RAW MEAT IN THE SONIC MINCER #2

Looking back at Sounds Music weekly 4th October 1980.

Looking through back issues of the UK music weeklies for a mention of North East bands, I came across a screaming headline from a Motorhead gig review – Raw Meat in the Sonic Mincer – Yep, that be ‘reet for theheed.

Sounds or NME was always knocking about our house, pocket money bought a copy for 25p. We could read exclusive interviews with bands out on tour promoting their latest album, check forthcoming UK gig dates or look at artwork for new albums.

The music weeklies were always something to look forward to – even though half the print rubbed off on your fingers.

Sounds had a mix of rock and punk interviews with Ozzy/Halen/Upstarts. NME featured alternative and post punk bands Damned/Cramps/Costello. Take your pick of front covers splashed with Strummer/Coverdale or Kate Bush.

Kate Bush, Sounds front cover 30.8.80

This post highlights Sounds issue 4th October 1980. The music weekly has a Geoff Barton interview with Ozzy Osbourne who had just been sacked by Black Sabbath. With Ozzy in a full blown howling blizzard of cocaine and alcohol, he formed a new band – Blizzard of Oz with Randy Rhoads, Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley.

Ozzy said in the pieceI was panicking, wondering whether my voice would pack in, whether I could still handle it’. He had nothing to worry about as he still toured and recorded for 40 years leading up to Covid.

Ozzy Osbourne, Sounds front cover 4.10.80.

On page 2 among stories of another tour date for XTC, there was a piece about Ian Gillan

putting the mockers on suggestions that he will be taking part in a Deep Purple reunion’.

Further down the page the article mentions a connection to the North East, this one really close to home with The Customs House in South Shields nearby. A close look sees a paragraph on

South Tyneside Arts and Music Association buying the Customs and Excise building for £1. Trouble is it’s going to cost £400,000 to renovate’.

To raise funds the South Tyneside Arts & Music Association set about organising gigs. The article added They are staging gigs this month at South Shields New Crown Hotel with Raven on the 9th, and Erogenous Zones with Night Flight on the 23rd’.

The Association also held a festival headlined by The Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. Unfortunately the challenge proved too great and Tyne & Wear Development Corporation took over renovations with a Government grant.

Today, The Customs House is a theatre, cinema and arts centre. Latest bookings at the venue have been bands on the tribute circuit, Tina Turner Experience, The Carpenters Gold and the ELO show. Over the years the centre has seen gigs by Ray Davies, Ian Hunter, Judie Tzuke and Belinda Carlisle.

10 mile up the Tyne in Gateshead is The Sage which opened in 2004, it has developed into a top class venue. I talked to Ray Spencer back in September 2018 and asked him what changes had he seen since becoming Director of the Customs House in 2000 ?

‘In terms of music programming the thing that impacted most was The Sage. When Customs House opened there was no Gala in Durham, there was no Exchange in North Shields, there was no Sage or Baltic in Gateshead and no 10 screen multi-plex up the road in Boldon.

When The Sage opened it just destroyed our guitar festival, a lot of musical acts that used to come here simply stopped. They were going there to play a big shiny building. So our music content has been damaged’.

Singles review, Sounds 4.10.80.

Included in the music weekly is a regular feature reviewing new singles. The record of the week is Change/Requiem by Killing Joke. The reviewer was not too kind on Thin Lizzy single Killer on the Loose, Disapointing, highly predictable’ or Army Dreamers by Kate Bush ‘Poor little rich girl having another breath of social comment. Any message is effectively obliterated by Miss Bush’s dentist drill warbles’ ouch!

Page 36 has the albums review. Four out of five stars for Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police featuring Wallsend born Stingit’s a record that comes truly from three diverse experienced men without any pandering to their status’ (Phil Sutcliffe).

A five star review for The Plasmatics, ‘Buy this record, it firmly establishes The Plasmatics as Americas foremost bozo punk band (Steve Keaton).

There is four and a half stars for a very young looking U2 and their new record Boymaybe their multi-layered sound might steer them off the chartwise course, but if it’s plain simple feeling you want – there’s cupfulls in here’ (Betty Page).

Gig dates including Tygers of Pan Tang, White Spirit & The Carpettes. Sounds 4.10.80.

