MORE THAN WORDS with North East poet Keith Armstrong

I’m standing at the bar in The Bridge Hotel in Newcastle waiting for poet and writer Keith Armstrong. If you imagine someone looking like the actor Bill Nighy, you’re not far wrong. He breezes in and before you know it we are sitting in a quiet corner and after his first sip of cider he tells me a story…

I took the train down to London with a mate of mine, it was 1977. We had third row tickets for the Rainbow Theatre to see Bob Marley and the Wailers. We were frisked as we went in, everyone was, but through a heavy fog of ganja smoke we saw a fantastic show. He had such a presence on stage. It was pretty much the best concert I’ve been to in my life.

First time I travelled abroad was in 1966. I went with a friend, we took a Melody Maker trip to the Berlin Jazz Festival. Flew over there then got a coach past Checkpoint Charlie to the venue. It was afternoon gigs, avant garde stuff and the big jazz guys of the day like Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins were on the bill. We got back to London and walking down Carnaby Street we bumped into two of the Beach Boys who we went to see in concert that night at Hammersmith Odeon.

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What is your background ? I was born and bred in Newcastle and my father worked in the shipyards. Absolutely steeped in the tradition. School days were spent at Heaton Grammar and it taught me to be a rebel because I couldn’t stand the confinement of the place. Just being edgy, wanting things to change – haven’t lost it.

First job I ever had was at Newcastle University Library I got paid 6 pounds 14 shillings and threepence a week. I was always bookish at school so libraries was good to get into. Plus I was the only boy amongst 15 women librarians – I learnt a lot. Gateshead College was another library I worked at in the early ‘70s. Within that I was developing an interest in the arts and arranged events with poets and theatre. From 1980-86 I was a Community Arts worker in Peterlee, County Durham then went freelance as a writer. I was glad to escape the 9 to 5 into an alternative prison of freelance (laughs).

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 (laughs). Listening to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, they were all there and I wrote poetry but always felt that I wanted to make them song-like. That’s why I ended up working with Gary Miller and The Whisky Priests. (Featured on the blog March 23rd 2019).

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Keith with North East musician Gary Miller.

How did that come about ? I was writing lyrics and I see very little difference in poetry to song lyrics. Around the early ‘90s I cottoned on to The Whisky Priests. I was looking for a band that had an edge, a bit of anger, you know a bit of an attitude. Also one steeped in the working class tradition of the North East. So I asked this guy Ross Forbes who was press officer at the NUM and he mentioned The Whisky Priests. I found they were playing at The Rose Tree in Durham. I went along and I knew this was what I was after, even I got up dancing (laughs).

It was really important for me and my poetry as it’s a different audience for what I write. And they weren’t playing in just the backroom of a Folk Club. They were taking it forward, for a younger audience. We also travelled a bit to Germany, Holland and Ireland. I always admired the fact Gary could write songs and was quite prolific about it as seen on The Whisky Priests anthology box set. But yeah I wrote some lyrics, they recorded Bleeding Sketches and it came out in 1995.

 

What does writing mean to you ? When I do write it’s to express my emotions and follow my heart. That’s why I like Gary Miller because he is like that. We worked on a project together called The Mad Martins. They were three brothers one of which has his paintings in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. I researched the story and asked Gary to write some stuff for it, that’s how it kicked off. It’s a special story that we put out on a triple CD. But writing, I couldn’t live without it.

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What you working on now ? Well I’m just forcing myself to write at the minute. Emotionally I’m a bit sapped with things going on around me you know, personal stuff. There are plans to go out to Tuebingen near Stuttgart with Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston as part of a Cultural Exchange arranged with County Durham. That’ll be in July. Originally they sent me over there in ‘87 as Poet in Residence and I’ve been going back there ever since. Then in October it’s same again for Limerick over in Ireland, fell in love with the place and they keep inviting me back.

But I could still be reading my poetry to 10 people in the back room of a pub in Penrith. Why do it ? I don’t know. But I’m keeping my options open (laughs).

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2019.

ROKSNAPS #7 – Snap Happy

Roksnaps are photograph’s taken by fan’s which captured the atmosphere of concert’s in the North East during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. T-shirt’s, programme’s and autograph’s were hunted down to collect as souvenier’s – and some people took photograph’s on the night. One fan who kept his photo’s and shared them on the blog is Martin Blank…

Like many fans at the time, I liked to leave a gig with as many souvenirs as I could whether it be a T-shirt, scarf, badge, programme or poster. If very lucky, maybe a plectrum, drumstick or even a sweaty towel used by the band and thrown into the crowd. If it was a band I was keen on I would sometimes record a gig, although this was greatly frowned upon at the time by record companies worried that the recording would appear on a bootleg LP and rob them of potential sales. Funnily enough recording gigs and photographing bands seems to be encouraged nowadays.

Cassette-recorders in the ‘70s were rather bulky and therefore trying to get into a venue with a huge bulge under your coat was no mean feat. I can’t describe the joy of leaving a venue knowing that you had the gig on tape which could then be relived in the privacy of your bedroom. Even better was taking photos because no other pic’s from the gig would be identical to the ones you’d taken.

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Captain Sensible of The Damned outside Newcastle City Hall in 1977.

The first camera I got was an instamatic and the first gig I took it to was T.Rex at Newcastle City Hall in ‘77. For reasons I can’t remember I didn’t take any photos of support band The Damned but straight after they left the stage I went outside and who walks past but none other than Captain Sensible. I fumbled around in a desperate attempt to find my camera in hope of getting a few candid snaps of The Captain. Shoving my camera under his nose I asked him if it would be OK to take a few photos. ‘Of course’, he said with a big grin on his face. As I was happily snapping away, hardly believing my luck as he was striking just about every pose known to man, in jumped a group of punks. One of them was carrying The Damned’s debut album. I asked if there would be any chance of getting a few photos of the rest of the band. The Captain went in the stage door and a couple of minutes later appeared with vocalist Dave Vanian looking like he’d just walked off the set of the latest Hammer Horror film.

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Pauline Murray vocalist with North East punks Penetration at the Newcastle University 1978.

The next gig I took my camera to was the Stuff The Jubilee event at The Guildhall featuring The Adverts, Penetration, The Big G and an unknown band from Manchester called Warsaw. Regrettably, I was so excited watching the bands that I totally forgot to take any photos. Warsaw, of course, were soon to change their name to Joy Division and did rather well for themselves. On that night they came across as a rather poor run-of-the-mill Punk band. So bad that somebody commented, ‘They’re so bad they’re good.

My brother had a better camera, a Zenith which he would sometimes let me borrow. Whereas with an instamatic camera it was basically sheer luck whether or not you got a good photo or just an abstract-looking blur, with an SLR (single lens reflex) you could focus, alter the aperture which was great when the stage lighting was poor and even zoom-in. Taking photos at The Mayfair, Uni or Poly was easy as nobody was bothered but the City Hall had a strict ‘no photos’ policy. Some stewards were OK with it and would let you go to the front of the stage to get a few pics providing you were very quick. Loitering around the stage snapping away could get you dragged back to your seat or, even worse, thrown out.

 

The advantage of many Punk gigs was that they took place at the Uni, Poly or in pubs which meant you could get really up-close. Several times I got disparaging looks from a member of a band: ‘Get that fuc*ing camera out of my face’. Of course, there was always the risk of your camera being damaged in the frenzy of a Punk gig but it was always worth taking the chance.

Sometimes when I show the photos to kids who are into Punk nowadays they’re amazed. It’s a bit like they’re seeing photos of the Second World War or something, ‘Omg, you were actually there!‘ I guess it’s one thing seeing photos in a book, magazine or on a website but to actually handle the originals gives them some sort of connection to the past. I’ve been offered considerable sums of money for some of the photos but I wouldn’t sell any of them as I occasionally like to dig them out and reminisce about how great it was to be a teenager in the ‘70s.

