BOLD AS BRASS with North East musician and former Lindisfarne sax man Marty Craggs

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!

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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.

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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.

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Marty Craggs Little Band Jam.

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.

 

 

 

 

LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviews by Gary Alikivi January 2019.

THE LADY ROCKS with Victoria Glynn-Jones, vocalist with UK rock band Black Roze.

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Pic. by Nigel Marsh

For 10 years VJ has been on the music scene fronting rock bands around Kent and London, gaining a biker following gigging at rallies and festivals. We last spoke a year ago when she was working with ex-Samson drummer Thunderstick, and UK rock band Black Roze – time for a catch up…To be honest it’s been a musical tornado for me with my bands…I’ve loved every minute.

2018 was a big year for Thunderstick. 6 months rehearsals and 3 huge shows. The first was a showcase in Leo’s RedLion in Gravesend. A special night being the first Thunderstick outing in 30 years and the first with the new line up. The energy was on fire and the show was enjoyed by Thunderstick fans old and new.

The second was an outdoor summer gig at the New Day festival in Faversham. Our thunderous midday set woke the sleepy audience who had been up late watching Hawkwind the previous night. It was definitely a show to remember seeing the crowd expand from around 50 to 1,000 by the end of our set.

Our third show was the biggest of them all at Hard Rock Hell in Wales. We played the main stage on the Friday, it was packed. The atmosphere was electrifying and the show went down a storm.

Are you still working with Black Roze ? Yes, and it feels like we made our mark on the classic rock scene in the UK. Until October 2017 Black Roze was a covers band playing pubs, clubs and festivals. Then we got offered an amazing gig at the Hard Rock Café in London, on the premise that we included some original material. So we put our energy into writing and realised we were good at it.

We released In the Darkness in January 2018 and our video has hit nearly 35,000 views on YouTube.

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Is there a main songwriter in the band ? We all have a part in the creative process and I tend to come up with the lyrics and vocal melodies. I write about personal experiences, my performance is emotional and passionate. I sing from the heart and I‘m incredibly moved when people relate to our songs.

In September 2018 Black Roze was asked to perform at the Hard Rock Hell event at the O2 Academy in Sheffield. I attended the Sleaze event the previous year and said if there was one festival I’d like to play, it would be that one. So you can imagine how made up I was. We wrote another 5 original songs for the show and were received amazingly well, with some unbelievable reviews.

As I’m sure you can imagine being in two bands is exhausting with all the rehearsals, shows and planning. I put my heart and soul in to everything I do but I couldn’t maintain it for both bands. In November last year I decided to leave Thunderstick.

My passion is writing and being creative. Although I was able to be creative with costumes and theatrics I wasn’t involved in writing the music. For me there is no better feeling than performing your own music and people feeling it.

I went with my heart and left Thunderstick to put all my energy in to writing, and it’s paid off!

What are the plans for Black Roze ?  We have been writing and recording an album, set for release in late spring. Spiritual Hell conveys the paradoxical themes in our music. The songs encapsulate the extremes of human emotion and experience. If the song sounds upbeat and cheery look out for the dark lyrics. If it sounds dark and gothic, check out the positive twist. The track In the Darkness has a gothic/metal feel. It’s about the battle of depression but the tempo change halfway through unveils a message of strength and courage to finish the song. I am a woman of paradox!

 

Any live dates planned this year? We have some prestigious shows planned for 2019. March 29 we play the O2 London Islington and May 31 in Margate supporting the amazing Warrior Soul. June 2 we play Camden Rocks festival. Once the album is ready we will be taking it on tour in the autumn. All set to be a rocking year!

I’ve also got another writing project with a band called Lucifer’s Daughter. We have written the bones of 10 monstrous tracks and can’t wait to get them recorded and play live. The music has a massive NWOBHM feel with a modern twist and the creative process has been a lot of fun. We hope to get this out to you by the end of 2019, so keep your eyes peeled.

