Leaving school and taking up a job as a Chef led Tony Hodge down a path that he couldn’t imagine…
I’ve been very lucky as a chef, drummer, actor and company director plus a rocker in the famous ‘60s era of mods and rockers. Looking back they were great years, it’s been a blast. I’ve been a lucky man said 75 year old Tony.
Did you come from a musical family ?
My family weren’t musical as such, although my parents sang in the church choir and my brother plays guitar. When I was a chef in 1961 at the Park Hotel in Tynemouth, the hotel had a resident band with a drum kit. I had an urge to play and that started a career that spanned over 30 years. Mind you many wouldn’t class my drumming as musical. Then I went with Ray Laidlaw (Lindisfarne) to see Ginger Baker and Cream at the Club A Go-Go in Newcastle, that changed my style of playing – I became known as Animal.
Can you remember your first bands and gigs?
My first band, I was 16, we only played a few gigs then I joined Dominion Aces, then Turm with John Lawton singing, he later sang for Uriah Heep. Next was Arctic Rainbow with Kenny Mountain (Beckett) and Micky Balls on guitar. Venues included the famous Rex Hotel, Whitley Bay and the Cellar Club in South Shields.
Then there was Tex Leon and the Tynesiders and finally The Piranha Brothers who had a huge following and never stopped filling clubs for the 10 years we played in the North East. We had a four part singing line up in many songs and some of a set at the Birtley Rex is on my You Tube page.
The Pirahna Brothers line up was two lead vocalists in Geordie Scott and Allen Matthews, lead guitar & vocals from both Paul Simmons & Mac Norris. During their time they had three bass players – founder Bill French, then Paul Allen and finally Dave Wightman. On drums was Tony Hodge.
Where did The Piranha Brothers play ?
Venues were mainly social clubs as they were hundreds around then and all the agents used them. We weren’t a typical social club band though, as our act was largely made up from our own songs written by Paul Simmons our lead guitarist. Most bands played covers as I had in the Tynesiders, but we had an act that worked in clubs and other venues.
One night we played Newcastle Mayfair with three other bands to a 3000 plus audience and The Piranhas played several open air concerts in the early ‘80s at Gypsies Green stadium in South Shields.
The most popular Piranhas venue was Heaton Buffs in Newcastle. Our Christmas concerts sold out the year previous. The original single night ended up as three nights, and we had guest bands playing along with the brilliant resident band Burlesque.
The Christmas nights were themed with ideas being thought up by our singers… ‘St Trinians’, ‘The Young Ones’, ‘WWII’ and the final one ‘The Nativity’ and Burlesque always joined in the game. I still wonder though how some of the guys always thought women’s nylons had to be included.
The guest bands never knew what to expect and one time a guest band was 747 with the late brilliant musician Dave Black. This band was really cool, all good looking and right up to date. We hired a topless dancer to come on stage mid set and serve drinks on a tray to the band.
Dave was singing in full swing and she was out of his eyesight. The rest of the band saw her and were laughing but Dave was oblivious. When she stood in front of him he was speechless – literally – and his face was a picture. The audience loved it though.
We often had many famous faces in the audience such as John Miles, Brian Johnston (Geordie) and Hylton Valentine (The Animals) so it must have had some appeal.
Pictured above is the Newcastle Mayfair competition final. The room was packed with over 3000 people. Two bands had the biggest following, that was Burlesque and us. All bands were great on the night but the audience were very unhappy when neither won. A riot erupted with plastic glasses being thrown and Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) could not provide the prize.
Alan and Brian, the Mayfair manager, asked if anyone from the Piranhas or Burlesque could try and do something. Paul from Burlesque and I went on stage to try and calm the audience down and the anger turned to cheers.
Alan Hull presented the prize with a bowl on his head to everyone’s delight. One of the judges, Chas Chandler (The Animals), invited us to go to Abbey Road studios and record our songs which we did.
Have you any memories from those North East gigs ?
Piranhas were known for the two main singers in Geordie Scott and Alan Mathews, pulling many stunts like pretend fights and blood capsules. They had funny routines without in any way being a comic band. This night to a packed room we counted four beats and the usual very loud intro to First Bite powered out. As always Geordie jumped up fists in the air and hit the deck, Alan started to dart around the stage.
This time however Geordie didn’t get up. This seemed ok, these guys were up for anything after all, however the intro was over and Alan wasn’t joined by Geordie. We played on but after a few more bars we realised something was wrong. It was…Geordie had dislocated his knee and ended up being taken to hospital in an ambulance. In the true showbiz style of the show must go on, Alan and the rest of us finished the night.
Another night at the Birtley Rex. A guy called Liddle Towers had recently died in police custody in Birtley and the police were none too popular.
(Liddle Towers was an amateur boxing coach who died in police custody, in 1978 South Shields punk band The Angelic Upstarts wrote a song about the incident The Murder of Liddle Towers).
This night our first set was our own material only, but second set we were finishing our final set with a couple of punk covers. A wedding party had been trouble through the night and a fight broke out. The police were called and a young Police Constable plus an overweight Sergeant arrived. When they entered the whole club erupted against them, chairs, tables, glasses all went flying.
A roadie got cut and I ran from the dressing room to the stage yelling to the police to run to the dressing room. The guys dragged them in and the glasses hitting the doors sounded like a battlefield. Suddenly there was silence and out of the tiny window was a wall of blue lights as far as you could see, police were everywhere.
Eventually, I ventured to the stage and the club was empty. Wrecked but empty. Never have I ever seen a club clear so fast.
Did you record any of your material ?
Yes I have a couple of singles they are in the attic collecting dust, unfortunately no turntable. I last heard one of them on You Tube as a fan must have uploaded it.
In 1979 The Piranha Brothers had a single on the Durham record label, Guardian. The song was called Too Much of Wanting You and studio owner Terry Gavaghan wrote that and Paul Simmons and Iwrote the b-side Dancing Time.
At one point Brian Johnston (Geordie/AC/DC) was a big fan. We recorded a single in his Newcastle studio Lynx, the song was called A Woman Like You. But it went to the USA and nothing happened. Chas Chandler (The Animals) got us recording in Abbey Road studio – but major fame alluded us.
Next time on the blog read the second part of Tony’s story, where he sees an opportunity to prolong his career in entertainment.
I didn’t think I could be playing drums in my 40s and 50s and I thought I would have a longer career in acting than music. It was a surprise because I never thought I would get as far as I did.
Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2021.