TUNED UP – with Sound Engineer, Stu Keeble

Dingwalls was a live venue in Newcastle operating in the early ‘80s and many signed and unsigned bands played there. Pages from a 1983 diary and booking list for the venue were posted on-line and some of those pages are pictured here.

I got in touch with Stu Keeble who was sound engineer at the Newcastle venue at that time….I think my first gig at Dingwalls was John Martyn in 1983. After the venue closed and re-opened as the Bear Pit I was still the engineer. I then did 3 years with the Bay City Rollers!

Have you any road stories with the Rollers ?  Apart from the sex, drugs and rock and roll plus the large amount of whisky they consumed,  I’ve lots of stories but I’m not sure how many are fit for public consumption (laughs).

The story we remember was a nightmare journey. The van broke down on the way to Ayr in Scotland, we were about 10 miles away from the gig. We had AA cover so they came and towed us to the venue and we did the show. That wasn’t too bad but now the big problem was getting back.

I phoned my mate Barry Hodgson from Stanley in County Durham, Barry hired a 7.5 ton Ford Cargo which he drove all the way up to Ayr and towed the van back – a nightmare journey as the engine had blown up in the Transit. We hadn’t thought that the battery wouldn’t last the return trip – the lights died as we passed Carlisle.

I had to call on a friend in Haltwhistle to borrow the battery out of his Mini which just got us back. Unfortunately this was in the days before cameras in the mobile phone so there are no photos of the nightmare !

How did you get interested in sound engineering and what were your first jobs ? I was a Hi-Fi nut and loved music. I used to go to a lot of gigs, mostly names like Sabbath and The Who, but I was also into west coast American acts so bands like CSNY, Poco, America and Jackson Browne. 1979 was my first paid sound engineering job with a band called 747 in the North East workingmen’s clubs. I’d only done amateur stuff before that.

Did you engineer for any North East bands ? My first tour was with Tysondog, I also mixed for Warrior, there is a live record – For Europe Only.  I worked with Danceclass and did a few shows with the Toy Dolls in fact most North East bands even Prefab Sprout.

When you were at Dingwalls what was the plan for your day ? A day at Dingwalls would start around 11-12noon depending on the bands arrival time and how much gear they had. We would load them in – I had a stage tech called Kremen, who’s sadly no longer with us. Then sound check them once the offices upstairs in the building had finished work. We would have something to eat before it would be time for the doors to open, can’t remember when that was maybe 7.30/8.00 pm.

The gig would happen and when it finished we would get ready to pack up and load out. It would take us another hour or so to get the band out. We would get a taxi so maybe get home by 2am.

What are your highlights from your career ? As for highlights I have a few, a couple at Dingwalls/Bear Pit where Man – what a band, they were awesome, and the time Roy Harper came in with a young girl looking like he had slept in a shop doorway. He proceeded to give the young house engineer a lesson in compression, when the song is quiet it’s meant to be quiet ‘DO NOT COMPRESS MY SOUND’. That was easy to do as in the early ’80s compressors weren’t as common as they are now and we didn’t have any!

I got the call to do a Christmas party for TV show The Tube at the Jewish Mother pub in Newcastle and after setting up the system Joe Cocker turned up to sound check – that was a gig to remember.

I had the contract for the Northumbria Uni/Poly for the best part of 30 years and I was house engineer at the Astoria in London for a couple of years too. I did playback for Wet Wet Wet’s first Tube video and I appeared in Crocodile Shoes (TV drama with Jimmy Nail) as the sound engineer at the live show.

There have been a few gigs to remember over the 40 odd years but they all sort of merge into one. Friends of Harry at the Radio One roadshow in Exhibition Park, Newcastle when the mixing desk was behind the stage and I had to produce a PA mix, 5 monitor mixes and a broadcast mix was a lot of fun ! The bands single that I had mixed at High Level Studio, Newcastle was the record of the week.

Doing PA for the Queen Mother at Team Valley Trading Estate, Gateshead in 1986 was an eye opener when Special Branch wanted to look inside the speaker cabinets or Alexi Sayle at Newcastle City Hall for the miners strike in ‘84 was a laugh when he walked on stage and said hello you c@#*s and half the audience left.

But two great moments were at The London Astoria meeting and mixing for Bruce Willis and Mike and the Mechanics.

What are you doing now ? I’m still working, currently doing the Northumberland Live festival in Blyth. I’m really enjoying helping to bring quality acts to Blyth for a free festival. I’ve really enjoyed my time as a sound engineer and I wouldn’t have been happy doing anything else.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

SANTAS BAG O’ SWAG

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

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

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

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

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

or download from the iTunes store.

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

Gary Alikivi  December 2019.

 

STOCKIN’ FILLERS

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

 

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

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

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

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

 Gary Alikivi   December 2019.

TALK SHOW – in conversation with former TV director Michael Metcalf

Michael talked earlier on this blog about his career in TV, but knowing he had a few more stories we met up in Newcastle again…I remember working on North East music show TX45 when we filmed AC/DC singer Brian Johnson in a working men’s club near the river Tyne. We had a great afternoon with him because what ya’ see is what yer get. He asked me if I do this all the time but I told him I work on drama as well and one of them was called ‘The World Cup – A Captains Tale’. We filmed it all over the North East and in Turin where the final was played. Tim Healey was in it, Nigel Hawthorne, Richard Griffiths, and the captain was played by Dennis Waterman.

Brian said I know that drama and yer not gonna believe this but we’ve got A Captains Tale on video and we always play it on the AC/DC tour bus. Now we’ve seen it so many times we put it on without the sound and we all take the parts. The thought of AC/DC playing these Geordie characters is amazing.

Another time we heard about a heavy rock band that were getting popular so Jeff Brown (producer) and I went to see them, not my type of music but thought they would be great for the show. We met them after the gig and one of them asked ‘How much will it cost to be on’? We answered ‘It doesn’t work like that. We pay you. We pay you the Musicians Union rate’. They couldn’t believe they were going to be on telly and getting paid for it (laughs). The name of the band escapes me, hey it was over 30 years ago but I remember on the day of recording they brought us a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale.

TX45 was broadcast from Studio 5 on Tyne Tees and hosted by Chris Cowey who features on this blog.  I was in the audience for one of the shows in 1985 that featured Newcastle glam punks Sweet Trash, at the end of the show the singer dived off the stage into the audience….Yes I directed that one. We were working on it all day, setting the stages and lighting. After the show we had to edit the program ready for broadcast. The show was like a baby Tube and all the bands and audience were excited to be there in this inner sanctum of the same studio where The Tube was recorded.

We also had some comedy on. Bobby Thompson was the man in the North East for that but he had stopped working by then. Jeff Brown tracked him down and we went along to his home and had a chat, we didn’t film it. We felt so privileged to be with this icon of Northern Comedy. Bobby had some well documented problems with alcohol so he wasn’t drinking but his housekeeper brought us a bottle of whisky to drink. We sat for hours talking, laughing and of course Bobby was a great storyteller. Tyne Tees had recorded a whole show of his from Percy Main Club so I think we used a bit of that in the feature.

But a Northern comedian that we did get on was Roy Chubby Brown. I think it was his first TV appearance. Off camera a completely different person but as soon as he is on stage and performing – I don’t know who was shocked the most. We were saying in the control room that a lot of editing was needed for this show !

