EARTH WORKS for Teeside artist Andrew McKeown.

A current photography job I’m working on is documenting the regeneration project near the seafront in the North Marine Park, South Shields – really handy because I only live 2 minutes away. Within the building and restoration work pieces of public art are planned so I got in touch with the artist commissioned for the work…..I am currently working on designs for a large contemporary steel Beacon in North Marine Park, South Shields. The Beacon takes inspiration from the Lawe Top Beacons built in 1832. The words on the Beacon preserve maritime trade names and celebrate the character of the people of South Shields. The words and trade names have been suggested by the local community.

Do you always involve the community in a project ? Involving local communities is an essential part of my working practice. I have over 25 years of experience and knowledge in this area. For previous projects I have devised a wide range of community consultation programs involving local people and schoolchildren, from presentations through to hands on practical sculpture workshops and longer artist in residence programs. This work helps me refine ideas and sometimes new ideas are formed which develop into final sculptures.

It’s also equally important that local people have an opportunity to work together and create something positive for their community, to gain a sense of pride and ownership in the process and the final artwork. The processes involved in the engagement work is as important as the resulting artwork.

An interesting example of this approach can be seen in the sculpture ‘Breaking the Mould’ which takes the form of a giant seed which has emerged from an old industrial mould. The mould is broken and no longer useful but the last cast to be made is a new natural life form. The symbolism creates a striking resonance with the former and future uses of many of the 21 regeneration sites across England and Wales called Changing Places.

(The £60 million Changing Places program transformed 1,000 hectares of post-industrial derelict land into parks and open spaces).

Where did the idea come from ? During dialogue with East Manchester Ladies knitting group I distinctly remember writing some of the things they were saying to me, like ‘turning over a new leaf’, and ‘Breaking the Mould’ as we discussed their desire to move on and leave behind the scarred industrial landscape, changing it into a urban park and community facility through the Changing Places project.

What got you interested in art, was there a ‘wow’ moment when you saw something ? Not really, my upbringing was probably the biggest influence on that. It was a very creative upbringing.

McKeown grew up in a working class area of Middlesbrough, Teesside, UK, as the youngest in a family of four children…. We had a large garden where my father, a lifelong steelworker grew an abundance of fruit and veg. My mother was a primary school teacher and we were always building, making, cooking and exploring.

The family lived only a couple of miles away from the shipyards, coke ovens, blast furnaces and rolling mills of British Steel and the chemical plants of ICI… If we were feeling energetic, we would walk or cycle to Redcar beach or Eston Hills where iron ore was mined to fuel the industrial revolution.

At school, art was always my favourite subject and this inspired me to attend art college and then a Fine Art degree in sculpture at Coventry Polytechnic.

Following education, Andrew worked as a community artist delivering school and community based workshops and small art projects…These were low budget projects such as one-off workshop days and artist in residence projects. Gradually larger projects became available and I was able to create my own artwork with the involvement of local communities, rather than solely community generated art.

What inspires you ? The industrial processes of casting and mould making influence my work in both a practical and conceptual way. I often create multiple cast sculptures in iron, steel, bronze, aluminium and stone – these are very durable materials for external artworks.

McKeown uses recurring themes within his work of growth, change and renewal…. I like to work within the environment and this often means I have to build identity and add character to a space that has very little. Often I am working in empty fields or urban parks that only have a few shrubs and paths or working off landscape plans while looking at building sites and piles or earth.

Rather than creating one giant sculpture I often use the available budget to create a family of related sculptures that link to each other and draw your eye to the environment they are in. Other times I create entrance features that hope to draw people into a space. I prefer that people can engage with my sculptures becoming almost part of them for a brief moment.

On average how long do you work on a project for a client ? This is very hard to answer but the larger projects can be spread out over years to plan and develop. Then when it comes to manufacturing this can take as little as 2 months or if I am making patterns and moulds for casting this might take six to eight months.

Is there a satisfying moment during the art process ? I think the most satisfying time is when I have the right idea for a project. One that I know that I like and know the client and the community are going to like and buy into. This can often be the most draining and difficult process and it can take a lot of research and community work similar to the Breaking the Mould idea which came after maybe 8 months of research and community engagement.

