ROAD WORKS with Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist Micky McCrystal

Since we last spoke in March 2017 Micky McCrystal has in his words ‘been a bit busy.’ Guitarist for Tygers of Pan Tang is Micky’s main gig but he also teaches guitar here in the North East and has recently been touring with Marco Mendoza.

This past year has been crazy because I’ve done a lot of touring with Marco Mendoza (ex Blue Murder/Ted Nugent/Whitesnake). We played nearly 100 shows together within 6 months. A lot of the shows were in countries like Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania as well as a lot of shows in Germany and the UK. With the Tygers we played around 30 to 40 shows in 2018.

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Our last shows of the year were in Spain, Japan and the UK. Japan was amazing, the Tygers fans are super passionate out there similar to South America where they’ll figure out which hotel you’re staying in so they can get a photo and get albums signed etc. They’re super polite and kind and would bring gifts for us, however as soon as we hit the stage they lose their minds and sing every word and guitar lick (laughs).

Our tour schedule was surprisingly quite relaxed for Japan. We flew out there and had a day off. The gig was the next day headlining our night at 7pm. We had another day off then flew home. I’m hoping when the next album is out we’ll go back and play some other cities too.

How did the Tokyo gig come about ? I’m not 100% sure but I know we received a message from our booking agent who’d been talking with a promoter of a festival out there. We got an email saying ’Do you want to play in Tokyo’. Simple as that really. To be honest I leave that stuff down to our agent I just get told where and when to turn up with my passport and guitar (laughs).

Can it get tiring doing long journeys on the road ? Yeah often depending on the tour schedule but there’s little distractions now which I guess people didn’t have years ago, you’ve got everything in your phone now, camera’s, music, internet etc. I tend to find I’ll listen to music, read or work on things music related to try and occupy the time.

Believe it or not the Tygers Spain tour was more tiring than Japan. We had shows everyday with 8 hour drives and the stage times at the earliest are midnight so by the time you’ve signed merch and talked to the fans your lucky if your back at the hotel by 3am then hit the road at 8am and repeat. (laughs) Don’t get me wrong though I love being on the road and the fans were amazing in Spain.

How did working with Marco Mendoza come about ?  I was at the 2017 NAMM show out in L.A. demoing for various companies. We met out there and found we had a few mutual friends. We stayed in touch and later that year we did a 6 week European tour. This year we’ve toured Europe in February, March then May and June. They’re intense tours, very much show after show back to back which I love and to be honest I prefer that.

Sometimes having a lot of days off gives you time to think and I end up missing my fiancé and family. Depending on what country you’re in you can go sightseeing but others can be dangerous… certain areas of South America you don’t wander about without knowing where you are or you can get yourself in some serious trouble. (laughs)

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Playing live with Marco we would play everything from rock and blues through to fusion and some latin stuff too. He’s big on improvisation and would give us cue’s on stage ‘go to the bridge’  ‘chorus’ or Micky solostuff like that. Structure of song’s would change every night so you had to be on it, but it keeps you on your toes and it’s fresh and fun. I loved it and have learnt a lot from Marco, he’s a mega talented guy.

Is there a new Tygers album soon ? We’ve got an album’s worth of material but we just need to fine tune it. I’d say it’s heavier than the last album. I feel like the last album was quite diverse but I spoke to the guys about us focusing on more of a hard rock album for the next one, I felt songs like ‘Only The Brave’ on the last album were such a success with the fans that we should focus on that hard rock vibe.

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In the studio do you work with a producer ? On the last album we had Mark Broughton producing the album with us. He works with Andy Taylor (ex Duran Duran/Power Station). He gave us input and had some great ideas. We also do that with each other within the band.

One of us might say ‘maybe that’s not working, try this,’ and we’ll work together to try and get the best possible result. For myself I find that really helpful and Craig (Tygers drummer) has a great ear for melodies so I’ll tend to run a lot of ideas particularly my solo ideas past him first.

Working like that do you come across any happy accidents ? The main riff in Glad Rags from the last album was me literally messing about in a rehearsal and I played it as a joke. The guys said ‘What’s that?? It’s good’.  Sometimes you’re not the best judge of your own work and you need someone to say that’s the take or that’s the riff or else I would sit in the studio until I’m a skeleton (laughs).

For the Tygers, I try and write solos like a composition within a composition. In my mind I always think of guys like Randy Rhoads who’s solo’s are like a song within a song.

What’s in the diary for 2019 ? There’s an album’s worth of Tyger songs nearly ready and it’ll probably be the same team that worked on the last album. Søren Andersen (Glenn Hughes) mixing and Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) mastering. Once the album is released we’ll be following it up with a tour. I’m also looking to release a few more guitar lesson products through Jam Track Central in 2019.

For Micky’s latest lesson package releases go to…http://www.jtcguitar.com/store/artist/micky-crystal/

and for the latest Tygers of Pan Tang news go to…http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

SQUARE ONE in conversation with songwriter & producer Fred Purser

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pic by Rik Walton

Fred has just released new album Square One with former Tygers vocalist Jon Deverill. Fred was guitarist in North East bands Penetration and Tygers of Pan Tang, and I was a long haired 16 year old when I saw the Tygers at a packed out Newcastle Mayfair in 1982….I remember with affection the gig at The Mayfair. The likes of AC/DC had played there and in the same dressing rooms, same stage, here we were! It was fantastic and with a local audience that was icing on the cake really.

The Cage tour was in support of the 4th album from The Tygers, and it took them in a different direction…. I was involved in writing a few songs from that album. After a lot of touring and writing there was a lot of pressure on the band and with the new writing going towards an AOR, polished kind of sound. Our producer Pete Collins was trying new sounds to bring into rock that hadn’t been done before like Simmons drums.

It was strange hearing these synthetic and polished sounds in the recordings. Def Leppard used them all over their next albums. We could have paralleled their success if we didn’t have problems with our record label.

We were riding high, the atmosphere in the band was great we were getting on really well but the guy who signed the Tygers was moved up a notch in the record company so he had other priorities. We didn’t get the commitment that we were hoping for from MCA, and as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden were getting huge support we weren’t.

We had released the cover Love Potion No.9 it had done really well and someone in the record company thought it would be a good idea to adopt the same approach for the next songs. ‘Play Motown covers with a rock sound’. But we didn’t really want to do that so we entered into an impasse situation with MCA.

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I had come up with some other material with Jon’s (Deverill) voice in mind and they liked it but there was still this situation between us, and it kind of all just slowly fell apart. We had a heavy weight around our necks. Things were slowly getting worse. They were ok with the demo’s but MCA knew they would have a huge bill for recording, so it was getting harder and harder to get this thing out.