Michael also directed editions of live music programme The Tube and I asked him what was the impact of that show… It got all around the world. I once went for an interview to do some work for New Zealand TV and they looked on my cv and said ‘Oh you’ve worked on The Tube’. When you have worked on something so iconic it becomes your calling card.

We went to Belfast at the height of the troubles in Ireland. It was a surreal experience filming bands over there when all that was going on. We stayed in the Europa which was known as the most bombed hotel in Europe. Housekeeping kept the curtains closed all night so snipers couldn’t see in. There was dimmed lighting in the corridors. We were terrified but had a fantastic time. Every day we filmed a different band and afterwards they’d invite us back to their homes for a sing song and a few drinks.

When we got back to London the team went out and got drunk because we were so relieved to get back because the stress of actually having to be frisked before you went into places, standing with your arms up and seeing armed soldiers everywhere.

The opportunities to travel to places was fantastic, we went to Berlin before the wall came down. As we flew in the pilot said we know when we have hit west Berlin because we see lights, the East will be in darkness. We went on a recce through Checkpoint Charlie to see some bands. We ended up being told to film in a sports centre in East Berlin. A young band were playing with not much equipment. When we got back to the West we met Christiane F. in a club. It was great getting those opportunities, looking back, just incredible.

(Christiane F. was the focus of a cult bio film made in 1981 capturing the drug scene in West Berlin. The film starred David Bowie who also recorded the soundtrack).

What other music shows did you direct ? The Roxy Chart show. CBS were ready to drop the boy band Bros, things weren’t working for them. But I thought they looked gorgeous and would be great for the show so we booked them. When they played the audience went wild. Sometimes something a bit special happens and it did on that night. The senior cameraman said to me ‘I’ve never seen a reaction like that since the likes of The Beatles’.

But we had a policy like Top of the Pops, if a song went down in the charts we didn’t transmit it. We got in touch with their management and asked them to release another single. They did but again we couldn’t transmit it because Tyne Tees went on strike. We eventually got them on a third time with ‘When Will I Be Famous’ and as they say the rest is history.

We had a wide range of artists coming on and one of them was Shakin’ Stevens another CBS act. He had a manager called Freya who had a reputation as being very tough. You didn’t cross her. In rehearsals we were in the studio and as usual I was on the studio floor watching his performance and working out how to film it. He also had four dancers on stage with him. Freya appeared next to me and said ‘What you gonna do here then’? I said ‘I haven’t got a clue’.

Eventually I worked out a routine and plan for the cameras to do multiple passes. Which are recording the same song from different angles. After the performance the CBS plugger Robbie McIntosh came up to me and said you are coming to dinner with us. ‘Freya was so impressed with your work, and you are the first director to tell her that you didn’t have a clue what you were going to do! She loved my honesty and we became great mates over the years.

Were there any awkward performers on the show ? There was an Italian singer called Spagna who had one hit ‘Call Me’. She wanted to call the shots. Her idea was for a white out on the stage, white backdrop and white sides, like being in a white cube. She also had spikey blonde hair so it would all look burnt out. We were reluctant to do this because we thought it would take ages to do. But she insisted on doing it, the toys were out of the pram you know, it wasn’t as if she was a well-known singer with a rack of hit singles. But we did do it in the end and it looked good (laughs).

I directed Big World Café from Brixton Academy for Channel 4, we had Mariella Fostrup and Eagle Eye Cherry presenting. It was a pretty eclectic music show and the line up on one of them was Soul to Soul, New Order, Diamanda Galas and a young indie guitar band who I can’t remember the name of. We were in rehearsal and the indie band would turn their backs on the camera whenever I was getting a shot and the red light was on them. So I came out of the outside broadcast truck and told the floor manager I’m coming onto the studio floor. Which to the crew means I’m not happy. The band said that turning their backs was just their style. I told them that their style ‘Was better suited to radio and stop fucking about or you’re off the show’.

When you have an artist performing and getting the best out of the time they have on screen it’s magical, they’ve really got to work it even if they are miming. In rehearsal I give them a few simple tips that if they want to play to the camera I will stick with the shot. If they take the mic off the stand they are to take the mic stand away from the front of the stage because an empty mic stand looks awkward for the camera.

I also directed for Hits Studio International for Fujisankei Television all done live in a studio in London. It was the first time the studio was used and the program was going out to 28 countries linking up with a studio in America and Japan. We got the countdown to start and just as we were going live the cameras went off one by one. Now you’d think it would be pandemonium in the control room but as a director of live TV you’ve got to be so calm. The cameras were fixed but for 40 seconds I only had two working cameras.

Why did the North East have a reputation for producing quality music TV ? Tyne Tees had a reputation for showcasing Northern talent and having passionate production team members to achieve that. Part of their regional brief was to support and document local talent, and up here there is such a wealth of talent going back to Eric Burdon and The Animals who played at the Club a Go-Go in Newcastle. The murals on the walls were designed by Bryan Ferry who of course was singer with Roxy Music, but everybody who said they saw Jimi Hendrix play at the Club a Go-Go, well the club would be the size of St James’ Park (laughs).

Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2019.

DIRECT ACTION – with TV/Media director & producer Chris Cowey.

On Tyne Tees programme ‘Check it Out’ broadcast in 1979, presenters Chris Cowey and Lynn Spencer interviewed punk band Public Image Limited featuring ex Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten (Lydon). The piece also featured Mond Cowie from Angelic Upstarts….Firstly, Mond Cowie isn’t related to me, his name is the rich branch of the family, like Sir Tom, with an ie rather than my Durham pit yakker spelling of ey. Mond is a top bloke and a damn good guitar player. Angelic Upstarts were an underrated band I reckon.

 


The infamous PIL chat was my first live studio interview and a real baptism of fire. I was and remain a big fan of Lydon and his music. The whole pantomime was their way of getting themselves noticed and being in the press, which sells records. The programme of course was instrumental, even complicit, and the interview with Mond was designed to wind them up. I was, as you can tell from the clip, just a teenager and thought I was going to have the shortest TV career ever, but a lot of people realised that and sympathised with me.

Did you think any live interview could potentially be a ‘career finisher’ ? I was kind of numbed by the whole thing. But a sort of survival instinct kicks in, the fact that viewers and press backed me made me feel better, but I still would rather have had a proper discussion, rather than a childish strop.

My memory of the show is that the band had got themselves really relaxed by the time the studio session started, and they were ready to do their usual argumentative schtick, but were out manoeuvred this time. The point of the interview, which gets lost in the aggro, was that they’d just brought out their ‘Metal Box’ album, which was a set of 12-inch singles in an elaborate film-tin type of packaging.
It was hugely expensive, and very designer chic for someone who was supposed to be so street, Anyway everyone won, they sold records, the Check It Out show was on the map, and I did about seven series of it. It was a combination of Check It Out and the music show Alright Now that prompted Channel 4 to commission The Tube, which of course PIL appeared on too, and I had a fabulous five years making the show.