What else are you working on ? I am currently finalizing designs for a Teeside Retail Park called ‘Rolled into One’. For this project I am engaging the local community to provide colloquial job or occupation names from the local iron and steel industry. Up to one hundred of these names will be applied to the outsides of the steel box section arms of the sculpture. There are many unique and interesting names such as Welder, Plater, Catcher, Striker, Roller, Breaker, Burner that will be used and many more. I am currently consulting the local community including my family and friends.

I’m also working on a few other projects, one called ‘Crossing Points’ for Groundwork North East River Tees Rediscovered project, another project is for Middlesbrough Council within its Creative Factory artistic interventions project – my pieces are called ‘Endless Convenience’.

Andrew lives and works in the North East of England and is available for public and private commissions throughout the U.K. and internationally.

For more information and images for previous artwork visit:

www.andrewmckeown.com

https://www.facebook.com/andrewmckeownsculptor/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2020.

‘THE VICAR LOCKED US IN THE BACK ROOM. THEY WERE BANGING ON THE DOOR WANTING TO BEAT US UP’ – with Neil Thompson from The Carpettes

 

 

When did you first get interested in music ? When I was a kid I loved listening to records and watching singers like Billy Fury and Joe Brown on TV. I had my first single when I was 2 – and I also saw my first gig when I was 2, which was Billy Fury at Sunderland Odeon in March 1962. By the time I was 11 I had about 150 singles in my collection.

I saw The Kinks at Sunderland Empire in 1969 and that was the start of me going to gigs in the North East – Led Zep at Newcastle City Hall, Queen at Sunderland Locarno, Sabbath, Genesis, Lizzy, Budgie, Nazareth, absolutely loved them all.

When was your first gig in a band ? My first gig playing in a band was as a drummer. We were called Brown Sugar and it was on the 22nd November 1974 at Newbottle Church Hall, County Durham. We played Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones songs to kids that wanted Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath – we went down terrible. When we finished the vicar locked us in the back room cos they were banging on the door wanting to beat us up.

I played drums in that band for another four gigs and in the meantime started playing guitar/vocals in another band. We were doing Status Quo/Thin Lizzy covers and I played nine gigs with that band. The last one was my first pub gig at the Sunderland Royalty in March ‘77.

By this time I was getting into the punk scene and one night I was in The White Lion in Houghton, County Durham and George was there – bassist from Brown Sugar. We hadn’t seen each other for a good while and first thing he said was ‘Have you got the Ramones album’. I said I did, so he said ‘Well do you wanna be in a punk band then’. The problem was that I was a drummer, but he’d seen one of the gigs where I played guitar and sang and thought I was good enough. We did our first gig as The Carpettes in June 1977.

What was your first experience in a recording studio ? We did our first recording at Impulse in Wallsend that was in the summer of ‘77.  The demo is available on The Early Years, a CD released in 1997 on Overground Records.

Did you support any name bands ?  While we were living in the North East we gigged with Penetration, Punishment of Luxury and Angelic Upstarts. We also supported The Vibrators at Redcar Coatham Bowl. Among all this we played one gig in London at Leytonstone Red Lion in March ‘78 supporting The Leyton Buzzards. This was the only time, thank goodness, that I was spat at during a gig.

 

 

(The Carpettes released six singles and two albums from 1977 to 1980 including a 4 track EP in 1977 & ‘Small Wonder’ 7” both on the Small Wonder label. Two albums, Frustration Paradise & Fight Amongst Yourselves on Beggars Banquet).

How did signing with those labels come about ? We were on the Small Wonder label while we were living in the North East. That came about when we answered an advert in the Sounds music weekly for new bands and they liked us.

Me and the bassist, George, moved down to London in October 1978 and found a new drummer. But it was like starting from scratch when we moved down there but we signed to Beggar’s Banquet in June 1979. We stayed there until 1981 then moved back up North.

Did you appear on TV or radio ? We were on tour with The Inmates at the time and had to cancel one of the gigs at London to travel up to Manchester to record The Old Grey Whistle Test. They’d already played a track from the album on a previous show. The other band that was on was The Blues Band.

 

 

Did you have any high points in the band ? I don’t know about high or low points – all I know is that we got better and better as we gigged. Our new drummer, Tim Wilder, was a really solid drummer, he was from Oxford but he’d been a student at Newcastle University and was the drummer in The Young Bucks while living up North.

I loved going to The Marquee to watch bands but I didn’t really enjoy playing there to be honest. We did six supports there and they were hard work – there was always a ‘Come on then, impress us’ in the air !

