SMOULT THE BOLT

In 2006 the idea was to make a number of short documentaries in South Shields featuring residents of the town and their hobbies, interests or passion. The first was Colin Smoult, this was his story and a link to the 4 minute film is at the end. 

South Shields has always been a rock town and even when music has faded and past like the indie culture of the late ‘80s, the big dance boom of the ‘90s then you’ve still got the rock scene. We might be gettin’ older, greyer, fatter but I think a lot of people in this town will always have a place in their heart for rock music. We’ve always had people from this town that’s been so fanatical for the bands that they have followed. I’ve grown up with many of them from my late teens onwards and some of them remain just as passionate about their music now as they did over 25 years ago.

My name’s Colin Smoult I’m 42 years old and I live in a town where I was born, South Shields. A small seaside town 10 miles east of Newcastle. My occupation is a shopkeeper, it’s essentially what people used to refer to as a head shop. I sell things like pipes and bongs which 20 years ago might have been seen as very risqué. But this day and age it’s all fairly acceptable. It’s only a tiny shop with a minimum amount of trade but I’m me own boss and if it pays the bills I’m quite happy. That allows me plenty of time to pursue my other hobbies and interests – my main one is local live music.

I’ve been the singer and guitarist in a band called Shovelmouth for the past 11 years now and we play various gigs in pubs scattered right across the region. The songs are all rock cover versions but the pub rock scene is huge in the North East of England. On a Friday and Saturday night there are probably 100 pubs and more putting on live entertainment featuring full on rock bands.

South Shields alone has half a dozen pubs that put on live music and the largest of these is called The Office. Not only does my band get to play there but I am responsible for booking the acts every weekend. The acts are normally small local bands playing a variety of covers but now and then we put on special events that feature tribute bands, some of these are from out the area.

I’m a rocker at heart but I find there is a lot of people who love this kind of music so I book the bands that people want to see the most. I’m pretty passionate about live music and only book the very best from the talent that we have.

Some people may see it as a bit sad and may view it as a bunch of middle aged folkies trying to re-live their youth but nostalgia is a big booming industry and if people want to see songs from their youth played live in their local pub – then who am I to deny them. Whether I’m the bloke singing the songs or the man who books the bands I’m content to know I’m doing my bit to allow people to have a good time after a long week at work.

I’m also involved with a website called Riffs which pushes and promotes local bands, and apart from news pages and gig guides I also post up my own reviews of the many bands that I get to see here. So I suppose my hobby is full time because as well as being directly involved every weekend, during the week I am always writing things up and arranging things for the venue and my own band.

I like to keep in touch with lots of groups out there and there’s quite a lot of time spent gob shyting with people on the internet as well. Don’t get us wrong I get a big buzz out of being on stage and entertaining people, but if you’ve got any band up there on stage with a superb crowd watching them, for me the atmosphere in the room is just as enjoyable.

The standard of musicianship on the local circuit is extremely high and is way beyond what people would term as pub bands in other parts of the country. The old club scene has become a lot more pop orientated in the last 20 years and a lot of the rock players that used to play that circuit have now moved into the pubs instead. So the end result is that we have some amazing musicians kicking around and most of the bands that you get to see are free admission too.

So for a lot of people aged in their ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s watching a live band on a Saturday night is a very cheap way to have a fantastic night out. If I’m not playing with my own band then I’m here at The Office watching them instead. Either way for me every weekend is dominated by my love for live music. I got tons of pride in what I do. But for me there’s only one true satisfaction and that’s putting a smile on people’s faces.

If I can be involved in any way with live music that others gain a lot of pleasure from I get immense satisfaction from doing that. I suppose as I get older I won’t be able to bounce around on stage in the same way, then eventually there will come a time when I’ll have to retire from live performances, but I’ll always stay involved with the local band scene even if I have to be brought in on a wheelchair.

I’ve jokingly said that when I die I want my ashes scattered under the stage of The Office. But honestly it’s as good a place as any and that way I’ll always be close to what I love.

 

Gary Alikivi  January 2020.

DIAMOND GEEZER – with former music manager & promoter Jim Sculley

There was one particular savage night when everyone seemed to be fighting. I was worried about one lad who’s face was just awash with blood. I wiped the blood with a tea towel. ‘You been knifed mate?’ I asked. ‘Nah’ he replied ‘I nutted someone and his teef stuck in me forehead’Who said working in the music biz was a glamourous job ? Jim Sculley was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham where he had a decent education…But when I bought my first guitar, studying went out of the window (laughs). Jim joined local band The Mariners as lead guitarist in 1962 and was working at Hartlepool Steelworks at the time…After lot’s of gigs and personnel changes, the band changed its name to The Electric Plums. Then in 1964 I went for a proper job and answered an advert to train at an old established jewellers shop called Lamb’s. He was a great employer who trained me well and sent me to night school in Billingham to study Gemmology, the science of precious stones.

