RUNNING MAN in conversation with Lindisfarne drummer, Ray Laidlaw

We’re in Tyneside Cinema Café in Newcastle talking about the blog….’I put it together because we all like hearing musician’s stories’. Ray fires back Do drummers count ? ha ha’

We both live on either side of the banks of the river Tyne, so does he think the river has an influence on who we are and what we do…Oh yes the river is a means of communication. Everything came in and out of the river. It is a barrier but also a conduit for ideas from other people from different parts of the UK and all over the world. Geordies have always been receptive to new ideas……and if they really like them they pretend they were theirs (laughs).

Paul Irwin and I started Tyne Idols. We are big fans of the region and it’s creativity so we came up with an idea of a bus tour around Tyneside celebrating music, TV and visit film locations. We often invite a guest on the bus, maybe an actor, comedian or musician. Last year we had Dick Clements and Ian Le Frenais, and went around locations of their show The Likely Lads. It’s a celebration of the area really.

Can you remember the music TV shows that came out of Tyne Tees studio in Newcastle ? Yeah we played a few, Lindisfarne were on the Geordie Scene. We also had a half hour show to ourselves on Alright Now. That was around 78/79 when we were making our comeback. We came up with a few ideas, in the first half we did a few songs and links in various locations then the second half was all live. Loved it. That was with producers Geoff and Andrea Wonfor.

But sadly Lindisfarne never appeared on The Tube. Ray Jackson had a song on where we all backed him but not as Lindisfarne. The Tube was great. Not just music but comedy as well. Stephen Fry, Dawn French and many others all got their breaks at The Tube.  It was influenced by the 1960’s TV show Ready, Steady, Go. I’ve been working on a programme about that with Geoff Wonfor.

It tells the story of the groundbreaking programme which was one of the first that had the cameras in view. The cameramen were brought in from the sports programmes because they were used to following action. That brought up the excitement when the bands were on stage. The documentary will be on BBC4 later this year.

Lindisfarne played Top of the Pops a few times, what did you think of the show ? It was ok, you just mimed. But the best thing was meeting other musicians. Most of the time you are touring on your own. It was like the early 1970’s festivals. We loved doing festivals because of the other bands you could meet.  Bands like The Faces, Medicine Head, The Beach Boys, Rory Gallagher, Humble Pie.

We played our first festival down in Devon in summer 1970 and on that occasion Free were top of the bill, they were just breaking then. They were supposed to close the show at 9pm with us playing just before them. At 10pm we hadn’t been on. Free had to be back in London for the next morning so they went on while we were backstage having a few drinks.

We finally got on at 11pm and opened with ‘Lady Eleanor’. It’s a song which creeps in. A guitar, mandolin bit, a bass bit, drums, then guitar harmonics at regular intervals. Waited for guitar part…. no guitar part. In those days Simon Cowe used to play sitting down so Hully had to go and kick him up the arse cos he’d fallen asleep (laughs).

Do bands have their time, maybe an album or two then come back in the spotlight years later ? Yes there is a bit of that. But when we broke through it was the perfect time because we were so different from everybody else. Also having three great songwriters in the band, most have just one, we had three.

Lindisfarne  had a number members but when the band recorded the number 1 album ’Fog on the Tyne’ the personnel were the original five, Alan Hull (vocals, guitars, keyboards) Ray Jackson (vocals, mandolin, harmonica) Rod Clements (bass, violin) Simon Cowe (lead, acoustic, 12 string guitars, mandolin, vocals) and Ray Laidlaw (drums).

We had the biggest selling album of ’71 in Fog on the Tyne. Everyone had that record. We had lots of our own fans but we were also other music fans second favourite group, like Newcastle United in the Keegan era. The Fog album was such a huge success that everything after that was going to be perceived as failure. So the third album only got to number 6 in the charts. Yes, only (laughs).

But we weren’t prepared for that. Management didn’t sit us down and say whatever happens it’s going to be a hard act to follow. Plus the record was put out too quick as we were the only band making money on the label. Maybe we should have taken six month off after Fog on the Tyne.