We played four nights in November ‘79 with The Lurkers during their residency there. Each gig would have punks sitting on the stage with their backs to us and every now and then one would look around and stare at you – and then turn back around. I much preferred London gigs like The Hope ‘n’ Anchor and The Nashville.

By the very last gig for The Carpettes in June 1981 we were a really tight live act with four years gigging experience – you can’t beat live experience for getting better on stage. It’s no good sitting in the bedroom playing guitar – not gonna get you anywhere.

One story to tell is that one of our first gigs was supporting Penetration at Newcastle University in November ‘77 – and we were terrible ! It was far too early to be playing gigs like that but we supported them again at Middlesborough Rock Garden in August ‘78 and went down a storm.

 

 

Have you any road stories ?  In 1980 we went to Italy three times and Holland once, and we also did a short UK tour supporting The Inmates. That UK tour was probably the best two weeks of my life. I was twenty years old, travelling around the country playing music and when we arrived at the venue all the equipment would already be set up by the roadies – heaven!

What are you doing now ? Well I’ve spent most of my life down London. I was in my own band called The Only Alternative – all my ideas and songs which was a bit selfish. But we had some laughs for a couple of years between the summer of ‘84 to the summer of ’86. We released an album in 1985 on the Midnight Music label.

Then with the 20th anniversary of punk happening in 1996 I got both bands back together, well sort of with different line-ups. Both bands gigged on and off until the end of 2003. During this time The Only Alternative recorded two more albums and two singles. I played drums on all of these recordings – as well as being the singer. The Carpettes released a single in 2002 and an album in 2003.

At the moment I have a three piece band called The Alternative Carpettes which play some of my songs from The Carpettes with some Only Alternative ones thrown in.

What does music mean to you ? Music means everything to me. All my life has revolved around music. I love all sorts of music. I love orchestral music like Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Love the ‘30s and ‘40s swing bands like Basie and Ellington. Rock ‘n’ roll, country, rhythm and blues of the ‘50s. I have a radio show playing ‘50s music every day.

I also love punk, metal, indie, 78’s, cassettes, records, CD’s.  I love it all. I don’t like TV or read books – my whole life is music!

Check out The Carpettes from this 1980 episode of the Old Grey Whistle Test.

https://youtu.be/LvUt7yeAepw

Interview by Gary Alikivi  May 2020.

 

LONDON CALLING: Nights at the Marquee Club

The heart of London’s music industry was the legendary live music club the Marquee, along with CBGB’S in New York, the club has been defined as one of the most important music venues in the world.

It would provide the catalyst to launch the career of many bands – The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin – the list is endless. A&R men used to regularly visit the club to watch out for the next big thing and with plenty of bands looking to make it, the best way was to be seen on the stage of the Marquee.

Tony Iommi explained in Iron Man his auto biog…‘I was in rehearsals with Jethro Tull for the recording of their Stand Up album and one night Ian Anderson took me to see Free play at the Marquee. He introduced me to everybody as his new guitar player, so I thought, this is wonderful. I felt like a pop star. From being a nobody in Birmingham to people at the Marquee taking an interest – it seemed great’.

Graeme Thomson wrote in his biog about Phil Lynott – ‘It was do or die. Thin Lizzy were £30,000 in debt. Money was borrowed for their showcase gig for Phonogram at the Marquee on 9th July 1974. It was so hot that night that all the guitars went out of tune, but they played well enough to confirm the deal, even if the advance for a two album contract only cleared what they owed’.

Mick Wall’s biog of Lemmy featured the time Motorhead nearly called it a day. Guitarist Fast Eddie Clark remembers ‘We found ourselves in April 1977 in the situation of breaking up’.

As a farewell gift to fans they would record a live album. They had a show coming up at the Marquee that surely would be the best place for them to bow out. But when they looked into the cost, they knew they had no chance. A farewell single was recorded instead.

‘The Marquee gig was one of the best we ever did’ according to Eddie. ‘Lemmy said the sweat was climbing up the walls trying to get out’.

Thoughts of it being their last were quickly forgotten about. Two weeks later they piled into a Transit van for the drive down to Escape Studios in Kent. They recorded the bones of 13 tracks, eight of which would become the album Motorhead.

