HERE COME THE DRUMS in conversation with Harry Hill, drummer of North East rock legends Fist

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The stories and laughs were coming thick and fast. Lucky I had the dictaphone cos I wouldn’t be able to write them all down, I’ve included the clean one’s. North East rock legends Fist are back in rehearsals…Yeah we’ve just filmed 4 songs at The Queen Vic in South Shields for a promo video. We had to play them 6 times each. It was like doing 2 full gigs back to back (laughs).

We have an album’s worth of new songs but for this we played existing tracks Vamp, Name Rank & Serial Number, Lost & Found and Lucy which we last played on a radio session for Tommy Vance.

We used a local team to put it together, Colin Smoult on the live sound and lights by Glenn Minnikin. The results are pretty good. Mind you I was playing drum fill’s that I made up when I was 22 – it’s a bit harder to play them now (laughs).

Local musician and producer Tony Sadge done such a great job on the sound mix that we’ve asked him to get involved with recording a new album. There’s a few labels interested so with all that happening we’re back up to full strength.

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Sandy Slavin, former drummer with 80s American rock band Riot writes on social media about his experiences in music. Have you come across any of the stories ? Yeah certainly have. You know what it is, he hit’s the nail on the head. When we started playing live there were no mic’s on the drumkit. You just had to hit them, and hit them hard. There was none of this ‘just turn it up in the mix’ that you can get today.

Before Fist and even before Axe I was in a band called Fixer in the early 70s. On stage there was 2 Marshall cab’s, a big bass cab and the p.a. which you had to compete with to be heard.

I agree with Sandy you had to play hard to be heard and balance that up with plenty feel for the music. Any drummer can learn techniques but if you haven’t got feel you’re wasting your time. Simon Kirk (Bad Company) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) were masters at it.

Drummers have different styles. Bonham played along with riffs that Jimmy Page was playing on guitar. It’s interesting to hear it. Keith Moon sometimes followed Roger Daltry’s singing in The Who and then Townsend’s guitar. He was a phenomenal drummer. Very erratic at times but brilliant. I’ve played with Dave Urwin (Fist guitarist) for such a long time we just link in.

You mentioned being in a band called Fixer…Yeah the band was put together around 73. Fixer had a singer called Tom Proctor. He recently got in touch and said he had a cassette of a tape we made. We recorded it in a barn using 3 mic’s. 1 for vocals and 2 on the drum kit. Sounds great. I remember we rehearsed every night. Listening to the tape you can tell.

As a result of those tapes guitarist Geoff Bell and I got an audition for Whitesnake through producer Martin Birch and Tony Edwards (RIP) who was manager of Deep Purple. This was around ‘76. We went down to a rehearsal studio in London and they asked us to just jam together. We knew our styles of playing so well, we were comfortable together, they were impressed. We passed the audition and said You’ve got the job. But in the meantime out in Germany, Coverdale had just formed a band.

Sounds like a mix up in communication ? Well with a couple of mates, Terry Slesser (vocals, Beckett) and Paul Thompson (drums Roxy Music) I went to see their first gig at Ashington Regal. Afterwards we chatted with Coverdale and he explained what had happened. That was it. Just not to be.

Fist supported UFO on a UK tour during 79 & 80. What are your memories ? We had a great time. Someone reminded me a few days ago of an incident that I’d forgotten about. We were playing Hammersmith Odeon and a guy was heckling us. Really pissed me off. So I put my sticks down, jumped off stage and chased him into the foyer to give him a good kickin’. Thinking back, the Hammersmith had a high stage so I must have been fit to get down and run after him (laughs).

I remember playing Sunderland Locarno (6 miles from Harry’s hometown South Shields). That was a great Friday night gig. We played it a couple of times after that and done a few other venues in Sunderland by ourselves.

There was the Boilermakers Club and the Old 29 pub which was only a very long thin shaped bar. We never got much reaction and nobody clapped cos there was nowhere to put their drinks (laughs).

One Friday night we played the Newcastle Mayfair (2,000 capacity) with a 10,000 watt pa that we’d hired. We asked the sound man Stosh, when the p.a. had to go back and he said not till Monday. Champion, we booked a gig for Saturday afternoon in the Old 29 pub. We knew there’d be a reaction this time.

As we blasted out the p.a. in this little pub the audience were pinned against the back wall (laughs).

Can you remember any other bands gigging around the North East at the time ? Yeah Raven, who we played with a few times. There was Tygers of Pan Tang…wiped the floor with them. Then next time John Sykes and Jon Deverill were in and that was a different band. That was a kick up straight away. Robb (Weir, guitarist) is still playing in the Tygers and has got a great band now. Really solid.

Fist were playing at Norbreck Castle down in Blackpool around 81 /82 and John Sykes popped in. He just lived in the area. He came over and introduced himself. Chatting with him he said he’d made a huge step up in joining the Tygers. And he was right.

We had the same record company (MCA) and with a lot of bands they look and sound ok but in a studio there’s nowhere to hide. Well there probably is now, but we can’t find it (laughs).

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There was the famous article in a 1980 edition of Sounds, when North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands were interviewed by Sunderland based music journalist Ian Ravendale…I bumped into Ian a few years ago and we got chatting about the interview. I said I remember two things you wrote. ‘Fist maturity shines out like a lasar in a coal shed’ (laughs).

The other was ‘If Harry Hill gets any heavier he’s gonna need a reinforced drumstool’. Cheeky sod I was only 12 stone ! (laughs)  They were great those rags Sounds, NME, Melody Maker every Thursday. Nowt like that now.

Full article in Sounds by Ian Ravendale 17th May 1980.  http://ianravendale.blogspot.com

I saw Fist at the British Legion in South Shields around ‘82. Would you ever think then that you’d still be playing together in 2019 ? Fist has been my life. It’s always been there. I remember getting to 25 and thinking I’m too old to be a drummer in a rock band. But I look at music back in 1970 when I was listening to Zeppelin, that’s 50 years. Then go back another 50 year to people dancing to the Charleston in the 20s. Then forward to the rock n roll explosion. Maybe now we’ve reached saturation point. Old stuff blows all over the new music. Although recently I heard a band called Greta Van Fleet who were like a breath of fresh air. Great little band.

What do you think of live music today ? Back when I started playing you went to see local bands and they could really play. Every one of them. Today you will see some who maybe haven’t put the time in. For any band to get tight they have to be on the road.

I stepped in for a band called The Radio Set who had a single produced by Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order). It was indie stuff completely different for me but it was good. In rehearsal they complained I was too loud (laughs). But they only done about 5 or 6 gigs, with a couple of festivals. The band sounded confident and correct, but they never had that bit magic that you need.

Are there many independent venues on Tyneside ? I think it’s getting harder and harder. The beauty of Fist is there is some international work. We’re going over to Belgium and Germany later this year. The following is amazing there. But with the local scene economically it is so difficult to keep going for any venue. Some need to take £1,000 just to break even. When pubs are struggling like they are now the first thing they do is put live music on to drag a few people in. It might get them in but it won’t necessarily make you any money.

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Fist have got some live dates planned…Yeah the first gig back for a few years is the Grimm Up North Festival. Steve from TysonDog asked us to come along and as it’s for a charity close to my heart we said yes. It raises money for diabetes and heart disease. We’ve got Norman Appleby back on bass, Glenn Coates on vocals and Davey Urwin on guitar. So it’s back to the original line up from 82. We’re scheduled for the Friday and we’ll do about 50mins before Blitzkreig top the bill.

We’re deciding what tracks to put on the EP. We’ve got around 10 match perfect songs so far, with another 2 we’re putting together now. So plenty to choose from, it’s really exciting times.

What does music mean to you ? Absolutely everything. At times probably totally cocked my life up but I’ve got no regrets what so ever. It’s not just music it’s everything around it. Creating things, the friends you make, I couldn’t imagine life without music.

Check the Fist facebook page for latest gig dates.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alan with guitarist Keith Satchfield.

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2018. 

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

  

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #3

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

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STEVE THOMPSON: (Songwriter) ‘I had quit as house producer at Neat Records in 1981. I had begun to realise that I was helping other people build careers whilst mine was on hold. I was becoming bogged down in Heavy Metal and whilst there’s no doubt I’m a bit of a rocker, I really wanted to pursue the path of a songwriter first and foremost. Production might come into it somewhere along the line but I wanted that to be a sideline, not my main gig. So I set about composing the song that is the subject of this story, ‘Please Don’t Sympathise’. This is what happened.