In the past few years have you seen many venues closing down ? Sadly yes. Being from Kent I check out the London Rock/Metal scene on a regular basis and have seen many venues die. It’s sad for rock fans and bands because in our world there is definitely an audience for it. Property is so valuable in London and some venues simply can’t afford to keep going. However us fans always find somewhere to rock out!

It’s always encouraging when we travel up the country. The Midlands and the North of England have a thriving rock/metal scene. That’s where it’s happening. What’s even more encouraging is the variety of ages on the scene, there is definitely a new wave of classic rock and metal amongst the youngsters. Men with long hair and eyeliner and girls in leather and lace are back!

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Back in the 80s I saw Girlschool and Rock Goddess and both are still touring now. Are they an inspiration ? Oh Yes! The Rock/Metal scene has been largely dominated by men. It’s getting better these days but back in the 80s those women were revolutionary. I saw both bands at Hard Rock Hell in Wales last year, we even shared a dressing room with Girlschool.

I love the fact that they have been rocking for 30 plus years and they still play with hunger and passion. That’s what it’s all about. If the band isn’t in to it, the crowd won’t be.

So for me if you still have the passion and the love for what you do there is always a place for you on the scene. I’ll be doing this until they kick me off stage…or I fall off! (laughs).

As I said earlier Black Roze debut album out this spring, Lucifer’s Daughter later in the year… both bands are literally bleeding songs. So it’s just a case of getting them rehearsed and recorded, then out for live shows…it’s all so exciting!

Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

ROCK FROM A HARD PLACE with Paul Laskey from rock band Cloverhill

Burnley blues/rock band Cloverhill are a vehicle for the songwriting of Paul Laskey. He was keen to talk about recording and plans for the future, but first I asked him about crowdfunding…I think that it is a good thing but maybe tends to get a bit over used and puts people off. As long as you understand that there is no guaranteed return and you are doing it for the love of the music, then more power to it. The ability to maybe give a break to talented people and the right causes is a good thing. We would look at it under the right circumstances.

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How did Cloverhill get together ? It started when I was playing at a festival in France where I met another musician playing on the bill, Grant Henderson. Grant is a drummer and producer with a studio in the Leeds area. We got on really well and I asked him if I could use his place to record some of the songs that I had written over the years – so that is how Cloverhill was born. We got in a bass player, Vince Rycheck, and a couple of ladies from bands that we knew to do backing vocals. I played all guitars and recorded lead vocals. Grant added drums, percussion and keyboards.

Were you pleased with the album ? The studio is our blank canvas – I love it. We go in with basic ideas and hopefully a fully fledged work of art comes out. It’s called 7 of One and 2 1/2 of the Other. Named after the settings on the old Fender amp that we used with one of my guitars, a 1980s Kramer. We wanted to get a kind of retro sound to underpin a lot of the album.

Due to funds and time available the album took a while to make, but was completed at the end of 2016 and released in 2017. It was mastered by Tony Dixon at Masterpiece in London, with the brief of  ‘as loud as **** please’.

Any gigs planned for Cloverhill ? The plan was to go live in 2018 as 3 piece with stripped down versions of the songs but, unfortunately, the bass player pulled out at the last minute. He was unable to commit to gigging for a variety of reasons. That threw us up in the air a bit and it took us a long time to find a replacement but we now have one. Marcio Couto, a fantastically talented and funky bass player originally from Brazil, but now living close to me in the North West.

With his introduction we are now on the second round of recording for the new album, which is generally taking us in a more funk/blues Southern Rock direction. It is a lot more stripped down and is probably reflective of a mixture of my real roots and where I am today.

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When can we expect any new songs from the band ? A new single, Love You To Pieces will be out by March. Funnily enough, this is probably the most ‘pop’ song we have done and will probably be a bit of an oddity on the album but we felt it would make a good single.

What are the immediate plans for Cloverhill ? The plan is to go live during 2019 once we have all got some sessions out of the way. In the meantime, you can find Marcio and me jamming with friends at The Shift Cafe in Burnley.

