DESTINY CALLING – in conversation with John Roach guitarist with North East metal band Mythra

On February 13th 2017 an interview with North East heavy metal band Mythra saw the first post on the Alikivi blog. Over 75,000 views later and for the 250th post is appropriately an interview with John Roach…Last year our vocalist Vince High left the band for personal reasons, but we’re still mates. I met Vince when I was 16 in the training school at Swan Hunters shipyard in Fisher Street, Wallsend. We liked the same music and hung around together at work. I was in a band called Zarathustra with Maurice Bates, who was originally the singer now current bass player with Mythra. Vince was in a band called Freeway and eventually he joined us. Pete Melsom was on bass.

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Where did the name come from ? We needed a shorter name really, one that was easier to remember so after a few idea’s were thrown in the hat I came up with the name Mythra. We went with that one and around the same time Barry Hopper joined. Our original drummer Kenny Anderson wasn’t really 100% into the band so Barry stepped in. When Barry first came to audition his brother dropped him off in his car. We took one look at his beatuful silver Tama drumkit and said ‘He’s in’ (laughs).

As the original 4 piece Mythra, we all went to gig’s together. Not just Purple or Sabbath at Newcastle City Hall but local bands Warbeck and Axe with Keith Satchfield, Southbound and Circus. There were some truly great rock bands around at that time. Watching them saying ‘this is what we want to do, this is just like Top of the Pops… but real’ (laughs). Axe were probably the most influential band for us they had a huge p.a. and lights and they wrote their own songs, that’s what we wanted.

We were all learning from each other really because we knew the lads in other local bands Saracen, Hollow Ground, Hellanbach. It was like ‘Dawsa (Steve Dawson, guitarist Saracen) has got a Marshall stack…What, really…let’s go an’ see it. Or ‘Metty (Martin Metcalf,  guitarist Hollow Ground) has got a Les Paul. What, a real one ? (laughs).

The band were all around 18 year old, we had bought a Bedford van, our own pa and started earning money from workingmen’s club’s in the North East. Getting our own van was a milestone really instead of our dad’s dropping us off in their cars.

We gigged from Hartlepool, Teeside right up into Northumberland. Maurice got us tied up with Ivor Burchill the main agent in Newcastle. We were getting loads of gigs right through ’76-‘80. We played Sabbath, Wishbone Ash, Humble Pie rock stuff like that. I was earning more money from playing than I was for being an apprentice fitter in the shipyard. You can’t do that anymore (laughs)!

We had a couple of roadies helping out with the gear plus Lou Taylor came along with his home made lamps, lights, flares all sorts (laughs). He was always singing in the back of the van. He used to do these Rob Halford screams and they were spot on. I think Vince thought he was auditioning for Mythra (laughs). Lou ended up singing in various bands like Saracen, Satan and down London with Blind Fury.

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In 1979 Def Leppard released ‘Getcha Rocks Off’, Iron Maiden the ‘Soundhouse Tapes’ and Mythra recorded the Death & Destiny ep at Guardian Studio in Durham making them one of the original NWOBHM bands. Yes, we never said we were the best, just one of the first. The single was recorded around September or October and we released it in the November. Actually we just wanted to record a demo at first, put it on cassette, send it around record company’s and hopefully get a deal. The producer and owner of Guardian Records, Terry Gavaghan, said for the same money you can get it on record and it will look more professional than tape. So we bought 200 records at first. We sold them and went back a fortnight later to order more! We sold most of them at Second Time Around Record Shop in South Shields.

Gavaghan got us a distribution deal with Pinnacle Records so it was sold all over the country. Rod MacSween at International Talent Booking agency heard Death and Destiny on the Friday Rock Show hosted by Tommy Vance. That opened a lot of doors and got us bigger gig’s nationwide.

By the time 1980 came around we had done a lot of gig’s and recorded the ep but I couldn’t see the band going any further. After 5 years, I felt as if I had enough so I left in the February. The rest of the band got a guy in called Micky Rundle to replace me and he played on the Headbangers Ball in July ’80 at Stafford Bingley Hall with Motorhead, Saxon and a few others.

Looking back on the ep, we are really proud of it because we were the first of the bands like Fist, Hellanbach, Hollow Ground and Saracen to release a record. We were at the front of all that.

Did you work with any other musicians ? I had a break for a few months then started rehearsing with Saracen. Lou Taylor, Les Wilson, Dave Johnson – and Steve Dawson was the other guitarist. But Steve and I had different playing styles and it didn’t work out. I don’t think Saracen was destined to be a two guitar band. Around 6 month after that Harry Hill (Fist drummer) got in touch and I joined them. We played the Gateshead Festival with Diamond Head, Lindisfarne, Ginger Baker and headliner Rory Gallagher.

Did you have a manager in Fist ? Our management team were based in Manchester and were called Rhino Promotions. I think they had a clothing company making jeans – which were like Geordie Jeans.

I remember a gig in Manchester when the back window of our hired car got smashed and they pinched everything from the boot including my leather trousers, cowboy boots and skimpy black t-shirt that I wore for the gig. They also took a pair of red shorts and an orange bag belonging to Harry Hill. He was livid! And I’d only wore the leather pants once. We drove back to Tyneside with Glenn Coates, Norman Appleby and me in the back, freezing our arses off sitting on tiny bits of glass from the back window (laughs).

How long were you in Fist ? I was in Fist for about a year and a half, originally with a singer called Colin Johnson before Glenn Coates joined. We recorded the album Back with a Vengeance and played a few gigs. The rest of the guys decided they wanted to be a four piece so after a rehearsal in Felling – Glenn and Norman came to my house and told me I was out. It was a bit of a shock!

We had a side band going called Centrefold (Harry, Glenn, me and a great guy called Peter Scott – who sadly died very young of a brain tumour). This continued for quite a while after Fist so there were no real hard feelings. After Peter died we were going to start Centrefold up again with another bass player but my heart wasn’t in it – I think Steve Dawson took it on – small town Shields !

