Known for his paintings of industrial scenes, cotton mills, chimneys and ‘matchstalk men and dogs’, L.S. Lowry from 1960 until his death 16 years later, regularly left his home and travelled over the Pennines to sketch in Durham and Northumberland towns – continuing his great love affair with the North East coast.
He first landed in Berwick in 1932 after his father died of pneumonia aged 74, his doctor advised him to rest before taking on the responsibility of looking after his bedridden mother.
Lowry was devastated after her death in 1939 and with the worry and strain he considered a permanent move to Berwick ‘I’ve not cared much for anything since she died. I’ve nothing left and just don’t care’.
Did he spend days or weeks at a time in the North East ? I’m not sure but after retirement as a rent collector he based himself near Sunderland and a room in the Seaburn Hotel quickly became a home-from-home for one of the UK’s most popular artists. ‘I sometimes escape to Sunderland. I get away from art and artists.’
Leaving the hotel he would walk along Roker seafront making pencil sketches on hotel notepaper and the back of old letters. Lowry was generous with his work and gave a number of his drawings to people he met by chance.
He would catch a train, taxi or a lift with friends up to Blyth, Berwick, Bamburgh or Newbiggin. Constantly drawn to the coast he would stare out to sea, and was inspired to use the sketches as a basis for oil paintings’Don’t start thinking I was trying to put over some message, I just painted what I saw’.
Lowry was interested in St Peter’s Church in Monkwearmouth and seven mile away its twin monastery St Paul’s in Jarrow. Nearby in Bede Art Gallery he would meet Director, Vince Rea, and on a number of occasions enjoyed talking with amateur artists in the gallery.
As mentioned in a previous post Lowry spent many hours at South Shields where the Tyne meets the North sea watching tugs, ships and fishing boats coming in. On the north side of the river is the notorious Black Midden rocks, before piers were built it was a graveyard for ships.
High up on the headland is Tynemouth Castle and Priory providing a dramatic backdrop. Lowry loved the scenery, the atmosphere, and above all, the sea.
He exhibited work at Newcastle’s Stone Gallery and became a friend of owner Mick Marshall. In later years he encouraged young artists to stay close to their roots rather than assume a move to London was necessary‘No need to go to London to become a famous painter, you won’t find better lamp posts there’.
Sunderland Museum have an exhibition devoted to him and as a permanent reminder there is a Lowry Road and a new housing estate – Lowry Park, I think his mother would approve.
Gary Alikivi December 2021
L.S. Lowry by Michael Leber & Judith Sandling
L.S. Lowry in the North East published by Tyne & Wear Museums 2010.
‘I’m particularly fond of watching large ships coming in to the harbour, or being brought down river by tugs. I love the Tyne for that reason. It’s a wonderful river’.
From 1960 until his death in 1976 prolific artist L.S. Lowry frequently travelled from his home in Cheshire to the North East. He used the Seaburn Hotel as a second home and a base to explore the area, but when his usual room at the front wasn’t available he would occasionally book in at The Sea Hotel, South Shields.
The hotel is based on the seafront near the entrance to the river Tyne. He would sit for hours in the car park between the South Pier and the Groyne, sketching ships and tugs entering the river from the North Sea.
Lowry was fascinated by the relentless power of the sea and subject of one sketch was the Adelfotis cargo vessel who ran aground on the Herd Sands at South Shields in 1963. It’s exciting to think that Lowry was there sketching in the background.
Always Ready is a film I made in 2016 about the work of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, it features excellent archive footage of the Life Brigade’s brave rescue of the crew from the cargo ship. (Check the link below).
Lowry found a number of vantage points to watch the river Tyne – one was the Mill Dam where an episode was filmed of TV programme When the Boat Comes In, and today is where The Customs House theatre & arts centre stands.
From there he walked ten minutes up River drive to the bridge which overlooked the shipyards, a different picture today as the yards have been replaced by housing. On many occasions he travelled on the Tyne ferry between North and South Shields.
Lowry was drawn to buildings that were old, neglected or about to be pulled down, an oil from 1965 titled Old House in South Shields caught my eye as I recognised the building from a photo in South Shields Library archive. Sadly not there now, it was demolished and replaced by flats.
Old House in South Shields. Note the position of the windows and doorway.
The large house was set on The Lawe – a hill top over-looking the entrance to the Tyne. To get there Lowry would have walked from his favourite spot at the seafront up the steep bank.
With its strong connection to the sea, this area would have been attractive to Lowry, with the old Pilot steps and Watch House nearby and standing tall are two beacons – large brick pillars originally used as navigational aids for guiding ships into the river before the piers were built.
Derelict at the time Lowry was there, the house was originally a barracks for soldiers during the Napoleonic invasion scare, then used as a business man’s club and reading room by the gentlemen of the Lawe.
At the back of Lawe House was a large Roman Remains Park – today it’s a partly re-constructed Roman Fort. Being drawn to old neglected buildings Lowry may have wandered over and sat sketching among the ruins – or was just knackered and needed to rest after walking up the steep hill.
Gary Alikivi December 2021
L.S. Lowry by Michael Leber & Judith Sandling
L.S. Lowry in the North East published by Tyne & Wear Museums 2010.
Did you think you would get signed to a major label ? The first line-up of Secret Sam nearly got us signed with a big advance, but it fell through during Christmas ‘85, we were gutted when we found out. When I think back to those times I’m not proud of myself either. I was, and still am, pretty difficult to work with sometimes.
Russ Thompson (guitar/vocals) and I really laid the law down about arrangements and harmonies, I ended up falling out with some really nice people. It got ridiculous in the end, Russ sacked himself and a dozen other people came through the band before I finally wrapped it up in late ‘86.
A year later Mick McKnight (guitar) and Paul Bateson (keys) had a club act and ended up doing Stars In Your Eyes, a big show on TV at the time. They got ripped apart by journalist Nina Myskow, that was fun to watch, but I did feel for them.
I mentioned being in the Jess Cox band, we did the first series of TX45 (music TV show filmed in Newcastle at the time of The Tube) and a couple of shows in London with Les Cheatham on guitar and a couple of great guys from down south, this was around ‘84-86.
