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.

Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).

Behind the Wall (2011) a film by Michael Patrick Kelly.

If you have any stories related to the Berlin Wall or the Stasi don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Gary Alikivi   November 2020.


musician Barry Lamb talks about his latest project, Miniatures 2020.

Barry has lived in Woodford Green, Essex for 25 years but originally lived in South Shields….My grandparents lived their entire lives on Quarry Lane. I have often thought about writing a song called Quarry Lane but have shied away from it due to the similarity with Penny Lane. I have so many memories of long walks with my grandfather along the cliff tops from Souter lighthouse to Shields pier and walking across Cleadon Hills. My album Dusk features a picture of Cleadon mill.

Barry left the town in 1966…It is an area I have a strong affinity with. I would have loved to have been part of the punk/New Wave scene as Shields is very much my spiritual home, but I was in Essex at that time.

Along with experimental progressive rock band Two Headed Emperor, Barry is presently involved with Miniatures 2020…. It’s a tribute project to former Mott the Hoople keyboardist, Morgan Fisher’s original Miniatures album from 1980. It was such an inspiration to me personally and was very much connected to the post punk DIY ethic of the period.

I also discovered as I made contact with other musicians about the project that there is a tremendous amount of goodwill, affection and respect for the original album. 

On the original record Fisher invited 50 musicians to send in tracks of up to one minute long. They included an eclectic mix of Robert Wyatt singing a Frank Sinatra song, Robert Fripp playing keyboard, Andy Partridge (XTC) offering the history of rock’n’roll in 20 seconds and Pete Seeger playing Beethoven on the banjo plus many others contributing to the album which is regarded as a cult classic.

Who is on the album this time around ? We have over 100 artists contributing a track of a minute or less. Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers, Billy Bragg, Terry Riley, Tim Jones is on – he was in North East bands Neon and had a spell with Punishment Of Luxury. Wavis O’Shave has contributed a track.

It also features Toyah, Tom Robinson, David Cross (King Crimson), Ric Sanders (Soft Machine, Fairport Convention), and a handful of old prog rockers, also celebrated experimental music pioneers, new wave and post punk legends – there are plenty of surprises.

Did the musicians involved in the project jump on board easily ? It was really easy to persuade people to get on board. Very few people said no and nobody that I approached was negative about it at all. Even those that said no were intrigued and curious about it. 

When did you first come across the Miniatures? It was1980, one of the staff in Parrot Record shop in Colchester recommended it to me knowing my taste for the unusual and more adventurous end of the musical spectrum. Parrot Records was a treasure trove of discovery and especially good for those obscure New wave singles released on independent and home-made labels. I bought it on the strength of the sleeve notes and a number of the artists involved. 

What got you interested in music and are you from a musical family?  My family are not especially musical but my dad played trombone in a jazz orchestra. His love of jazz and the more adventurous end of rock music stirred my own interest in music. My grandfather was from New York and he got me interested in protest folk and the blues. But most of my musical influence came about in secondary school on the Essex coast.

Can you remember your first gigs ? My first gig was at the Golf Green Hall in Jaywick, Essex, I didn’t really enjoy it. I wasn’t that confident, we were under rehearsed and the audience were not that interested.

Then we played mostly small venues in and around Essex, later played in Reading, Oxford and London. The usual stuff of people setting off fire extinguishers, a couple of fights and hecklers would go on. I am sad to say that I was so drunk on one occasion I could barely function. I ended up falling off stage and being pushed back up by my brother. The sound engineer walked out and the support band asked “what is your singer taking …I want some”. 

Did you record any of your music then? In the ‘80s the Insane Picnic recorded at Sea Level studio which was a small studio in Jaywick, Essex. Prior to that we just recorded on tape recorders at home and released stuff as part of the DIY cassette scene. After the Insane Picnic we built our own rudimentary studios and now have a studio in my loft.

I have recorded with a lot of different people over the years including fellow ‘Shieldsian’ Wavis O’Shave, also Keith Levene (PIL), Jasun Martz (Frank Zappa), Isatta Sheriff (Mongrel). I am still making music with Two Headed Emperor along with my own experimental sound dabblings.

What are your hopes for the Miniatures project and will it be available to buy ?
My main hope with Miniatures is that it will be a fitting, honouring of Morgan Fisher that it will introduce Miniatures to another generation and will stand up as a great legacy project. I am proud of how it is shaping up. It should be available late December early January on CD and will be available in the usual digital formats.

More info here:

Interview by Gary Alikivi  November 2020.


with crime writer, Trevor Wood

I first came across the work of Trevor Wood around 2002 when I watched ‘Dirty Dusting’, which became a very successful play he wrote with Ed Waugh. The show performed in front of packed houses at The Customs House, South Shields before going to play to audiences in Ireland and Australia, as well as a UK tour.

The North East based writing duo went on to write several more hit plays, including ‘Waiting For Gateaux’ which toured New Zealand as well as the UK. ‘Maggie’s End’ commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Miners strike and ‘Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather’ which told the true story of the West Auckland Football Team who won the first World Cup.

After leaving school, Trevor joined the Royal Navy where he stayed for 16 years before retraining as a journalist. He worked on various newspapers in the North East including the Evening Chronicle…..

‘Then after a brief spell at Newcastle City Council as press officer, then Head of Communications, I teamed up with Ed Waugh, who I’d met on my journalism course, and we wrote a very successful series of comedy plays’.

What inspired you to write? Originally the comedy plays came about because Ed and I didn’t think there was anything out there that we wanted to see so decided to try and write something ourselves. Our first play was an immediate success so we just kept going!

The crime writing was a much longer process – I’ve always been a huge reader and it’s the genre that I nearly always turn to so five years ago I decided to give it a go.

