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.

For more Tyneside stories why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

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.

LOUD AS WAR – interview with Def Con One drummer Antton Lant.

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Over the past year I have interviewed a few bands who take no prisoners when it comes to sheer power. If ya want to hear good ol’ bone crunching, face ripping, spleen removing, 100% metal. Def Con One are the go to band. Check out the videos on You Tube for their tracks 10 Bullets, Warface, Brute Force & Ignorance – you can’t miss ‘em they look like extras from Sons of Anarchy with muscles, tatt’s and shaven heads. Drummer Antton Lant looks back to where it started… ‘With my older brothers being in bands I’ve always been around music. I got an SG guitar one Christmas and used to jump around in my bedroom pretending I was playing Wembley Stadium haha. Back in the day I was massively into bands like AC/DC, Kiss and Van Halen. I loved the imagery of American bands Twisted Sister and Motley Crue which played heavily on my first band Slutt. Then I heard a band called Pantera and after that it all got much heavier’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ?  In my first band Slutt I started playing in South Shields pubs and clubs. We then got to tour Poland playing huge stadiums – 20,000 a night. Later we toured the UK playing mainly rock clubs. After Slutt called it a day in late ’91 I put a band together called Ezee but that fizzled out and I just kind of lost interest in playing but I was still writing. I was finding it hard to find a drummer who would play the stuff I wanted to play. My oldest brother is a drummer and he let me play on his kit and showed me some stuff which I liked so I swapped him my Steve Vai guitar for his kit. I then started looking for a band that needed a drummer so I could get some experience playing drums. I found some guys called Deadline, they didn’t really have a name set in stone and ended up being called Sanitys Edge. That was more metal in the vein of Megadeth, Maiden, that kinda stuff. I wanted to go heavier so formed Def-Con-One. Then I was asked to help out black metal legends Venom in the studio and ended up being the drummer for 10 year. We headlined some of the biggest festivals across Europe and played various tours. I got to play on three albums. Obviously having my name linked to Venom helped me a lot with Def-Con-One. Our record companies were big Venom fans. I was also playing in another band full off ex Venom members called M-pire of Evil. This put me in touch with the record companys – contacts I wouldn’t of got without the Venom link. Over the years I managed to achieve a lot for Def-Con-One. But it was hard, you had to put the work in’.

 

What were your experiences of recording ? ‘Recordings were great fun. Loved it in a studio compared to recording in your bedroom. Venom got to record in some huge studios. I made one album with Slutt, three albums with VenomResurrection, Metal Black and Hell. Two with M-Pire of Evil – Creatures of the Black and Hell to the Holy and two with Def-Con-One – Warface and 2. First album with Venom was Resurrection. We flew into Hamburg, Germany and  lived in the studio it was crazy. The studio had a kitchen, showers, sauna, tv room the lot. It was awesome. Charlie the producer hired me a Pearl masters kit with different size bass drums which he loved to record. We followed Motorhead into that studio and he played us some tracks he had just recorded. It sounded massive. He was a real task master though. He had me play the songs through quite a lot of times so he could pick what he felt was the best performance. It was great fun. Wen I recorded Metal Black we were in the Town House Studios in London, in the same studio that Queen recorded all their classic albums. So that was awesome too’.

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Have you any stories from playing gigs ?  ‘Wow too many too tell and most you couldn’t publish haha. But here’s one. We played Hammerfest a few years back and the food that the bands get is ok. A band I know, Cradle of Filth were headlining, so backstage I made my way over to them. We’re sitting on their bus chatting and their vocalist Dani asked what the food was like. I told him and he said they don’t eat that, they had tokens for the restaurant. That sounded better. Next thing Dani askes their tour manager to hook me up and I was able to get the Def-Con-One lads big steaks and all the trimmings’. 

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What have you got in the pipeline for Def-Con-One ? ‘I helped out a few tribute bands last year which was fun. There was Ozzy, Twisted Sister and an AC/DC tribute. All really great guys, good fun and enjoyed it. In the Def-Con-One camp we have been really busy sorting out a few things and will be back gigging soon. We are actually recording at the minute. The band have got a few festivals booked but that’s very hush hush till they reveal the whole line up and announce it formally’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommendations:

VENOM INC: Hebburn or Hell, 28th July 2017.

WARFARE: No One Gets Out Alive, 8th October 2017.

OBSIDIAN: Bomb Tracks, 8th January 2018.

BLACK FORGE: Take No Prisoners, 18th January 2018.

SLUTT: Angels with Dirty Faces, 6th May 2018.

BLOOD BROTHERS – interview with David Wilkinson vocalist with North East metallers Spartan Warrior.