Working with Jess (vocals) was a good learning experience, he’d had some success with The Tygers of Pan Tang so he sort of knew what he was talking about, even though he was clearly tainted by the music industry at that point.
In rehearsals for the TV show, he helped me refine my playing by offering suggestions like ‘can you put a blanket over those f**king drums’ and ‘don’t do drum fills’. Of course I will be forever grateful for that advice!
There was an album I did around ’85 with Jess and Rob Weir (guitar) called imaginatively – Tyger Tyger. Me and Rob programmed all drums on a Roland TR-707 then went into Impulse studio to record real hi-hats and cymbals, that was the second most awful studio experience I’ve ever had. I don’t think it ever saw the light of day, it wasn’t that good.
What did the new decade bring for you ? At the end of the ‘80s, heavy metal band Battleaxe got in touch and I started playing for them. Don’t they say any publicity is good publicity ? The singer would have crazy ideas like ‘we’re going to make a video on an oil rig and the BBC are coming down to film it’. At first I thought this is exciting, but soon realised he lived in a fantasy world.
What he forgot to mention was with all our gear we would have to sneak illegally onto one of the oil rigs being built in Sunderland docks, and start playing until news media and police turned up to arrest us.
Incidentally, from 2010-14 I returned to Battleaxe but I’ll not go there, it’s a four year horror story I’d rather forget, it includes the worst band and recording experience I’ve ever had.
By the mid ‘90s I was enjoying playing around the pubs in a little three piece band and one day got a call from the late Eric Cook who managed Venom and others. He asked if I could do a tour because the drummer they were hoping to use had dropped out. I immediately said yes, it’s a powerful word yes – the tour was the next week and the band was Skyclad.
I’d never heard of them but did sort of know Steve (Ramsey, lead guitarist) and Bean (Graeme English, bass) from the band Satan. With only four or five days to learn the set, we were off to Europe to play with Blind Guardian,Yngwie Malmsteen and Saxon.
It was great, but I felt like a fish out of water. I’d never played in a folk metal band before and I’d never done that kind of tour. Big venues, lorries full of gear, half a dozen tour coaches, catering the lot, it was like stepping into the unknown for me – totally routine for the other guys though.
One of the highlights for me was jamming with Yngwie Malmsteen’s band in the sound check in Hannover, a rare opportunity, they were brilliant players, and had to be because Yngwie would dock their pay if they made a mistake on stage.
I stayed with Skyclad for a couple of years, doing a few tours with bands like Riot, Whiplash, Subway to Sally, and recording a couple of albums at top studios like Moles in Bath and Jacobs in Surrey, but I was sick to death of being away on tour. It all came to a head for me at the end of ’96 in a snow storm and -20 degree temperatures.
Imagine spending Christmas Day in a freezing hotel in a town where nothing was open, and being away from your loved ones without any means of contacting them but a payphone in the street – totally depressing. Why anyone thought that would be a good idea was beyond me.
Things got so bad that in true rock star style Andy smashed up his hotel room causing a couple of thousand pounds worth of damage – by the way Andy was the lighting guy, it was the band who were the sensible one’s.
At this point I was in my mid-thirties and realised this is a game for the young, but I appreciated the experience and the band always treated me well.
What have you been doing the past couple of years ? From 2016-18 I was drumming for American band Bob Dee with Petro, he was a great guy, we did a couple of UK tours, one supporting Chris Holmes from ‘80s metal band Wasp.
So that’s about it, trying to make it in music brought good times and not so good times for me, it’s great to talk about it if someone’s interested in listening, but these days I find myself less inclined to.
What do you think about your time in music ? I think my ‘80s was a great time, the band scene was vibrant and anything seemed possible. I often think of people like Karen McInulty from She, Dave Donaldson from the Jess Cox Band, Eric Cook, and others who are sadly no longer with us, and loads of other people who were part of that close knit scene at the time, really fond memories.
For me it’s like telling a story about climbing a mountain, it’s easy to romanticise about it in hindsight and say it was all fantastic, when in reality it was hard work with only the odd moment when the clouds broke.
For me being in a band is all about writing your own songs. When I started playing seriously I just couldn’t see a route to any kind of satisfaction or success playing other people’s material.
By mid ‘80s loads of musician mates were giving up on original stuff and going into the social club scene, I just didn’t see the joy in that. Being in a band actually cost me money and always has, recording studios were never cheap. I was skint most of the time.
What was your experience of recording in a studio ? The bands I was in were mostly original, so saving up and borrowing money to go into the studio became the norm. Anyone reading this will remember that recording demos could sometimes be an anti-climax before digital stuff came along.
For example you’d save up your money to go into say Impulse in Wallsend, have a great recording session, get high as a kite sitting next to producer Keith Nichol doing the mix, only to be met with utter disappointment when you got home and played back your cassette copy.
It just never sounded as good as it did through those big studio monitors.
My first time in the studio was around ’78, a great little place in the basement of a house overlooking Saltwell Park in Gateshead. It was a great learning experience, the owner and sound engineer was Ken Black.
He once said to me after a recording session, ‘you’ve got the makings of a really good drummer, but your bass drum foot needs some work’. It was both a confidence boost and criticism rolled into one, good advice for a 16 year old but started my love hate relationship with studios over the years.
What bands did you play in ?Zenith around 1981, a Rush rip off really, we recorded songs like ‘The Trees’ which Alan Robson would play on his Metro radio rock show.
It was my second time in the studio, Dave Shaw was on guitar, a great player who has played with a local band called The Force for years, a nice guy if I remember. But Zenith didn’t gig much.
Then in 1982 I was introduced to two brothers, Brian and Stuart Emerson, they were forming a band and needed a drummer. So we got together in Lemington Church Hall, Newcastle.
The melody and lyric ideas they were coming up with were far superior to anything I’d heard, so it felt quite exciting to be part of. Anyone around the Newcastle rock scene in the ‘80s eventually heard of Emerson.
