SANTAS BIGGER BAG O’SWAG

If yer lookin’ for a Christmas present to buy why not take a butchers at these goodies that have appeared on the blog this year. 2019 has seen nearly 100 musicians interviewed and also featured authors and artists….

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On ‘Live & Acoustic’, Blues Siren Emma Wilson sings 4 favourites from her live set plus her original blues break up song ‘Wish Her Well’. With guitar accompaniment from Al Harrington, Emma’s raw and dynamic vocals shine through ‘I used to sing sweeter soul style but learned and developed a big voice. It was get big or get off’. The 5 track EP reached no.12 in the Independent Blues Broadcasters charts and received rave reviews from Blues Matters magazine and several American Blues stations.

For a hard copy on CD email Emma at  emmawilsonbluesband@gmail.com or contact the official website : www.emmawilson.net or via Facebook.

bloody well everything icon bandcamp

Gary Miller from folk rockers The Whisky Priests….‘Leaving school in the mid-80’s, being in a band meant having a voice and a sense of hope and purpose during the dark era of Thatcherism. So, The Whisky Priests kind of evolved out of that and initially became a vehicle for expressing all my frustrations and passion at that time’. Get yer copy of Whisky Priests – ‘Bloody Well Everything’ 12-disc CD Box Set contact: https://whiskypriests.bandcamp.com/merch/chistmas-2019-offer-bloody-well-everything-limited-edition-box-set-only-300-numbered-copies-free-tour-t-shirt

THOMPSON

The Steve Thompson band recorded an album earlier this year…’The Long Fade really is my life’s work. After 50 years of being a backroom boy writing songs for other people I finally recorded them in my own name with a fantastic group of musicians and singers. Making the album was a fantastic adventure with lots of laughs with old friends’. You can download and stream links at http://www.thelongfade.xyx

Gary Alikivi December 2019.

SANTAS BIG BAG O’ SWAG

If yer lookin’ for a Christmas present to buy why not take a butchers at these goodies that have appeared on the blog this year. 2019 has seen nearly 100 musicians interviewed and also featured authors, artists and poets. In his new poetry collection, Jarrow-born Tom Kelly examines the history of the town as he tries to make sense of the past…. This Small Patch is my eighth collection published by Red Squirrel Press and will have its South Tyneside launch on 11th January at 1.30pm in The Word, South Shields’. To buy a copy contact the official website:

https://www.redsquirrelpress.com/product-page/this-small-patch-tom-kelly

The 10 track album ‘Square One’ by former Tygers of Pan Tang, Fred Purser and Jon Deverill is out on the shelves, where does it stand with your Tygers output ?…. Jon Deverill ‘I’m very proud of it. It’s by far my best work. I’m so delighted it’s been released. We never lost faith that one day it would be’. Square One by Purser/Deverill available to buy at HMV, Newcastle or on-line via EBay or Discogs.

In 1979 Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and South Shields band Mythra released records making them one of the original NWOBHM bands. Guitarist John Roach…’Yes we never said we were the best, just one of the first. We’ve released a 40th Anniversary Edition of Death and Destiny, we are very proud of it’. Order now from: 

https://mythra.bigcartel.com.

Gary Alikivi   December 2019

SANTAS BAG O’ SWAG

If yer lookin’ for a Chrissy present to buy why not take a butchers at these goodies that have appeared on the blog this year. 2019 has seen nearly 100 interviews posted mostly musicians and also featured authors, artists, poets and TV presenters…. Gary James from The Tube, spills the beans on the ground breaking ‘80s TV music show in his autobiography ‘Spangles, Glam, Gaywaves & Tubes’…. ‘It’s a fabulous main present for ‘70s & ‘80s music and fashion fans you love, or a stocking filler for those you don’t. All for a paltry £12.99 (or cheaper if you can be arsed to shop around). Some bad language (he says ‘sod’ in it)’. Contact  http://www.bookguild.co.uk

Lowfeye are musician/producer Alan Rowland and song writer Carol Nichol…’Some songs on our album POW can be political or critical of society. I find the mainstream music scene along with TV celebrities really awful. It’s bland, it’s beige, it’s plastic and unfortunately we are spoon fed this crap by radio and TV’. Contact Carol via Facebook and get yer copy at only £5 from paypal.me/lowfeye

The Fauves punk band formed in South Shields in 1978 and got back together 2016, bassist Bri Smith…I’ve got the perfect stocking filler for xmas for all you punks out there – The Fauves latest cd album ‘Back off World’. Most of the songs were written between 1978-81. There is a couple of new tracks and we think it has come out really well. Have a wonderful xmas you won’t be disappointed’. Get yer copy from Goldies opposite South Shields Town Hall or contact The Fauves on their official website  thefauves.wordpress.com

The Attention Seekers have a regional feel about some of their songs which gain’s regular play on local radio and at St James’ Park. Guitarist, Alan Fish…If you’re looking for a chilled Xmas why not relax to the sounds of the latest CD from The Attention Seekers ‘A Song for Tomorrow’. Or if you’re looking for something more action-packed why not start Xmas Day singing along with ‘The Fans’ version of ‘The Blaydon Races’. Physical copy of ‘A Song for Tomorrow’ available from  

http://www.the-attention-seekers.co.uk/shop.html 

or download from the iTunes store.

‘The Blaydon Races’ at https://open.spotify.com/album/6RdXvJhnJxwgPubsFU0cvz 

Gary Alikivi  December 2019.