Flicking through the back pages the UK gig list has dates at London venues for two NWOBHM bands from the North East. Tygers of Pan Tang from Whitley Bay, are on at the Marquee, and White Spirit from Teesside, opening for Gillan at Hammersmith Odeon.

On Monday 6th,Tyneside rock band Fist, opened for UFO at Bristol Colston Hall. I interviewed drummer Harry Hill back in March 2019, and asked him about his memory of that UK tour…

’We had a great time. I remember we were playing Hammersmith Odeon and a guy was heckling us. Really pissed me off. So I put my sticks down, jumped off stage and chased him into the foyer to give him a good kicking. Thinking back, the Hammersmith had a high stage so I must have been fit to get down and run after him (laughs)’.

In support of their new album on Beggars Banquet, Fight Amongst Yourselves, The Carpettes, who formed in Houghton-le-Spring, have four dates with one at Newcastle Cooperage on October 8th. I got in touch with guitarist Neil Thompson who remembers that time…

‘It was our second gig at the Cooperage. We never played there while we were living in the North East. We were living in London in August when we came up to play then. I remember we went down well both times and on the October date Treatment Room were support’.

Sellers on EBay are flogging pre-owned copies of music weeklies. They go for anything from £2.99 to £35 depending on who is on the front cover and featured inside. What you waiting for, get yer bids in and take a step back in time.

Gary Alikivi  January 2021.

RAW MEAT IN THE SONIC MINCER #1

Looking back at the Music weeklies.

Looking through back issues of the UK music weeklies for a mention of North East bands, I came across a screaming headline from a Motorhead gig review – Raw Meat in the Sonic Mincer – Yep, that be ‘reet for theheed.

Motorhead review in Melody Maker 31.3.79.

Sounds or NME was always knocking about our house, pocket money bought a copy for 25p. We could read exclusive interviews with bands out on tour promoting their latest album, check forthcoming UK gig dates or look at artwork for new albums. The music weeklies were always something to look forward to – even though half the print rubbed off on your fingers.

Sounds had a mix of rock and punk interviews with Ozzy/Halen/Upstarts. NME featured alternative and post punk bands like Damned/Cramps/Costello. Take your pick of front covers splashed with Strummer/Coverdale or Debbie Harry.

David Coverdale (Whitesnake) front cover Sounds 20.11.82.

Journalist Garry Bushell became a household name for his interviews with Ozzy and the Angelic Upstarts. Mond Cowie from Tyneside band the Upstarts told me….

At one time the Sounds used to be called the Upstarts weekly because there was something about the Upstarts in every week, without fail. If it wasn’t a single review, it was an album or gig review. If there wasn’t any new records out we used to phone Garry up and give him stories, we used to just make them up’.

This next story doesn’t have a connection to the North East, but it’s an example how a band would plant or maybe sweeten up a dry story. American glam metal band Motley Crue benefited in the 17 April 1982 edition.

This came at a time when UK tours saw heavy double bills, overseas support bands and suitable opening acts with audiences enjoying the first band onstage, as well as the headliner.

I was just a kid in 1978 so too young to see the Sabbath/Halen eruption shake the foundations of Newcastle City Hall, but I did catch many big ‘rumble in the toon’ shows. I remember the night German power metallers Accept went toe to toe with Judas Priest, polished American rock band Riot turned up the heat for Saxon and Canadian speed metal merchants Anvil, kept their heeds doon an’ rolled the way for Motorhead.

Anvil front cover Sounds 17.5.82.

The story in Sounds was ‘70s English rock band Wishbone Ash were looking for a support act for their upcoming UK tour. L.A Glam Metal band Motley Crue, were rumoured to be in line as the openers. Who would put those bands together on the same bill and where did the story originate ?

The report stated an official Wishbone Ash source said the band ‘disliked’ the Crue image, and ‘unofficial’ sources quoted they were ‘wary of the competition’. Of course there was no tour, but the report got a picture of the Crue top left on page 4 – result. During autumn ’82 Wishbone Ash toured the UK, loyal Ash followers recall Spider or Mamas Boys opening, both bands on a similar dial.

Motorhead front cover Sounds 21.2.81.

If a band weren’t touring or didn’t have a record to promote they would find it difficult to get in the paper. So to keep up a presence they would feed trivial gossip to the news staff, and gain a few column inches. A small article on Page 3 of the 4th October 1980 issue hasa £10 fine at Marleybone Magistrates for Motorhead drummer Phil Taylor for being drunk and disorderly’.