 Contact Paul at https://www.facebook.com/CloverhillRock

 Interview by Gary Alikivi January 2019.

The Benidorm Roller with entertainer Martin Weavers

Making a living as an entertainer can be hard going with most people having another job to support their family…. A few year ago I was working as a Health and Safety officer but got made redundant so decided to get a full time job in a school to work alongside the music. This worked really well and my wife and I saved enough money to get to Benidorm and make a singing career out here.

I hope to make our band The Rollermaniacs the best tribute to The Bay City Rollers. The line up is Nick Carter on  rhythm guitar, Xavier Bravo on lead and me on vocals. The Rollers use live guitar and vocals unlike some tribute bands in Benidorm. I’m also planning some solo shows and currently in CoCo Benidorm every Saturday afternoon. Why not pop in ?

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What is your background and when did you first get interested in music ? I’m originally from Suffolk and moved to Essex via three marriages. My first memories of music where when my mum used to listen to the forces sweet hearts programme on the radio every Sunday. I first listened to Slade and then the Bay City Rollers came along and I was hooked…I know it’s cheesy but it’s true.

My first gig was as a comedy vocalist in 1993 at the Sudbury Bird Cage Society Christmas dinner. When I was in a comedy double act we had a gig at The Pavillion Theatre in Eastbourne and my partner thought it was a good idea to go to a fun fair after the sound check. After being thrown around on the waltzer I was so sick I nearly had to cancel – but the show had to go on!

Did you see being an entertainer as a full time career ? I’ve also done TV work as an extra on Lovejoy, The Chief and acted in Insiders with Bill Nighy. That went out on BBC1. I was on the pilot episode of Britain’s Got Talent, also the Barrymore and Des O’Connor shows. Always kept busy. From listening to performing, music has given me enjoyment all through my life and over the years I’ve made loads of friends and followers.

What does music mean to you ? I can live the rest of my life knowing I have helped people get away from their normal day to day life, and through the music relive some of their past.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2019.

THIS FLIGHT

Steve Straughan guitarist with UK Subs got in touch about an ongoing problem of instruments damaged by airlines. An issue that he feels all touring musicians should be aware off…In 2015 the headstock on my Gibson Les Paul Classic was smashed off while in a hard, solid flight case. The guitar was actually in two pieces. This was the second time it had happened on two different airlines. This was when I decided to take action.

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I took to social media and loads of people replied offering good advice. I got in touch with Air France and at first they told me they would not compensate me. Their reason being that the guitar case was not damaged but the guitar was. So I sent an email directly to the CEO of the airline and I started receiving offers of compensation from their staff. Eventually I was compensated but it took a long time.

But this was only due to all the good people out there. All the messages of support really helped. It felt like I wasn’t going through the whole process alone. This is why I set up a facebook page to help others who find themselves in the same unfortunate position. We can take on the big companies if we stick together.

What do you think is the main problem in transporting your instruments ? On top of the lack of storage issue there is the on-going problem of the instruments being smashed by the baggage handlers and left in the airport or even sent to the wrong airport. It’s also a hard fight to get any compensation for damaged instruments. It’s becoming very difficult for musicians.

Airlines have lost my guitar twice. There was one concert in Budapest and another in Spain where I had to use another musician’s guitar. I often get messages saying it’s happened to them.

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Is this being addressed by the airlines and can you see it becoming a bigger problem ? More airlines now are refusing to take guitars on board planes and store them in the overhead lockers, or any other lockers. Some airlines are now even stating that you must give them advance warning for guitars to be stored even in the hold. It’s a big ongoing problem.

What do you think is the future for musicians who use airlines ? I’m starting to think that it’s gonna have to be down to promoters to supply guitars and other instruments. A lot of musicians find it hard using guitars other than their own because most have them set up to the way they like them. The sound can also be quite different. The unfortunate thing is I see no other way.