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Bringing your story up to date, what have Mythra planned next ? Well we are all just enjoying it. Earlier this year we were at the Grimm Up North festival and Negasonic in Belgium, where we showcased some new material. We’re currently finishing pre-production on 12 new songs and we are going to record a new album for High Roller Records with our new singer Kev McGuire later this year. Kev is a great guy with a lot of live experience on stages in the North East and he has a great rock voice. Our next gig is in France at the South Troopers Festival in Marseille on 21st September.

Contact Mythra on the official website http://www.mythra.co.uk/

or through their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/mythranwobhm/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

DIAMOND GEEZER – with former music manager & promoter Jim Sculley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2019.

TYGER BEAT with former Tygers of Pan Tang drummer Chris Damage Percy

Previously on this blog was an interview with former Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist Glenn Howes. As I’m tracking down former members of the Tygers, Glenn put me in touch with Chris Percy. Chris was drummer around the same time Glenn was in the band….

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I joined the Tygers in 1999. I was asked by bassist Gav Gray, as by then we’d played in a few bands together often joining as the rhythm section. I was with the band up until the time just after the Wacken Festival.

We only played the one gig, Jess Cox had been asked to do something as it was the 20th anniversary of Don’t Touch Me There so that was the focus at the time.

(Don’t Touch Me There was their first single released in 1979 on NEAT record label and produced by Steve Thompson at Impulse Studio, Wallsend).

 

What are your memories of the gig ? (pics above) The Wacken gig for me was fantastic. I had my birthday out there so we had a little celebration. It was great as there was a shuttle of cars every half hour that went from the hotel to the gig so you just got in and travelled to and from the gig whenever you wanted.

I think at the time, the biggest gig I’d played was the bikers festival Stormin’ the Castle with a Guns n Roses tribute band. Now here I am being flown to Germany to play a gig attended by tens of thousands of people!

When did you get interested in music and who were your influences ? I’ve always been interested in music from as far back as I remember. I started drumming from a very early age. My earliest memory is from when I was 5 years old, mimicking drummers I’d watched on the tv.

I was 8 years old when I started getting lessons from a guy called Bill Tennant who was a Jazz drummer around the North East. I didn’t enjoy it very much until I was 11 or 12 when I was introduced to The Meteors, and I was hooked. I joined my first band at 14 called The Dead Travel Fast but we never played any gigs.

 

When did you play your first gigs ? I was 18 and my first gig was at a pub called Images in South Shields with a covers band called Van Goghs Ear. The band featured guitarist Dave Burn, a very good local guitarist who has released loads of solo stuff. He recently played guitar for Paul Raymond of UFO fame who sadly passed away not long ago.

On the night we supported a band called Frenzy and I think Gunslinger might have been there. I was so nervous I drank 6 pints of snakebite before I went on and could hardly remember the songs!

Did you record any of your music ? I ended up in the studio with a few bands. The first time was with my first originals band around ‘93 called FND with Dave Hills (guitar) Gav Gray (bass) Paul Nesbitt (vocals) and myself. It was completely free as Hilly had his studio in his house and we would just stay at his and drink and record songs.

Have you any stories from the Wacken Festival gig ? The first day we get there and I was sharing a room with Gav Gray. Well this bloke turns up at the door, he asked us in this Brummie accent if we had a cigarette so we replied Aye, whey aye, mate. Which as we all know means Yes in Newcastle. He looked at us puzzled and asked very slowly Do you speak English?  He turned out to be the singer from metal band Jaguar (laughs).

When we were setting up for our slot, I was working with the drum tech on my set up which literally took 5 mins as I just played a 5 piece kit, unlike some of the bands who’d had double kits with cymbals and drums all over. I started playing this kit and someone from out front came running back and started shouting Stop playing, we can hear you out front. Saxon were on stage at the time!

Why did you leave the Tygers ? We only planned to play the one gig. Jess had no intentions of doing anything after that. Rob mentioned doing something but I don’t think anyone took it serious. We just went back to what we were doing, our day jobs, bands and waited for the release of the Live album.

 Check the official Tygers website for set list and album http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/discography.html

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What are you doing now ? I’m playing in a fantastic ‘50s rock n roll band called Ruby & The Mystery Cats with Ruby Soho (vocals) Ray Vegas (upright bass) and G-Man (guitar). I absolutley love it.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2019.

MOTLEY CREW – Beer, burger & a tenner as former stagehand Mark Johnson remembers the crazy Mayfair nights.

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We all remember our first gigs. Mine were Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Motorhead, Ozzy and Judas Priest at Newcastle City Hall and at the Mayfair with it’s over 18 policy was Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Hanoi Rocks with my last one before it was demolished, was the Fun Lovin’ Criminals in ’98.

I remember the distinctive green and orange day glo posters advertising gig’s at The Mayfair. Recently I talked with Mark Johnson who with his friends Dave Mitcheson and Steve Smith have recently opened Bad Moon Prints and aim to reproduce those iconic posters….

Basically we were reminiscing about all the great gigs we had seen at Newcastle Mayfair in it’s heyday. My first gig was the Pink Fairies in ‘76 and then I saw AC/DC, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Cheap Trick, there were loads. Every Friday we would be there.

We thought it would be a great idea if we could reproduce the gig posters from all the iconic acts that played the Mayfair including Zeppelin, Floyd, Sabbath, Queen, Bowie, The Who and Nirvana.

Very few, if any of the early originals are now in existence. We managed to get originals of the Led Zeppelin posters from both Sunderland and Newcastle in ’71. They were in very poor condition. But I have a few originals which I nicked off the wall from when I worked there (laughs).

When did you work at the Mayfair ? I was on the stage crew for a couple of years. My first job was in November ‘78 when AC/DC played. Then it was every Friday with the likes of Judas Priest, The Clash, Police, Cheap Trick, Ramones and Journey to name a few. I also worked at the Newcastle City Hall from summer ‘79 till around summer ‘81. I was in the same squad that also worked the Newcastle Polytechnic and Sunderland Mayfair which was a lot easier venue to load in.