Who was your manager ? Tony Stratton Smith who owned the record company, Charisma. It was a big mistake. Basically Tony was talking to himself (laughs). ‘Do you want an advance’…’No’ (laughs). Charisma was a wacky label with Van Der Graf Generator, Monty Python, the poet Sir John Betjeman, us…where else would you get that ? Fantastically creative but had it’s drawbacks. So the band split in two because we couldn’t agree what to do after the third record.

The band with the same personnel, released the album ‘Dingly Dell’ and charted in the top 10. What recording studios did you use for the album ? In the early days the majority of our records were done in Trident Studios off Wardour Street in London. We used that studio for Nicely Out of Tune and Fog on the Tyne.

We also recorded some stuff in Olympic and Island studios and then when we got back together again in 1978 we used residential studios like Gus Dudgeon’s place in Maidenhead, we also went to Rockfield, Chipping Norton and Ridge Farm. By that time we all had young families so using residential studios worked out better as the wives and kids could visit.

Were some songs recorded just for the studio or all written to play live ? I think everything we did we at least attempted to play live. We had a guide that if a song works with one man and a guitar or piano it’ll work with the band. The song has to have a strength of it’s own first, almost with no supporting instrumentation. Live you try different arrangements, build it up or strip it back.

Some songs you would only do on one tour then put it back in the box. Some you have to play because the longer you survive the more material you have. It’s the early one’s that made your name. They have to be in the set list.

Do you come from a musical family ? Me Grandad was a pub singer and he could play piano. It was a good way of not buying his own beer. His daughter, my mam, was a good dancer but was a bit nervous to leave home so she never did it professionaly. That’s the only bit of a showbiz background.

But it was me Granda that bought me my first drumkit. I just liked the look of drum sets, a bit like some folks like motorbikes. A couple of mates had guitars. I was getting interested in music about 1960 and it was a perfect time because there was so much great stuff about.

When I first started in a group I was with Simon Cowe who was also in Lindisfarne with me. Our first group was a 3 piece, just instrumentals, we couldn’t afford a microphone. We were just learning, playing instrumentals. We did a couple of gigs in social clubs, only during school holidays because Simon was at boarding school in Edinburgh.

Where did you rehearse ? Simon’s family lived in a big old Georgian house, the poshest street in North Shields. His dad was an architect. There were loads of rooms and we set up in one of the spare rooms downstairs. Music wasn’t the only thing we got up to. We also made homemade fireworks and stole fruit out of people’s gardens (laughs).

But yeah I was a bit of a show-off really but didn’t have the confidence to be a singer or guitar player.  Just had an affinity with drums and was pretty good at it.

After that I was in a band called The Druids with Bob Sergeant who went on to be a producer on BBC radio for John Peel, The Clash, stuff like that. The Druids were playing all covers and gigged youth clubs for about a year. Then I met Rod Clements who was another posh lad from North Shields. His band had just packed in and we got into the blues via the Stones and John Mayall. We loved the Yardbirds. All fast and furious – we decided to get a band together.

We used to watch The Junco Partners and they were the first band we had seen that listened to each other, didn’t all play at once, they realised they all had a part to play within the group. We were inspired and looked for people who had to be as good as they were. It took 4 or 5 years to finally get our dream band together.

How much were Downtown Faction influenced by the folk scene on Tyneside ? We weren’t at first, that all came later. We were into the blues, it wasn’t until we started writing our own songs that we developed that bluesy/folk and rootsy sound. Simon was a great guitar player, finger picking style like Bert Jansch and we started listening to early Fairport Convention, Dylan, intelligent song writing.

We had a bit of arrogance about us, ambitious yes, and we looked down our noses at bands doing nothing but covers. We did play a few covers but we chose unusual tracks, Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, Frank Zappa tunes. We were looking to be original, wanted to be better than everyone else, putting the band together was organic… we gradually found the right people, there was no speedy plan.

13-mayfair-4-10-68

What year was this ? Around ‘67/68. We were the support band on Led Zeppelins first ever UK gig at Newcastle Mayfair. They were still called The New Yardbirds then and had only been going two weeks.