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If you are a touring musician that uses flights and your instrument has suffered damage or has been lost by an airline please share your story. I’m trying to get musicians from all over the world to act on this and voice their outrage and concerns. The more the better. All of our voices could possibly help you get justice. It worked for me. Nothing is required apart from our anger, frustration and voices.

 If you have experienced any problems contact 

Airlines Smashed Or Lost Instruments group page on facebook.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   January 2019.

200 NOT OUT

With the blog hitting over 50,000 views and 199 posts so far, a milestone 200th post comes from a piece in local newspaper The Shields Gazette. Journalist Peter French writes on his page about the post of 14th January 2019 where I featured the music scene in South Shields during the 90s.

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The Shields Gazette 14th January 2019.

Link to full piece:……https://www.shieldsgazette.com/lifestyle/nostalgia/when-south-shields-had-a-thriving-rock-scene-1-9535098

Thanks to all readers of the blog so far I’m looking forward to adding more interviews  including former Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist Jon Deverill, Burnley blues/rock band Cloverhill and a feature on the issue of instruments damaged on airlines with UK Subs guitarist Steve Straughan.

Gary Alikivi January 2019.

LAST GANGS IN TOWN

 

The title reflects the original music scene in South Shields during the 1990s. The town had countless numbers of venues booking bands who played their own music. But it isn’t the case today. Looking through some photographs I took then, I wondered what the bands thought of those times ?

Iain Cunningham, (Cripplin’ Jack) The 90s was a great time for music. In Sunny South Shields by the Sea the original music scene was thriving. There were original bands with lots of venues willing to give them a stage to hone their craft. Whether it be a Sunday night in the Ferry Tavern, Wednesday night was spent in Porters and The Vic was a Monday night downstairs or Saturday night upstairs. There was always somewhere to watch original music.

 

It felt very much like a community and I’m surprised none of the bands actually cracked it and broke through to the mainstream. It was a great scene to be part of. The nights had great crowds, a cracking atmosphere and cheap beer promotions, which usually lead to hangovers and regret.

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Cripplin’ Jack in 1996. Iain Cunningham on the right.

Crippling Jack were formed in 1995 by Ian Maxwell, Dean Walsh, who was later replaced by Paul Westgate, Richard Gardner, Christopher Charlton and myself. We went on to play all over the North East and recorded our demo John Woo E.Q. in the Underfoot studios with Dave and Pete Brewis, who themselves, are enjoying a great career in music with their band Field Music.

Davey Mac was a supporter of the music scene. His rehearsal rooms were legendary and, if they could speak, would tell some stories. I think we still owe him a small fortune as we always ended the rehearsal shouting back up the stairs to him ‘We’ll pay you double next week!

Actually Crippling Jack reformed in 2009 and went on to play more gigs around the town releasing 2 more EPs. After nine years apart, vocalist Ian Maxwell summed up the bands feelings as he stepped up to the mic and declared… ‘It’s good to be back’.

Iain Robertson, (January Blue) This band had many incarnations, and it all started with me and vocalist Woody who were mainstays throughout January Blue and later New Rising. We first played a gig together in April 92 at Cleadon Village Hall with another band called Agadoo Factory. This gig featured the first song Woody ever wrote called Die Forever ! We wanted to keep going and little did we know that we’d be still playing together 8 years later, frequently visiting London having gained a record deal with London records.

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January Blue in 1994. Iain Robertson at the top.

We’d heard Pete Edmonds the manager of Porters bar in South Shields, would pay £300 a gig if you managed to pack the place out. So we hit every bin in King Street with a flyer and our piece de resistance was at 6.30am hanging a bed sheet on both sides of Westoe Bridges to catch the rush hour traffic coming in and going out of town. We got an ear full (and rightly so) for plastering one flyer on the arse of the war hero Kirkpatricks donkey statue in King street, which in hindsight was disrespectful but hell – we had a gig to promote.

