NAMEDROPPER – in conversation with freelance author/TV producer Chris Phipps

Being on the dole during the ‘80s had it’s advantages. We queued up outside Tyne Tees TV Studio every Wednesday to get free audience ticket’s for the following Friday’s edition of live music show The Tube. If I was working I wouldn’t have got the chance to be part of what became a ground breaking TV programme and something that changed my life. Looking back it took a couple of years to seep through, but it was one of the magical moments I experienced that massively helped me in my work today.

In one of the programmes I was standing on the gantry looking across the studio with the stage and drummer below, another stage was to my left, there was a bar at the back, pink and blue lighting all around, Pat Benatar at the front of the stage – a little lady with a big voice. And cameras on the studio floor catching the buzz. Something clicked. It was the first time I thought ‘I would love to be involved in something like this’. I knew I was onto something.  

So a chance to interview a man who was part of that show was a great opportunity and one that I wasn’t going to miss. Take it away Chris…..

It’s interesting you mentioned Pat Benatar because I booked her, the drummer was fantastic and she was incredible.

I was at the Tube from the start in ’82 till it’s full run to ’87. But I started as a journalist in ’74 with three big stories happening on my patch, the Birmingham bombings, the hunt for the Black Panther and the Carl Bridgewater murder – a baptism of fire. After that I was producer at Pebble Mill at One and did a lot of regional TV and radio then.

I was doing rock shows, reggae shows and of course in the ‘70s the Midlands was Dexys Midnight Runners, UB40, Specials, Selector coming out of Coventry. It was like a nuclear reactor in terms of the music coming out of there. And of course you had the whole New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and I was involved with a band called Diamond Head who came out of Stourbridge. They were touted as the next Led Zeppelin which was a big mistake. They were phenomenal but for certain reasons they just went on to implode.

How were you involved with Diamond Head ? I did two TV shows with them, both of which are very rare now. One was on ‘Look Hear’ an arts programme on BBC Midlands with Toyah Wilcox. I also had them at West Bromich Further Education college, they done a student recording that was found in a loft a couple of years ago. That whole NWOBHM was fascinating because a lot of those bands were back in their day jobs after a couple of years, apart from Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. Finally, Diamond Head were vindicated because Metallica covered some of their numbers that contributed to their financial coffers.

What are your memories of those first days at The Tube ? I joined in ’82 as a booker and I became Assistant Producer from ’85-’87. My brief was to find bands that we could agree on to put in the show. A band on the first show that I booked didn’t happen, The Who didn’t do it because their pa system got stuck in Mexico or somewhere. So the producer Malcolm Gerrie knew Paul Weller’s father and got The Jam to do it. In a way I’m glad that he did because The Jam playing their last TV gig ever, really said this is what The Tube is all about – that was then, this is now and off we go.

On one show I booked a combination of Green Gartside and his band Scritti Politti, and Robert Palmer which I thought was a good mixture. Then Gartside wouldn’t do it, didn’t want to perform live or something I can’t remember now. But he pulled, you know my job was to convince really big names to come, particularly in the first six months of the programme because it was based in Newcastle. A lot of record companies would say ‘We’re not sending anybody up there’.

There was a show in December ’82 with Iggy Pop, Tygers of Pan Tang and Twisted Sister, who famously signed a record deal after their performance..…Now there is a story that I discovered Twisted Sister in a bar in New York when really the truth of it was I had seen them at Reading Festival. I was just knocked out by them because I love theatrical rock. They were on a label called Metal Blade then, which was run by a friend of Toyah Wilcox. I was interviewing Def Leppard backstage, then spoke to Twisted Sister’s manager and told him I had a gig on a TV music channel in the UK called The Tube. He said if you can gaurantee us a booking we will finance our own trip over.

So yeah they turned up in a van outside The Tube studio direct from New York, played the show, and in the audience was Mick Jones from Foreigner, his manager and UK supremo from Atlantic records Phil Carson. Phil signed them the next day.