How did you get on the crew ? I was a student at Newcastle College and this guy I knew who already worked there just asked if I fancied earning £10, a cheeseburger, drinks tokens and seeing AC/DC ? (laughs). We would start loading in from 11am and it ended up around 10 to 12 of us long haired types unloading two articulated trucks and taking the gear down an old service lift and using the fire escape stairs.

How much gear are you talking about ? Well these were big bands, AC/DC, Journey, Sammy Hagar, The Police, with all their sound and lighting gear, tons really. The band’s would have their own professional crew, we would just hump the gear in and out. Their crew would be the drum and guitar techs, lighting and sound guy’s etc. Those guy’s would know where everything went while we were just a rabble of young daft music fan’s getting in the gig for nowt (laughs).

When would the band appear ? They would rock up in the afternoon for the soundcheck, we would sit and watch them. Maybe hang around for a few drinks then go back to the hotel. When the bands were on stage we would either be tasked with doing follow spots, standing at the side of the stage or nicking their beer from the backstage area. Some of them were really canny  guy’s, usually the techs had more of an ego on them than the actual band members but we had some great laughs.

After the gig we would bring all the equipment back up the stairs. The load out would take until around 4-5am. I think one night it was Molly Hatchett’s sound desk that went flying back down four flights of concrete stairs because the local crew were rather a bit too refreshed. Their tour Manager wasn’t chuffed. We didn’t have any stage management or anything, half the time it was chaos and we used some dodgy characters. We were on the 5am train going home once and one of the lads had nicked half a side of beef from the kitchens which raised a few eyebrows.

Are there any stand out gigs that you can remember ? Yeah the Two Tone tour with The Specials, Selecter and Madness. Basically there was a sea of skinheads, mods and punks and there was one big fight from start to finish. Tables chucked off balconies. Mayhem. All of the stage crew had long hair so we just stood at the side of the stage or backstage and kept out of it. Think it was the night when the police with dogs turned up – or was that The Clash ?

Can you remember your last gig working at the Mayfair ? My last gig working there was The Clash. Around that time I had done 5 or 6 crew gigs in a row to save money to see Pink Floyd on The Wall tour. To be honest it wasn’t the most professional set up compared to the set up at  Newcastle City Hall. They had a plan to work from, a Stage Manager for a start. No alcohol whilst working, a set time to be there. A guy called Colin Rowell ran it and it was very well run. We were the best stage crew in England.

You have to remember most of the Mayfair gig’s would be on a Friday night, but there was concerts on at the City Hall every night. One night you could be loading in Motorhead and the next night it would be The La Sagesse School Choir (laughs) and the next night it would be Queen for two nights. By the end of the week there could have been a soul band on, an orchestra on, Shirley Bassey or someone like that and then back to a  big act like the Jam or UFO. So you were there virtually every night. Sometimes we used to sleep on the stage or back stage for the early load in next morning –Which usually involved mischief.

Can you remember your last working gig at the City Hall ? I think it may have been the Van Halen gig.They brought in enough gear to fill St James Park. It was ridiculous.

I think most of the Stage crew would not carry on doing it forever unless they get picked up by a band and go out on tour with them – which occasionally happened if they were crew down or get a job with a light or sound company. Some of lads I know went on to work for various lighting or sound companies, I know other lads, and lasses who went on to work full time for Ozzy, Queen and The Tubes. I eventually decided I needed a proper job (laughs) – with some regret later on when I heard their tales.

Now you’re involved in printing the posters of the bands that were on at The Mayfair…Yeah the main reason was to bring those long forgotten nights back to life. Anyone who went to either Sunderland or Newcastle Mayfair between ‘67 and ‘97 will know where we are coming from. These were great, great bands that defined a generation, whether you were a mod, punk, biker, rocker, hippie or whatever. Producing these posters will hopefully keep those memories alive and the spirit of those fantastic nights going. They were great times for live music, and personally from a nostalgic point of view that variation and quality of artists will never be repeated.

I’m sure everyone has their favourite Mayfair gig…Yes, for the folks in Sunderland it seems to be the Faces or Free, at Newcastle it seems to be one of the 6 or 7 times when AC/DC played. Or the nights when the Specials and Selecter came to town on their Two Tone tour.
The most interesting gigs for me is finding Pink Floyd played there in 1968 and the fact that Led Zeppelin played their first ever UK gig at the Mayfair as The Yardbirds.

This was a fact unearthed by North East music historian Marshall Hall who was met with derision by the Zeppelin ‘academia’ when he first published his findings. But they all had egg on their face once it was established as fact. This had been lost for years until Marshall’s discovery and now he has rewritten the Zeppelin history books. Another little fact was Queen supporting Vinegar Joe in ‘73 and another piece of history was Bowie just before he hit the big time.

How do you produce the posters ? The posters are produced to the exact original spec. It took painstaking research of the adverts in the British Newspaper Archives where we looked at dates, support acts, ticket prices and the promoters. We also researched all of the original fonts used on the posters, a lot of them now defunct.

After a period of about 6 months we started to reproduce and build the original posters. We had to purchase the original fonts and source the original day-glo paper. Which wasn’t easy as it isn’t cheap and now not widely produced. So the whole job has become a bit of a labour of love. Some of the originals have imperfections because they were done cheaply so we’ve even reproduced them to be as authentic as possible.


How many posters have you produced ?
There is about 50 on the site with more to come. You have to remember at the time these posters were a minimal no frill affairs with only the band, date and price on. They were produced as cheaply as possible. As it was left up to the Mecca to promote the gigs, very rarely were there any images on the posters compared to the bands that were playing at the City Hall up the road.

We really love these posters, we have enjoyed making sure they are spot on with regard to exact copies. Just great times. Great posters.

Check the official website at https://badmoonprints.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2019.  