Needless to say, Porters was full, we got our £300 quid and Pete Edmonds was bouncing around and grinning like a Cheshire Cat. He booked us again and we were definitely in a good bargaining position for the next gig’.

 

Newts Newton, (Cloud 10) On reflection, I didn’t really enjoy the 90s in general for many reasons but musically, I detested all that ‘mad for it’avin it’ laddish bollocks. It seemed like every new band had curtain haircuts, walked like chimps and stood onstage like tins of milk, wearing tracker tops zipped up to their noses, all while strumming mindlessly with faces like a smacked arse. Trying to be ‘edgy’. Aye right, fuck off man.

Meanwhile, the band I was in at the time, Cloud 10, were writing kitchen sink drama style songs that moaned about all and sundry, while we marched about in overcoats and quiffs thinking we were the fucking Clash, glowering at everyone (laughs).

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Cloud 10 in 1996. Newts on the right.

Locally, plenty bands were springing up and yeah, we in Cloud 10 pretty much sneered at them all. Not that we had much to be smug about mind, we were arrogant and nothing special really.  Looking back, being brutally honest, it was a waste of time as our band were better at talking about things, instead of actually getting up and fucking doing them. Although one night, two of us did go out and do some promotion work with two roller brushes and 10 litres of minty buff emulsion paint. But ultimately, it was all pointless.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

FEEL THE MUSIC IN ME with British soul artist Sulene Fleming

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A number of vocalists have performed with Brand New Heavies since they formed in London in the 80s. 2016 saw Sulene adding her vocals to the Heavies tour of Europe and Japan. One of the dates was in the North East… Yeah, when I worked with the Heavies we played in Newcastle at the fab Hoochie Coochie club. The owner Warren always treats the artists well, he’s a great guy. It’s an intimate venue and the vibe is quite special, and they were an awesome crowd. I had played there before with another band I work with The Fantastics. We are in the mixing and mastering stage of a third album that will be finished early 2019. I sang and wrote some songs on the second album ‘All the People’ along with the forthcoming album. We will be performing songs when they are booked in’.

 What else have you got planned ? ‘In January I will be recording with a popular band from the mid 80s, but I can’t say who just yet. I’m a fan, so looking forward to working with them. I also write for music production libraries used in TV and Film. I also perform a lot doing private functions. Added with a two and a half year old daughter it’s not easy to juggle everything, but the journey is interesting to say the least’.

Looking back when did you start listening to music. Did your parents sing or play an instrument ? ‘Growing up my brother and me were blessed with the sound of music throughout the house. The music was varied from 50s to 80s from The Everly Brothers, Bob Marley, George Benson to Al Green. I loved looking at the record covers and the inlays, there was so much detail in the artwork.

We all enjoyed listening to a lot of different genres. I don’t think I disliked any of the music that was played, I just loved how it made me feel. We watched Top of the Pops religiously every week and remember hearing ’The Final Countdown’ by Europe, I was rocking out with a sweeping brush haha’

When did you start singing and was there a moment when you said ‘I can do this’ ? ‘I started to sing from a very early age, I dreamed about being a singer but no, I didn’t truly believe it would be my career path. A few things occurred growing up where I thought it could be possible to potentially sing for a living.

When I was around 14 at school I was forever getting into trouble for hanging out in places where I shouldn’t have been. It was a strange place to hang, but all the girls would spend too much time in the school toilets!  Chatting, smoking and I’d always break into song. My friends always said I had a great voice. When the teachers caught me, yet again they used to say…‘Sulene, Sulene the toilet queen!  Not the best way to be greeted I must admit, but true.

My first step into music semi-professionally, was at the age of 15. I had been approached by a youth worker named Maurine. She told me about a new youth centre they had opened. The first time I attended I absolutely loved it. There was a DJ set up and microphones with a small recording studio.

I went there for a few months, then Maurine had set up an audition for me at a small talent show in London for my first live performance. The show was televised but unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the show. I was the youngest of all the contestants and think I came third.