Can you remember much about that time ? Well we used to be on at the Mayfair a lot then, Tuesday would be a couple of local bands and other nights would be a big band who wanted local support. I used to see a lot of bands there, I was always in the Mayfair. I remember that Yardbirds gig but it didn’t make a massive mark.

How old were you then and did you have a proper job ? 20 year old and a window dresser at Shepherds department store in Gateshead. I’d dropped out of art college and needed a job. I got on well at the store so was able to juggle my time with gigs and work. Simon was a photographer at Turners in Newcastle so that was great for arty publicity shots that we could put up in a shop window in the Haymarket. They became a bit of a talking point, we always tried to be creative with what we did.

What else was happening on the music scene ? We did a gig New Years Day 1969 at Newcastle old town hall. Somebody had the brainwave of putting on a blues and poetry day. There was no heating in the place so it was freezing. 2 bands played, 4 or 5 poets were on and about 100 people there. The street poetry was astonishing, I’d never heard anything like it. Poets like Tom Pickard and Tony Jackson, pre cursor to today’s Benjamin Zephaniah and people like that. Very working class, very political.

After that there was a few blues evenings, all very arty, hippy, sit on the floor pay what you can sort of deal.

Did the band have a manager or agent  ? Ivan Burchill was the main agent in Newcastle then, but we wouldn’t compromise about our music so didn’t get as many gigs as some bands. Plus at our gigs we never got the lasses you know, we’d get all the muso’s turning up.

A guy called Joe Robertson got us gigs when we changed our name from Downtown Faction to Brethren. That was when people were taking notice, we were headlining a few shows and Joe was also managing The Junco Partners. That was when Alan Hull joined and his manager at the time Dave Woods from Impulse Studio came in on joint management with Joe. Inroads to record companies started to happen then.

Did you know Alan previously ? He was in a band The Chosen Few who along with The Junco Partners were the big bands in Newcastle. After his band crashed and burned, he took a break then began song writing again. He used to play in the folk clubs where the tradition was they’d let newcomers play 3 songs early in the night. He used to try his stuff out there and so did we because you didn’t want to try new stuff in front of a blues/rock audience.

Beginning as Downtown Faction, the band changed their name again from Brethren to Lindisfarne and were signed to Charisma records in 1970.

Was it an emerging scene then…Yeah it was a bit of an underground song-writing scene on Tyneside that was parallel to the more pop based groups. Bit underground because there were musos coming down from Scotland – Rab Noakes and the JSD Band, there was Prelude from Low Fell, Milesy (John Miles) and his group The Influence from South Shields, many others.

Folk guys were influencing the rock guys and vice versa. We were listening to Music from Big Pink by the Band (Bob Dylan’s backing band). They were doing stuff from American roots music with a rock rhythm section and that’s what we wanted to do. Fairport Convention were another band playing rock’n’roll versions of English folk tunes. Now here was music with a bit more history and depth, more gravitas. This is more like it. We loved that.

Our group all had different tastes but agreed on one thing. We loved The Beatles and we loved the way they treated every song as an individual piece of work. It wasn’t a problem for us to leave a guitar or drums off a track. It was all about the song. We were a song-writing band and we had to treat each individual song right.

We could write something and if it was alright for Top of the Pops we were ok with that. We didn’t have a problem about being commercial. Some of the songs we had were great pop songs but we never set out to write singles. Same with an album, every song had to count…no fillers. If there was a single in there, great, if not, no worries.

Have you got any road stories ? Lindisfarne had a break from 1973-76, we had a few successful one off gigs then made a new album in ’78. The opening night on the tour was Leeds University were The Who recorded their album Live at Leeds. We broke their attendance record that night. Two weeks later the fire brigade came in and told the University ‘With the number of fire escapes you’ve got, you got to cut the capacity by 400’. So our record will never be beaten (laughs).

