When I first started playing sax there weren’t that many sax players on the Newcastle scene but now I think the sax has become more popular and it’s good to see and hear all these great young jazz musicians taking up the sax, they can really play!
When did you first get interested in music and who were your influences ? I was born in Newcastle on the banks of the river Tyne. My Grandma played the harmonica and the piano, rumour has it that she could rock! I started piano lessons at the age of 9 but wasn’t until I was 15 when I really woke up to music. I saw the Rolling Stones on Top of the Pops. Blown away!
The first record I bought was Whatcha Gonna Do About It by the Small Faces then started listening to The Beatles and The Yardbirds until I discovered the blues with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and John Mayall. By 1967 it was Motown and Junior Walker.
Then I got into the Stax sound with James Brown, Sam & Dave, Booker T & the MG’s, just all soul music and finally bought a saxophone.
When and where did you start gigging ? I joined my first soul band at the age of 18, The Georgia Quintet. Got into their brass section of two saxes and a trumpet, great guys, still friends with them all today.
Those early years I gigged the local scene with many bands. We went to all the social clubs, school dances, universities. It was great fun learning the ropes and gathering experience.
In ‘75 I joined Harcourts Heroes with Ray Jackson and Charlie Harcourt. They were a crackin’ band. By ‘78 I had moved to London and formed a band called The Breakers with Charlie Foskett and Maggie Luckley. We got a deal with MAM Records and recorded in Broadoak Studio in Brighton. We done a couple of tours, one supporting Darts. Great band, nice folk’s it was all good craic! But London got too big for me, so I came home to Newcastle.
I met up with Ray Laidlaw, Rod Clements, Jed Grimes, Billy Mitchell and Steve Cunningham who had a crackin’ band called Pacamax. I joined them and had so much fun, this was around 1980. We played all the festivals and folk clubs.
How did the gig with Lindisfarne come about ? The call from Ray Laidlaw to join Lindisfarne came in 1983. We spent many happy days touring the world and recording with the band. I played sax, flute and vocals on the Amigos album and sung lead vocal on Roll on that Day, co-written with Rod Clements. I also co-wrote Everything Changes with Alan Hull. We used the Reel Time Studio in Newcastle.
Lindisfarne have a large back catalogue of recorded music…Yes I was also on the Here Comes the Nieghbourhood album in ‘98. We went into the Watercolour Studio, in Ardgour, Scotland to record that one. Again I added whistle, harmonica, accordion and vocals. I also recorded lead vocal for one of my own songs Driftin’ Through. The album was produced by Sid Griffin.
Elvis Lives on the Moon was recorded in Newcastle’s High Level Studio by Kenny Craddock, he is sadly missed. Dance Your Life Away was recorded and produced by Steve Daggett at Impulse Studio in Wallsend. We also recorded Buried Treasures and Live and Acoustic.
In 1990 the band achieved a UK top 3 single with the most famous footballer at the time, former Newcastle & England player Paul Gascoigne…. We had great fun with Gazza and his version of Fog on the Tyne. I co-wrote that with Alan Hull. It was all good until the sad and untimely death of Alan in 1995. Alan was a big influence on me both as a friend and a song writer. I was privileged to write a couple of songs with him, it was great to watch him work. He was a prolific songwriter, great performer and a cool guitar player too, just loved his Strat playing.
Looking back all the gig’s and tours with Lindisfarne were memorable especially at Newcastle City Hall. But by 2000 I had left and with Les Dodd and Brian Duffy we formed a band called The Happy Cats. After joining Lindisfarne I started touring and gigging the folk clubs and festivals discovering a whole new world of music on the folk scene. I did some gigs in Ireland and started listening to Irish Celtic music. I loved the celtic sound of fiddles, flutes, accordion, acoustic guitars and whistle all taking the melody.
This got me listening to John Prine, Mary Black, Dalores Keen and of course the Saw Doctor’s. I joined an Irish band called the ShyTots based in North Shields where I learned to play the Bodhran, a great band full of fun. This was the thinking behind The Happy Cats, a celtic sounding band, with a big emphasis on fun.
Over the years I have picked up new instruments as and when the songs required them. Now I’m playing sax, flute, harmonica, bodhran, accordion and whistle. Also found myself singing more these days and enjoying the music.
Did you record with The Happy Cats ? Yeah we made three albums and gigged for 17 years. Fans became our friends, the Toon to Tuam tours were infamous, mighty craic in County Galway (laughs). We recorded our debut album Follow the Moon at Watercolour Music Studio, Ardgour, Scotland. It was produced and mixed by Micky Sweeney. I sang lead vocal on all tracks and played sax, whistle, harmonica and accordion. Rachael Bailey added fiddle and Michael Bailey was on bass guitar. The Take my Hand album was recorded at Cluny Studio, Newcastle where I sang lead vocal on all tracks.
For Ten Years On we went into Charltons Studio in Cambois to record. That was mixed and mastered in Blast Studio here in Newcastle. I played sax, flute, whistle, harmonica, accordion and sang lead vocal on all tracks. Again Mickey Sweeney produced that record. But sadly The Happy Cats split up in December 2017.
What are you doing now ? Paul Alex Campbell (ex Christian’s) and I have been writing and recording for our band the Unexpected Visitors. A fantastic 6 piece band, that rocks. We’ve already done a few gigs and hope to release our debut album this year. Also been gigging with my old pal Trevor Sewell, an award winning guitar player. It’s 50 years since we were on stage together, it’s been a blast.
These are busy times because we, Steve Dolder (drums) Dave Whiffin (guitar) and Michael Bailey (bass) put together a celtic/Irish influenced 4 piece band called Marty Craggs Little Band Jam. We are playing songs from the Lindisfarne and Happy Cats days, plus adding some good cover songs. We guarantee 100% full on sing-along night out. The Lindisfarne Festival Thursday 29th July 2019 is a date for your diary. I would like to thank my right hand man and Roadie No1, Alan Loughhead, for all his support and help. Top man.
What does music mean to you ? Music is my life, it’s what makes me tick. I’m constantly writing songs and gigging. Still as enthusiastic about everything to do with the business as I was back in 1966. I’m so lucky and blessed to still be able to do it! Luckiest boy!
In 2016 I got together with my son Andrew and daughter Beverley, both great musicians and singers, and we realised that after all these years we hadn’t played or performed together. So we wrote and recorded The Craggs Family Album recorded at Broadoak Studio in Brighton and Blueattic Studio in Hexham. All mixed and mastered at Blast Studio, Newcastle. The project was a wonderful time and a great thing to do, a very proud Dad.
Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2019.