MUSIC MATTERS – interview with Les Tones and Arthur Ramm founder members of Beckett.

The 70’s and 80’s saw bands playing every night around the North East at mainly workingmens clubs…’Mostly it was two clubs a night with yer first set starting at 8pm. Then travelling to another club, loading in, setting up, playing a set and finishing for 2am. Finally back home and bed. Before you know it yer ma was shouting up the stairs it was time to get the bus for work. Aye them were the days ha ha’….remembers Arthur Ramm. Stories like these have been told many times before in smokey bars and clubs of the North East. But here we are sitting in The Word, a brand new cultural venue in South Shields.  A large circular building with huge glass walls and what looks like a floating staircase. As far removed as you can get from bingo, beer and bands. The stories were pouring out from Les Tones and Arthur Ramm founding members of Beckett. A band which changed line up many times until they called it a day in 1974. During their time Beckett had played countless gigs around the North East with stand out support slots with Rod Stewart and the Faces. There was a two week residency in the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Germany. They notched up 25 UK dates with Captain Beefheart, 33 with Alex Harvey and 25 with Slade. Signed with major labels Warner Brothers and CBS. Released a single and a self titled album.  They also found time to appear on BBC TV music show the Old Grey Whistle Test, and a slot at the Reading Festival. We talked about music in general and the sounds travelling across the Atlantic – Elvis, Chuck Berry, Rock n Roll USA how they influenced a generation of British musicians. Turning on the Led Zepps, Deep Purples, Eric Claptons, who in turn put their stamp on the sound. British rock came out the other end.  Although they were referring to nearly 50 years ago, like a relay team passing the baton, stories from Les and Arthur still sounded fresh and told with good humour. Music really does matter.

When did you first get interested in music ? 

Les: ‘My dad was a piano player, my uncles were keyboard players for the cinema. When I was 14 my brother and cousin had acoustic guitars and my sister played all the 50’s records. I’ve always had music around me. I used to go to the local fairgrounds and there I heard Love Me Do and other songs by The Beatles. I just loved the sound and that changed my direction of what I wanted to do. I got a guitar and I was approached by a fella called Tommy Stead who was in a popular blues band called The Jump. So I joined the band at 15 and learned loads from them’.

Arthur: ‘I was aware of The Shadows but I wasn’t really interested in that, like Les it was The Beatles that kicked me off. It was Paul McCartney, I loved the way he played, he sang, he looked. I just loved The Beatles music’.

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Les Tones aged around 14.

When did you get your first guitar ? 

Les: ‘I was serving my time as a sheet metal worker in Hebburn Palmers shipyard when I bought a Hoffner Galaxy on tick, a loan you know. Then I exchanged it for a Burns guitar until my dad bought me a Gibson 335 for £150. That was great, wish I still had it’.

Arthur: ‘There was a shop called Savilles Brothers in South Shields and there it was in the shop window with a card stuck next to it with £7 10shillings written on. Eventually after a few weeks of pestering my mother, she relented and gave me the money ‘But you’ll have to pay it back’ she said. That’s where I bought not a bass, but my first 6 string guitar.  We had no money for amps so we first started with radios which had valves inside. That could amplify the sound and it had a speaker in so we used the output. But the 5 watts wasn’t loud enough cos when you were in rehearsal with a drum kit banging away you needed something louder. So we got what The Beatles and The Stones were using that was AC 30’s. They were the biggest amplifier at the time and then Eric Clapton started using a 50 watt Marshall. That became the norm until Pete Townsend said he wanted bigger. He wanted 100watt because they were playing big places and no one could hear them at the back of the hall. Suddenly it’s getting bigger and louder with 4 x 12 cabinets and everybodys ear’s gettting used to that level of sound. I remember we were playing Annabels Club in Sunderland  and to load the gear in you used the back stairs. We were loading in 4×12’s and they were so big you couldn’t see your feet’.

Les: ‘It was good having a full house and using all that gear at that volume because people absorbed the sound but if you had a venue a third full it was very different. But now a lot of people are returning to AC 30’s and using larger PA’s’.

Arthur: ‘I’m still using a Marshall now because I’m used to the sound and Les uses a Messa Boogie which is smaller in size but has plenty of power. The technology has changed over the years. We were playing the Birtley club one time and I had just bought my Marshall 100watt head. We were loading the gear in up the steep stairs at the back and I think it was our singer Terry Slesser who said ‘I’ll carry that up for you’. My brand new Marshall head slips out of his hand and goes boink, boink, boink, down the steps to the bottom. The side of the box fell away. I was distraught. We got the gear on stage and thought do I switch it on? Will it go pop! Eventually I turned it on and it worked perfectly. When I got it home I used some glue to stick the side back on. Marshall amp’s are made solidly you know’. 

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Arthur Ramm

Where did you rehearse and play your first gig ?

Les: ‘Around 1964 The Jump used to have house rehearsals at Tommy Steads and played on a Sunday at Aloysius Church Hall in Hebburn. The church ran it and they had bands on every Sunday and served soft drinks. The atmosphere was brilliant we used to look forward to it. When we played I used to push my amplifier up the street to get into the hall, we loved it. Tommy who is still playing today, was all genned up with the American music cos he had the records so we played a lot of soul and blues. But then Tommy moved to London so I left the band and joined Hedgehog Pie. We were classed as an underground band. But yeah that’s how I started’.

Arthur: ’We got a school band together and I was playing sort of bass notes on the heavy strings of my 6 string guitar. Sounded nothing like a bass really but that’s what I was after. So I got one out of the local magazine for £35 and I was away then. Then what changed for me was when I heard John Mayalls Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton and I thought wow I want to learn how to play like that. My first gig was at a wedding in Careme House in South Shields. It was for the guitarists cousin and we done about half an hour of bluesy songs’.

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The Shadey Kases with Arthur Ramm on the left.

How did Beckett form and where did the band rehearse ?

Arthur: ‘I was in a band called The Shadey Kases, who I joined around 65 or 66. I was the rhythm player, just a lonely strummer. One night Les was playing with his band in Sunderland with this great sounding guitar ‘Who is that playing, sounds fantastic’ I said. I was normally a shy person but afterwards went up to Les and said how did you get that sound, your playing is excellent. He was so friendly and showed me the amp and all that. We really got on because some people can be a bit stand off’ish. When Beckett started he was the guy to ask to play guitar and he said yes’.

Les: ’I was in Societys Child and we used to get a lot of work at the Hedworth Hall in South Shields. Alf Josephs from there used to manage us. But the band split over the singer and keyboardist arguing over petty things. The Hedworth Hall was a place all the bands would go to after a gig because it was open till 2am and we’d get in free of charge. There I met up with Arthur who had just left the John Miles band. ‘How would you like to join me and Alan’ (Craig, drummer). So yeah we are the three founding members of Beckett. We got Bill Cambell in on bass. Rehearsals were in a pre-fab building near St Francis Church in South Shields. Alan Craig got it cos he knew someone from the church. We used to go 2-3 times a week to rehearse and we done some Kinks stuff, some Deep Purple’. 

How did the name of the band come about ?