 

STOCKIN’ FILLERS

If yer lookin’ for a Christmas present to buy why not have a butchers at these books that featured on the blog this year. 2019 has seen nearly 100 interviews posted mostly musicians but also featured authors and poets like Keith Armstrong I was interested in people like Dylan Thomas, the rhythm of his poetry. Actors like Richard Harris, hell raisers like Oliver Reed – all good role models! Yeah in my early days I loved the old bohemian lifestyle of reading poetry and getting tanked up. Order direct from Northern Voices Community Projects, 35 Hillsden Road, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear NE25 9XF.

 

More than four decades after the BBC’s iconic TV series ‘When the Boat Comes In’ was first screened, ‘Jack High’ a novel by Peter Mitchell tells the story of Jack Ford’s missing years. ‘This is a man who has found a family in war. He interacts with union men, upper crusts, politicians….all he knows is how to survive and when he see’s a chance he takes the opportunity’. ‘Jack High’ is available through Amazon.

Some authors talked about growing up in the North East, like former White Heat front man now music documentary director Bob Smeaton I was working as a welder at Swan Hunter Shipyards at the time. When punk and new wave happened around 76/77 that’s when I started thinking I could possibly make a career out of music. The doors had been kicked wide open’. ‘From Benwell Boy to 46th Beatle & Beyond’ available on Amazon or can be ordered in Waterstones, Newcastle.

Earlier this year I read a great book ‘The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy’ and got in touch with the author Vin Arthey… Newcastle born William Fisher turned out to be a KGB spy, he used the name Rudolf Abel and was jailed for espionage in the United States in 1957. He was exchanged across Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge for the American U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers. The Tom Hanks film ‘Bridge of Spies’ tells the story of how it happened. Contact Vin at varthey@gmail.com ‘I have a few pristine copies on my shelf but with p&p, it would come out at £10 more than the Amazon price’.

A big influence on my life was watching and being in the audience of ‘80s live music show The Tube, so when I got the chance to talk to former music TV producer Chris Phipps about the program, I didn’t miss the opportunity ‘As an ex-BBC producer I initially only signed up for 3 months on this unknown program and it became 5 years! I was mainly hired because of my track record for producing rock and reggae shows in the Midlands’. Chris released ‘Namedropper’ revealing backstage stories from the ground breaking show. The book is available at Newcastle City Library or through Amazon.

 Gary Alikivi   December 2019.

FAMILY AFFAIR in conversation with North East songwriter Alan Fish

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The Loud Guitars live at Newcastle Playhouse.

Last time I interviewed Alan (Sept.13th 2019) he talked about his time in North East band White Heat who were signed to Richard Bransons label Virgin. After they folded in ’82, The Loud Guitars were born….There was 3 of us from White Heat, me, Bob Smeaton, and Col Roberts, we decided to control everything. Fund the gigs our self and not look for management or deals. Because there was a dark cloud over the ending of White Heat we thought this self-containment idea would help clear it. Virgin eventually let us go so we had total control, it was very cathartic.

For recording we funded it all, brought in some really good players, professional and slightly younger so from a live point of view they super charged the band. We had Martin Campbell, brilliant rock guitar player,  Gary Cowey and Stu Haikney were involved early on as they had their own studio. Bob and I had songs left over from The White Heat days and really it was a very important time for us to be able to do it independently. When I look back on what I’ve done I’ve always been happier when it’s independent.

We built on the legacy of White Heat and we put out new material with professional musicians who we paid. Now that sounds obvious to pay them but it is the correct way, the job is done well and it makes for a happier work place. By the early ‘90s The Loud Guitars run their course then I made the decision that was it. From the recordings I felt we pushed the quality up from White Heat days as in that band I felt our studio output didn’t reflect what we were like live. However, we still weren’t getting a lot of radio play and I became obsessed to write and record music of a standard that would get radio play.

I took time out, this was when technology was advancing at a fair old rate and recording facilities were becoming affordable. So I invested quite a bit in new instruments, microphones and developed a skillset to record my own stuff. I set up my home demo studio where I could take the song to a certain point, essentially getting the song down in the right key, right speed, then taking it to my studio of choice, The Cluny Studios in Newcastle run by Tony Davis.

Tony is a fantastic engineer and a brilliant musician so we’ve developed a good relationship over the years where I might play a bit guitar for him on some of his recordings. A lot of North East bands would have recorded there in what is a highly competitive industry.

Att Skrs Cluny Studios with Tony Davis, Paul Liddell, Stu Haikney

In The Cluny Studio, Newcastle (left to right) Tony Davis, Paul Liddell, Alan Fish & Stu Haikney.

When did you put the Attention Seekers together ?  The concept has been around for 10 years now, it was to be primarily song writing and recording. I wanted a change from what I’d previously done because the main thrust of White Heat and Loud Guitars was live performance. In a way having the band has unified my family. When I was song writing in the studio with Bob Smeaton on the record deal after White Heat had finished, I would only do it if I could bring my wife Viv down with me. I’ve seen too much destruction with musicians and their nomadic lifestyle (laughs).

We wanted to share this experience and enhance our life together but they weren’t happy so I walked away from it. A few days later I got a call saying ‘Ok bring her down but she’ll have to cook (laughs)’. Viv came down and we enjoyed the time together. It’s always been like that since those days. We bought a people carrier to get to gigs, my daughter has played in the band and Viv’s the road manager when we go out at gigs.

I didn’t trade on the back of previous bands because Attention Seekers were so different. We didn’t want people turning up to a White Heat rock gig and end up listening to 3 acoustic players. In fact our first gig’s were on buskers nights were we tried out new material and there was no pressure. My eldest daughter was becoming a proficient violin player so she came along, my brother in law had a nice voice and had never sung live so we eased him in and that added to the busker night.