Actually I don’t think I was too popular with the Tygers because I had to cut one of their numbers. At the time they had a great album out The Cage, but they were another band that imploded. Incidentally, first time I saw the Tygers was at JB’s club in Dudley. They were supporting Robert Plant and his rock n roll band The Honeydrippers.

Why did you ask the Tygers to cut a song from their set ? Lemmy wanted to jam with Twisted Sister at the end. In fact the guy who directed that show and all of The Tube, Gavin Taylor, who sadly died a few year ago, said his two favourite moments he directed were U2 at Red Rocks and Twisted Sister jamming with Motorhead. And this from the guy who directed Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis.

So after that everytime I saw the presenter Paula Yates she used to impersonate my Birmingham accent and go ‘Chris Phipps Twisted Sister’ (laughs). God love her. They sent me a platinum disc as a thanks which I still have, and a manhole cover with the Twisted Sister logo on it.

Also on that programme was Iggy Pop what are your memories from then ? Yeah he was a wild one. No one could find him just prior to his performance, he completely disappeared. I got a call from reception and they said there was something in the reception area spinning round and looking like a mummy. He was bandaged from head to foot (laughs).

Did the show help the careers of other bands ? Fine Young Cannibals got signed, although they already had a publishing deal. The Proclaimers got signed and there was a time when a researcher called Mick Sawyer and some of the Tube crew went to Liverpool to film Dead or Alive. But they weren’t around, then someone in a pub told them to go round the corner to another pub where there is a band rehearsing ‘You might be interested in them’. It was Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

The Tube filmed the original version of ‘Relax’, that was shown and Trevor Horn saw it. He did the deal and re-recorded and produced the single.

Frankie epitomised The Tube and the ‘80s, they got what it was all about. You can never bring The Tube back. It’s of it’s time. Chris Evans on TFI Friday in the ‘90s near enough had it. The set was just like The Tube, so yeah it’s had an incredible influence.

Last year I was on the Antiques Roadshow with memorabilia from The Tube and I thanked the BBC for banning ‘Relax’ because, it not only done Frankie a load of good but The Tube as well (laughs).

Here’s the link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06b19jf

Around the time of going to The Tube I went to a few shows called TX45 filmed in the same studios….Yes TX45 ran parallel to The Tube it was a regional series it didn’t go on the network. Actually a series by Tyne Tees Television called Alright Now got them a commission for The Tube. When I was producing in Birmingham a lot of bands would say ’We’re off to Newcastle to do Alright Now or Razzmatazz or interviewed by Alan Robson’. He had a formidable reputation. Newcastle had a reputation for cutting edge shows really, that’s why it got the commission from Channel Four. Back to TX 45 that was co-presented by Chris Cowey who went on to produce Top of the Pops.

What happened after The Tube ? All the talent from The Tube just dispersed in different directions. Tyne Tees didn’t continue to do any big entertainment. They did attempt to rival Top of the Pops with a show called The Roxy but that fizzled out. Malcolm Gerrie, the main guy went on to form Initial TV in London and made things like The Pepsi Chart Show. Now he’s got a company called Whizzkid producing big award ceremonies things like that. Geoff Wonfor who made the films for The Tube, not the studio stuff, he went on and made The Beatles Anthology. (An interview with Bob Smeaton who worked on the Anthology is on the blog ‘The Boy from Benwell’ Nov.5th 2018)

I went into documentary, feature film making and my bread and butter work for 14 years was working on a series called The Dales Diary, which covered the Yorkshire Dales for Tyne Tees and Yorkshire. What was interesting was that I was dealing with people who had never been in front of the camera before so I went from 5 years of people who couldn’t wait to get in front of the bloody camera to 14 years of people who sometimes weren’t happy to do it. Yeah I had some fantastic times working in Yorkshire.