Arthur: ‘When we were talking about what we are going to call ourselves I said why not Becket ? There had been a film made called Becket starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole and I just liked the name.  Sounds good. Just the one word. So yeah we all went with that. If you look at Ringo Starr’s drumkit just the way they write the name Beatles, the style of the writing you know it just worked. The two t’s at the end came about because Ted Hooper suggested we should write it that way. Ted was always hanging around and had a brother who was playing guitar in West One, another Shields band we knew. Next we saw an advert for a gig we were doing at the Golden Slipper in South Shields and we were advertised with the two t’s. From then on in, it just stuck’.

 

Where did you gig and what venues did you play ?

Arthur: ‘We ended up being very successful starting off around the pubs and clubs. Usually there would be 2x 45minute sets. Early days we’d have lots of current stuff that was in the charts, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Beatles, Stones that sort of stuff. A blessing was the Bailey Organisation because they had the Latino club in South Shields and they would get us to guest before the main artist came on like Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, whoever had been on Top of the Pops. There were venues like Wetheralls, La Bamba in Darlington, La Ronde in Billingham, La Dolce Vita, The Cavendish Club there was so many. Only problem was it wasn’t till 2am when we finished then we had to get back home and we still had day jobs. I was an apprentice tool maker and had to get up for the bus to work at 6.30’.

Les: ‘The band used to play around the North East nearly every night of the week, quite often two bookings a night. We’d be sort of living two lives cos we’d be in a bubble on stage, going down well and everything was great. Then I’d get in at 4 in the morning and my mother would be dragging me out of bed at 6. Then not much later you’d be walking to work in the snow. The band was a job, we’d pay the stamp every Friday and get pay packets every Sunday. Arthur would get a cheque off Mel Unsworth the promoter then share it out. We would only have Tuesday off cos we had girlfriends’.

Arthur: ‘Good thing was you’d have the extra money from the gigs so you could buy an extra pedal or better guitar. One of our first gigs was at a nightclub in Darlington and the stage was big, we were right at the back and the singer was way out at the front. It was an area where all of the audience could see the artist. The lights dimmed, we went on and played an instrumental first called Supernatural. Our singer Rob Turner came on twirling the mic stand, giving it everything and there was only a dozen people there but he got them clapping. We were playing at the back in the shadows and were amazed because at rehearsals he’d just sit on a seat sort of crouched over and sing! When he was on stage his demeanour changed he was a totally different person. I always remember that gig. But I always remember the day he died. We were playing a gig at La Ronde in Billingham and were just coming up to 2am. He said let’s do a blues thing, Les you just kick it off, so we started to play. He started to sing ‘If I Knew You were Coming I would have Baked a Cake for You’ it was a blues song and that’s the last one he sang with us’.

Les: ‘I remember that gig, I remember as if it was yesterday. At the end he had a bit to drink and a girl with him. We had a policy of you go with the band you come back with the band. Then the day’s your own you know. We said your coming back with us just take her number. Arthur and I went home as usual in the Hillman Minx, that was our bassist Bill Cambell’s car and all we talked about was Rob not coming home with us. Next day was a Friday I got out of bed and went downstairs. My mam said someone’s been and left a message to phone Arthur it’s very important. The nearest phone was at the bottom of the street so I went down, phoned Arthur and he told me the bad news. I was shocked, we were upset and got the band together to talk about it. We went to see his parents’.

Arthur ‘We were told the weather conditions were very foggy that night and he was on the edge of the road near the pavement thumbing a lift. A few cars went by then he got hit. By now the girl he was with starts to thumb as Rob is on the ground. But cars just passed by because it looked like a drunken couple. Eventually someone stopped and drove him to hospital but he had too much internal bleeding’. 

Les: ‘He was only 24. The car just drove off. The person driving was caught because he put his car in a garage to have the windscreen fixed. He said to police he didn’t stop because he thought he had just hit an animal. Reports said he was under the influence of drink and drugs. He never got put in prison, just fined’.

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Terry Slesser in the middle.

Did the band make the decision to carry on ?

Les: ‘Let me tell you it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But we had gigs lined up and we knew a singer already who could fit into the band. Terry Slesser was a roadie for the John Miles band The Influence, Terry had also formed a band called Zig Zag. I had seen him a few times and thought he had a good voice. He was confident and had long hair. He joined the band eventually’. 

Arthur: ‘Yeah he learnt the songs very quickly, and fitted in. We done some great gigs especially supporting the Alex Harvey Band. They were so tight, really impressed with them’. 

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What was it that drove you on ?

Arthur: ‘It was just that the gig was so important, it was a simple as that’.

Les: ‘The time Beckett was playing it was magic. When we’d play the workingmens clubs they were queing out the door at 6pm to get a seat to see us. That’s the way it was. We’d play Middlesbrough and go to a gig in Sunderland. We’d go in a seperate car from the road crew who were in a van with all the gear. When we went in the club you would see lots of faces who were at the first gig, they’d travelled up to see us. We really appreciated that’. 

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When did Beckett start songwriting ?

Arthur: ‘Les left the band, and joined Sandgate. We got a guy called Kenny Mountain in. He was in a band called Yellow with Vic Malcolm from Geordie. They had a single out but didn’t do much. I rang Kenny who said he didn’t want to play lead but he would still be in the band. That meant I had to up my game. Kenny came up with some songs and we ended up sticking a couple in the set, then adding a few more, then a few more. That led us to meeting a guy called Geoff Docherty. He was a local promoter and saw us playing in Sunderland’. (Geoff Docherty was a very successfull North East promoter with major bands including Pink Floyd, The Who, Rod Stewart and David Bowie. One of the venues he promoted was The Locarno in Sunderland, a Mecca ballroom that held 3,000. For more information Geoff has authored two books ‘A Promoters Tale’ and ’Three Minutes of Magic’). 

Arthur: ‘Geoff approached our singer Terry Slesser. Geoff said he liked the band and said ‘I can do something for you’. We had other offers but the managers wanted too big a cut out of the money we were earning. It wouldn’t of left us with much. So we arranged a sit down meeting with Geoff, he was straight talking. We were very impressed. The clincher was when he said ‘I won’t take any money, not a penny from you until you are successful. I will have you backing people like Rod Stewart and Ten Years After’. Not long after we started travelling the country playing gigs and what a thrill it was playing in London, especially the Marquee club. He was exact to his words’.

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Did Geoff Docherty get the record companies interested in Beckett ?

Arthur: ‘Yes he got to know them all as he used to book the bands for the Top Rank Suite in Sunderland. He was very pushy. He’d tell them to come and see the band. His rhetoric and the way he put it over. Very convincing. He got us a deal with Warner Brothers and then we went to CBS. We got a £10,000 advance from Warner Brothers. Think our Mercedes van was around £4,000. But I had left before they made the album with Warner Brothers. They got Bob Barton in. The line up kept changing. All the original members had gone by then’.

 

By the time the album was released on Warners label Raft Records in 1974, the Beckett line up was Terry Wilson Slesser (vocals) Kenny Mountain (guitar) Robert Barton (guitar) Ian Murray (bass) and Keith Fisher (drums). The Iron Maiden connection is a story for another day if one of the members can get in touch. As we were about to leave The Word I asked Les and Arthur one more question.

What does music mean to you ?

Arthur: ‘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: ‘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’. 

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2018.

Recommended:

Steve Dawson, THE ANIMALS: 2nd April 2017.

Harry Hill, FIST: 29th April 2017.