Alright Now, Check it Out, The Tube – why did the North East have a reputation to produce good music shows ? Tyne-Tees already did some good old entertainment shows before my time, like Geordie Scene or What Fettle, but they were obsessed about their ‘Geordieness’. The Tube and all those shows you mentioned really wasn’t, it was all about good music, because we were music-obsessed. It also had a great blend of old school time served TV people, blended with new people with fresh ideas, and a kind of irreverence which all blended and came out in those shows.
Having said that it was really important that it came from the North-East because of the passion and the swagger and the total commitment. It’s not just that Geordies like showing off (although they undoubtedly DO!) it’s because the history and attitude of the region can be really inspiring, creative and hugely fun. It really breaks my heart to see what’s happened, not only to Tyne Tees, but a load of gigs and venues, clubs and pubs across the whole area. I have an unshakable belief that it will rise again though…. don’t get me started though!

When did you first get interested in music and what was your first TV break ? I was always obsessed with music and did school discos in the hall every lunchtime. When I was 17 and doing my A-levels I lied about my age and got a couple of jobs DJ’ing in nightclubs, the biggest of which was The Mecca in Sunderland. It was a great learning curve for me, with a vast range of music from funk to metal. There were some amazing live bands too, Ian Gillan, Tom Robinson, Crown Heights Affair – check them out if it’s before your time! There was live music just about every night I worked, I was bitten by the live music thing. I was also into Drama/Theatre/acting which led to my TV break I guess.
My mentor was Malcolm Gerrie, who a lot of people will remember from his Tyne-Tees days. He’d been my English and Drama teacher from my Comprehensive school, and he suggested I audition for Check It Out. A lot of the same gang of music fans were the nucleus of Check It Out, Alright Now, The Tube, TX45. Razzmatazz, production teams. It was a real blend of old school Tyne-Tees TV expertise and young whippersnappers like me. That’s how it worked so well, we had a good run, but I could see it was going to dry up, so I bailed just before The Tube ended, because I knew it was going to be the last series.

Is entertainment in your family ? My family all worked down coal mines, and some in breweries! I was very lucky that I had an older sister and brother who bombarded me with pop and rock music from an early age. Also my school was a real proper comprehensive that did ‘Tommy’ and ‘Stardust rather than Shakespeare or Gilbert & Sullivan. My school was amazing, great teachers, a radio station, school discos, drama, music, it really help to shape my future. Just a regular comprehensive in a little County Durham former mining village. I loved Ryhope… I still miss it.

Lately I’ve interviewed North East bands Tygers of Pan Tang and White Heat and soon will be chatting to Dave Woods (Impulse Studio/Neat records). Did you come across any of them ? Yeah I knew all that bunch. They really did create a strong identity for the Newcastle music landscape. The city is world renowned as a major centre for good old fashioned rock’n’roll, and there’s nowt wrong with that.

Dave Woods is a North East music legend, we made many a film and studio show with his bands….a film about Venom is a fond memory. He was a really important figure in Newcastle’s rich musical history and heritage, and should be very proud of his achievements.

 

What differences did you find working at Tyne Tees then going to Top of the Pops, and how did that job come about ?  The BBC came and poached me to take over Top Of The Pops after I made a C4 show called The White Room, which was like a stripped down version of The Tube in some respects. It wasn’t trying to re-create The Tube though, it was much more how I thought Top Of The Pops should be if it wasn’t so weighed down by it’s own traditions.
So when I got to the BBC as Executive Producer and director of the world’s biggest music show, I gave it a massive kick up the jaxi, and it worked. It went from a show on the verge of being axed, to a huge national and international success, and I didn’t have any of my mates with me for once, (except Big Clive).

It was great fun and I’m really proud of what I achieved there. I loved working at the BBC too. Massively different in many ways from Tyne-Tees, but I put together a diverse production team again, and made it a happy show, which is critical I think. I did it for six years, but the BBC’s ambitions for the show weren’t the same as mine, so we parted company. The show sadly died after my successor turned it into a kids show again!

Was there a magic moment during your career when you had the feeling that ‘This is where I should be’ ? Yeah, loads of times! Doing Top Of The Pops, The Brit Awards, Glastonbury, The Tube, The White Room…. when there’s an amazing talent on stage, and I’m directing a load of cameras, having booked the act and devised the whole shebang….I get huge job satisfaction from that. I get paid for doing something that it’s a privilege to be involved in. I’m a very lucky lad.

Can you think of a couple of memorable moments in your career and also a nightmare situation where things just went wrong ?  Memorable moments? SO many. The Foo Fighters, working with David Bowie, particularly the banter we had in New York. Or freaking Beyoncé out by taking a Concorde trip to see her. I could go on for hours with stories and bore you to death. Not all good though, I had a bit of a tiff with George Michael, told Ricky Martin to F**k Off with his Persian Rug, and many a drinking session that seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

What you are doing now Chris ? I’m still doing the same thing really, music, events, tv. The business has changed radically in my time, and I’ve diversified into all sorts of areas. A lot of things go straight to Facebook or YouTube these days, but I’m still keen on regular broadcast tv, both here in the UK but also around the world, and there’s always something in development. I’ve even directed video games and London West-End theatre, hi-tech, 3-D, holograms, all sorts really. I love new challenges and to keep learning new skills. Of course my heaven would be to make a new music show, so watch this space!

For further information contact Chris at    http://www.chriscowey.tv

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

ALL FOR THE RECORD – with Jack Meille, vocalist with Tygers of Pan Tang

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Music is life. It showed me I could follow my passion and make it my job. I’m a lucky guy.

Is there a country you haven’t played that you would like to ? Australia! That would be a dream come true.

How did you get the job with the Tygers ? In the past I have been lucky not to have had to audition for a band. Firstly, I was contacted by a Swiss management company who said a British band are looking for a new singer. Without knowing the name of who it was, I sent my CV and recordings from the album released by my band Mantra. So when I got the confirmation it was the Tygers and they wanted to audition me, I said to myself ‘Why not? Let’s do the first and hopefully, only audition of your life’. I went to Darlington on November 4th 2004 ….and got the job!

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Is there a good balance of characters in the band ? It’s a five piece band and we all have different characters, more important, very different musical taste’s. This is a bonus but sometimes it’s not easy to combine everyone’s point of view on a song, if you know what I mean. We are all very passionate when it comes to Tygers songs.

You just recorded the new album, how did that go ? It was tough, but rewarding. We were force to delay the recording twice because we didn’t feel we were ready to record. It wasn’t an easy decision to take but the best. The 11 tracks on the new album are the best we could ever record. I know it sounds like a cliche, but after all the hard work, we’re all very proud of the result.

How did you get on with the producer and former Tyger, Fred Purser ? I personally enjoyed every moment spent in the studio with Fred. He is such a talented guy and made me feel at home. I only had 6 days to record, and believe me it’s not very much when you have to record 11 songs plus a couple of bonus tracks. But I made it and have to thank him for that. Also we discovered we have a passion for craft beers. So after recording we managed to ‘indulge’ drinking some really good ones.

Who were your early influences in music ? I love rock ‘n’ roll from Chuck Berry to Slayer but the first record that really blew me away was Dark Side of the Moon. I have memories of me, about 4 or 5 years old, listening constantly to ‘On The Run’. The first record I bought, or should I say I asked my father to buy was the Queen album A Night at the Opera. Still one of my favorite albums of all time. I’m a record collector – the boys in the band can confirm that – so you can find me at festivals looking at record stalls. When it comes down to singing, the choice would go to Robert Plant, early David Coverdale, Phil Mogg, Paul Rodgers…the list may go on and on.