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Generation X, Newcastle University 1978.

Interview by Gary Alikivi, April 2019.

Recommended:

Roksnaps #1 Feb 18th 2018.

Roksnaps #2 Feb 22nd 2018.

Roksnaps #3 Feb 17th 2018.

Roksnaps #4 April 4th 2018.

Roksnaps #5 June 20th 2018.

Roksnaps #6 March 30th 2019.

WHEN MILLER MET CUNNY documentary about workingmen’s clubs

During late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and  most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields. After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’. Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.

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Wayne Miller and Iain Cunningham, still picture taken from the ‘Home from Home’ documentary 2015.

Included is a transcript of the interview with two of the contributor’s to the documentary, North East actor’s Wayne Miller and Iain Cunningham, both regulars on stage at The Customs House theatre, South Shields. A couple of points (or pints) before the stories, filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and if you don’t speak Geordie it’s written in the Tyneside dialect.

Miller: We were part of a travelling pantomime company that did the club’s for 15 years.

Cunny: Yes 1997 we started. We were just bairns.

Miller: Yeah just young bairns from college drafted in to do touring panto that we thought was a one year thing ended up being 15 years. It was a great training ground for us as actor’s.

Cunny: Really is where you learn your trade, where you don’t know what to expect. Was always fun to do. One thing I didn’t realise was how important it was to the people at the clubs you know the whole family day out sort of thing. They save’d up and it was a big deal wasn’t it. The kid’s always got a selection box, the dad always got a beer.

Miller: Mam always got a Babycham.

Cunny: Ya know no expense spared.

Miller: Yeah you are right it was that big massive day out all the kid’s dressed up in their Christmas outfits and Santa of course. All the club’s provided a Santa to come out after the pantomime. Which always reminds me of the story when the concert chairman came in he was like ‘Lad’s, lad’s, we’ve got Santa comin’ in right, so if you tell us when the panto is ending we’ll bring out Santa, kid’s are gonna love it, they’ll gae crackers’. I said alright mate it generally runs for this length of time, we’ll defeat the villain then we’re gonna sing Reach for the Stars. If you listen for that then get Santa ready to come out.

Cunny: We’ll make a big deal of it, a massive thing so all the kid’s get very excited shouting yeah Santa.

Wayne: That was the plan.

Cunny: It was.

Wayne: Lo’ and behold we defeated the villain and right boys and girls were gonna sing Reach for the Stars now so if you’d like to get on yer feet and… where you goin’ where you goin’ !

Cunny: There was a jingle and right at the back there was Santa.

Miller: 400 kid’s just get up off the floor and run towards the back. We’re just singin’ Reach for the Stars in front of this only kid that’s scared of Santa and is cryin’ his eyeball’s out.

Cunny: Christmas Eve show’s were brilliant. The excitement.

Miller: Yeah they knew it was comin’. Santa’s on his way. But come Boxing Day it was like chalk n cheese.

Cunny: Nobody wanted to be there. Including us. To be fair me and Miller had to go on and whip the crowd up to a frenzy, get them joining in. Remember doing one club in Gateshead and I came running on first, the music started I shouted Hiya gang. I looked out and the kid’s were (looking down) just playing with the new toy they had brought.

On concert chairmen…

Miller: Going in the club the concert chairman would greet ya’… ‘I’ll show ya’ round the club lad’s, show yer round the club. There’s yer stage, there’s yer stage right. See that…that’s yer organ.

Both together: Can’t move that. Nah can’t move that.

Miller: There’s the drumkit ower there.

Both together: Can’t move that. Nah can’t move that.

Miller: So do you think yer’d get yer set on there ?

Cunny: Most of the time we couldn’t. We’d have to scale it down to one bit of scenery and a cloth. And the dressing rooms. Every dressing room ya’ can gaurentee some turn would have wrote a note on the wall.

Miller: Turn back lad’s. Unplug yer gear. Get in the van and get yersel away.

Cunny: Yeah don’t bother. It’s rubbish here.

On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…

Miller: It is quite sad and people aren’t goin’ in and learning their craft. Like group’s, singer’s, acoustic act’s, stand up comedians.

Cunny: There is no better place to learn.

Miller: Comedy isn’t in the club’s anymore it’s going into the theatre’s, upstair’s of pub’s. You are seeing now comedian’s don’t know how to handle a crowd. That’s what the club give ya’.

Cunny: Yeah they don’t know how to handle the drunk man hecklin’ them (laughs).

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‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).

Narrated by Tom Kelly. Music by Derek Cajaio.

9min edit at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSBp5XD242U

 Interview by Gary Alikivi.

 

 

WHEN JOE MET MAD DOG – documentary about workingmen’s clubs

In late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and  most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields. After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’. Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.

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Michael ‘Mad Dog’ Davis and Joe Peterson in the Royal British Legion, South Shields 2015.

Included is a transcript of the interview with two contributor’s to the documentary, North East club entertainer’s Michael ‘Mad Dog’ Davis and Joe Peterson, both regulars in the club. A couple of points (or pints) before the stories, the filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and if you don’t speak Geordie it’s written in the Tyneside dialect.

 Joe: I tell yer what they used to do, they used to bring their own food.

Mad Dog: They still dae it.

Joe: They bring cheese, crackers things to eat put them out on the table and they would share.

Mad Dog: And everyone used to have their own seat. You can’t seat in that seat. You go into a strange club and sit in a seat. You can’t sit there that’s Harry’s seat. He isn’t here. Doesn’t matter. That’s Jackie’s seat. You can’t sit there. And big fight’s if yer did.

 Joe: We were in the club’s for a long time but the ‘70s were different where there was a boom  and there was money to be made an’ I remember people from mechanics to taxi drivers deciding to play instruments and do stuff on stage, to go and make a living.

Mad Dog: It was yer apprenticeship that’s what it was.

Joe: For the young un’s aye.

Mad Dog: You find out now that everyone who done that apprenticeship in the clubs are a different type of musician that you have now.

Joe: A lot of them in the North East, good players start in the clubs and learnt the trade. It was one of the most hardest club area’s in the country, it was renowned for it. So if you could do it here.

Mad Dog: Same with comedians, any top comedian probably started off on the club’s first. Then the good one’s went onto bigger things.

Joe: We used to have regular meeting places like The Crown at Tyne Dock which is a bingo hall but a nightclub as well. Often we’d go there after gig’s and there’d be a musician’s scene. There was so much work about people were working most nights you’d finish a gig and end up there. If yer were a bit of a distance you would hurry to get back for a couple of pints in The Crown.

Mad Dog: We’re talking Tuesday or Wednesday night you could have 10-15 people playing on stage who made it back to The Crown after their show. There used to be a resident duo of organ and drums, next thing you know there’s a guitar, bass, three singers, brass section. Everybody heading back to The Crown.

Joe: After that everybody head off to..

Mad Dog: The Shah Jan

Joe: Yeah The Shah Jan for a curry. It was renowned. The room was full of musicians.

Mad Dog: I counted once,  in a year I had a curry 7 days a week (laughs).

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On concert chairmen…

Joe: The thing about the concert chairmen is looking back now they were down to earth solid fella’s, lot of them tradesmen.

Mad Dog: Managers in the dock’s.

Joe: Aye in the dock’s, shipyards, then they were part of an entertainment night with a microphone in front of them and Ladies and Gentlemen. Things they weren’t used to. So as musicians we used to look from the outside in and think that’s crazy. Someone with experience just wouldn’t do.

Mad Dog: They’d get a microphone, and the bingo’s on. They used to have sockets on the wall that you plug into the house system and on many occasion the microphone hasn’t worked so they actually started talking into the hole in the wall (laughs).