Trevor Sewell, 21st June 2017.

Howard Baker, WARBECK: 17th August 2017.

John Verity, ARGENT: 7th November 2017.

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

BLUE TO HIS SOUL – with musician John Verity

‘I recall one night I left the stage during a keyboard solo in Argent and couldn’t find my way back! I was very popular with the band that night!!! ….but I did make it back in the end’.

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Rod Argent and Russ Ballard formed rock band Argent in 1969 and are known for the hit singles Hold Your Head Up and God Gave Rock n Roll to You a song covered by American rock band Kiss in 1991. In 1973 John Verity joined Argent, I asked him where was the audition and how did you find out about it ?
‘There was no audition. I toured supporting Argent around the time of Russ Ballard deciding to quit. They asked me if I would consider replacing him and I said yes!
John has had a full career since then…’Right now I am just completing an 80 date tour of the UK promoting the My Religion album, with another busy year planned for 2018. My next album, Blue to My Soul is planned for release in November this year. We also released a live DVD earlier this year, shot at our show at the Jim Marshall Auditorium, The Stables Theatre, Wavendon, Milton Keynes’.

Since he first picked up a guitar in the early 60’s John has had a very prolific and distinguished career in music… ‘I was in various local bands in the 60’s around my home town of Bradford, West Yorkshire, playing pubs, clubs and youth clubs until I joined my first fully professional band in ’68. This was the Richard Kent Style from Manchester, a 6-piece with brass section. Pretty soon we were playing up to 14 gigs a week, twice a night, up and down the country and often abroad. In ’69 we changed our name to Tunnel when we were offered a gig at a rock club in Freeport, Grand Bahama – close to the U.S coast and frequented by American college kids. During our time at the club we were approached by a U.S promoter and relocated to North Miami Beach to seek our fortune!
Tunnel opened for many major U.S acts as they passed through Florida, but unfortunately there were pressures developing in the band resulting in a split. Everyone left town, except me. I felt that the opportunities were too good to waste and set about forming my own band using American musicians from the Miami area, with the aim of fulfilling the dates already planned for Tunnel. We had Teddy Napoleon on drums, and Mark Troisi on bass. The very first John Verity Band !
So, to the present JV Band – a revolving line-up depending on availability.
Either Liam James Gray, Bob Henrit or Steve Rodford on drums. Either Bob Skeat, Jamie Mallender, John Gordon, Roger Inniss or Russell Rodford on bass. When it comes to recording, everyone features in some way or another, along with various guest musicians/singers’.

Who were your influences in music ? ‘My earliest influences were American blues and R&B artists but also the obvious ones for a young aspiring guitarist at the time – Chuck Berry, Hank B Marvin, Duane Eddy, Elvis. I loved and still do, the music of BB King, Aretha Franklin, Albert King, and Muddy Waters. The first Led Zep album was a major milestone’.

How did you get involved in playing music. Was there a defining moment when you said “I want to do that” ? ‘I can’t really remember how I first got started. Once I’d discovered the guitar I really wasn’t interested in anything else – except girls of course, but they seemed to come hand-in-hand with the guitarist thing. A defining moment for me was much later. Up until this I had always been the guitar player in the band, who would sing the occasional harmony’.

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‘My voice has always been high and that didn’t seem to be very fashionable on the 60’s music scene here in the UK. Then we were booked to open a show in Redcar, at The Coatham. The headline band was The Who, and special guest was Terry Reid. There was a buzz in the industry about Terry Reid but I hadn’t seen him. He absolutely blew me away that night. His voice was out of this world but what really hit me was that he had a really high voice – sort of in the same ballpark as mine. From that night onwards I was determined to be a singer. A guitarist/singer that is! A while later in Miami I got my chance, and took it’.

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What were your experiences of recording ? ‘Probably far too much to mention everything, my earliest experience was EMI Studios in Manchester Square, London in the mid 60’s. Then various independent studios as they sprang up, including Advision, Olympic, Roundhouse. I started recording my own stuff early on. I wrote and demo’d all the songs for my first album in a cupboard in the apartment in Miami!
The demos for the first Saxon album were recorded in Chalk Farm, London. The album itself was recorded at Livingston Studios. I went on to record many projects there’.

(Nerd alert: Saxon was released in 1979 on the Carrere label. Clocking in at just under 30 mins it contained singles Big Teaser/Stallions of the Highway and Backs to the Wall/Militia Guard. The album helped put Saxon on the heavy metal map).

Was heavy metal a big departure from the music you had done ? ‘Not really a big departure. It wasn’t really ‘Metal’ yet – just heavy British rock. It was great fun working with the lads, though record company and management problems managed to screw it up in the end. Biff Byford and Paul Quinn had been in the very final John Verity Band before I joined Argent’.

After Argent split up John formed Phoenix and recorded 2 albums, the debut on CBS records in 1976 and ‘In Full View’ on Charisma in 1979.
‘There was some gigs with Phoenix. We did a few impromptu gigs in the UK before a European tour with Aerosmith to support our first album but from then on it became a studio project’.

A stint with London based band Charlie followed, they released an album ‘Good Morning America’ on RCA/Victor records.
‘There were no gigs with Charlie during my time’.

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That lasted until 1982 when the lead vocal spot was taken up by South Shields musician, Terry Wilson-Slesser (pic.above). The music video for ‘It’s Inevitable’ with Slesser is worth checking out on You Tube – it ends in a pie fight. Next for John was a tour with former Sweet vocalist Brian Connolly where they supported American female rock singer Pat Benatar on her 1983 ‘Get Nervous’ tour.

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Around this time Pat and her band played on the live TV music programme The Tube, the studio was in Newcastle. I was lucky to be in the audience for that show and witnessed a fantastic performance by Benatar. Again worth checking out on You Tube. But back to the story…‘Yes the Benatar tour was great and a sell out – but no crazy stories I’m afraid. All very well-organised and straight! The early 80’s I had been very busy recording in Livingston Studio’s in London with Brian Connolly, Russ Ballard, Charley, Phoenix, and my own album Interrupted Journey’.

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That band, simply called Verity, had rubbed shoulders with AOR giants Journey/Foreigner. Included was the track ‘Rescue Me’ which was a regular on the early years of MTV.
‘I then built my own studio back in Yorkshire where I wrote and recorded with many people including The Searchers, Mike Rutherford and Steve Thompson. (Steve is featured in an earlier blog The Godfather of North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal June 27.)

‘Around the mid-80’s I recorded with the Rolling Stones mobile – there was some live Motorhead tracks with Brian Robertson and Pete Gill in the line-up. I recorded 4 gigs I think, and mixed a selection from those’.

Looking around on You Tube there is some good footage of your band Phoenix on Saturday morning UK TV show Supersonic. Did you record many TV appearences or music videos ? ‘Yep, there was lots of TV here in the UK including Old Grey Whistle Test, Top of the Pops and Supersonic. The Argent ‘Circus’ film was one of the first to feature on MTV. To arrange the appearences there were various management companies around that time, but usually the record labels arranged TV slots’.

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Do you find the internet a help for musicians ? ’I used to be horrified when I spotted someone filming us with a ‘phone but now it’s just a regular occurrence that we put up with. Lots of poor quality stuff on the net but you could waste your life away getting it taken down. I just leave it. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity’.