What has been your best gig with the Tygers so far ? There has been a few. I always enjoy playing the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany. A memorable day was at a festival in Northern Spain where we played a great set and then had the pleasure to hang around with Cheap Trick, then saw the set by John Fogerty with Ty Tabor from King’s X.

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Have you got any gigs lined up for the new album release ? During November we are going to play the UK and Europe. Before that we play Dusseldorf with Diamond Head, Doro and Saxon on 26th October 2019. (Since this interview Saxon have been forced to postpone all upcoming gigs in 2019 due to frontman Biff Byford undergoing heart surgery. Get well soon Biff).

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

WHITE LINES – interview with Craig Ellis, drummer with Tygers of Pan Tang

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The Tygers have just shot a music video for the new single ‘White Lines’, how did that go ? The video shoot went well really, the location was Dynamix Extreme Skate Park in Gateshead. A fantastic place with lots of options for backgrounds to shoot in and around. Moving a six piece drum kit into three different areas was a pain in the a**e but worth it after seeing the superb screen captures on the cameras.

How did you get the job in the Tygers ? Robb had been working on some new material with an ex-Sergeant band member and two friends of mine were drafted in the play bass and guitar. The initial demos were cut together using a drum machine so when it came to the recording a live drummer was needed and my two friends suggested me. The end product of that recording was ‘Mystical’ in 2000 and I’ve been here ever since!

Even though I’d written lyrics and melodies previously in other bands, it wasn’t until our vocalist Jack joined the Tygers that I started to contribute. From day one there was a chemistry that has worked ever since.

Before gigs do you have a warm up routine ? Some stretching exercises, specifically arms and hands to loosen up and a mash-up of sticking exercises/rudiments to get comfortable. I don’t eat anything three hours before a show and if I’m going to have any alcohol, it’s after the show.

 How did you start on drums and who were your early influences ? I didn’t start playing drums until the age of fifteen but I’d been listening seriously to music from around nine or ten year old. My Dad had a reel to reel player and I was infatuated with not only the machine itself, but also the music the spools kicked out…Hendrix, Foghat, Lynard Skynard, Blue Oyster Cult and Led Zeppelin.

Programmes on the TV like Top of the Pops, The Tube and of course The Old Grey Whistle Test were like a drug, I never missed an episode! With the pocket money I saved, I bought vinyl. Even back then I had a varied collection of music as my tastes have always been eclectic, however, once I started playing drums, rock and metal was where I found my niche. Drummers such as Cozy Powell, John Bonham, Ian Paice, Bill Ward and Neil Peart and the bands they played in resonated with me hugely and have never left me.

Where I’m from, we were very fortunate to have venues including The Coatham Bowl in Redcar, Middlesbrough Town Hall, Crypt and Rock Garden and Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall. So I got to see almost all my favourite drummers and favourite bands.

Who were the first band you played for and what venues did you play ? My first cover band at around sixteen was called Overload. We played rock covers by Sabbath, Status Quo, Golden Earring, AC/DC etc in and around the Teesside/Cleveland area. There was a huge Working Men’s Club scene back then, which I played in most venues in the North East, in various cover bands. I’ve always had a passion for original music so I took every opportunity presented to me to work alongside musicians creating original music. From very early on I learned a great deal about the recording process both at home and in studios.

Have there been many memorable gigs with the Tygers ? There’s been quite a few Gary, in no particular order …The fact we were touring in South America and the audiences were insanely awesome was amazing but the night we played Carioca Club in São Paulo on Micky’s Birthday – the whole room sang Happy Birthday to him.

Japan Assault Festival was a humbling experience for this tub thumper from Teesside to have had the opportunity to travel to and perform in Japan to a crowd of people who were so pleased to see the Tygers. Supporting the Dead Daisies at the 02 Academy to a Newcastle home crowd who were just awesome.

The Spodek in Katowice, Poland is a venue that is an assault on the mind! Its incredible both inside and outside. We’ve been very lucky to have been invited back a few times to the incredible Bang Your Head festival in Balingen, Germany. Bully-On-Rocks Festival and Raismes Festival have been our most recent shows in France both with amazing audiences.

Belgium is a special place for the Tygers, we performed some of our very first shows there and met many wonderful people who have remained friends to this day and always do their utmost to get to the shows.

Have you any road stories you want to share ? Robb’s your man for the funny he stories, he collects them! But here goes a couple… When on tour in South America we took an internal flight and got split up throughout the plane. As we were disembarking there were shenanigans going on at the front of the plane. Robb and Gav were sat in the cockpit, Captains and Officers hats on, having a laugh and chat with the crew. Turns out the captain was a huge Tygers fan and invited them in!

Around twelve years ago, travelling to Belgium in what was then the bands tour bus we were badly rear-shunted by a delivery truck late at night on the A1M. We were all thrown around the cabin like rag dolls and the back end of the tour bus was a mess but, we limped on ‘because we had gigs to do!’ The rear footstep had been shoved so far down and as we went up the ramp to board the ferry, sparks were flying from it and the noise was horrendous.

At that same point we also discovered the steering was in a bad way too so we were gliding like a sail boat up the ramp. When it came to getting off the ferry the bus wouldn’t start but the ferry mechanics got us going! With the ignition now faulty at the end of almost every gig fans would give us a push to ‘bump-us-off’! Embarrassing but a laugh and main thing was, we did the shows.

The new album ‘Ritual’, did you feel recording went well ? Time is of the essence when it comes to Recording Studios because as the clock ticks away its costing money. But, you want to enjoy the experience and to do that it’s all about the preparation. Although writing the material for the album had begun over a year prior, regular, concentrated writing and rehearsal sessions started in January of this year right up to going into the studio in April.

During that time we would video and record everything for reference and when a song is complete I write out the drum notation so I get it completely under my skin. Both Jack and I write the lyrics and melodies to the majority of the songs and because of that I automatically absorb a songs structure. Because of the prior work put in, we each completed our parts in a very short time. What also makes for a good recording session is the engineer and studio, and Fred Purser at Trinity Heights made the whole thing an absolute pleasure throughout.

Will the Tygers be promoting the album ? Absolutely! We’ll be doing four, maybe even five, songs from the new album and featuring them in our November shows and from there on. There’ll be a selection of merchandise available supporting the release too. I’m particularly looking forward to gigging with the Festival sized backdrop we’ll have for those shows, the Ritual Mask in giant-size taking ownership of the stage!

What does music mean to you ? It pretty much makes my world go around Gary. I play music, I practise music, I write music and I teach music. It takes me mentally to a different state of mind and physically to many incredible places I likely wouldn’t get to see otherwise. I’m extremely lucky to be doing what I love.

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

CENTRE STAGE in conversation with North East entertainer Pete Peverly

 

Have you ever had a real job ? I’ve never done a day’s work in my life as me da’ would say (laughs). I’ve never worked in a bar, or had a day job, there were times when I maybe should have. It’s tough not knowing when or if the next job is coming. I’ve always earned enough. I’m not rich but I’ve got a house, a family, 4 kids. I’ve managed. When things have got tough I’ve tried busking a few times, and that get’s you your £25 or so in really difficult times. I’ve had some great jobs, I keep positive and always have something nice to look forward too. Keep optimistic is how to go on.

In the 80s did you watch live music show The Tube ? Yes definitely. I look back at clips of the show on You Tube and there is a fantastic one of Madonna before she broke, she’s dancing and miming to one of her songs and there’s loads of Geordies standing watching her with their arms folded. You know whats this, whos she sort of thing (laughs).