Have you any stories that stand out from interviewing people ? From 1973-82 I’d done a lot of entertainment stuff at Pebble Mill but I also interviewed a lot of people with some priceless historical value. Like the 100 year old woman who made a living from making nails from the back of her cottage near Worcester. There was a man who helped build a storm anchor for the Titanic. I’ve kept all them interviews and in fact the storm anchor one went for research to the director James Cameron when he was making the film Titanic. So I was no stranger to going to people who just wanted to get on, particularly the farming community who didn’t want people buzzing around with cameras.

Did you work on any other music programmes ? I’m the sort of person who will come across something and say that will make a fantastic programme. I worked on a series for Dutch TV, it was like your Classic Albums series but for singles. Incredible programme to work on, it was called Single Luck. It took me all over America tracking down songwriters, producers, and for one song the backing singers were Ashford and Simpson.

Another programme was for the song ‘Blue Moon’ it profiled The Marceles, who came out of Pittsburg. The song sold I don’t know how many millions and some of them are living on the breadline you know. They got nothing, old story isn’t it.

Well I thought how do I find these people who are living in Pittsburg ? One of the singers was called Cornelius Harp. There might not be too many Harps in the phone book I’ll try that. The one I called said ‘No I’m not Cornelius Harp, but he’s my cousin, here’s his number’. The guy who was managing them had a restaurant called Blue Moon. The producer was in California and came over to Pittsburg to re-produce the song. So yeah found all of them and suddenly you have a 30 minute programme.

What have you been working on lately ? After releasing the book ‘Forget Carter’ in 2016 which was the first comprehensive guide to North East TV and film on screen, I’ve just released another book ‘Namedropper’ full of anecdotes and stories of my time in the entertainment world. I’ve hosted quite a few talks including the evenings with Roger Daltrey and Tony Iommi at the Whitley Bay Film Festival. Currently I’m still working as freelance producer/director based in North East specialising in entertainment and music for network and regional.

Chris is appearing at Newcastle’s Waterstones to sign his latest book ‘Namedropper’ on Saturday August 17th at 12 noon.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

DIAMOND GEEZER – with former music manager & promoter Jim Sculley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pauline Gillan Band

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2019.

ASHES TO ASHES with Bill Beadle, singer & songwriter with UK heavy rock band Sacrilege

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Influenced by the big beasts of Metal – Sabbath, Priest and Purple – singer, songwriter & guitarist Bill Beadle formed UK heavy rock band Sacrilege in London in 1981.….Sacrilege’s first ever gig was at the 101 club in Clapham Junction, London in 1982 then we played across the South East and London including the Ad Lib club in Kensington, Green Gate in Bethnal Green and the famous Marquee in Waldorf Street. We also supported an early Iron Maiden line up.

Were the band labelled as NWOBHM and what did you think of it ? I think we are more tagged with the NWOBHM label now than we were then. I didn’t think of us as a particular genre I thought we were a heavy rock band. It didn’t worry me at all but people like to categorise.

I liked the Spellbound album by the Tygers of Pan Tang but didn’t really listen to many other bands of our age really as I was still into Sabbath and Priest then. I knew Weapon were doing really well supporting Motörhead. They are a top band and nice guys. But I was so preoccupied with Sacrilege I didn’t get that much time to go to see other bands.

What bands were gigging at the same time as Sacrilege in the 80s ? Warrior, Tobruk, Demon, Vardis, Spider, Dervish and Angelwitch to name a few. Bands I was still going to see were the bigger bands like Lizzy, Whitesnake, Kiss and Motörhead. They were all great bands.

Are there any recordings of your first line-up ? We recorded a demo tape for £100 at Elephant Recording Studios in Wapping, London. We recorded it through the night as it was cheaper to do it then. We also recorded a track called Ratrace at Teddington Studios. The song was to go on a compilation album with Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon and Angelwitch to rival the Metal for Muthas album, but unfortunately it got shelved. There was a pop band on the record label called Go West, they just had a number one so the budget was poured into them.

Were Sacrilege active in the media, any newspaper stories or appear on tv shows ? Yes we were in Melody Maker and Sounds and the odd magazine. We played on the David Jensen Rock TV show as one of the new bands in the metal genre of 1983. In fact we were chosen out of thousand’s of tapes and records and were billed as the band of ‘83. Also appearing on that show were U2 and The Stranglers.