I repaid him by doing the dirty on him by going in business with my night school teacher. We set up a jewellers in Billingham Town Centre in 1971. I found out afterwards from an ex-colleague at Lambs that the boss admired my bravery for setting up our own business and bore me no malice at all!

Business boomed and they quickly gained 3 more jewellery shops and 2 more partners… I was still dabbling in music at the same time but by then had left the Electric Plums to join a girl fronted band called The Partizans. Around ‘68 we changed name to Whisky Mack. This band was good doing night clubs and social clubs, supporting known artistes such as Karl Denver, the Dallas Boys and Tony Christie.

The band were offered a German club tour but Jim thought it was time to call it a day…The shops were doing well and I couldn’t jeopardise my future for a few months gigging abroad. So around late ‘72 we trained up a new guitarist for the tour and I said goodbye. But a few years later, I was back on the road in a couple of duo’s…couldn’t leave the old grease paint behind (laughs).

How did you get involved in promoting ? I wasn’t a great follower or even an avid listener of rock music at that time. However I’d got into the habit of going to rock gigs at Thornaby Cons club and being a guitarist, started to appreciate the quality of musicianship in rock. This was around ’79. At the club fans were telling me that there was a lack of venues in the area, and that local promoters were finding it difficult to coax new bands with any pedigree. A light lit up! Could I make any money at it, and did I fancy the challenge?

What venue did you use for the first gig’s you promoted ? I was putting the word around for local bands to play my new weekly gig in The Swan ballroom in Billingham. Getting an agency licence wasn’t easy in those days, there were financial checks, but within a month J.S. Promotions & Agency was born. ‘Rock At The Swan’ was an instant success with local bands queuing up to play. They would take a percentage of the door take after costs were taken off for an advert in the local press and pa hire.

After a few months we were getting requests from bands from all over the country due to word of mouth. And not only from bands. Agents were wanting to send bands with newly signed record deals on the road, but were having difficulty finding promoters who would take a chance on unknown bands. Another light bulb moment hit me and I jumped at the opportunity. Provide new blood for the fans and possibilities for local bands to support a signed band.

I asked myself I’m working with big agents who need venues to blood their bands. Why don’t I track down more venues and offer these big agents a full tour for their new bands. It made sense because these agents didn’t really want to take time to blood these bands on the road. They would wait till when the album was out and selling, then take over and put them into major venues.

So I set to work on the telephone and scanning through tour adverts in Sounds and Kerrang. Eventually sorting myself a good amount of venues that I knew I could form into different size tours. It helped when talking to each promoter that I was promoting a venue, same as them, and knew the score. I could be trusted and they knew that. It was a very important point.

By 1981 J.S. Promotions & Agency was well established. I was sending bands here there and everywhere. The Swan gig was bouncing and the jewellery shop was doing great. I often look back and wonder how the hell I kept myself going! Suppose it was because I was still young and kept quite fit. Be a different story today (laughs).

Did you book any big name bands at The Swan ? I ran that Swan gig for about 7 or 8 years and some biggish names have been on that stage. It was a nice venue, being a ballroom, and a decent sized fire regulation limit of 200 plus people. Bands like The Groundhogs featuring Tony MePhee were regulars and would always fill the place. I worked them a lot tour-wise. And what about this for an eye opener of a gig – in 1983 aged 17, son of Led Zep’s drummer John Bonham, Jason formed his band Airrace.

I got a call from his agent asking for a Billingham Swan gig as part of the band’s first tour. Money no problem, they’d just accept percentage door-take. But on one condition. So that the band would be judged on their merits and not the Bonham name, no mention of Jason Bonham could be used in any advertising. Of course I agreed and the band turned up on the date…in a great big pantechnicon van!! Wow!!

I have never been so up and close to a back line like it. Wall to wall, ceiling to ceiling Marshall amps. Not for volume but for clarity. Great sound, great gig, and a reasonably full room, rock fans aren’t stupid, they read the rock mags. And I have to say what a genial gentleman Jason was, no airs or graces, happy to chat to all the fans after the gig.