One night I had a ticket to see Ozzy Osbourne at Newcastle Mayfair and beforehand he was on The Tube. I watched it with me dad and Ozzy can be a bit ropey singing live. Well me da’ said How much did yapay to see him ! (laughs). I remember watching a show with the Tygers of Pan Tang and Twisted Sister, I was still at school and on that night we had a rock disco and a heavy metal band playing. It was wow you know. Loved it.

When I started working on dramas in Tyne Tees TV it was great to just be in the same studio where all those iconic performances happened.

When were you at Tyne Tees ? It was the early ‘90s. I had trained as an actor at Newcastle College from ’88 -’90 and there was quite a lot of TV and theatre happening in the region. Writers were working, Byker Grove was starting and a season of new dramas were scheduled so I ended up doing a couple of those. They were like period crime dramas and some were filmed at Beamish Museum. I done a few seasons on Byker Grove, a few days here and there on Emmerdale and Spender but TV’s not something I’ve been able to get a foothold in because I got really busy with theatre. I was with the Northern Stage Ensemble for 15 years, working on big tours for months at a time rather than being a jobbing actor getting work here and there. That’s the choice I made while being a jobbing actor has worked well for others.

 

In 2004 I was at a Sunday for Sammy concert at Newcastle City Hall and you performed a tribute to Bobby Thompson. How did that come about ? A bunch of friends got together and formed the Red and White Theatre Company and we produced a musical about Bobby’s life. We were young and looking back we might cringe a bit (laughs). We toured it around clubs and community venues and we were nominated for a Northern Arts award in 1990. We appeared on the  Northern Arts awards show. It was hosted by Melvyn Bragg in Tyne Tees studio.

Previous to that we put together a show about the history of Sunderland and in that I performed a tribute to Bobby. It was very popular so that’s where the idea came from to do a musical about his life. For research we met Bobby’s family, it was just after he died, and started a friendship with Keith his son.

How is the show received by the family ? Bobby had two sons. Sadly Michael passed away about 5 years ago but Keith supports it fully. I always ask him about any new stuff going into the show, it’s important to let him know what I’m up to with his Dad’s memory.

Do you think the Bobby Thompson story would travel to audiences around the country ? I’m putting together a short project for the Tyne Idols bus tours around Newcastle so I’ve been thinking about the whole Bobby story again and his accent wasn’t just Geordie it was Pitmatic. That’s very strong and yes it was a barrier but one of the reasons why he didn’t make it outside the region was because I think he didn’t want to, he had everything up here. He might have had more ambition in the early part of his career when he was doing Wot Cheor Geordie for the BBC. Maybe he thought about pushing it further but certainly not during the ‘70s.

All of the other regional comics and entertainers who made it nationally were all- rounders, actors, comedians, song and dance men, Bobby wasn’t. He was a pit comedian from the Durham coalfields talking specifically to that community.

Over the years the tribute show has been very popular but lately the audiences are not there as much now, they are getting much older. He will survive in North East culture as The Little Waster, just like Cushy Butterfield and all those characters, but as for a modern audience I haven’t got the skills as a comedy writer to create strong enough material to bring him up to the modern era. Somebody could do that, the last Sunday for Sammy concert, with the help of writers Jason Cook and Steffen Peddie, we had him as an angel talking about modern day stuff like Brexit and Donald Trump. So who knows it might work.

How did you start in entertainment ? My dad was in bands playing the clubs so I just got into playing in bands when I was a teenager. There was a brilliant scene down at Washington Arts Centre of a music collective, a vibrant theatre group and talented writers. So as well as being a musician I got involved in theatre and really enjoyed it. But it was like spinning plates, I was making a living playing music in the clubs and enjoying the theatre side of things.

In the end I decided to go to college and do drama because in 1988, I got invited for a month to perform in the Furness Mystery plays at Furness Abby in Barrow and really enjoyed, it so that swung it for me. Still kept my hand in playing in bands and after finishing the course I got my first job at Live Theatre.

Who were you listening to when you were younger ? In my teens I was playing guitar and it was rock music, typical ‘80s stuff like Ozzy, Y&T, Journey but then started learning other instruments like clarinet so went through a sort of Jazz phase. Then harmony stuff like The Beatles and The Eagles, today I like a bit of modern country music that’s out now. As a songwriter I try to listen to modern stuff to see what’s going on. Music has always been there and I write, record and perform today.

What made you want to play guitar ? When I was young I wanted to play the drums. I’d mime along with knitting needles to War of the Worlds (laughs). But then I heard Queen and Brian May’s guitar had an amazing sound. The big ‘Brighton Rock guitar solo with the echo’s. I just fell in love with it.

Who was your first gig ? AC/DC in ’82 at Newcastle City Hall. For Those About to Rock tour when they played 3 nights. But I remember seeing Gary Moore around ’84 and he had a sideman called I think Neil Carter. He played guitar, keyboards, backing vocals, he was really good and I thought that looks a good gig. He done loads of sessions with other musicians and bands, I thought that would be great working with lots of different people. So subconsciously that’s always been there so that’s why I do lots of different projects now.

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That can keep you ticking over….Yes when the theatre work slackens off I can jump into playing working men’s clubs and do acoustic gigs. Last year was a good run on theatre work with various jobs around the country then back up north at the Theatre Royal for panto. Next year I have a big tour with a show called Once the Musical.  It’s the first time it’s toured the UK since its West End run 4 years ago.  It’s playing Newcastle Theatre Royal in June 2020

There are actor/muso shows happening now which are popular in theatres where actors play the instruments. Colleges have added specific courses now to specialise in this type of performance so the players are now at such a good standard.

Do you think theatre is still a big gamble though ? Yes you have to duck and dive, it’s hard to make a living, it’s not easy. I’ve done a bit drama teaching in collages and  community groups with young and older people, that’s rewarding, but you have to be dedicated to do it. Luckily it’s worked for me although at my age I couldn’t do much else now (laughs).

I was an audience member of live music show The Tube filmed in Tyne Tees studio. After a few weeks I noticed the camera, lights and stage set ups and thought I would love to be involved in something like this. Have you had moments that you can look back on that have affected your life in a big way ? Yes they happen without you realising it at the time. Those big moments in your life are only realised years later. That big year for me in theatre, 2018, they do happen but you have to be ready for them. There has been opportunities in the past which haven’t worked out but I think I wasn’t ready for them. You’ve got to learn to take the opportunities.

Around 30 year ago I was in a darkroom working on a black and white picture that I had taken, I saw the image on the photographic paper coming through the chemicals and thought it was magic. Have you had any magic moments ?  This sounds horrible and pretentious so forgive me because I’ve read accounts from actors who’ve said things like this and I thought What a wanker. (laughs)

I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company for 3 years and you get understudy roles. I was on a production of Romeo and Juliet in Stratford and was playing Friar Lawrence.  Understudies get a full run as well. So we were playing to a full house and I was going full throttle Shakespearean actor, giving it the welly and I had that feeling that I’d read about, the wanker actors sayingI was shaking with emotion, with those words, how they were coming out, they were just so’. You know how pretentious is that. But it did happen to me. It really was an amazing moment.