My first paid gig was at a ‘Women Coming Together’ awards. I was very nervous. I think I got around 50 quid which was great for me at that age.

Aged 15 I joined a new band, they were called Tropicana and we cut our first record. This was my first pro-experience in music. I loved being in a large recording studio and learning a little of how the music industry worked. We released a Christmas song and the b side was a cover version of Saturday Night by Whitfield. I think it got to number 50 in the charts or was it 100 haha, I can’t recall.

One of the cover songs we recorded was ‘Do You Love Me’ by The Contours. Then one day we were sitting and chatting in a café when we heard the song on the radio, it had been recorded by another artist! We felt that we had been ripped off as this was too much of a coincidence. That was the day I realised how tough it was in music.

Every song we recorded was a cover with a reggae spin, but even at the age of 15 I knew it wasn’t really going to go anywhere. To cut a long story short, we decided to call it a day. Looking back it was a great laugh at 15 years old and I gained a lot of experience which was to set me up for the future’.

Can you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio ? ‘The very first time was on Pulse radio and I was 15 years old. This was the Christmas song I mentioned earlier ‘Reggae Christmas’. I did think WOW this is a nice feeling’.

As well as being a songwriter Sulene has also added her voice to countless numbers of studio sessions and live backing vocals. She has also performed along side artists including Sonique, Beverly Knight and Mica Paris. What does music mean to you ? ‘It’s scientifically proven that music can help to change your mind set, can aid in relaxation and help when feeling negative emotions. It is an outlet for expressing any feeling you may be having. Particularly for me, when performing live you can let all emotions run free no matter what they are. It’s a beautiful thing!

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 Have you any plans for the remainder of 2018  ? ‘On New Years Eve I’m performing at Cool Cats in Singapore, it will be my third time in Singapore this year. I’ll be backing Leroy Hudson again and the Jazz Café just after Christmas and have quite a few private gigs to keep me busy through December’.

Contact Sulene on her official website https://www.sulenefleming.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2018

DANCING IN THE MOONLIGHT with Sunderland musician Ian Munro

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As a co-founder of the 90s dance band Opus 3, Ian Munro (pic. on right) had a big hit in 1992 with ‘It’s a Fine Day’. But the song had an earlier beginning… ‘In the 80s Manchester musician Edward Barton wrote and recorded ‘It’s a Fine Day’. I first saw him playing on live TV programme The Tube. The song was also played on Radio 1 but didn’t chart. One Sunday evening at our studio in Sunderland I remembered that ‘Fine Day’ was acapella, so we sampled it and in about 3 hours it was basically done. We had no doubt it was going to be a hit !

The song reached number 5 in the UK and number 1 in the US dance charts with  appearences on Top of the Pops, The Word, Jonathan Ross show, and performed live in Paris and Japan.

‘From ‘It’s Crucial’ a band I joined in 1984, to A.S.K. and Opus 3 my constant musical partners were Nigel Walton and Kevin Dodds. We needed new vocals on ‘It’s a Fine Day’ so we recruited Kirsty Hawkshaw who was Kevin’s ex-girlfriend. We met Kirsty during our first stint in London.

Opus 3 was me on keyboards, Kevin was keyboards engineer, Nigel was the drum programmer and our vocalist Kirsty was from Hertfordshire. We were signed to PWL records and Warner Brothers. Kirsty had a good musical background. Her father Alan Hawkshaw had a long and distinguished music career. Playing with The Shadows, co-writing for Elvis, Streisand and popular TV theme tunes. Her Mum used to run the UK Osmonds Fan Club and Alison Moyet lived next door. During the 90s we were in London when it was amazing. Living in the coolest city on earth heading towards a new millennia. It  was a blur of musicians, clubs and parties’.

