THE FIXER – in conversation with former Impulse Studio and Neat Records owner David Wood

The next person to feature on this blog was owner of probably the most influential independent heavy metal record label in the 1980’s, a label that spawned Chief Headbangers Raven and Venom, who were major influences on the multi-million selling Americans, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeath.

So what was he like ? Was he the Don Arden of Tyneside ? Am I to be flown out by private jet to a yacht on the French Riviera or picked up by a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and driven off to an exclusive restaurant ? Sadly no, it was just a misty September morning when I nipped on a ferry, crossed the river Tyne and taken to a café in North Tyneside by a man wearing a fez.

What or who inspired you to start Impulse Studio ? When I left school I ended up as a Park Keeper in Wallsend Park then found a half decent job as a Technical Assistant at Proctor and Gamble. I was there for 3 year, it was well paid at £11 a week so I had a few quid to go out on a Friday night with me mates, but I couldn’t see myself staying there. For a 21st birthday present off my parents I was given a ticket to go to America on the Queen Mary.

While sightseeing in New York I came across this recording studio called Talent Masters. I went in and got talking to a guy who worked there called Chris Huston. I found out he used to be guitarist in The Undertakers from Liverpool. They had a hit record but he left the UK to be a tape technician in the studio. I’d always liked music, my instrument is the piano while not much of a player, but was really interested in this studio.

So when I returned home on the Queen Elizabeth ship I began to play around with a bit of sound recording. At that time a teenagers club was open in The Borough Theatre in Wallsend called The Manhole. This was around 1966 and people were listening to The Beatles and locally The Animals had made their name. It was a great meeting place was The Manhole, graphics painted on the walls, flower power you know, and a lot of good bands played there. That’s where I really got interested in the music scene. There was a similar place in Tynemouth called The Cave which was underneath The Gate of India Restaurant. (There was also a teenagers club in Beach Road, South Shields called The Cellar Club run by Stan Henry and his mother. Stan later opened The Latino and The New Cellar Club where Cream and Jimi Hendrix played).

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Advert for the opening of The New Cellar Club, South Shields. Taken from The Shields Gazette December 1967.

Yes I used to go to The Cellar. I’d drive to the ferry at Howdon, get on there with my car, you could in them days, then get off at Jarrow. It was a great building I think it was in the basement of their house where Stan’s mother ran the club. South Shields and Sunderland had their own places to run music from, it was great. I ended up doing some work for Stan, we ended up doing his sound equipment and for a lot of other people to keep the business ticking over.

In the Manhole club I met a band called The Chosen Few, and in them were Alan Hull, Alan ‘Bumper’ Brown on bass, singer was Rod Hood, guitarist I think was John Gibson and keyboards was Micky Gallagher who eventually played for The Blockheads, and he’d also played in The Animals when Alan Price left. They were really good and had a recording contract with PYE records. They recorded down in the West End of London at Radio Luxembourg studios. They put a couple of singles out.

Going back to The Manhole Club, that just shut one day and never reopened. I don’t know why maybe someone out there knows something about that. The Borough Theatre was built in 1906, it was a music hall at first, then a cinema, then a bingo hall. I got to know the manager and asked him for some space to run a studio. The studio was in the dressing room and the entrance to the studio was through the old stage door. There was a little booth where the doorman would of sat, well before our time (laughs).

How did you develop the space into a recording studio ? Literally built it up from scratch Gary, it took years to get it all done. At first we used egg boxes for sound proofing then bricked up all the windows. Anything was used for padding because we never had enough money then and at first we only had a mono then a stereo studio. We then purchased a 4 track, then an 8 track, eventually a 24 track machine but this was done over 10 or 12 years. This was all by the 1980’s and by then we had the run of all the building and moved the studio to the top floor, which wasn’t very popular with the bands as we had no lift. Eventually Impulse Studios were on all 3 floors.

What bands did you record and who did you get in as sound engineer ? One day I bumped into Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) by then The Chosen Few had split up, he was working as a nurse at St Nicholas Mental Hospital and still writing songs so I invited him down to record some. Impulse at that time recorded local bands. We were a progressive studio and probably recorded most people in the region who sang and played at one time in their careers. Everything then was recorded onto quarter inch tape. At that time we started to organise pressing records.

Sound engineer was Micky Sweeney, a great character, really popular with everyone. I used to do some recording as well. Micky ended up working with Lindisfarne who were born in the studio because it was there that Alan Hull got together with various members of Downtown Faction. They played together and got to know each other and it all came together.

You recorded an album with North East comedian Bobby Thompson, how did that come about ? I knew his manager Brian Shelley and he said Bobby is doing really well around the clubs do you fancy recording him ? I thought yeah we’ll give it a go. So we recorded him in Rhyope Poplars Club and Newcastle Mayfair. This was around 1978. It was around an hours recording that we put out and got Vaux breweries to sponsor it, ironically Bobby didn’t drink then and there he was on a promo poster with a pint of beer.

Soon as we put the record out it took off, they couldn’t get enough off it, straight to number one in the local charts. Every shop was selling bucket loads. It was phenomenal. Nobody could of appreciated the way it took off like it did, he even appeared on the Wogan show. But his humour didn’t travel well, he was shy of being in other places but up here in the North East he was absolutely fantastic. He could relate to the man in the street up here – the debt, the poverty, the wife and the war, he was incredible really.

With the label doing well, was Bobby responsible for Neat records ? Ha ha well with the profits from Bobby the studio came on in leaps and bounds in no time at all, so yeah we’ve got to thank him for it. We started Neat records as an alternative to what we were doing. A couple of early singles and one by a band called Motorway which was pop, not heavy metal, then a song by Jayne McKenzie written and engineered by Steve Thompson. Then Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Fist came along and suddenly we’ve got what became a New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom added to that and before we knew it we’ve built up a library of metal records.