Anyway the opening night we had some pyrotechnics, we went a bit showbiz like, and they would go off at the end of the show. Balloons and confetti cannons. The big ending you know. At that point the soundman was to mute every channel – and he forgot. So it went down every microphone, the monitors were like tissue paper, the speakers blew out as did the windows behind the stage. We weren’t invited back (laughs).

Did you play any gigs that turned out to be a nightmare ? Some of the usual rock ‘n’ roll stories where the promoter won’t pay you. And you’ve already played the gig. One time we had to get our crew to park our truck across the path of the headliners truck so they couldn’t shift it. Then the word would go out about dodgy promoters so you would ask for half the money up front.

Some tours were great fun with other bands. Genesis were on the same label as us in the early days so we used to be on the same bill along with Van Der Graaf Generator. Depending on what city we were in and who had the biggest following we would take turns headlining. But we used to finish the gig doing a song together. We’d play ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ a Lonnie Donegan song, with Alan Hull, Ray Jackson, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel singing a verse each. All the bands singing together. And nobody recorded it!

What does music mean to you ? It’s given me my life. If I hadn’t been enthusiastic about music and taken the plunge I probably would of ended up being a not very good teacher. I’ve had a really exciting life and it still is, you never know what the next phone call is gonna be. I’m still a music fan and that’s how I maintain my enthusiasm. So many good times with music. I’m just glad me Granda got us me first set of drums.

What are you doing now ? We’ve been putting together Sunday for Sammy concerts. Our dear friend the actor, Sammy Johnson died in 1998 and we didn’t just want a plaque for him, we wanted to do more so we came up with a concert idea. I’ve been involved with Sammy since the beginning in 2000 with Lindisfarne, then drummer for the house-band and from 2006 producing the show. The proceeds of the show are put towards the start of creative careers for young people. To date we’ve raised around half a million pound.

It’s fun to do and the audience laugh along with it. We had Mark Knopfler on one year and the running gag was he never got to do his song. He comes on stage playing the opening bars of ‘Money for Nothing’ and Tim Healy runs on shouting ‘No, not yet’. After repeating the gag Mark comes on later and this time Alan Shearer shouts ’Knopfler, play yer hit man’ (laughs). So he never got to sing but eventually played ‘Local Hero’.

Yeah, we have great fun and so do the crowd seeing some well known faces doing things they don’t normally do on stage – singers in sketches, (Brian Johnson played an angel once) actors singing and TV presenters accidently swearing. It’s a family show but we recommend 14 years plus because sometimes people forget their lines and you never know what they’re going to say.

Who scripts the shows ? We have a few people. Dick Clements and Ian Le Frenais who wrote The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen Pet, they write us a new sketch every time. Geordie comedian Jason Cook, Ed Waugh from South Shields. We also have a sketch writing competition for new writers, A Sketch for Sammy, we used two winners on the 2018 show.

Are you looking forward to the 20th Aniversary show ? To be honest I’m terrified and excited in equal measures.

https://www.sundayforsammy.org/home/blog/sunday-for-sammy-2020-ticket-news

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

 

 

ACCESS ALL AREAS in conversation with Stage and Production Manager, Colin Rowell

Motorhead came to the City Hall with their Bomber lighting rig. They strapped me to the cockpit and flew me round for hours ha ha. I remember drinking Tequila with them on the hotel balcony after a gig in Berlin…but don’t ask me about Brian Robertson’s hawaiin shirt ha ha.

A few people told me ‘You gotta get Col’ he’ll tell ya loadsa stories’. A few weeks back I interviewed Chris Phipps who worked with Col’ on The Tube and he recommended I get in touch. He passed on his contact and we agreed to meet up.

This is the bit where I mention their background, what they’ve done or how they made their name. But where do I start for Col ? What about Stage Manager at Wembley Stadium for David Bowie, Production Manager for Genesis at Knebworth, Reading Festival stage manager. Tour manager for Hawkwind, Motorhead, Buzzcocks, Big Country. And more.

TV stage manager at The Tube, Razzamatazz, TX 45. Music shows across the BBC, ITV, CH4, USA TV. The list goes on. What do you do to relax Colin ? Listen to music Gary, what do ya think ha ha.