With just the three of us at first we did a three track demo at Ronnie’s Studio with their in-house engineer, who produced a great result for us. It was a great little four track place in the basement of a drum shop on Newcastle’s New Bridge Street. The tracks sounded big, but we needed a keyboard player.
Dru Irving came into the band and within a few weeks we went into Impulse in Wallsend to record another demo, Keith Nichol was at the helm this time, again the tracks sounded good.
I remember writing to Dave Wood the owner of Neat Records to see if we could get some sort of deal but they weren’t interested in melody bands at that time, it was all metal stuff like Venom on the label.
Singer Sam Blewitt, who’s had a great career in music over the last 40 years, came in to the band and took over main vocal from Stu. He had that Steve Perry (Journey) sounding voice, so perfect for that era.
Sam had a mate called Charlie McKenzie, a great drummer who was far better than me. I could see the writing on the wall – I left before I was sacked.
They went on to record a single with NEAT Records called Something Special, or ‘nothing special’ as Brian often recalls. It got played a lot at Mayfair and Tiffany’s rock nights, every time I heard it I would wince.
What were your highlights with Emerson ? There was one show we did in Scotland in a massive aircraft hanger, the stage at one end and bar at the other half a mile away – what could go wrong?
The organiser said ‘it’s a bit echoey but there will be loads of people and a 4K PA to play through, so the sound will be great’. But none of those things were true.
When we got there it was actually two WEM speaker columns with 4K stencilled on the side in nicotine stained magnolia.
There wasn’t much of an audience but they were appreciative, even though it took a while for the sound of their clapping to reach us at the end of each song. When the gig finished, we were half way to the bar when they started applauding the last song.
Next was Vogue and Secret Sam. Me and a nice Blyth lad called Russ Thompson (guitar) were writing songs together, I don’t know how we met, music just brings people together.
Brian Emerson had left Emerson and joined London band Bronze around 1983. Then around 84/85 he called from the capital saying he’s quit and wondered what we were doing.
Somehow we put a great band together in no time at all, Brian on bass, Paul Swaddle and Russ on guitars, Mick White on vocals, Paul Bateson on keys and myself on drums, it was great.
We were in Impulse in no time recording a couple of new tracks thanks to Russ’s dad paying for it.
Guitarist Tim Jebb took over from Paul Swaddle and we soon went into Fairview Studio in Hull to record some great sounding tracks. Fairview is a top studio where bands like Def Leppard, Spiders From Mars, Robert Palmer, The Beautiful South have all recorded, it felt big time, and again thanks to Russ’s dad.
Did you have any management ? One night I was out in Whitley Bay and bumped into Colin Rowell, who at the time was Stage Manager at Tyne Tees TV for The Tube. I knew him from a few months back when I did a Studio 5 spin off show called TX45 playing for Jess Cox formerly vocalist with Tygers of Pan Tang.
The Tube was amazing for live music, and massive for the North-East at the time, but mention it to anyone under 50, and they won’t know what you’re talking about.
Anyway Colin was with Rob Weir who had left the Tygers of Pan Tang, the two of them were forming a management company called Emerald House Productions and looking for a band to sign.
We were playing Mingles in a couple of weeks, so I said why don’t you come down and see us?
Mingles was the place to play on the coast, some great bands built their following there, but they could be a tough audience sometimes, as we later found out.
A week to the gig, and there’s always something that goes wrong isn’t there. With no notice, Mick White left the band, went back to London and joined Samson, so we were stuck without a front man.
Luckily the singer from Hellanbach, Jimmy Brash fancied it, so he came in for the Mingles gig. Rob and Colin said they loved the band but not the singer, so that was a problem.
Jim was a great front man though, I remember there was heckling coming from the back of the room and he said ‘there’s people shouting f**k off at the back of the room, I’m sorry we don’t do requests’. I nearly fell off my drum stool laughing.
In order to take advantage of this lucrative management offer – he says with tongue in cheek – me, Russ and Paul on keys pulled a new band together, this time with Russ on main vocal, Mick McKnight on guitar – who I’d played with in the Jess Cox Band, and Mick Bettridge on bass.
We quickly signed a 25 year management deal with Emerald House Productions and we took the name Secret Sam – imagine if we’d made any money? Things happen quickly when you’re young and starry eyed.
The band got the full image treatment from design teams at Tyne Tees TV and we did a bunch of shows and TV work including TX45 and Get Fresh.
Russ and I helped out with things like screen tests at Studio 5, and other productions like Razzmatazz. It was great fun hanging around The Tube TV studio meeting all the big artists of the day that had come to appear every Friday night.
Get Fresh, the show produced by Janet Street Porter, had two small stages for the band to set up on, and attached them to fork lift trucks with cable ties or string or something. The thing would never pass a health and safety test today.
We thought we’d be playing on a big stage to a national audience, but no, they wanted to drive us around the car park on these makeshift stages miming to our latest song ‘She Keeps Running’ – what a laugh!
It was both embarrassing and brilliant, we felt like stars for the day signing autographs for the kids.
Read part two of how Paul joined Battleaxe, Skyclad, Tyger Tyger, and what he is doing now.
The incredible story of the rise of women’s football in WW1 is the emotive topic of a new stage play by internationally produced playwright Ed Waugh (Hadaway Harry, Carrying David, The Great Joe Wilson).
On December 5, 1921 the Football Association (FA) banned female teams from playing on FA grounds, using FA officials or any FA-run facilities – effectively banning women’s football.
To bring this scandalous decision to light Waugh uses the story of Bella Reay – the free-scoring Blyth Spartans centre forward of the Munitions Ladies in Northumberland.
Who was Bella Reay?
Bella was born in 1900. She bagged 133 goals in 30 matches for The Spartans and earned the affectionate Geordie title of ‘Wor’ – meaning ‘Our’ in English – even before the great Newcastle centre forward ‘Wor’ Jackie Milburn. To evoke a more recent Toon superstar, Wor Bella is today warmly regarded as the Alan Shearer of her day.
Who were the munitionettes?