67142519_484098198831464_9212562342905118720_n

New Wave of British Heavy Metal was at it’s peak during the early 80’s. Did you come across any of the bands in the Teeside area like Axis or White Spirit ? In 1982 I’d taken a shine to a rock band I’d given a few gigs to, Black Rose, they were in the Iron Maiden kind of mould at the time and wrote their own material. They had a manager called Barry Clapp but were disappointed they weren’t making any progress. They asked me to manage them. I talked with Barry who gave me his blessing, admitting he’d had enough.

By 6 months we had a single out on the Teesbeat label called No Point Runnin’ coupled with Sucker For Your Love. One of the Sounds reviewers loved it and wrote a nice piece about it which propelled it to no.19 in the rock charts. The band then appeared on two compilation EP’s in the same year. One Take No Dubs on Neat Records, and the other on Guardian Records, called Roxcalibur.

(The album included Battleaxe, Satan & Marauder. ‘One Take No Dubs’ had Alien, Avenger & Hellanbach).

In 1984 the Midlands rock label Bullet Records signed the band. They produced a self-titled EP, also the Boys Will Be Boys album. A single of the same name was taken off the album. All through this studio activity the band were gigging heavily in the UK and Holland where they have a strong fan base. I went with them to a gig in the Dynamo Club in Eindhoven. Brilliant gig.

Coming back from that gig a funny thing happened at the Dover customs. Me and 4 band members were in my Mercedes. We were kept at least half an hour, as the officers were searching the car, under it, in the boot, under the bonnet. They couldn’t believe that a long haired heavy metal band would not have something suspicious on them especially travelling from HollandI had an awful time explaining to the customs officers that none of the band actually smoked, rarely drank and nobody actually bought anything from duty free (laughs).

In 1985 Bullet folded so the band returned to Neat Records and recorded a superb EP titled Nightmare. Then a year later…eureka! The band were noticed in the USA. Neat Records engineered a deal with Dominion Records (an offshoot of the massive K-Tel Records) for a studio album recorded at Neat. Walk It How You Talk It, was pressed, packaged and ready to be distributed. We were in talks to arrange an American tour. After all the hard work since 1982 we’d made it.

Then a bombshell phone call from Neat. The powers that be in America hadn’t done their homework. There was already a band called Black Rose who’d registered their name in the States, they were threatening to sue. Our label Dominion Records took water in and pulled the deal. Neat wouldn’t fight it, so everything was scrapped. Not long after, myself and the band parted company. Gutted to say the least.

Pauline Gillan Band

Did this disappointment put you off being a manager/promoter ? No. I managed The Pauline Gillan Band, from about 1984. I knew two members who lived in the same town as me, Bilingham. Davy Little, a great ex-Axis guitarist, and Chris Wing on bass who could play anything you gave him. He wasn’t called the Wizz for nothing. I’d caught the band at a couple of gigs and was impressed. They asked me along to a rehearsal and I think we all knew when I left them that I’d be their manager.

I had them gigging extensively right through the UK. Including gigs at the London Marquee. We were contacted by a promoter in France who was organising a music festival at a place called Neuvic not far from the Dordogne region. He’d heard about the band through the music press and decided we would add nicely to the festival line-up. Actually we ended up as number 2 to the headline band.

It was a magic time both for the band and the fans. In 1985 we managed to secure an album deal with Powerstation Records based in York. The album Hearts of Fire was recorded in Fairview Studios in Willerby near Hull. While recording the album, Gerry Marsden of the Pacemakers fame popped his head in. ‘Can I pinch 10 min’s of your recording time lads, I’m appearing locally and I need to record an advertising jingle’. Well 10 min’s later, that was all the recording done for the day because Gerry insisted on taking all of us, our roadies, the recording technician, him, his management and entourage down to the pub in the village for the rest of the day. Booze and snacks all paid for. And what a gentleman he was, so friendly.

Gerry told us a great story about one of the pop successes of that time Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who had a number one hit with Relax. On the B side was Ferry Across The Mersey which of course was written by Gerry himself, and that he’d received thousands of pounds in PRS royalties. ‘I love that band’ he laughed.

Did you promote any punk gigs ? There was a few gigs that were memorable for the wrong reasons. Many punk gigs, big names, but mostly trouble with a capital T. Around 1980/82 I was approached by a guy called Don who had just bought the then defunct Rock Garden club which was one part of the Marimba night club in Middlesbrough. Now having owned some before Don knew everything about pubs and night clubs, but knew nothing about the live music scene. So he asked me, adding a financial carrot, to book bands and run live music nights. I agreed but advised him that a new name would be a good idea. So it was a warm welcome to The Cavern.