Apparently he was having a ‘playful’ fight outside a pub with guitarist Eddy Clarke. The report finished off with ‘Only problem was, Phil was hit on the elbow by the stomach of the arresting officer’. A sense of humour always helped to get your stories printed.

Sellers on EBay are flogging pre-owned copies of music weeklies. They go for anything from £2.99 to £35 depending on who is on the front cover and featured inside. What you waiting for, get yer bids in and take a step back in time.

Gary Alikivi  January 2021

ROKSNAPS #9 SMILE AND SAY ‘WAVIS!’

Roksnaps are photographs taken by fans which captured the atmosphere of concerts in the North East during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Already posted are fan pix of Motorhead, Fist, Penetration, The Damned, Whitesnake, Tygers of Pan Tang and much more.

Gig t-shirt’s, programme’s and autographs were hunted down to collect as souvenirs – and some people took photograph’s of meeting their musical heroes. One fan who kept his pics and shared them on the blog is Wavis O’Shave.

On some days when I got bored I’d pop out to see visiting music celebs for a bit of fun, and settle for having a nice cup of tea with them and take a snap – not a ginger one. I’ve met dozens of ‘big names’ on such days, accumulating dozens of pix and autographs – that’s wot you do, yeah? Here’s a few I managed to find.

A bit of rock royalty – Eric Claphands and pal on his way into a soundcheck. At the show that night they had to carry him out after every two numbers for air to wake him. He looked comatose.

I made friends with Rod Stewart in 1973 after reluctantly giving him my Denis Law scrapbook backstage, so bumped into him a lot yet never got my pic taken with him. He’d send me an autographed album with a message in it on my birthdays – although I already had them. I had 1 of only 5 ever pressed copies of a 7” ‘The Skye Boat Song’. I bet I’m still the only person he ever signed an album for whilst on stage. Here he is at a show at Newcastle City hall in ’76. 

Ronnie Lane left the Faces to be a gypsy – nice pic, ever nicer bloke. I later surprised an available version of the Small Faces during their reunion tour, at a Holiday Inn.

Who’s that? Oh it’s rough and ready for action Roger after sticking out his barrel chest and rescuing me from an unfriendly hotel door man. I had a habit of attracting them. I thought he was going to hit him – Roger hitting the doorman not ‘tuther way round! Pete Townsend turned up separately, caught him at the airport. Nobody recognised him but me.

Here’s another from Freddie Mercury who kept calling me ‘Dear’ and below him David Bowie. (more Queen & Bowie on Roksnaps #8)

Shame I’ve lost so many pix. It’s strange meeting folk whom you’ve only seen in glossy mags or on telly, but, hey, they wee just like we do y’know.

All Pix copyright; O’Shave

If you have any pix from gigs or meeting musical heroes just get in touch and share them on Roksnaps.

Gary Alikivi   January 2021.

ROKSNAPS #8 SMILE AND SAY ‘WAVIS!’

Roksnaps are photograph’s taken by fans which captured the atmosphere of concerts in the North East during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Already posted are fan pix of Motorhead, Fist, Penetration, The Damned, Whitesnake, Tygers of Pan Tang and much more.

Gig t-shirt’s, programme’s and autographs were hunted down to collect as souvenirs – and some people took photograph’s of meeting their musical heroes. One fan who kept his pics and shared them on the blog is Wavis O’Shave…

On some days when I got bored I’d pop out to see visiting music celebs for a bit of fun and settle for having a nice cup of tea with them and take a snap – not a ginger one. Here’s a few I managed to find.

The punkies! I’ve popped out and met Iggy Pop a few times – once walked past him on the Portobello Road, carried on walking for 500’ and thought’ That’s Iggy! before whizzing after him. Here he is in the pic above signing stuff for fans before he suddenly exploded and ripped up a fan’s album.

Here’s a young Toyah below – she was living in a warehouse in Battersea and sleeping in a coffin at the time. She once asked me to record one of my songs with her!

A bit of rock next – that looks like the world’s thinnest man, Lynott innit?