Publicans were impressed after a few songs and asked us to return and do a full gig. This was around ’98 when we started getting around the pub circuit and we adopted a very low key policy of no individuals, no front men. This attracted really good musicians who liked the non-committal feel to the band. I explained this wasn’t about a unit of a traditional band it was about bringing in the right people when they were available because they still had their main bands with regular gigs. We were getting popular on the whole circuit, places like The Magnesium Bank in North Shields, The Smugglers in Sunderland and Tyneside Irish Centre in Newcastle.

Sounds like there was more emphasis on the song rather than a band ? Yes there was I had done the live band thing which I enjoyed but if I had something with a promoter or radio it would always be labelled as The Attention Seekers. There is a consistent feel that runs through the songs. I’ve found by taking this approach local radio play has increased significantly with Paddy McDee and Julia Hankin playing us on a regular basis. St James’ Park (Newcastle United) play us because some songs have a regional feel about them.

The album ‘A Song for Tomorrow’ has  overall sound of Crowded House/Waterboys with an acoustic version of the Boomtown Rats song ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ in the middle. A strange choice compared to the other songs ? Yes playing original music can be a big ask to an audience and sometimes you’ve got to give them something back. Something familiar. We arranged it without the bombastic drama of the original with the ‘Tell me why’ sentiment slightly changed.  The audience realize what song it is by the second verse. It’s ‘Tell me why’ this is still happening because that song is nearly 40 years old. It’s talking about mass shootings in America that happened and are still happening. It’s a very difficult situation for USA to solve because of the gun laws. The American singer, Jesse Terry, gave the song another edge with his accent and we wanted to give the song an anti-gun feel. But from the beginning we know it is a very good Boomtown Rats song, the melody, the lyrics all fitted together so you knew it wasn’t going to fall apart.

How did American singer/songwriter Jesse Terry get involved in The Attention Seekers ? I was watching the TV program Tyne and Wear live and the music show ‘Cookin’ in the Kitchen’ came on. There was a great performance from Jesse on there and I wanted to pass on my comments so tracked him down. It was like serendipity, he was looking for a UK based guitarist and had checked me out on You Tube – the upshot was, would I be interested ? And I was looking for a vocalist to record with Attention Seekers – you don’t turn away from these moments so a deal was struck.

The album ‘A Song for Tomorrow’ is the result of our coming together. Jesse has quite a following in the States and get’s the songs played out there.

For more information contact the official website:

http://the-attention-seekers.co.uk

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2019.

 

 

 

BURNING ON THE INSIDE with Bill Newton former guitarist of ‘80s post punk band SILENT SCREAM

Silent Scream were very much influenced by what was going on around us. There was so much fantastic music in the late 70’s and early 80’s: punk, post-punk, new wave, futurism, new romanticism, Bowie’s Berlin stuff and really fresh sounding early hip-hop and disco-pop such as Grandmaster Flash and Was (Not Was).

We all loved bands like The Only Ones, The Scars, Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wah! Heat, Japan and The Associates.

Silent Scream were alive between ‘80-82. The line up was Stephen ‘Stesh’ Miller (vocals) Steve Newton (bass) Steve Bell (drums 80-81) Bobby Greenland (drums 81-82) and Bill Newton (guitar)…..

There was a vibrant music scene in Newcastle during the early 80’s with some excellent bands, like Deda, Rival Savages and Treatment Room. I’m surprised things didn’t explode like it did in Manchester and Liverpool. Silent Scream did attract quite a following as we were very much part of the developing new romantic/futurist scene. People came to see us to hang out, pose and be seen. The audience were an intrinsic part of the movement and were as important as the bands at that time.

When did you start gigging ? Around 1980 I had been playing guitar in a band with my brother, Steve on bass, and a friend from school, Steve Bell on drums. I met Stesh at a Chelsea punk gig in Newcastle and decided to form a band there and then.

I remember that Silent Scream had this idea of wanting to be elusive and mysterious so we only played a small handful of gigs between ‘80-81. We played our debut at Newcastle University and I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember much about this apart from being really nervous. Bauhaus had just played a storming gig at the same venue and I remember thinking, ‘How the f*** are we supposed to follow that?’

We played The Cooperage, where we were awful, Balmbras in The Bigg Market, Newcastle, twice where we were pretty good, and Rumours in Sunderland which I thought was our best gig mainly due to a sterling performance by Steve Bell on drums.

We also traveled to London to play at the renowned Moonlight Club in Hampstead as part of a showcase of North East bands. We shared the bill with Zap! and Red Performance. Stesh was sadly lost to us some years ago. He was such a creative talent. He could turn his hand to anything and was acclaimed as an influential DJ in Newcastle after Silent Scream split up. There was also talk of us supporting The Psychedelic Furs at Newcastle Mayfair on their 1980 album tour but unfortunately this fell through.

Who were your influences in music ? Was there a defining moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ ?  Seeing Bowie perform ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972 made me want to be a musician. I’d been playing guitar pretty badly from the age of 13. Punk exploded when I was 15 and gave me that DIY ‘you-don’t-need-to-be-Carlos Santana’ confidence to explore the guitar with a different mind set.

I was massively influenced by the spiky, staccato energies of John McGeoch, Keith Levene, Will Sergeant, Wire, Gang of Four etc. Hearing Magazine’sShot By Both Sides’ in 1978 was a pretty defining moment, and my favorite album of all time is ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’.

Did the band have a manager ? We were managed by Dave Baird who was a guiding influence. He arranged gigs, studio time, photo shoots etc. Dave is still in the business today producing new music.

What were your experiences of recording ? Silent Scream recorded two demos. The first at Impulse Studios in Wallsend in 1980 with Steve Bell on drums. The cost of this would have been laughably cheap by today’s standards and we were so young and naïve. I don’t think we really knew what we were doing or how to get the most out of the experience.