Bands from the North East of England – White Heat, Angelic Upstarts, Fist, The Showbiz Kids, Punishment of Luxury, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang, all travelled south down the M1 to the capital. Was playing London the catalyst for a life in music, or just a road too far for some ?

John Gallagher from Chief Headbangers, Raven  ‘The running joke was – c-mon lets git in a van and gaan doon t’London ! We did quite a few one off support gigs. It was in the back of the truck, drive down to London, play the Marquee with Iron Maiden and drive back straight after the gig’.

Harry Hill, drummer with Fist remembers…’We played the Marquee for two nights supporting Iron Maiden. We were going down an absolute storm, the place was packed. I’m not sure what the band thought about it but their manager was kicking off – You’re just the support band. You’re not supposed to go down like that –  We won him over in the end and he came into the dressing room with a crate of beer. Yep we gave them a run for their money’.

Residencies were part of the scene and a few North East bands got on the list including Dire Straits. This advert from March ’78 with admission fee only 70p.

Select dates for North East bands listed as playing the Marquee for 1976:

Halfbreed 15 & 29th January & 3rd March.

Arbre 4th April.

Back Street Crawler 11 & 12th May with AC/DC as support.

Cirkus 15th May.

1977:

Penetration 29th June opening for Heron.

also 30th July & 1st August opening for The Vibrators.

1978:

Penetration 21st June.

Punishment of Luxury 3rd October.

1979:

Showbiz Kids 3rd February.

Punishment of Luxury 13th February.

Showbiz Kidz 21st April.

Punishment of Luxury 7th May.

Showbiz Kids 19th May & 14th June & 14th July.

Punishment of Luxury 23rd August & 31st October.

1980:

Raven 5th, 6th, or 7th November with Taurus or Diamond Head opening for Gary Moore.

1981:

White Heat 29th April.

1982:

Angelic Upstarts 18th February & 12th August.

The Marquee at Charing Cross Road finally closed it’s doors in 1996 after first establishing the club in Oxford Street, then it’s heyday in Wardour Street.

 Gary Alikivi  May 2020.

 

APPLE OF OUR EYES with radio presenter & author Nigel Pearce

Radio Presenter Nigel Pearce has released a book on the products of Apple, the company originally founded by The Beatles in 1966….. The Apple group delved into Records, Films, Publishing, Electronics, Retail, Studios and until now it has been hard to find a complete listing of what actually was done under this banner. Take a look and discover what Frank Sinatra recorded for Apple along with just about everybody from the scene at the time.

What inspired you to write the book ?  The inspiration was quite simple really apart from The Beatles recordings themselves, nobody ever mentions Apple Records, and what the company originally stood for as ‘a foundation for the arts’. Knowing a fair bit through my own research, I started to dig a little deeper and wow the info started coming.

Also knowing musician Pete Dodds was a huge spur, because his efforts have gone very largely unrewarded, so I thought that would be a real bonus too. So with those two reasons being central, I began my quest.

How long did it take to research and write ?  The whole project took me about a year, due to the checking, and rechecking to quantify everything properly, then finding the correct prose and photographs and finally interesting a publisher. It all takes time and mounts up to an astonishing degree, which then takes on a whole new ball game and becomes much more than a personal quest. But overall I feel satisfied as this will alert more people to what Apple did, and maybe that was the main reasons why the name was pirated, you never know.

Is this your first book ?  I have written two previous books on Aviation, which has nothing to do with the music scene or The Beatles, both now sadly out of print. The publisher for this book The Apples of our Eyes is United p.c.

Did you find any interesting facts when researching the book ?  There are many surprising and staggering facts uncovered, and that makes the whole scenario that much more incredible in the whole scheme of things. The vision that the fab four had was so far forward thinking for the time, that they are all the more incredible now in 2020. Perhaps it was their united vision that caused so many problems, no-one could keep a handle on things.

What are you working on now ?  Several very interesting projects including Pete Dodds new album, and unearthing some more unknown gems from several quarters including Splinter (1970’s North East band signed to Dark Horse, George Harrison’s label. Check out their 1974 hit song ‘Costafine Town’).

Also continuing with the radio show Groove Britain which is now in its seventh year, all hard work.

Where is the book available ?  The book is available on Amazon and from all good booksellers so seek it out and enjoy. Go on take a slice and see how much of those halcyon days of the ‘60s still reverberate in our lives. After all The Beatles gave so much to lighten up all our lives, and you know that can’t be bad.