Phil, can you get me in the show tonight?’ ‘I can’t, it’s sold out.’ ‘I know, that’s why I’m asking you!’ He did though, bless him. All I had to do was let the security on the door know that I knew the number of his hotel room.

After standing at the wrong arrivals at the airport and letting David silently walk past me, after a car chase I finally caught up with Bowie at his hotel where he gave me the scoop – ‘Life on Mars is about parallel dimensions’. He signed my collectors original Space Oddity album – shamefully sold for £50 in 1985. Imagine its value now. Here’s a pic from his show that night.

The Queenies. Met them twice. This pic is from Sunderland Locarno a while before they had ‘made it’, six years later in 1980 I saw them at a hotel and Freddie kept calling me ‘Dear.’ I’d gotten hassle from hotel security as I was not a paying guest. I told Roger but all he did was squeak like a mouse!

Excuse me while my knees weaken. It’s Debbie whom I’ve met twice. Very pretty lass. I was allowed permission for the pix from Chris who had to ask her first after promising them I wouldn’t sell them – they were extremely fussy about who should have free gratis pix of Debs and were signed up to exclusive photographers for that purpose.

I’ve met dozens of ‘big names’ accumulating dozens of pix and autographs – that’s wot you do, yeah? and sadly  over the decades losing or misplacing 99.9 percent of them.

All pix copyright of O’Shave.

Gary Alikivi   December 2020.

GOODBYE CONSETT

with songwriter & producer, Steve Thompson

Consett born Thompson features a couple of times on this blog. He digs out interesting and amusing stories from his musical memory box stretching over 50 years.

He talks about recording the first single for Tygers of Pan Tang in Impulse Studio, Wallsend, and being at the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal at Neat Records.

He also recalls working in studios with Raven, Gus Dudgeon, Rodger Bain, Sheena Easton, The Hollies and Venom. Check out the links at the end of this post for his stories.

Recently, Steve got in touch and brought me up to date with what he has on the boil….

Covid put the mockers on much of my creative output in 2020, so for this year my aim is to generate output in spite of the virus. First to come is an excerpt from my book I’m writing ‘Stories From a Songwriters Life’.

Life has provided me with tons of stories which I need little encouragement to tell. For years people who’ve heard and enjoyed these stories have been saying “write a book”. I’ve resisted this for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I’m embarrassed to do something as egotistical as writing about my life. The second reason is the idea of writing something ‘long form’ worries me. I’m a songwriter, a storyteller. Everything I do is short form: a three-minute pop song, a short anecdote. How could I maintain interest over several thousand words?’

pic. Kev Howard

Good news is that Steve has decided to take all the anecdotes and life stories and patch them together.

‘If I can make this flow in a coherent way, maybe I’ll have a book’…said Steve.

He’s making the early chapters available free to read on download and I’ve had a look at some stories including these from his youth….

‘Apart from trying to write songs I had taken a few stabs at getting a band together but they all came to nothing. I became a weekend hippy. Tie dye, long hair, the lot. Overalls during the week and tie dye at the weekend. I was so into music and yet I’d not yet seen many live bands.

I noticed in Melody Maker that a pop festival was taking place over two or three days. So, that summer when I was just 18, I donned my safari boots and my homemade tie dye T Shirt and hitch hiked to Staffordshire with two bob in my pocket.

The 1970 festival featured among others: Free, Black Sabbath, The Grateful Dead, Traffic and Ginger Baker’s Air Force. I ate nothing for three days, smoked dope for the first time and ended up sleep walking around Stoke on Trent. Far out man!’

Steve (in blue) in Bullfrog.

Steve writes about his time as an apprentice in Consett Steel Works and how it made a lasting impression on him….

‘At the Steel works I remade the acquaintance of a guy from school, Robin Hird, who played guitar. We got talking and said he would give me a bass guitar if I would form a band with him. I readily agreed.

A few days later he turned up at my parents’ house with a drummer called Mick Simmons. I played them some songs I was writing, and Robin said “see, I told you he was talented”.

And that was that. Neither of them saw fit to inquire if I could play bass.

With the inclusion of Mick Glancy a few days later on vocals we had a band. My interest in being a steelworker declined. I was surely bound for rock stardom!’