Joe: Once there was a whistle noise in the background from the p.a and they were trying to find out where the noise was coming from. We had a listen to our speakers it’s not our gear. Then someone in the lounge shouted up to the concert room where’s that feedback come from, what’s that whistle ? And the concert chairman put the microphone to his ear well it’s not our gear (laughs).

On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…

Mad Dog: The cheapest place in town to drink was the social club and it still is in some of them. Don’t think the kid’s these day’s follow in their father’s footsteps like we did in our era. But it was things like the no smoking, wasn’t a community thing anymore, karaoke, all little things together. Cos it used to be a live thing, you’d go to clubs to watch a live band.

Joe: What’s different about now is people were out most nights. Now it’s once or twice but then there was things on most nights and if there wasn’t you could sit in the lounge with family.

Mad Dog: If yer travel around there used to be thousands of club’s and now there is so many boarded up and haven’t made it. They haven’t moved on, they haven’t tried to change.

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‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).

Narrated by Tom Kelly. Music by Derek Cajaio.

9min edit available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSBp5XD242U

Interview by Gary Alikivi.

WHEN NED MET JACK – documentary about workingmen’s clubs

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Ned Kelly and Jack Berry in the Royal British Legion Club, South Shields 2015.

During late 2015 I made a documentary about workingmen’s clubs on South Tyneside and  most of the filming took place in the Royal British Legion Club in South Shields. After initial research I approached Club Steward Pam Carrol about filming in the club ‘What will be your best time ? I’d like to film when there is some entertainment on’. Expecting a Friday or Saturday night she returned with ‘No son, Monday is best. We’ve got a singer on and an afternoon bingo session. The club will be packed’. It was, and musician Alan Knights provided the entertainment.

Included is a transcript of the interview with two contributor’s to the documentary, former North East club entertainer’s Ned Kelly and Jack Berry, both regulars in the club. A couple of points (or pints) before the stories, the filming had to be stopped a few times because I was laughing so hard and if you don’t speak Geordie it’s written in the Tyneside dialect.

Ned: There was plenty o’ work and we used to do 10 shows a week. Sunda’ to Sunda’ then put in a niteclub an’ that to make up to 10 show’s ya knaa. It was non stop. I’ve seen us finish after a 10 day run for one of the most famous agents in the world. A guy called Andy Green, ex Sergeant Major. He’d put us in starting at Dalkeith just before Edinburgh, the last show was Fraserburgh right up on the coast. Then the next next day was at Swansea. Next job was Germany so we had to go to Harwich to catch a ferry to Zeebrugge then up through Holland.

Jack: Aye that bloody time we were in Wales. We were in Neath, is that right ?

Ned: Swansea.

Jack: We were in Swansea and he say’s I’m gaan to put pigeons in the piana. This is 10 o’ clock in the morning. He bought some pigeon food, coaxing the pigeons alang, took his coat off, managed to get a few of them. Straight back to the club, lifted the lid up of the piana put the pigeons in. This is about half past eleven time. Buggered off back to the digs, then come back about 7 o’clock (for the show). Aal you cud hear was coo, coo, coo. Anyway lifts the lid up the pigeons fly oot they’re shyting aal ‘ower the audience, on their claes, in their booze. The curtains are shut, they’re trying to open them to open the winda’s. Well the mare they wu’ flappin’ the mare they wu’ shyting.

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Ned: It was the 70s Gary and it was one of the Giovanni’s big do’s at a restaurant. They were al’ scrap men. It was Christmas time and the scrap yards were shuttin’ for the Christmas and New Year period. There was a buffet on, a big long table full of gear. They brought their dogs and tied them to the railings on the bar cos you can’t leave dog’s near food. There was Bulldogs, Alsations, Rottweilers al’ kinds and they’re al’ gaan for each other. Well they’re shakin’ and there’s oil an’ diesel aal ower the place, it stunk. It was like midnight at Minsky’s.

We had to gaan up stairs to get changed and bein’ a restaurant there was a geet big fridge where they put aal the gear ya knaa, the ducks, fillet steaks, aal kinds, and there was this great side of beef. You’ve seen the lorries getting loaded with the beef and the two legs on the front. We said what we’ll dae is nick the side of beef, chop it up at yem and share it oot.

(Pointing at Jack) He filled his guitar case full of ducks and steaks but we thought How we going to get the beef out the door past the doorman ? I said what we’l dae is put an overcoat on him and if a doorman say’s owt we’ll say it’s the roadie he’s pissed. That’s exactly what we done. We walked a side of beef oot the door past the doorman and put it in the back of the van. Next morning everyone had choppers choppin’ chunks of beef off it was great. He finished off aal the ducks and never shared with anyone. I shared my fillets with everyone yea never give anything.

Jack: Yea bugger I never got the chance cos the bloke phoned up and said all the meat was condemned.

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Bingo in session at the Royal British Legion, South Shields (pic from the documentary).

Jack: A club in Darlington right. Get’s in there. Five nights. On the last night, now bearing in mind the bloke who owned the place put a new glass stage on with lights comin’ up ya knaa.

Ned: Aye. I remember it.

Jack: Aye. We asked the fella in charge can I put this piana on fire? The roadie will come on and put a sprinklin’ of lighter oil on. For wu’ encore wu’ll do Great Balls of Fire. Ya knaa’ Goodness gracious great balls of… then flick the lighter. The keyboard will go up but I said the roadie will be ready with the fire extinguisher.

Well he went an’ put the whole bloody tin on it! Flicked the lighter an’ it’s a blaze. They’re all bloody killin’ themselves in the audience they think it’s part of the show. The band are standin’ like tatties, his fingers are on fire. So I shoved the piana like that (kicks leg out). It went straight through his new glass stage. Polystyrene tiles up a height are al’ bloody comin’ doon. The cortins are alight an’ everything. When all the flames were put oot ya’ shuda seen the state of that stage. He (Ned) said well you’re the man for the money kid gaan get paid (laughs).

Ned: Yeah looked like he was gonna bost yer face.

Jack: I said who do I see to get paid ? Paid !He said. Are you stupid you’ve caused £10,000 pound worth of damage (laughs).

On the demise of the workingmen’s clubs…

Ned: No smoking started it.

Jack: It didn’t ya knaa. In the ‘80s the debacle between Thatcher and Scargill, the miners strike God knaa’s what. You gotta remember that in Scotland there was loads of miner’s welfare clubs. A lot of them shut doon. A lot of them shut in this country. I think that was the beginning of the end. And then is what you said kid.

Ned: In those day’s most people smoked, nearly everybody smoked. The majority of the club’s were upstairs in them ‘50s style buildings. They would come aal the way doonstairs for a couple of puffs off a tab, then aal the way back up the stairs. And gettin’ aulder they were knackered they couldn’t dae it anymore. They started shutting concert rooms first, finish the act’s, ring the agents, not enough people in.

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‘Home from Home’ 25mins (2016).

Narrated by Tom Kelly. Music by Derek Cajaio.

9min edit available at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSBp5XD242U&t=8s&fbclid=IwAR2cbMn0A8aLDPe2Ps725KbTitCwmfsYVVzZLsdjkzO55WJDC-8eht8lhrQ

Interview by Gary Alikivi.

ON A SIX STRING with North East musician Steve Lamb

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During the 1980s Steve was guitarist with the Tygers of Pan Tang on two albums ‘The Wreckage’ and ‘Burning in the Shade’….Yeah I’m proud to be part of the Tygers legacy and long may it continue. I contacted Robb (Weir, guitarist) a while back wishing him good luck at resurrecting the Tygers with the new dynamic line up. Micky McCrystal is a great guitarist and huge asset to the band plus a really nice guy when I met him. I nicknamed him Tyger cub because of his enviable youth (laughs).