GET YER STRIPES – a year in the life of a Tyger with Glenn S Howes

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On 1st December 2017 this blog has a full interview with Glenn where he talks about his early years as a musician in the North East. Guitarist for Tyneside metal band’s Avenger, Blitzkreig, Fist, Tygers of Pan Tang and playing European festivals like Headbangers Open Air, Heavy Metal Night and Keep It True. As I’m in the process of tracking down former members of the Tygers I got back in touch with Glenn and we arranged to meet and talk about his time in the band….In ‘97 I re-joined Blitzkrieg. They were already heavily involved with Jess Cox (former Tygers vocalist) through the Neat Metal record label in Wallsend. Jess was co-managing the band and arranged for Blitzkrieg to appear on the ‘99 March Metal Meltdown festival at Asbury Park, New Jersey, USA. Excellent bands like Sweet Savage, Vicious Rumours, Sepultura, Overkill, Biohazard and Anvil were on the bill.

On the flight over to Philadelphia I was talking to Jess and he mentioned that he had been trying to organise getting the original Tygers back together. He also wanted John Sykes involved. Robb Weir was in but in the end Sykes turned it down. Also the original drummer and bassist didn’t want to do it. I seem to remember they had genuine personal reasons not to join. Jess just said to me Do you fancy having a go? I was to take on John Sykes role. I said yes! He also persuaded the then Blitzkrieg bassist Gav Gray to take on the bass role. Gav brought his good friend Chris Percy in on drum’s.

When we got back from the USA. I got a call from Robb asking for us to get together for a jam. Essentially checking me out (laughs). I tried to impress him with a few Eddie Van Halen licks (laughs). It went well. Rob said yes it’ll work lets go for it. Thank you Mr Halen.

I loved the Wildcat album back in the day and still think it was one of the best NWOBHM albums. In those days the Tygers were held in high regard and were tipped to be huge. I was so happy and excited to be doing this. So much so I served my notice with Blitzkrieg in ’99 and left them to concentrate on the Tygers that same year.

Where did you rehearse? We started rehearsing in a place under the Byker Bridge near Newcastle. We were booked on the bill for The Wacken Festival in Germany in August ’99, so rehearsals were for that gig during the Summer. I have good memories of those rehearsals. We then found out we were playing the Friday night but were surprised that not only was it a headlining slot, but above Saxon! I still don’t know why that happened it must have been a mistake or Saxon must have wanted to get away earlier.

What are your memories from that gig?  They used a rotating stage mainly to get the drum kit’s ready for the next band. We were ready at the back watching Saxon who were mind blowing. I was thinking we have to follow that! To say my bowels were loose would be an understatement (laughs). But it was a great gig, we went down well and got a lot of favourable reviews for our set.

I remember the intro that Jess wanted to play I think it was The Planets by Holst. We went on, played a few bars but the lights weren’t on. The lighting guy was fast asleep. Snoring his bracket off, now this was a major festival with Saxon and Dokken on the bill. We were told the audience was nearly 20,000. There was certainly a sea of faces that’s for sure. Robb Weir just ran straight over to the lighting guy and kicked him in the bollocks. Bang, wake up (laughs).

For stage clothes Me, Robb, Gav and Chris were wearing nothing flash just like jeans and t-shirt you know. But Jess decided to wear a cheese cloth suit! I asked him why and he said he liked to change the rules. It made him look like Jesus. It wasn’t an ironic piss take either. Just weird.

I’ve done thousands of gigs in different countries. Small and massive crowds but that was one of the highlights of my career. Headlining, getting that kind of attention, it can be mind blowing. Then you get back home and back to reality. Your mates say Have you had a canny weekend then? Me: Aye just played in front of 20,000 people with the Tygers of Pan Tang in one of the biggest festivals in Europe. Not everyone actually believed me. (laughs).

You weren’t a rockstar then? No (laughs) there’s a whole myth around that in my opinion. There’s an expectation to be throwing a TV out the window, shagging groupies and snorting ants or other stuff up your nose. But the truth is that is only a small minority of bands who do that and get away with it. To be a musician in a rock band is more me.

When I’ve played Festivals which ever country I am in and your meeting, talking to fans who bring cd’s and your signing stuff for them, that is the best part. They are showing their love and respect for the songs you wrote and recorded. It’s amazing.

I’ve seen people doing the rock star thing. Maybe that’s just their extreme personalities or its done for sensationalism. That’s up to them and I don’t criticize them for it. I like socialising and having a really good time but I’ve never snorted ants or thrown a tv out of a window (laughs).

I’ve just watched The Dirt movie about Motley Crue, was it all true? Did it give a musical background? and who were Mick Mars guitarist influences etc? No one really knows. There was no depth to it. As I’ve said a lot of this type of thing is done for sensationalism and to perpetuate the rock star myth. It sells.

Did you record with the Tygers? The Wacken show was recorded. Jess took the tapes back to Neat studio and we redone just a few bits. Jess arranged all of that via his label. That was licensed out to Spitfire Records and released in 2001. Basically the full set from Wacken gig. We did have a few new song ideas for a new album but nothing materialised from those sessions. I would have liked to have put some new stuff out. But it wasn’t long after that Robb decided not to take this version of the Tygers forward and leave behind the Jess Cox version. Much like he did when Deverill took over I suppose.

How long were you in the Tygers? Not long (laughs). About a year I think. The initial discussion between Robb and Jess was for there to be another album like the Wildcat era but it didn’t pan out. Looking back there wasn’t anything negative around the band and certainly no animosity that I was aware of. My only thinking is it just didn’t feel right for Robb. Maybe he would of liked the original members in the band. I’m not sure, better to ask him. I always got on well with Robb and for me he always had the right vision for the Tygers and I respect that.

I think Jess worked on a few other projects after that. He contacted me and talked about another Wildcat type project but by that point I wasn’t interested as had other projects on the go and it all seemed a bit late.

What do you think of the Tygers now? Since Robb created that new line up I think he has done a cracking job. They have been solid with some great musicians in the band. Before they went from the Wildcat era into the Deverill and Sykes period, Robb talked of needing something special to move the Tygers on and he was honest with that. Sykes and Deverill certainly added that extra ingredient. Deverill was a great vocalist and frontman. I think Robb did the same the 2nd time around post Jess Cox. They have brought out some impressive albums. I joined other NWOBHM heroes Fist as frontman/guitarist in 2013 and I stayed with them for over four years. We played a show with the Tygers and Avenger at The Cluny in Newcastle. I stopped and watched the initial part of their set and was gobsmacked at how great they are. An amazing band.