Stesh had already recorded a marvelous single, ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’, with his previous band, The Voice Of The Puppets so he had a bit of savvy. He was also a little bit older than the rest of us so we looked up to him.

The track list of the first demo was Deadline, Fate, All the Promise, Thin Ice, Trapped and Pantomime. Copies have mysteriously disappeared over the years and I haven’t heard it  in ages. Maybe someone reading this will have a copy.

Our second demo was recorded at Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham over two days in October 1981 with Terry Gavaghan as producer. Bobby was drumming at this point and three songs were recorded. This became known simply as ‘EP’. The tracks are: The Maze, Drown and Join Together.

Did you get any press or appear on radio ? Our recorded material and gigs were well reviewed in the local press and I remember we featured in an early edition of i-D magazine. The demo was sent to various labels and was picked up by The Shadows guitarist, Bruce Welch, who loved our sound. We also had interest from various record labels. Unfortunately, before we could even negotiate any kind of deal we had split up.

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ?  I am writing and recording under the name Psykobilly and have recorded a number of songs at Smiley Barnard’s Sunshine Corner Studios. The man himself plays drums, bass and produces. Smiley is, among others, ex-Joe Strummers Mescaleros and is currently drumming with The Alarm and Archive. I’ve released a single ‘Leave It All Behind’ and a low key, lo-fi EP ‘Social Media Influenza’ on all major digital platforms. I’m releasing my first album, with a working title of ‘Black Candle’ in early 2020.

It’s taken a long time for me to do this on my own as I don’t have much confidence in my singing voice and have produced, mixed and engineered over half of the album independently, learning on the go really. I try to write in a way that doesn’t make me easily pigeonholed or categorized. It’s broadly dark pop, but a mix of ballads, rock ‘n roll and ‘80s influenced synth pop.

I’m lucky to have the very talented Trevor Johnson working with me. Trevor has produced official videos for the songs and we like to think of our project as a way of marrying sound and image in a deeper, kind of dark cinematic style. Trevor is influenced by the Situationist movement. His visuals are an important part of my work as they bring new and challenging perspectives to the soundscape.

You can watch all of the official Silent Scream and available Psykobilly videos on You Tube. French label, The Evil Has Landed, is in the process of releasing the Silent Scream EP on vinyl although I think copies might be pretty rare. Worth checking on Discogs. The demo is also available digitally on Bandcamp

The first track on the EP, ’The Maze’, is going to be included on the marvellous compilation album series ‘Killed By Deathrock Vol. 3’ on the Sacred Bones label based in New York, USA.

There has always been an appetite for lost, hard to find and enigmatic stuff that came out in the post-punk explosion, way before the invention of smartphones and social media. The EP is pretty widely available on various YouTube channels and has almost 10,000 views.

These days of course, everything is captured and can be stored for posterity. But in 1981 it was a different story. Thank God photos and footage were taken and kept, and good people like yourself Gary are archiving some of these independent treasures from almost 40 years ago.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2019.

ALL SAID & DONE with Derek Miller from North East prog rockers CIRKUS

Out of the ashes of North East bands Moonhead and Lucas Tyson, Sunderland band Cirkus emerged on the ‘70s progressive music scene. With the right backing they were confident of achieving success on a national scale…..Every band thinks that they have something different to offer. We also had two agents at the time, Ivan Birchall who was a true professional as a booking agent, and Mel Unsworth.

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The line up was John Taylor (bass) Stu McDade (drums & vocals) Paul Robson (vocals) Dogg (guitar) & Derek Miller (keyboards)…..We played all the usual clubs and were lucky to play the University gigs. The University audiences gave us the benefit of the doubt but the club audiences were unsure how to react to our set. We opened with ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ a King Crimson song. Incidentally we got our name from one of their tracks. In fact on several occasions we didn’t even get to the bridge and were ‘paid off’ on a regular basis (laughs).

 In 1974 the band went into Sound Associates/Emison & Air Studios in London. What was your experience of recording ? We were encouraged by the reaction to our songs from Ken McKenzie. He owned the studios where we had demoed our songs. This resulted in a fight for our signature between songwriters and producers, Dave Dee, Mickie Most and Chinn & Chapman. Finally we signed up with a guy called Robin Britten who was manager of The Hollies. But this is where it all went pear shaped.

We were already earmarked by Chinn & Chapman for the project known as Smokie, but Britten intercepted negotiations and we recorded the album Cirkus One, incorporating Beatles producer Ron Richards and Tony Hymas. The album included orchestral arrangements, a 32 piece orchestra and chorus.

What did you think of the album ? It’s a good album but some of the mixes are questionable and poor old Ron was struggling. But timing is everything. We seemed to be doing alright on a retainer and with our own apartment in Central London, but as Britten was about to hand over the over produced and over engineered concept album, The Sex Pistols were telling everyone to ‘eff off’. And prog rock was dead.

Britten lost a small fortune and failed miserably trying to get it off the ground. Anyone that has been sacked will relate to this. I still remember being called into the office and having that sinking feeling ‘Is he talking about us?

How did you handle this situation ? Our bassist John Taylor, with his unstinting optimism suggested we all return to the North East and regroup. This idea was a bit of a sickener as I had just set up in London and got a job at RCA records. The ultimatum was return to Geordieland or be replaced. For reasons I find hard to understand now, I hired a transit van and returned.

Did you have any nightmare gigs where everything just went wrong ? We had a couple. Namely the Marquee in London where there was loads of reps from record companies to see us. What happened was that the pa actually ‘blew up’ and we couldn’t continue. Then there was the time our manager Robin Britten was trying to sell the band so he chartered a private plane to fly to a gig in the North East, Ashington Central to be precise. It was a nightmare flight, with sick bags being handed around. We done the gig but we were awful. Not a great way to sell the band.