I had just cut a single with The Hollies. Bruce Welch of The Shadows was in the production seat for that recording in Odyssey Studios, London. I signed a publishing deal with Bruce and remember signing the contract at Tyne Tees TV Studios in Newcastle, Hank Marvin was witness. Bruce had heard an 8 song demo of my songs and selected 4 favourites from it. He asked me to make some more advanced demos of those 4. I could have gone into Neat/Impulse Studio but I still wanted to carve new territory so I went to Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham. I played bass, keyboards and guitar on the session with Paul Smith on drums and I brought my old mate Dave Black in to do vocals. I spent two full days on those demos, Bruce Welch was paying and he really wanted me to go to town on the production. Then a producer called Chris Neil entered the story. Chris had worked with Leo Sayer, Gerry Rafferty, A-Ha, Rod Stewart, Cher and others. Chris and I had just had a massive hit with his production of my song Hurry Home. Chris was by now having a bit of a love affair with my material. Chris had asked Bruce to give him first dibs on any of my new songs that came along. He picked up on two from the four songs I’d just demoed in Guardian. One of them he sang himself under the band name Favoured Nations. But the recording pertinent to this story is his production of Sheena Easton’s new album Madness, Money and Music. He recorded my song Please Don’t Sympathise for that album. The album did very well. It went top 20 in the UK, peaking at 13. It also charted in several other countries and did particularly well in Japan’.

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‘About a year later Celine Dion also recorded the song in French ‘Ne Me Plaignez Pas’. It was a huge hit single in Canada and certified Gold status. The album it was featured on sold 400,000 copies in Canada and 700,000 copies in France. I never did go back to Guardian but that is a lot of action from just one demo session. Interestingly, the literal translation of Ne Me Plaignez Pas is Please Don’t PITY ME ! Spooky huh?’

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‘These days I’m doing this song and many others that I wrote for various artists with my own band. I’ve uploaded a video collage here https://vimeo.com/266141205. It starts with the Guardian demo with Dave Black singing. The demo doesn’t sound that sophisticated after 37 years but that’s where it started. Then there are clips of the Sheena and Celine versions and then my band doing it live. Sadly Dave Black is no longer around to sing the song as he did on the demo but Terry Slesser does a fine job of it. Jen Normandale comes in on the bridge in French ala Celine!’  www.steve-thompson.org.uk

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

Kev Charlton HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

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

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

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

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

NEAT BITES – Making Records on Wallsend

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Neat Records were based in Wallsend, North East England. The label was established in the late 70’s by Dave Woods, who was the owner of Impulse Studios. It was notable for releases by Venom, Raven and Blitzkreig who are acknowledged as major influences on American bands Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Songwriter and producer Steve Thompson helped set up Neat and produced the initial recordings…One day Dave Woods came in and said there’s a band who are making a bit of noise out there why not get them in and sell a few records? So in came Tygers of Pan Tang to cut three tracks. Incidentally it was to be the third single I’d produced for NEAT. Now we know it is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the tide was coming in that very evening haha’. 

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ROBB WEIR (Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘In 1979 we recorded, ‘Don’t Touch Me There.’  It had a release number 003 so we were in at the beginning of the Neat Record label story. We were the first heavy metal band to be recorded in the studio. So I’m very proud of the Tygers giving the Neat label a direction. Impulse studios took a chance and pressed 1,000 copies, that was a lot for a small independent label. Don’t Touch Me There was reviewed in Sounds newspaper which made a massive difference so the next pressing was 4,000 ! Then studio owner Dave Woods was approached by MCA record company, they wanted us! So Dave did a deal, essentially selling the Tygers to them. So MCA pressed around 50,000 copies of the single!’

BRIAN ROSS (Blitzkreig) ‘I remember the first time in Impulse Studio was great we made it feel like our second home. It came highly recommended as Tyne Tees TV used it to record their jingles there and we recorded a jingle Hot n Heavy Express which Alan Robson used on his radio show. It went well so we extended it into a single. NEAT put it out on a compilation EP. Now this studio was the label to be on, and I mean in the country not just the North East, I’ve recorded many tracks there as Satan, Avenger and Blitzkreig. It’s a shame it’s not there now’. 

ANTONY BRAY (Venom) Conrad was tape operator at NEAT doing a few days here and there and he bugged the owner Dave Woods about getting spare time in the studio for the band. He kept asking him ‘can my band come in on the weekend ? Woodsy got so sick of him he just said ok, just do it, but pay for the tape. So we recorded a three track EP and we thought it might get a little review somewhere. I was still working at Reyrolles factory then and one morning I wandered in and someone had a copy of the Sounds. Couldn’t believe it, there’s a two page spread about our EP, f’ing hell look at this. When Woodsy saw it he thought, I hate the band, think they are bloody awfull – but kerching!’

KEITH NICHOLL (Impulse studio engineer) ‘With Raven, their playing was always intensive but there were loads of stories and quite a few laughs. I think they simply wanted to do a better album than the first and then again the third. Any band would. Can’t remember if there was an official tour but they did loads of gigs. Good live band’.

HARRY HILL (Fist) ‘The first single we put out was Name, Rank and Serial Number and You Never Get Me Up In One of Those on the b side. We done a lot of reheasal and prep work so we were tight, ready to record. When we done Name, Rank we were on Northern Life TV. The cameras came down filmed in the studio that was 1980. Strangely the only piece of vinyl I have is our single The Wanderer. We started putting it in our set so yeah, went in and recorded it. Status Quo released a version a couple of month after us but honestly thought our version was better haha’.

GARY YOUNG (Avenger) ’I worked in the Shipyards near my home town but for about a year before that I worked at Impulse Studios in Wallsend which was where Neat Records were based. Due to this I was involved in a lot of recording sessions and some of them for what are now landmark albums like Venoms – Black Metal and Ravens – Wiped Out. I had my first experiences of recording there with my own bands and helping people out on random recording sessions. They were great times’.

DAVY LITTLE (Axis) ‘I remember Fist guitarist Keith Satchfield was in when we were recording. He was always track suited up. Getting fit and going on runs in preparation for a tour. I had met him a few times when I was younger I used to go and see Warbeck and Axe. Always thought he was a cool musician and writer. Plus a nice fella. We were very inexperienced and new nothing about studios. He  gave us advice on how to set up amps. Was very supportive I never forgot that. Also when we were in there a very young moody boy was working there. Making tea, helping get kit in. Always drawing. Asked to see some of his drawings. All dark, tombstones, skulls, flying demons…nice kid tho said he didn’t think we were very heavy metal. I agreed. He said “one day I am going to have the heaviest band ever”. I met Chronos years later in a club in Newcastle when he was fronting the mighty Venom. A nice lad’.

STEVE WALLACE (Shotgun Brides) ‘There was a kid called Richard Denton who grew up in the same area as us and he was working A&R at Impulse records in Wallsend. He persuaded the owner Dave Woods to take us on. We went into Impulse Studio and recorded the track Restless, that was engineered and produced by Kev Ridley in 1987. The b side of the single was Eighteen. We recorded the song bit by bit, tracking it up. Unlike a few other bands it wasn’t recorded by playing all the way through and off you go add a couple of overdubs, no it was fully tracked. It eventually ended up on a NEAT compilation album’.

PHASSLAYNE NEAT

MICHAEL MAUGHAN (Phasslayne) In the summer of ’85 Phasslayne were approached by Neat Records. Dave Woods was the main man there. What happened was we recorded a demo at Desert Sounds in Felling which they really liked so the label asked us to record a live no dubs demo in their studio in Wallsend. On hearing that Dave Woods signed us to do an album. But just before we got our record deal our singer left and everyone looked at me so that’s how I ended up doing the vocals. I think Keith Nichol was the engineer. For guitars I used my Strat and Maurice Bates from Mythra loaned me his Les Paul. We called the album Cut it Up, it’s on vinyl’.

KEV CHARLTON (Hellanbach) ‘We got a deal with NEAT records to record our first album. That was the best time. After rehearsing for months getting the new songs together we recorded the album which is a very proud moment in my life. Now Hear This came out in ’83 and was produced by Keith Nichol. I remember getting the first copy of the album, taking it into work thinking this might be me leaving the shipyards. It was one of the weirdest times of my life because it came out to amazing five star reviews and some of the big bands weren’t even getting five stars. I remember sitting in the toilets of Wallsend shipyard reading the reviews in Kerrang and Sounds, thinking this will be the last time I’ll be in the shipyard….but it wasn’t !’ 

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To read a comprehensive story of NEAT records get a hold of the book ’Neat and Tidy’ by John Tucker. It examines the history of the label, its bands and their releases including interviews with many key players in the Neat Records’ story such as label boss David Wood, producer Steve Thompson, Raven’s John Gallagher and Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn from Venom.

https://www.johntuckeronline.co.uk/neat-and-tidy-the-story-of-neat-records.html

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross, SATAN/BLITZKREIG, Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

Harry Hill, FIST: Turn the Hell On, 29th April 2017.

John Gallagher, RAVEN: Staring into the Fire, 3rd May 2017.

