CLOSEST THING TO HEAVEN – New Book on ’70s-’80s Newcastle Music Scene

New book ‘Closest Thing to Heaven’ produced by MiE Fielding and Simon McKay captures ‘70s & ’80s Newcastle music scene.

The 96 page book is a photographic montage of fashion, faces, venues, record shops and home-made flyers – and readers of this blog will be familiar to some of the bands featured.

‘We refer to Newcastle having more of a ‘village’ feel to it back then as everyone seemed to know everyone else. Thing is, how were those gigs organised as they were often well attended. There are faces that I’m sure will be remembered, and not a tattoo or mobile phone in sight…explained Mick.

The main focus of the book are black & white photographs of North East bands Raven, Danceclass, Venom, White Heat, Angelic Upstarts and Tygers of Pan Tang tightly packed in with The Fauves, The Carpettes and Punishment of Luxury.

Mick added…As well as established acts playing in front of large audiences we tried to reflect the increase in energy as punk, new wave and electronica caught hold. What unites them all is that they were performing in Newcastle in an era that has to be the most creative in the city’s illustrious history’.

There’s even a couple of early shots of Prefab Sprout in a pub in Jesmond, a young Jimmy Nail before TV fame as Oz in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and is that a snap of Neil Tennant pre Pet Shop Boys?

How did the idea come together Mick?

Closest Thing to Heaven was very much a side project as it’s not the kind of thing I generally get involved with as I’m heavily into the avant-garde in both music and art. I’m a member of dumdum SCORE previously known as Ju JU Pell Mell pictured in the book. Simon was a member of the band The Said Liquidator and runs the fanzine Eccentric Sleeve Notes, he also DJ’s on Post Punk Britain.

I put the idea of a book forward to Simon who I’ve known for many years and he agreed to get involved immediately. We needed a ‘reason’ to do the book and decided we’d like to raise money for a music charity.

That lead me to fellow Northumbrian musician Kathryn Tickell who had set up the Young musicians fund with the aim of providing money for instruments for kids who couldn’t afford their own. So it was arranged that our royalties would go directly to the fund.

What was the inspiration behind the project ?

Like Simon I was part of that Newcastle scene, plus I had a number of 35mm negatives and photographs that were taken during the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I knew Simon was also a meticulous collector of artefacts of the time. He saw the importance of stuff back then so he also came up with a treasure trove of related material.

Once we’d put our collective resources together it was a case of trying to contact other musicians who had been active during that period – many are still going – and asking for help. Luckily everyone was extremely helpful including rock photographer Rik Walton.

How long did the project take ?

The book came together over a period of around 18 months in which time a lot of the pictures needed restoration so I spent many hours on photoshop.

The next problem was how to present the book whilst avoiding the need for accuracy of names of band members as we soon realised that including individual names would be an impossible task after all these years.

What are your aims for the book ?

I think we’ve done a pretty good job in reflecting the Newcastle scene around that era and hopefully it will bring back some great memories for people as it did for Simon and myself, and above all it will raise cash for the Young Musicians Fund.

Looking ahead, the book was to be launched with an exhibition in Newcastle City Library, and an event featuring some music and associated art. However like many other things of 2020 they had to be cancelled but hopefully we’ll have a proper launch in the Spring of 2021.

The book was available from 3rd December 2020 in all high street shops, and available online through Amazon or direct from Tyne Bridge Publishing at Tyne Bridge Publishing | Newcastle City Council

Note that Tyne Bridge (Newcastle City Libraries) operate a skeleton staff because of Covid. To date they have shipped 100+ advanced orders, any potential buyer would need to be patient if ordering direct from them.

To contact Simon McKay go to the following links:

Home | Eccentric Sleeve Notes | Post-Punk Interviews, Photos & Music

Post Punk Britain | Free Listening on SoundCloud

Interview by Gary Alikivi  December 2020.



For the music is your special friend

Dance on fire as it intends

Music is your only friend until the end

Until the end, until the end.

(The Doors, When the Music’s Over from the album Strange Days, 1967)

First thing in the morning it’s the squawk from the seagulls, the gush of water as you fill the kettle then turn the radio on. Sound is all around us.

At Catholic Junior school I remember hearing Jewish songs like ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘Shalom Shavarim’. The radio played ‘Leader of the Pack’ by The Shangri-La’s and ‘Gaudete’ from Steeleye Span.  Watching Top of the Pops meant my pocket money was spent on a 7inch single by Slade or Sweet. I still listen to a lot of music today and buy the odd cd.

