POPTASTIC BUBBLEGUM – Back Where He Started From with singer & songwriter Vinny Edwards

‘Sky High’ by Jigsaw or Kim Carnes ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ are classic pop songs built on great hooks or a chorus – poptastic bubblegum made for radio. In the same bracket is the ‘70s hit ‘Back Where We Started From’ reaching number 8 in the UK charts and number 2 in the USA, an international song co-written by a lad from South Shields – not bad for a Sand Dancer.

A quick rundown of the career of singer/songwriter J. Vincent Edwards tells us he was born in 1947 and went on to make a number of records including the hit novelty song ‘Pump Up the Bitter’ in 1988.

I came across Vinny when I was reading the excellent blog ‘Ready Steady Gone’, authored by Roger Smith. He wrote that Vinny was born only 5 minutes away from the beach – a real Sand Dancer – if you’re not familiar with the term it refers to a native of South Shields.

Thanks to Roger I received an email from Vinny, and with correspondence over the next few days plus checking his songs on You Tube, a colourful picture of his music career emerged…Although I don’t live in the UK now I was born in Shortridge Street just off Ocean Road near the beach – I used to play there and the Marine Park – they were bloody cold!

I remember when I was 10 year old I got into music after hearing the American singer Sam Cooke – I was in! If God ever wanted to become a recording artist he would use the voice of Sam Cooke.

My first band was The Tyneside Skiffle Group featuring Vic Malcolm who was also in The Stormers and later started Geordie who had chart success. Then I was in The Invictors and then The Answers. I remember my audition for the Invictors at Tyne Dock Youth Club, I sang Stay by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs – blew them away !

In my early years we played all the North East working mens clubs. If you check out a group I was in during the ‘80s called Star Turn on 45 Pints – that was all based on playing the clubs especially Brigham & Cowans in South Shields. In fact we filmed some of the video there for our hit Pump Up the Bitter.

Did you have a manager or agent ? In the late ‘60s we were represented by Richard Harris and his company Limbridge Music. This was the time we moved to London and France with a band called The Answers who were signed to American label Colombia.

‘Right Back Where We Started From’ by British soul singer Maxine Nightingale was a hit in 1976, how did it come about ? I wrote that in Austria in 1972 while my darling wife Ursulla Skalla was in front of the mirror drying her hair! Thing was I didn’t have a title until one day I met an old mate and songwriter Pierre Tubbs and he came out with the title which fitted perfectly. We finished writing the song the next day when we were in his car driving over to Hammersmith Hospital to meet his wife who was having a baby!

Where did you take the song next ? Well Pierre worked at United Artists record company and Maxine Nightingale was around at this time, I knew her from our work in the musical Hair. We thought about a duet first but I had just signed to Privit Stock Records so I produced it myself and added backing vocals. I insisted that Maxine got royalties from the song and not just a session fee.

But I loved the recording studio, all the musicians we got in were wonderful. We appeared on TV all over the world, then with different songs from Hair, a song called Thanks plus a few others – there was a lot and I loved it all!

I was always asked to sign for various record companies they must have thought I was somebody else (laughs).

Check out Vinny’s impressive release of singles and albums throughout his career on CBS, United Artists, Hans, Pye, Polydor and many other record labels at discogs.

What does music mean to you ? Everything, fun, humanity, love and peace – just everything really.

What are you doing now ?  I’m caring for my wife’s parents, drinking good German beer and waiting for the Labour Party to get back in!

I’ll leave you with this song I wrote Keep on Trying from 1974, my band at the time The Usual Suspects played on we also had on bass the AC/DC and Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange – who hasn’t he produced, and he produced our single – happy days! Why not check it out on You Tube.

Link to Roger Smith’s blog Ready Steady Gone: http://www.readysteadygone.co.uk/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  July 2020.

ALL SAID & DONE with Derek Miller from North East prog rockers CIRKUS

Out of the ashes of North East bands Moonhead and Lucas Tyson, Sunderland band Cirkus emerged on the ‘70s progressive music scene. With the right backing they were confident of achieving success on a national scale…..Every band thinks that they have something different to offer. We also had two agents at the time, Ivan Birchall who was a true professional as a booking agent, and Mel Unsworth.

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The line up was John Taylor (bass) Stu McDade (drums & vocals) Paul Robson (vocals) Dogg (guitar) & Derek Miller (keyboards)…..We played all the usual clubs and were lucky to play the University gigs. The University audiences gave us the benefit of the doubt but the club audiences were unsure how to react to our set. We opened with ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ a King Crimson song. Incidentally we got our name from one of their tracks. In fact on several occasions we didn’t even get to the bridge and were ‘paid off’ on a regular basis (laughs).