After that show we were booked to play in a club in Dover. We got down there done a sound check then went for a quick beer. We found a Heavy Metal club about 100 yards away and it was packed so we thought they must all be having a beer and then coming to see us. When we got back to the venue the bouncers on the door said no jeans or trainers!

We said we are the band and it’s heavy metal! They let us in and we found it was a Disco! We thought we are gonna go down like a lead balloon here. But after playing a couple of tracks and letting off a few pyros the crowd seemed to really enjoy our show, even if they weren’t exactly head banging (laughs).

 Sacrilege called it a day in 1987 but Bill started writing and recording again in 2007 and by 2012 looked at starting the band again…Yes now with different members who are based across the South East. Gillingham, Whitstable, Andover and Bristol. We’ve got Neil Turnbull on drums, he was with The Dervish. He joined in 2013 along with Jeff Rolland on bass. Paul Macnamara joined this year on lead guitar. Paul was former guitarist with UK rock/metal band Salem.

What has the new line up got planned ? We have been busy lately appearing in Fireworks magazine and have played alongside bands like Hell, Quartz, Onslaught and Witchfynde. Earlier this month we played a couple of dates in both Belgium and Germany.

We have Court of the Insane, our 7th album coming out on 16th August on the Pure Steel label and we have a couple of dates booked in at The Musician in Leicester 27th July and The Carlisle in Hastings 3rd August. More are being planned.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2019.

ON THE ROAD with author and former Iron Maiden roadie Steve Newhouse

Romford in Essex is where Steve Newhouse call’s home. He’s lived around the East End of London all his life and after leaving school with no qualifications he picked up various job’s in supermarkets and warehouses, he’s also worked for the Royal Mail… In 1995 I decided to have a change in career and joined Royal Mail. I worked for them for 21 years until retiring in 2016. I have since written four novels of which two have been released.

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Steve has recently found time to write down memories about the part of his life that he worked in the music business…I toured a lot with Iron Maiden, then with More, Di’anno, Wildfire and in later years with Michael Jackson, U2 and Spandau Ballet. I worked as a scaffolder, stage hand and crew supervisor.

First I was asked to write a column for on-line magazine Metaltalk. The column became really popular so was asked if I wanted to write a book.

When did you start working for bands ? About 1975. When I first started I was just a dogsbody helping carry the gear in and out of rehearsals or gigs. Then as things progressed with Iron Maiden, I got on so well with Doug Sampson that looking after him became the obvious choice. I was mainly a drum tech/roadie after that.

Doug Sampson was Iron Maiden drummer from 1978-9 before Clive Burr was in place and then Nicko McBrain took over the stool.

Steve remembers growing up with his friends and what music they were listening to as teenagers…First record I bought was probably the T. Rex single Ride a White Swan, and my first album was a cheap compilation of glam greatest hits. About ’73 or ’74 I went to my first concert at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park to see Nazareth. T.Rex, Sweet, Bowie, Slade was my thing and later that turned to Purple, Sabbath, Zeppelin and Quo.

I grew up with a guy called Paul Andrews (Paul Di’Anno original vocalist with Iron Maiden) and whereas Paul’s taste’s were a lot wider, Reggae, Swing, Blues etc. some of his influences rubbed off on me. We always had friends that were either in a band or wanted to form one.  Paul always had a decent voice, and we were asked to join various bands with me playing bass. I wasn’t very good, so when the opportunity came to roadie for Iron Maiden I gave up playing bass.

Iron Maiden were one of the pioneers of what became known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Along with Sheffield’s Def Leppard and the Tygers of Pan Tang from Tyneside, they were at the very start of a nationwide musical movement.

I don’t remember much about the Tygers but I got to know the Leps fairly well and did a UK tour with them while working for More and Lionheart. Also in ‘81 the Maiden UK tour was opened by French band Trust. I can remember a gig at Newcastle City Hall, the crowd were great and people were jumping off the balcony onto the p.a stack!