What has music given you ? ‘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. Just amazing…’

Launch dates for the new album at Dreadnought Rock in Bathgate, Scotland are November 10th & Ripley Live in North Yorkshire on the 11th November.

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For more info, tour dates, merchandise, photo’s and video contact the official website johnverity.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2017.

Recommended:

Bernie Torme, The Dentist, 21st March 2017.

Steve Dawson (Animals), Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Steve Dawson (Saxon) Men at Work, 28th May 2017.

Trevor Sewell (The Revillos) Still Got the Blues, 21st June 2017.

Jon Dalton, California Dreaming, 18th October 2017.

Robb Weir, Doctor Rock, 5th November 2017.

 

HOWARDS WAY- interview with North East musician Howard Baker

‘In Warbeck we were playing Germany for seven weeks doing 4 x 45 minute sets a night, and 5 on a weekend, that’s how we learnt our trade. In ’85 we got a record deal with EMI. But that went tits up. More of that later’.

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Howard has spent most of his life in the music business from performing to owning a studio. From early influences, gigs, experiences in recording studio’s, high’s and lows, to the present day – this interview uncovers most of the stories in his career – but some of the riskier one’s might never make print you’ll have to go and see him he might tell you. ‘I still do a lot of gigs a year and continue to work over in Tenerife and France. Currently we are working on pulling together a show with songs from the 1960’s, not a tribute as such more of putting our own stamp on the tracks. So really looking forward to taking that out to the theatres’.

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 Who were your influences ? ‘When we were young everybody liked Elvis Presley but I was more of a rebel, I liked Little Richard. I just loved his antics, I loved Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino a bit bluesy you know. But my voice was always geared up to the likes of Coverdale and Rodgers, more rocky, that style you know, my tones were that way. When I was in Warbeck we toured with Free and Argent. Our friends Beckett and Brass Alley were the same, you’d also have John Miles Set on the bill at the Locarno or The Mayfair. I remember playing the Mayfair and supporting Back Street Crawler. I loved that time. I remember recording at Impulse Studio with Warbeck and after the session Keith Satchfield leaving his black beauty Les Paul guitar outside, it was there all night. Luckiest guy in the world because it was still there next day !’

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What venues did Warbeck play? ‘We worked through Mel Unsworth Agency then, it was not uncommon for us to do ten shows a week, clubs like Annabels, Zhivagos, Dontino’s in Hexham. You were doing workingmens clubs, three half hours and finishing half past ten. Then on stage in Hexham for 12.30 or Julies up in Sunderland.
For the support work the agent was Ivan Burchill he had all the contracts for Mayfairs and City Hall’s. I remember supporting The Pink Fairies, a strange rock punky sort of band. (Nerd Alert: While still a member of the Pink Fairies, in May 1975 Larry Wallis joined a new band, Motörhead with Lemmy and Lucas Fox. In September 1975 Fox left the band and Motörhead recruited a new drummer, Phil Taylor. Wallis recorded an album with the band, ‘On Parole’. It remained unreleased until 1979 when Motörhead had established some reputation for themselves. In February 1976 Wallis was joined by Fast Eddie Clarke on guitar. Later in the same month Wallis left Motörhead.)

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‘The best laugh was doing the City Hall with Alvin Stardust and it was the craziest line up ever. We were a full on rock band supporting the pop star. His single out at the time was My Coo Ca Choo. Anyway we were in the dressing room while 2,000 kids were screaming outside wanting Alvin. We were worried but he came up to us and said just do your show lads, and don’t worry the fan’s are screaming so loud they can’t hear what you’re playing anyway haha. Afterwards he came back to us and said that was brilliant lad’s. Then I watched him and the way he controlled the whole show was completely different from us, we were head’s down rock you know. I must admit he was really good, a great showman’.

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‘Around 1975 a guy called Roberto Donova came up North from London to see us play. He was interested in signing us. We were playing the Barmston Club in Washington and he turned up in his Rolls Royce and parked it outside. He wandered in, heard us play five songs, bought us a round of drinks and said see ya in my studio in a couple of weeks’.

‘We had a big monitor system, four huge bins we bought off Jethro Tull. First club we played it in was so loud we blew the polystyrene tiles of the ceiling. It took a few gigs to get used to it haha.
We had some pyro to put on a bit of a show. We used to put the bombs in two small waste paper bins, but one gig we forgot them so went outside in the backlane and got a big rubbish bin. We put both bombs in there and set it up behind Craigy (Alan Craig) the drummer. End of the first set the roadies set it off and a big boom ! But they never cleaned the bin out first so there was rubbish, banana skins all sorts all over the stage, haha’.

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‘Another pyro story was we were playing Usworth Social Club and we forgot to bring smoke flares. We liked a bit of smoke around the stage. So we went out and bought some flares nearby. These were for boats, like distress flares. Again they were set up behind the drums and were set off at the end of the set just as we played Smoke on the Water. Well at first they didn’t look much but the smoke coming out of them just kept on coming until it filled the concert room. Our eyes were streaming, the concert chairman was up in arms but the worst thing was the smoke was orange. There was so much smoke we couldn’t see a thing, they rang the fire brigade who eventually found the bin and hoyed it outside. The concert room was covered in orange stains, all over the chairs, everywhere. Ended up we never got paid just a massive cleaning bill’.

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‘Around ’78 Warbeck travelled down to London in our own transit van to support AC/DC at the Marquee. Bon Scott was thin as a rake then and Angus was just a tiny fella but you could just tell they had something about them. A great sound with a solid rhythm section for Angus to play with. They had a real presence. We also supported Whitesnake up at Ashington. I remember it was a November, absolutely freezing and the place was chocka block. Our dressing room was tiny with a little radiator and Coverdale’s room was all soft chairs, heaters with lobster thermadore. I knew him from when he was in a band called Government and he said hello. I thought I need to be at that level. We got close but through bad circumstances, didn’t quite get there. There was a lot of talent up here in the North East. Some of them should have made it bigger you know. Really good writers and great players I worked with, some wonderful performers up here’.

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‘All the Northern rock bands have worked bloody hard but a lot got ripped off. Some had a self destruct button though, it’s part of the make up. When we were signed suddenly we thought we were rock stars, but we had no money. The record company drove us from the house to the recording studio in Roll’s Royce’s. It was called RG Jones’ studio in Wimbledon. A guy I mentioned earlier Roberto Danova, he was composer, arranger, the producer there. In the studio next door was the Average White Band recording, across the hall was Queen. But we were missing recording sessions, the producers saying what’s going on here you know. The studio was £1,000 per day. But it was a case of self destruct from one of the band, drinking was involved. There was a tour with Whitesnake lined up. That should have happened. I had worked to get that far but I left in the end and opened a studio’.

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‘I had a record deal with Warner Bros in France with my band Nightwalker that was around 1990. A friend of mine called Guierc, he was a big shot in a private hospital, manager I think, but he was a rock star at night haha. He was in a music shop in Paris and there were two guys talking one of them was Dominic Ruiz who amongst others, wrote songs for rock band Krokus. He was saying he could do with an English singer and my friend Gieric butted in and said I know just the guy who can help you. Within two days I had plane tickets to fly to France. When I got there I met Dominic Ruize, he said I like your voice do you want to do some writing. All this through an interpreter because he only knew a few English words, and two of them were McEwans Scotch and Brown Ale haha’.