Subsequently I got more involved with the studio and started doing session work. Jon took the Tygers on further with songwriter Steve Thomson, and he did a few more albums after that. We’ve always stayed friends over the years. He lives in London and I’m here in the North East so if he was on tour or I was down there we’d met up for a drink and a curry. Phone calls back and forth you know. But the project I was writing I always felt it had something because it had such positive feedback.

What did Jon Deverill do after the Tygers ? ‘He’d always liked stage work so he went to an acting school in Wales, learned his craft and qualified from there. He’s forged a career out of it because acting is a really difficult thing to get into. Theatre is his preferred thing.

The album that you and Jon have just released ‘Square One’ was all of that wrote at the time of leaving the Tygers ? Not all of it, I had about four songs and since then at various times have developed them and added more through writing sessions and recorded the vocals when Jon was available. Life got in the way over the years so it was a case of attending to it when I could. Engineering and recording work took over and performer, producer, had to take second place.

To revisit it was a nightmare because technology has moved on. From analogue, tape alignment, just digging out those tapes presented technical problems. Using pro-tools had it’s advantages seeing the problems right there, and not using razor blades to cut the tape anymore (laughs).

What was the feeling first time listening back to those songs, was it a pleasant surprise ? With anything you do you would do it different, some of them were from 30 years ago. You always reappraise things you know ‘Could have had more of this or less of that’. I probably over scrutinised some of it and been a bit finickity about it but I enjoyed working on them.

Having an external producer is a good idea because they can hear things in it which you might not. They would say yes that’s the one with it’s happy accidents in it rather than the straight jacketed version I was going to use.

How did you get into studio work ? I was just fascinated with the whole process. When I was in Penetration we would go in a studio and it was wow, really impressed by it, and I just asked loads of questions. For session work I was working at studios in London like Snakeranch, Marquee, Phonogram I would ask the guys what’s this, how does this work and they would tell me, encourage me and said I had good ears. They’d say ‘Why not consider doing this, because you can’.

This was to their advantage because I would come down to do some backing vocals, keyboards or guitars for a mainstream act and I could also engineer it. They could then get on the phone for that next production job for Roxy Music or somebody (laughs).

What type of session work did you do ? People like Elaine Page, Tracey Ullman, even Alvin Stardust are the one’s I remember that had mainstream success. I had done some stuff with Peter Collins (Tygers producer) and he was working with Gary Moore. When it came to the time when your name was to be added to credit lists I just wanted to add my name but Peter said I wasn’t sure you would want that because Gary Moore doesn’t like to be credited, he thinks it’s uncool cos he’s a rock guy. I thought about it but went ahead with my name, I didn’t think it wasn’t cool (laughs).

How did you get interested in music ? I was born in an industrial town and went to school where some of the teachers thought they were doing you a favour by knocking any type of wonder out of you. Exactly opposite to the American ethos of you go for your dream. I ended up getting a place in Newcastle University to study architecture. I took a year out of that to work on a trading estate to get the money to buy a guitar.

I got out there and played with local bands. I grew up listening to Bowie, Mick Ronson, The Who and when the punk thing came along I loved the energy of it. I also wanted to improve on my technical side of playing guitar.  

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How did the Penetration job come about ? Penetration came along after they were already signed to Virgin for a couple of singles and were looking to do an album deal. The record company wanted the band to have another guitarist/writer involved and as I’d already played with Gary Smallman the drummer he recommended me to the band. When I met them they had a real chemistry, the atmosphere was good so I gave it a go and we played The Marquee. It was really exciting, loved it and Virgin signed us that night on an album deal.

The architecture thing was still there and the sensible voices were saying architecture means a steady job but the music biz ooh no (laughs). But I was young and didn’t want to arrive at 45 look back and say what if you know. I joined Penetration in 78 and was with them until the end of 79.

Do any moments stand out when you were in Penetration ? Yes we were on tour in the USA and I turned 21 in Boston. It was a blast. Great fun. We were out there on the same tour that The Police had done, they had done the circuit twice and they broke. Squeeze had done it, they broke. But after the first circuit of that tour we were over worked, burnt out.

Virgin were a great label but turn over for albums was quicker in those days and they wanted another one quickly. Just too much. Sadly we split. In hindsight if we had just had a holiday maybe taken four weeks off and come back refreshed, that would of worked.

When Penetration toured the States you weren’t travelling in luxury then…. (laughs) No the perception is that it can be a glittering world, we didn’t complain about it then because it was a great opportunity. But looking back it was very tiring travelling hundreds of miles every day sitting on your backside for 8-9 hours in the back of a van. When I was young I used to read the Sounds and read the back of albums things like that and think it would be very glamourous. But the reality is it can be quite mundane.

When I joined Penetration we were getting £25 a week. Before we played The Marquee we got a telegram from Ian Drury to wish us luck. But he was only on £25 a week when Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick was number one in the charts! Obviously that money would filter in later on but the record company put a lot of money into the band and until you reach that break even line your just on the recoupment phase. They want their loan repaid before you see any money. So they would pay you per diems of say £10 per day so you can get food and essentials.

There would be bands in great recording studios impressed by it all, rightly so, but in the background is the ching, ching sound of the money register. They are accruing a debt to the record company, and they want it back.

Did you have management at the time ? With Penetration we had Rory Gallagher and Status Quo management. We had a young energetic manager called John Arnisson who went on to manage Marillion and I think now he manages Billy Ocean. The Tygers had Graham Thomson as tour manager and day to day and other more important stuff was handled by Tom Noble, still a friend of mine. He also manages Jon and I for the Square One project.

Have you met people who you looked up to as musical heroes ? Yes in Penetration when we were touring USA the tour manager was a guy called Stan Tippins and he tour managed Mott the Hoople. When we played New York Ian Hunter came along to see the band. I had problems with tuning on my Gibson SG. All night it had been drifting out of tune and he came backstage.

Well here he was, I grew up listening to All the Young Dudes and he was such a nice guy… ‘I know how you can fix that ‘ he said as he worked on my guitar with a graphite pencil. I was gobsmacked. There it was, Ian Hunter sorted out my G string tuning on my Gibson SG (laughs).

Then you had Mick Ralphs hanging around, we were backstage in the Whiskey in L.A. with Joan Jett. Unfortunately never met Mick Ronson who was the guy who got me wanting to play the guitar. We also did a French tour supporting Rory Gallagher which was a real education.

When I was in the Tygers I met all the Maiden people, Lemmy, all the guys in the rock bands that were around those days. Your peers really. Not a hero of mine but seemed a canny lad when I met him was Roy Wood. I was in the lift of Hammer House and he got in. He had all the hair and the beard (laughs) Just a short guy with a Brummy accent. This was ‘78 after the Christmas song and all that, this felt like another world.