I was at all the gigs pictured above. In the early days, Maiden were just another heavy rock band. I think it was Geoff Barton at Sounds who first used the term New Wave of British Heavy Metal and all of a sudden we were part of it. Things had been fairly quiet up until then, with punk rock all the rage. Suddenly rock band’s were springing up all over the country and got tagged with the NWOBHM label.

What are your thoughts when looking back on the time in the music business ? I have no regrets about being in the business. It was a great chance to be involved in something I loved. I got to work for some great people and met a lot more. I still have a lot of connections with my past. And I still believe now that Maiden are the hardest working band of any genre.

Any funny moments working for the band ? Yeah plenty. They’re all in the book (laughs).

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Loopyworld – The Iron Maiden years’ out now and available at https://www.loopyworld.co.uk/

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2019.

Recommended:

Steve Lamb March 25th 2019.

Jon Deverill Jan 22nd 2019.

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

Fred Purser Dec 30th 2018.

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

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws Aug 24th 2017.

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

Steve Thompson June 27th 2017.

SWEAT ‘n’ TEARS with Pete Franklin from 80s NWOBHM band Chariot

Our manager Mike Shannon got us on the bill at the Dynamo Festival in Holland in 1986 with Satan, Angel Witch, Onslaught and a few others. It was a great day. We travelled over in our van and were on the ferry drinking with Paul D’Anno’s Battlezone and Angel Witch. On stage we did an hour set and went down well. During one song I put my guitar down on stage to get the crowd singing along. But I was so drunk I couldn’t remember where I put it until the roadie pointed towards it (laughs).

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Chariot were based in London and formed in 1980 by John Smith (bass) Scott Biaggi (lead guitar) Jez Denyer (vocals) and Oliver Le Franc (drums) and guitarist Pete Franklin…Scott and John formed the band and the rest of us answered adverts in the music weekly Melody Maker. Our first gig was at The Ruskin Arms, the same one that Iron Maiden were playing.  We went on to release two albums. The Warrior in ‘84 was recorded at Old Barn studios in South London by Mathew Fisher from Procol Harum. Best known for their hit single Whiter Shade of Pale. We also filmed a gig at the famous Marquee club in ‘86 which was released on VHS called Sweating Blood. Things were really happening for us. Then we recorded Burning Ambition at Lodge Studios in Cambridge owned by Prog rock band The Enid. That was also the time we were interviewed by the Heavy Metal magazine Kerrang and supported Manowar on a UK tour.

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Any stories from that tour ? Manowar were all nice guy’s, great players. But we got an eye opener when we played Queen’s University in Belfast at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland. We had to stop the show three times because of bomb scares, the place had to be emptied. Then we’d go back in and start again. They also had about 15 Marshall speakers and they were all plugged in. So loud.

Jonathan King, the guy that discovered Genesis, was our co-manager and we nearly signed to Atlantic Records but unfortunately the deal fell through and that was that. Our bassist was looking to start a family so we split in ‘89. Looking back we did have great times.

When did you get the band back together ? When we reformed in 2003 our line up was the same as 1983 with John Smith, Jeff Braithwaite and Paul Lane. Unfortunately Scott Biaggi lived too far away to contribute. We’ve recorded a few albums since reforming.

Behind the Wire was recorded in 2004 at Rockridge Studios produced by my old band mate Tony Newton in Dirty Deeds. Then In the Blood was mixed by Tony Newton at Steve Harris’ Barnyard Studios in Essex. Then Demons & Angels was recorded in 2014.

The new album New Horizon Dawns was recorded in my home studio in East London and took us about a month to record. It come out really great, we’re very happy with it.

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What are your plans for 2019 ? Hopefully we’re playing lots of European festivals this year and going out to South America to do some shows for the first time. All very exciting.

 Contact Chariot at https://www.facebook.com/Chariotrocks/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

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.