Do you often look back on your time with the Tygers ? I have fond memories of those days as we got to play on live TV, toured Europe and USA. We were playing Mayfair size venues (2,000 capacity). There were some great bands around in the ‘80s and one who supported us were Terraplane. They would later go on to bigger things changing their name to Thunder.

When did you first get interested in the guitar and who were your influences ? I remember this strange fascination I had with the guitar. My brother was five years older than me, he had an acoustic that he didn’t play very much so I would sneak into his bedroom to play around with the guitar.

I didn’t have any lessons and was self taught listening to other guitarists. Each guitarist would influence me with certain styles. They were then, and still are quite varied.

Kossoff with vibrato, Clapton with never ending solos and Hendrix with flamboyant stage presence and feel. In later years I remember being astounded when I first heard Eddie Van Halen’s finger tapping. Then Malmsteen entered the scene with his fantastic classical arpeggio technique. I suppose all guitarists are influenced by a mixture of different styles or we would all end up sounding the same.

When did you start gigging ? My early years were playing covers around the local pub and club scene. This brought me into contact with other musicians in the area. I remember singer Tony Liddle knocking me out of bed in the early hours asking if he could borrow my Ovation acoustic guitar as he had managed to get a live solo TV appearance on The Tube music show.

Later Tony invited me to join the band Sergeant leading to some bigger shows and venues supporting established bands. We supported Accept on their UK tour playing places like Manchester Apollo, London’s Hammersmith Odeon and Newcastle City Hall. The line up was Tony on vocals, me on guitar, Anthony Curan bass and former Tygers of Pan Tang drummer, Brian Dick.

Did you have a manager ? At the time we were managed by Carol Johnson, wife of AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson. We recorded demo’s in Lynx Studio around ’83. This was my first real taste of recording in a professional studio environment. The tracks 24 Hours and Lion Tamer were done there. Unfortunately we were unable to secure a deal so the band went our separate ways.

How did the gig with Tygers of Pan Tang come about ? Brian Dick asked if I would be interested in joining up with him and recording an album. I remember only having a few weeks to learn, rehearse and record the album so it felt like being on a rollercoaster. We used the Berlin Studio in Blackpool and I loved being in a studio. After recording The Weck-Age in ’85 we took it out on tour of the UK, Germany and Holland.

Line-up on The Wreck-Age was vocals Jon Deverill, guitar Steve Lamb and Neil Shepherd, on bass Dave Donaldson and drums Brian Dick. Also on the album were Ian Curnow keyboards and programming plus Steve Thompson adding keyboards and bass guitar who wrote and co-wrote 7 of the tracks. Graham Lee added backing vocals.

I was privileged to be involved with songwriter Steve Thompson co-writing with him and vocalist Jon Deverill on the next album Burning In The Shade which was recorded in Lynx Studios in Newcastle during ‘86/87.

My relationship with Jon Deveril was and still is a good one. I still think he has one of the best and distinctive rock voices in the business. I remember Jon having a passion for opera so it was no surprise he went into theatre and acting.

Like all bands there were some comical moments on stage. I remember Steve Thompson guesting for us playing keyboards on a live TV show and forgetting the chords to the song Desert of No Love. Funny considering he wrote the song (laughs).

What happened when you left the Tygers ? The demise of the Tygers led me onto a path of the demonic side of the music business. A breach of management contract was filed against me which led to a lengthy court battle that eventually ruled in my favour. However, it left a very bad taste in my mouth. My appetite for the music business soured so I decided to step out for a while.

What are you up to now ? Music is still a big part of my life and I play live whenever I can with various bands and still enjoy playing gigs overseas.

I’ve also been reunited with old friend Steve Thompson guesting on his new album The Long Fade. Steve approached me asking would I like to guest on his new album he was putting together. He wrote a song back in the early ‘80s for the Tygers called Paris by Air and he wanted me to play the guitar parts. This song was a favourite of mine so the answer was a definite yes. He must have been happy with the outcome as he later asked if I would record the instrumental version.

Then he invited me to play a song that he originally wrote for Alvin Stardust called Behind The Wheel. Also performing on the track is a collaboration of guests from Raven and Venom. I was more than happy to be involved with a great bunch of musicians.

What does music mean to you ? A serious hand injury a few years back made me realise just how fragile a musician’s career can be. Now in my twilight years, guitar playing has been a very therapeutic influence through my life and a constant companion in the up’s and down’s of this mad world. Long may it continue.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019.

Recommended reading:

Jon Deverill, Enter Stage Right, Jan 22nd 2019.

Micky McCrystal, Road Works Jan 3rd 2019.

Fred Purser, Square One Dec 30th 2018.

Robb Weir, Rock City Live Dec 19th 2018.

Robb Weir, Doctor Rock Nov 5th 2017.

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

Micky McCrystal, Cat Scratch Fever Mar 17th 2017.

Tygers of Pan Tang, Guardian Recording Studio May 3rd 2018.

Ian Penman, Writing on the Wall, Aug 1st 2018.

 

STRIKE UP THE BAND in conversation with Gary Miller and Mick Tyas from The Whisky Priests

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Gary Miller, Gary Alikivi & Mick Tyas.

North East folk rockers The Whisky Priests released their first album Nee Gud Luck in 1989…

Gary Nee Gud Luck was done quickly which made it quite exciting really. Later on with other albums I found it a stressful experience because being a perfectionist it was difficult to relax in the studio. I was quite uncomfortable in that situation and once you press that button you know.

Mick Thing is, recording is very clinical and very mechanical you know, you do your bit and add the overdubs. But live you play it warts an’ all, you make mistakes and we still play those songs.

Listening back would you change anything on that first album ? 

Gary No, looking back we wouldn’t change anything about the music. It’s like looking back on old photos isn’t it. They are defining moments. Creative people keep searching for perfection, improving on the last thing you’ve done. Always feeling you can do better and that’s how it should be you know. No, wouldn’t change anything.

ALBUM

Mick That cover picture was taken outside The Cluny, you can see the old cobbles, the River Tyne is behind us.

Gary There is nothing to suggest there’s a recording studio in the warehouse.

Mick We have talked about going back there and re-staging the photo with the new line up.

Gary Our image is authentic. If it was fake people would see through it and it would fall apart. At school I’d wear white shirt and crombies. When I got into music in the 70s I was into The Clash, XTC, Post punk stuff but a band I was heavily into was The Specials. Jerry Dammers was a genius, creating the whole black/white image, second-hand suits, and the way the band was presented with all their energy. Here was a band that looked like a gang. Myself and my brother took a lot from that.

Similar to bands like the Ramones ?

Gary Yeah, when we started we wanted to reflect that because we didn’t do things by halves. It was 100%. On stage we were putting our heart and soul into it. It was who we were.

Mick We did a festival in Belgium and were second on the bill to the Ramones. We met them and Joey said he liked our show but the others were kind of introvert. I remember we were in Italy and got on the guest list for a Ramones gig. My memory of that night was being asked for my autograph at a Ramones gig not a Whisky Priests gig (laughs).

Gary We’ve always had our integrity. We’ve always tried to be honest and never be pretentious about it. Not being calculated about it or commercial, we’ve just followed our creative heart.

Mick There’s been various people trying to get their hooks in and manipulate and change us but the integrity of the band stops that.

The Whisky Priests - Photo Session 1989 (Nee Gud Luck promo) 3 - Copy

Founder member Gary Miller remembers how the name of the band came about… We had been rehearsing, our first gigs were arranged and we needed a name. My brother and I wrote down a few names and that was the best of the bunch. It came from a character in a book The Power and the Glory by British author Graham Greene, which is set during the Mexican revolution. The main protagonist is an anonymous priest and referred to as The Whisky Priest.

Mike We called one of our albums The Power and the Glory as a homage to the author. There was no real story behind it but it had a few advantages.