Read the stories from Steve’s schooldays, starting work and beginning of his musical career in ‘Goodbye Consett’ which is free to download from Friday 8 January 2021 at

www.steve-thompson.org.uk/book 

Gary Alikivi   January 2021

THE GODFATHER of the North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

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ROAD RATS

with Robby Robertson, guitarist with North East punks The Fiend

How long have you been a member of The Fiend ?

The Fiend started way back in 1982. At that time I was guitarist in the Public Toys playing old school punk when the opportunity arose to play in a band with my brother Robert and two good friends Moony and Jamesy. After mulling over a few band names we settled on The Fiend.

My last gig with the Public Toys was at Miss Kinks in Hebburn. The other support band were an alternative band from South Shields called Next, they played first to a full house full of punks and went down like a lead balloon. Don’t think the punk audience were ready for what they had to offer. 

The Fiend played next and went down really well which dispelled any doubts I had about leaving the Public Toys. The next wave of punk was about to hit and I just think we were there at the right time with the right sound.

The music we were looking at creating was a much harder version of punk along the lines of Discharge with a real edge to it, also a lot more politically motivated. 

The Fiend, 1984. (pic. Will Binks)

Where was your first rehearsal and your first gigs ?

Our first rehearsal space was in Hedworthfield Church Hall in Jarrow on a Sunday afternoon. One time we turned up on a sweltering day and Kev our singer just had a pair of Jean’s on and no top. The vicar refused to give us the keys till he was fully clothed. Then we found a room in Frederick Street, South Shields which was above Goldfingers second hand shop.

We played at Gateshead Trinity Church. We ended up in a bit of bother and the gig ended in a riot. Things moved on quickly from there playing a few gigs round the country also playing numerous gigs at the now world renowned Station club in Gateshead.

What was your first experience in a recording studio ?

The first recording we ever done was at Desert sounds in Felling next to the Tyne & Wear metro line. There was no toilet, no heating, it was dark and a plastic sheet for a back wall. We recorded four songs – Help Me, Weird Boy, On the Dole and IRA

We put the tracks out on tape for release available for £1 by mail order available from my home address in South Frederick St, South Shields. We were then contacted by Endangered Records and asked if were interested in a recording deal.

We went back to Desert sounds to record our first record the infamous Stand Alone EP with our new drummer at the time, Nelly. Again we recorded four tracks. Fires of Hell, Stand Alone, Religion and Remember Who We Are.

Stand Alone was originally a four verse song but as we were recording the Metro train went past and spoilt the recording so we recorded it as a three verse song – nothing like improvising (laughs).

The EP was released a few months later but the first we knew of it was when we went into Volume records in Newcastle to find it number 1 in their charts, Nelly actually bought a copy from the shop. The single sold out after a few weeks and become a bit of a collector’s item selling upwards of £50 in record fares.

It was also bootlegged on a Brazilian label as a split album with Icons Of Filth. The record was also put out on a re-release by a German label but was sold out by pre-order before it even got to the shops. 

pic. Will Binks

Did you have a manager or agent ?

We’ve always managed ourselves through our own contacts. We did a tour a few years back through MAD tour promoters in Berlin. A tour of Europe was announced and immediately we thought there may be trouble when someone commented on the tour posters ‘have these f***ers not got a map’ !

We were sent an information pack we called the bible, it had our fee, venue details, capacity, hotel location and the distance from the last gig which I think they just made up. They chased the money so we often ended up passing a venue to get to another venue, then came back the next night.

We played Cologne, then the next night Copenhagen. They booked our ferry for 9am next morning. We literally came off stage at 1am packed our gear into the van then drove to Rostock to catch our ferry to Copenhagen then back to play Rostock the next night.

We went on to play a venue in Germany, then from there to Krakow in Poland. The bible said 320km after driving for four hours we reached the border of Poland where the sign read another 350km. As I said I think they just made up. It was actually 620 miles to the venue. 


What other countries have you toured?

As for playing abroad we’ve played all over most of Europe including France, Holland, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany and Slovakia. Most bands will tell you the European scene is far removed from the UK scene. 

The venues tend to be far more welcoming and I think the audiences are much more appreciative. Every gig I’ve played in Europe we’ve been fed and watered which isn’t always the case in the UK. 

We’ve also had the chance to play some unbelievable venues which my favourite has to be Kopi a huge squat in Berlin where we always get a great crowd in. We’ve actually had people from Israel, Russia, Turkey as well as the UK to see us in Berlin. I found that mind blowing when local bands can’t even get 100 people to a local gig in Newcastle.