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‘We came back to my studio Baker Street in Jarrow and wrote together for five weeks, we done about about fifteen songs. He went back to France and set up some recording sessions with some really top players. It was brilliant, a great experience. It was all going well. I thought hey all the North East bands Warbeck, Brass Alley, Lucas Tyson all them bands who worked their socks off and thought we knew our stuff, but I learned a whole lot more when I went to their studio. I worked with Vanessa Paradis, she said Howard never start a song with a letter P, because it pop’s on the mic and using an S in lyrics. Just little things like that, they were a big help’.

‘We done a video and the single was ready for release. Our producer, John Ducusse who worked out of Harrison Studio, was with Warner Bros who had just been taken over by Sony. He had an album out, it was doing really well in Europe and he asked for another 25,000 copies of his album, they said no. He had been with the company for years. After a big row they said John, you’re sacked and you can take your bands with you. Well we were one of his bands. So they called us on December 23rd to say they had dropped us. I thought the call was going to be about the release of the single because they had already sent the acetates to radio stations. It’s a horrible feeling because I’d worked for years to get to that point. I was gutted’.

‘Around that time we put together a track and entered it into the Eurovision song contest. Sadly not succesful but reached the final 20. We recorded a few sessions with notable North East musicians, Ted Hunter and Shaun Taylor. I played in a band with guitarist Steve Dawson for about three years, that was Riff Raff. I was also in Ramm with Arthur Ramm from Beckett. Then the JPM Band with a guy called Mark Taylor who went on to play with Simple Minds.
When I had the studio a few people came in and recorded bits and pieces, former Hellanbach members Kev Charlton and Davey Patton came in for a session. The band Pariah came through here, Russ Tippins and Shaun Taylor he ended up in Nightwalker with me. Also guitarist Dale Carson who is now playing with Borderland. All really good players.
Some did go on to bigger things like Steve Robson he’s wrote stuff for Take That, One Direction, Christina Aguilera, a long list of them, now he’s head producer at Northern Sky Studio’s in London’.

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Bringing your story up to date what are you doing now ? ’I released a blues album in Summer 2015 The Paris Files recorded in a studio in Montmagny, north of the French capital.   Now I record a lot in Richmond Studio in Durham then send it to producer MrHardearly in Paris who gets in good musicians. This new album is more laid back and bluesy compared to my rock voice. That went really well. I’m still very busy doing nearly 200 gig’s a year, we’re currently putting a new sixties show together to tour. I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of the musician’s, producers, promoters that I’ve worked with through my career. The likes of Eric Moutard, Kevin Twedddle at Richmond Studio, Shirly Teasdale who was with me in Riff Raff for 17 years. You know, music, I would do it all again. It’s given me a house, a lovely lifestyle, yes I would do it all again’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2017.

Recommended:

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Harry Hill, FIST: Turn the Hell On, 29th April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Kev Charlton, HELLANBACH/BESSIE & THE ZINC BUCKETS: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson,( NEAT Producer) Godfather of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

 

 

THE GODFATHER of the North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal

Steve Thompson has had one hell of a career in the music biz, from songwriting with John Verity and Glen Ballard, to having songs recorded by artists Elkie Brooks, Sheena Easton and Celine Dion to producing heavy metal bands Venom, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang, plus working with a whole load of names like Pete Waterman, Gus Dudgeon, Rodger Bain and The Hollies…

prof-hm‘People say of most decades, “if you remember it, you weren’t there”. I remember it all right but much of it is blurred by the passage of time, the speed at which things were happening, and of course the other “stuff” that renders your brain cells a little less active. I’m afraid I have forgotten some of the songs I cut during my time as a heavy metal producer. I still get business execs in suits coming up and telling me that they were once in a band that I produced and how this happened and that happened during the sessions. I can’t remember it all but I always tried to make things happen, mostly laughter’.

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Where did it all begin ? ’I started out in the real home of heavy metal, the Steel Works! Like all the kids in my town, I went straight from school into Consett Steel Works. With three other steelworkers we formed a band called Bullfrog, and served two apprenticeships. One of them by day working in the steelworks, the other by night playing in the pubs and clubs of the North East of England. That was my first stab at the music industry. Bullfrog put out one single with Cube Records and it didn’t do anything. But over forty years later it’s resurfaced on a compilation album called 20 Power Glam Incendiaries!’

Who were your influences ? ‘Records I was fond of in the 60’s were The Beach Boys. Brian Wilsons skill in making records was unbelievable. Later I got to work with The Hollies, The Searchers and Colin Blunstone who I admired when I was young. I used to listen to the radio and they were so far away like gods playing this music you know. But the thing that got me into playing guitar was seeing the everyday older guys around town playing guitars, just ordinary people’.

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Bullfrog supported a lot of bands like Wishbone Ash, Vinegar Joe, Edgar Broughton that type, we also did a lot of the same venues as Beckett. It was The Rex in Whitley Bay where I met Brian Johnson in a band called Jasper Hart. The Rex had two stages and whatever band turned up first, went on first. So we used to drive around the venue until we saw the other band, and get there after them to make sure we headlined haha’.

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‘On October 10th 1974 I got a call from our manager to say there was a gig going that night supporting Wishbone Ash could I get the band together for the show. I rang round everyone including the roadies and we were ready to rock. When the call came in I had been dying my platform boots (well it was the 70’s) I fancied green but because of that call, in a rush I had turned out that night with one green boot and the other still the original cream colour. The show was at Newcastle’s Odeon Cinema, the one and only time we ever played there’.

‘One of Bullfrogs influences was The Groundhogs and their singer/guitarist Tony McFee. They were treading the boards at the same time as us. Part of that scene with Sabbath, Free, Deep Purple all of that stuff. When NEAT records started to happen for me Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs got in touch and said he’s gonna be in the area and he wants to do some recording. Can you get some guy’s together he said. So I got a friend of mine to play drums, I played bass and we played some of his songs. He stayed with me and my wife for a few days but we found it difficult to feed him as he was a vegetarian! After a few days of salads he pissed off without saying goodbye and I never saw him again’.

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How did you get involved with recording ?Bullfrog were in Island Studios in London with our first producer Roger Bain, he also produced Black Sabbath. I was introduced to his friend Gus Dudgeon of Elton John fame, later on I did a lot of work as a songwriter with Dudgeon. Gus once told me he helped Roger with the Black Sabbath stuff and said he encouraged Roger to overdub more cymbals on their first album haha. But the whole process of studio and songwriting really intrigued me so I knew where I was headed. I went ahead and wrote a few songs put them out there and a guy called Dave Wood heard about me and found a slot at Impulse Studio in Wallsend.

I can see that Dave pretty much wanted a young guy who would work around the clock with bags of enthusiasm for next to nothing but I just saw it as a big opportunity. I then embarked on a number of years having a ball and learning a great deal. I would produce bands and artists and in down time would cut my own demos.

The basic idea at Impulse was to have an in-house producer. Some places just had an engineer but I would be on hand to help in song construction, production and putting product out on vinyl and releasing it. Impulse originally had stuff released by Rubber Records which was a partnership with Windows Records in Newcastle’.