Last year I did a show called Beyond the End of the Road with the company November Club, touring village hall’s in Northumberland. Stripped back stage, a couple of lights, I mean where’s the glamour in that ? (laughs). But we had some really amazing moments on that tour. The sharing of telling stories is really magic no matter where you are. It doesn’t have to be profile job that gives you that magic.

 

Another time was when I put together a Playhouse Theatre band for one evening.  One of our guests was Brian Johnson from AC/DC. He was there with the late Brendon Healy and Paul Thompson, who was the drummer from Roxy Music. I had just worked with Brian on the Sunday for Sammy concert and when he arrived he was very complimentary about the band which was nice.  Later in the evening he said ‘Pete I might fancy getting up and doing a couple of songs with ya’ if you don’t mind‘. Wow! Absolutely! So towards the end of the night Brian, Brendon and Paul got up. It was a rock and roll dream come true to play with Brian ‘Johnna‘ Johnson from AC/DC. The first band I’d seen live. Amazing!

Have you had any nightmare moments on stage ? I think we’ve all had moments on stage when we’ve thought we’d rather not be there. I was doing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in London in 2012, I was having a bad time cos I lost my dad not long before that. You’ve got to go on and do the biz tho’. Audiences have paid for it.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve had some great times but the working men’s clubs can be tough. Sometimes you think it’s not where you planned to be, but you have to be disciplined enough to give it your best it terms of your vocals and sound, production. You can just be tired or have a cold, or it’s a Sunday night gig after a long week and in your darkest moment you think I’m 50 I don’t wanna be here, but you are so you have to deliver.

Have you noticed the changes to working mens clubs ? I played the clubs in the ‘80s and saw the changes when I came back around 2007. They are still changing now. I played the Whitley Bay Comrades club last Sunday afternoon. People don’t want to be out on the night now, they have the bingo on, an entertainer, yeah it’s good.

Have you any last thoughts ? As you get older you value the good times even more.  Working in theatre you more often than not are working with amazing people.  The company becomes like a family. Those jobs might not come around again for a couple of years so you have to make the most of them. The Stratford job was great but I was away from home for 3 years but my kids came down for holidays and loved it. You value those times.

Contact Pete on the official website:

petepev.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

YOU KNOW IT’S ONLY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – in conversation with current Geordie guitarist Steve Dawson

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How did the Geordie reformation come about? Peter Barton from ‘Rock Artist Management’, who handled The Animals when I was a member during the ’90s and early 2000’s, called me and asked, ‘What are the Geordie guys up to these days?’ I told him I wasn’t sure, but said I’d have a word with Tom Hill (original bass player) to see if he was up for a reformation. Tom was interested, but said we’ll need a singer who can handle the dynamics and range of original vocalist Brian Johnson, now of course with AC/DC. Both bands occupy the same stable and play in the same keys (laughs).

I last saw Brian Johnson on TV interviewing fellow musicians on ‘Life on the Road’. A great show including an episode with Dolly Parton who revealed she wrote ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Jolene’ in the same session. Kerching. Back to Geordie. Johnna might be a bit busy for this job?  Indeed. We went to see a few local guys but didn’t really feel we’d found a match for what we required. It’s not an easy gig to sing. Then Peter came up with this guy from Lancashire called Mark Wright, now an honorary Geordie (laughs). He was singing in Bon, an AC/DC tribute band. Peter sent us a link to some YouTube videos. We weren’t immediately convinced. However, Peter was and persuaded us to come down to Clitheroe, to audition Mark with four songs of our choosing, at his expense. Just to have a run through, see what we thought in the flesh as it were. We were shocked how good it sounded, and so relieved we didn’t judge Mark on the YouTube videos alone (laughs).

So,now suitably convinced, Tom got in touch with Brian Gibson (original drummer) to see if he wanted to be part of this new venture. Brian said he was happy to step behind the drum kit once again. We did our first rehearsal and the band sounded great from the get-go.

Was original guitarist Vic Malcolm interested in the reformation? We got in touch with Vic in Cyprus and asked, if it became practical in the future, would he be interested in joining in with live work. He declared that some annoying health issues meant he couldn’t commit to that but would be on board for any new writing and recording. That was great as he was the main songwriter. He’s still a prolific songwriter to this day.

We’ve already started writing new material because we don’t just want to keep trading on Geordie’s back catalogue alone. We want to avoid the nostalgia trap.

How did you set about working in Geordie? I was already familiar with their music, just good old rock n roll, classic rock, simple hooks. It’s all about capturing that magical vibe. Really enjoyable to play, with some great tongue in cheek ‘70s lyrics which are of their time. Much of today’s music can be a bit serious, sometimes people want songs to distract them from the stark reality of life.

What type of venues are you looking to play? We’re looking at festivals, theatres and typical rock music venues. These days, package tours are very popular, so we’re looking in that direction as well. That sort of thing would be great, as getting on something like that would expose us to other bands’ fans. In Germany they’re still very much into bands like Geordie and welcome them with open arms. It’s a shame the band stopped playing a while back, as it takes a concerted effort to get the wheels in motion again. We just need to get out there and show what we can do.

We booked a gig at The Cluny a few months ago, and we asked Dee Dowling from Ginger Music Company in Pelaw, where we were rehearsing, to come along and record it. The intention was to put together a promo package. We had the backdrop, photographer, merch, the lot. It was a fantastic gig and the money we made from it paid for everything. We’ve just released the promo video, because it’s very difficult to get gigs on the circuit we’re aiming for, if you don’t have any kind of professional package to sell yourself. After only one month it’s had thousands of views on social media so it’s doing its job. We are very pleased with how it turned out.

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Can you remember watching music programmes broadcast on Tyne Tees Television, like Alright Now and The Tube?  Yeah, both those programmes. I think Alright Now was presented by Chris Cowey and Lynn Spencer. I remember The Geordie Scene more than Alright Now. That was around 1973-75 and I think it was the first music programme from the Tyne Tees stable. I saw many local bands on there as well as the popular bands of the day and it was the first time I saw Dr Feelgood, who were very impressive.

What does music mean to you?  I’ve always had a major passion for music. I lost my dad when I was 12, so throughout my teens I was on my own because my mother had to go out and work as a barmaid. Music got me through all that. I totally immersed myself in playing the guitar. I still have a passion for playing and could quite happily do it for a living again.

Ironically, these days I seldom enjoy just listening to music. I rarely have music on the radio in the house or car and hardly ever listen to CD’s or albums at home. I’d rather just play music. I think it’s been so long since I heard anything that inspired me.

The last time I remember being affected by something I heard, was back in the early ‘90s with The Black Crowes. Their first album had just come out, it sounded really organic, what I would call a proper performance recording, not a layered production like a Def Leppard sort of thing. But yeah, nothing’s really turned my head since in terms of an epiphanic moment (laughs).

Are you looking forward to any gigs this year? In January this year we played ‘The Giants of Rock’ in Minehead and the ‘Rock and Blues Festival’ in Skegness and we really stormed both of those, we did the business. This confirmed what we already felt about the band. There were a lot of reviews from the press and punters raving about us.

We’re currently talking to journalists in London about which venues to play down there and in particular, which ones are best for getting the band exposure. It’s hard to get gigs, you can’t just turn up and expect a crowd. You’ve got to do the groundwork first.