Any plans on taking Square One out live ? If this album does anything really exceptional I’d love that to happen but I’m realistic enough in today’s climate that I would be happy enough for people just to hear it. Should it get enough interest to make it financially viable it might be there as a possibility. Thing is you want to put out your best and people deserve to hear it fully and at the best quality.

Purser/Deverill album ‘Square One’ with Jeff Armstrong (drums) Jon Deverill (vocals) and Fred Purser (keyboards/guitars) out now on Mighty Music.

Contact the band at
 https://www.facebook.com/sparechaynge/

 Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

ROCK CITY LIVE with Robb Weir, TYGERS OF PAN TANG guitarist

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Since releasing their last album in 2016 the Tygers have had a successful two years equalling or maybe bettering the NWOBHM days back in the 80’s. 2018 has seen them playing gigs around the UK and Europe with Kiss, Ozzy and the Dead Daisies plus a recent headline show in Japan. Can they add more kudos to their well oiled machine?

With a live album release ‘Hellbound-Spellbound ‘81’ from the line up of Jon Deverill (vocals), John Sykes (guitar), Brian Dick (drums), Rocky (bass) and Robb Weir (guitar). Was this a recording of that line up at its peak?

Yes absolutely. John Sykes played on the Wildcat tour in September ’80, but not on the Wildcat album and Jon Deverill joined us just before Christmas 1980. We were writing for the next album and with the ‘new blood’ in the line up the sound changed a little bit because those two great guys brought a different edge to the Tygers, more melodic I think.

Wildcat had a heavier feel to it and a bit of a punky element to it as well. I played it in its entirety a while ago and didn’t realise how much punk music had influenced me.

The opening track on this live album, ‘Take It’ was written by John Sykes and me. When John first joined the Tygers he came round to my house to learn the songs for the then, upcoming Wildcat tour. During these sessions John said I’ve got an idea for a new song. He played me the front end, (opening) of ‘Take It’ I liked it, added in something I had, played it together and added a chorus and ‘Take It’ was born.

Unfortunately it was the only song that John and I wrote together. I was used to writing by myself, John and Jon Deverill lived in the same flat so they worked on songs together. As for both Spellbound and Crazy Nights the song writing guitar riff ideas were 50/50 between John and me. Then we would put them in the pot and they become everybody’s….adding drum parts and bass.

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What were the nuts and bolts of making this live album ? We were on the UK part of the Spellbound tour in 1981, it was the second show of the tour at the Nottingham Rock City venue. Normally you would record a live performance on the last day of a major tour when you’ve had 30 odd dates to have a bit of a practice! But the Tygers never do anything easy, always back to front and upside down, we’re at the front of the queue for that (laughs).

Our record company at the time MCA hired the Rolling Stones mobile recording unit. Which was quite revolutionary in those days, it was an articulated lorry with an amazing recording studio inside of it and was owned by The Rolling Stones. It was a business venture for them and they hired it for location recording.

This mobile studio was made very famous in the seventies when it went to Montreux to record Deep Purple and ‘Smoke on the Water!’ It was state of the art at the time. It parked outside Nottingham Rock City running all the recording lines inside so effectively all your equipment was double mic’d. One mic for the live sound in the hall, and one mic that ran back out to the truck for recording purposes.

Who was engineer on the recording? Chris Tsangarides who had produced both the Wildcat and Spellbound albums had come out on the road with us to do our front of house sound. However, on this special night he couldn’t be in two places at once so he did our sound check for us and set the sound up. The guy who came with the huge sound system that we took on the road with us did front of house sound mix that night.

In those days you took your show on the road with you. It wasn’t like in Academy’s these days where everything like lights and sound system are already in house, and all you need is your backline. In those days when you went into a hall it was empty. So you had to put your sound system and lighting rig in.

Consequently touring then was a lot more expensive. When you did a big tour with a big production, you almost lost money but you did it to promote your album hoping next day people would go to the record shop and buy it. That’s where you would recoup your money for the tour.

On the day of recording Chris Tsangarides set the sound up and then went into the mobile where he did the sound check again so he could set the levels and tones on the recording desk. When we were playing live Chris did what you call an ‘on the fly’ mix as well.

What was the set up as far as sound equipment and crew for the Spellbound tour? On the Spellbound tour we had two 40 foot articulated tractor pulled trailers, and a nightliner bus for the crew. We had a 16 man crew working for us. It was quite a big do as they say and in ’82 when we did The Cage tour that was an even bigger production, both productions cost a lot of money.

Of course you hope to get bums on seats to recoup a bit of that back. Support bands would pay to come out on the road with you because that’s the way it was done. That money all went towards the headline bands costs.

As far as I remember when we went out we took the Malcolm Hill rig out which was famed for AC/DC using it. I’m pretty sure it was a 35,000 watt rig, which was a lot of noise coming out the front of the system at you! Then on stage we had about 12,000 watt’s of monitors. I used to have two 1,000 watt wedges in front of me and they were on full tilt. We used to play loud, really loud (laughs).

The live recording was at Nottingham Rock City. Was that a memorable day in the Tygers history? Actually there was a prequel to this show. We were staying at The Holiday Inn in Nottingham and we were all absolutely laden with flu apart from John Sykes. We were so bad our Tour Manager called for medical advice. A doctor came out and said we shouldn’t be playing, particularly Brian our drummer because he was an asthmatic. He had an array of inhalers which he used to take in-between smoking his Embassy regals (laughs).

The doctor actually wrote us out a sick note to excuse us from playing, I don’t know who we were going to show it to! Maybe Tom our manager has still the sick note? (Laughs). But there was no way we weren’t playing, the gig was sold out and we were recording it.

After the gig did you hear the recording played back? At the end of the show John Sykes, who was as bubbly as ever, went to see Chris in the Rolling Stones recording mobile, they had a discussion and John came back and said Chris doesn’t think it’s very good. I can’t remember whether he had said we had made some mistakes, maybe not played very well, or something had gone wrong in the recording process, I honestly can’t remember. Nothing more was said and I guess the record company (MCA) who paid for the whole deal must have been gutted. Again there wasn’t an inquisition about it, it was just left.

It was all recorded on 2 inch Ampex tape and our manager Tom Noble took them away and they lived under a bed in his spare bedroom for years. It was only Chris and John who had heard anything from the tapes.  Brian, Rocky, Jon Deverill and myself hadn’t heard anything.

The life of the band moved on until 2000 when I said to Tom the Tygers manager, ‘you know those live tapes from ‘81 should we have a listen to them?’  He said, ‘yes, they’re under the bed in the spare room.’ So we asked Fred Purser who replaced John Sykes in 1982 and recorded The Cage album, then toured with the Tygers.