Looking back can you walk through that Wacken Festival Day? I can pick out the whole Tygers period. Good memories of rehearsing together then travelling over to Germany. The night before the gig me Gav and Chris went out on the town and were drinking with the locals, they were amazing and found them really friendly. We got a taxi back to the hotel and Gav and Chris went to bed and I stayed up for a tab (cigarette) as I smoked in those days. I sat outside the hotel and a guy got out of a taxi who I recognised but wasn’t sure as it was around midnight and dark. He walked up to me and said in an American accent Hey man do you mind if I sit down, are you going to the festival? I then realised he was one of my heroes, Don Dokken. We sat and chatted for hours. We talked about everything. Family, where we lived. We talked about music, guitars etc. He was a really cool guy.

Next day we bumped into each other backstage How ya’ doin’ Glenn. You know it was another highlight from the gig meeting him. Me, Gav and Chris were really happy to do it. Jess had his spotlight. Robb done his thing. Yes happy times. Fantastic memories.

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2019.

Recommended:

Steve Lamb March 25th 2019.

Jon Deverill Jan 22nd 2019.

Micky McCrystal Mar 17th 2017 & Jan 3rd 2019.

Fred Purser Dec 30th 2018.

Robb Weir Nov 5th 2017 & Dec 19th 2019.

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws Aug 24th 2017.

Tygers of Pan Tang in Gaurdian Studio May 3rd 2018.

Steve Thompson June 27th 2017.

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.

ROAD WORKS with Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist Micky McCrystal

Since we last spoke in March 2017 Micky McCrystal has in his words ‘been a bit busy.’ Guitarist for Tygers of Pan Tang is Micky’s main gig but he also teaches guitar here in the North East and has recently been touring with Marco Mendoza ……This past year has been crazy because I’ve done a lot of touring with Marco Mendoza (ex Blue Murder/Ted Nugent/Whitesnake). We played nearly 100 shows together within 6 months. A lot of the shows were in countries like Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania as well as a lot of shows in Germany and the UK. With the Tygers we played around 30 to 40 shows in 2018.

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Our last shows of the year were in Spain, Japan and the UK. Japan was amazing, the Tygers fans are super passionate out there similar to South America where they’ll figure out which hotel you’re staying in so they can get a photo and get albums signed etc. They’re super polite and kind and would bring gifts for us, however as soon as we hit the stage they lose their minds and sing every word and guitar lick (laughs). Our tour schedule was surprisingly quite relaxed for Japan. We flew out there and had a day off. The gig was the next day headlining our night at 7pm. We had another day off then flew home. I’m hoping when the next album is out we’ll go back and play some other cities too.

How did the Tokyo gig come about ? I’m not 100% sure but I know we received a message from our booking agent who’d been talking with a promoter of a festival out there. We got an email saying ’Do you want to play in Tokyo’. Simple as that really. To be honest I leave that stuff down to our agent I just get told where and when to turn up with my passport and guitar (laughs).

Can it get tiring doing long journeys on the road ? Yeah often depending on the tour schedule but there’s little distractions now which I guess people didn’t have years ago, you’ve got everything in your phone now, camera’s, music, internet etc. I tend to find I’ll listen to music, read or work on things music related to try and occupy the time. Believe it or not the Tygers Spain tour was more tiring than Japan. We had shows everyday with 8 hour drives and the stage times at the earliest are midnight so by the time you’ve signed merch and talked to the fans your lucky if your back at the hotel by 3am then hit the road at 8am and repeat. (laughs) Don’t get me wrong though I love being on the road and the fans were amazing in Spain.

How did working with Marco Mendoza come about ?  I was at the 2017 NAMM show out in L.A. demoing for various companies. We met out there and found we had a few mutual friends. We stayed in touch and later that year we did a 6 week European tour. This year we’ve toured Europe in February, March then May and June. They’re intense tours, very much show after show back to back which I love and to be honest I prefer that. Sometimes having a lot of days off gives you time to think and I end up missing my fiancé and family. Depending on what country you’re in you can go sightseeing but others can be dangerous… certain areas of South America you don’t wander about without knowing where you are or you can get yourself in some serious trouble. (laughs)

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Playing live with Marco we would play everything from rock and blues through to fusion and some latin stuff too. He’s big on improvisation and would give us cue’s on stage ‘go to the bridge’  ‘chorus’ or Micky solostuff like that. Structure of song’s would change every night so you had to be on it, but it keeps you on your toes and it’s fresh and fun. I loved it and have learnt a lot from Marco, he’s a mega talented guy.

Is there a new Tygers album soon ? We’ve got an album’s worth of material but we just need to fine tune it. I’d say it’s heavier than the last album. I feel like the last album was quite diverse but I spoke to the guys about us focusing on more of a hard rock album for the next one, I felt songs like ‘Only The Brave’ on the last album were such a success with the fans that we should focus on that hard rock vibe.

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In the studio do you work with a producer ? On the last album we had Mark Broughton producing the album with us. He works with Andy Taylor (ex Duran Duran/Power Station). He gave us input and had some great ideas. We also do that with each other within the band. One of us might say ‘maybe that’s not working, try this,’ and we’ll work together to try and get the best possible result. For myself I find that really helpful and Craig (Tygers drummer) has a great ear for melodies so I’ll tend to run a lot of ideas particularly my solo ideas past him first.

Working like that do you come across any happy accidents ? The main riff in Glad Rags from the last album was me literally messing about in a rehearsal and I played it as a joke. The guys said ‘What’s that?? It’s good’.  Sometimes you’re not the best judge of your own work and you need someone to say that’s the take or that’s the riff or else I would sit in the studio until I’m a skeleton (laughs). For the Tygers, I try and write solos like a composition within a composition. In my mind I always think of guys like Randy Rhoads who’s solo’s are like a song within a song.

What’s in the diary for 2019 ? There’s an album’s worth of Tyger songs nearly ready and it’ll probably be the same team that worked on the last album. Søren Andersen (Glenn Hughes) mixing and Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) mastering. Once the album is released we’ll be following it up with a tour. I’m also looking to release a few more guitar lesson products through Jam Track Central in 2019.