Contact details:

geordiebandofficial@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/geordiebandofficial/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y57t79VYvwc

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

RUNNING MAN in conversation with Lindisfarne drummer, Ray Laidlaw

We’re in Tyneside Cinema Café in Newcastle talking about the blog….’I put it together because we all like hearing musician’s stories’. Ray fires back Do drummers count ? ha ha’

 

We both live on either side of the banks of the river Tyne, so does he think the river has an influence on who we are and what we do…Oh yes the river is a means of communication. Everything came in and out of the river. It is a barrier but also a conduit for ideas from other people from different parts of the UK and all over the world. Geordies have always been receptive to new ideas……and if they really like them they pretend they were theirs (laughs).

Paul Irwin and I started Tyne Idols. We are big fans of the region and it’s creativity so we came up with an idea of a bus tour around Tyneside celebrating music, TV and visit film locations. We often invite a guest on the bus, maybe an actor, comedian or musician. Last year we had Dick Clements and Ian Le Frenais, and went around locations of their show The Likely Lads. It’s a celebration of the area really.

Can you remember the music TV shows that came out of Tyne Tees studio in Newcastle ? Yeah we played a few, Lindisfarne were on the Geordie Scene. We also had a half hour show to ourselves on Alright Now. That was around 78/79 when we were making our comeback. We came up with a few ideas, in the first half we did a few songs and links in various locations then the second half was all live. Loved it. That was with producers Geoff and Andrea Wonfor. But sadly Lindisfarne never appeared on The Tube. Ray Jackson had a song on where we all backed him but not as Lindisfarne.

The Tube was great. Not just music but comedy as well. Stephen Fry, Dawn French and many others all got their breaks at The Tube.  It was  influenced by the 1960’s TV show Ready, Steady, Go. I’ve been working on a programme about that with Geoff Wonfor. It tells the story of the groundbreaking programme which was one of the first that had the cameras in view. The cameramen were brought in from the sports programmes because they were used to following action. That brought up the excitement when the bands were on stage. The documentary will be on BBC4 later this year.

Lindisfarne played Top of the Pops a few times, what did you think of the show ? It was ok, you just mimed. But the best thing was meeting other musicians. Most of the time you are touring on your own. It was like the early 1970’s festivals. We loved doing festivals because of the other bands you could meet.  Bands like The Faces, Medicine Head, The Beach Boys, Rory Gallagher, Humble Pie.

We played our first festival down in Devon in summer 1970 and on that occasion Free were top of the bill, they were just breaking then. They were supposed to close the show at 9pm with us playing just before them. At 10pm we hadn’t been on. Free had to be back in London for the next morning so they went on while we were backstage having a few drinks. We finally got on at 11pm and opened with ‘Lady Eleanor’. It’s a song which creeps in. A guitar, mandolin bit, a bass bit, drums, then guitar harmonics at regular intervals. Waited for guitar part…. no guitar part. In those days Simon Cowe used to play sitting down so Hully had to go and kick him up the arse cos he’d fallen asleep (laughs).

Do bands have their time, maybe an album or two then come back in the spotlight years later ? Yes there is a bit of that. But when we broke through it was the perfect time because we were so different from everybody else. Also having three great songwriters in the band, most have just one, we had three.

 

Lindisfarne  had a number members but when the band recorded the number 1 album ’Fog on the Tyne’ the personnel were the original five, Alan Hull (vocals, guitars, keyboards) Ray Jackson (vocals, mandolin, harmonica) Rod Clements (bass, violin) Simon Cowe (lead, acoustic, 12 string guitars, mandolin, vocals) and Ray Laidlaw (drums).

We had the biggest selling album of ’71 in Fog on the Tyne. Everyone had that record. We had lots of our own fans but we were also other music fans second favourite group, like Newcastle United in the Keegan era. The Fog album was such a huge success that everything after that was going to be perceived as failure. So the third album only got to number 6 in the charts. Yes, only (laughs). But we weren’t prepared for that. Management didn’t sit us down and say whatever happens it’s going to be a hard act to follow. Plus the record was put out too quick as we were the only band making money on the label. Maybe we should have taken six month off after Fog on the Tyne.

Who was your manager ? Tony Stratton Smith who owned the record company, Charisma. It was a big mistake. Basically Tony was talking to himself (laughs). ‘Do you want an advance’…’No’ (laughs). Charisma was a wacky label with Van Der Graf Generator, Monty Python, the poet Sir John Betjeman, us…where else would you get that ? Fantastically creative but had it’s drawbacks. So the band split in two because we couldn’t agree what to do after the third record.

The band with the same personnel, released the album ‘Dingly Dell’ and charted in the top 10. What recording studios did you use for the album ? In the early days the majority of our records were done in Trident Studios off Wardour Street in London. We used that studio for Nicely Out of Tune and Fog on the Tyne. We also recorded some stuff in Olympic and Island studios and then when we got back together again in 1978 we used residential studios like Gus Dudgeon’s place in Maidenhead, we also went to Rockfield, Chipping Norton and Ridge Farm. By that time we all had young families so using residential studios worked out better as the wives and kids could visit.

Were some songs recorded just for the studio or all written to play live ? I think everything we did we at least attempted to play live. We had a guide that if a song works with one man and a guitar or piano it’ll work with the band. The song has to have a strength of it’s own first, almost with no supporting instrumentation. Live you try different arrangements, build it up or strip it back. Some songs you would only do on one tour then put it back in the box. Some you have to play because the longer you survive the more material you have. It’s the early one’s that made your name. They have to be in the set list.

Do you come from a musical family ? Me Grandad was a pub singer and he could play piano. It was a good way of not buying his own beer. His daughter, my mam, was a good dancer but was a bit nervous to leave home so she never did it professionaly. That’s the only bit of a showbiz background. But it was me Granda that bought me my first drumkit. I just liked the look of drumsets, a bit like some folks like motorbikes. A couple of mates had guitars. I was getting interested in music about 1960 and it was a perfect time because there was so much great stuff about.

When I first started in a group I was with Simon Cowe who was also in Lindisfarne with me. Our first group was a 3 piece, just instrumentals, we couldn’t afford a microphone. We were just learning, playing instrumentals. We did a couple of gigs in social clubs, only during school holidays because Simon was at boarding school in Edinburgh.

Where did you rehearse ? Simon’s family lived in a big old Georgian house, the poshest street in North Shields. His dad was an architect. There were loads of rooms and we set up in one of the spare rooms downstairs. Music wasn’t the only thing we got up to. We also made homemade fireworks and stole fruit out of people’s gardens (laughs).

But yeah I was a bit of a show-off really but didn’t have the confidence to be a singer or guitar player.  Just had an affinity with drums and was pretty good at it.

After that I was in a band called The Druids with Bob Sergeant who went on to be a producer on BBC radio for John Peel, The Clash, stuff like that. The Druids were playing all covers and gigged youth clubs for about a year. Then I met Rod Clements who was another posh lad from North Shields. His band had just packed in and we got into the blues via the Stones and John Mayall. We loved the Yardbirds. All fast and furious – we decided to get a band together.

We used to watch The Junco Partners and they were the first band we had seen that listened to each other, didn’t all play at once, they realised they all had a part to play within the group. We were inspired and looked for people who had to be as good as they were. It took 4 or 5 years to finally get our dream band together.

How much were Downtown Faction influenced by the folk scene on Tyneside ? We weren’t at first, that all came later. We were into the blues, it wasn’t until we started writing our own songs that we developed that bluesy/folk and rootsy sound. Simon was a great guitar player, finger picking style like Bert Jansch and we started listening to early Fairport Convention, Dylan, intelligent song writing.