 In 1974 the band went into Sound Associates/Emison & Air Studios in London. What was your experience of recording ? We were encouraged by the reaction to our songs from Ken McKenzie. He owned the studios where we had demoed our songs. This resulted in a fight for our signature between songwriters and producers, Dave Dee, Mickie Most and Chinn & Chapman. Finally we signed up with a guy called Robin Britten who was manager of The Hollies. But this is where it all went pear shaped.

We were already earmarked by Chinn & Chapman for the project known as Smokie, but Britten intercepted negotiations and we recorded the album Cirkus One, incorporating Beatles producer Ron Richards and Tony Hymas. The album included orchestral arrangements, a 32 piece orchestra and chorus.

What did you think of the album ? It’s a good album but some of the mixes are questionable and poor old Ron was struggling. But timing is everything. We seemed to be doing alright on a retainer and with our own apartment in Central London, but as Britten was about to hand over the over produced and over engineered concept album, The Sex Pistols were telling everyone to ‘eff off’. And prog rock was dead.

Britten lost a small fortune and failed miserably trying to get it off the ground. Anyone that has been sacked will relate to this. I still remember being called into the office and having that sinking feeling ‘Is he talking about us?

How did you handle this situation ? Our bassist John Taylor, with his unstinting optimism suggested we all return to the North East and regroup. This idea was a bit of a sickener as I had just set up in London and got a job at RCA records. The ultimatum was return to Geordieland or be replaced. For reasons I find hard to understand now, I hired a transit van and returned.

Did you have any nightmare gigs where everything just went wrong ? We had a couple. Namely the Marquee in London where there was loads of reps from record companies to see us. What happened was that the pa actually ‘blew up’ and we couldn’t continue. Then there was the time our manager Robin Britten was trying to sell the band so he chartered a private plane to fly to a gig in the North East, Ashington Central to be precise. It was a nightmare flight, with sick bags being handed around. We done the gig but we were awful. Not a great way to sell the band.

On another occasion we invited Mike Chapman (songwriter/producer) up to see the band at the Londonderry Hall in South Shields. It didn’t start well as Chapman arrived at Sunderland station and walked into the glass doors, he was expecting them to be automatic. We thought it was funny, he didn’t. He wondered what sort of hell he had walked into when a police car was overturned and set on fire – just a normal Saturday night in Shields….in the end the gig was cancelled (laughs).

By ‘75 lead vocalist Paul Robson left to be replaced by Alan Roadhouse (ex Halfbreed) who also played sax….Yes along comes Alan, multi-instrumentalist, singer and larger than life character. Exactly what was needed to kick start Cirkus the club band.
Paul and Alan were both great vocalists in their own right. Alan had a certain flamboyance which the club audiences lapped up. He also played sax and flute. This allowed us to tackle all sorts of covers from Gerry Rafferty to Moody Blues. We became a live juke box.

We rehearsed all week and had a new song nailed by the weekend. We had a winning formula that continued for several years. The highlight of the first set was an explosion of pyrotechnics at the end. It worked like a dream scaring the sh** out of most people. Especially when sparks landed in the bingo machine and set fire to it. In the end we had to pay for a new machine (laughs). One highlight was watching the roadies trying to use a foot pump to inflate our blow up doll ‘Melissa’ by the end of the song (laughs).

Everything seemed to be hunky dory then ? Yeah at this time we were still writing new material. We recorded a couple of our own songs, Amsterdam, Pick up a Phone, and Melissa. We performed them live and mixed them in with the covers in the set. The EP sold well and we recouped our outlay.

By the early ‘80s ‘ I’m On Fire’ was featured on a Battle Of The Bands album but this proved to be the final offering from Derek…We were deciding if we should invest the proceeds into a new EP or divvy up the dosh. John, Stu and Dogg thought it was a good idea to divvy up and that was the beginning of the end for me… I decided to leave the band.

In my opinion we were going nowhere. We were repeating ourselves and going back to the same clubs every 3 months. I think the lads kept going for a few years after I left and I lost touch with the band.

But you know looking back over the years we were lucky to be able to recruit some of the most talented guitarists, like Keith Satchfield of Fist. Yes there was some hiccup’s along the way but we did have some brilliant gigs. We did a series in Holland where the Dutch people seemed to like our original music, tho’ it might have been what they were consuming (laughs).

We had some great gigs in the clubs as well. At one time we were gigging 8 shows a week, 2 on Sunday. My dad, who was horrified when I packed my job in at the Shields Gazette, was immensely proud to see the queues round the block on a Saturday night. Other bands around at the time were Geordie, Goldie, Burlesque and The Piranha Brothers, that was the peak of the club land scene in the North East.