On another occasion we invited Mike Chapman (songwriter/producer) up to see the band at the Londonderry Hall in South Shields. It didn’t start well as Chapman arrived at Sunderland station and walked into the glass doors, he was expecting them to be automatic. We thought it was funny, he didn’t. He wondered what sort of hell he had walked into when a police car was overturned and set on fire – just a normal Saturday night in Shields….in the end the gig was cancelled (laughs).

By ‘75 lead vocalist Paul Robson left to be replaced by Alan Roadhouse (ex Halfbreed) who also played sax….Yes along comes Alan, multi-instrumentalist, singer and larger than life character. Exactly what was needed to kick start Cirkus the club band.
Paul and Alan were both great vocalists in their own right. Alan had a certain flamboyance which the club audiences lapped up. He also played sax and flute. This allowed us to tackle all sorts of covers from Gerry Rafferty to Moody Blues. We became a live juke box.

We rehearsed all week and had a new song nailed by the weekend. We had a winning formula that continued for several years. The highlight of the first set was an explosion of pyrotechnics at the end. It worked like a dream scaring the sh** out of most people. Especially when sparks landed in the bingo machine and set fire to it. In the end we had to pay for a new machine (laughs). One highlight was watching the roadies trying to use a foot pump to inflate our blow up doll ‘Melissa’ by the end of the song (laughs).

Everything seemed to be hunky dory then ? Yeah at this time we were still writing new material. We recorded a couple of our own songs, Amsterdam, Pick up a Phone, and Melissa. We performed them live and mixed them in with the covers in the set. The EP sold well and we recouped our outlay.

By the early ‘80s ‘ I’m On Fire’ was featured on a Battle Of The Bands album but this proved to be the final offering from Derek…We were deciding if we should invest the proceeds into a new EP or divvy up the dosh. John, Stu and Dogg thought it was a good idea to divvy up and that was the beginning of the end for me… I decided to leave the band.

In my opinion we were going nowhere. We were repeating ourselves and going back to the same clubs every 3 months. I think the lads kept going for a few years after I left and I lost touch with the band.

But you know looking back over the years we were lucky to be able to recruit some of the most talented guitarists, like Keith Satchfield of Fist. Yes there was some hiccup’s along the way but we did have some brilliant gigs. We did a series in Holland where the Dutch people seemed to like our original music, tho’ it might have been what they were consuming (laughs).

We had some great gigs in the clubs as well. At one time we were gigging 8 shows a week, 2 on Sunday. My dad, who was horrified when I packed my job in at the Shields Gazette, was immensely proud to see the queues round the block on a Saturday night. Other bands around at the time were Geordie, Goldie, Burlesque and The Piranha Brothers, that was the peak of the club land scene in the North East.

The 1990’s saw sporadic releases from the band with ‘Cirkus II The Global Cut’ and only Derek Miller featuring from the original line-up. Then in ‘98 the much anticipated third Cirkus album ‘Pantomyne’ was released. This brought together original members and main songwriter, Stu McDade and featured cameo performances by an array of other musician’s most notably former frontman Alan Roadhouse. How did these recordings happen ? I wanted to record some new material so I built a little recording studio. I was working with a new singer called Ian Wetherburn, who I thought had a great voice and also looked the part. We put an experimental album together and Audio Archives picked up on this and decided to distribute the cd. It was basically demos but I decided to release it anyway. We pressed 500 copies and as with Cirkus One is highly collectable.
Off the strength of the Global Cut album I met up with Stu McDade and we decided to pool our resources and record a new album. Pantomyme was the result and again Audio Archives agreed to distribute.

For different reasons we lost touch until about 3 years ago when we decided to record some new material. Sadly in 2016 we lost Stu, leaving some unfinished tracks. With a brand new set of talented musicians, we managed to finish the tracks and also add some new ones. ‘The Blue Star’ album was released in June 2017 and is dedicated to Stu.

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Can you bring the Cirkus story up to date ? The new line up bears little resemblance to the original band as we have morphed so much over the years and Cirkus V is the new band. Now we have Mick Maughan (guitars, vocals, production)
Nick L Mao, (vocals, guitar, production)
Brian Morton (bass) Dave Ramshaw (vocals)
Paul Moose Harris (vocals) and me on keyboards.

On the back of the success of The Blue Star album comes Trapeze. We all record remotely passing tracks back and forth with someone ultimately doing the final mix. The tracks are all written by the band and as we speak the album is nearly finished.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

 

 

HOWAY THE LADS in conversation with North East songwriter Alan Fish

In 2016 representatives from Newcastle United were looking to recreate a new version of The Blaydon Races that would capture the fan’s imagination. Rob Byron the announcer at St James’ Park had been playing some pre – match tracks by The Attention Seekers, so got in touch with the songwriter Alan Fish….The version of Blaydon Races that they’d been playing for the past 20 years had originally been copied from vinyl so the quality wasn’t great. Rob asked if I was interested in coming up with a new version. The biggest challenge was every version I heard was a jolly, lightweight novelty song and sitting playing it on guitar or piano just added to that, The song didn’t have any of the dynamics that fans give it!

With Rob Byron St. James'

Alan (left) with match announcer at St James’ Park, Rob Byron.

What was your initial idea about recording a new version of the song ? At the games we attended during the research phase of the project it was evident that the fans rarely sing the song, so what I wanted was to reach back to the nostalgia of how I heard it back when I first started going to the matches and try to create a fan’s version.

I’m thinking back to 1968 in the Leazes End covered stand where it sounded really powerful and loud like through a loudspeaker. You would get to the match early to get your place and sing with all the other fans, it was a real communal thing and helped pass the time before kick-off. Now people can walk in 5 minutes before because they know they have their seat.