With his infectious laugh and good humour Colin recalls his time of nearly 50 years in the music business. Yep 50. Let that sink in. So buckle up. You know I’m just a lad from Hebburn who got to work with some of the biggest bands in the world. It was right time, right place.

How did you spend your teenage years ? My passion for music came in the ‘60s when me and a friend from Clegwell School were singing in North East Working men’s clubs. I was around 13 year old, still at school and earning more money than the teachers (laughs).

How did you get to be stage manager at Newcastle City Hall ? At college in the early ‘70s I ended up running a coffee stall in the Haymarket, booking bands and promoting concerts. At the Mayfair I had Fleetwood Mac on when ‘Albatross’ was in the charts. At the City Hall I had Sweet on with their hit ‘Blockbuster’.

Another time was two days at the City Hall with Chickenshack, Savoy Brown and Tyrannosaurus Rex. The compere was John Peel. I also done some follow spot lights and other jobs around the hall. I knew the place well and got on with all the visiting promoters who said I done a good job.

I knew Bob Brown the City Hall manager so when the opportunity came up to take over the stage management he said ‘Col you know your way around will you look after the place ?’ So yeah I started hiring crew, getting equipment in, making sure sound checks were on time and just generally ran the venue.

I was there for several years so the bands I saw and the stories I could tell you, we’ll be here forever. So I’ll keep them for my book (laughs).

Can you pick a few out, maybe a nightmare job ? There’s a few but maybe one that was a nightmare for others. It involves Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. They were on a UK tour and stopped for their gig at Newcastle City Hall. The singer Graham Bonnet came up to me and said ‘You don’t know any good hairdressers around here do you Colin?’  I said ‘Funnily enough my sister in law has a shop just down the road 5 mins away from the hall’. She said ‘Send him down and we’ll get him in. He went, got the cut, and everything was hunky dory…until after the show.

At 4am in the dressing room you’ve got Paul Loasby from Harvey Goldsmiths office, me, Ritchie Blackmore and the drummer Cozy Powell going mad cancelling the world tour because Graham Bonnet had his hair cut (laughs).

Another Blackmore story was we used to have to take the doors off the City Hall to get the rainbow in from their stage set, it was so big. The rumour was that on their way to America they threw it in the ocean. I was curious about this so Ritchie called me up and said ‘There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the rainbow still exists and I’m giving it to you as a gift. The bad news is, it’s in America under your name and costing you storage (laughs)’.

Which yeah I thought was great, my story is littered with stuff like that. And I look back on those times Gary and think, can’t be bad can it.

Have you any gigs that stand out as really good memories? There has been loads of great times but one night we had Golden Earring on. You know they only had that one hit ‘Radar Love’. And the guest band were Lynyrd Skynyrd who were blowing them off everywhere on that tour.

When they came to Newcastle City Hall the management of Golden Earring told them they couldn’t have any lighting and only 8 channels on the sound desk. Now as it happens I’d bought some lights off Lindisfarne and stored them in the hall. So I set the lights up and knew the sound engineer so we bumped them up to 16 channels. Well Lynyrd Skynyrd were over the moon and they blew them off. Again.

Next time they came to the City Hall on tour they were headlining and the guys came backstage to one of the rooms which was used for guitar tune up. 4pm in the afternoon they came to me and said Colin we’ve got a huge problem. ’There seems to be water coming in the room where we’ve got the guitars. Do ya’ wanna go an’ have a look ?’

I opened the door and found there was nothing in there. Then the door get’s shut behind me, a water hose get’s pointed through the window and I get drenched from head to toe. I’m dragged out, put on the shoulders of the band and ran around the hall (laughs).

At the end of the night they gave me t-shirt’s, a tour jacket and left me two cases of Jack Daniels.

That’s a great gesture from the band… Yeah I was the only one on that tour that made the extra effort for them. The Skynyrd would have paid a fortune to be on that tour and part of that deal is sound and lighting. I thought it was so unprofessional of the other band, if they were getting blown off they should of played a bit harder.