For Micky’s latest lesson package releases go to…http://www.jtcguitar.com/store/artist/micky-crystal/

and for the latest Tygers of Pan Tang news go to…http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

SQUARE ONE in conversation with songwriter & producer Fred Purser

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pic by Rik Walton

Fred has just released new album Square One with former Tygers vocalist Jon Deverill. Fred was guitarist in North East bands Penetration and Tygers of Pan Tang, and I was a long haired 16 year old when I saw the Tygers at a packed out Newcastle Mayfair in 1982….I remember with affection the gig at The Mayfair. The likes of AC/DC had played there and in the same dressing rooms, same stage, here we were! It was fantastic and with a local audience that was icing on the cake really.

The Cage tour was in support of the 4th album from The Tygers, and it took them in a different direction…. I was involved in writing a few songs from that album. After a lot of touring and writing there was a lot of pressure on the band and with the new writing going towards an AOR, polished kind of sound. Our producer Pete Collins was trying new sounds to bring into rock that hadn’t been done before like Simmons drums. It was strange hearing these synthetic and polished sounds in the recordings. Def Leppard used them all over their next albums. We could have paralleled their success if we didn’t have problems with our record label.

We were riding high, the atmosphere in the band was great we were getting on really well but the guy who signed the Tygers was moved up a notch in the record company so he had other priorities. We didn’t get the commitment that we were hoping for from MCA, and as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden were getting huge support we weren’t.

We had released the cover Love Potion No.9 it had done really well and someone in the record company thought it would be a good idea to adopt the same approach for the next songs. ‘Play Motown covers with a rock sound’. But we didn’t really want to do that so we entered into an impasse situation with MCA.

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I had come up with some other material with Jon’s (Deverill) voice in mind and they liked it but there was still this situation between us, and it kind of all just slowly fell apart. We had a heavy weight around our necks. Things were slowly getting worse. They were ok with the demo’s but MCA knew they would have a huge bill for recording, so it was getting harder and harder to get this thing out. Subsequently I got more involved with the studio and started doing session work. Jon took the Tygers on further with songwriter Steve Thomson, and he did a few more albums after that. We’ve always stayed friends over the years. He lives in London and I’m here in the North East so if he was on tour or I was down there we’d met up for a drink and a curry. Phone calls back and forth you know. But the project I was writing I always felt it had something because it had such positive feedback.

What did Jon Deverill do after the Tygers ? ‘He’d always liked stage work so he went to an acting school in Wales, learned his craft and qualified from there. He’s forged a career out of it because acting is a really difficult thing to get into. Theatre is his preferred thing.

 

The album that you and Jon have just released ‘Square One’ was all of that wrote at the time of leaving the Tygers ? Not all of it, I had about four songs and since then at various times have developed them and added more through writing sessions and recorded the vocals when Jon was available. Life got in the way over the years so it was a case of attending to it when I could. Engineering and recording work took over and performer, producer, had to take second place. To revisit it was a nightmare because technology has moved on. From analogue, tape alignment, just digging out those tapes presented technical problems. Using pro-tools had it’s advantages seeing the problems right there, and not using razor blades to cut the tape anymore (laughs).

What was the feeling first time listening back to those songs, was it a pleasant surprise ? With anything you do you would do it different, some of them were from 30 years ago. You always reappraise things you know ‘Could have had more of this or less of that’. I probably over scrutinised some of it and been a bit finnickity about it but I enjoyed working on them. Having an external producer is a good idea because they can hear things in it which you might not. They would say yes that’s the one with it’s happy accidents in it rather than the straight jacketted version I was going to use.

How did you get into studio work ? I was just fascinated with the whole process. When I was in Penetration we would go in a studio and it was wow, really impressed by it, and I just asked loads of questions. For session work I was working at studios in London like Snakeranch, Marquee, Phonogram I would ask the guys what’s this, how does this work and they would tell me, encourage me and said I had good ears. They’d say ‘Why not consider doing this, because you can’.

This was to their advantage because I would come down to do some backing vocals, keyboards or guitars for a mainstream act and I could also engineer it. They could then get on the phone for that next production job for Roxy Music or somebody (laughs).

What type of session work did you do ? People like Elaine Page, Tracey Ullman, even Alvin Stardust are the one’s I remember that had mainstream success. I had done some stuff with Peter Collins (Tygers producer) and he was working with Gary Moore. When it came to the time when your name was to be added to credit lists I just wanted to add my name but Peter said I wasn’t sure you would want that because Gary Moore doesn’t like to be credited, he thinks it’s uncool cos he’s a rock guy. I thought about it but went ahead with my name, I didn’t think it wasn’t cool (laughs).

How did you get interested in music ? I was born in an industrial town and went to school where some of the teachers thought they were doing you a favour by knocking any type of wonder out of you. Exactly opposite to the American ethos of you go for your dream. I ended up getting a place in Newcastle University to study architecture. I took a year out of that to work on a trading estate to get the money to buy a guitar. I got out there and played with local bands. I grew up listening to Bowie, Mick Ronson, The Who and when the punk thing came along I loved the energy of it. I also wanted to improve on my technical side of playing guitar.  

What does music mean to you ? Excitement and evocation of atmospherics and emotions.

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 How did the Penetration job come about ? Penetration came along after they were already signed to Virgin for a couple of singles and were looking to do an album deal. The record company wanted the band to have another guitarist/writer involved and as I’d already played with Gary Smallman the drummer he recommended me to the band. When I met them they had a real chemistry, the atmosphere was good so I gave it a go and we played The Marquee. It was really exciting, loved it and Virgin signed us that night on an album deal.

The architecture thing was still there and the sensible voices were saying architecture means a steady job but the music biz ooh no (laughs). But I was young and didn’t want to arrive at 45 look back and say what if you know. I joined Penetration in 78 and was with them until the end of 79.