How did you put your idea into practice ? I had a chat with representatives of the club and they wanted a single voice to create a sense of unity and pride, Rob added that the fans only sing one verse, I thought this is going to be short then (laughs). But it was one of those 4am thoughts when I got the idea how I was going to put it together, not have one voice but 50,000 voices as one. That’s where the challenge was, to make it sound like that.

I contacted sports radio stations to see if any audio of the fans singing the song without being contaminated by the match commentary existed. One person got back to me, Chris Watson used to be in a Sheffield electronica band called Cabaret Voltaire, now he’s a top sound engineer who has worked with everyone including Sir David Attenborough. With him living up here now, he had taken sound gear into the ground and got loads of recordings. I bought quite a bit of audio off him. Chris is also a big NUFC fan!

I also set up an evening where members of fan clubs Wor Hyem 1982 and Gallowgate Flags came to a pub and we recorded them singing The Blaydon Races. Then back in the studio, to build the track we mixed in the audio from Chris Watson’s ‘Toon Army’ chants, referee whistles, cheers, goals, crowd reactions….. in place of conventional instrumentation. We then added Stu’s tribal drumming.

All of this was to stay away from the jolly, comedy feel. However listening back it still didn’t sound how I wanted, so we then asked for full access to the Stadium and pitch side areas in order to pump the track through the St James’ sound system, then re- record the mixes of the fans singing, from different areas of the stadium. RESULT! Sounded great!

Originally the club wanted Jason Isaacs to sing it, he’s like the Michael Buble of the North (laughs). We met up and got on well and agreed we needed someone to lead the song, but this was going to be a fan’s version not a celebrity version so I asked him not to sing it but be ‘five pints in’ belting it out (laughs). He loved the idea ‘I go to the match and sing along so it’s no problem’. He done a brilliant job and belted it out like a fan – five pints in!

How do you feel about the song now ? It’s still being played at St James’ and I see it as an ongoing project which I can add to. Using photos and visuals of matches from past to present is an idea I’ve been looking at, and how The Blaydon Races has been sung at matches over the years. I would love to have recordings of The Blaydon Races from the 50’s, 60’s, 70s…. to mix in to the track and create an audio/visual exhibition. (anybody out there with any recordings?)

Stu Haikney was my co-producer on this and he’s done a brilliant job. Stu is also a big Newcastle fan and we felt it had to be right. We wanted to get it to transition from a music hall song to a real football chant. We wanted the true authentic sound of fans singing at St. James’ Park and not take the easy option of using a ‘stadium simulation’ studio plug- in. Football fans spot that sort of thing a mile off (laughs).

It’s like a call to arms, a Northern anthem which captures the tribal spirit of the beautiful game and the roars at St James’ on a match day.

More stories soon from Alan about The Loud Guitars and current band The Attention Seekers.

For further info contact the official website

the-attention-seekers.co.uk 

where the track is available as a download/stream on Spotify, Amazon & iTunes.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

ALL HANDS ON DECK – interview with North Tyneside musician Aaron Duff from Alt-folk rock band HECTOR GANNET

After recently signing a deal with Wipe Out music publishing and supporting fellow North Shields musician Sam Fender, Aaron and fellow band members, Jack Coe (drums), Joe Coady (bass) and Martin Wann (guitar/korg) need all hands on deck as they prepare to release their first single ‘All Hail, All Glory’. The track sounds not quite ‘War on Drugs’ but easily nestles alongside ‘The Maccabees’, it has a release date of November 15th, a huge significance to songwriter Aaron Duff…..It marks the 51st anniversary of the sinking of the Hector Gannet. It was the name of a stern trawler that my Grandad sailed on. The boat was working as a support vessel for gas and oil rigs off the Great Yarmouth coast. In November 1968 there was a blowout on the Hewitt A rig and while attempting to rescue workers from the drilling platform, the bad weather caused the Hector Gannet to capsize, tragically resulting in the loss of three crew members. Thankfully my Grandad survived the disaster and is still alive to tell the tale. For me, the name means a lot, and sort of symbolises my heritage in a way.

23 year old Aaron also writes and performs solo. In 2017 he wrote an original music score to be performed alongside archive film footage of North East England. Ironically the film contained footage of his grandfather and other family members working at sea…. Like most people from the North East, I’m very proud of the place and the people that I come from.

When did you first start playing guitar and who were your influences ? I can’t ever remember not being interested in music. There was a guitar in the house that I’d pick up from time to time but it wasn’t until I was about ten that I started to actually learn the instrument.

I’ll listen to anything that’s played with conviction. The Clash were a massive band for me growing up. Their sentiment is something I completely latched onto. Their attitude and their ideology, I’ll stick by it for life.

Today people have described my music as Alt Rock/Folk. There’s a lot of folk influence in there, the likes of Lindisfarne/Alan Hull are huge local heroes for me and I’m influenced by artists like Dylan, CSN&Y, The Band etc.

But my heavier influences lie with bands like The Pixies, without doubt one of my favourites. There are current artists that I find inspiring too, Courtney Barnett has to be my favourite at the moment. Just brilliant song writing. Genius lyrics, really catchy.

Does your song writing happen quickly or take time for the lyrics and music to come together ?  Most of the time it starts with a subject but it has to be real to me. I suppose it goes back to that ‘Clash’ mentality. I have to write about things that really mean something to me, that I’m passionate about, enough to want to share with the world. Hopefully that way they’ll mean something to other people too. Sometimes it can happen straight away, sometimes it can take an age. I’ll sit for hours messing about on guitar and sometimes a tune will come out of it, then I’ll come up with some lyrics to fit in around it and the melody evolves around them.