When male military conscription was introduced in 1916 hundreds of thousands of women flooded into the munitions factories to save the WW1 war effort. The munitionettes, as they were called, worked dangerous, physical 60 hour weeks in shipyards, armaments factories, docks, steel mills and yet still found the energy to play football to raise money for injured soldiers, widows and orphans.
Where did they play the football matches?
Initially on minor football grounds and miners’ welfares but as women’s football became more popular – with thousands of fans paying six old pence entry (£1.50 today) the teams graced professional stadia.
But women’s football took an almost fatal blow when the war ended in November 1918 and war-time industries closed down, causing the munitionettes to be thrown out of work to accommodate returning war veterans.
Was that the end for woman’s football?
No. It had a resurgence in 1921 when teams again formed and money was raised to help families of locked-out miners. After being nationalized for the war, the government gave back mines to coal owners, and bosses immediately demanded a huge wage cut to ‘restore profitability’. This led to terrible deprivation where families were thrown out of company houses and faced starvation.
The thought of women’s football becoming more popular than men’s football plus the political aspects of football teams during the 1921 miners’ strike led to the FA’s political and vindictive ruling.
How popular was the woman’s game?
On Boxing Day 1920 a match at Goodison Park, home of Everton FC, had more than 53,000 crammed into the stadium and thousands more locked out. Those days a world record for football attendance.
How was woman’s football received in the North East?
While hundreds of teams were formed through the UK, the North East was unique in that the sides competed for a trophy donated by a Sunderland businessman – the Alfred Wood Cup.
The 1918 ‘Munitionettes’ final at St James’ Park, Newcastle, between Blyth Spartans Ladies and Bolckow, Vaughan from Middlesbrough attracted 18,000 people. After a 0-0 draw the replay was hosted at Ayresome Park – back then home of Middlesbrough FC. Blyth Spartans won 5-0 in front of a crowd of 22,000 and Bella Reay scored a hat-trick.
How is woman’s football received today?
It’s the fastest growing sport in the world but the players of today stand on the shoulders of those selfless munitionettes from more than 100 years ago.
The sad upshot is not a single statue or war memorial exists today to the millions of heroic munitionettes who saved the WW1 war effort. They have been largely forgotten…until now!
Northumberland and Durham FAs are enthusiastically supporting the play which will initially tour the North East in March/April 2022.
The single with Neat was a one record only deal, it sold around 6,000 copies and the tracks appeared on compilation albums and a few major labels initially showed interest after we touted the single around.
We played a couple of showcase gigs at London’s Marquee, at one of them IRS label boss Miles Copeland, musician Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Black Sabbath), Michael Schenker and a few other label guys were there. We knew we had to blast it and we did, we had a storming gig but never got any firm interest.
We were advised to stay away from publishing offers we got offered as that was signing away your rights to your song royalties. There was a label interested but when we broke it down into how much it was to record an album and take it out on tour, we would’ve been massively in debt. What we’d get initially wasn’t enough to cover an album and promotion.
Did you appear in any of the music weeklies ?
There was a few live reviews in Kerrang, Karen done a photo shoot for them called Lady Killers. I’ll never forget those couple of days.
We went down to London and supported UK rock band FM on their last night of the tour at the Astoria. That was a blast sharing the stage with them as they were my favourite band then.
On stage I remember kids at the front grabbing onto your legs it was unbelievable. After the gig we came off to a massive dressing room with tables full of food and beer and the FM drummer said our show was awesome.
He invited us to a big end of tour party at a flashy cocktail bar where we ended up partying all night but we had to get up early to go to the photo shoot for Kerrang – we were hungover and wrecked. Then had to race over to the Marquee to soundcheck as we were headlining that night.
Was this the time when you thought we have made it this far someone will sign us now ?
We were working hard – we went into Neat and pushed out a double A side single with local songwriter Phil Caffery on epic backing vocals. Then more support slots at Newcastle University with bands like Robin George and Girlschool, we also went down to London to open for Girlschool and ended up in Kim McAuliffe’s flat on her birthday.
More nights at the Marquee followed where we got free entry into the San Moritz bar and one night hung out with Thunder and Rock Goddess. Lemmy was really friendly remembering us ‘There’s the Geordie lot come an’ ‘av a drink’.
Yes everything had been going well but we still didn’t get any firm interest and after a period of the band making no progress we decided to call it a day in 1989.
Did the band want to reform ?
We did kick the idea about of doing something as a band, we were rehearsing at Red Nose Studio in North Shields – we couldn’t hear much as ‘Venom’ were rehearsing next door ! We auditioned a few singers but it was plain it was never going to work. Karen was unique and anybody else at the front of the band just wasn’t working.
When Karen was in the band did she get any solo offers ?
If she did I didn’t know. Karen was the focal point of the band her voice was amazing. We weren’t perfect there was disagreements that sometimes were on the edge of turning physical, show me a band that doesn’t, but they were all storms in a tea cup, generally we all got on.
There was a rumour that it was a yes or no decision between us and T’Pau and their song China in your Hand swung the pendulum in their favour – how true that whole record deal was I don’t know, but every time I hear that classic pop song I do wonder what if.
What did you do then ?
After the band I gave up music for a few years then got back playing again with some friends in a couple of rock cover bands. They were mates having a good laugh, getting paid for strings and beer money. Ended up playing all over the North East and The Newcastle Cluny a few times.
I remember the first gig with the Media Junkies was in the Bebside in Blyth and the guys were setting the P.A. and the soundman was Stosh – I couldn’t believe it. He used to do sound on all the big She gigs back in the ‘80s – the Marquees, Mayfairs, and he was our sound engineer on the E.C.T Channel 4 show. Now here he was doing my sound again!
When I started living as an adult (laughs)….I trained in I.T. Computer Programming and worked for various companies in the UK and Europe. I went where the money was for 30 years.
But that was really stressful so ended up working for Northumberland Cheese Company as a cheesemaker at the ‘Make Me Rich’ Farm on Blagdon Estate in Northumberland – seriously – I won a silver medal for my smoked cow’s cheese at the International Cheese Awards in 2019 (laughs).