Gary Yeah, we were at a gig in Germany and half way through a guy came on stage with a tray full of glasses of whisky for us (laughs). And once we were playing in Holland and there was an article in a newspaper warning people not to go to see this band cos apparently we were encouraging alcoholism. As a result, the gig was a sell-out (laughs).

Mick Yeah there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

There has been a reunion lately but when were The Whisky Priests first active ?

Gary From 1985 to 2002 officially, then we kind of went into hibernation, we did a few gigs here and there but that was it until the reunion tour last year. We enjoyed it and the majority of material was from the early part of our career. It was great to revisit it and we adapted some songs, it had a freshness because we now have 30 years of experience behind us. And not just musicality but life you know.

Mick Some of the stuff we were playing were better versions I thought. We were out there enjoying it.

Gary Yeah we were doing it for different reasons. Back then everything rested on it, you never had time to step back and appreciate it. It was relentless. So this time was a celebration really of the band’s history and legacy.

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Multi-instrumentalist Mick Tyas joined The Whisky Priests in ’88, adding vocals, banjo, mandolin and bouzouki… I had been on a Christmas holiday with some friends and we were driving back when I heard an interview with the band on BBC Radio Cleveland. The band were only a three piece then and were looking for a bass player. My friend’s wife said why not ring them up, I think I remember the phone number. At first I got the number wrong then tried again, got it right and went along to the audition. Which was at your parents’ house wasn’t it ?

Gary Yeah, in my bedroom (laughs).

In the early years the band had already created a loyal following…

Gary Yeah, we’d only played a few gigs in local pubs around Durham. Our first gig was in October ’85 and the band were just in a fledgling state, none of us were full-time then and were holding down day jobs. We had a loyal following and one of them was called Nigel Wreford, and his dad had a dairy farm near Haswell. He used to deliver the milk and one of the houses on his route belonged to a producer at Tyne Tees Television who produced The Tube, his name was Malcolm Gerrie.

We hadn’t released any records by then but we did have some demo tapes. On his next round the farmer dropped off the milk as usual but put a tape next to the bottles with a note attached saying…Have a listen to this, think you might like it.

This was early ’86 and I was working my first job as a clerical assistant in Social Services at Durham County Hall when the phone rang and my colleague shouted over… Gary, it’s for you… I thought it must have been someone ringing from one of the care homes when someone on the other end said… It’s Tyne Tees Television can you come and do The Tube this Friday. This was at five-to-five on a Wednesday afternoon (laughs).

I did meet Malcolm Gerrie later and he said he was driving in his car when he remembered the tape, listened to it and thought I must get these guys on The Tube. We loved the experience and opportunity for what was a young band then. We were sat in the studio canteen seeing all these famous people off the telly…I recognise him he does the news (laughs).

TUBE

Did more opportunities come off the back of your appearance on The Tube ?

Gary Yeah, suddenly we had the chance to play outside our immediate area. We were The band off The Tube, you know. In the bar at The Tube we met these two guys who were getting into artist management. One was a sort of music mogul who knew about the industry and the other was purely business and knew nothing about music. It looked promising at first, they signed another act as well, but the guys fell out with each other. So one took one act and the other got, well we ended up with the businessman who knew nothing about the music industry.

The other guy became head of Go Disc records and signed The Housemartins, bands like that. So it could have been a different scenario. Our manager put our first single out which kick-started our recording career but nothing after that… he needed the other guy! Eventually we parted company and started doing it ourselves.

 Was this the start of Whippet Records ?

Gary Our first recording was down the Newcastle Quayside at a place called Prism Sound that ended up on a compilation album of bands from Durham. Then we put a single out, The Colliery on 7inch that set up Whippet Records then put out two 12inch ep’s in 1988. That’s when Mick joined and we recorded our first album Nee Gud Luck in ’89 at The Cluny recording studio, now a music venue.

Mick Yeah, originally it was an old whisky warehouse. We went down into the bowels of the place in a big service lift. The engineer was Mickey Sweeney who used to record a lot of folk acts around the North East. It was all done in about 6 days, mostly recorded live including the mixing. We had a lotta fun but could have done with more time.

Gary Yeah, it was bang, bang, bang… and the brass band was in there. I was in the control room singing and to avoid any sound spillage the rest of the band where in the studio.

Mick It was very seat of yer pants recording. No cans (headphones) or soundproofing really. The engineer saying I’m just nipping over to The Ship to sort sumthin’ out (laughs).

Gary We put it out through Celtic Music who we ended up having a big court battle with. But at their insistence we recorded it there cos it was their in-house studio. They recorded all their acts in The Cluny.

But on our subsequent albums we were looking for an alternate studio and Mick mentioned Trinity Heights run by Fred Purser (former Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist). We went there in January ‘92 for our second album.

Mick Yes, I already knew Fred, originally from school, so the link was there and I think we were one of the first to record in Trinity Heights. As well as producing he played on one or two of the tracks. We recorded three or four albums there.

Gary It was great because we became good friends with Fred, he’s such a laid back guy and a good atmosphere was created to record in. No matter how disastrous it became in the studio he was always calm and collected which rubbed off on us.

 

When was your first magic moment listening to music, a time that stands out as really special ?

Gary That would go right back to when I was 4 years old and my dad was into Italian opera but he was also into military brass band music. Me and my twin brother used to listen to the records marching around the room banging toy drums and playing trumpets. That was a real buzz. That tied in with going to the Durham Miners Meetings and seeing the brass bands, that had an influence as well because both my parents’ families were miners. It was in my blood and had a big impact.

Then at junior school we’d listen to the radio and sing these folk songs from all around the world. Songs like Jesse James, The Streets of Laredo, Casey Jones and the Maid of Amsterdam. Then local stuff like The Lambton Worm and The Blaydon Races. It opened up my mind that songs could tell stories. Then teenage years listening to rock and pop records in my room standing in front of the mirror miming along, that’s when I decided I wanted a guitar.

 

Mick The first band I saw live was The Beatles, I was 8 year old. We were living in London at the time cos me father worked for the prison service. He had bought four tickets, there was my father, mother, sister and me sitting in Hammersmith Odeon. I’ve never forgotten it cos at the time I knew it was something important.

We moved back up here (North East) in time to see England win the World Cup and I got into folk music and prog rock, bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span then Led Zeppelin. Punk came along and I had a connection with Penetration through their guitarist Fred Purser. Then I got into The Pogues, The Men They Couldn’t Hang you know that whole Folk slant.

Some musicians often talk about missed opportunities to take their music to a larger audience. Did you experience this ?

Gary We played Cambridge Folk Festival 1990. Colin Urwin, journalist on the folk scene wrote in The Gaurdian that We’re going to be the next big thing. So there was a definite buzz. That was our window of opportunity but we were stuck in this contract with an independent record company. Our manager at the time, who had also managed The Strawbs, said I’m going to get you signed to a major label. After about a year we went to his office in Tottenham Court Road and he sat us down and showed us all these letters from A&R guys at major record companies EMI, Sony, BMG, Arista loads all desperately wanting to sign us. At the time The Pogues had been hugely successful and all these companies were looking for a band that could be part of that.

Mick There was only The Pogues, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and ourselves were the main ones that were around. The Levellers were on their way up.

Gary Yeah, but we were already in a contract with an independent label and couldn’t get out.

Mick Our manager eventually dropped us, he couldn’t invest in us anymore. The Musicians Union eventually got us out after 3 year in all, plus we couldn’t record during that time.

Gary By then we’d missed the boat. That was our big opportunity. We couldn’t get bookings at festivals because the company owner, who we took to court, blackened our name.

Mick Yeah it was… Don’t book the Whisky Priests, they’re trouble. For every up, there’s half a dozen downs. You think yeah there’s something happening here… then you just don’t get the break.