 

HERE COME THE DRUMS in conversation with Harry Hill, drummer of North East rock legends Fist

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The stories and laughs were coming thick and fast. Lucky I had the dictaphone cos I wouldn’t be able to write them all down, I’ve included the clean one’s. North East rock legends Fist are back in rehearsals…Yeah we’ve just filmed 4 songs at The Queen Vic in South Shields for a promo video. We had to play them 6 times each. It was like doing 2 full gigs back to back (laughs).

We have an album’s worth of new songs but for this we played existing tracks Vamp, Name Rank & Serial Number, Lost & Found and Lucy which we last played on a radio session for Tommy Vance.

We used a local team to put it together, Colin Smoult on the live sound and lights by Glenn Minnikin. The results are pretty good. Mind you I was playing drum fill’s that I made up when I was 22 – it’s a bit harder to play them now (laughs).

Local musician and producer Tony Sadge done such a great job on the sound mix that we’ve asked him to get involved with recording a new album. There’s a few labels interested so with all that happening we’re back up to full strength.

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Sandy Slavin, former drummer with 80s American rock band Riot writes on social media about his experiences in music. Have you come across any of the stories ? Yeah certainly have. You know what it is, he hit’s the nail on the head. When we started playing live there were no mic’s on the drumkit. You just had to hit them, and hit them hard. There was none of this ‘just turn it up in the mix’ that you can get today.

Before Fist and even before Axe I was in a band called Fixer in the early 70s. On stage there was 2 Marshall cab’s, a big bass cab and the p.a. which you had to compete with to be heard.

I agree with Sandy you had to play hard to be heard and balance that up with plenty feel for the music. Any drummer can learn techniques but if you haven’t got feel you’re wasting your time. Simon Kirk (Bad Company) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) were masters at it.

Drummers have different styles. Bonham played along with riffs that Jimmy Page was playing on guitar. It’s interesting to hear it. Keith Moon sometimes followed Roger Daltry’s singing in The Who and then Townsend’s guitar. He was a phenomenal drummer. Very erratic at times but brilliant. I’ve played with Dave Urwin (Fist guitarist) for such a long time we just link in.

You mentioned being in a band called Fixer…Yeah the band was put together around 73. Fixer had a singer called Tom Proctor. He recently got in touch and said he had a cassette of a tape we made. We recorded it in a barn using 3 mic’s. 1 for vocals and 2 on the drum kit. Sounds great. I remember we rehearsed every night. Listening to the tape you can tell.

As a result of those tapes guitarist Geoff Bell and I got an audition for Whitesnake through producer Martin Birch and Tony Edwards (RIP) who was manager of Deep Purple. This was around ‘76. We went down to a rehearsal studio in London and they asked us to just jam together. We knew our styles of playing so well, we were comfortable together, they were impressed. We passed the audition and said You’ve got the job. But in the meantime out in Germany, Coverdale had just formed a band.

Sounds like a mix up in communication ? Well with a couple of mates, Terry Slesser (vocals, Beckett) and Paul Thompson (drums Roxy Music) I went to see their first gig at Ashington Regal. Afterwards we chatted with Coverdale and he explained what had happened. That was it. Just not to be.

Fist supported UFO on a UK tour during 79 & 80. What are your memories ? We had a great time. Someone reminded me a few days ago of an incident that I’d forgotten about. We were playing Hammersmith Odeon and a guy was heckling us. Really pissed me off. So I put my sticks down, jumped off stage and chased him into the foyer to give him a good kickin’. Thinking back, the Hammersmith had a high stage so I must have been fit to get down and run after him (laughs).

I remember playing Sunderland Locarno (6 miles from Harry’s hometown South Shields). That was a great Friday night gig. We played it a couple of times after that and done a few other venues in Sunderland by ourselves.

There was the Boilermakers Club and the Old 29 pub which was only a very long thin shaped bar. We never got much reaction and nobody clapped cos there was nowhere to put their drinks (laughs).