I loved that job but when the Covid virus hit I went on furlough in 2020 and enjoyed it so much I retired, also by the first Covid lockdown in 2020 I had finished playing live.
What are the other members of She doing now ?
Paul still plays drums, not quite sure who for, I think it was mostly show bands doing holiday parks and the like but I know he played in Qween (Queen tribute) for a bit.
Billy gave up music after the band, Ken Riley found God and formed a successful Christian rock band YFriday who recorded and toured for a while. I believe he is a full time minister now, not sure where.
Karen was very religious, a Roman Catholic, after the band she made the decision to go into a convent and become a nun. I couldn’t tell you more about that because we didn’t have any contact with her then, only that she stayed a few years and then turned to social work.
The last time Karen and I talked was in 2012, I was working in Germany, she was living in the North East and we were talking about meeting up. Sadly in October that year I got a call to say that she’d passed away after suffering several health problems, it was a very sad time.
I’ve always said without a doubt we wouldn’t have got as far as we did without Karen, those days in She were the best of my life. Everything you ever dreamt of when you’re 17 is unfolding into reality. It was amazing playing the Newcastle Mayfair, recording studios, TV shows and gigs at the original Marquee.
I remember looking on the dressing room wall where every band who played there wrote their name, Queen were my idols when I was a kid and I spent ages looking for them and eventually there they were – of course we wrote our name up on the wall.
Looking back the whole thing was an incredible ride, it was living the dream……the memories will stay with me forever.
Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2021.
7″ Neat Records (1985) NEAT 50 12″ Neat Records (1985) NEAT 50
1. Never Surrender 2. Breaking Away 3. On My Way
*Track 3 on the 12″ only *Same catalogue number for both releases
Captured 7″ Elle Records (1986) SHE 001
1. Captured 2. New Start
Heavy Metal Collection 2 ‘Never Surrender’ The Flame Burns On – The Best Of Neat Records ‘Never Surrender’ The Neat Singles Collection Volume Three ‘Never Surrender’, ‘Breakin’ Away’ and ‘On My Way’ Lightnin’ To The Nations NWOBHM 25th Anniversary Collection ‘Never Surrender’
‘She’ were a rock band based in North Tyneside who recorded two singles in the 1980’s. Fronted By Karen McInulty, bassist Billy Germaney, drummer Paul Defty, guitarist Ken Riley and Lee Robertson guitar & keyboards who I met up with earlier this month.
I was surrounded by music, there was always instruments at my Nana’s house and my uncles played guitar, when I was at Tynemouth college I played guitar and wanted to be in a band.
In 1981 I got in touch with a lad called Ken Riley, we started jamming together in his house then formed a band. We were playing cover songs and bounced a few original ideas around. Ken had a superb ear for melody, chorus and memorable hooks.
Then it was a constant revolving door of trying out drummers, bassists, singers, it wasn’t working so we put an ad in the Newcastle Chronicle. Bernadette Mooney, who you have already interviewed, answered the ad and fitted in, we eventually started rehearsing with a drummer.
We were rehearsing in Preston Grange Community Centre in North Shields when Billy Germaney walked by, heard us and asked to be in the band. I went to see him play live in his band and he was streets ahead in quality, he also looked the part so we rang him up and he joined the band.
For a name we knocked a few ideas around but I think it was Billy who came up with ‘She’.
When did you start playing live ?
We started gigging with our first at Preston High School, North Shields in 1982. Our set was a mixture of rock covers and raw originals, we got on like a house on fire with Bernadette but with the style of our new songs the vocal wasn’t working out so we parted ways after a few gigs. She went on to front War Machine and done well releasing an album on Neat records.
So it was back to the drawing board for us. A friend recommended listening to someone she knew, it was good of her to do that but we were after more serious people not just friends of friends, as we were devoting more and more time to the band.
Eventually we did invite her along to the Church hall where we had the gear set up. I’ll never forget this as long as I live.
In walks a really shy person and sits down on the seat in front of us while we were warming up. We started playing the Pat Benatar song Heartbreaker. We could hear her singing along really ripping into it – this was sitting down without a mic!
I looked at Ken, he looked over to me, it was a moment we knew something special was happening. We turned up our backline and nodded for her to pick up the mic. The power of her vocal was incredible.
The range, the timbre, the softness of her voice – that was the job on the spot right there…..and that was Karen McInulty.
We knew we were a bit rough so got stuck in to rehearsals to polish up and tighten. Then we recorded a few songs to tape and took it to Mingles rock bar in Whitley Bay – famous for Tygers of Pan Tang playing their early gigs there – the pub management said yes and the gig went well. We played a lot of pub gigs after that all north of the Tyne up to Blyth.
One night at Mingles we were approached by the Tygers of Pan Tang management, Tom Noble and Graeme Thompson, they asked if we were interested in signing up so I took the contract and looked it over, handy as I was a Law student then. We had our heads screwed on and were determined not to fall in to any traps.
It was understood that this was a management contract to get to a certain point and then it would be revisited. First thing they suggested was getting in Paul Defty on drums, as I’ve said before sometimes friends don’t work out as we were taking it more seriously.
Paul was well known as a great drummer throughout the music scene in the North East and adding him to the line-up was the final piece in the jigsaw, he and Billy just clicked.
We all thought we were tight as a sharks arse but when Paul came in the band were solid as a rock and he locked everything together. The impact was immediate.
The management got us working every day, Monday to Thursday was rehearsal and gigging Friday, Saturday and Sunday where we travelled further – even to the Iron Butterfly in Peterlee with the Pauline Gillan band opening for us!
During the early gigs did the band have any laughs along the way ?
I remember one gig we had just played the Friday rock night at Sunderland Mecca when Karen said ‘you’re going to have to stop the van’. After drinking a few sherbets we thought she might be ill so we pulled over and all got out.
Can you remember Rik Mayall and the Comic Strip who done the spoof TV documentary about a metal band on the road called Bad News ? Karen said ‘I’m not getting back into the van until you all say we’re Heavy Metal’! (laughs)
Did management have a positive effect on the band ?