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‘Our house parties at 131 Queenstown Road in Battersea had a balcony that overlooked the famous Power Station that Pink Floyd used on an album sleeve. One very long night saw some excellent DJ’s grace the long counter in the kitchen. Those nights were magical even the police were okay with us. The extreme was hiring a 2.5 k PA rig for a birthday party. Afterwards the system was cabbed back to my mates flat and along with a few DJs, went on till 10am when the hire company came to collect the PA.

But back then our music management were crap and contributed nothing to help our success. One was a real gangster and threatened to damage my fingers. They had offices in Soho and as their first group we were zero priority. In a vicious meeting one of the managers who was semi-employed by PWL, sided with them and not us. After the disappointing performances of the singles and second album we were dropped.

Orbital sampled ‘It’s a Fine Day’. They spun it backwards and got co-writing credits. We only got 5k out of this. It was a bad deal.

British businessman and polo player Bryan Morrison became our publisher. He had worked with T.Rex, The Pretty Things, Pink Floyd and George Michael. Morrison was the most arrogant man I’ve met. Part barrow boy and part Dracula actor Christopher Lee. He was financially drunk on George Michael’s huge success’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ? ‘Watching The Tube TV show coming from my home area made anything seem possible. At 15 I played my first gig at The Dovecot Arts Centre. In South Shields we played at The Marsden Inn supporting a band managed by Chas Chandler.

As A.S.K we played at the South Shields nightclub Banwells. At large events we were billed with a wide range of bands like Blur, D-Ream, Ramones, dance/techno band 2Unlimited, Ace of Bass, the lovely girl group Eternal and rapper from the States – LL Cool J. Then at a gig in the USA we were playing in a venue off Broadway in New York, where Moby was our warm up DJ !

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What were your experiences of recording ? ‘1984 to 1985 we recorded in Desert Sounds in Felling near Gateshead and then went into Prism studio in Newcastle. We also had some home studio equipment. By 87-90 we used various studios in London including Rooster 2, Pye studios, Matrix Maison Rouge and Mayfair. Then we built a mega home studio at The Elms, West Ashbrooke in Sunderland. Then back in London again we had our own studio in Brixton.

In 1989 ASK released ‘Kiss and Tell’ on EMI. We were signed to Capitol and MCA where we recorded Freedom We Cry in 1990. As  Ashbrooke Allstars we released ‘Dubbin`up the Pieces’ in 1991 on East West records.

Opus 3 released ‘It’s a Fine Day’ and ‘I Talk to the Wind’ in 92. ‘Hand in Hand’ and ’When You Made the Mountain’ was 94. These two from the 2nd album were co-writes with Sunderland lad Martin Brammer of the Kane Gang.

Opus 3 released two albums. Mind Fruit in 1992 and Guru Mother 1994. In 1998 DJ Paul Oakenfolds Grace covered the Opus 3 record ’Hand in Hand’. That charted at 38 in 1997 so we weren’t a one hit wonder !

Have you any stories when you were in the band? ‘Seeing Joey Ramone whilst in a health spa in a Finnish hotel or at breakfast after an all night partying session in Pete Waterman’s studio there was a decommissioned missile in the TV room. Countless moments. After a few early drinks in Clapham my friends and I returned to my flat before going to The West End to be met by a distressed Terrier dog. I took him home and rang the number on his collar to no avail and headed out to a club. The next morning I got a call from a woman with a Northern accent. She said ‘I am Vivienne Westwood thanks for  rescuing my dog’.

Opus 3 played The Supper Club off Times Square in 1994. Moby had remixed the second disastrous single and we all loved his single ‘Go’. That night we got out of the limo and our singer Kirsty was dressed as a cyber Statue of Liberty. She looked amazing and upstaged onlookers the B52s and Miss Keir from Dee Lite. Madonna was invited but didn`t show’.

 

What does music mean to you ?Everything, it’s my love and my torment ! I still play and write. Music to me isn’t work just complicated demanding fun that takes a while. Would I like to change any mistakes made…Yes …Do I regret leaving a boring job as a Clerk ? No. Failing a dream is better than succeeding in a nightmare’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2018.

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