Kev Charlton, HELLANBACH/BESSIE & THE ZINC BUCKETS: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

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

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

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

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

Guardian Studio: Defender of the North 3rd May 2018.

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #2 with SPARTAN WARRIOR

 

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

SPARTAN WARRIOR 

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Dave Wilkinson (vocals): ‘Spartan Warrior recorded at Guardian Studio in 1983/1984. My abiding memory of recording there is that the studio was said to be haunted and that made for a lot of winding up. There were occasions when although we’d been booked into the studio during the day time Terry Gavaghan, the producer of Spartan Warrior’s first two albums, would often have us recording throughout the evening and into the early hours of the following morning… that was just his way of working. In fact it wasn’t uncommon for us to arrive for a midday start on a Saturday and be finishing up at 5:00am on the Sunday! Needless to say that a lot of the overnight sessions involved a lot of ghost story telling by Terry. The control room had a large glass window next to the mixing desk and and from there you could see into the room in which the band was set up to record. It was quite dark in that room and I think it was only dimly lit with a red light. I found myself in situations where there would be a couple of hours spent with Terry in the control room and he’d tell us about the various sightings of the ghost of a little girl and there had been occasions when peoples headphones had inexplicably flown off across the room during a take. We’d all be sitting there listening and making light of it and then in the early hours Terry would send me into the other room to do a vocal in the dimly lit room while the rest of the band stayed in the control room. To say that I was apprehensive would be an understatement!!

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‘On one occasion we were in there recording a track called Witchfinder for the Steel n’ Chains album and Terry thought that it would be cool for the five of us to record a Satanic Chant at the opening of the track. So after a lot of the usual ghostly tales we all went around the vocal microphone while Terry remained in the control room with a lad who I think might have been a neighbour of his who was helping him in the studio that day. We had a few runs through this chant and it was an unrehearsed shambles but he called us back in to the control room to have a listen. Terry set the analogue recordings running and we listened back… then the tape machine just ground to a halt and he pointed at the digital clock which measured the length of the track and it came up as six minutes and sixty six seconds… 666… just like that. Terry looked really worried and said you can’t have a clock showing 666 seconds and he was  telling us something sinister was at work probably brought on by the Satanic Chant. He said that we ought to abandon the idea before anything horrendous happened… he said the Chant could bring about terrible things if blood was spilled… I think he actually said “all you need is blood”. Then the lad got up to go into the kitchen to make us all a cup of tea and he banged his head off one of the monitors and split his head open… that was it… blood was spilled and we were all terrified. It was almost certainly a wind up. I’m pretty sure Terry could have done something to make the clock show 666 but the lad did actually split his head open. The Chant never made the album!

‘On another occasion during the Steel n’ Chains sessions we took a mate of ours along and of course the ghost stories started mid- evening. I was about to put some vocals down so the other four lads plus our mate went down the street to the pub and while they were away Terry hatched his plan. He wrote himself a one way conversation and then recorded himself whilst leaving gaps at the end of each sentence so that when he played it back he could speak to ‘the voice’ live in apparent conversation. He then speeded up the recording so that it sounded like a ghostly child speaking and not just that but speaking to our friend… to protect his identity I’ll call him ‘Steve’. Terry then rigged up a ghostly model using an old Airfix model skull with a wig on it, a microphone stand at half mast with a coat hanger and child’s nightgown hanging on it. So it just looked like a little girl in a nightgown with this awful skull face and long black hair. Then we waited for the lads to come back. Once everyone was settled Terry again started telling his tales of the ghostly sightings into the early hours of the morning. He’d managed to let the other Spartan Warrior guys know what he was planning to do when ‘Steve’ was in the toilet as he was going to need their help to pull off the prank. Guardian Studio consisted of three terraced houses and the recording facility was in the middle. Because of that there were multiple points of access and exit. So once Terry had had an hour or two of his scary stories he turned to recording and set away his pre-recorded ghostly conversation which went something like:-

Steve, Steve’.

Terry tells everyone to be quiet and asks ‘did you hear that’. 

Then it goes on –

Ghost: Steeeeeve.

Terry: Who are you?

Ghost: Steeeeve, Steeeeve.

Terry: What do you want?

Ghost: I want Steeeeeeeve

Steve: Tell it to fuck off!!

‘So the tape finishes and of course ‘Steve’ is concerned so Terry told him to go and put the kettle on. Off Steve goes to the kitchen where the Ghost Model is set up and of course he sees it, screams and runs back into the control room saying that he’s ‘seen it’. Of course we go to investigate but it’s not there because one of the guys has moved it into the toilet during the commotion. So ‘Steve’ gets calmed down and after about 40 minutes is asked to go and get some toilet paper out of the toilet to clean the tape heads with. Of course he sees the Ghost Model again and runs back into the control room screaming blue murder and we have to calm him again. In fact I think Terry told him that if he was going to mess about and unnerve the band he would have to go home and he gave him a bit of a telling off. Terry then walks ‘Steve’ to the toilet, puts the light on and no ghost… of course it’s been taken out of the back door and round to the front entrance and stood in the porch at the entrance to the studio. We all have a cup of tea and a bit of light banter then we get to work again but this time Terry asks ‘Steve’ to nip next door to get whatever the hell he was asking for this time. I forget, but naturally ‘Steve’ is reluctant to go. So one of the lads tells him that he’ll come with him. So the two of them head out of the control room into the adjoining recording area which is in darkness save for the red light. They walk beyond the drum booth to a set of double sound proofed heavy doors that lead to the porch and front street as well as Terry’s living accommodation. The first door was opened by whoever was with ‘Steve’ and he opens the second door to the porch which is of course in darkness and guess what he sees!

‘Steve’ comes hurtling back through the recording area, into the control room absolutely panic stricken, almost to the point of tears, just gasping for breath and in a right state. I honestly thought he was going to collapse and I really felt it had gone too far not realising that he was of such a nervous disposition. The icing on the cake though was when we all had to sit down with him and calmly tell him what had been done and he was reluctant to believe it. To convince him somebody went to get the ghost model and brought it through to the control room to show him. We all fell about laughing when he lost his temper and punched the skull in the face. Looking back it’s a wonder we ever got any recording done’.

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

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

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

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

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

Kev Charlton HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

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

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

Neil Wil Kinson SPARTAN WARRIOR: Invader from the North 21st September 2017.

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

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

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS – with Peter Whiskard bassist for North East eighties metallers Alien.

The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NENWOBHM) was immortalised on the ’One Take No Dubs’ 45 released by NEAT Records in 1982. The 12” featured Black Rose, Avenger, Hellanbach and Alien.  I talked to Peter Whiskard bassist for Felling metallers Alien… ‘Derek our singer had a reputation for a no-nonsense approach to life. During a gig at the Mayfair he found himself the unwilling target of several beer vessels – thankfully plastic – thrown by a miscreant in the audience. He jumped off the stage, felled him with one blow and jumped back onstage without losing his composure or his place in the song’. 

How did you get involved in playing music and who were your influences ? ‘I sang from a very early age and learned classical piano. An early indication of my chosen instrument was when I occasionally played piano duets and always seemed to gravitate to the bass part. A defining moment was when I hit adolescence and something seemed to click when I was jamming along to records. Needless to say the classical piano was abandoned. My influences were from the sixties and seventies, early Status Quo, Free, Cream, Bad Company and The Velvet Underground’.

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When did you start playing gigs and what were your experiences of recording?  ‘I started playing gigs when I was fifteen with friends in the Felling area of the North East. I believe our first gig was at a youth club in the same building where we rehearsed. We didn’t really gig much and the last one was at the Sixth Form Common Room Disco! I went away to University and when I returned I formed a band called Bad Luck with the former singer. We did many local gigs and recorded a few tracks at Neat’s Impulse Studios where I met label boss Dave Wood. A self financed 45 single release came from these recordings. Unfortunately this band didn’t last long. Then I answered an ad in the paper for Alien in 1982. The place where a lot of Neat bands rehearsed was the Spectro Arts workshop in Newcastle and I remember once overhearing the tremendous noise of Venom practising one day when we were offloading our gear. The band had a chequered history in the time we were together but we were offered recording at Neat Records for the One Take No Dubs EP. We still had to pay £50 for the privilege – Dave Wood was notoriously stingy. The recording took perhaps only part of a day because the essence of it was to have a ‘live’ feel and there would be no extravagant nonsense like overdubbing and repeating the process to seek the ‘perfect’ take. Hence the title ‘One Take No Dubs’.

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‘The engineer for the earlier trip to Impulse with Bad Luck and the Alien session was Keith Nichol – a lovely guy who was patient and skilful. The band played together in the studio – this was opportune for Alien’s style as we were capable of flights of improvisation as can be heard in the middle section of ‘Who Needs the Army’, one of the up to now unreleased tracks from that session. In the recording session we were in fine form, especially Ron Anderson the guitarist who recently has sadly died. A track from the recording called ‘Absolute Zero’ also appeared on a compilation cassette called ’60 minutes Plus’ sold only through Sounds and Kerrang. A Neat Singles Collection featured the track ‘Could Have Done Better’ from One Take No Dubs’.