When Fred left the band he went into the production side of the music business. Fred now has a wonderful studio called Trinity Heights in Newcastle. He agreed to do it but we had to hire a machine to play the tapes on because they were out dated. There was nothing in the North East so we had to ring down to London and hire a 24 track Ampex tape playing machine. Fred took delivery and transferred the tapes to digital format but because of the age of them we were told we probably would only get one chance to copy them as the Ampex tape could disintegrate! Luckily we did it.

What did the recording sound like? Fantastic, Tom and I couldn’t understand why the tapes hadn’t been used? The only thing that was wrong was because of time, the first four tracks on my guitar had ‘fallen off’ the tape. So I sourced the same pick up I had on my Gibson Explorer at the time, put it on a suitable guitar and went in the studio and recorded my guitar part’s again for the first four tracks.

That is the only thing that has ever been touched so this is a complete live album with no overdubs, unlike a lot of live albums back in the day!

It has now come out years later that on some live albums back then maybe only a snare drum was live and the band went back into the studio to record most of it again– a bit naughty, but I understand band’s want their best work recorded. But if you can’t play live should you really be in the business? I’m very proud that ours IS live.

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Robb and Soren Anderson.

Why the re-release now? Well Fred mixed it and it came out in 2000 on general release. Three years ago when we signed with Target Records the C.E.O Michael Anderson, asked whether we would be interested in putting out a remixed version by Soren Anderson, who mixed our current album. So it’s been on the back burner for a while. It just so happened the timing was perfect because Soren started a mix on the album and two weeks later he appeared in Newcastle playing with former Deep Purple bass player, Glenn Hughes.

I went to see them at the Academy here in Newcastle and met Soren, he said he had a day off the next day in Newcastle. Michael McCrystal (Tygers guitarist) managed to get us some studio time at Blast Studios, through his academy of music connections. This is where we recorded all the backing tracks for our current album.

So we went into Blast, he put the album up and listened to some of the mixes that Soren had done and I suggested some things. All that’s happened is the tones of the instruments have been sharpened up, levels have been changed, we found backing vocals which were too low in the original mix, it’s come out really well, it’s a huge sounding live album now to be fair.

The record company are bringing it out on various formats, CD, vinyl and a box set including a signed tour poster and a ticket to Nordic Noise Festival next year in Copenhagen. It’s a great package. There’s also a tour pass from 1981.

‘Hellbound – Spellbound 81’ is available 21st  December 2018 via the official Target Records website and in the shops 25th January 2019.

Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

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GUARDIAN RECORDING STUDIO #4 Metal on Tyne with Mythra, Saracen & Hollow Ground

Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings.

Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio.

From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax.

From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

MYTHRA – Death and Destiny 7”EP 1979. Tracks: Death and Destiny, Killer, Overlord, UFO.

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JOHN ROACH (guitar): ‘With Mythra we saved some cash from our gig money with the intention of recording a demo tape to see if we could get any interest from record companies. We checked out Impulse and Guardian studios and decided to go with Guardian. From what I remember we were offered actual vinyl records for our demos, rather than cassette tapes’. 

MAURICE BATES (bass):  ‘The first recording session was a new experience and opened our eyes to another part of being in a band. The owner Terry Gavaghan was more of an engineer than producer, he just said to us no slow songs lads keep it up this is good ! 

JOHN ROACH:Guardian Studios was in a very small terraced house in Durham. If you entered from the front street you ended up in the main recording room, with a very small isolation room for the drums. Through a door you entered the control room which was actually the back of the house. Terry Gavaghan lived next door. He kept disappearing during the recording, going for something to eat or answer the phone to the big record companies!

MAURICE BATES: ‘We slept upstairs to the studio so we could get on with recording straight away in the morning. But as we were recording our own bit separately, everyone else had to leave the studio so we ended up in the pub! Happy days’.

JOHN ROACH: ‘We released the vinyl EP in November 1979. It is well documented that this was one of the very first records to be released of what would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.

HOLLOW GROUND – Flying High 7’ 1980. Tracks: Flying High, Warlord, Rock On, Don’t Chase the Dragon.

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JOHN LOCKNEY (drums): ‘Because we had our own material we were trying to get the money together to get in the studio and record it. It was so nerve wracking then cos we were green as grass. Doing overdubs and things something we had never done before’. 

MARTIN METCALF (guitar): ‘One night we went to a Raven gig at Newcastle Mayfair and Steve Thompson who was producing at NEAT studios then, pulled me to one side and said there’s a deal at NEAT if you want. I liked the idea but told him we had just sorted something out with Guardian. We went down to the studio in Durham and recorded 4 tracks. It cost around £500’. 

JOHN LOCKNEY: ‘It really was great. I mean you’ve been brought up and bought singles. Now suddenly you’ve got one of your own. We were proud of the songs. We think they still stand up today and we went round selling them to local record shops. It’s still one of the proudest things I’ve ever done you know’.

MARTIN METCALF: ’I still remember the smell of the brown cork tiles in the studio and having to sellotape the headphones on my head when recording as they kept falling off ! In hindsight maybe NEAT would have turned out better for us in the long run’.

JOHN LOCKNEY: ‘We went back to record another 2 for a compilation album Roksnax. The production and the way we played was better then. We weren’t as green and went back again and done another 4 tracks for demos to flog around record companies. You can tell the difference how confident we were with more experience in the studio’.

SARACEN – Roksnax compilation LP 1980. Tracks: Speed of Sound, Fast Living, Feel Just the Same, Setting the World Ablaze.

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STEVE DAWSON (guitar): ‘We went into Guardian Studios where our friends, Mythra, had recorded their Death and Destiny EP. Most of us were friends from school or through the scene, you know, being thrown together in this cauldron of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. We booked a day there and recorded 3 songs’. 

LOU TAYLOR (vocals): ‘I saw it as moving up to the next level and felt excited to be in the studio and something happening for Saracen. When we went down to the studio we first drove past the place and double backed on ourselves to find it. It looked just like an ordinary house, later we found it was two terraced houses knocked into one’.

STEVE DAWSON: ‘After the initial recording session, we were invited to attend a meeting with the owner Terry Gavaghan who proposed an idea to us about putting our tracks on a compilation album. It was going to feature local bands Saracen, Samurai and Hollow Ground. So we decided yeah let’s go for it’. 

LOU TAYLOR: ‘I can’t remember much from the sessions apart from recording my vocals quite late at night and the drum booth being tiny. When Dave was behind the drums we had to pass him refreshments every so often as it was such a tight squeeze to get in. Terry was forever nipping out of the studio and coming back with a smelly cheese sandwich or something to eat, and he loved to talk about the resident ghost !

