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. Then there’s a Newcastle date to launch the new EP at Trillians on 4th of July. We’ve got Bannermans in Edinburgh after that and The Unicorn down in London. 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.

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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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WE SOLD OUR SOUL FOR ROCK N ROLL documentary on South Tyneside rock music.

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In February 2017 I transcribed interviews from the documentary and decided to put them out on a blog. I added some new interviews and updated the originals. Then more musicians got in touch. The blog has snowballed from North East bands like Beckett to worldwide musicians like John Dalton in California. To date it has reached nearly 40,000 views.

But how did I tackle this documentary and pull it all together ? Firstly I talked to a few musicians who passed over some of their archive of demo tapes, video’s and photo’s. Plus I already had a number of photographs I had taken through the 90’s. Then a lot of research was done in the Local Studies Library, South Shields. I remember during the 80’s reading a feature called Young Weekender in the Saturday edition of local newspaper The Shields Gazette. It featured interviews, releases by local and national bands, plus a list of gig dates around Tyneside. The library had all the Gazette’s on microfilm. It took a few visits but in all it was a good start. Then during May 2007 filmed interviews were arranged at The Cave in South Shields, formerly Tyne Dock Youth Club, where in the 1970’s some of the bands had rehearsed and performed as teenagers. 

I was surprised at the amount of people who turned up to tell their story, and what excellent stories they were. The title of the documentary is from a Black Sabbath compilation album and perfectly sums up the feeling I got when people were telling their story. Some bands even got back together after 30 odd year. After working on a few other commisioned projects, finally in 2010 a 30 minute version of the documentary was screened in South Shields, it was shown a few month later at The Cluny in Newcastle along with a film about the New York Dolls. In September 2011 a full version was shown at the Library Theatre in South Shields. 

‘We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll’ is on the Alikivi You Tube channel. To check out other films why not subscribe to the channel.

Gary Alikivi  2018

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

NEAT BITES – Making Records on Wallsend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

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

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