Gary Ironic thing was that if we had done something with a major label he would have been in for a percentage.

There was a label from France interested and we were top of their list. But with everything happening they went with the second band on their list, The Levellers – look what happened to them. It’s all if’s, but’s and maybe’s. But we still soldiered on with our career just not on a major label.

After the success of the reunion tour last year the band are busy booking European dates for this year…

Mick Well you’re never too old to rock n roll and I enjoy it now much more than I ever did. I’ve been a musician all my life and getting up and doing it is still the most thrilling thing you can do. To play in front of an audience and get a reaction is great, especially in this band.

We were playing a concert by Skype last week to 2 guys and it was as thrilling as getting up at a festival in front of 20,000 people. Still great, still got a buzz. This reunion has been great because once you’ve done it you just want more. It’s yer lifeblood.

Gary For me music has always been in my blood. I’m a songwriter, I create my own music and will always be doing it. I’ve always had my own vision and been driven. When we weren’t performing as a band in the intervening years I was a Community Artist, held songwriting workshops, worked as a music agent and tutor. Always maintaining a link with the music industry because that’s where I felt I belong. That’s where my heart is.

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019.

For more info contact The Whisky Priests on the official website

https://www.whiskypriests.com/

Recommended:

Interview with Fred Purser 30th Dec 2018.

LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET

What price music ? Is it just another product on the shelf ? Is the value of music being overlooked, and do we need to handle it with more care ?

Three North East musicians, Carol Nichol (Lowfeye/The Relitics), Paul Binyon (Mandora) and John Clavering (Cortney Dixon band) are passionate about music and reflect on what it means to them today.

Carol Nichol: Being creative, writing and recording your own material is worth nothing now in society. It’s a struggle for any working class artist or band to survive. Apart from middle class students from the Brit Acadamy and their connections in the music industry, does anyone have a voice now ?

Paul Binyon: Tyneside has always been a hot bed for musical creativity and over the years has produced some outstanding musicians/bands. I do however feel more concerned for originality these days. Original music has always been of the utmost importance to me.

Although I’ve been involved with cover bands too it’s always the shear buzz of creativity that excites me most. To see an audience enjoy and respond to songs that you’ve written is the ultimate reward and of course I thoroughly enjoy being in the audience appreciating other bands original music.

John Clavering: Up here in the North East you’ve got The Cluny, The Star and Shadow who promote original stuff. But there is hundreds of pubs who would only pay for a cover band. I’ve been offered gigs on keyboards with cover bands but I’m just not interested. Bands playing Queen covers at a wedding – it’s an industry itself. That is ok there is a need for that but I don’t think it encourages creativity and new music. Pubs don’t want to take the risk of a band playing it’s own stuff.

Carol Nichol: When you hear of the venues closing which had character especially the decor of old ballrooms, it’s heart breaking.

The independent music scene is extremely important for the survival of original bands to exist and be discovered. For decade’s this has always been a great platform for a lot of bands. There is nothing more exciting than a small intimate venue when a band are level with a crowd.

Paul Binyon: My concern is the lack of independant venues. They seem few and far between these days. Even the few that we have tend to lean more toward the covers and tribute scene than original. I understand that there’s a risk involved with booking original bands for fear that there’ll be a small turn out and the venue won’t make any profit or lose money. But this is catch 22 because more venues need to support original bands so that they can build a following and fill rooms.

Carol Nichol: I think the future of independent venues looks very bleak especially with a younger generation who are more obsessed with social media and computer games. Kids don’t venture out as much and are too obsessed with reality music programmes on tv or should I say karaoke shows. People are more into mainstream and cover bands so aren’t willing to discover something new.

Paul Binyon: With it getting harder to secure gigs and with the amount of pub closures I’m afraid one day, originality on the local scene will become a thing of the past.

Without working together to try and fix the current situation, I gotta say it looks bleak. But I live in hope that sooner rather than later it goes back to somewhere close to what it was like in the mid 80’s where the choice was a difficult one to make as to which venue you went to, and to see which band because there was so many.

John Clavering: There are original bands out there who use the internet as their only outlet. A lot of niche stuff getting heard on Soundcloud and Spotify. But there is nothing like standing in the front row of a gig. You will never get that feeling from watching You Tube on your phone (laughs).

Got a music story to tell ? Get in touch and leave a message.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi January 2019.

ALL RIGHT NOW with Michael Kelly former drummer with North East band Southbound

SOUTHBOUND 76

Southbound ’76

Was music in the family ? The music thing probably started long before I was born. Both parents served in the R.A.F. and shared a musical interest in big band music like Glenn Miller. After the war my father left the R.A.F and started playing drums at various places around Sunderland. Farringdon social club committee said go and choose a kit at Saville’s music shop. So off he went and ordered a brand new Premier drum kit.
He never read music and just played by ear and when one act turned up, Dorothy Squires, she gave him some dots to follow. He said I don’t follow sheet music, she nearly passed out and said my reputation is at stake here. At the end of the evening Dorothy came over and said You’re one of the best drummers I have ever played with and I’ve played with quite a few.

In 1967 a little known guy by the name of Gerry Dorsey came to the club with no money and said to my dad I have a single coming out next week and if it doesn’t make it I’m packing in. My dad felt sorry for him, bought him a pint and said best of luck for the future. Gerry Dorsey changed his name to Engelbert Humperdinck and his single Release Me went to number one, the rest is history.

Who were your influences ? Growing up we always had music in our home The Beatles, Cliff Richard and the Mersey Sound were big players on the Dansette. At the age of 10 I asked for a guitar for Christmas but found it difficult to play so my brother took hold of it and quickly picked it up. He started singing and playing along to folk music like The Spinners, The Dubliners and old sea shanties on vinyl.

As he came in from work he would go straight upstairs practising guitar until his hands froze, literally, as we didn’t have central heating just a coal fire so the ice formed on the inside of the windows.

Shortly after leaving school at 14 I was travelling to my first job and a song came on the radio. I said Turn that up it was totally different to what I’d heard before. It was All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix.

I developed a liking for drums and started playing along to tracks by Free and Led Zeppelin. I would take the record player into the coal shed and play on my dad’s old kit. As I became more confident I would take the kit into the house and played along with my brother on guitar, what a noise!

When did you first join a band ? After going to the The Bay Hotel and Locarno Club in Sunderland we met people who had the same interests. It was 1971 and were ready to rock. We just needed extra equipment to play with. We got an old Rediffusion speaker and an old amp off the guy over the road. Then an unexpected thing happened, my dad had a heart attack and his job at Sunderland Catholic Club was in jeopardy. So I stood in for him playing with the resident organist, what an eye-opener.

But it helped me to become more disciplined as a drummer. I formed a band called The Virgins with my brother John, Rob Walker from Herrington and Ken Vardy from Sunderland. Soon after Rob went to London to seek fame and fortune and Ken went on to form another band. We went to the local music shops meeting people and finding out who’s who in the area. We met two guy’s from the Redhouse area of Sunderland, Dave Taggart and Tony McAnnaney. They were looking to start a band but unfortunately nothing transpired. My brother and I eventually formed Northern Rock Band with local musicians Mick Thompson, Ev Colgan and Barry Cameron.

During this time we had been going to see bands like  Zeppelin, Free, Purple, Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd playing at venues in the North East like The Mecca in Sunderland, Newcastle City Hall and Newcastle Mayfair.

Where was your first gig ? The Londonderry pub in Sunderland. NRB had been rehearsing for 3 months and people were waiting in anticipation to see what we were like. A full house on a Saturday night, a fee of £10… this was the big time. The lights were dimmed and with all our energy and enthusiasm we let the music flow. My brother John took on lead vocals and bass. What a night, I remember coming off stage absolutely sweating but really pleased to have played our first live gig.