STEVE DAWSON: ‘The album was basically a ‘live’ performance in the studio with minimal overdubs. I spent my 21st birthday in that place…I’ll never get it back!’

LOU TAYLOR: ‘On reflection we might have been better off recording at NEAT, as they were more loud and proud, you know the whole crash, bang and don’t forget the wallop’.

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

If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be much appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

MYTHRA: Still Burning 13th February 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GUARDIAN STUDIO STORIES

#1 TYGERS OF PAN TANG May 3rd 2018

#2 SPARTAN WARRIOR May 20th 2018

#3 STEVE THOMPSON (Songwriter & Producer) July 11th 2018

WHEN THE MUSIC’S (not) OVER.

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For the music is your special friend

Dance on fire as it intends

Music is your only friend until the end

Until the end, until the end.

(The Doors, When the Music’s Over from the album Strange Days, 1967)

First thing in the morning it’s the squawk from the seagulls, the gush of water as you fill the kettle then turn the radio on. Sound is all around us.

At Catholic Junior school I remember hearing Jewish songs like ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘Shalom Shavarim’. The radio played ‘Leader of the Pack’ by The Shangri-La’s and ‘Gaudete’ from Steeleye Span.  Watching Top of the Pops meant my pocket money was spent on a 7inch single by Slade or Sweet. I still listen to a lot of music today and buy the odd cd.

Last one I bought was a double, a Best of Bob Dylan. I got it at a car boot sale for a quid ! Bargain. There were loads of great songs on so I got my wallet out but only had a £20 note. ‘Struggling for change here have you got nothing smaller ?’ said the bloke. I searched in my pocket for some change and counted out 90p. Holding the note in one hand and the coins in the other. He said ‘No chance, I’m not selling that for 90p….. it’s a double album !’  

I’ve closed a lot of interviews by asking what does music mean to you or what has music given you ? The answers are fired back. No chin stroking, no pause for thought, just an instant reply. Here are some of them….

Michael McNally: ‘Music is an escape, a freedom from whatever ties us down. It can be the medicine we require to soothe or the motivation to move. Without it we are monotone, bland and sad’. 

Bernie Torme: ‘Meeting great people, shit people and doing things that a shy kid with a stutter from Dublin could never have imagined in a thousand years! Gave me everything really, for which I am eternally grateful, I wouldn’t have exchanged my life for anyone else’s. It definitely did not make me rich though! 

David Ditchburn: ‘Got loads of happy memories, I would never change it you know. I’ve done a few other things in life and enjoyed them but still every night I sit down and play the guitar and write songs. I can’t imagine life without it really. It’s what I exist for I guess’.

Danny McCormack: ’Well it’s got me around the world and it’s like a feeling of belonging. You go to a gig and I feel one of the crowd. I’m with my people, being part of a community of music lovers, and I can express myself in music. Being confident and comfortable in yer own skin which is important. The ultimate that music has given me is freedom’.

John Gallagher: ‘It’s given us so much, the opportunity to travel the world, meet my wife, have my family and just the ability to sit in a room with a guitar and bang out some riffs and create a song. Just to know that you have made something. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do what we do and do not take that lightly, so when we go out its 100% 24/7/365 mate!!!!

John Verity: Music has given me everything – but at times it has taken everything away too. It means everything to me. I have a very long-suffering wife, Carole. She lets me be what I am despite the faults and that’s amazing, the way she accepts my obsession with all things music related’.

Robb Weir: ‘I’ve loved every second of my musical career, the whole ride has been like sitting at the front of a giant rollercoaster, hands up, screaming with delight! Music is a way of life, it’s a wonderful thing, and it can be your best friend. You can turn to music at any time of your life and it can be a great comforter. I absolutely love it.’ 

Arthur Ramm: ‘Well I can’t live without music. If my hands don’t work I don’t know what will happen. I listen to music all the time and I am in a band now with Les’. 

Les Tones: ‘When I’ve got a guitar I lose loads of time cos I can’t put it down. I’ve also been teaching music and I got into repairing and building guitars. I still play in a band now’. 

Tony Wilson: ‘It was like opening a door to the world – I’ve travelled, met good and bad people. Coming back to the folk scene I’m flattered that people remember me. There’s still some fantastic people who put you up, give you meals, drive you places…just the most incredible thing ever….really….that’s music’.

David Taggart: ‘Everything. Even more so as I get older. Lying on my back as a toddler in our council house listening to Swan Lake, Ella Fitzgerald or the Fab Four. Or at the Newcastle City Hall to see the now legendary Rolling Stones concert where Jagger introduced the crowd to his new wife Bianca – while Bowie clapped in the wings. Fashions and fads fall along the wayside as your journey progresses and all you’re left with is the thing that really matters. The music’.

Gary Alikivi September 2018.

To read the full interviews just type the name in the white box at the top right hand of the page.

Don’t forget to check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE TOON AGAIN -Alikivi blog makes the news.

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On the blog in June this year, Roksnaps featured photo’s of bands playing live over 30 years ago. The rare pic’s were taken by music fan Paul White. Photo’s which capture the atmosphere and excitement at Newcastle City Hall. 

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Music fan Paul White

On Wednesday September 12th journalist David Morton wrote an article and featured the photo’s in The Chronicle newspaper and on it’s website.

Newcastle was becoming a rock music powerhouse. Black Sabbath, Scorpions, Whitesnake, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, UFO among others all trod the boards of Newcastle City Hall’. 

The blog is coming up to 40,000 views, plus this is the 175th post, so a great way to mark that milestone is with a double page in the local newspaper.

Gary Alikivi September 2018

Recommended:

Roksnaps #1 18th February 2018.

Roksnaps #2 22nd February 2018.

Roksnaps #3 27th February 2018.

Roksnaps #4  4th April 2018.

Roksnaps #5  20th June 2018.

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

Rockin’ All Over the Toon  22nd May 2018.

Don’t forget to check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

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

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

But how did I tackle this documentary and pull it all together ? Firstly I talked to a few musicians who passed over some of their archive of demo tapes, video’s and photo’s. Plus I already had a number of photographs I had taken through the ’90s.

Then a lot of research was done in the Local Studies Library, South Shields. I remember during the ’80s reading a feature called Young Weekender in the Saturday edition of local newspaper The Shields Gazette. It featured interviews, releases by local and national bands, plus a list of gig dates around Tyneside. The library had all the Gazette’s on microfilm. It took a few visits but in all it was a good start.

Then during May 2007 filmed interviews were arranged at The Cave in South Shields, formerly Tyne Dock Youth Club, where in the 1970’s some of the bands had rehearsed and performed as teenagers. 