What’s your thoughts on crowdfunding ? Some highly regarded artists use it, not just little known ones like us. It has its place, and a lot of artists have used it successfully. There’s always the worry that it won’t work or people won’t invest, but that’s the same with releasing your music anyway, people will invest time and money listening, or they won’t.

New single ‘All Hail, All Glory’ is released on November 15th 2019.

The band are due to support Sam Fender again in December 2019. For further information check the social media contacts:

https://www.facebook.com/hectorgannet/

https://twitter.com/HectorGannet

https://www.instagram.com/hectorgannet/

Or the official website: https://hectorgannet.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

 

 

 

 

THE FIXER – in conversation with former Impulse Studio and Neat Records owner David Wood

The next person to feature on this blog was owner of probably the most influential independent heavy metal record label in the 1980’s, a label that spawned Chief Headbangers Raven and Venom, who were major influences on the multi-million selling Americans, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeath.

So what was he like ? Was he the Don Arden of Tyneside ? Am I to be flown out by private jet to a yacht on the French Riviera or picked up by a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and driven off to an exclusive restaurant ? Sadly no, it was just a misty September morning when I nipped on a ferry, crossed the river Tyne and taken to a café in North Tyneside by a man wearing a fez.

What or who inspired you to start Impulse Studio ? When I left school I ended up as a Park Keeper in Wallsend Park then found a half decent job as a Technical Assistant at Proctor and Gamble. I was there for 3 year, it was well paid at £11 a week so I had a few quid to go out on a Friday night with me mates, but I couldn’t see myself staying there. For a 21st birthday present off my parents I was given a ticket to go to America on the Queen Mary.

While sightseeing in New York I came across this recording studio called Talent Masters. I went in and got talking to a guy who worked there called Chris Huston. I found out he used to be guitarist in The Undertakers from Liverpool. They had a hit record but he left the UK to be a tape technician in the studio. I’d always liked music, my instrument is the piano while not much of a player, but was really interested in this studio.

So when I returned home on the Queen Elizabeth ship I began to play around with a bit of sound recording. At that time a teenagers club was open in The Borough Theatre in Wallsend called The Manhole. This was around 1966 and people were listening to The Beatles and locally The Animals had made their name. It was a great meeting place was The Manhole, graphics painted on the walls, flower power you know, and a lot of good bands played there. That’s where I really got interested in the music scene. There was a similar place in Tynemouth called The Cave which was underneath The Gate of India Restaurant. (There was also a teenagers club in Beach Road, South Shields called The Cellar Club run by Stan Henry and his mother. Stan later opened The Latino and The New Cellar Club where Cream and Jimi Hendrix played).

cellaradvert

Advert for the opening of The New Cellar Club, South Shields. Taken from The Shields Gazette December 1967.

Yes I used to go to The Cellar. I’d drive to the ferry at Howdon, get on there with my car, you could in them days, then get off at Jarrow. It was a great building I think it was in the basement of their house where Stan’s mother ran the club. South Shields and Sunderland had their own places to run music from, it was great. I ended up doing some work for Stan, we ended up doing his sound equipment and for a lot of other people to keep the business ticking over.

In the Manhole club I met a band called The Chosen Few, and in them were Alan Hull, Alan ‘Bumper’ Brown on bass, singer was Rod Hood, guitarist I think was John Gibson and keyboards was Micky Gallagher who eventually played for The Blockheads, and he’d also played in The Animals when Alan Price left. They were really good and had a recording contract with PYE records. They recorded down in the West End of London at Radio Luxembourg studios. They put a couple of singles out.

Going back to The Manhole Club, that just shut one day and never reopened. I don’t know why maybe someone out there knows something about that. The Borough Theatre was built in 1906, it was a music hall at first, then a cinema, then a bingo hall. I got to know the manager and asked him for some space to run a studio. The studio was in the dressing room and the entrance to the studio was through the old stage door. There was a little booth where the doorman would of sat, well before our time (laughs).

How did you develop the space into a recording studio ? Literally built it up from scratch Gary, it took years to get it all done. At first we used egg boxes for sound proofing then bricked up all the windows. Anything was used for padding because we never had enough money then and at first we only had a mono then a stereo studio. We then purchased a 4 track, then an 8 track, eventually a 24 track machine but this was done over 10 or 12 years. This was all by the 1980’s and by then we had the run of all the building and moved the studio to the top floor, which wasn’t very popular with the bands as we had no lift. Eventually Impulse Studios were on all 3 floors.

What bands did you record and who did you get in as sound engineer ? One day I bumped into Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) by then The Chosen Few had split up, he was working as a nurse at St Nicholas Mental Hospital and still writing songs so I invited him down to record some. Impulse at that time recorded local bands. We were a progressive studio and probably recorded most people in the region who sang and played at one time in their careers. Everything then was recorded onto quarter inch tape. At that time we started to organise pressing records.

Sound engineer was Micky Sweeney, a great character, really popular with everyone. I used to do some recording as well. Micky ended up working with Lindisfarne who were born in the studio because it was there that Alan Hull got together with various members of Downtown Faction. They played together and got to know each other and it all came together.

You recorded an album with North East comedian Bobby Thompson, how did that come about ? I knew his manager Brian Shelley and he said Bobby is doing really well around the clubs do you fancy recording him ? I thought yeah we’ll give it a go. So we recorded him in Rhyope Poplars Club and Newcastle Mayfair. This was around 1978. It was around an hours recording that we put out and got Vaux breweries to sponsor it, ironically Bobby didn’t drink then and there he was on a promo poster with a pint of beer.