Listen to Nigel, who is based in Norwich, broadcast for Groove Britain, now in it’s seventh continuous year and growing. Find Future radio at 107.8FM. The show is a 2 hour programme that goes out every Sunday at 3pm, also broadcasts for Swindon 105.5FM on a Tues/Wed/Thurs at 1pm with repeats in the early hours. Also broadcast for Radio Stockton FM and UK Radio via Carol Miller in New York City Q104.3FM and on Soundcloud.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM – in conversation with Gav Gray bassist with Tygers of Pan Tang

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After their last album in 2016 and touring throughout Europe, the Tygers are back and about to release their new record ‘Ritual’. The second with the line-up of Jacko Meille, Robb Weir, Micky Crystal, Craig Ellis and Gav Gray….. Yes it was a lot of hard work, three months of prep, writing and arranging. So when we got into the studio we were ready for it. We knew we were gonna make a great album – and we have.

The band used Trinity Heights Studio in Newcastle, former guitarist with the Tygers, Fred Purser is owner and producer…..Yeah lovely bloke, we got on really well, he loved my tea and morning hugs (laughs) ! He would say to me during a take, ‘Try and play less hard’, so I tried, and then he`d say, ‘Nah, just play the way you do’. He had a plug in to pull it back in (laughs). Some of the lines I’d written and rehearsed with the lads sounded fine until the guitars were layerd. Being in a two guitar band sometimes requires that ‘less is more’ and most times that’s true, the bass doesn’t need to be too busy, just a really solid rhythm is all that is needed on a lot of hard rock songs. My thing has always been for the rhythm and timing over busy, it’s all about the one. I was never a practising musician, just a frustrated drummer !

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How did it go in the studio ? On day one we just set up, got some drum sounds, got comfortable and worked towards day two to have some drum and bass takes with guide guitars. This is how we do it. We will play the songs that have an easier approach, leaving the harder ones for later. Craig is in the live room. Me and Mick would be in the control room with Fred. We had worked on the songs for months so when it came time to record the song’s it didn’t take long. We were well prepared. Me and Craig (drummer) did a couple of the songs in one take as a drum n bass jam, which are on the album.

Robb added his guitar and Jackie flew in from his home in Italy on the last week of recording to do the vocals. It all worked well, everyone’s playing on the record is fantastic and because we were tight, the songs just came together as we expected.

The whole session and working with Fred was, for me, one of my best yet. It`s a great place to make a record.

How did the songs come together for the new album ? We each work on ideas at home doing demos and then take them into reheasal’s and work out how it`s all going to fit together. ‘This is the bridge, That’s good for a chorus’, Big riff intro`sort of thing and dissect the structures for each song until we have a rough arrangement. Then all the bit’s that make a song special, you fine tune them. When they get into the studio we play them through and maybe somebody make’s a mistake but sometimes that’ll work within the song – a nuanced piece, a happy accident really. When that happens, it’s a great feeling. That’s a great part of making music – just by playing, those accidents can become your favourite part of the song.

Do you write some songs just to be recorded in the studio ? No, all songs are wrote to play live. Whether or not we play all of them live is another thing. I don’t know any band who plays just for the studio and to be honest you should be able to play all your songs live.

How did you join the Tygers ? This latest run has been since 2011. But back in the ‘90s I originally met Jess Cox at a gig I was playing at the Riverside, Newcastle. He approached me after the gig, told me about owning Neat Records and having a few bands on his roster. He was looking for a bass player for future touring and recording. This was a big deal for me cos I was just playing around local bars on Tyneside. We met up and he mentioned Blitzkreig who I had heard of and I said yeah sounds good so I done that for a short while, doing a handful of shows and a festival in America.

Then Jess wanted to get the Tygers back together, this was 1999. Robb Weir was already in and me and Chris Percy the drummer came as a rhythm section cos we had bounced together from band to band. I said to Jess he (Chris) was really solid and will kill it. And he did. Then a guy you interviewed not long ago, Glenn Howes was brought in on guitar. We rehearsed for a couple of months in the Off Quay buildings near The Cluny in Newcastle then went off to Germany to play the Wacken Festival in front of 10,000 people. The biggest gig of my life at the time.