The management contacts really started to come into play with our Newcastle Mayfair debut supporting local band Emerson. I spent a lot of time watching bands at the Newcastle Mayfair so to be on stage there was incredible.
That was around 1984 and we played the Mayfair a few times supporting Terraplane, Wishbone Ash and Vow Wow then eventually headlining with local metal band Tysondog opening. Other North East gigs were Redcar Coatham Bowl and Newcastle Riverside.
We were virtually guaranteed an appreciative audience up here but we put on a coach for our first gig in London at the Tunnel club which was beside a glue factory – it stunk when you got off the bus all you could smell was dissolving horse bones.
But it was a great experience playing in front of strangers and we went down well.
What was your experience of the studio ?
We went into Neat recording studio in Wallsend to record the 7” single Never Surrender and Breaking Away produced by Keith Nichol. The 12” included On My Way which to be honest I preferred.
Later it was remixed by Jon Verity (Argent) and Fred Purser (Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang) in Jon’s Yorkshire studio, the track got into the top ten of the National rock charts.
Did the band do any radio, appear on TV or film music videos ?
For promotion DJ Little Jeff was always good to us, he supported the band by playing our single at his rock nights in Newcastle Mayfair. In 1985 Karen and I were interviewed on The Tube talking about the new single and some upcoming gigs.
We were also asked to play TX45 which was produced by the same team as The Tube. The show had North East unsigned bands playing every week and we done two tracks Breaking Away and Still Need You. ‘One Hand, One Heart’ was the other band that night, and the comedian Chubby Brown.
I’m not that tall and our guitarist Ken is a little shorter than me but when Chubby came into our dressing room he looked Ken up and down and said ‘F***ing hell when you’re on we’ll have to put up a sign saying do not adjust your TV set the guitarist really is only 5 foot tall’. He was brutal with his jokes, they had to stop filming a few times.
The Neat single also got us on the Channel Four rock show E.C.T, we played our current single Never Surrender and our next single New Start. That was a superb experience because it was the last show of the series and they had a big after show party.
We were rubbing shoulders and having drinks with all the bands and rock stars we had watched playing live at the Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall.
How did the TV appearances come about ?
The management would ring and say get the band together and we’ll meet at The Cannon Inn, North Shields. We walked in and Chris Cowey was there, Chris was the main man for TV he worked on Check it Out, The Tube and went on to do many other music programmes including Top of the Pops.
He had already heard our single, we had a great chat in the pub and then asked are you interested in being on the telly ? So it all went from there, it was a no brainer really.
On E.C.T we were on with Warlock and Magnum. We had the dressing room next to Magnum who were a lot older than us, seasoned pro’s really, we were all 20 year old Geordies let loose in London living the rock star dream appearing on TV!
We were shouting, laughing, joking, just very loud when Wally the Magnum bass player knocked on the door and in his very dour Brummie accent asked us ‘Can you please keep the noise down people are trying to sleep in here’ (laughs).
Read part two featuring Kerrang, Girlschool, London Marquee and find out what Lee is up to now.
When you’re young you have energy, you’re fearless and full of passion and drive. I didn’t realise how different I was being a female heavy metal singer – there wasn’t many about in the UK. I loved that time.
When I think back to the ‘80s playing live we’d have all our gear in a tiny venue plus we had pyro all around the stage, you wouldn’t get away with it now. We came on stage to a big explosion then the crowd were shocked to see a female at the front for a heavy band called War Machine.
It was my 21st birthday and I remember it well. The band were travelling to a gig in Yorkshire I always sat in the front and the rest of the band and roadies piled in the back with all the gear. But the van broke down and we spent the whole night at the side of the road drinking cans of lager. We eventually got back to the bassist’s house and all he had in to eat was tins of beans (laughs).
Things were really happening around then, Neat records had released our demo tape and the track Storm Warning got a lot of interest. Someone got in touch with Kerrang and they asked me to come down to the London studio for a photo shoot, the photographer was Ray Palmer. We were also busy recording the album Unknown Soldier so it was great timing.
HEAVY METAL TREATMENT
Neat had just got a new mixing desk and you could add samples so a lot of our songs had a foghorn, sound of chains on, a few other pieces – yes we were their first band to do that.
All my songs tend to be laid back and moody and I write from life experiences. Storm Warning was wrote on an acoustic first like most songs. I wrote the lyrics and melodies on the War Machine album then Steve and Les put it all together – they were given the heavy metal treatment with guitars and drums.
But we felt rushed in the studio, Venom were the main band at Neat so they got the most time, we would go in around 10pm till 2am. In all it took a couple of weeks.
NEVER SAW A PENNY
Being young and naïve about contracts we didn’t realise that we signed everything over to Neat so when the album sold, and it done well over in Europe, we never saw a penny – it still sells now.
We also featured on a Neat records compilation album and never received anything from that. People say I should be loaded ‘Never seen a penny’ is my answer.
HOT ‘N’ HEAVY
Our bassist Les Fry handled all the promotion and used to send tapes all over that’s how it got popular on European radio. I once remember doing an interview on French radio. I used to co-host the Hot ‘n’ Heavy Express show with Alan Robson on Metro radio here in Newcastle, done that five or six times plus he interviewed the band.
We had a following in America but now it tends to be the European market where there’s still a big culture of ‘80s heavy metal bands – I still receive messages and requests for autographs. War Machine have still got a big fan base in Germany, Poland and Russia and the photo session from Kerrang is still about (laughs).
People search for the War Machine heavy metal songs from 1983 but also hear my new stuff which is a different style. When I’m song writing a lot of times the lyric comes first then I pick up the guitar and a melody comes, sometimes it’s strange as the song is just right there when I pick it up.
Being creative is in our blood, I’ve got an Irish Catholic background and a lot of Mooney’s came over from Ireland to Wallsend in the North East, my uncle was a guitarist and my Mam and her sisters were singers and used to go out on tour.
When I was 14 I used to write lyrics and poems all the time then bought a guitar to put melodies to them. I was self-taught and started joining bands at 15 to sing and play rhythm guitar. It always felt natural to do, and a compulsion really.