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Out of Sunderland came North East NWOBHM band Spartan Warrior who recorded two albums in the 1980’s. After reforming in 2009, original members the Wilkinson brothers have held together the latest line up of the band…‘When Spartan Warrior finished recording the Steel n’ Chains album in 1983 we were told there was a lot of interest from the industry. We were signed to the label Roadrunner and started work on the second album pretty much straight away. At one point we were told not to speak to any press and not play any more shows. Sort of keep quiet, say nothing, do nothing and watch them all start knocking on the door tactic. Of course the very next thing we did was to book a headline slot at Sunderland Mayfair, blow the roof off and announce that we had Steel n’ Chains done and the release was imminent. At one stage there was talk of UK tours with AC/DC and Whitesnake but they didn’t materialise. I don’t think we really had any firm opportunity to make a mark on the live circuit further than the North. I left the band in 1985, but over the last 7 years we’ve put that right having played in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Greece and Spain as well as gigs at home here in the UK.  

(From 2011 the line up has been Neil Wilkinson (guitar) Dan Rochester (guitar) Tim Morton (bass) James Charlton (drums) and David Wilkinson (vocals).

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How did you get involved in playing music, and was there a defining moment when you said “I want to do that” ? ’I don’t think there was any one defining moment. I just loved music. My influences go back to the early 70’s and the Glam Rock years. I guess back then it was pretty mainstream stuff. Bands like Sweet, Queen, Slade, Marc Bolan and T Rex. The first single that I bought was Alice Cooper’s Schools Out back in ’72 and I still have that along with loads of 45’s by T Rex, Sweet, Slade, Cockney Rebel and Queen. I then started buying albums. Sweet Fanny Adams by Sweet, Old New Borrowed and Blue by Slade. Indiscreet by Sparks and A Night At The Opera by Queen. That was a great foundation for what was to come in late 75/76. A friend of mine whose brother was a DJ in a local rock club introduced me to bands like Zeppelin, Free and Jethro Tull. I found my way into Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, UFO and all of the other bands that people today would regard as classic rock. Probably my greatest influence is Phil Mogg from UFO. I think he’s a great songwriter and performer with a great stage presence and a very understated and yet dynamic vocal delivery. I was a fan first and foremost and my brother Neil and I were always around music. Neil would probably admit that he really ended up listening to what I was picking up on and being influenced by that. In truth Neil was probably drawn to the performance side at a much earlier age than I was. We both got guitars for Christmas one year and we sort of knocked them around without any direction of how to play. It was Neil who really stuck that out. As a kid Neil had guitars, an organ and even a set of bagpipes at one point! He started playing guitar seriously from about 12 years old. When I was 14 I used to go into Sunderland Town Centre on a Saturday afternoon and watch local covers bands. That made something of an impression on me and was probably the catalyst’. 

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How did Spartan Warrior get together ? ‘I was 16 when I joined my first band with Neil and some school friends. The band was called Easy Prey and we played covers and a couple of originals. We played a show at Bede School in Sunderland and at The Catholic Club in Hendon, Sunderland. That will have been 1978 I imagine. I recall that I had recently finished my O’Levels and had just left school. I ended up quickly moving on from that and joined a local band called Deceiver who were playing a mixture of covers and originals on the North East Club and bar circuit. I just turned 17 and it was a real step up from what I had been doing up until then. Spartan Warrior evolved from Deceiver when Neil and his friend John Stormont (Jess Cox Band/Battleaxe) came on board and we began to focus much more on writing our own material which was really changing direction in line with the way Neil and John were playing’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play?  ‘With Deceiver and then with Spartan Warrior we really just gigged around the North East through 1980 to 1985. We played working men’s clubs and bars. Places like Ashington Central Club, The Old 29 and The Mayfair in Sunderland. Back in about ’83 we played a bar in South Shields called The Brunswick. It was rough as hell. They had strippers dancing on high podiums behind the bar and they had a rotating projector that rotated images of naked women onto the walls… like a moving mural of tits and ass. I remember standing having a pint with John Stormont who played guitar alongside Neil. John was leaning against the wall and this collage of female nudity was rotating over him and the wall in ever changing fleshy images – and then the thing just stopped rotating and projected a giant tit right in the middle of his face. He was just standing looking at me with this giant nipple where his nose used to be and I just cracked up when he went to take a sip out of his beer’. 

Where do the ideas come for your songs ? ’The material on the first two Spartan Warrior albums was lyrically pretty spontaneous and quite standard rock fare really. We used to jam ideas at rehearsals and I’d usually write lyrics on the spot while the guys were jamming the structure and arrangement. Being brutally honest it was pretty much occult, war, sex and rock n’ roll themed stuff. Typical heavy metal material with not much thought given to it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like the songs – it just means that I’m a little more mature now. I like to take my time over melodies, themes and lyrics and if I want to make a social comment or say something from a life experience I can do that. If I don’t have anything to say I can just write a song about sex instead!