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What can you remember of Impulse Studio ? ‘Impulse Studios lived behind a fairly anonymous doorway in Wallsend, Newcastle. It was a small place, the studio walls were covered in the ubiquitous polystyrene tiles for acoustic absorbtion. There was an office where the day-to-day running of the business took place and also a special ‘green room’ where Dave Wood would make his deals and entertain the celebs. Our relationship with Dave Wood soured somewhat as the singer felt we were being exploited financially. The band fell apart by ’83. We briefly reformed to do a gig at the Classic Cinema in Low Fell.  After Alien I joined a band called The Blues Burglars who were quite popular at the time’.

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Can you remember any high points for Alien, TV or music video’s ? ’I’m afraid we weren’t together long enough to get established to record any TV appearances or film any music videos. Although we did play some gigs with Raven and others at Newcastle Mayfair. I’m afraid I can’t remember much about the gig with Raven but I don’t think we hobnobbed much with the other bands. The audience was pretty appreciative as that was during the heyday of Neat Records. We regularly played gigs in Felling such as the Duke Of Cumberland, and our gigs had a reputation for having a febrile atmosphere with an undercurrent of unpredictability. The singer was a powerful performer and had a great rock voice. We also had several friends in other bands on the Neat roster. I knew the drummer from Hellanbach who lived round the corner, and went to school with the singer from Emerson and Axis: two Neat bands which are relatively unknown. The singer of Axis was originally born Simon Blewitt but is now called Sam Blue and at one point sang with Ultravox as well as singing on The Streets’ hit Dry Your Eyes!

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I have been a classroom teacher since I moved to Kent in 1986, but now I am semi-retired and teach guitar to Primary age students. I still play gigs regularly. I’m afraid I’m now playing in a folk/country band called John Doggerel and the Bad Poets. We comprise me on bass, guitar, and assorted instruments including mandolin, accordion and ukulele! We are based near Margate. I recently remastered and released a track which wasn’t used from the original Neat session called ‘Who Needs the Army’. Now available at iTunes and all good digital platforms’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross SATAN/BLITZKREIG: Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

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

Micky McCrystal, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

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

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

Steve Thompson,( NEAT Producer) Godfather of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Gary Young, AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.

ROKSNAPS #4

Roksnaps are fan photographs which captured the atmosphere of concerts on Tyneside during the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was a time when rock and metal bands ruled the city halls up and down the country. On Tyneside we had the main venues of Mecca in Sunderland, The Mayfair and City Hall in Newcastle. The gigs were packed with tribes of mostly young lads from towns across the North East. T-shirts, programmes and autographs were hunted down to collect as souveniers – and some people took photographs on the night.

 

 

 

Here are more Roksnaps from John Edward Spence pictured above with Janick Gers in 1982.

 

 

 

‘The first gig I went to I was 15. It was on the 31st of October 1977 at the Newcastle City Hall and the band was Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. The support band were called Kingfish. Rainbow came on really late and we missed our last bus home so one of friends had to phone his dad for a lift’.

 

 

 

‘Around October ’78 I decided to take my camera to a few gigs. I had a job so I bought a roll of film and some flashcubes, my camera was a Kodak 126. I couldn’t take it to every gig as the film and flashcubes used to make a dent in my pay packet’.

 

 

 

‘I used to go to loads of gigs at the City Hall and the Mayfair of course, that was my favourite venue. I was also lucky enough to see the bands associated with the NWOBHM, just loved the music around then’.

 

 

 

‘I don’t go to many gigs now. I always try and watch The Tubes when they come over, in fact the last gig I went to was to see The Tubes supporting Alice Cooper at Leeds, great gig’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

When Heavy Metal Hit the Accelerator 6th May 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT producer) Godfather of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

Roksnaps #1 18th February 2018.

Roksnaps #2 22nd February 2018.

Roksnaps #3 27th February 2018.

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

1980 – THE YEAR METAL FORGED ON TYNESIDE

It’s one year on from the start of this blog, with over 18,000 readers, 150,000 words, 115 posts and more to come. But enough of the stats – this one rewinds the clock back to 1980.

Skipping through Spotify or You Tube today people have the choice to listen to different styles of music. Billions of songs at your fingertips. But there was a time when music lovers listened to only one genre – creating different tribes. The 70’s brought in hard rock bands Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead and the hairy rock tribe followed. Disco filled dancefloors with Donna Summer, ‘Le Freak’ by Chic, a real Saturday Night Fever. But they were followed by the Disco Sucks movement in America. One night in 1979 at a ball game in Chicago, rock radio DJ Steve Dahl took to the field with his anti-disco army and blew up thousands of disco records. A publicity stunt he thought would bring in an extra 5,000 people to the game – it brought 70,000. Where they a tribe of firestarters, or was it the 98cents entry fee if you had a record under your arm ready to burn? The disco tribe never recovered. By ’78 the Sex Pistols had played their last gig in San Fransisco and at the start of ’79 Sid Vicious died in New York. By the end of the year The Clash had called out to London. Was the punk tribe dying out ? What did 1980 hold for the tribes ?

Post punk, Ska and Two Tone were heard around the country – they were all three minute hero’s. But a new tribe were gathering pace – one that followed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The movement started in the late 70’s in the UK and reached international attention by the early 80’s. The DIY attitude led to self-produced recordings and new independant labels setting up. The movement spawned many bands with Iron Maiden and Def Leppard becoming international stars. Bands from the North East were also delivering the goods. Newcastle had chief headbangers Raven, on the coast in Whitley Bay were Tygers of Pan Tang, and across the river Tyne in my hometown South Shields – Fist, Mythra, Hellanbach, Hollow Ground and Saracen were all recorded on vinyl by the early 80’s. Neat records were based in Wallsend and close by in Durham, was Guardian Records. Venue’s like Sunderland Mecca, Newcastle Mayfair and the City Hall had regular visit’s from rock/metal bands and the tribe followed. 1980 was the year metal was forged on Tyneside.

January
Canadian rock band Rush released their 5th album Permanent Waves and UFO released their 8th album No Place To Run.

On 17th & 18th Newcastle City Hall saw a concert by UFO with support from Girl. Over at the Mayfair AC/DC had Diamond Head opening on the 25th, and at Newcastle University Def Leppard were on the 26th supported by Witchfynde.

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February
This month will be remembered for the passing of Bon Scott, lead singer of AC/DC. He was only 33 when he died on the 19th. On the same night Rainbow played Newcastle City Hall. They also played on the 20th with support on both nights fom Samson. The City Hall also had a visit from Uriah Heep with support from Girlschool on the 6th.

Newcastle Mayfair promoted Heavy Metal Fridays with Tygers of Pan Tang plus Southbound and Axe on the 15th with Saxon plus Crypt and Mythra on the 22nd. Def Leppard played on the 29th with support from Witchfynde.

March
Three rock/metal albums were in the shop’s this month – On Through the Night the debut from Def Leppard. Van Halen’s 3rd Woman and Children First and Scorpions release their 7th album Animal Magnetism.

Newcastle City Hall saw Gillan on the 6th. April Wine with support from Angelwitch on the 10th and Judas Priest with openers Iron Maiden on the 20th. On the 21st both bands play the Mayfair which has an 18+ entry. The City Hall also saw Pat Travers supported by Diamond Head on the 30th. Over at The Castle Leazes Havelock Hall were Tygers of Pan Tang with openers Magnum on the 4th.

April
AC/DC found a replacement for the recently deceased Bon Scott, bringing in Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson. This month they enter the recording studio to work on the new album.

In this month 3 albums of note were released. The debut from Iron Maiden, Judas Priest 6th album British Steel, and Heaven and Hell from Black Sabbath. Their first with vocalist Ronnie James Dio.

Sammy Hagar with openers Riot played at Newcastle City Hall on the 12th. Def Leppard plus Magnum and Tygers of Pan Tang on the 20th then Saxon on the 21st.

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May
Saxon released Wheels of Steel their 2nd album. Whitesnake release their 3rd album, Ready n Willing and Kiss release their 8th, Unmasked.

Newcastle City Hall saw visits from Thin Lizzy on the 1st & 2nd. Scorpions with openers Tygers of Pan Tang on the 13th, Black Sabbath with support from Shakin’ Street on the 18th & 19th. Over at Newcastle Mayfair were Iron Maiden and openers Praying Mantis on the 16th. Also on the 23rd were Fist, White Spirit and Raven.

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Mythra, Fist and Tygers of Pan Tang in the Sounds charts in May 1980.