Another such venue was a place called Exile a former concentration camp so much history there. It was a really weird feeling when being shown round the place as not many bands get the chance to play there, it was a real honour.

Liepzig is another great city, we’ve actually played in three different venues in the same street each time we went back we played a bigger venue than the last. Not forgetting to mention Frankfurt AJZ, the hospitality is second to none, it also helps we played to 2500 people. 

One moment was playing AK47 in Warsaw and our guitarist at the time Barteks family turned up as well as a couple of locals were celebrating – one being the singer Darius of Polish band Incuivicta. Half way through the set he is down the front in the mosh pit when he picks up Barteks dad – who is also in the pit! and flings him about 30 feet across the dance floor. 

The Fiend live at The Station, Gateshead 14/12/84. (pic. Will Binks)

Any road stories you want to share ?

Probably the best story from touring was at a gig in Kunstverein, Germany. It was an old SS training camp left over from the war. The gig goes ahead amidst the worst thunder and lightning I’ve ever witnessed which added to the ambiance of the place.

We played the gig which was great, then as usual the lads went on the drink. With me doing most of the driving on tour and our drummer Steve James also being a non-drinker, decided it was time for some kip around three am. Our accommodation was a long barracks type room with about ten bunk beds.

While choosing our beds for the night Steve picks what he thinks is the best bunk while I’m further from the door. As he’s getting into bed he asks me to turn the light out, so there’s me trying to find my bed wondering round in the pitch black only illuminated every now and then by the lightning. It must of looked like a scene from a Frankenstein film. 

Just before I found my bed Steve jumps up screaming ‘put the light on, put the light on’. In a panic I manage to find the light but there’s something in my bed. As the light goes on we see a huge rat disappear under the sleeping bag. We rush over pull back the sleeping bag there’s a huge rat and its owner in the bed – it was a lad from the gig. 

‘Who’s that’ Steve asks. ‘I don’t know you got into bed with him’. After a good old laugh about it and him getting a different bed, off to sleep we went to see what tomorrow would bring. 

What does music mean to you ?

As you can imagine being associated with a band for almost 40 years it’s been as pleasurable as it has been hard. As long as you enjoy what you do and you can still do it why retire. It becomes a bit of your identity when you speak to people, people introduce you not as Robby but Robby from the Fiend.

Also it’s about leaving your identity through records gigs etc and hopefully leaving life long memories for people. You get the chance to meet a whole lot of great people you would never have met without the band, also visiting places you could only dream of going to.

After all these years I can honestly say I enjoy it as much as ever. Still look forward to rehearsing and gigging with some of the best and most down to earth people you could hope to meet.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  December 2020

LOOKING FOR ERIC

with Richard Blair, Patron of The Orwell Society

In March 2015 The Orwell Society visited South Shields to watch ‘Wildflower’ the documentary I made about South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy, George Orwell’s first wife. We also visited St Andrews’s Cemetery, Newcastle, to see her grave, Eileen was buried there in 1945.

In March 2020 another visit from the OS was planned but unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic. The itinerary included another screening of ‘Wildflower’ along with unveiling a blue plaque to Eileen who was born in 1905. Hopefully we can reschedule a visit later in the year.

Richard Blair is the adopted son of Eileen O’Shaughnessy, and George Orwell – real name Eric Blair – who was author of many books including Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four.

In 2012 I was researching the life of Eileen in the University College London where the Orwell archive is held, and through a connection there I got in touch with Richard. He kindly invited me down to his home in Warwickshire where we filmed a piece for the documentary.

The day went well and in earlier posts (links below) I talked about the ease in which the documentary came together and how each contact led to another clue in looking for Eileen.

November 2012 I was in Barcelona Airport with a camera in my backpack thinking, what led me here ? Eileen and George where involved in the Spanish Civil War and I wanted to film a sequence of that part of their life.

I searched for a contact who could add that piece, I found Civil War historian Alan Warren who was based in Barcelona. We arranged to meet and filming took place in Los Caracoles, a restaurant just off Las Ramblas. A place that Eileen and friends often visited.

Earlier this year I was watching a travel programme about Spain when Richard popped up on screen, I asked him how did that come about ?