‘With the last two albums – Behind Closed Eyes 2010 and Hell To Pay 2018 – whilst inevitably there’s still a bit of traditional heavy metal lyricism I do tend to draw on life experience. Things that have happened to me, things that I’ve read about or seen, my perspective on things. It can be quite personal at times although people wouldn’t necessarily pick up on the autobiographical nature of some of the stuff I write. Behind Closed Eyes for example is about a condition known as sleep paralysis. It occurs while the subject is between sleep and awakening and the effect is an awareness of surroundings accompanied by an inability to move, speak or fully awaken. It’s quite frightening and more so as it can be accompanied by night terrors which can be both auditory and visual. Some people say that it’s demonic restraint or possession and that’s a frightening thought. There’s a line in that song “I try to wake, I try to move death’s weight on top of me/afraid to look my eyes stay closed, afraid of what I’ll see/ my fear takes me, I’m paralysed, behind closed eyes.” That pretty much sums up the experience and the songs theme.

The Behind Closed Eyes album cover shows a silhouetted figure restrained by a bar and chain. Lots of people think that it’s a sexual thing but it isn’t. It’s a photograph taken by a guy called Craig Mod who, coincidentally, photographed that image on the very theme of the song. When we saw his pictures and realised the connection we contacted him and he gave us permission to use his photograph for the album cover. Walking The Line from the Behind Closed Eyes album is about Sado Masochism and bondage. Last Man Standing is about a street fighter and As Good As It Gets is a sarcastic look on the world through the eyes of a depressive. So it’s pretty diverse stuff. 

Cut to the Hell To Pay album and there’s the title track which tells the tale of a dying man who realises too late and as he draws his last breath that for his lifetime of sin his soul is to be taken to hell. Court Of Clown’s is a bit of a commentary on people who sit at their computer keyboards expressing their views about people, sort of an anti-keyboard warrior song. Shadowland was written about Vampires and was inspired by my reading of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Covered In Lust is about pornography. Fallen is a tribute to the 300 Spartan’s who died at their final stand and In Memoriam is an anti-war/anti-terrorism song. Sort of a modern day War Pigs. So again it’s pretty diverse stuff and I’m quite proud of the lyrics’.

What are your experiences of recording and studio work ?  ‘The Steel n Chains album (1983) was recorded at Guardian Studio’s in Pity Me, Durham. We worked with Guardian’s owner/producer Terry Gavaghan on that. It was our first time in the studio. We paid for our own studio time and to all intents and purposes we recorded what we thought were our best 10 songs. It really was a very unfettered and raw process. We just went in and what we played went down. We recorded two songs per session and I think we had a lot of fun during those sessions.

We signed to Roadrunner around about the same time as we finished up Steel n Chains and because of that we ended up going straight back into Guardian with Terry overseeing the recording sessions again. I don’t think that was a great starting point although we had some new material some songs were tracks that hadn’t been a first choice for Steel n’ Chains. The approach that was taken to recording was much different too – much less of a live feel and lots of time was spent on the bass and drum tracks to the detriment of everything else – especially the vocals. I recall that I did most of the vocals for the second album in a very short space of time and recording a number of vocal tracks for different songs back to back and repeatedly to the extent that my voice started to break under the strain. That’s why I sound so raspy on some of those recordings. Whilst we had some fun times during those sessions they were equally marred by disagreements about the recording process and how we wanted to sound. I don’t think the band had any control over what was going down and certainly we didn’t have any involvement at the point of mixing. Some of the tracks were extended by repeating vocal passages and lead breaks and that was done without our knowledge and approval. The second self-titled album was released by Roadrunner in 1984 and no disrespect to anyone but I wasn’t happy with it. I don’t think any of the band were’.

‘When we reformed in 2009 the object of the exercise was to record an album that set the record straight. An album that was truly representative of what we were capable of. In order to achieve that we really had to assume total control of everything and that is why Neil invested in his home studio and took on the huge responsibility of engineering and producing the Behind Closed Eyes album. We recorded Behind Closed Eyes at Neil’s studio. He engineered, produced and mixed it. It was no small accomplishment. He really had to learn everything along the way and still play the role of being the main songwriter with myself, and having to play all of the guitar parts. I think that album is the best that it could possibly have been given the tools at our disposal and I’m very proud of it. The object of the exercise was always to show that we were a far better band than that second album and I think that without doubt we met that objective’. 