June
This month’s studio albums you could choose from I’m a Rebel – Accept, Danger Zone – Sammy Hagar, Demolition – Girlschool, Metal Rendez-vous – Krokus, Head On – Samson, Scream Dream – Ted Nugent or Tomcattin – Blackfoot.

Newcastle City Hall saw visits from Rush supported by Quartz on the 12th. Whitesnake with support from GForce on the 13th & 14th. Van Halen with openers Lucifers Friend on the 17th. Sunderland Mayfair had Iron Maiden and Praying Mantis on the 11th. Then Fist on the 20th.

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July
AC/DC release Back in Black the new album with Brian Johnson.

At Newcastle Mayfair was Trespass on the 18th and an all dayer at Bingley Hall in Stafford on the 26th – The Heavy Metal Barndance. Headliners Motorhead were joined by Girlschool, Angelwitch, Saxon, Vardis, Mythra and White Spirit.

August
This month saw the debut album Wild Cat released by Tygers of Pan Tang. Also records by the Michael Schenker Group and Stand Up and Fight from Quartz.

Newcastle Mayfair saw Ted Nugent supported by Wild Horses on the 7th. Fist plus Raven on the 15th with Diamond Head and openers Quartz on the 29th.
South Shields Legion welcomed hometown band Fist on the 14th.

16th of the month saw the first Monsters of Rock festival held at Donnington Raceway in Derbyshire with Rainbow, Judas Priest, Scorpions, April Wine, Saxon, Riot and Touch.

Reading festival on the 22nd-24th had headliners Rory Gallagher, UFO and Whitesnake with Gillan, Iron Maiden, Samson, Def Leppard, Ozzy Ozbourne, Angelwitch, Budgie, Samson and Tygers of Pan Tang.

September
Sadly, the Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham dies aged only 32.

The debut from Ozzy Osbourne was released this month while Strong Arm of the Law, the 3rd studio album by Saxon and their 2nd this year was released.

Newcastle Mayfair had Angelwitch on the 5th, Tygers of Pan Tang with support from Taurus and radio DJ Alan Robson on the 12th and over at Newcastle City Hall were Ozzy Osbourne plus support band Budgie on the 17th.

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October
Released this month were the 3rd album by Gillan – Glory Road and Chinatown the 10th album from Thin Lizzy.

A full month of gigs at Newcastle Mayfair. Gillan with openers White Spirit and Quartz on the 1st. Scorpions supported by Blackfoot on the 10th for over 18 fans. UFO supported by Fist 15th & 16th. Ozzy Osbourne 17th with Budgie and Raven. Motorhead with support from Weapon on the 29th & 30th. AC/DC plus Starfighters on the 31st.

At Newcastle City Hall were Michael Schenker Group supported by Dedringer on the 2nd. Scorpions plus Blackfoot 7th & 8th. Over at Sunderland Mayfair UFO and Fist on the 21st and Ozzy Osbourne the 28th.

November
This month saw the release of Ace of Spades the 4th album from Motorhead, a double from Whitesnake – Live…In the Heart of the City and the debut from Fist, Turn the Hell On. There was also Roksnax on Gaurdian Records. A compilation album produced at Guardian Studios in Durham, UK. The album features 4 songs each from South Shields bands Hollow Ground and Saracen and Teeside based Samurai.

Newcastle City Hall had visits from AC/DC supported by Starfighters on the 4th & 5th. Triumph with openers Praying Mantis the 12th and Iron Maiden on the 25th with support from A11Z.

December
Concerts at the Newcastle City Hall this month by Girlschool on the 5th with support from Angelwitch, also on the 16th Saxon with support from Limelight.

Led Zeppelin release a press release about the break up of the band due to the death of drummer John Bonham.

Unfortunately a sad end to a frantic year, but what did the 80’s have in store for the tribe ? Again from the North East there was a little band forming. They had kept an eye on what was happening and now it was their time to strike. Venom were gathering their own tribe, but that’s a story for another day.

Gary Alikivi 2017.

Information from discogs and various websites. Thanks to everyone who supplied information, ticket stubs etc.

Recommended:

MYTHRA Still Burning 13th February 2017.

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

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

Harry Hill, FIST: Turn the Hell On, 29th April 2017.

When Heavy Metal Hit the Accelerator 6th May 2017.

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

Kev Charlton, HELLANBACH/BESSIE & THE ZINC BUCKETS: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson,( NEAT Producer) Godfather of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

It’s Only Rock n Roll 1st August 2017.

Pyromaniax -Bombs, Flashes and Burnt Eyebrows 12th December 2017.

Have You Heard This One ? -10 best stories from this years interviews 18th December 2017.

 

 

 

METAL HEALTH with North East UK musician Glenn S.Howes

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Can you remember your first band ? ‘I was 16 years old, I was gorgeous, and had hair! Ha. My first band was called Axizz and we played metal. We were all friends of the same age and were from a little town called South Shields, North East UK. The line-up changed a few times, we knew we were young and inexperienced but that didn’t stop us from trying. There were other bands I knocked about with over the years and some were short lived but these were bands that I loved being in and they were great lads. It was a great learning curve for us all. South Shields in those days in regards to employment was very grim, but for some reason the music scene was excellent. There were a lot of bands and musicians around. So it was an exciting place to be musically. Strangely my parents thought the band thing was a reasonable idea, which shocked me because I wanted them to hate it. I’m trying my best not to name drop but there is the obvious connection to a name band that made it big (ish) in the 90’s and we all knew each other. This was the very early 80’s at the same time as NWOBHM and as fans of that genre know, North East bands were a leading light in that movement’.

Who were your influences in music ? ‘To be honest I have a lot of different influences but if I was pushed to name some I would say my main influences over the years have been Rainbow, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Queensryche, Gary Moore, Fist, Saracen, Beatles, Roy Orbinson, Queen, UFO, Van Halen, Scorpions, Motorhead and NWOBHM. I do have a lot of other favourites and got into some of the heavier stuff like Annihilator and Testament from the late 80’s onwards’.

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Ritchie Blackmore

How did you get involved in playing music ? ‘Growing up in the UK through the early 70’s I used to get excited every time I heard a guitar song on the radio or tv. I didn’t understand what it was at the time but knew I was feeling it somewhere deep inside. Then watching Top of the Pops I knew the name of the bands. It was Sweet, Slade and Marc Bolan, the distorted guitar was doing it for me but I was still too young to understand that it was an electric guitar with a distorted amp or fuzz pedal. The big revelation came when I heard my first proper heavy rock song. You guessed it. Smoke on the Water. I was still wet behind the ears at the time so still didn’t take it all in. I was a listener at this point and had no desire to become a musician but I did fantasise of being Ritchie Blackmore or Angus Young on stage. As you do.
The love for music especially Rock and Metal grew as I entered my teens getting to the point where I became obsessed, which I still am. My parents bought me a flying V copy from a shop on the Haymarket, Newcastle when I was 15. It was black but I really wanted to look like KK Downing or Michael Schenker, even though I wasn’t blonde. So I had it sprayed white. Ironically because I was just starting to learn I was pretty crap and my friends were away ahead of me, so I got roped into singing. So I was originally a singer not a guitar player’.

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Saracen

Was there a defining moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ was it watching a band or hearing a particular song ? ‘What really did it for me was that we used to go and watch Saracen rehearse at this prefab in West Park, South Shields. There were also other bands rehearsing there like Hollow Ground we used to watch. I remember the first time I saw Saracen rehearse they blew me away. They were older than us and much more experienced. The singer was Louie Taylor, the guitar player was Steve Dawson, bass Les Wilson and drummer Dave Johnson. They had all the top gear. Louie sang like Ian Gillan and Steve played and even looked like Blackmore a bit. These guys were pro’.
(Interviews on this blog with Lou Taylor, Rock the Knight February 2017 and Steve Dawson, Long Live Rock n Roll April 2017). ‘I remember thinking to myself, it can be done and it is possible you can achieve something by playing rock music. What they taught me apart from professionalism was that anything is possible and you could create a truly great rock band which I considered Saracen to be. I still consider the Saracen lads Louie and Steve in particular to be mentors’.

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Satan at St Hilda’s Youth Club 1982.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ? ‘There were a few venues knocking about in my home town however my favourite and most visited was The British Legion. I used to go and watch bands there all the time. I don’t know how I got in as I was clearly under age. Not only bands that my peers where in but I suppose what you would call name bands as well. I have some great memories of seeing Saracen, Polaris, Zig-Zag, Phasslayne, Fist, Mandora, Cups, Avenger and many others’.

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Glenn 2nd from left in the early days of Chase.