Do any moments stand out when you were in Penetration ? Yes we were on tour in the USA and I turned 21 in Boston, Massachusettes. It was a blast. Great fun. We were out there on the same tour that The Police had done, they had done the circuit twice and they broke. Squeeze had done it, they broke. Unfortunateley after the first circuit of that tour we were over worked, burnt out. Virgin were a great label but turn over for albums was quicker in those days and they wanted another one quickly. Just too much. Sadly we split. In hindsight if we had just had a holiday maybe taken four weeks off and come back refreshed, that would of worked.

 When Penetration toured the States you weren’t travelling in luxury then…. (laughs) No the perception is that it can be a glittering world, we didn’t complain about it then because it was a great opportunity. But looking back it was very tiring travelling hundreds of miles every day sitting on your backside for 8-9 hours in the back of a van. When I was young I used to read the Sounds and read the back of albums things like that and think it would be very glamourous. But the reality is it can be quite mundane.

When I joined Penetration we were getting £25 a week. Before we played The Marquee we got a telegram from Ian Dury to wish us luck. But he was only on £25 a week when Hit Me with Your Rythm Stick was number one in the charts! Obviously that money would filter in later on but the record company put a lot of money into the band and until you reach that break even line your just on the recoupment phase. They want their loan repayed before you see any money. So they would pay you per diems of say £10 per day so you can get food and essentials.

There would be bands in great recording studios impressed by it all, rightly so, but in the background is the ching, ching sound of the money register. They are accruing a debt to the record company, and they want it back.

 Did you have management at the time ? With Penetration we had Rory Gallagher and Status Quo management. We had a young energetic manager called John Arnisson who went on to manage Marillion  and I think now he manages Billy Ocean. The Tygers had Graham Thomson as tour manager and day to day and other more important stuff was handled by Tom Noble, still a friend of mine. He also manages Jon and I for the Square One project.

Have you met people who you looked up to as musical heroes ? Yes in Penetration when we were touring USA the tour manager was a guy called Stan Tippins and he tour managed Mott the Hoople. When we went to New York we played a place called The Hurra’s and Ian Hunter came along to see the band. I had problems with tuning on my Gibson SG. All night it had been drifting out of tune and he came backstage. Well here he was, I grew up listening to All the Young Dudes and he was such a nice guy… ‘I know how you can fix that ‘ he said as he worked on my guitar with a graphite pencil. I was gobsmacked. There it was, Ian Hunter sorted out my G string tuning on my Gibson SG (laughs). Then you had Mick Ralphs hanging around, we were backstage in the Whiskey in L.A. with Joan Jett. Unfortunately never met Mick Ronson who was the guy who got me wanting to play the guitar. We also did a French tour supporting Rory Gallagher which was a real education.

When I was in the Tygers I met all the Maiden people, Lemmy, all the guys in the rock bands that were around those days. Your peers really. Not a hero of mine but seemed a canny lad when I met him was Roy Wood. I was in the lift of Hammer House and he got in. He had all the hair and the beard (laughs) Just a short guy with a Brummy accent. This was ‘78 after the Christmas song and all that, this felt like another world.

Any plans on taking Square One out live ? If this album does anything really exceptional I’d love that to happen but I’m realistic enough in today’s climate that I would be happy enough for people just to hear it. Should it get enough interest to make it financially viable it might be there as a possibility. Thing is you want to put out your best and people deserve to hear it fully and at the best quality.

 

Purser/Deverill album ‘Square One’ with Jeff Armstrong (drums) Jon Deverill (vocals) and Fred Purser (keyboards/guitars) out now on Mighty Music.

Contact the band at
 https://www.facebook.com/sparechaynge/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

 

 

ROCK CITY LIVE with Robb Weir, TYGERS OF PAN TANG guitarist

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Since releasing their last album in 2016 the Tygers have had a successful two years equalling or maybe bettering the NWOBHM days back in the 80’s. 2018 has seen them playing gigs around the UK and Europe with Kiss, Ozzy and the Dead Daisies plus a recent headline show in Japan. Can they add more kudos to their well oiled machine? With a live album release ‘Hellbound-Spellbound ‘81’ from the line up of Jon Deverill (vocals), John Sykes (guitar), Brian Dick (drums), Rocky (bass) and Robb Weir (guitar). Was this a recording of that line up at its peak?

Yes absolutely. John Sykes played on the Wildcat tour in September ’80, but not on the Wildcat album and Jon Deverill joined us just before Christmas 1980. We were writing for the next album and with the ‘new blood’ in the line up the sound changed a little bit because those two great guys brought a different edge to the Tygers, more melodic I think. Wildcat had a heavier feel to it and a bit of a punky element to it as well. I played it in its entirety a while ago and didn’t realise how much punk music had influenced me.

The opening track on this live album, ‘Take It’ was written by John Sykes and me. When John first joined the Tygers he came round to my house to learn the songs for the then, upcoming Wildcat tour. During these sessions John said I’ve got an idea for a new song. He played me the front end, (opening) of ‘Take It’ I liked it, added in something I had, played it together and added a chorus and ‘Take It’ was born. Unfortunately it was the only song that John and I wrote together. I was used to writing by myself, John and Jon Deverill lived in the same flat so they worked on songs together. As for both Spellbound and Crazy Nights the song writing guitar riff ideas were 50/50 between John and me. Then we would put them in the pot and they become everybody’s….adding drum parts and bass.

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What were the nuts and bolts of making this live album ? We were on the UK part of the Spellbound tour in 1981, it was the second show of the tour at the Nottingham Rock City venue. Normally you would record a live performance on the last day of a major tour when you’ve had 30 odd dates to have a bit of a practice! But the Tygers never do anything easy, always back to front and upside down, we’re at the front of the queue for that (laughs).

Our record company at the time MCA hired the Rolling Stones mobile recording unit. Which was quite revolutionary in those days, it was an articulated lorry with an amazing recording studio inside of it and was owned by The Rolling Stones. It was a business venture for them and they hired it for location recording. This mobile studio was made very famous in the seventies when it went to Montreux to record Deep Purple and ‘Smoke on the Water!’ It was state of the art at the time. It parked outside Nottingham Rock City running all the recording lines inside so effectively all your equipment was double mic’d. One mic for the live sound in the hall, and one mic that ran back out to the truck for recording purposes.