‘With the Hell To Pay (2018) album it was pretty much the same philosophy. We wanted it to be even better than Behind Closed Eyes. In fact we wanted it to be much better and that was going to be quite some task. People occasionally ask why it took from 2010 until 2018 to get the Hell To Pay album done. Well there were lots of reasons for that. Firstly we wanted to build the bands reputation on the live circuit at home and abroad and that was our priority. Secondly, although we started recording as far back as 2013 we weren’t satisfied with how the recordings were sounding so we decided to start afresh. Neil then became ill and was hospitalised for a time. We then had to work the song writing and recording sessions around the gigs and festivals to keep our profile up and juggle the usual family and work commitments. In actual fact it didn’t take a long time to do the album – probably about 18 months – but that was scattered throughout a five year period of gigging and dealing with our individual life things. Neil is always the first to say that he’s not an engineer or producer and he finds having that responsibility very hard. He’s extremely self-critical and he can be very set on what he wants in a performance from us. That, not unnaturally, can make things tough in the studio but the guy is very talented and when it comes to arrangements and his vision of how Spartan Warrior should sound he’s not often far off the mark. He deserves such a huge amount of respect because if it wasn’t for him there’d be no Behind Closed Eyes, there’d be no Hell To Pay and there’d be no Spartan Warrior’. 

Have you recorded any TV appearances or filmed any music videos ? ’When we signed to Roadrunner we were due to appear on ECT. A live rock music tv progamme on Channel 4. But by the time that came round I had handed my notice in. That must have been summer 1985. I believe they got another Roadrunner artist to appear…Lee Aaron. We’ve deliberately steered away from the music video thing so far. It’s something that rears its head every now and again but quite frankly video is a promotional tool and these days it’s a pale shadow of its former self. You can very easily post pro shot live footage from a festival and reach a wide audience using You Tube and social media. By the same token people can access promotional audio through the likes of You Tube, Spotify and a range of other digital media’.

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Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘Recently we played a show in Belgium and we had a classic situation of a Belgian guy having designs on one of the girls at the gig – sort of one of those situations we were told where they weren’t a couple although in his head they were going to be. At the time everyone except one of the Spartan Warrior guys were in relationships and this girl kept coming over asking for guitar picks, drum sticks and for stuff to be signed. All of which we were very happy to do while telling our ‘singleton’ that he needed to go and buy the girl a drink, chat her up and get it on. Little did we know that the Belgian guy was becoming increasingly jealous. The final straw came when she wandered across again and asked for her breasts to be signed. Well that’s no problem and first – and last – up was Tim Morton. But as he started to sign her boobs the would be boyfriend ran across, grabbed her from behind, picked her up and carried her backwards across the bar. Obviously Tim can’t finish signing her breasts but he did manage to drag his marker pen right across one tit, down her cleavage and across the front of her t shirt. We’re just falling about at this point and we can see the two of them arguing like hell outside the venue. Five minutes later the bloke walks right up to us with a face like a smacked arse. Naturally we’re thinking this is going to turn into Fight Club any second now. But instead the guy simply says “I have no problem with you, but signing her tits was a step too far… may I have a drum stick to give her”. Drum stick given. Ruck avoided. International relations restored. You see folks we do this sort of stuff so you don’t have to’.

What are the present and future plans for Spartan Warrior ? ’Well, the Hell To Pay album was released in February this year by Pure Steel Records who have bases in Germany and the USA. The reviews have been absolutely incredible. There will also be a vinyl release of that album on 22nd June so that’s something to look forward to. Over the last three or four years both fans and the industry have shown a big interest in a re-release of the Steel n’ Chains album. Our label, Pure Steel, are interested in doing something quite special in terms of that. It’s just a question of whether or not Pure Steel are able to take whatever steps they need to take to make it happen. But a re-release would be pretty cool as this year would be its 35th anniversary. We’d certainly like to get out on the road again. We will be doing a headline show on Saturday 2nd June at Newcastle Trillians and aim to play a lot of material from the new album so that’s very exciting. Trillians is a great venue and the Newcastle crowd are absolutely fantastic, it’s going to be a really good gig – as always. In November we’re on the bill of the Firestorm Rocks festival in Scotland with Praying Mantis, Holocaust, Dare, Air Race and more great bands. There are other shows in the pipeline but obviously I can’t announce them until the promoter/organiser does. At some point we will need to start the writing process for the next album – that’s definitely on our radar. One way or the other we’ve got a lot of great things to look forward to!

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

SPARTAN WARRIOR: Chain Raction,  21st May 2017.

SPARTAN WARRIOR: Invader from the North, 21st September 2017. 

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

 

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

SPARTAN WARRIOR 

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

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

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

Steve, Steve’.

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

Then it goes on –

Ghost: Steeeeeve.

Terry: Who are you?

Ghost: Steeeeve, Steeeeve.

Terry: What do you want?

Ghost: I want Steeeeeeeve

Steve: Tell it to fuck off!!

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

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

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

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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