‘Another place I used to frequent was St Hildas Youth Club. This is where Axizz played their first ever gig supporting the mighty Fist. 1981 if I remember correctly. It’s weird that many years later I ended up being the frontman for Fist. I also remember Juggling Monkeys, Hellenbach, Emerson and Satan at St Hildas. Those were the days. I used to roadie a lot as well. Did some gigs for Fist and Satan as well as Saracen. Other regular haunts were the Sunderland and Newcastle Mayfair’s. Saw many a big name band there and got to play the Newcastle Mayfair once with a band I was in called Chase’.

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Glenn taking a break lying down in Chase.

‘Post 1987 I moved on to playing the international circuit with Blitzkrieg, Avenger, Tygers of Pan Tang, Fist and other named bands. Playing at festival shows such as Wacken Gemany, Metal Melt Down USA, Headbangers Open Air Germany, Heavy Metal Night 9 Italy, Keep It True Germany, all over Europe. Also tours supporting the likes of Y&T. I remember playing with Blitzkrieg around 1990 we played the Newcastle University and instead of receiving payment in money we got 11 crates of Brown Ale. Our drummer Gary Young was so happy!

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‘We also used to rehearse and record in Baker Street, Jarrow just up the road from South Shields. We went in there a lot towards the end of the 80’s. I remember one day arriving for a Blitzkrieg rehearsal and we had Venom in one room and Satan in the other. It was loud! Venom were rehearsing their live show for a USA tour I think. That was kind of normal in those days’.

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‘The biggest gig I did was with the Tygers of Pan Tang at the famous Wacken Festival in Germany ’99. I remember we started the gig after the intro so ran on stage to start rocking in front of approximately 15 to 20,000 metal fans when we noticed that we had no lights. Guitarist Robb Weir looked at the side of the stage to see the lighting guy fast asleep. He must have been really excited to be doing the lights. A swift kick to the shins and he soon woke up. Actually that show was recorded and Live at Wacken ‘99 was the last album I did at Neat records’.

What were your experiences of recording ? ‘I did a few demos in those early years after Axizz with bands such as Chase, Ladykillers, Kickout and a more metal version of punk band The Fiend. We used Desert Sounds in Felling quite a lot. Nothing ever came of those demos but it was fun anyway. I recorded with Blitzkrieg (twice) and Tygers of Pan Tang at the famous Impulse Studios in Wallsend, home of Neat Records. I have some great memories of doing those albums and the times spent in the studio’.

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‘Things had changed for me by late summer ’87, I had joined Blitzkrieg as guitarist. Initially there were a few line ups shuffles then we signed to Neat records. Recording Ten years of Blitzkrieg was a blast and always interesting. The drummer Gary Young from Avenger /Repulsive Vision fame was in the band at the time and was always a hoot. We had Keith Nichol doing the engineering who did a great job. I also remember Tribe of Toffs coming into the studio to do an interview with a local radio station guy. They were famous at the time for doing a novelty hit record John Kettley is a Weatherman. God knows who had the bright idea to let them in the studio where we were recording. They came in and told us to be quiet! You can imagine our response.
Ten years of Blitzkrieg took only about 3 weeks to record although it was a mini album anyway. It’s now considered an underground classic and highly sort after by NWOBHM enthusiasts and collectors. I don’t think there were a lot pressed initially maybe a thousand or so if that. Ten years of Blitzkrieg was licensed out from Neat records to the Roadrunner label for Europe 1991 – and we didn’t receive a penny’.

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Blitzkrieg’s album Mists of Avalon was a different affair. It was hard work and we were committed to making a great album so it was more serious and I suppose more professional. The great thing about that time was although it was much harder due to the volume of material we were recording, it was also much smoother. Mainly due to the drummer Mark Hancock getting his drum tracks down in in one to two takes each time. What a star. I had a lot of the stuff written even before I re-joined Blitzkrieg in 1997. In fact I had so much material that we could of ended up with a double album, which actually we nearly did. Myself and vocalist Brian Ross had and still have a good relationship. We bounced vocal ideas off each other. I think we came up with some pretty interesting stuff. The album did take a while. I remember working 6 weeks straight every day apart from Sunday’s as I was pretty much overseeing the whole project and was doing some pre-production. After 6 weeks I was burned out so I had to take a break. I think we got back together after a couple of weeks after that and finished the album. Not as long as a Def Leppard album I suppose’.

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‘Unfortunately in the background there was some political stuff going on which made that album suffer in the long term. Keith Nichol who was the long standing Neat engineer, started the album with us but he had a dispute with the label. He left their employment shortly after. I have nothing against Keith personally I respect him however being honest the recording that he had done with us was not good. I can only assume by this point he just didn’t care much. He indulged himself in recording techniques that weren’t suited to our material. This caused us some problems later when mixing as it couldn’t be undone unless we re-recorded and we simply didn’t have the time or funds. At least that is what we were told. If you listen to the album you can hear the mix getting a bit better later on when it was kind of salvaged to a certain degree by the new engineer Pete Carr. He came on board to help us out. Then the mastering didn’t help the situation either. It sounded lifeless and it also ended up with a truly terrible album cover. Possibly one of the worst album/cd covers ever. We did some covers as well as the original material. They have never been released or re-mixed. There is a cover of Enter Sandman, an Alice Cooper song and there is a cover of Ace of Spades with myself on lead vocals. They sounded great. It’s a shame nothing was done with those extra tracks. I really wish I could have the master tapes and re-mix and re-record stuff on that album’.

‘Finally Mists was released in 1998 on Neat Metal records which was an updated version of Neat, and ran by original Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist Jess Cox. Just as it was about to be released Jess lost his distribution in Japan which would of made up a large part of our sales at the time. It seemed like a disaster. It wasn’t well received at the time by the fans however strangely a lot of critics seemed to like it. On the positive side it did give off an old school vibe which had a charm about it. People have picked up on that and seem to enjoy the album. These days all I get is compliments about that album. It’s funny how time can change perspectives’.

‘I also had a side project called Earthrod which I formed with ex Blitzkrieg drummer Mark Hancock. I did all the vocals and guitars Mark did all the drums, keyboards and recording. We knocked out two albums in the noughties. Screaming in Digital and the second was called Acts of God. It was an experimental project and was recorded in Marks kitchen. To be honest it wasn’t actually meant to be done full time. We had some interest but we couldn’t manage to keep a line up mainly as the stuff was too hard to play. It was a great experience though’.

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Saracen in the fog.

Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘Working for Saracen at the Legion Club in South Shields in the early 80’s I was put on smoke machine duty. Saracen are on stage rocking away. I pushed the button to put a little smoke on stage however Les the bass player kept shouting more, more ! I was only a bairn at the time so I did as I was told. Before you knew it the whole concert room was full of stage smoke. You couldn’t see the band at all. We had to open all the doors and windows to get rid of it. I got a right royal telling off from the vocalist Louie Taylor. Les never told him it was his fault ha ha’.

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Saracen

‘It was around 1983 I was with some friends and my girlfriend and we were waiting at the bus stop to take us down town to see Saracen at Bolingbroke Hall, South Shields. I saw the bus and started going towards it somehow I managed to get a nail stuck in my little finger that was sticking out of a fence close by. It had gone right into my finger down to the bone. My friends called my dad who came and when he saw the situation he had no choice but to saw the fence. I eventually got free and went to hospital. The Nurses and Doctors were pissing themselves laughing when they saw me coming in holding a fence. After laughing his knackers off the doctor removed the nail and fence that came with it and bandaged me up. I still have the scar to prove it. We still got to Bolingbroke Hall to see Saracen and rushed up to the stage. Soon as I raised my right fist in the air complete with bandage, the bass player Les Wilson fell over and split his jeans. Tackle out and everything ha ha. You couldn’t make it up’.

Fist April

Fist

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘My last gig with Fist was in April 2017 at the Unionist Club in my home town supporting the wonderful Bernie Torme. I’m happy to say it was a great gig and meeting Mr Torme was the icing on the cake. What a musician and what gent! I was with Fist for four years as their frontman. Being with Fist was great experience’.

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‘I haven’t got involved with another original band since then but it is early days. There have been a few interesting offers however nothing that was suitable for me. I’m not ruling out doing more original material and have written some stuff which was originally meant for Fist however at this time I have three none original bands on the go which I’m busy with and really enjoying. Bone Idol which is a classic pub rock band, G Force which is a tribute to Gary Moore’s classic rock/metal years and a Judas Priest tribute band called Metal Gods UK. Bone Idol doubles up as G Force. I’m on vocals/guitars, Ian Rogers vocals/bass, Stu Johnson keyboards and my old mate Matty on drums. Metal Gods UK is myself lead vocals, Dan Rochester guitars, Andrew McCann guitars, Ian Rogers bass and James Charlton on drums. We are arranging live dates for these bands soon’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2017.