One Friday night we played the Newcastle Mayfair (2,000 capacity) with a 10,000 watt pa that we’d hired. We asked the sound man Stosh, when the p.a. had to go back and he said not till Monday. Champion, we booked a gig for Saturday afternoon in the Old 29 pub. We knew there’d be a reaction this time.

As we blasted out the p.a. in this little pub the audience were pinned against the back wall (laughs).

Can you remember any other bands gigging around the North East at the time ? Yeah Raven, who we played with a few times. There was Tygers of Pan Tang…wiped the floor with them. Then next time John Sykes and Jon Deverill were in and that was a different band. That was a kick up straight away. Robb (Weir, guitarist) is still playing in the Tygers and has got a great band now. Really solid.

Fist were playing at Norbreck Castle down in Blackpool around 81 /82 and John Sykes popped in. He just lived in the area. He came over and introduced himself. Chatting with him he said he’d made a huge step up in joining the Tygers. And he was right.

We had the same record company (MCA) and with a lot of bands they look and sound ok but in a studio there’s nowhere to hide. Well there probably is now, but we can’t find it (laughs).

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There was the famous article in a 1980 edition of Sounds, when North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands were interviewed by Sunderland based music journalist Ian Ravendale…I bumped into Ian a few years ago and we got chatting about the interview. I said I remember two things you wrote. ‘Fist maturity shines out like a lasar in a coal shed’ (laughs).

The other was ‘If Harry Hill gets any heavier he’s gonna need a reinforced drumstool’. Cheeky sod I was only 12 stone ! (laughs)  They were great those rags Sounds, NME, Melody Maker every Thursday. Nowt like that now.

Full article in Sounds by Ian Ravendale 17th May 1980.  http://ianravendale.blogspot.com

I saw Fist at the British Legion in South Shields around ‘82. Would you ever think then that you’d still be playing together in 2019 ? Fist has been my life. It’s always been there. I remember getting to 25 and thinking I’m too old to be a drummer in a rock band. But I look at music back in 1970 when I was listening to Zeppelin, that’s 50 years. Then go back another 50 year to people dancing to the Charleston in the 20s. Then forward to the rock n roll explosion. Maybe now we’ve reached saturation point. Old stuff blows all over the new music. Although recently I heard a band called Greta Van Fleet who were like a breath of fresh air. Great little band.

What do you think of live music today ? Back when I started playing you went to see local bands and they could really play. Every one of them. Today you will see some who maybe haven’t put the time in. For any band to get tight they have to be on the road.

I stepped in for a band called The Radio Set who had a single produced by Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order). It was indie stuff completely different for me but it was good. In rehearsal they complained I was too loud (laughs). But they only done about 5 or 6 gigs, with a couple of festivals. The band sounded confident and correct, but they never had that bit magic that you need.

Are there many independent venues on Tyneside ? I think it’s getting harder and harder. The beauty of Fist is there is some international work. We’re going over to Belgium and Germany later this year. The following is amazing there. But with the local scene economically it is so difficult to keep going for any venue. Some need to take £1,000 just to break even. When pubs are struggling like they are now the first thing they do is put live music on to drag a few people in. It might get them in but it won’t necessarily make you any money.

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Fist have got some live dates planned…Yeah the first gig back for a few years is the Grimm Up North Festival. Steve from TysonDog asked us to come along and as it’s for a charity close to my heart we said yes. It raises money for diabetes and heart disease. We’ve got Norman Appleby back on bass, Glenn Coates on vocals and Davey Urwin on guitar. So it’s back to the original line up from 82. We’re scheduled for the Friday and we’ll do about 50mins before Blitzkreig top the bill.

We’re deciding what tracks to put on the EP. We’ve got around 10 match perfect songs so far, with another 2 we’re putting together now. So plenty to choose from, it’s really exciting times.

What does music mean to you ? Absolutely everything. At times probably totally cocked my life up but I’ve got no regrets what so ever. It’s not just music it’s everything around it. Creating things, the friends you make, I couldn’t imagine life without music.

Check the Fist facebook page for latest gig dates.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.