We went on to play a few more gigs around the North East playing our own songs and covers. We even got a support with Fusion Orchestra who were an up and coming rock band. We went to record a demo in Multichord Studios run by Ken McKenzie in Sunderland around ‘72. Things were really moving for this band. Now when I listen back to the recordings I cringe.

What other musicians and bands were around then ? In 1973 a guitarist called Les Dodd came knocking on my door and asked if I would like to join the band he was in. Glider was a working band which meant regular work and extra money. I went for the audition, got the job and the work just kept on coming. Eventually the bass player left and my brother was drafted in. We played quite a few workingmen’s clubs doing covers by David Bowie, Taste, Free and The Doobies.

Playing in clubs was good to learn what you wanted to do in music and get experience playing week in week out in front of a live audience…notice the word live as some of the crowd were half dead. We even got to support The Bay City Rollers at The Viking in Seahouses, Northumberland. But you know how bands are, we eventually split up.
stamp

What year was this ?  It was 1975 and we formed a band called Stampede with Cliff Stoddart, Steve Reay and Steve Daggett, who went on to play with Lindisfarne. This band did the same as Glider, playing clubs around the North East. One night on our rare night off from playing we went to a club in Washington, Tyne and Wear to see a band, they were called Southbound. We thought they were reasonable but little did I know that in a few months time I would be auditioning for them.

What happened with Stampede ? They folded in ‘76 and I got the job with Southbound soon after. At the audition I was asked to play along to one of their own songs, High Time, which was a real good song and I thought if they could write songs like this I would like to be in. I passed the audition and started rehearsing straight away. They were already established so immediately we were playing 3 to 4 gig’s a week.

My brother went on to form a band with some guy’s from Sunderland called the JPM band. A guy called Mark Taylor was in them, he eventually went on to play with Simple Minds. Southbound line up was me on drums, Alan Burke on lead guitar/vocals, Malcolm Troughton lead vocals, George Lamb lead guitar/vocals, and Davey Giles bass guitar.

What venues did Southbound play ? Southbound played North East workingmen’s clubs but their real intention was to write and perform their own songs then make a push to recording them. They began to explore and develop their songs which were starting to come thick and fast.

We tried hard to get as much work as possible with the help of agents such as Birchall Entertainments Agency in Newcastle. We also had the chance of playing the pub rock circuit in Newcastle with other bands in the area. Summer ‘77 we won The Melody Maker Folk/Rock competition at Durham and a festival that was becoming popular was Dome Fest in Durham which we played several times.

It was becoming very vibrant as the music scene was developing quickly not only up here but the rest of the country.

DURHAM

Durham Festival.

What other bands were around ? White Heat, Sabre Jets, Neon, The Pirhana Brothers, Arbre, Punishment of Luxury, The Squad, Oasis and many more were making things happen for themselves. This was an exciting time for any band playing, the buzz was real.

Did you appear on tv or radio ? Southbound were becoming very popular and after taking over the residency from Last Exit and East Coast at The Gosforth Hotel in 1977  word soon got around to the guy’s from Newcastle Radio. The chance also came to record a track, High Time, for the Bedrock album All Together. This was to be recorded at Impulse studio in Wallsend.

The studio was owned by a chap called Dave Wood and the engineer was Mick Sweeney. Some of the bands who featured on the Bedrock album were Kip, Sidekick, Young Bucks, Hot Snax, East Coast and Junco Partners.
What was your experience of recording ?  We recorded some songs at Impulse Studio’s in Wallsend with the help of producer Steve Thompson and engineer Mick Sweeney. We done several tracks to send to record companies also arranged to go to London, appointments had been made to approach Virgin, Rocket, A&M, Decca, Island, WEA and others. We thought that someone must take a liking to us.

I remember going into one record company’s office and I Feel Love by Donna Summer was playing and another office was playing Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello. This doesn’t sound like us as we were playing AOR music. After days of stumbling around the streets of London we headed home with hope that someone might pick up on what we left them.

When we got back to the North East we were offered an interview on Radio Newcastle. I went with Malcolm Troughton to Archbold Terrace in Newcastle to do the interview which was filled with jabs about New Wave/Punk taking over from normal rock music. I must have had blinkers on because we were in the middle of a musical revolution that was sweeping across the country. Our music was becoming old hat and as one record company said…You’re 2 years out.

Did the band feel maybe time’s up ? No we decided to keep going regardless as AOR was still going strong with bands like Foreigner, Doobies, Eagles and Lynyrd Skynryd.

Some band members were showing concerns about the lead singer so we looked at adding another vocalist to the group, a guy called Bill Sharpe from Sidekick. We even acquired a lighting guy by the name of Kev Cain from South Shields who had been working with other local bands in the area. Kev stayed with us for quite a while before establishing himself as a professional lighting engineer and today touring with many well known artists. He’s built a good reputation in the entertainment business. Check out his work portfolio http://www.kclighting.co.uk/

Were the band still playing around the North East ? Yes, this line up lasted a few months and Southbound went from a 6 piece to a 4 piece band with Malcolm Troughton and Bill Sharpe leaving. Bill Sharpe went on to become a really great blues and harp player and Malcolm Troughton went on to perform with different bands around the North East.

Auditions were held in Sunderland for a new singer but after hearing from over 30 singers it was decided that the singing would be covered by George Lamb and Alan Burke. The band felt a new resurgence and with new songs tailored to suit Alan and George’s vocal style, things felt more compact. The work didn’t stop in fact it increased as we started to feel confident and happy with the set up that we had.

We continued to have some great support gig’s with Babe Ruth, Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven, The Junco’s and many more. With headline gigs such as The Mayfair in Newcastle and University gig’s, these helped raise the profile of the band. We decided to go back into the studio and again contacted Steve Thompson to see if he could help with three tracks which we felt were really strong songs. George Lamb and Alan Burke were finding new idea’s for songs and their confidence was obvious with songs like Keep on Winding, Pretty Girl and Don’t Deny Me Your Love.

Did you plan to send the new songs to record companies ? When the songs were finished we decided to approach some record companies and push our style of music. Now that new wave/punk was starting to settle we felt that all kinds of music was now being listened to and accepted. More live work came in and this time we contacted numerous record companies to come and see the band live.

A chance turned up in the form of Brian Oliver, an A&R guy from State Records. He showed some interest in one of our tapes so he arranged to come and see one of our gigs at The Gosforth Hotel and gave us some positive feedback.
It was about this time that Neon Records got involved with Southbound and it was through Steve Thompson a suggestion came up for us to maybe have a go at one of his songs which was co-written with Gary Maughan.

This was shelved as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands were coming through the studio and the attention was switched. Unfortunately interest from State Records and Neon Records faded but we kept on pushing our songs. We had lots of replies from other record companies with comments like …We have to pass on this…or Our label has its full quota of artists. It was very frustrating.

Was this the end for Southbound ? In 1983 I left the band as I was feeling a bit despondent as the direction had changed. But before I left we entered a Battle of the Bands competition run by RCA held at The Mayfair in Newcastle. Another well known band from the North East was in the competition, The Eastside Torpedoes, so we thought we had no chance, but somehow we won.

We had lots of regular live work including our residency, but we somehow drifted and ended up doing covers more than original material. We enlisted another singer from a band called Big Picture. He was a good singer but we ended up playing songs from his old band. Southbound folded about a year after I left. I went on to play with several local bands. One was B15 whose members included Bob Andrews from Raw Spirit and ex-Burlesque guitarist/sax player Eddie Martin.

What does music mean to you and what has it given you ? Music still carries within my family. All of my children have played an instrument at some time or other. From trumpets to violins, saxophones, guitars, piano and flute. One of my boys, went on to play with Richard John Thompson (RJT band) from the North East, who has supported Midge Ure and Jules Holland.