Recommended:

Brian Ross SATAN/BLITZKREIG: Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

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

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

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

DOCTOR ROCK – Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist, Robb Weir

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How did you get involved in music and who were your influences ? ‘I was born in Ghana. My dad was working for the British Colonial Service out in West Africa as a doctor/surgeon specialising in tropical medicine. His transport in those days was a horse, and with two saddle bags full of medical supplies. Dad travelled from village to village coming across things like black magic and cannibalism. In 1959 my mum wanted to return home to the UK and in particular the North East of England. When we came home Dad worked as a medical officer of health and later went into general practise in South Shields. To get to work my father had to get the ferry across the river Tyne from North Shields to South Shields. One day he came home with a nylon strung Spanish guitar. He bought it from a junk shop I think. Dad was very musical and had trained in classical piano. To be honest he could pretty much play anything. He thought it might be fun for me to try and learn how to play. In our house there were records by Elvis, Little Richard, The Beatles and the Stones and I used to play along with them. I didn’t have any music lessons I basically taught myself how to play, I’m still learning one day I’ll get the hang of it!’

‘I started listening to Slade, Status Quo, Black Sabbath and then around 1974 I started going to the Newcastle City Hall and Mayfair to see every band you can think of. I became great friends with the manager of the Mayfair, Steven Lister who worked for the Mecca Association. I’d ring him up and ask who was playing and he’d leave my name on the guest list. I think it was after the first time Tygers of Pan Tang played there in ’79 that we became friends’.

 

The Tygers of Pan Tang formed in Whitley Bay in 1978 and by the early 80’s they had a lot of success. But can you pinpoint the time when the Tygers career took off ? ‘In 1979 we went into Impulse Recording studios in Wallsend and recorded, ‘Don’t Touch Me There.’ It had a release number 003 so we were in at the beginning of the Neat Record label story. We were the first heavy metal band to be recorded in the studio. So I’m very proud of the Tygers launching the label and giving the Neat label a direction. Impulse studios took a chance and pressed 1,000 copies, that was a lot for a small independent label. Our drummer’s girlfriend used to sell the single for us on the door of the venues we played like the Boilermakers in Sunderland, the Central club in Ashington and other workingmen’s clubs in the North East of England. That’s the gigs we used to play in the early days before the big time arrived. At that time workingmen’s clubs were full of men from the shipyards and mines. Most had long hair, jeans, tattoos and listened to rock music. All around the country the rock scene on a Friday night was huge and all the shows were packed. To see a band you had to get your arse out of the house, go to the bus stop in the pouring rain and get to the club. You couldn’t see a concert on the internet in those days! We were definitly in the right place at the right time’.

‘Don’t Touch Me There’ was reviewed in Sounds newspaper which made a massive difference to awareness so the next pressing was 4,000 copies! Then Dave Woods the label owner at Neat records was approached by MCA record company, they wanted us! So Dave did a deal, essentially selling the Tygers to them. So MCA pressed around 50,000 copies of the single! But our success still hadn’t really sunk in. We were caught up in the moment I guess, you’re just in a giant musical blender getting whizzed around with all the other acts. One of my more defining moments was when the album Wildcat came out. I got my first physical copy of it in my hand and showed my parents. They said yes that’s great but it would be nice if you got a proper job! I guess they just wanted the best for their son.’

Were you aware of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ? ‘Only when I read about it in Sounds! It was a 3 or 4 page spread by Geoff Barton. He had started writing about the music – he coined the phrase NWOBHM. Geoff wrote about 4 bands initially – Iron Maiden from London, Def Leppard from Sheffield, Saxon from Barnsley and the Tygers from Whitley Bay. Reading it I thought, so we’re NWOBHM eh ha-ha. Listening back to Wildcat I didn’t realise how much punk had jumped into my head song writing wise. Well a rock voice on any song from Never Mind the Bollocks album would have turned that iconic punk album into a hard rock album. Steve Jones with his Les Paul and Marshall stack – had a great hard rock sound’.

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The Tygers were originally a 4 piece then changed to a 5 with the addition of guitarist John Sykes… ‘We recorded Wildcat in Morgan Studio’s in Willesden, North London with Chris Tsangarides producing. We had just finished 11 days recording the album – which was very quick. We’d been playing those songs on Wildcat for 2 years on the road so we knew them inside out and for the recording process. Chris just put forward a few production ideas. For example, I played a guitar solo through a Lesley cabinet which is normally associated with keyboard players. The top of the cabinet has horns inside and they spin when activated. So Chris had this idea of playing the guitar through it to see what it would sound like. He was quite inventive and it worked really well. I think we recorded the harmonic bit in Slave to Freedom that way and something else I can’t quite remember’.

‘1980 was a really busy year for us, we completed several tours supporting established bands. The Tygers went out with Magnum for 3 weeks in the March, they were promoting their new live album Marauder which Chris had just produced. We then went out with the Scorpions on their Lovedrive tour, then we did the On Through the Night, tour with Def Leppard. There was 3 weeks with Saxon on the Wheels of Steel tour and we did shows with Iron Maiden and Whitesnake as well’.

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‘Apart from Magnum, all the bands we opened up for where 2 guitar bands. When I played a guitar solo there was no rhythm behind it so the sound would drop. It was felt that to give the band a bigger, fuller sound we needed to add another guitar player. So our management and I.T.B (International Talent Booking) our agent down in Wardour Street, London said we think it would be better if the band added an additional guitar player. So after Wildcat was recorded we advertised and held auditions at Tower Bridge rehearsal studios, London. About 80 guitar players were invited down. There were 2 that stood head and shoulders above the rest and that was John Sykes and Steve Mann, who had just come out of a band called Liar. Steve went on to play with MSG and Lionheart who have just reformed. Steve now lives in Germany where he is a record producer. Steve played guitar and saxophone – John just played one hell of a guitar as you know!
John had everything, he was six foot tall, long blonde hair, stunningly good looking, incredible guitar player, great singer, good songwriter, although he never knew it at the time as he was just starting out – and the girls loved him, they fell at his feet. He was so much better at playing the guitar than me I thought to myself, I’d better up my game here.’

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Was John in a band previously ? ‘He was in a covers band in Blackpool called Streetfighter, and they were fronted by bass player Merv Goldsworthy who is now in FM. Merv and I remain good friends both the Tygers and FM were on the Cambridge Rock festival bill earlier this year. Streetfighter were famed for their exceptional Thin Lizzy covers’.
(Streetfighter appear on a 1980 heavy metal compilation album New Electric Warriors).
‘John was at my house one day and I was showing him the root chords from the songs on Wildcat and he said in a cockney accent ‘Ere Robb I’m fackin’ sick of this I’ve got this fackin’ idea what do you think of this’. He played me some chords, I said ‘I really like that I’ve got something that will go with that’. He replied ‘Fackin’ hell we got a song there, let’s go for that’. So we spent the rest of the day forgetting the set we were learning for the upcoming Wildcat tour and wrote Take It, which we recorded for the Spellbound album, unfortunately is the only song we wrote together’.

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Sykes went on to co-write and record 2 albums with the Tygers. ‘Spellbound’ was his first along with new vocalist Jon Deverill who had replaced Jess Cox. How did Jon Deverill get the job with the Tygers ? ‘John Sykes first gig was Reading festival, 1980 with Whitesnake headling, there was 42,000 people there! What happened was we had done the Wildcat tour, it was a sell out across the UK – Mayfair’s and Locarno’s and places like that, they all had a capacity of 2,000 people. There was a big buzz in the music press about us, we were getting full page adverts in Sounds, NME, Melody Maker and Record Mirror. It was all going well, really well.
But there was a meeting with our management and Rod MacSween our agent who said ‘with the singer you have at the moment we can’t really further the career of the band outside of the UK’. So our management took the decision to change the line up even though Wildcat had been so successful. We took this forward and advertised for a singer. We knew we were in a good position to get a great response because in the national charts Wildcat entered at number 13 and around us were the likes of Bowie, Aretha Franklin and Earth, Wind & Fire. All those multi platinum artists and here’s the little ‘ol Tygers of Pan Tang from Whitley Bay hanging in there. We were hoping it would do well but never expected it to do that well – it was fantastic.’

‘We had a huge response for a new vocalist with well over 130 singers turning up. But again there was one who was head and shoulders above everyone else, and that was Jon Deverill. A lad from the Welsh Valleys with a huge voice, he walked into the job really. So he moved up from Cardiff, his home city to the North East. Our management got him a place to live with John Sykes and we immediately started writing songs for Spellbound. So the Tygers story rolled on’.