Impulse Studio and NEAT Records, what was the idea behind them ? ‘We set up NEAT as a vehicle really to release stuff or if someone wanted 1,000 records released we had the set up already. I also set up a publishing company called NEAT Music and we had a sub publishing deal called Neon with Bruce Welch of The Shadows. My early recordings gave me a start in writing and production, trying to be like Phil Spector, but failing miserably’.

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‘One day Dave Woods came in and said there’s a band who are making a bit of noise out there why not get them in and sell a few records? So in came The Tygers of Pan Tang to cut three tracks. Incidentally it was to be the third single I’d produced for NEAT (the first two releases were not heavy metal). But the thing that astonished me was how retro they sounded. I had been in a rock band in the early 70’s so knew where things were. But Dave said they are really popular let’s get them in the studio. Although now we know it is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the tide was coming in that very evening haha’.

What was the North Eastern rock scene like at that time ? ‘Well part of the scene where the Tygers played was a club called Mingles in Whitley Bay. They had a strict dress policy, if you weren’t scruffy enough you couldn’t get in haha. I went to one of their shows and walking home afterwards the Tygers thought it would be funny to restle me to the ground and threw my shoes on the roof !
Actually Mingles was the place where I checked out Raven, they were due in the studio so I wanted to get the feel of what they were about. I’ll never forget the first time I met the bassist John Gallagher. I was standing at the back of the room with my back against the wall watching the band on stage which must have only been six inches high. John took his bass and pointed it at me like a javelin, he raced toward me and only stopped right at my throat. I didn’t flinch. He gave me a wink as though to say, yeah you’ll do for us’.

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How did you get on with Raven ? ‘Actually when I agreed to produce the Raven album it was only on a three-day week basis. I figured I would need time out to recover from the sessions. Producing this album was an intense but rewarding experienced. I’ve heard these guys work described as ‘athletic rock’ and that’s just about right. In fact they were so energetic that I was obliged to gaffa tape the headphones to their heads otherwise they were just bouncing off as their heads where banging ten to the dozen as they recorded the tracks!’

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‘We decided we wanted a marching sound to bring in the Rock Until You Drop track so we mic’d up the toilet floor next to the studio and went in there and marched. It wasn’t right though. We needed a gravel pit or different footwear. I took a coffee break to ponder the problem and then it struck me. The disposable plastic coffee cups had just that crunch factor we needed. We spread a hundred or so and stomped on them at the tempo that the track was to be. We then did several takes but had to keep replenishing the cups. In the end we used the entire supply of three thousand. The next day Dave Wood was well pissed off haha’.

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Any stories from recording with Tygers of Pan Tang ? ‘They had no sophistication but I guess they made up for that with raw energy. They listened too. I was looking at this from a songwriter’s perspective and suggested that they shorten intro’s and reduce repetition’s of dead wood and get to the hooks quicker. I remember we recorded a track and the guitar solo in it was rather long so I cut it down. Unbeknownst to Rob the guitarist, the other three guys came and asked me to cut it. I cut a huge section out and give them the tape on a little spool. Perhaps it still exists somewhere in someone’s attic but it ain’t on the record. Well a few weeks later I went back to mix the tracks and Dave said hurry up let’s get it out there cos they’ve just done a gig where the audience went absolutely crackers. So I went to work on the drum sound and a few other bits and pieces, we got it ready and the A side was Don’t Touch Me There’.

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‘You know some studio work is psychology, getting the best out of people. For instance the harder I pushed Raven the better the output was. Most of the time humour was what worked best. Some people you have to be gentler with and try not to make a mistake. With Tygers vocalist Jess Cox I just didn’t know how to handle him. As a producer my role would be to point out bit’s that were out of tune. There was a lot of pointing with Jess. I’ve since pondered that perhaps they were really a punk band. Later on Jess was replaced, so make of that what you want. Anyway we put out Don’t Touch Me There and it started to really sell. MCA got interested so they picked it up, re-released it and went on to do their first album. (Wild Cat produced by Chris Tsangarides 1980) Our paths parted then, but sometime later I was looking for somewhere to live, and the Tygers had a spare room for me to move into’.

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What other bands came through the Impulse studio doors ? ‘As well as producing bands I was writing songs, pitching them to artists and also producing local artists with my songs. By now Roger Bain (Bullfrogs first producer) was head of A&R at Phonogram records. He was interested in signing an act I was working with, The Caffrey Brothers (formerly Arbre). I put on a showcase gig at Impulse Studio and Roger came up with his friend Gus Dudgeon. If Gus liked what he heard and agreed to produce then Roger would give us a deal with Phonogram. Gus did indeed like what he heard and we got the deal with Phonogram’.

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Did this lead to more work with Gus Dudgeon ? ‘We travelled to the fabulous Mill studios in Maidstone where many of the Elton John hits were recorded. I was able to learn from a master of record production. Gus kept asking my opinion on things and I would defer to him remembering my wild youth when I would not be told anything by anybody. One day Gus said to me, ‘you know Steve, this is your record and I am working for YOU!’. It was great to meet up with Roger Bain again and he wanted to hear all about the Neat Label. He said, ‘Tygers Of Pan Tang ? – strange name’. He told me they had just signed a band called Def Leppard. ‘Hey Roger, I said, that’s a strange name!’

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‘From the Phonogram sessions Gus and I became firm friends and we worked together many times over the years and he recorded many of my songs. Gus introduced me to people like Elkie Books and Colin Blunstone who also recorded my songs. I would also like to mention that just prior to working with the Tygers I had been to Odyssey studios in London to work with 60’s band The Hollies when they cut one of my songs. The track was unreleased and even when Colin Blunstone cut a version of it, that went unreleased too. Disapointing yes, but that’s how it goes sometimes’.

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‘I recall a really enjoyable session at NEAT with a band called Southbound.  They were a good rocking band with great songs. However they were not considered heavy enough for NEAT and the tapes lay unreleased in the archives. I found the tapes recently and digitised them. I was disappointed not to get Southbound released and I started to feel it was all heading in a direction that I was uncomfortable with. I wanted a broader outlook than just one genre and I eventually quit NEAT to concentrate on songwriting’.

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Where did you go after Impulse Studio ? ‘In the early 80’s I was signed to MCA Music as a songwriter. One day I got a call from my mentor there, Pete Waterman. Pete said there was a big-shot movie producer in town and I was urgently needed in London to meet up with him. So the next day I flew down and arrived in Pete’s office around midday. Pete introduced me to an American guy who’s name now escapes me. He was one of the producers of the movie, Jaws 3D which was nearing completion.
Anyway, this guy treated me to the story of his wonderful new movie and told me all it needs is a killer song. Apparently it’s a ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl’ theme. Except in this case there are no boys and girls involved, the lovers in question are dolphins. He says they have Barbara Streisand lined up to sing this yet to be written song. Pete has put me in the frame to write the lyrics and makes his office available to conduct my work. Pete and the American guy went off to lunch saying they will check my progress on their return. As they were leaving the American called back over his shoulder ‘hey kid, gimme a lurve song for two dolphins’.
Alone in the office I slid the cassette into the machine. Shit!!!!! How on earth could  I turn this orchestral pomp into a song. Still I had been charged with the task so I had to try. I spent the next two hours racking my brain and writing one liners and drawing doodles.