We had a bit of arrogance about us, ambitious yes, and we looked down our noses at bands doing nothing but covers. We did play a few covers but we chose unusual tracks, Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, Frank Zappa tunes. We were looking to be original, wanted to be better than everyone else, putting the band together was organic… we gradually found the right people, there was no speedy plan.

13-mayfair-4-10-68

What year was this ? Around ‘67/68. We were the support band on Led Zeppelins first ever UK gig at Newcastle Mayfair. They were still called The New Yardbirds then and had only been going two weeks.

Can you remember much about that time ? Well we used to be on at the Mayfair a lot then, Tuesday would be a couple of local bands and other nights would be a big band who wanted local support. I used to see a lot of bands there, I was always in the Mayfair. I remember that Yardbirds gig but it didn’t make a massive mark.

How old were you then and did you have a proper job ? 20 year old and a window dresser at Shepherds department store in Gateshead. I’d dropped out of art college and needed a job. I got on well at the store so was able to juggle my time with gigs and work. Simon was a photographer at Turners in Newcastle so that was great for arty publicity shots that we could put up in a shop window in the Haymarket. They became a bit of a talking point, we always tried to be creative with what we did.

What else was happening on the music scene ? We did a gig New Years Day 1969 at Newcastle old town hall. Somebody had the brainwave of putting on a blues and poetry day. There was no heating in the place so it was freezing. 2 bands played, 4 or 5 poets were on and about 100 people there. The street poetry was astonishing, I’d never heard anything like it. Poets like Tom Pickard and Tony Jackson, pre cursor to today’s Benjamin Zephaniah and people like that. Very working class, very political.

After that there was a few blues evenings, all very arty, hippy, sit on the floor pay what you can sort of deal.

Did the band have a manager or agent  ? Ivan Burchill was the main agent in Newcastle then, but we wouldn’t compromise about our music so didn’t get as many gigs as some bands. Plus at our gigs we never got the lasses you know, we’d get all the muso’s turning up.

A guy called Joe Robertson got us gigs when we changed our name from Downtown Faction to Brethren. That was when people were taking notice, we were headlining a few shows and Joe was also managing The Junco Partners. That was when Alan Hull joined and his manager at the time Dave Woods from Impulse Studio came in on joint management with Joe. Inroads to record companies started to happen then.

Did you know Alan previously ? He was in a band The Chosen Few who along with The Junco Partners were the big bands in Newcastle. After his band crashed and burned, he took a break then began song writing again. He used to play in the folk clubs where the tradition was they’d let newcomers play 3 songs early in the night. He used to try his stuff out there and so did we because you didn’t want to try new stuff in front of a blues/rock audience.

Beginning as Downtown Faction, the band changed their name again from Brethren to Lindisfarne and were signed to Charisma records in 1970.

Was it an emerging scene then…Yeah it was a bit of an underground song-writing scene on Tyneside that was parallel to the more pop based groups. Bit underground because there were musos coming down from Scotland – Rab Noakes and the JSD Band, there was Prelude from Low Fell, Milesy (John Miles) and his group The Influence from South Shields, many others. Folk guys were influencing the rock guys and vice versa. We were listening to Music from Big Pink by the Band (Bob Dylan’s backing band). They were doing stuff from American roots music with a rock rhythm section and that’s what we wanted to do. Fairport Convention were another band playing rock’n’roll versions of English folk tunes. Now here was music with a bit more history and depth, more gravitas. This is more like it. We loved that.

Our group all had different tastes but agreed on one thing. We loved The Beatles and we loved the way they treated every song as an individual piece of work. It wasn’t a problem for us to leave a guitar or drums off a track. It was all about the song. We were a song-writing band and we had to treat each individual song right. We could write something and if it was alright for Top of the Pops we were ok with that. We didn’t have a problem about being commercial. Some of the songs we had were great pop songs but we never set out to write singles. Same with an album, every song had to count…no fillers. If there was a single in there, great, if not, no worries.

 

Have you got any road stories ? Lindisfarne had a break from 1973-76, we had a few successful one off gigs then made a new album in ’78. The opening night on the tour was Leeds University were The Who recorded their album Live at Leeds. We broke their attendance record that night. Two weeks later the fire brigade came in and told the University ‘With the number of fire escapes you’ve got, you got to cut the capacity by 400’. So our record will never be beaten (laughs).

Anyway the opening night we had some pyrotechnics, we went a bit showbiz like, and they would go off at the end of the show. Balloons and confetti cannons. The big ending you know. At that point the soundman was to mute every channel – and he forgot. So it went down every microphone, the monitors were like tissue paper, the speakers blew out as did the windows behind the stage. We weren’t invited back (laughs).

Did you play any gigs that turned out to be a nightmare ? Some of the usual rock’n’roll stories where the promoter won’t pay you. And you’ve already played the gig. One time we had to get our crew to park our truck across the path of the headliners truck so they couldn’t shift it. Then the word would go out about dodgy promoters so you would ask for half the money up front.

Some tours were great fun with other bands. Genesis were on the same label as us in the early days so we used to be on the same bill along with Van Der Graaf Generator. Depending on what city we were in and who had the biggest following we would take turns headlining. But we used to finish the gig doing a song together. We’d play ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ a Lonnie Donegan song, with Alan Hull, Ray Jackson, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel singing a verse each. All the bands singing together. And nobody recorded it!

What does music mean to you ? It’s given me my life. If I hadn’t been enthusiastic about music and taken the plunge I probably would of ended up being a not very good teacher. I’ve had a really exciting life and it still is, you never know what the next phone call is gonna be. I’m still a music fan and that’s how I maintain my enthusiasm. So many good times with music. I’m just glad me Granda got us me first set of drums.

 

What are you doing now ? We’ve been putting together Sunday for Sammy concerts. Our dear friend the actor, Sammy Johnson died in 1998 and we didn’t just want a plaque for him, we wanted to do more so we came up with a concert idea. I’ve been involved with Sammy since the beginning in 2000 with Lindisfarne, then drummer for the house-band and from 2006 producing the show. The proceeds of the show are put towards the start of creative careers for young people. To date we’ve raised around half a million pound.

It’s fun to do and the audience laugh along with it. We had Mark Knopfler on one year and the running gag was he never got to do his song. He comes on stage playing the opening bars of ‘Money for Nothing’ and Tim Healy runs on shouting ‘No, not yet’. After repeating the gag Mark comes on later and this time Alan Shearer shouts ’Knopfler, play yer hit man’ (laughs). So he never got to sing but eventually played ‘Local Hero’.

Yeah, we have great fun and so do the crowd seeing some well known faces doing things they don’t normally do on stage – singers in sketches, (Brian Johnson played an angel once) actors singing and TV presenters accidently swearing. It’s a family show but we recommend 14 years plus because sometimes people forget their lines and you never know what they’re going to say.

Who scripts the shows ? We have a few people. Dick Clements and Ian Le Frenais who wrote The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen Pet, they write us a new sketch every time. Geordie comedian Jason Cook, Ed Waugh from South Shields. We also have a sketch writing competition for new writers, A Sketch for Sammy, we used two winners on the 2018 show.

Are you looking forward to the 20th Aniversary show ? To be honest I’m terrified and excited in equal measures.

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Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.