‘We were living down in London and the Angelic Upstarts were down there at the same time. We were signed to MCA records and they were signed to EMI. I remember Mensi their singer sold second hand jags to supplement his income. The drummer Decca would also make a few quid. When the likes of Praying Mantis or Iron Maiden were playing at the Marquee club he’d appear wearing one of those big long trench coats. He would walk around the punters and open up his coat like Arthur Daley and inside were all the latest EMI album releases. He’d sell them out of his coat ha-ha! Obviously he had acquired them, ‘somehow’ from the EMI offices. It was hilarious to watch – and he always made a few quid. They were lovely lads you know, I’ve always liked them.’

1981 was a very busy time for the band. They were still contracted to MCA and that year saw the Tygers release 2 albums. ‘Spellbound’ recorded in Morgan Studio’s in London produced by Chris Tsangarides and released in April. The Tygers third album ‘Crazy Nights’ which was recorded at Trident Studios in London and produced by Dennis MacKay. It was released late 1981.
The more successful and commercial sounding album ‘The Cage’ was recorded in 1982. Extra songwriters were used resulting in a couple of singles that charted in the UK. But there was another line up change. Fred Purser, formerly of fellow North Eastern band Penetration, was in on lead guitar…
‘John got the Lizzy gig because he wanted to push his career further forward. Unbeknown to us he auditioned for Ozzy first but didn’t get that job. When he got back to the North East the news didn’t go down well with the rest of the band so we got another guitarist in. From what I gather John’s stepfather, Ron contacted MCA and told them they shouldn’t drop John as he had great potential, which they agreed. So they set him up in a recording studio in Dublin to record a single. In the studio next door was Thin Lizzy. Inevitably John met up and Lizzy and asked Phil if he would sing on, Don’t Leave Me This Way, John’s first single. Lizzy had just lost their guitarist Snowy White and there it was, the opening for John to join. We’ve remained friends after everything that has happened. I’ll always have a soft spot for John’.

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By January ’83 Thin Lizzy appeared on live music TV show, The Tube. A show where I was lucky to be in the audience. Interviews on the Tube had a look of almost falling apart and not quite knowing what was going to happen next – but that was its appeal. Thin Lizzy were interviewed in the dressing room before they went on stage.

Interviewer:Now perhaps the topic on everybody’s mind the Thin Lizzy split, tell me about it”.
Lynott:Yes we’re splitting up
Interviewer:Why”
Lynott: “Cos we want to”
Interviewer: “Why not just split when Snowy left as opposed to getting John in and starting all over again for just for a couple of months ?”
Lynott: “Cos we felt that John was better and we thought that we would give it a go with John, establish him as a protégé, and then let him go on and do great things.”
Interviewer: “Well how do John and Darren feel about this, it’s their claim to fame. “
Lynott: “No it’s not”.

The full interview is available on you tube. Sykes went on to massive worldwide success with Whitesnake, then as a solo artist.

The Tygers also played the iconic TV show The Tube, what are your memories of that day ? ‘Yes it was Christmas ’82. I remember our crew had just loaded our full touring backline of 18 Marshall 4×12’s, stacked 3 high in cages and 14 100watt Marshall heads onto the stage in Tyne Tees TV studio. We were in our dressing room and in the distance heard our track Gangland playing, what’s going on here we thought it was getting louder and louder. Then all of a sudden our dressing room door burst open and standing in the doorway was this huge, blonde, stripped to the waist, head banging monster. We were all shocked. He had a big cassette player on his shoulder playing at full volume…’you guy’s fuckin’ rock I love you guy’s’. He turned around and walked back out. We looked at each other… ‘Wasn’t that Dee Snider of Twisted Sister?’ I’ll never forget that ha-ha. We talked with them afterwards and they were fantastic, really brilliant. I got what they were all about, the dressing up and make up. Dee was really clever writing those songs, you know the big shouty anthems.’

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In 1982 Love Potion No. 9 was a hit in the UK charts, did you record many TV appearances for the promotion of the single ?
’We were at Newcastle Central Station 2 weeks running with our tickets in our hands ready to go down to do Top of the Pops, but both times we were told we are not being included in the show. One show they said they had the full quota of metal bands, i.e. one! To fill the time and the other show was cut 10 minutes short because of a Queens speech – and our spot was in those 10 minutes.
But we did appear on TV quite a few times, I remember the Old Grey Whistle Test, The Tube, we did a programme called Something Else on BBC2, there was Tony Wilsons Pop World and we did Friday Night Live on Tyne Tees television. There were more I’m sure.’

You formed a band called Sergeant, how did that come about ? ‘Tygers came to an end for me around late ’83, I was still writing songs, I had a little recording studio to put them together. I had over an album worth of songs. At this time I was still working with Brian Dick the drummer from the Tygers, he left the band at the same time as me. We recruited a singer and bass player, and named the band Sergeant. We recorded a 4 track demo at Lynx studio in Newcastle, which was owned at the time by Brian Johnson from AC/DC. The manager of Sergeant, Colin Rowell and I, went down to London and hawked the demo around all the record companies. Colin had a lot of contacts in the music business. He was working as the stage manager for The Tube music programme on Channel 4 at the time.
There was interest from a guy called Dave Novak head of A&R at CBS records. He came up to see us rehearsing in a hall near Jesmond, Newcastle. He liked us and said why not come down to London play a show with Mama’s Boys at the Marquee and I’ll bring Muff Winwood along, the CEO of CBS. We’ll do the deal in the dressing room. The initial advance was going to be £60,000.’
‘With this good news we set up a meeting at the Egypt Cottage pub in Newcastle with the other lads. They said great but, ‘we’ve decided we don’t want Robb in the band anymore’. I never got to the bottom of why they didn’t want me in my own band! I left the pub and Colin walked out with me telling them that ‘the record contract is walking out the door as well’. They were shocked and didn’t expect that, they thought Colin would just carry on as there manager. They apparently replaced me with a guitar player AND a keyboard player! Nice to know it took two to replace little old me! But they only lasted 4 or 5 shows. They supported Accept in the UK, and then disbanded’.
‘Not long after that I got a call from Jess Cox. We met up and eventually ended up recording a song of mine called ‘Small Town Flirt’ which Jess released through the Neat record label as he was working with Dave Woods the label owner at the time. He also re-released a whole load of other Tygers early demo material. But I wasn’t happy at all with the situation and I just got sick of it all so that’s when I ducked out of the music industry. Until, out of the blue, I got a call in 1999 which resulted in the Tygers, well I say Tygers. Jess told me he had called all the previous members and asked them if they could take part in the reformation. Apparently only Jess and I could do it as everyone else had commitments they couldn’t get out of ? This is what I was told. So we hired 3 fantastic musicians, Gav Gray, Glenn Howes and Chris Percy who were in Blitzkrieg at the time I think, if they could help out. We actually were the Friday night headliners at the Wacken Festival in Germany. Saxon and Dokken were on before us for goodness sake! We played in front of 22,000 people that night. I got so badly bitten again by the Rock’n’Roll bug I knew I just had to put the Tygers back together again somehow.’

Fast forward and the album Ambush was released in 2012 and then in 2016 a self titled album…’That went into the British charts at number 24, the Danish charts were the record company is based, at 13. The album has done really well. In 2013, Dean who was our longstanding guitarist from 2000, a good friend and a great player decided he wanted to do other musical things and left so we auditioned and now we’ve got Mickey McCrystal on guitar who is a great guitar player, six foot tall, he’s got the looks and an amazing career in front of him – in the spirit of John Sykes! Tygers are run as a family, and just like a family we all look out for each other and we get on really well. When on tour we’ve got a reputation amongst hotel managers of being a nice set of lads, we don’t tear the place up (anymore), the hotel managers tell us we can book with them again and again – gone are the days when we would set off fire extinguishers on hotel landings and super glue TV’s in the bath!’

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What is the feeling in the Tygers camp now compared to 1980’s ? ‘Tom Noble is back managing us, he first managed the band from 1978-82. He saw us play about 3 years ago in Rome, we had a drink after the show and we said we were putting a new album together. He asked if we wanted any help. Perfect timing if you ask me. So it came at a good time for both of us life is SO much easier with Tom…
It’s much better now, back then you were constantly chasing fame and glory, the autographs, photographs, interviews were all great but having to prove yourself all the time, the competition and ego’s – you couldn’t get away from it. Thing is, you wanted to be recognised, people buying your records meant you were doing well and you were alive. It was a double edged sword really.
However today is a totally different story, we are very pleased that people still choose to come and see the Tygers. Meet and greet is a massive part of our night and we look forward to it, say hi to the fans, sign a few things and talk to people. The pressure and ego’s are gone it’s so much more relaxed and enjoyable.’

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

Tygers of Pan Tang are on a UK tour during November 2017. For further info and tour dates contact the official website http://www.tygersofpantang.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2017.

Recommended:

Brian Ross SATAN/BLITZKREIG: Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

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

Micky McCrystal, Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

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

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

Steve Thompson,( NEAT Producer) Godfather of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Dave Allison ANVIL: Still Hungry, 12th November 2017.