The guys arrived back and the American says ‘OK Kid, whaddyah got?’
I said,  ‘not much’ and passed over the piece of paper and waited to be well and truly spanked. Pete (ever the bullshitter) went into overdrive. ‘What did I tell you about my boy, F***ing brilliant, just look at this, sink or swim, I will follow him, that’s a killer line’. It was just about the only line but Pete was leaving no room for contradiction. He was already on the phone booking a studio for that evening. Then he dashed out of the office and grabed another MCA staffwriter who had a good singing voice. This hapless guy was named Simon Jeffries and he was going to have to sing this crap. Like me, Simon was not going to say no to the guy responsible for signing his yearly salary cheque (publishers advance).
I was therefore obliged to spend the rest of the day making words fit to soaring violins and trumpets. The pain of this was nothing compared to the recording session that evening. I think we nearly killed the poor vocalist. Unsurprisingly, I never heard another thing about my entry into the world of movie themes and as it happens I never saw Simon again either’.

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Have you stories about any of your songs ? ‘Songs are strange beasts they just come from anywhere. I wrote Paris By Air and it was specifically written for a girl called Toni Hallliday. I was working with her at the studio trying to get a record deal. I introduced her to Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics and she went off and did stuff with Robert Plant. She formed a band called Curve and had a fairly good career. But I’ll tell you how the song came about.
I was having a drink in a pub in London with my publisher and he said you can get inspiration for a song from anywhere. Like that poster there that says Prince of Wales, you could write a song called that and I looked at a different one, ‘no I’ll write a song called that’ pointing at a holiday advert poster saying visit Paris by Air. As I toyed with the song I knew what it was about. The song is about a young girl living on a housing estate in Washington, (town in Tyne & Wear, not the capital of USA) wanting to break out, but got no money and she see’s the sign on the wall encouraging people to fly to places like Paris, but she can’t’.

‘Did I tell you about the three songs I wrote for the Tygers of Pan Tang that ended up on The Cage album, no ? Well here goes….as I’ve mentioned I was signed to MCA in their stable of writers and my mentor was Pete Waterman, he was crackers. It was Pete who suggested the Tygers should do Love Potion No 9. Great idea. Anyway at that time I was sharing a rented flat in Whitley Bay with the band, it’s a sitcom waiting to be written haha. Bizarrely the original Tygers vocalist Jess Cox and his soon to be replacement Jon Deverill both lived at the flat. Lead Guitarist John Sykes lived there as well. So I would go off to Impulse studio in the mornings and John would stay in the house playing guitar constantly. He had this old record player. Apparently putting the guitar through the record player overdrives it and you can get a sound without being too loud.
When I’d come back from the studio he would still be playing, he’d been playing all day long. He was a really friendly guy and he’d ask what I’d been doing that day and sometimes I’d have rough mixes and I’d play him stuff. That particular day Tygers bass player Rocky Laws was there and I played them Paris By Air and Rocky loved it, the song stayed with him a few years’.

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‘Coming up to start recording their 4th album The Cage, there’d been a few changes in the Tygers camp. Jon Deverill from Persian Risk had been brought in on vocals and John Sykes walked out to audition for Ozzy Osbourne. (John wasn’t without a gig for very long. He ended up in Thin Lizzy) So that made a big dent in the songwriting team. Fred Purser from Penetration was brought in to replace John Sykes. The band were looking for some songs and Rocky suggested we should do that song I’d played to them a few year ago called Paris By Air. OK I said I’ll re-write the lyric as it was originally for a female.

I also played to their managers a brand new song called Lonely at the Top. It was unfinished and I played it on acoustic guitar, stamping my feet and vocally trying to make noise that indicated how it would become a loud rock song. They asked me to make a full demo and I did. It was also selected for the album.
Pete Waterman, who was my mentor and manager for Pete Collins who produced The Cage, heard the rough mix of the Tygers version and said ‘where’s the guitar lick, should be a guitar lick at the top’. So they flew the new Tygers guitarist Fred Purser, from Newcastle down to London to play the identical notes. Now I had done a few short lick’s on the demo but Fred is a far superior guitarist so it’s interesting to hear something so short but what effort it took to get it’.

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‘I also asked the Tygers Management if anyone wants to come along to my gaff in Tynemouth for co-writes. Jon Deverill said yes so we knocked off a few tunes. Letter to L.A. was put together using a Casio synthesiser played through a fuzzbox haha. That song was just prior to them going into the studio so it really was down to the wire with unfinished lyrics. They were in the studio when I got a call from Jon Deverill he said in his lovely little Welsh accent ‘I’m having a bit difficulty with these lyrics’ ‘I said ok what you got’ well it turned out he didn’t have much at all. He said I have these lines ‘so you like the weather and the food is nice’. I said, not only do you not have much in the way of lyrics but what you have is shit. A year later Pete Waterman sent me out to the MCA Los Angeles offices in America. I sent Jon Deveril a post card, my own ‘Letter from LA’. with my message ‘Dear Jon, I like the weather and the food is nice’ haha.
The L.A trip was quite an experience. More of that story later, now back to recording Letter to L.A. I said to Jon I’ll put some lyrics together, how long you got Jon ? ‘Oh well, we’re having a little break then I’m going in the studio to sing it…in 20 minutes’ haha. So phoning in a second verse in double quick time shall I say was challenging!
The Cage was a success but sadly the band broke up. I don’t know why maybe some of the guys thought we had been a touch too much in the commercial arena’.

What was your story from L.A ? ‘Pete Waterman sent me out to the MCA Los Angeles offices in America. The whole trip was quite an experience. I worked with some of their staff writers one of them being Glen Ballard. Now if you check him out he’s huge, Jagged Pill stuff with Alynis Morrisette, Man in the Mirror with Michael Jackson and I’m sitting in their office working with them, piano’s in the rooms you know. That’s the type of company I was keeping in those days haha. I suggested lyrics to them in my English accent and they’d say ‘oh man we don’t know what it means but it sounds fucking great ‘ haha. I was there for about 3 months working with these incredibly talented people’.

Did you record more tracks with The Tygers ? ‘After The Cage album and the break up of the Tygers I started working with Jon Deveril on a solo album before it morphed into the 5th Tygers album, The Wreckage. To begin with I was using a little portastudio but decided to go large with an eight track demo studio in my house in Whitley Bay. Jon and I went off to Dickens Home Improvement Hypermarket in Shiremoor to buy wood to build this thing. Neither one of us could drive then, so we carried the wood back on the bus and it took us three trips. How rock n roll is that ?’

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‘I met up with John Sykes again when we used his studio to record the 5th Tygers album. He had this huge place in the middle of a housing estate in Blackpool, that’s where John was originally from. So when we were there he popped in and met everyone. I co-wrote all the songs on that album with Jon Deverill. But at the time I was also working on an album with John Verity formerly of Argent, you know the single Hold Your Head Up, well he was always part of the rock scene as he was working with Saxon. To get between the jobs his roadie would pick me up at the studio in Blackpool and drive me over to Bradford where his studio was.
Gus Dudgeon was once producing some stuff that I had written with John Verity. Gus said it doesn’t have the same feel, he reckoned it just wasn’t working. I said we had originally demo’d it after a few drinks. So Gus dug out the tape and took off the harmonies and added them haha. Quite often the demo creates something that the prestine high production looses’.