But when we got back to the UK there was some bitterness within the band and it ended, it’s the way it goes sometimes. But Jess had always been good to me and got me a lot of gig’s. I think around that time I must have been in about 3 bands on his roster.

Then out of the blue I got a call from The Almighty. They were a big name so what ya gonna do eh ! I turned them down haha! I was fed up with the music scene and wanted out. It wasn’t til a few months later I came home from a night out and my girlfriend told me that the Almighty management had been on the phone again. I thought, hell, why not, it’s what I wanted to do so jumped on a bus down to Oxford after learning 5 songs, talked to the band, played a bit and got the job. Loved my time there but unfortunately only lasted about 18 months cos the band were dropped from the label.

A couple of years later Ricky ends up in Thin Lizzy, he’s a great bloke and I still keep in touch with him. In fact he just got the Tygers the gig supporting Saxon in the Dusseldorf Arena. He called me up and said ‘Can the Tygers do it ? I talked with the rest of the band and our manager and agreed it would be great for us to play in front of 7,000 people just before we release our new album.

(Since this interview Saxon have been forced to postpone all upcoming gigs in 2019 due to frontman Biff Byford undergoing heart surgery. Get well soon Biff).

In the Tygers live set the band play a few songs from their first album Wildcat…..Love playing those songs from the first album, it’s my favourite, there was just something about it. It’s got a great, dirty sound – it’s got attitude, and Robb wrote song’s from the heart. When it was released in ’79 they were just out of the punk explosion and ‘Insanity’ was one of my favourite songs. Around that time I went to see local bands Fist, Hellanbach and Angelic Upstarts in South Shields. The first single I bought was Hanging on the Telephone by Blondie, still one of my favourite ever songs. Then I saw Lemmy on Top of the Pops and thought ‘That’s what I wanna do’.

It wasn’t until I was 21 when I started playing bass in bands. Everyone wanted to be a guitar hero so I thought that if I buy a bass I might get a gig haha. I played along to my favourite records for a year and just wanted to join some band’s, have a laugh, have a beer and just have some fun playing. Being from South Shields I started looking around the Tyneside, Sunderland and Washington areas to get a few gigs. That’s where I joined a band called The Junkies around ‘89/90. That was my first band and first gig.

Are you looking forward to the new album release in November ? Yeah, the record company will set the exact date. The mix is now finished by Soren Anderson he worked on our last album. Harry Hess will be mastering it again, making it as fat and big a sound as you possibly can – basically sprinkling fairy dust on it (laughs). Finally it goes to print so yeah the record company will have a date soon. I’m just really looking forward to hearing the final tracks cos we worked so hard on that album. I know it’s a bit of a cliché but we really feel it is one of the Tygers best albums.

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

ROOT TWO AMPLIFICATION with owner and Geordie guitarist, Steve Dawson

‘The electric guitar is still the coolest instrument  and there will always be a market for amps, albeit boutique in my case as opposed to mass production, but who knows what might happen’.

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It’s a warm summer day and the town hall clock chimes as I enter a large terraced house (pre-Victorian) on Beach Road in South Shields. I’m here to meet Steve Dawson in his workshop and find out more about his business….I’ve been working on amps for more than 40 years. I started tinkering with them in the ‘70s, then privately repairing and modifying them throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. I ended up working for Marshall from 2005-14 as an electronic design engineer. I designed and brought out some highly regarded amps in my time there, such as the ‘Astoria range’, ‘Class 5’, the ‘Vintage Modern’, ‘JMD range’ as well as various reissues from their back catalogue like the Hendrix ‘Super100JH’ and 2012 anniversary ‘Bluesbreaker’ and more.

When did you start Root Two ? I started in August 2015. I believe it’s going to take a good 4 to 5 years to get properly established in repairing, servicing, modifying and upgrading amplifiers and working on the electronics in guitars. Many people still think I work for Marshall!

Are you happy with the way the business has developed so far? I’ve clocked up over 300 customers in four years so I’m doing alright. It’s a sustainable business despite this current economic climate…although I won’t be taking any holidays in Hawaii just yet (laughs).

Have you got any future plans for Root Two? When I’m up to altitude I’ll start producing new products I have already designed.

I’ve been talking to an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) who will build the design and take care of that side. I’m thinking of contacting a few other people who I hope will be interested in getting involved in the project, especially the promotion side. That’s my goal, as well as repairing and servicing etc. because it’s a tough world out there and being able to offer a few things will work out better.