HUM THAT TUNE
I record on an old eight track Tascam but sometimes if I’m in the supermarket or somewhere I use my phone. It can be embarrassing when you’re on the metro humming in a tune to a voice recorder (laughs).
I remember for the song Still Waters I woke up around 2am and had this tune in my head I don’t know where it came from. I recorded it and finished by 4 in the morning. I record during the night as I’m more of a night person for my music, I’m more creative then and my ideas come together.
I wrote Rush for a DJ called Tony Devino, that done well and last year I wrote Soul of Me. I have another three songs which I hope to get in a studio to record. I’ve always been song writing wherever I am, in the ‘90s I was working in London as a theatre designer doing costume and props for stage and when I moved back up North I was doing a lot of studio backing vocals and guitar for different musicians.
In the 2000’s I played a few gigs and wrote some songs including Still Waters. Some are available on Reverbnation and I’ll be uploading more onto Spotify soon and will send you the link.
A LIFE IN SONG
At gigs people would prefer to watch a full band so I spend more time writing and recording as my songs are more laid back – I’m planning to contact some musicians soon to go in the studio and record them on better equipment.
My passion is song writing and that’s what I continue to keep doing, I’m comfortable and happy doing that. I’m still in touch with the other members and would love to get up on stage and play a War Machine song, not sure if my vocals are strong enough for heavy metal though (laughs).
A previous interview with Bernadette from April 2018
Bri Smith (The Fauves) ‘250,000 views that’s brilliant Gary. You’ve done a great job and proud to be part of it. I’m sure there’s more to come and it’s great for the North East. All the best for 2022’.
Wavis O’Shave (Surreal Entertainer and Global – particularly South Shields – Enigma)‘Here’s hoping for another 250,000 to match the number of pints – give or take the odd hundred – that The Hard has drunk since last New Year’s Eve’.
Dan Green (Author, Broadcaster & Researcher into all things mysterious) ‘It’s no mystery that 250k have dropped by’.
Jan Wilson ‘You know how much my guitarist husband Alan Burke enjoyed visiting his history with Southbound for your interview…you just ‘get’ the importance of our local musical heritage’.
Brian Rapkin (aka Brian Bond, Punishment of Luxury, Punching Holes,Actor)
‘Gary’s blogs are incredible. Great to do and great to read. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes them work so well. Doing a blog with him is liberating and emotionally satisfying – it takes you back to childhood, younger times, important things of life that stay with us forever.
His editing is the work of a master surgeon – he pares it down to the marrow of the bone, the real events and the real consequences. Thank you Gary for the magic lantern show, the time machine that reveals the truth! You done a good job, Gaz’.
Robb Weir (Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘A very big thank you to our ‘Gary’ for keeping the world in touch with ‘Geordie Land’ and all it’s amazing characters. Here’s to the next 250,000 readers !’
Dave King (Battleaxe) ‘Hey ALIKIVI. A BIG thanks for highlighting the great talent of North East bands and musicians who are often disregarded and unappreciated by main stream music mags, and some journalists, especially in the Metal Scene which actually thrives up here in the North East.
With 250 thousand views of your blog, it could be a good idea for a full featured film on the subject? Just look what the Anvil video done for those guys as an example. Anyway cheers again and keep rocking’.
Nev (Punishment of Luxury) ‘It has been a great experience to work with Gary on Punishment of Luxury blogs. His enthusiasm is inspiring and encourages the best possible answers because of the quality of his well-researched, thoughtful and searching questions resulting in such masterful and brilliantly written blogs.
I like the way he creates such interesting themes and explores so thoroughly to bring to life excellent stories and histories about all things musical and creative in the North East.’
Jean Alicia Stokes (Tyneside Historian & Author) ‘What a delight the ALIKIVI blog is, offering such insight to our local culture. A wealth of information for the local historian which I turn to often, continually enhancing my understanding of our North Eastern area. Love the interviews as they offer such a primary resource.’
Will Binks (Photographer) ‘When Gary asked for my inclusion in one of his blogs I jumped at the chance. My ramblings about the ‘seven songs that shaped my world’ were a joy to choose and describe my connection with, perhaps only of a passing interest to some but so incredibly important to me that they were documented and published. Thanks mate, keep up the great work and well done on a quarter of a million views’.
Ray Cooney (Theatre producer) ‘You’re on course to hit 250,000 views! Well done!!It’s been great being involved with you and keep up the good work.’
Tony Wilson (Singer/Songwriter/Storyteller) ‘Gary has covered so much of our local North Eastern life in both written, audio and video form and has created hundreds of hours of informed and informative, entertaining and edifying aspects of our own great part of the world. The man is a marvel!’
Robert Olley (Artist) ‘The informal, light hearted talk with Gary was a great indicator of how my work as an artist has progressed since the first interview we did some time ago. It’s also proved to be an informative and invaluable update for the many people that have followed the progress of my career over some fifty years, thanks Gary!’
Glenn Howes (songwriter/guitarist) ‘My congratulations on this important milestone. 1/4 Million wow! I’m proud to have contributed and grateful to Gary for putting this together and keeping us entertained with all the wonderful stories in his articles of people from the North East UK scene. Well done!!’
Steve Thompson (Songwriter) ‘Congratulations on the success of your blog Gary I can see how much work you’ve put into it. My first chat with you was in the early days and since then you have given me several opportunities to tell more stories. The lifeblood of a storyteller is having a willing listener. Thanks for listening ….and of course you giving me that ‘Godfather of North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ moniker has come in handy too’.
There’ll be no idle shilly-shallying here I’ll just push on to the next batch of interviews – who’s next ?
More messages to celebrate the quarter million milestone – great stuff but where’s all the interviews man !New one’s posted soon from songwriter Bernadette Mooney and former ‘She’ guitarist/keys Lee Robertson.
Michael McNally (Performer/Musician) ‘These interviews have enriched my knowledge of music and the arts in the North East. Such an eclectic mix of articles filled with in-depth information about our cultural heritage’.