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

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

Gary Alikivi  2018

WRITING ON THE WALL – in conversation with North East music journalist, broadcaster & producer Ian Ravendale

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Ian Penman has been a television and radio presenter, researcher, producer and journalist for more than 30 years, generally writing as Ian Ravendale to avoid confusion with the Ian Penman formerly of the NME.

He returned to music journalism (and Ian Ravendale) seven years ago writing for Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Vintage Rock, AOR, Vive Le Rock, Iron Fist, Blues Matters, American Songwriter, The Word and many more. Ian has interviewed literally thousands of musicians from multi-millionaire rockstars to local indie bands on the dole…

‘I worked in television for Border, Tyne Tees, Channel 4 and also ran River City Productions an independent production company based in Gateshead. In addition to making lots of local programmes I also worked on national music shows including Get Fresh, Bliss and (to a lesser extent) The Tube. The Tube was shot at Tyne Tees Television’s Studio 5 on City Road in Newcastle. The site is now a Travel Lodge!

It was interesting going to the canteen on recording day for shows like shows like Razzmatazz  and The Tube and seeing who was in. I remember standing behind Phil Everly as he got his cod and chips!’ 

‘The music programmes I worked on were mainly produced by Border Television in Carlisle. I spent a lot of time there in the 1980’s. At Tyne Tees I worked mainly in the Arts and Entertainment department. Anything different or off the wall it would usually be me doing it.

We produced a program about rock poetry, presented by Mark Mywurdz, who at the time was a Tube regular. For some reason Mark wanted to present the program just wearing a raincoat. Nothing underneath! After we finished recording the show one of the camera men came up and congratulated me; ‘That was the biggest load of rubbish I’ve seen in my life!’  I did a lot of alternative stuff. Some was challenging but none was rubbish!’

Talking about alternative stuff, can you remember Wavis O’Shave ? ‘He had a number of names – Wavis, Fofffo Spearjig, Rod Stewart, Pans Person. When I was writing for Sounds he saw me as a way in as the paper liked the off-beat stuff. He was a great self publicist. And still is! He once told me about getting £1,000 out of the News of the World for a tip-off about a forthcoming witches coven scheduled for Witton Gilbert-or wherever Wavis said it was!’ 

What can you remember about working on Get Fresh ? (kids 1986-88  morning weekend TV show produced by the regional ITV companies taking it in turns for Saturday and Border producing all the Sunday editions). ‘For Get Fresh and Bliss, Border’s 1985 summer replacement for The Tube, most of the guests came up to Carlisle the night before so I’d take them out. People like Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible from The Damned. We’d go into the music pubs and clubs around Carlisle and people would love seeing them there. Rat got up a few times to play with some of the local bands. When I met him I said ‘What do I call you?’ (His real name is Chris Miller). (Adopts cockney accent) ‘Just call me Rat’. So I did. Nice guy. At the time he was really hoping to get the drum job with The Who, as Keith Moon had recently died. Didn’t happen, unfortunately.’

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Bliss was presented by Muriel Grey and produced in Carlisle by Janet Street-Porter. We featured live bands, got them to play for half an hour, used two songs on the weekly show, then repackage the 30 minutes for a Bliss In Concert special. There wasn’t that much going on in Carlisle at the time so we had no problem getting local kids in as the audience.

One week we didn’t have a live band and I’d got an advance copy of the famous animated video for Take On Me by A-Ha, who at that point were totally unknown. Graham K Smith, the other music researcher and I thought it was really good so I rang their record company to see if A-Ha were available and importantly if they could play live. A resounding ‘Yes, they can do it’ was the answer. Bliss was aimed at a teenage audience so A-ha would have fitted in perfectly. Janet-Street Porter comes in and looks at the video and goes (adopts cockney accent) ‘Oh no, that’s art school stuff, it’s boring. Draggy!’ 

Border TV could have had half an hour of A-Ha playing live in concert for the first time in the UK. But no. The band she booked instead were King Kurt, a well-past their sell-by date punk band. So up they come in their ratty old bus with dogs on pieces of string and a stage act that consisted of throwing slop at each other. We – or rather Janet – turned down what became one of the biggest bands of the eighties’.

When you were reviewing gigs in the early 1980’s for Sounds were there any bands that surprised you or were disappointed with ? ‘It took me a while to ‘get’ punk. I was never into the boring British blues bands and prog acts which still show-up on the BBC’s compilations of 70’s rock. With the exception of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band who I liked. When punk came along it started to make more sense. I was also into what is now classed as Americana. Along with more-left field bands like Sparks and Be-Bop Deluxe.’

I’m reading the book ’No Sleep till Canvey Island -The Great Pub Rock Revolution’ the book mentions the early careers of Joe Strummer, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello…’There were bands that were like a doorway between punk and the boring rock bands and Brinsley Schwarz, with Nick Lowe were one of them. I saw them play Backhouse Park, here in Sunderland. Dr Feelgood were another. I saw The Damned support Marc Bolan at Newcastle City Hall and it was a short, sharp, shock. And I thought; ‘OK. What was that…?’ Phil Sutcliffe, my predecessor at Sounds did an interview with The Damned for Radio Newcastle’s Bedrock show that we both worked on. It was 30 seconds long and finished off with someone shouting ‘Oi! Who put duh lights out’!

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The big article you wrote for Sounds in May 1980 featured local metal bands Mythra, Fist, Raven, Tygers of Pan Tang and White Spirit. How did that come about ? ‘I was freelancing at Sounds, writing articles and reviewing gigs, some of which were of local bands. I was also working on the Bedrock program and one of my co-presenters was Tom Noble who was managing the Tygers. I’d already written individual articles about the Tygers, Fist and Raven and Geoff Barton, the assistant editor at Sounds asked me to source a few more bands for a 4,000 word article. The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ was born!’

NWOBHM had Iron Maiden in London, Saxon in Barnsley and Def Leppard in Sheffield…. ‘Yes. As a reviewer I went as far as Redcar. A lot of the local bands I reviewed were from here in Sunderland, Newcastle and South Shields. Sounds also had a guy called ‘Des Moines’, a pseudonym for a writer from Leeds called Nigel Burnham who is now an agricultural journalist and Mick Middles, based in Manchester. Between the three of us we had the north covered.

One time the Tygers of Pan Tang were supporting Saxon and I’d gone along. I’d previously written a review of Saxon which included something along the lines of ‘in six months time they’ll be back playing social clubs’. At the gig Tygers’ guitarist Robb Weir came up and said ‘Biffs lookin’ for you!’. Fortunately he didn’t find me….Not yet, anyway.’