Last one I bought was a double, a Best of Bob Dylan. I got it at a car boot sale for a quid ! Bargain. There were loads of great songs on so I got my wallet out but only had a £20 note. ‘Struggling for change here have you got nothing smaller ?’ said the bloke. I searched in my pocket for some change and counted out 90p. Holding the note in one hand and the coins in the other. He said ‘No chance, I’m not selling that for 90p….. it’s a double album !’  

I’ve closed a lot of interviews by asking what does music mean to you or what has music given you ? The answers are fired back. No chin stroking, no pause for thought, just an instant reply. Here are some of them….

Michael McNally: ‘Music is an escape, a freedom from whatever ties us down. It can be the medicine we require to soothe or the motivation to move. Without it we are monotone, bland and sad’. 

Bernie Torme: ‘Meeting great people, shit people and doing things that a shy kid with a stutter from Dublin could never have imagined in a thousand years! Gave me everything really, for which I am eternally grateful, I wouldn’t have exchanged my life for anyone else’s. It definitely did not make me rich though! 

David Ditchburn: ‘Got loads of happy memories, I would never change it you know. I’ve done a few other things in life and enjoyed them but still every night I sit down and play the guitar and write songs. I can’t imagine life without it really. It’s what I exist for I guess’.

Danny McCormack: ’Well it’s got me around the world and it’s like a feeling of belonging. You go to a gig and I feel one of the crowd. I’m with my people, being part of a community of music lovers, and I can express myself in music. Being confident and comfortable in yer own skin which is important. The ultimate that music has given me is freedom’.

John Gallagher: ‘It’s given us so much, the opportunity to travel the world, meet my wife, have my family and just the ability to sit in a room with a guitar and bang out some riffs and create a song. Just to know that you have made something. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do what we do and do not take that lightly, so when we go out its 100% 24/7/365 mate!!!!

John Verity: Music has given me everything – but at times it has taken everything away too. It means everything to me. I have a very long-suffering wife, Carole. She lets me be what I am despite the faults and that’s amazing, the way she accepts my obsession with all things music related’.

Robb Weir: ‘I’ve loved every second of my musical career, the whole ride has been like sitting at the front of a giant rollercoaster, hands up, screaming with delight! Music is a way of life, it’s a wonderful thing, and it can be your best friend. You can turn to music at any time of your life and it can be a great comforter. I absolutely love it.’ 

Arthur Ramm: ‘Well I can’t live without music. If my hands don’t work I don’t know what will happen. I listen to music all the time and I am in a band now with Les’. 

Les Tones: ‘When I’ve got a guitar I lose loads of time cos I can’t put it down. I’ve also been teaching music and I got into repairing and building guitars. I still play in a band now’. 

Tony Wilson: ‘It was like opening a door to the world – I’ve travelled, met good and bad people. Coming back to the folk scene I’m flattered that people remember me. There’s still some fantastic people who put you up, give you meals, drive you places…just the most incredible thing ever….really….that’s music’.

David Taggart: ‘Everything. Even more so as I get older. Lying on my back as a toddler in our council house listening to Swan Lake, Ella Fitzgerald or the Fab Four. Or at the Newcastle City Hall to see the now legendary Rolling Stones concert where Jagger introduced the crowd to his new wife Bianca – while Bowie clapped in the wings. Fashions and fads fall along the wayside as your journey progresses and all you’re left with is the thing that really matters. The music’.

Gary Alikivi September 2018.

To read the full interviews just type the name in the white box at the top right hand of the page.

Don’t forget to check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

MUSIC STILL MATTERS – for former Danceclass vocalist Dave Taggart

From his early days with The Executives, to packing out North East venues in Danceclass, recording in Germany with LiveRoom, writing TV soundtracks, and now touring with international pop star Belinda Carlisle, Dave Taggart has music in his blood…

‘I’m living in Brighton now but always a Sunderland lad, that’s where I was brought up. After I got married we gravitated to the south coast where keyboard player Mark Taylor (Elton John, Simple Minds, Echo and the Bunnymen) landed me the job as guitarist and backing vocalist for the world-famous Belinda Carlisle. Suffice to say I’ve toured the world and we’ve had such a great time’.


Dave on tour with Belinda Carlisle.

From a very young age music has been the life and love for Dave Taggart. But where was he first turned on ?  ‘The first time I was in a Pontins Holiday camp in Morecombe. It was 1966 and we were on holiday for a week. As kids, we were left to our own devices as was the norm in those days. My greatest pleasure was sitting at the side of the stage watching the resident band play the latest hits. I was besotted and quickly became the bands gofor. I would receive a 10 bob note and orders for five ice lollies and packets of polos. This was of course to disguise the smell of the drink on their breath, which was a sackable offence.