Soon as we put the record out it took off, they couldn’t get enough off it, straight to number one in the local charts. Every shop was selling bucket loads. It was phenomenal. Nobody could of appreciated the way it took off like it did, he even appeared on the Wogan show. But his humour didn’t travel well, he was shy of being in other places but up here in the North East he was absolutely fantastic. He could relate to the man in the street up here – the debt, the poverty, the wife and the war, he was incredible really.

With the label doing well, was Bobby responsible for Neat records ? Ha ha well with the profits from Bobby the studio came on in leaps and bounds in no time at all, so yeah we’ve got to thank him for it. We started Neat records as an alternative to what we were doing. A couple of early singles and one by a band called Motorway which was pop, not heavy metal, then a song by Jayne McKenzie written and engineered by Steve Thompson. Then Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Fist came along and suddenly we’ve got what became a New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom added to that and before we knew it we’ve built up a library of metal records.

Was there any rivalry between the top four North East metal bands – Fist, Raven, Venom and the Tygers ? Ha ha yeah they probably hated each other. No, listen, musicians are very much their own people you know. I don’t blame them. If they are the guitarist they are a ‘great guitarist’, you can’t perform in front of a dozen, hundreds, or thousands of people if you haven’t got an ego. You couldn’t stand on stage if you are a wimp, you’ve got to have something about ya – and they all do.

For Venom, first gig they played was at a church hall in Wallsend and they decided to have pyrotechnics and smoke. That all went off at the start and that’s the last we saw of the band for the whole set – they were playing behind a screen of smoke.

Did you deal with any managers or did the bands represent themselves ? I dealt with Raven directly but some of the bands had managers. One of them was a butcher (laughs) then Venom ended up with Eric Cook who really worked hard for them.  He was very enthusiastic and got a lot of things going for them. Thing was he had no experience but nobody else did really with this New Wave of Heavy Metal, it was all new. And that is something to remember about that whole scene, they were trying to play and we were trying to market, we (Neat) were all on the same level. We were balancing the recording, arranging tours, marketing, it was all interesting times, sort of in development, and some nightmare situations.

How did recording on the Neat label work for bands ? We did singles at first and they were tasters trying to get some interest, get picked up by bigger labels, that sort of thing. Some of them would end up on compilation lp’s later and some of the early Neat stuff were the demos. The first Raven album went into the national charts which was a surprise to all of us. But that was the progress we were trying to make.

How did Tygers of Pan Tang end up on MCA record label ? MCA were interested in the Tygers first single and put it out on their label which put the Tygers in a position to sign an album deal. Through their enquiries I got to know Stuart Watson who was head of A&R so I took the whole Neat project to MCA. They ended up recording albums by Fist and White Spirit. But MCA didn’t get their teeth into what we were doing so it all came back to us. It could have gone further but major companies are looking for big numbers, they didn’t want to sell 5,000 albums they wanted to sell 50,000 albums. We would have been happy to sell 1,000!

If you did sell that many how would the profit be used ? It would all go in the kitty, we wanted to progress the studio and the label – but we didn’t have any Lamborghini’s you know.

How did the label work for Raven ? We ended up doing 3 albums with them and took them to America and worked with Johnny Z at Megaforce Records based in New Jersey. They did some touring over there and Neat were managing the band at the time, paying them a retainer every week. When they came back the band had signed with the Americans. ‘Thanks for telling us’ I said, but hey that’s all in the past and we came to an agreement to release I think a live album over there.

Was that the bands natural progression to go to a bigger label ? Yes I suppose that’s fair comment to say that. We had gone as far as we could as basically a smaller outfit. I liked the band, I liked the idea of a 3 piece because it makes it easier to ship around. A 5 piece band can be much more challenging to get around on tour and in the studio.

Did the label have contacts to sell records in other countries ? We tried to get like-minded people in European countries, Holland, Italy etc, to do that but sometimes it was hard. A lot of time was spent trying to get it up and running but perhaps the label never reached it’s full potential. We sold to local record shops in the North East but a good outlet was actually mail order.

How does it work for a band if they released a single in say 1980 and the track ends up on a compilation album years later ? All the contracts were given over to Sanctuary and they had a section to deal with all the necessary releases.

What were Neat paying for as in terms of recording and tours ? We would put money up for tours and we once bought a tour bus for Fist, which was a big mistake cos it got wrecked inside. Their first single was ‘Name, Rank & Serial Number’ and ‘The Wanderer’ came much later, Status Quo ended up doing that, sounding very similar. Doing a more commercial song is a way in. Again I liked Fist and thought they had great potential, Keith Satchfield is a great singer and songwriter.

But just managing it all, controlling it all was a nightmare. There wasn’t a bottomless pit to fund it and you just try your best with the resources. What was surprising about bands playing in the UK was there wasn’t many chances to play on the big festivals, England was a hard place to play. America and Europe was mainly where the market was. I remember Holland was a good place for the bands to go.

Neat released a lot of singles would that have put the label in a good position ? Yes it helped the studio, marketing etc when the next single or album come along to record and promote.

Was there a time when Neat weren’t in a good position ? Yes often, I remember one time a band wanted to go on tour and it was £4,000. A lot to lay out because you don’t get it back cos the band don’t make much playing live. There was a lot of costs involved with going on the road.

When did Neat records fold ? Jess Cox (former Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist) got involved and we set up a separate label called Neat Metal, we put a different catalogue together, started licencing from different labels – a different approach to it. At one time we didn’t have any of the original Neat stuff on the catalogue. Eventually Sanctuary Records came in for the label and did some re-releases. A lot of independent labels have been moved around over the years.

With that I checked my watch and time was getting on so we agreed to meet up again soon where Dave will tell more stories about Impulse Studio including Cilla Black, Joan Armatrading and Sir Lawrence Olivier.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.