As part of our licence the Police made us search the punks for weapons and glue, the preferred drug of the day for punks. My missus Marg would handle the takings and tickets at the door and take the glue from them. We weren’t allowed to keep the glue, but return it to them after the gig. One night we couldn’t help laughing when this little 5 foot skinhead surrendered his polythene bag from his sock, then quipped ‘Now dont forget will ye…mine’s the Evo Stick’ (laughs).

The Rock Garden had always done well with punk bands and there was still a good punk fan base in Cleveland, so I decided to alternate heavy rock with punk nights. But battling was always on the cards at punk gigs – never at rock gigs.
First night at The Cavern, if my memory serves me well but I’m not absolutely sure, was well known punks The Destructors supported by a local band. We had a strong security crew (about 8 men) one was a friend, Ron Gray who was an ex-European kick boxing champion. As it happens on that first night, we needed them all! We’d got word through a contact that a mob was coming down who had bad blood with another load of fans. Still I wasn’t worried, we had plenty of cover didn’t we ?

Support band had only been on about 5 minutes when the crowd split into two armies. A bit like the parting of that biblical sea. And then the charge! Marg was stood on a beer crate in the corner directing our bouncers, screaming ‘over there’ and ‘side of the stage’ and then opening the emergency door for me and the lads to eject the brawlers. She was a good help on band nights.

My claim to fame was to convince the Police to allow me to book the Angelic Upstarts who’d been banned in Cleveland for over a year. I knew the police were pleased with our record of not allowing any trouble to spill outside and that was the reason we were given permission to stage this particular show. And what a cracker it was, and believe it or not hardly any crowd trouble.
Other memorable bands were GBH, Penetration and Conflict. I liked Colin the singer of Conflict. He insisted we keep the entrance fee down so that his fans could afford it, even taking a smaller purse himself.

Did you promote punk gig’s at any other venues ?
Early 80’s I was co-promoting a punk gig in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in Redcar and managed to attract a really well known punk band from the late 70s, UK Subs. I booked local band Dogsbody or was it Dogsflesh as support to bring a few extra punters in.
Anyway one of the Subs members copped off with the girlfriend of one of the support band and took her to a room upstairs where the band where staying for the night. The support band went upstairs and a huge battle ensued with carpets ruined with blood and drink. It took an hour or so to restore order. Then the Park Hotel manager presents me with a bill for a huge amount. I can’t remember how much but remember shaking in my boots. As promoter I could have been held responsible in some ways I suppose. But I turned on the Subs road manager and threatened to get the police and the newspapers involved, which would probably curtail or cancel the rest of their tour. Anyway he rang the band’s manager who agreed to foot the bill. Job done. I tried hard to stick to rock gigs after all this trouble, but have to admit the memories of punk will always bring a smile.

539153_504044589624993_1031774801_n

If you can choose one, what is the best gig you have promoted ? Slade in about 1984 at Durham University’s Student Union Hall. Massive sell out, queues right down the road. Great gig but didn’t get to meet them. Went to the dressing room straight after the gig but they’d already left for the hotel.

Have you any regrets as a promoter? Turned down a Tina Turner gig as part of her resurgence tour. Thought the fee was too high. A couple of month later Private Dancer released and the rest is history. That was my Decca/Beatles moment!

There is a regrets number two. I was in the Marquee Club with one of my bands in 1985 and took a call from Bronze Records who wanted to show me a band. I went to Camden next day to see them and basically it was a country & western star, can’t remember the name. Anyway, country wasn’t my scene so turned it down. Then he produced a picture of Tom Petty who was coming over soon to tour. The price was reasonable but I knew he hadn’t released anything for about 3 years so turned that down too. Another Decca/Beatles moment!

What does music mean to you ? For all I was playing on stage continuously for about 17 years, and it was part of my life for so long after that -management, agency and promotions, I don’t really listen to a lot of it nowadays. Weird eh!

But after thinking a little more about it, I’ve concluded that it’s the actual making of music, the playing of it, watching other people playing it – construction really. I was never one for lyrics, it was always the tune, the riffs and chord structures that got me excited. That’s why I tend to like songs with a nice hook to them.

I played my guitar at home quite often untill I had a medical problem with my finger which made it totally inflexible. I can’t even form a chord now, which actually makes me quite miserable! My last time playing on stage was backing local singer Johny Larkin at a Help For Heroes charity gig about 7 years ago.(pic. below)

Having said that we’ve booked both days of the upcoming Hardwick Hall festival. And I do watch Fridays on BBC 4 and we went to The Sage to see Mott the Hoople a couple of months ago. Sod it … looks like music still means a lot to me.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.