After that I suppose I was hooked on music and at 11 or 12. I received my first beat up cello guitar with half the machine heads missing and an action on it like the Tyne bridge drop. For influences I had too many to mention, John Martyn, Brinsley Schwarz then of course all the rock stuff. Lifelong friend and cohort Tony Mcananey lived in the same square as me and we would spend every summer night practising, practising, practising without any real idea. One evening he turned round to me and said you’re the singer ok !

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ? ’From school days we were taken to local folk clubs around Sunderland where we would play a bit of Lindisfarne, Fairport Convention, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young and early Eagles stuff before they went shit. Our mentor and driver at the time was our drama teacher Terry Deary. I wonder if teachers are allowed to do that these days.

But he just had faith in our talent. Incidentally, that influential educator of young minds would go on to receive fame and fortune himself with the Horrible Histories…true bloody story that ! 

By 1977 we went out to Germany just to get away from the North-East and learn our chops. We’d play the American army and Air force bases. It certainly was a baptism of fire and we learnt a lot about the craft of performance. But too much innovative and exciting stuff was going on back in the UK. The likes of Elvis Costello, Clash and Ian Dury were happening.

So by early ’78 we returned to England and formed a band in Sunderland called The Executives. It immediately took off. Success spiralled into a writing frenzy and low and behold Danceclass was formed’. 

(A split in late ’79 saw some of The Executive members go on to play in Well, Well, Well and The Toy Dolls. The complete line up of Danceclass was Dave Taggart, vocals,  Tony Mcananey, bass, Ali Reay, guitar and Trevor Brewis, drums). 


’We just gigged and gigged acquiring a massive fan base which then attracted record company interest. By 1981 we ended up on the famous A&M record label. EMI begged us to sign with them but we were rather green and ended up with in the end, the wrong label.

First album was recorded in Basing Street in London later to become the famous Sarm West. The producer was Mike Chapman famous for his work with Sweet and later Blondie. We toured with various large acts of the time Sad Cafe, John Martyn and Judie Tzuke. We also performed on the famous live music show The Tube’. (The Tube was a live music show broadcast from Tyne Tees Studio’s in Newcastle, UK. The show ran for five series from November 82 – April 87 and was responsible for introducing Frankie Goes to Hollywood, relaunching the career of Tina Turner and the last ever appearence of The Jam before they split).  

‘But it’s the old story, we went as far as we could with that label. We got the chance to support Blondie at Wembley Arena but apparently Debbie or Chris Stein spat their dummy out and refused to come to the UK. This was devastating news for a young band like us.

Our second record signing was to MCA records. Some interesting material was written and recorded around that time. I think at one point we had Judy Tzuke on backing vocals and a coterie of musical acts hanging around so it was an exciting time.

Unfortunately our guy at the helm Stuart Watson, was sacked from MCA and they cleared his roster of acts. Including us. Once again the young guys from the North-East were left floundering on the rocks. Left to our own devices in that big London town, I turned to session music mainly singing backing vocals and ended up for some reason on a lot of UK metal albums. There is a Dave Taggart backing vocal credit on the Destiny album by Saxon as well as albums I cant even remember singing on’. 

What are your thoughts on the second album, is it just collecting dust on a shelf somewhere ? ‘Looking back on the Danceclass second album, although the material was a considerate departure from the full speed ahead power pop of its forerunner, the writing especially from Tony Mac had so much more depth and maturity.

The basic songs were beaten out at a beautiful rented house overlooking the lake in Bowness, while next door Simple Minds were recording their tracks for the Waterfront album. When we thought we had enough material, it was decided we should go abroad for further stimuli and the plush Wisseloord recording studios in Hilversum, Holland was chosen’.

(Officialy opened in 1978 the studio was founded by electronics company Phillips and was used by international musicians such as Elton John, U2, Scorpions, Tina Turner, Def Leppard). 

‘We took along Steve Brown (producer ABC, George Michael, Wham!, Alison Moyet, Freddie Mercury, The Alarm, The Cult, Manic Street Preachers, The Pogues) and we had Richard Cottell on keyboards. It wasn’t easy recording the album as some of the songs changed dramatically as they grew and some just remained as a basic ‘rock out’ vibe. Suffice to say an album that we were proud of didn’t make it for release.

We got compensation, but when you’re in your early to mid 20s with a passion for your music, it hurts. All water under the bridge now so, yes, that album will be collecting dust somewhere in a vault and all I have left are some well produced demos on quarter inch tape and a cassette of the album’.


