HEARTBREAKER :in conversation with Lee Robertson, guitarist/keys with ‘80s rock band SHE (2/2)

Were any major record labels sniffing about ?

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.

Karen McInulty in a video still from TV music show E.C.T.

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.

She featured on a number of compilation albums. This one from NEAT records.

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.

Never Surrender

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

Compilation albums:

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’

HEARTBREAKER : in conversation with Lee Robertson, former member ‘80s rock band ‘SHE’ (part 1)

‘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.

Video still from tv music show E.C.T.

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.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   November 2021