Richard Blair

I was asked by Michael Portillo’s TV production company if I would appear with him out in Spain on the Aragon front between Zaragoza and Huesca where both our fathers fought in the Spanish Civil War.

For Michael this was a personal pilgrimage as his father was a Republican and so was fighting on the same side as my father and in relative close proximity to each other, so Michael was very admiring of Orwell and wanted to meet me and talk about the circumstances.

We met in the trenches overlooking Huesca and he wanted to know about my father and how he sustained his injury. It was a very personal interview and he did say that it was one of his high lights of his railway programmes.

I watched ‘Nineteen Eight Four’ at Newcastle Playhouse around 2002 – do many theatre organisations request to stage a play based on Orwell writing and have any TV companies made a similar request ?

There are always requests from theatres to do one or the other of the two ‘main books’ and I daresay they will continue, except that there will be no further copyright to contend with after 31st December.

There have also been many requests to do films and for all sorts of reason they wither on the vine. There was a very successful play by Icke and MacMillan that started in Nottingham about 2014/5 and went round the country twice including the West End.

It then went abroad and also ended up on Broadway. I had the privilege to attend the opening night. Come to think of it I and many of our Orwell Society members have seen several small productions of Nineteen Eighty Four.

How is the Orwell Society set up ?

The set-up is a members society with a small group of Trustees (8) to run and oversee the day to day and long term plans. The Trustees are strictly non-political and allows members to express themselves as one would expect in a democracy.

However blatant extremism that causes offence or is illegal to the members is not tolerated and the Trustees can remove the membership from that person, should they refuse to recant.

What is the aim of The Orwell Society ?

The aim of the Orwell Society is to promote the works of George Orwell, through several ways; through the website with information; through organised events, which allows us, the members to meet up at numerous places that Orwell visited or lived (present problems not withstanding); through media channels such as Facebook and Twitter; and organised monthly ‘Orwell Talks’ via Zoom, introduced recently.

We also promote, as part of our charity obligations, contact with schools to encourage writing and hopefully (when we can start again) visits through their teachers and it is to them that we award bursaries. In other words get the word of Orwell out into the public domain.

Have you seen an uptake in the writing of George Orwell ?

There has always been an interest in Orwell and the society has been proactive in its promotion of his works. We do this in conjunction with the Orwell Foundation and Youth Prize. An organisation that has been running in its present form for some 15/20 years and was born of Bernard Cricks Orwell Awards set up in the late eighties.

It is run by Trustees, but is not a membership organisation. It oversees all the Orwell Awards for writing and journalism and it also runs the mainstream schools youth prize (there were some 1200 entries this last year).

The OS runs in parallel with the OF and the OYP, but does not overlap, but we do cooperate wherever possible. The society membership is running at about 300 members and fluctuates up and down, but mostly up.

Since the society began, have you found anything unusual, interesting or unexpected ?

I think the outstanding feature of the Orwell Society is how friendly we all are. New members are very soon sucked into the animated flow of conversations when they meet older members. I also think we do an enormous amount of activities (sadly curtailed) organised by Quentin Kopp, our organiser and acting Chairman.

Orwell lived in many places, which gives the opportunity to go and see them; from Scotland to London, to Paris, to Spain and many other places. Some still to be explored like Morocco and Burma.

Looking back on your father’s life what do you think about so much of it being documented and what do you feel about his work?

I suppose the short answer to that question is that over the decades he has become one of the more significant writers of the 20th century and yet his relevance has gained more and more traction and continues to resonate to this day.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   December 2020.

For more info about the Orwell Society go to the official website:

The Orwell Society – Promoting the understanding and appreciation of the life and works of George Orwell

Links to research & documentary:

WILDFLOWER – South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy 1905-45 timeline. | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

WILDFLOWER – documentary about George Orwell’s wife, South Shields born Eileen O’Shaughnessy | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)   plus DVD trailer.

DARK ARTS OF THE STASI

FILE #6 DEVILS MOUNTAIN

This is the sixth post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The Stasi aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens, but they weren’t the only ones spying on Berlin.

Devil’s Mountain is an abandoned NSA (National Security Agency) spy station in Grunewald Forest just 30 minutes out of Berlin. The sophisticated listening station was built to eavesdrop by the UK and USA on the Eastern Bloc during the cold war.