I enrolled on the inaugural MA in Crime Writing at the University of East Anglia and The Man on the Street was developed on that course. It took quite a while to find the right publisher but it was worth the wait as my publishers, Quercus, which is part of the huge Hachette publishing group, have been incredibly supportive.

How was your debut received ? The Man on the Street was published in March 2020, just before they closed all the bookshops. Despite this it has done very well, winning the Crime Writer’s Association’s New Blood Dagger for the best debut crime novel of the year and being chosen by Val McDermid for the prestigious New Blood panel at the Harrogate Crime Festival.

It’s also received praise from leading crime writers like Lee Child, Mari Hannah and Elly Griffiths as well as great reviews in the Guardian and Sunday Times. It’s also been optioned for TV by World Productions, who made Line of Duty and Bodyguard.

What is your latest project? One Way Street is set in and amongst the North East’s homeless community. A series of bizarre drug-related deaths among runaway teenagers has set the community on edge.

The word on the street is that a rogue batch of Spice – the zombie drug sweeping the inner cities – is to blame, but when one of Jimmy’s few close friends is caught up in the carnage, loyalty compels him to find out what’s really going on.

One Way Street sees the welcome return of Jimmy Mullen, the homeless, PTSD-suffering, veteran as he attempts to rebuild his life following the events in The Man on the Street.

As well as writing I volunteer one afternoon at the People’s Kitchen in Newcastle, where I help cook meals for the city’s homeless population.

Have you got a file full of ideas for new projects ? I wish!  I’m currently writing the third in the Jimmy Mullen series which is provisionally called Dead End Street and have a publishing deal for a fourth book which will be a standalone novel. As yet, I have no idea whatsoever what that will be so if anyone has any great ideas! 

My wife has come up with a brilliant idea for a Christmas rom-com but I’m not sure my publishers will be happy with a sudden switch from gritty crime thriller to that.

Where are your books available to buy? It’s available from all the usual outlets but I’ve had great support from all the local bookshops so would always say Forum Books in Corbridge or Waterstones in either Newcastle or Durham for The Man on the Street. Although the shops are closed again now – temporarily I hope – you can order online from any of them.

One Way Street is only out in ebook and audio at the moment – the hardback isn’t published until March 2021 – so you may have to go to Amazon for that.

For more info and up to date news check out the official website:

Interview by Gary Alikivi  November 2020.


Historian Dave Harker talks about his new book which tracks the history of North East popular music and song. 

“The Northern Minstrels draws on a wealth of research to tell the story of North East pipers, minstrels, choristers, street singers and dancing masters, covering the duels, disputes and riots”.

Newcastle based Dave, who turned 74 on November 5, has previously published 16 books, eight of which cover the history of North East music, including biographies of  Geordie Ridley and Blind Willie Purvis.

Also Joe Wilson and Ned Corvan, both were used as a basis for successful plays Mr Corvan’s Music Hall and The Great Joe Wilson by playwright Ed Waugh.

What inspired you to write the book ?  This is the richest region in England in terms of singers and songwriters whose audiences were predominantly working-class.

Terms like ‘North-Eastern’ ‘English’, ‘Scottish’ and so on to describe songs ignore the fact that while what survive today may have been sung in a given region or country, that does not mean that they originated there.  

I had to put the musicians in a social context to show the ways in which music making and printed balladry helped shape the politics of their day.

This included general literacy, printing presses, religious upheavals, employment of official minstrels, as well as laws relating to vagrancy.

Did you have any challenges when writing the book ? The book is by far the most challenging I have ever written because there are so few sources and I had to research what was happening all over England and southern Scotland. I felt it was important to collate the information that survives so others can expand on my work in the future.

What is your background Dave ? I was born in Guisborough in what was then the North Riding of Yorkshire on 5 November 1946. I won a scholarship to Guisborough Grammar School in 1958.

In 1966 I went to Jesus College, Cambridge, which seemed like a good idea at the time. I was awarded a BA in 1969, and in 1970 became a senior scholar at University College.  

I later declined the offer of a fellowship at a Cambridge college and accepted a temporary lectureship at Manchester Polytechnic, since I wanted to give something back to students less privileged than myself.

I joined the Labour Party in 1975 but left in disgust and joined the International Socialists. In 1976, to my surprise, Cambridge University accepted my PhD thesis, ‘Popular Song and Working-Class Consciousness in North East England’.

In 1977 as a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party I organised buses to both Anti-Nazi League carnivals in London.

The ‘80s saw more academic work for Dave including the Trades Union Council, Senior Lecturer in Trade Union Studies and building  miners’ support groups in 1984-85….But by then I was thoroughly disgusted with my colleagues’ careerism. By the early ‘90s I built the largest travelling stall of second-hand socialist books in Britain, and probably in Europe, for Manchester district Socialist Workers Party, and supplied Bookmarks bookshop in London.

I drifted away from the SWP, though I became the founding secretary of the North West Retired Members’ Branch and an officer of Manchester Trades Union Council. In 2015 I moved back to Newcastle, and in 2017 I received the Robert Tressell Award ‘For Services to Working People’.

What does the North East mean to you ?  A few years ago I researched the history of the word ‘Geordie’ and discovered that it had been used to patronise working people on Tyneside for over 200 years.

Virtually all ‘definitions’ had no historical accuracy or conceptual content, and the best one I know was that ‘Geordie’ was the name by which Tynesiders are known outside the district, either geographically, or culturally, even if they live there.

What bothered me was the tribalism in the region – Mackems (from Sunderland), Smoggies (from Teeside) and so on – not least because it did not serve the interests of working people, but on the contrary helped to divide them.

Only 100 copies of The Northern Minstrels have been printed.

They are available for £25 (plus £5 p&p) per copy from Dave at

Interview by Gary Alikivi  November 2020.