Was there any conflict between watching a band that you weren’t a fan of and writing something positive about them ? ‘Geoff never said to me, ‘We’ve got a big metal readership here can you go easy on them?’ He never wanted me to do that. But I found metal bands easy to take the piss out of – and I did. This stimulated very angry letters like ‘How dare Ian Ravendale slag off Ozzy. I’ve seen him and he was great’. I remember my opening line of a review I did of Ozzy, ‘What I want to know is how is Ozzy Osbourne so cabaret’. I interviewed him a few times for Bedrock but my interviewees tended not to click onto the fact that ‘Bedrock’s Ian Penman’ was also sharp-tongued Sounds scribe Ian Ravendale.

One time a few years after the Sounds ‘cabaret’ comment I was working at Tyne Tees and on the Friday Ozzy was playing The Tube. The Arts and Entertainment office was next door and I saw him in the corridor looking lost.  So I went up to him and said ‘Hi Ozzy, The Tube office is just over there’. He thanked me and then said ’I’ve met you before haven’t I’. He still remembered me from the radio interviews we’d done’.

How did you get interested in writing ? ‘As a teenager I was a huge music fan and also into American comics. I wrote for a few comic fanzines then published some of my own which occasionally still turn up on Ebay. That gave me an insight into writing for public consumption’. 

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The Bedrock team with Ian sitting on the right.

What about radio? You were involved in Bedrock for nearly ten years…‘Dick Godfrey was producing a program called Bedrock for BBC Radio Newcastle which featured interviews from national and gave local bands exposure which was otherwise very hard for them to get at the time. I had always been interested in the nuts and bolts of the music industry and how it all worked and listened to programs like Radio 1’s Scene And Heard.

Dick had a feature called Top Track where each week a different listener would come in and play his favourite track and talk about it. ‘Some Of Shellys Blues’ by Michael Nesmith was my choice. This went down well with Dick so I asked if he’d be interested in me contributing features. ‘Yes but there’s no cash involved’. Nesmith was soon going to be playing in the UK and I was going along to the gig so I asked Dick if Bedrock be interested in me trying to get an interview with him. ‘Definitely’ replied Dick. So I phoned a record label I’d heard Michael was about to sign to and they gave me his hotel number. As ‘Ian Penman from BBC Radio Newcastle’ I arranged an interview, which I did a couple days later in London, the day after the gig. That was my start in radio’. 

How did you start with Sounds? ‘Phil Sutcliffe, who was the North East correspondent for Sounds, was a friend of Dick Godfrey and also worked on Bedrock. When Phil moved to London he recommended me to Geoff Barton, Sound’s reviews editor, to be his replacement. Phil wrote a lot about the Angelic Upstarts, he liked the music but also had a sympathetic ear to what they were doing. He wrote the first articles about them. Same for Penetration, Neon and Punishment of Luxury.

I’d also been involved in the music fanzine Out Now which Tom Noble had produced, so I was becoming pretty proficient at interviewing and writing reviews. I was out at gigs four nights a week and was known enough to be able to walk straight into Newcastle City Hall via the stage door. This put me in touch with Tyne Tees TV and when a researcher vacancy came up I applied for that, got it and carried on at Sounds for a short while. I also wrote a few pieces for Kerrang, which Geoff Barton had moved across from Sounds to edit. I wrote the first article on Venom. Yes, I’m responsible for Black Metal (laughs).

Then as now, my attitude was regardless whether I liked the music or not if I could write something positive about local bands, and it was a entertaining ….I’ll do that. If you write something negative about a local band you could do them major harm. Also, a person in Aberdeen doesn’t want to know whether a band from South Shields are crap. Why would they?’

For the work that you were doing how important do you think research is? ’Some writers think of an idea then write a piece in support of that. I don’t do that. For me it’s about the facts and information presented in an interesting way. Opinions and personal taste are what they are. Maybe you like a band that I don’t. That’s fine.  But facts stand. I do my absolute level best to write as accurately as possible. It’s really important for me to do that. Sometimes information comes from two or three sources. And if the information is contradictory, I’ll say that’. 

Any memorable incidents in your career ? ’I interviewed Debbie Harry at Newcastle City Hall when Blondie had just broken big. We were in one of the really small dressing rooms. It was tiny. The record rep said ‘Ok Ian you got seven minutes’. He introduced me to Debbie who was standing with her back to me. She was leaning on a shelf writing stuff down. I said ‘Writing out the song lyrics ?’ She replied ‘Yeah, well I don’t really know them from the new album yet’. It felt a bit awkward. I literally spent the next three minutes just watching her writing with her back to me, stunning in her jumble sale collection of clothes. Eventually she sat down and off we went.

All of this was fairly new to her, she had just been playing CBGB’s (small club in New York) and now it was to gigs with 2,000 fans like the City Hall. She was trying to get used to all this Debbie-fever that was going on around her. By minute seven we were finally getting somewhere and she was opening up when the record rep walked in ‘Right Ian. Times up!’

I did actually interview the solo Debbie on the phone for Get Fresh nine years later and she was much more forthcoming.  (The  City Hall interview is on Rocks Back pages if you fancy a listen. RB is a paysite but there’s lots and lots of great stuff up there).

For more information contact : http://ianravendale.blogspot.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

GUARDIAN RECORDING STUDIO #3 with songwriter & producer Steve Thompson

Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. ‘Pity Me’ features later in this story by Steve Thompson, songwriter and ex producer at NEAT records.

There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio.

From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax.

From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

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STEVE THOMPSON: (Songwriter) ‘I had quit as house producer at Neat Records in 1981. I had begun to realise that I was helping other people build careers whilst mine was on hold. I was becoming bogged down in Heavy Metal and whilst there’s no doubt I’m a bit of a rocker, I really wanted to pursue the path of a songwriter first and foremost.

Production might come into it somewhere along the line but I wanted that to be a sideline, not my main gig. So I set about composing the song that is the subject of this story, ‘Please Don’t Sympathise’. This is what happened.

I had just cut a single with The Hollies. Bruce Welch of The Shadows was in the production seat for that recording in Odyssey Studios, London. I signed a publishing deal with Bruce and remember signing the contract at Tyne Tees TV Studios in Newcastle, Hank Marvin was witness. Bruce had heard an 8 song demo of my songs and selected 4 favourites from it.

He asked me to make some more advanced demos of those 4. I could have gone into Neat/Impulse Studio but I still wanted to carve new territory so I went to Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham.

I played bass, keyboards and guitar on the session with Paul Smith on drums and I brought my old mate Dave Black in to do vocals. I spent two full days on those demos, Bruce Welch was paying and he really wanted me to go to town on the production. Then a producer called Chris Neil entered the story.

Chris had worked with Leo Sayer, Gerry Rafferty, A-Ha, Rod Stewart, Cher and others. Chris and I had just had a massive hit with his production of my song Hurry Home. Chris was by now having a bit of a love affair with my material. Chris had asked Bruce to give him first dibs on any of my new songs that came along.