Paula Dudley (author) ‘I love your posts as they are so various. Some are political, some are about local heroes and heroines, some are about music, some are interviews. Thank you for including Ellen Wilkinson former Jarrow MP among them.’
Dave Morton (Journalist, Newcastle Chronicle Live) ‘Congratulations to Gary for hitting a milestone on his blog that expertly covers all aspects of North East culture and history. It’s always a great read – and on more than one occasion he’s kindly shared content with me for use in my own work on ChronicleLive. Here’s to the next 250,000 views.’
Bob Smeaton (Music documentary director) ‘Congratulations well on course for 250,000 views. Performing a valuable and always entertaining service for North East Talent. As Neil Young once said ‘Long May You Run’.
Howard Baker (Singer/Songwriter) ‘The North East culture blog Alikivi is definitely the place to find out about the music scene of yesteryear with ‘60s and ‘70s in particular. I played through years with some of the finest bands in the North, they were fantastic. I’m glad I met Gary and for him making all of this happen, thanks so much for all that you put in’.
Vin Arthey (Author) ‘I was delighted to be interviewed by Gary in 2019, and to feature in The North East Culture blog! I now check the blog regularly, and have learned so much about North East bands, entertainment history and about, say Ellen Wilkinson, George Orwell, the Spanish Civil War, which have gone on to illuminate my own work. I’m proud to be one of your interviewees, and one of your many readers, Gary! Thank you’
Martin Blank (Author) ‘I have been an avid reader of Gary’s blog since it started in 2017 and since then it has gone from strength to strength. I like Gary’s interview style – straight to the point – and he’s very knowledgeable about not only the North East music scene, both back in the day and now, he’s also very knowledgeable about North East history in general – especially his native South Shields.
Another great thing about the blog is that you never know what to expect next – it could be an interview with a world famous rock star, an ex-cast member of Auf Wiedersehen Pet or an up and coming local comedian. The fact that the blog has reached 250,000 views with readers, not just in the North East but worldwide, is staggering and well deserved’.
Bernadette Mooney (Musician) ‘I would like to say I have been very privileged to been interviewed and included in this blog and thank everyone that took time to read my interview.’
John Roach (Mythra) ‘Congratulations ALIKIVI on a quarter of a million views! Thank you for enriching our lives and reminding us of our fantastic North East cultural heritage. All the very best and here’s to the next 250,000’.
Jim Saxton (Temple of Blah) ‘Despite my focus on Roadrunner Records, I find myself coming back to Alikivi time and time again. The focus on the resources, key personnel and general moods of the North East music scene – especially in the early 80’s, is profoundly vivid and extremely helpful to my own reading.
Additionally, just one good interview, never mind hundreds, is a colossal undertaking – and Gary deserves every ounce of credit coming to him for filling the knowledge gap on this topic so substantially.’
Tom Kelly (Writer/poet) ‘I have worked with Gary on a number of films, telling stories of our area we felt needed to be told. The first film we worked on together was ‘Little Ireland’ in 2009 which has been seen by more than sixty thousand throughout the world. Gary has far exceeded that number with over a quarter of a million – keep on giving it six nowt Gary’.
Martin (Harbourmaster Productions) ‘Alikivi is a brilliant website, packed full of really interesting interviews and stories from culturally significant figures. I have always enjoyed reading the articles, and watching Gary’s films too’.
Daniel Clifford (Singer/Songwriter, Amateur Ornothologist) ‘It’s amazing to see the success of the blog and range of artists and projects covered over the years. Congratulations on reaching this milestone and I can’t wait to be interviewed again.’
Ian Slater (Entertainer) ‘Well done that man! Thanks for your continued dedication to North East music, past and present and thank you for featuring me in one of your blogs. I continue to read it with great interest and enjoy having my memory and interest piqued by some of the acts that I thought I had long since forgotten. It brings it all flooding back’.
Julia Northam (Fietscher Fotos) ‘Congratulations Gary for creating the best North East blog on the net and thanks for letting me contribute, it was an honour x’.
Drew Gallon (Sweet Trash/Shotgun Brides/Dawn After Dark) ‘250,000 views by people checking out the past, present and future of music from the North East is an amazing number, a great boost to keeping music foremost in people’s minds, and keeping music alive and kicking. And it’s certainly a welcome boost after the 18 months or so that musicians, crew and venues have had to suffer. Thanks for making this happen Gary, and keep up the great work mate’.
John Gibson (Journalist, Newcastle Chronicle) ‘Congratulations Gary on reaching such a wonderful milestone richly deserved. It was a pleasure to take part as so many have done down the passage of time. Long may it continue’.
Steve Hall (East Side Torpedos) ‘Proud to feature on the Alikivi blog. It’s your own North East cultural history, so be part of it and check it out whenever you can.’
Brian Ross (Satan/Blitzkreig) ‘It was great chatting to Gary about the old days. It was a pleasure to relive those days in the words of my story. The memories all came flooding back’.
Alan Knights (Musician) ‘The North East is the best breeding ground by far for musicians to serve their time and I have been one of the lucky ones to have had music provide well for my families and a brilliant lifestyle – music has made me a happy man’.
Angus McDonald (South Shields museum) ‘I enjoy reading your blogs and interviews with North East rock bands, they bring back memories of when all the local clubs featured rock bands, especially the British Legion Club in South Shields – happy memories’.
J. Vincent Edwards (Songwriter) ‘You are fantastic for keeping our history alive. I’ve also did this around the world with my music. People love us Sand Dancers. We are fun and that’s what our world needs. I miss and love my old home town South Shields. Bless you for keeping the memory alive, love and peace x’.
John Edward Spence (Photographer) ‘This blog has been a great insight to the talent within the North East music scene over the years, really enjoyed the interviews and features on the bands I used to love go and see at the Newcastle Mayfair and Mingles in Whitley Bay. Keep up the good work, so proud that my photos are part of it’.
Peter Chapman (Author) ‘Alkivi, the North East culture blog, is a unique and enduring record of regional history. You should be very proud to have been its creator.’