I’ve got a good reputation all over the world from my days at Marshall with a lot of people familiar with the amps I designed, which is worth its weight in gold when I bring out my own product.

Scrolling through the Root Two Facebook page I come across messages left by satisfied customers….

I have an old Watkins Westminster amp which was in need of some TLC. Steve serviced and repaired this amp and I was in contact every step of the way. I am extremely happy with the results and the costs were very reasonable. I fully recommend Steve and will contact him again if I have any problems with my electrical equipment. (Tommy Scott)

My Bugera amp went in dead and came back alive as a spring chicken. Steve is a very knowledgeable and amenable chap with a professionalism, heritage and CV that some can only dream about. I whole-heartedly recommend Root Two for any service/fix/mod/upgrade. (Andrew McCann)

A very fast and efficient service at a reasonable price. Steve understands the importance of getting your gear repaired as soon as possible for your gigs. His enthusiasm comes across about his passion for music and for this reason you’re guaranteed to get your equipment a full MOT before it leaves the workshop. Can’t thank him enough for the excellent job he did on my gear and the professional service I received. (Chris Banderas)

We had a PA problem with our LD Maui 28 line array system. Took it to the Aladdin’s cave that is Root Two’s workshop. Steve worked his magic on what had been a manufacturing problem of several dry joints. He was meticulous, diligent, persistent and an all-round good guy. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without him. Thanks also to Newcastle’s GuitarGuitar shop for their recommendation. It’s not until you get problems that you appreciate dealing with excellent local businesses. (Tim Brown)

Contact Steve at Root Two Amplification on 07931 359 364

Or on the official website: root-two.co.uk

email info@root-two.co.uk

facebook.com/root2two

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

PUTTIN’ ON A SHOW – in conversation with North East entertainer Helen Russell

 

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First time I worked with a stripper in the club’s. It was a Sunday morning. I walked into the club ‘Are ye’ the strippa or wat ?’ said a bloke there. ‘I’m the what’ I replied (laughs). The stripper walks into the dressing room with just a bag. I walked in with all my gear, microphone, speakers and stage costume. She did a 5 minute act then taxi to her next gig. She did 4 clubs in a morning. Not bad work but I couldn’t do it. I’ll stick to singing (laughs).

A few week’s ago the blog featured stories from entertainer’s who performed in workingmen’s clubs. Ned Kelly, Jack Berry and a few more shared some great memories. Carrying on that theme I spent time with Helen Russell at her home in South Shields. Helen hasn’t been feeling too well lately so I’m very grateful to her for taking the time to share her story….As a kid I was an autograph hunter, all the stars like Laurence Olivier and John Mills. Great times. We weren’t a musical family but my dad could sing, he was in the Royal Navy. You see I was born in the heart of London and when I was 15 I went into Entertainment National Service Association or otherwise known as Every Night Something Awful (laughs).

(ENSA was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War 2).

They held the auditions in the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in London. They liked me and took me on. I toured all over the UK with ENSA. I was earning £7 per week and that was damn good money. Top act’s and names were getting £10 per week. It was a long time ago, I’m 95 now.

Where did you perform with ENSA ? We played in the munitions factories when the workers were having their lunch breaks. We entertained in the theatres and clubs. I sang ‘Hey Neighbour’ and ‘Sally’ that was a big number. I did imitations of Gracie Fields but never sang any Vera Lynn songs and I always finished my act with a tap routine. I gave up when I got married. It was the done thing in those days. We met when I was entertaining in Belfast. Eventually we moved to England and I got a job performing in the clubs.The first club I played in South Shields was on Ocean Road which is long gone now.

At this time we lived in South Frederick Street and had we had no telephone. I used to go down into the street to the telephone box and ring up the clubs to get gig’s. I’d ask for the concert secretary, book the show and arrange the fee. I did that for years before the agent’s came in.

We had no transport in those day’s. For a show in Stanley, County Durham I’d pack my case with stage clothes, music sheets for the pianist, get the bus up from South Shields to Worswick Street in Newcastle, then carry my case across town to Marlbrough Crescent bus station and go to a club in Stanley another 10 mile away. We had to be off stage and out by 10pm to get the last bus all the way back home.