He picked up on two from the four songs I’d just demoed in Guardian. One of them he sang himself under the band name Favoured Nations. But the recording pertinent to this story is his production of Sheena Easton’s new album Madness, Money and Music.

He recorded my song Please Don’t Sympathise for that album. The album did very well. It went top 20 in the UK, peaking at 13. It also charted in several other countries and did particularly well in Japan’.

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

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‘These days I’m doing this song and many others that I wrote for various artists with my own band. I’ve uploaded a video collage here https://vimeo.com/266141205. It starts with the Guardian demo with Dave Black singing. The demo doesn’t sound that sophisticated after 37 years but that’s where it started. Then there are clips of the Sheena and Celine versions and then my band doing it live.

Sadly Dave Black is no longer around to sing the song as he did on the demo but Terry Slesser does a fine job of it. Jen Normandale comes in on the bridge in French ala Celine!’  www.steve-thompson.org.uk

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This needs to be confirmed by a visit down to Pity Me, but  a quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. I wonder if customers buying their tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East.

The Tap & Spile is just next door, was that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be much appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

NEAT BITES – Making Records in Wallsend

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Neat Records were based in Wallsend, North East England. The label was established in the late 70’s by Dave Woods, who was the owner of Impulse Studios. It was notable for releases by Venom, Raven and Blitzkreig who are acknowledged as major influences on American bands Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Songwriter and producer Steve Thompson helped set up Neat and produced the initial recordings…

One day Dave Woods came in and said there’s a band who are making a bit of noise out there why not get them in and sell a few records? So in came Tygers of Pan Tang to cut three tracks. Incidentally it was to be the third single I’d produced for NEAT. Now we know it is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the tide was coming in that very evening haha’. 

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ROBB WEIR (Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘In 1979 we recorded, ‘Don’t Touch Me There.’  It had a release number 003 so we were in at the beginning of the Neat Record label story. We were the first heavy metal band to be recorded in the studio. So I’m very proud of the Tygers giving the Neat label a direction.

Impulse studios took a chance and pressed 1,000 copies, that was a lot for a small independent label. Don’t Touch Me There was reviewed in Sounds newspaper which made a massive difference so the next pressing was 4,000 ! Then studio owner Dave Woods was approached by MCA record company, they wanted us! So Dave did a deal, essentially selling the Tygers to them. So MCA pressed around 50,000 copies of the single!’

BRIAN ROSS (Blitzkreig) ‘I remember the first time in Impulse Studio was great we made it feel like our second home. It came highly recommended as Tyne Tees TV used it to record their jingles there and we recorded a jingle Hot n Heavy Express which Alan Robson used on his radio show. It went well so we extended it into a single. NEAT put it out on a compilation EP.

Now this studio was the label to be on, and I mean in the country not just the North East, I’ve recorded many tracks there as Satan, Avenger and Blitzkreig. It’s a shame it’s not there now’. 

ANTONY BRAY (Venom) Conrad was tape operator at NEAT doing a few days here and there and he bugged the owner Dave Woods about getting spare time in the studio for the band. He kept asking him ‘can my band come in on the weekend ? Woodsy got so sick of him he just said ok, just do it, but pay for the tape. So we recorded a three track EP and we thought it might get a little review somewhere.

I was still working at Reyrolles factory then and one morning I wandered in and someone had a copy of the Sounds. Couldn’t believe it, there’s a two page spread about our EP, f’ing hell look at this. When Woodsy saw it he thought, I hate the band, think they are bloody awfull – but kerching!’

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

HARRY HILL (Fist) ‘The first single we put out was Name, Rank and Serial Number and You Never Get Me Up In One of Those on the b side. We done a lot of reheasal and prep work so we were tight, ready to record.

When we done Name, Rank we were on Northern Life TV. The cameras came down filmed in the studio that was 1980. Strangely the only piece of vinyl I have is our single The Wanderer. We started putting it in our set so yeah, went in and recorded it. Status Quo released a version a couple of month after us but honestly thought our version was better haha’.

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

DAVY LITTLE (Axis) ‘I remember Fist guitarist Keith Satchfield was in when we were recording. He was always track suited up. Getting fit and going on runs in preparation for a tour. I had met him a few times when I was younger I used to go and see Warbeck and Axe. Always thought he was a cool musician and writer. Plus a nice fella.

We were very inexperienced and new nothing about studios. He  gave us advice on how to set up amps. Was very supportive I never forgot that. Also when we were in there a very young moody boy was working there. Making tea, helping get kit in. Always drawing. Asked to see some of his drawings. All dark, tombstones, skulls, flying demons…nice kid tho’ said he didn’t think we were very heavy metal. I agreed.

He said “one day I am going to have the heaviest band ever”. I met Chronos years later in a club in Newcastle when he was fronting the mighty Venom. A nice lad’.

STEVE WALLACE (Shotgun Brides) ‘There was a kid called Richard Denton who grew up in the same area as us and he was working A&R at Impulse records in Wallsend. He persuaded the owner Dave Woods to take us on. We went into Impulse Studio and recorded the track Restless, that was engineered and produced by Kev Ridley in 1987. The b side of the single was Eighteen.

We recorded the song bit by bit, tracking it up. Unlike a few other bands it wasn’t recorded by playing all the way through and off you go add a couple of overdubs, no it was fully tracked. It eventually ended up on a NEAT compilation album’.

PHASSLAYNE NEAT

MICHAEL MAUGHAN (Phasslayne) In the summer of ’85 Phasslayne were approached by Neat Records. Dave Woods was the main man there. What happened was we recorded a demo at Desert Sounds in Felling which they really liked so the label asked us to record a live no dubs demo in their studio in Wallsend. On hearing that Dave Woods signed us to do an album.

But just before we got our record deal our singer left and everyone looked at me so that’s how I ended up doing the vocals. I think Keith Nichol was the engineer. For guitars I used my Strat and Maurice Bates from Mythra loaned me his Les Paul. We called the album Cut it Up, it’s on vinyl’.

KEV CHARLTON (Hellanbach) ‘We got a deal with NEAT records to record our first album. That was the best time. After rehearsing for months getting the new songs together we recorded the album which is a very proud moment in my life. Now Hear This came out in ’83 and was produced by Keith Nichol.

I remember getting the first copy of the album, taking it into work thinking this might be me leaving the shipyards. It was one of the weirdest times of my life because it came out to amazing five star reviews and some of the big bands weren’t even getting five stars. I remember sitting in the toilets of Wallsend shipyard reading the reviews in Kerrang and Sounds, thinking this will be the last time I’ll be in the shipyard….but it wasn’t !’ 

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

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

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

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

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