The 1990’s saw sporadic releases from the band with ‘Cirkus II The Global Cut’ and only Derek Miller featuring from the original line-up. Then in ‘98 the much anticipated third Cirkus album ‘Pantomyne’ was released. This brought together original members and main songwriter, Stu McDade and featured cameo performances by an array of other musician’s most notably former frontman Alan Roadhouse. How did these recordings happen ? I wanted to record some new material so I built a little recording studio. I was working with a new singer called Ian Wetherburn, who I thought had a great voice and also looked the part. We put an experimental album together and Audio Archives picked up on this and decided to distribute the cd. It was basically demos but I decided to release it anyway. We pressed 500 copies and as with Cirkus One is highly collectable.
Off the strength of the Global Cut album I met up with Stu McDade and we decided to pool our resources and record a new album. Pantomyme was the result and again Audio Archives agreed to distribute.

For different reasons we lost touch until about 3 years ago when we decided to record some new material. Sadly in 2016 we lost Stu, leaving some unfinished tracks. With a brand new set of talented musicians, we managed to finish the tracks and also add some new ones. ‘The Blue Star’ album was released in June 2017 and is dedicated to Stu.

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Can you bring the Cirkus story up to date ? The new line up bears little resemblance to the original band as we have morphed so much over the years and Cirkus V is the new band. Now we have Mick Maughan (guitars, vocals, production)
Nick L Mao, (vocals, guitar, production)
Brian Morton (bass) Dave Ramshaw (vocals)
Paul Moose Harris (vocals) and me on keyboards.

On the back of the success of The Blue Star album comes Trapeze. We all record remotely passing tracks back and forth with someone ultimately doing the final mix. The tracks are all written by the band and as we speak the album is nearly finished.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

 

 

ROOT TWO AMPLIFICATION with owner and Geordie guitarist, Steve Dawson

‘The electric guitar is still the coolest instrument  and there will always be a market for amps, albeit boutique in my case as opposed to mass production, but who knows what might happen’.

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It’s a warm summer day and the town hall clock chimes as I enter a large terraced house (pre-Victorian) on Beach Road in South Shields. I’m here to meet Steve Dawson in his workshop and find out more about his business….I’ve been working on amps for more than 40 years. I started tinkering with them in the ‘70s, then privately repairing and modifying them throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. I ended up working for Marshall from 2005-14 as an electronic design engineer. I designed and brought out some highly regarded amps in my time there, such as the ‘Astoria range’, ‘Class 5’, the ‘Vintage Modern’, ‘JMD range’ as well as various reissues from their back catalogue like the Hendrix ‘Super100JH’ and 2012 anniversary ‘Bluesbreaker’ and more.

When did you start Root Two ? I started in August 2015. I believe it’s going to take a good 4 to 5 years to get properly established in repairing, servicing, modifying and upgrading amplifiers and working on the electronics in guitars. Many people still think I work for Marshall!

Are you happy with the way the business has developed so far? I’ve clocked up over 300 customers in four years so I’m doing alright. It’s a sustainable business despite this current economic climate…although I won’t be taking any holidays in Hawaii just yet (laughs).

Have you got any future plans for Root Two? When I’m up to altitude I’ll start producing new products I have already designed.

I’ve been talking to an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) who will build the design and take care of that side. I’m thinking of contacting a few other people who I hope will be interested in getting involved in the project, especially the promotion side. That’s my goal, as well as repairing and servicing etc. because it’s a tough world out there and being able to offer a few things will work out better.

I’ve got a good reputation all over the world from my days at Marshall with a lot of people familiar with the amps I designed, which is worth its weight in gold when I bring out my own product.

Scrolling through the Root Two Facebook page I come across messages left by satisfied customers….

I have an old Watkins Westminster amp which was in need of some TLC. Steve serviced and repaired this amp and I was in contact every step of the way. I am extremely happy with the results and the costs were very reasonable. I fully recommend Steve and will contact him again if I have any problems with my electrical equipment. (Tommy Scott)

My Bugera amp went in dead and came back alive as a spring chicken. Steve is a very knowledgeable and amenable chap with a professionalism, heritage and CV that some can only dream about. I whole-heartedly recommend Root Two for any service/fix/mod/upgrade. (Andrew McCann)

A very fast and efficient service at a reasonable price. Steve understands the importance of getting your gear repaired as soon as possible for your gigs. His enthusiasm comes across about his passion for music and for this reason you’re guaranteed to get your equipment a full MOT before it leaves the workshop. Can’t thank him enough for the excellent job he did on my gear and the professional service I received. (Chris Banderas)

We had a PA problem with our LD Maui 28 line array system. Took it to the Aladdin’s cave that is Root Two’s workshop. Steve worked his magic on what had been a manufacturing problem of several dry joints. He was meticulous, diligent, persistent and an all-round good guy. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without him. Thanks also to Newcastle’s GuitarGuitar shop for their recommendation. It’s not until you get problems that you appreciate dealing with excellent local businesses. (Tim Brown)

Contact Steve at Root Two Amplification on 07931 359 364

Or on the official website: root-two.co.uk

email info@root-two.co.uk

facebook.com/root2two

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.