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What other projects where you working on in your Whitley Bay studio ?
‘Eventually that studio in Whitley Bay became a bit of a ‘Brill Building’ with folks popping in and adding instrumentation or vocals. (Brill Building is a reference to the publishing house in New York where Carol King, Gerry Goffin and all their contemporaries hung out) One day I got a call from a management company who said they had just signed a young guy who wanted to come and work with me on some tracks. I said ‘no mate, I’m not into that’. They said ‘we’ll pay you’ and quick as a flash I said ‘cool,  send him round this afternoon’.  The young guy was Stu Emerson. I told Stu I was looking for a good female vocalist and he introduced me to Lorraine Crosby. I recorded loads of tracks with Lorraine. She recorded all the backing vocals on some stuff I was recording with a guy called Pete Adshead. Pete’s management company had sent him up from London to work with me in Whitley Bay. When the stuff started to get released Pete changed his name to Baby Ford. I had a couple of hits with him in the style of Acid House and one of them Chiki Chiki Ah Ah earned a BBC ban. I’m very proud of that’.

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‘Later I set up a publishing company with Brian Johnson of AC/DC. The company was called De Lucca Music based at his recording studio in Newcastle, Lynx De Lucca. We recorded the 6th Tygers of Pan Tang album Burning in The Shade there but it was written and pre-produced in my Whitley Bay studio. I also wrote and recorded an entire album with Alvin Stardust at Lynx. This might seem a bit lightweight but Alvin did a steaming version of a song Behind The Wheel which was originally intended for the Tygers album The Cage.

Later, Lynx studios was purchased by Eric Cook and Tony Bray of Venom. They asked me to go see them. They then offered me as much studio time as it would take to make an album or any project totally free. Wow, I said, you’re in business why would you give me a load of free studio time. Tony said ‘cos you gave us a career man’. Wow, all I did was spend about 3 hours in the studio with them and they got a whole career out of it haha’.

Have you a few more stories about The Tygers ? ‘Yeah, John Sykes was touring Japan with Whitesnake and we got a call from him saying the Tygers are huge in Japan why not get out here and tour. Well at the same time we were about to get a record deal from Music for Nations on the songs we had written so we decided to make this the 5th Tygers album rather than a Deverill solo album.
To produce The Wreck Age we couldn’t get Pete Collins who produced The Cage so we got the guy who engineered it – Phil Harding who was by then part of the Stock Aitken And Waterman set-up. Because it was going to be the Tygers, who had basically split by then, we needed another Tyger to validate the band, who wants to see a band with no original members ? So we ended up with Jon Deverill on vocals, original drummer Brian Dick came back in, on guitar was a guy called Neil Sheppard who looked like John Sykes. I can’t remember the others but I was asked to play keyboards. On the album I’m credited as guest musician but I played all the bass parts on it, all finger no plec, I thought it would take half an hour…it took 2 days haha.
I didn’t tour with them but we did a live TV rock show called ECT where I was heavily disguised. That show also featured Gary Moore and Robin George’.

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Anymore stories from the NEAT days ? ‘Yeah we had a stream of bands coming through the studio and one of them I mentioned earlier was Raven. When I first heard them I thought yeah this is heavy as hell, not what I am writing at the moment but it was constructed, well thought out and clever with a huge sound for a three piece. They have since said one of the things they remember about our time in the studio was how much they laughed. We experimented a bit, on one of the Tygers songs put a mic at the top and the bottom of the stairs, then we kicked a bin full of metallic objects down them, recorded that and put it at the end of the record, sounded great. At the bottom of the stairs someone can be heard declaring ‘Shit’ I’ve since seen that story applied to the Raven recordings. I can’t recall exactly, it’s all a blur to me now’.

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‘There was quite a scene for a number of years with muso’s getting together in some bars on the coast of the North East of England. They also hung out in Impulse Studios. We were working out of the studio on a few sessions putting stuff together, there was a band called Action. The line-up contained a young vocalist/guitarist called Andy Taylor. Andy was younger than the rest of us, he being 18 and the rest of us mid twenties. Andy did several sessions for me and I cut a few tracks with Action but none were released. He was always telling us we were boring old farts and he was going to be a megastar. One day he stuck a pin in the ‘want a musician’ adverts in Melody Maker and travelled down to Birmingham for an audition. He came home really happy and told us he got the gig. We asked him what the band was called and when he told us we laughed. ‘What kind of name is that? You’ll get nowhere, ha ha, Duran Duran, ha ha !’

‘I recall once I was coaching a nervous young bass player in the studio when our tape op said to the kid, ‘hey mate, why don’t you sell your bass and have a really good night out’. That tape op didn’t last very long but we were soon joined by another young guy called Conrad. It was his job to fetch and carry, make coffee, thread the tapes onto the machines, make tape copies and cassettes. Conrad fitted in well. He was a good tape op and got on well with everyone. He was always going on about his own band. It seemed that they saved up for about three months until they could afford enough pyrotechnics to blow up half a city, then had to save up to do another show. Conrad said very little about the music, it was mostly about the explosions. Nearly forgot to mention, Conrads band was called Venom’.

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‘Hey what about the time I gave Venom the Devil haha. The Devil is a knickname for a musical interlude called the Tritone. And it’s heavily discordant if you crank the volume up and play that, it is basically the sound of The Devil. I remember Conrad in the studio saying they had lost the bass player so I loaned them my bass and he played it through a Marshall stack and a fuzzbox. Apparently the loan of that bass gave birth to Black Metal haha. I’m responsible. Sorry.
Again they were very unrefined but absolutely bags of enthusiasm, but that was the last thing I recorded there. I never took a production royalty, just said there’s the tapes lad’s, I’m off. Eventually I sold Conrad that bass it was a Gibson EB3 and I’d had it right through my career. I said ‘I have no use for it now but you must take care of it’. Next I saw it had an upside down ephigy of Christ nailed to it and holes drilled through it. Some years later I asked him did he still have it and he replied ‘It died in L.A.’

What type of chart success did you have ? ‘On quitting NEAT Records as producer I had a shed load of releases as a writer. I was working in several different genre’s but I still had a healthy grounding in Rock. In 1981 I came up with a little slushy ballad which didn’t fit the NEAT stuff although I played it to Dave Wood and he said uh it’s ok. So I was determined my future lay elsewhere. Within six month it was a Top 20 hit, that was Hurry Home and it was in the charts for three month. At roughly the same time the Tygers put out Paris By Air which was a minor hit so I had some credibility on both sides of the coin. My publishing was with Neon and I had a hit with Sheena Easton on her Madness Money and Music album which went Top 20. Celine Dion also recorded the Sheena Easton song in French. It was a hit single in Canada going Gold. The album sold 400,000 units in Canada and 700,000 units in France.
Eventually I got to own all my own copyrights and I now publish myself with an international collection deal’.

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Looking back on your career what has music given you ? ‘Pain and pleasure !
Over the coming months I’m going to release some nuggets from my archives on a local online lable http://www.stevethompson.vaingloriousUK.com

Thanks for taking the time and sharing your stories Steve, cheers.

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2017.

Recommended:

Micky McCrystal, Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

John Gallagher, Staring into the Fire, 3rd May 2017.

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Robb Weir, Doctor Rock, 5th November 2017.