 Who was engineer on the recording? Chris Tsangarides who had produced both the Wildcat and Spellbound albums had come out on the road with us to do our front of house sound. However, on this special night he couldn’t be in two places at once so he did our sound check for us and set the sound up. The guy who came with the huge sound system that we took on the road with us did front of house sound mix that night.

In those days you took your show on the road with you. It wasn’t like in Academy’s these days where everything like lights and sound system are already in house, and all you need is your backline. In those days when you went into a hall it was empty. So you had to put your sound system and lighting rig in. Consequently touring then was a lot more expensive. When you did a big tour with a big production, you almost lost money but you did it to promote your album hoping next day people would go to the record shop and buy it. That’s where you would recoup your money for the tour.

On the day of recording Chris Tsangarides set the sound up and then went into the mobile where he did the sound check again so he could set the levels and tones on the recording desk. When we were playing live Chris did what you call an ‘on the fly’ mix as well.

What was the set up as far as sound equipment and crew for the Spellbound tour? On the Spellbound tour we had two 40 foot articulated tractor pulled trailers, and a nightliner bus for the crew. We had a 16 man crew working for us. It was quite a big do as they say and in 82 when we did The Cage tour that was an even bigger production, both productions cost a lot of money. Of course you hope to get bums on seats to recoup a bit of that back. Support bands would pay to come out on the road with you because that’s the way it was done. That money all went towards the headline bands costs.

As far as I remember when we went out we took the Malcolm Hill rig out which was famed for AC/DC using it. I’m pretty sure it was a 35,000 watt rig, which was a lot of noise coming out the front of the system at you! Then on stage we had about 12,000 watt’s of monitors. I used to have two 1,000 watt wedges in front of me and they were on full tilt. We used to play loud, really loud (laughs).

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The live recording was at Nottingham Rock City. Was that a memorable day in the Tygers history? Actually there was a prequel to this show. We were staying at The Holiday Inn in Nottingham and we were all absolutely laden with flu apart from John Sykes. We were so bad our Tour Manager called for medical advice. A doctor came out and said we shouldn’t be playing, particularly Brian our drummer because he was an asthmatic. He had an array of inhalers which he used to take in-between smoking his Embassy regals (laughs). The doctor actually wrote us out a sick note to excuse us from playing, I don’t know who we were going to show it to! Maybe Tom our manager has still the sick note? (Laughs). But there was no way we weren’t playing, the gig was sold out and we were recording it.

After the gig did you hear the recording played back? At the end of the show John Sykes, who was as bubbly as ever, went to see Chris in the Rolling Stones recording mobile, they had a discussion and John came back and said Chris doesn’t think it’s very good. I can’t remember whether he had said we had made some mistakes, maybe not played very well, or something had gone wrong in the recording process, I honestly can’t remember. Nothing more was said and I guess the record company (MCA) who paid for the whole deal must have been gutted. Again there wasn’t an inquisition about it, it was just left.

It was all recorded on 2 inch Ampex tape and our manager Tom Noble took them away and they lived under a bed in his spare bedroom for years. It was only Chris and John who had heard anything from the tapes.  Brian, Rocky, Jon Deverill and myself hadn’t heard anything.

The life of the band moved on until 2000 when I said to Tom the Tygers manager, ‘you know those live tapes from ‘81 should we have a listen to them?’  He said, ‘yes, they’re under the bed in the spare room.’ So we asked Fred Purser who replaced John Sykes in 1982 and recorded The Cage album, then toured with the Tygers. When Fred left the band he went into the production side of the music business. Fred now has a wonderful studio called Trinity Heights in Newcastle. He agreed to do it but we had to hire a machine to play the tapes on because they were out dated. There was nothing in the North East so we had to ring down to London and hire a 24 track Ampex tape playing machine. Fred took delivery and transferred the tapes to digital format but because of the age of them we were told we probably would only get one chance to copy them as the Ampex tape could disintegrate! Luckily we did it.

What did the recording sound like? Fantastic, Tom and I couldn’t understand why the tapes hadn’t been used? The only thing that was wrong was because of time, the first four tracks on my guitar had ‘fallen off’ the tape. So I sourced the same pick up I had on my Gibson Explorer at the time, put it on a suitable guitar and went in the studio and recorded my guitar part’s again for the first four tracks. That is the only thing that has ever been touched so this is a complete live album with no overdubs, unlike a lot of live albums back in the day!

It has now come out years later that on some live albums back then maybe only a snare drum was live and the band went back into the studio to record most of it again– a bit naughty, but I understand band’s want their best work recorded. But if you can’t play live should you really be in the business? I’m very proud that ours IS live.

mix

Robb and Soren Anderson.

Why the re-release now? Well Fred mixed it and it came out in 2000 on general release. Three years ago when we signed with Target Records the C.E.O Michael Anderson, asked whether we would be interested in putting out a remixed version by Soren Anderson, who mixed our current album. So it’s been on the back burner for a while. It just so happened the timing was perfect because Soren started a mix on the album and two weeks later he appeared in Newcastle playing with former Deep Purple bass player, Glenn Hughes. I went to see them at the Academy here in Newcastle and met Soren, he said he had a day off the next day in Newcastle. Michael McCrystal (Tygers guitarist) managed to get us some studio time at Blast Studios, through his academy of music connections. This is where we recorded all the backing tracks for our current album.

So we went into Blast, he put the album up as they say, listened to some of the mixes that Soren had done and I suggested some things. All that’s happened is the tones of the instruments have been sharpened up, levels have been changed, we found backing vocals which were too low in the original mix, it’s come out really well, it’s a huge sounding live album now to be fair.

The record company are bringing it out on various formats, CD, vinyl and a box set including a signed tour poster and a ticket to Nordic Noise Festival next year in Copenhagen. It’s a great package. There’s also a tour pass from 1981.

‘Hellbound – Spellbound 81’ is available 21st  December 2018 via the official Target Records website and in the shops 25th January 2019.

Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

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