What was your next move ? ‘By the 1990’s I had returned to Sunderland and started writing more songs with Tony Mac who had got a job writing the music for Jimmy Nails BBC Spender series. While all this was happening our old Danceclass manager got us a deal with a new fledgling German label who loved the material. We went out to Frankfurt to record the LiveRoom album.

Moderate success followed and loving the creative environment, I stayed in Germany writing for TV and film while Tony returned to the North-East to mix the Spender soundtrack. An older countryish song that Tony almost threw away later became the inspiration for Jimmy‘s mid-90s TV hit Crocodile Shoes. These were real fun times as Tony wrote the music for the album with Jimmy Nail and we all ended up performing on it. Then of course touring it.

After the Top of the Pops performances and tours I took time out to travel with my guitar to the Middle East and Europe before landing a job writing some of the incidental music for the BBC production ‘Our Friends in the North’.


Finally, what does music mean to you ? ‘Everything. Even more so as I get older. I might not like some of the crap pumped out but I appreciate the time put in and how they got there. I’ve always had an all embracing love of different genres and that’s down to parental and sibling influence.

Lying on my back as a toddler in our council house listening to Swan Lake, Ella Fitzgerald or the Fab Four. My brother taking me to the Sunderland Empire at the tender age of 12 to see Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Bukka White.

Or a year later the Newcastle City Hall to see the now legendary Rolling Stones concert where Jagger introduced the crowd to his new wife Bianca – while Bowie clapped in the wings. Fashions and fads fall along the wayside as your journey progresses and all you’re left with is the thing that really matters. The music’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2018.

For further information check


Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: 2nd April 2017.

Trevor Sewell 21st June 2017.

Kev Charlton, HELLANBACH: 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson, (Songwriter & NEAT records producer) 27th June 2017.

John Verity, ARGENT/PHOENIX: 7th November 2017.

Dave Ditchburn BRASS ALLEY/GEORDIE/PILGRIM: 1st February 2018.

Les Tones & Arthur Ramm, BECKETT: 9th April 2018.



Scorpions at Newcastle City Hall 13th May 1980.

Roksnaps are fan photographs which captured the atmosphere of concerts on Tyneside during the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was a time when rock and metal bands ruled the city halls up and down the country. On Tyneside we had the main venues of The Mecca in Sunderland and over in Newcastle were The Mayfair and City Hall.

The gigs were packed with tribes of mostly young lads from towns across the North East. T-shirts, programmes and autographs were hunted down to collect as souveniers – and some people took photographs on the night.

One fan who kept his photo’s and shared them on this blog was Tony Maddison…
‘I started going to gigs in 1978. My very first was Rush at Newcastle City Hall on February 15th 1978. As a 16 year old and still at school, I was musically influenced by older lads. A few of my contemporaries had been to gigs with their older brothers, and I’d heard exciting tales of noise and crowds of headbangers going wild. Should I fear for my life? Should I say a final goodbye to my family?’

scorpscity hall

Scorpions at Newcastle City Hall 13th May 1980.

‘Walking into the City Hall that night was a sight to behold. Everyone looked like me! Denim jackets covered in patches – everywhere. GET IN! I can’t remember much about the actual performance, but I know it caused an addiction to live music that I can’t get enough of after almost 40 years’. (Below pics of Danceclass supporting Judie Tzuke at Newcastle City Hall 30th April 1982).

‘Fast forward a couple of years and during the 80’s I was a regular gig-goer. Going to see bands 3,4 or 5 times a week, EVERY week. I was also becoming interested in photography after devouring each page of music weekly Sounds and NME. I bought myself a 35mm SLR camera. I soon started taking it to gigs and experimented taking pics of whatever band I was seeing, with varying results. The better ones you see here but invariably they returned blurry’.


Girlschool at Newcastle City Hall 4th May 1982.

‘My photographic enthusiasm soon faded when I had to sell my collection of camera equipment at the outbreak of the Miners’ Strike in 1984. But more recently with the vast improvements in smartphone cameras, I find myself taking just a couple of photos as a keepsake. Just recently I got reminded that it was a year since I’d seen The Pixies at Newcastle Academy. The lighting was on the dark side, and it was a lively crowd..well, thats my excuse for a dodgy picture!’

More Roksnaps coming soon from contributors Ian Coult and John Spence.
Gary Alikiv 2018.


Pyromaniax – Bombs, Flashes & Burnt Eyebrows, 12th December 2017.

New Gang in Town – When Heavy Metal Hit the Accelerator, 6th May 2017.

Have You Heard This One ? 18th December 2017.

1980 – The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside,  11th February 2018.