Originally a swamp and forest, a technical college for the Nazi’s was being built on the land in the 1930’s. World War Two stopped the project. The war turned Berlin to ashes, a landscape of total ruin. The rubble from houses, shops and buildings was dumped on the land where the Nazi college was. The British and Americans became interested in the uses of this man made mountain which reached 120 metres high.

By the ‘60s various antennas with protective domes were installed by the Americans and the British. For decades NSA workers listened in on East Berlin. Until the end of the cold war, Devils Mountain only served as a military station.

After the Wall fell and the station was finally closed, there was an unsuccessful bid from a group of investors with plans to develop the area.

These days the abandoned spy station is home to an artist community who look after the structure. They also offer guided tours of the complex.

Gary Alikivi   December 2020.

DARK ARTS OF THE STASI

FILE #5 THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYES:

In the fifth post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Stasi aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens.

They arrested, interrogated and imprisoned anyone they chose. They would use the distress of people who were in prison by offering to let them out if they spy for them.

Intercepting thousands of phone calls, bugging hotel rooms and spying on diplomats was all part of their mission for complete observation. They steamed open mail in secret rooms above post offices. They copied letters then taped the envelope back together with a sticker ‘Damaged in Transit’.

As a way to find criminals they developed ‘smell sampling’. The theory was that we all have our own odour, which we leave on everything we touch. These smells can be captured in jars, and with the help of trained sniffer dogs, compared to find a match.

Mostly, they would collect smell samples underhand and what they called ‘operating in the shadows’. They would break into someone’s house and take a piece of clothing worn close to the skin.

Or a person would be brought in for questioning, and the vinyl seat they had sat on would be wiped afterward with a cloth. The piece of stolen clothing or cloth off the seat would be placed in a jar with the ‘suspects’ details on.

The Stasi would take its dogs and jars to a location where they suspected an illegal meeting had occurred, and see if the dogs could pick up the scents of the people whose smells were captured in jars.

They were also reported to use radiation to mark people it wanted to track. Radioactive tags like pins were made for clothing, magnets to place on cars and a spray to spread on people in a crowd or spray their floor at home so they would leave radioactive footprints everywhere they went.

To keep information safe from satellite surveillance the Stasi archive building had a copper lined room planned for it – Berliners used to refer to the place as ‘The House of One Thousand Eyes’.

Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler

Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.

Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).

Behind the Wall (2011) a film by Michael Patrick Kelly.

If you have any stories related to the Berlin Wall or the Stasi don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Gary Alikivi  November 2020.

DARK ARTS OF THE STASI

FILE #4 DIVISION X:

This is the fourth post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

They aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens. This post reveals that the Stasi had their own design for life.

A smear campaign was a huge part of the propaganda war with the west, and extreme measures were taken to prevent any contamination seeping into the east. Inside the GDR the Government controlled newspapers and magazines. Access to books was restricted and censorship was a constant pressure on writers.

There is a story in Stasiland by Anna Funder, of a woman who was living with her partner and they were both under surveillance. The Stasi would come over from time to time and search the apartment.

One of the officers was up a ladder searching the bookshelves when he found George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The officer looked at the cover containing a red flag and pigs, on what looked like a collective farm. He thought that meant it was all right so he put it back. He mustn’t have known that Orwell was banned in the GDR.

Training as a journalist was effectively training as a Government spokesperson. As well as using journalists to plant stories in western media, a Department X was set up to spread disinformation – fake news from the GDR. It collected sensitive information from agents in the West and leaked it to cause harm.

The Stasi manufactured documents and edited audio recordings of conversations to damage reputations and spread rumours about people, especially about them working for the Stasi.

Interference in West German politics also came to light – exclusives were given to journalists about a West German politicians link to a Nazi past, and backbenchers were bribed for votes to keep preferred people in power.

The only mass media the Government couldn’t control was the signal from Western television stations – but it tried. The Stasi used to monitor the angle of peoples antennae hanging out of their apartments, punishing them if they were turned to the West. 

Popular entertainment programmes in the East where deliberately timed to appear alongside important but depressing news of protests and political upheaval in the west. A phrase came out of these times – ‘The value of the clueless’ where parts of East Germany were not able to receive TV programs from the west.

Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler

Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.

Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).

Gary Alikivi  November 2020.