How did you get involved with TV and in particular The Tube ? There was Geoff Brown, Chris Phipps and me sharing an office in Newcastle. What happened was they, as producers, had applied for this music television show and asked me if I was interested in joining the team as stage manager.

You see from years at City Hall I knew the acts, the crews, the managers and they were all glad when they knew a familiar face and voice was going to be there running the stages in the studio. I had left the City Hall by the ‘80s and went and done a bit tour managing. Funny thing was I left on the Friday and by the next Thursday I was Rick Wakemans tour manager. And the gig was at you guessed it… the city hall.

What was your time like at The Tube ? Just five years of sheer magic. First off started with two stages, ended up with four and I did the deal with ENTEC who were a big sound company. They ran Reading Festival and owned The Marquee.

It was a smooth operation with them providing all the sound and crew. It was flown in (hung from ceiling) off the stage making it easier for cameramen to have floor space and no big speakers in their way. Also a lot of the bands had done Reading festival so they could easily organise equipment with ENTEC.

Earlier on the blog an interview with Chris Phipps talks about bands that broke on The Tube. Can you remember any ? Yeah me and Geoff Brown were sent to London to check out Grandmaster Flash. It was the first time The Tube were going to have on stage a set-up of a band playing all the scratchy stuff. We get to the venue and there was a support band on so we went to a Steak house but it was dreadful, we didn’t eat it and went back to the venue. The support act were still on and it was Paul Young and the Royal Family. We listened in this time. This was good stuff.

We got back to Newcastle and in a meeting with one of the head guy’s at The Tube, Malcolm Gerrie, I banged the table and said ‘let’s get him on’. And we did. But Malcolm and I felt Paul didn’t get a good crack of the whip so we invited him back on again and the rest is history. So not only got him on twice and broke his career and in 1991/92 I was his tour manager…it all follows on.

Did you work with any North East bands while on The Tube ? Yeah Prefab Sprout. We used to do the Mid-Summer Specials on The Tube and unfortunately one show was cancelled on us. There was a boat parked on the river Tyne near the bridge called Tuxedo Princess. I had the boat all set up for them but it didn’t happen. There was an electricians strike.

I went on and done loads of music television shows, one of them was Big World Café in the Brixton Academy and Prefab were on that. I just saw Paddy last week with his long white beard. Lovely to see him.

You seemed to be constantly in work in what can be a fragile career working in the media ? Here in the North East in the early ‘80s I put on Rock on the Tyne festivals at Gateshead Stadium. We had three big generator trucks parked at the back of the stage and somebody had put a big sign on it saying ‘Do not switch off. Colin’s hairdryer in use’ (laughs). The crew had a laugh with me. You’ve got to get on with people.

I got invited down to Knebworth where I’ve stage managed 15 shows, last one was Genesis. I’ve been so many times there is a rumour that on the stained glass window of Knebworth Castle there is a painting with planes on and Queen in there, plus me in the corner and a glass of red wine (laughs).

But you have to be an affable person and getting people to work for you. You get a reputation. I’ve stage managed the Brits, MTV Awards countless other shows on reputation alone.

Have you worked abroad ? Yes many times, once I ended up having dinner with Boris Yeltsin in the Kremiln. There was a big cultural show in Russia, orchestra’s were on, ballet, all sorts. We got the TV trucks parked and set up in the heart of Moscow Red Square when some heavy looking Russian men approached. We all had walkie talkies and they asked us for them ‘Because they need to be configured’.

Three hours later they brought them back. We asked what was wrong with them. Apparently they were interfering with their big red button below ground in the their military bunkers. Right under our trucks. Cudda’ went boom !

What you up to now ? Apart from writing my book and meeting my publisher soon, I still dabble in event production. We formed The Showblokes and worked with Sun FM, Century Radio, Newcastle Opera House, Stockton Council a load over the years. It’s my passion to still be involved.

I’ve been in more hotels than living in my house so I don’t do any tour management but have for the last 9 years managed the Carlisle Blues and Rock Festival. Yeah still keeping my hand in.

Interview by Gary Alikivi 2019