My daughter Rachel recorded some songs of her own. She plays guitar, piano, saxophone and sings. Listening to my family play has given me lots of enjoyment. If they can, I think every family should give their child a chance to play an instrument.

As you get older your music tastes tend to vary a lot more. Having said that I still find myself listening to some old West Coast music, Pink Floyd and other prog rock. I also have some old Southbound stuff recorded from times gone by.
Music has given me enjoyment of playing drums for years, and still have the kit bought in ‘73, a Pearl export with Paiste and Zildjian cymbals.

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019.

Recommended:

East Side Torpedoes        10th March 2019

Nod the Geordie Poet      7th March 2019

Toby Twirl                        4th March 2019

Fist                                    1st March 2019

Dave Ditchburn    1st February 2018

Bob Smeaton        5th November 2018

Dave Taggart       15th April 2018

Beckett                 9th April 2018

DURHAM BLUES with Steve Hall former guitarist of North East band East Side Torpedoes

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When did you first become interested in music and who were your influences ? I was brought up in a musical family. My grandfather played violin in local band The Rascals during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. They played around the dance halls in County Durham and Newcastle, including regular gigs at the tea and supper dances at the Oxford Galleries in Newcastle. My uncles played saxophone and drums in local bands. My mother didn’t play in public, but played piano in the house.

As a young lad in the 60s and 70s I was more interested in sport. I played rugby and cricket at school in Consett and for local clubs. But I had always listened to music and started to dabble in playing guitar and piano at about 13.

My early influences were very eclectic, everything from rock and blues to jazz, soul and funk. I couldn’t make up my mind what I liked best. But when I heard American guitarist Terry Kath play on their first album Chicago Transit Authority it inspired me to practice harder and take it seriously. He knocked me out. Jimi Hendrix had described him as the best electric guitarist in America and I agreed.

I also listened to the great blues players like Freddie King and B.B. King, and the great rhythm players like Steve Cropper and Cornell Dupree so I could develop my rhythm playing, which to me has always been as important as lead. By the time I was 20 I had given up rugby and cricket to focus on music.

Where was your first gig ? It was at the Consett Methodist Church Youth Club in 1969. It was me and a few pals from school. We were OK as individuals but crap as a band. We had to put the bass, guitar and vocals through one WEM 30-watt amp. After that, me, the piano player and bass player got together at the YMCA and started practicing every week to get better.

We saved up and over a couple of years made our own wooden speaker cabinets for the backline and PA, powering them with second hand Sound City, Selmer and RSC amps. We couldn’t afford the up-market stuff like Vox, HiWatt and Orange. We played weird bluesy progressive rock, all our own songs.

Our drummer was Dave Storey, who ended up with prog rock band The Enid and stayed with them until a hip operation forced him to retire in 2016. We did a few local gigs 1970-72 and went down surprisingly well. One was recorded but the tape is long lost.

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How did the East Side Torpedos get together ? In 1973 Dave Storey left to go pro and the other guys all left town to go to various jobs and colleges. I bummed around for a few years, spending some time abroad busking and doing various jobs. I worked on building sites, steelworks and so on. I played in a couple of club bands doing covers and at the Grand Hotel in Tynemouth with the resident band, headed up by pianist Mike Waller. In 1978 I was spotted by local singer and record-company entrepreneur Mike Maurice. We formed a band called Roxoff, with ex-Animals guitarist Hilton Valentine on rhythm guitar.

We played the college circuit and had a residency at the Red House on the Quayside in Newcastle. We had a sort of Dr Feelgood style. By 1980 the band was starting to wind down when its single, a cover of Morning Dew, flopped, that’s when I was asked to join the Eastside Torpedoes.

In 1979 they had been runner-up in a Melody Maker contest and had a record deal with EMI. So I started a four-year stint in the band on lead guitar and backing vocals. We played all over the country but also had a residency every Sunday at the Newcastle Playhouse, taking over from the Newcastle Big Band and Last Exit. The band was very popular live, one of promoter Harvey Goldsmith’s favourite live bands.

Did you record any of your songs ? EMI dropped the band in 1981 because they thought our style, soul/R&B with a four piece brass section, was out of date and a big band would be expensive to cart around on tour. In 1982 Chas Chandler recorded the band’s first and only album Coast to Coast at Portland Studios in London.

But the album was poorly produced and we weren’t happy with it. Critics and Radio DJs who had loved the band live were waiting to play and review it, but we were so unhappy we buried it. We sold the first pressing through a local record company to our North East fans only and didn’t bother with promotion or a second pressing. We remixed the master tape at a local studio. It sounded a lot better but decided not to press the remix because we were unhappy with some of the arrangement changes forced on us by the production team during recording.

In 1985 the band recorded a single that was an airplay hit, but by then I had left. Recently, the first track from Coast to Coast has been given some proper mastering and sounds a hell of a lot better, more like the band’s actual live sound. What a pity it wasn’t properly mastered at the time.

Did you record any radio or tv ? We did lots of radio and some TV. In 1982 we did a full live recorded show for Metro Radio. The same year Tyne Tees TV made a documentary about us and we appeared regularly on Friday Live.

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Did the band have a manager or promoter ? The band went through more managers than Newcastle United. We had a bit of a reputation for obstinacy, so some didn’t last long. We didn’t like being told what to play or what to look like. When I was in the band the managers were Warren Haddrick, Hilton Valentine and Germaine Stanger. Various promoters took on the band, including Harvey Goldsmith, and we were active up and down the country on his Dingwall’s circuit. Our finest moment, probably, was playing at the Knebworth Jazz Festival in 1982 in front of 21,000 supporting Ray Charles. That year everything happened for me – married, first child, album, Knebworth. Never had another year like that.

Can you think of any funny moments being in the band ? Funniest moment I can remember was with Roxoff. We were playing upstairs in The Cooperage on the Quayside. We did a Dr Feelgood number called Lights Out, and when the chorus came in hard me and the bass player used to jump in the air. The ceiling in the upstairs room in The Cooperage was very low and we ended up on the floor with mild concussion. We took a long break and managed to carry on and finish the gig.

How and when did the band split ? I left the Eastside Torpedoes in late 1983. After that I played with a couple of club bands and got involved with commercial productions, writing a few jingles for radio and the advertising industry. The band carried on, I think, until 1986. I’m not sure why it eventually split up, but I know they had bad luck with their single, a cover of Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher. It was an airplay hit – Luxembourg power play and Dave Lee Travis’s record of the week – but the record company had trouble with the distribution so it got to the shops too late. Wouldn’t have happened today with online distribution.

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Are you still involved in music now ? In 1988 I left the music business to become an academic. I wanted to see more of my kids, and decided that touring wasn’t for me. I had a successful career in academia, eventually becoming a Professor of Criminology and writing a number of books. In 2017 I got a lifetime achievement award.

But I couldn’t give up music entirely. I played with numerous local bands including The D7s, the Richard Kain Band, The Questionnaires, The Wendy Saint Band and The Short Blues Line. The Questionnaires, played the Fish Quay Festival in 2003, supporting Paul Young.

What does music mean to you and what has it given you ? Throughout my life music was in tension with other things. First with sport, then with writing. So it was never second but it was never first, if you know what I mean. I wish I had been more dedicated, although in the early years I used to practice up to 6 hours a day. I was never in love with the lifestyle. I’m an ordinary working-class guy from a pit village in County Durham and I never had any real ambitions apart from seeing my kids grow up. And I like my Sunday dinner.

Life on the road didn’t suit me. But I loved the writing and recording side of things. I would have loved to own my own studio and just pump out albums, but it wasn’t to be, because I never earned enough money or became well-known enough to do that. Looking back, it gave me a lot of great memories and some good friends who I’ve kept in touch with for a long time. That’s enough for me..

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019