A pianist joined us, he had a car. He charged us 1 and sixpence each for petrol. I also had to pay a babysitter 7 and six a time. The first working man’s club I ever played was Windy Nook and we earned £1 each, there were 7 of us. Johnny Gaffney who wrote for The Shields Gazette, he had a great voice. No stage technique whatsoever but what a beautiful voice.

I went solo after that when agents came in and started working through the Beverly Agency. They got me lots of work around the North East and over to Carlisle a few times, lovely crowds there. Money was coming through the clubs then, so concert chairman would only deal with agency’s. Which was great for me. No running around telephone boxes, made it much easier and as I was solo the money was much better.

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Helen second from right. in Balmbras, Newcastle.

Can you tell me about the photo above ? Yes that was in Balmbras old time music hall, Newcastle. I had been performing there. Bobby Thompson has played there, also Dick Urwin who was a good writer and great comedian. You had to put him on in the first half because by the second he had too many drinks and would insult the audience. In Newcastle I also performed on stage at the Mayfair.

Can you remember the story behind this record ? That was recorded in 1980 over the river Tyne in Impulse Studio, Wallsend. Corrinne Wilde had written a song about Bobby Thompson and she knew I could write, so I added a chorus. It was a lovely thing to do. But selling records is a lot harder than making them. I sold a few at gig’s. Bobby Thompson paid for the photographer which was nice.

Helen starts singing the chorus…..

Bobby T, Bobby T,

You’re the Geordie lad for me

With yer ganzie hangin’

Doon below yer knees,

You’re as Geordie as the Tyne,

And for the sake of Auld Lang Syne,

We’ll tell the world we love you,

Bobby T.

Did you record anymore of your work ? I recorded voice over’s for radio and appeared on TV a number of times. I remember a part on a show with Martin Clunes, he was only 18 or 19 playing the part of a punk. I was in a lot of productions including Emmerdale, that was in 1993, also children’s television and the latest Comedy Playhouse. I also played somebody’s wife in Spender written by Jimmy Nail. It was a nice part and I get paid repeats on some of them. I have a book full of work and gig’s I’ve done over the years plus the fee’s. There’s a Spender episode written down in it as a repeat in Sweden, I got £9.56 for it (laughs).

Were you working through an agent ? Yes Janet Plater, she represents a lot of actor’s in the North East. The original fee for Spender was very good I remember. The last job I did for Janet was a Tesco advert.

You have appeared at your local theatre The Customs House in South Shields…I’ve worked on a number plays at The Customs House where Ray Spencer is now Director and an MBE. I got to know Ray in the 80’s when he was looking for a partner to work alongside him putting on some Geordie entertainment. Somebody recommended me and we worked together for a long time. Our first gig was the Post House Hotel, Washington in 1988. I have my book here and for the Post House there is a note next to it ‘Ray has the receipts’ (laughs).

The writer Tom Kelly put me in a few shows and that got me and the same team work on ‘Dirty Dusting’ written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood. That was very popular, we did it in about 2002. The show still sell’s today in different countries.

Helen recalls another memory from working in the clubs…A lot of times I was the only woman because I was entertaining there and these were men’s clubs. I couldn’t get a drink at the bar. I had to give a man the money. He paid the man behind the bar, got the change and passed it to me with my drink !

Tell you what though, I never want to see another bingo card in my life (laughs).

Finally, what has working in entertainment meant to you ? I wouldn’t still be doing it in my 90’s if it didn’t mean anything to me. I was born to do it.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

DEATH OR GLORY – interview with Danny McCormack bassist The Main Grains/The Wildhearts

First posted September 2017.

ALIKIVI

I’m with Danny at his home in Newcastle and notice a black and white photo on the sitting room wall, it’s a picture of The Garricks Head pub in South Shields… ‘Yeah my Grandma Pat used to have it’. I remembered I had my first drink there when I was 16 year old. A pint of McKewan’s Scotch, after the first drink the froth covered the caterpillar growing on my top lip… ‘Yes it was a great pub sadly not there now. She used to have regular lock-in’s, the punters staying behind after hours for a few more drinks. A bloke with an accordian would be in, there was a piano player in the corner and we’d all be singing along with them. Smokey tunes, great times and wild night’s, yes, I can remember all that’.

21248455_865836183566147_6246856805401714556_oWhen living in London Danny McCormack was a member of The Wildhearts. During their…

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