Was there any rivalry between the top four North East metal bands – Fist, Raven, Venom and the Tygers ? Ha ha yeah they probably hated each other. No, listen, musicians are very much their own people you know. I don’t blame them. If they are the guitarist they are a ‘great guitarist’, you can’t perform in front of a dozen, hundreds, or thousands of people if you haven’t got an ego. You couldn’t stand on stage if you are a wimp, you’ve got to have something about ya – and they all do.

For Venom, first gig they played was at a church hall in Wallsend and they decided to have pyrotechnics and smoke. That all went off at the start and that’s the last we saw of the band for the whole set – they were playing behind a screen of smoke.

Did you deal with any managers or did the bands represent themselves ? I dealt with Raven directly but some of the bands had managers. One of them was a butcher (laughs) then Venom ended up with Eric Cook who really worked hard for them.  He was very enthusiastic and got a lot of things going for them. Thing was he had no experience but nobody else did really with this New Wave of Heavy Metal, it was all new. And that is something to remember about that whole scene, they were trying to play and we were trying to market, we (Neat) were all on the same level. We were balancing the recording, arranging tours, marketing, it was all interesting times, sort of in development, and some nightmare situations.

How did recording on the Neat label work for bands ? We did singles at first and they were tasters trying to get some interest, get picked up by bigger labels, that sort of thing. Some of them would end up on compilation lp’s later and some of the early Neat stuff were the demos. The first Raven album went into the national charts which was a surprise to all of us. But that was the progress we were trying to make.

How did Tygers of Pan Tang end up on MCA record label ? MCA were interested in the Tygers first single and put it out on their label which put the Tygers in a position to sign an album deal. Through their enquiries I got to know Stuart Watson who was head of A&R so I took the whole Neat project to MCA. They ended up recording albums by Fist and White Spirit. But MCA didn’t get their teeth into what we were doing so it all came back to us. It could have gone further but major companies are looking for big numbers, they didn’t want to sell 5,000 albums they wanted to sell 50,000 albums. We would have been happy to sell 1,000!

If you did sell that many how would the profit be used ? It would all go in the kitty, we wanted to progress the studio and the label – but we didn’t have any Lamborghini’s you know.

How did the label work for Raven ? We ended up doing 3 albums with them and took them to America and worked with Johnny Z at Megaforce Records based in New Jersey. They did some touring over there and Neat were managing the band at the time, paying them a retainer every week. When they came back the band had signed with the Americans. ‘Thanks for telling us’ I said, but hey that’s all in the past and we came to an agreement to release I think a live album over there.

Was that the bands natural progression to go to a bigger label ? Yes I suppose that’s fair comment to say that. We had gone as far as we could as basically a smaller outfit. I liked the band, I liked the idea of a 3 piece because it makes it easier to ship around. A 5 piece band can be much more challenging to get around on tour and in the studio.

Did the label have contacts to sell records in other countries ? We tried to get like-minded people in European countries, Holland, Italy etc, to do that but sometimes it was hard. A lot of time was spent trying to get it up and running but perhaps the label never reached it’s full potential. We sold to local record shops in the North East but a good outlet was actually mail order.

How does it work for a band if they released a single in say 1980 and the track ends up on a compilation album years later ? All the contracts were given over to Sanctuary and they had a section to deal with all the necessary releases.

What were Neat paying for as in terms of recording and tours ? We would put money up for tours and we once bought a tour bus for Fist, which was a big mistake cos it got wrecked inside. Their first single was ‘Name, Rank & Serial Number’ and ‘The Wanderer’ came much later, Status Quo ended up doing that, sounding very similar. Doing a more commercial song is a way in. Again I liked Fist and thought they had great potential, Keith Satchfield is a great singer and songwriter.

But just managing it all, controlling it all was a nightmare. There wasn’t a bottomless pit to fund it and you just try your best with the resources. What was surprising about bands playing in the UK was there wasn’t many chances to play on the big festivals, England was a hard place to play. America and Europe was mainly where the market was. I remember Holland was a good place for the bands to go.

Neat released a lot of singles would that have put the label in a good position ? Yes it helped the studio, marketing etc when the next single or album come along to record and promote.

Was there a time when Neat weren’t in a good position ? Yes often, I remember one time a band wanted to go on tour and it was £4,000. A lot to lay out because you don’t get it back cos the band don’t make much playing live. There was a lot of costs involved with going on the road.

When did Neat records fold ? Jess Cox (former Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist) got involved and we set up a separate label called Neat Metal, we put a different catalogue together, started licencing from different labels – a different approach to it. At one time we didn’t have any of the original Neat stuff on the catalogue. Eventually Sanctuary Records came in for the label and did some re-releases. A lot of independent labels have been moved around over the years.

With that I checked my watch and time was getting on so we agreed to meet up again soon where Dave will tell more stories about Impulse Studio including Cilla Black, Joan Armatrading and Sir Lawrence Olivier.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

 

WE SOLD OUR SOUL FOR ROCK N ROLL documentary on South Tyneside rock music.

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In February 2017 I transcribed interviews from the documentary and decided to put them out on a blog. I added some new interviews and updated the originals. Then more musicians got in touch. The blog has snowballed from North East bands like Beckett to worldwide musicians like John Dalton in California. To date it has reached nearly 40,000 views.

But how did I tackle this documentary and pull it all together ? Firstly I talked to a few musicians who passed over some of their archive of demo tapes, video’s and photo’s. Plus I already had a number of photographs I had taken through the 90’s. Then a lot of research was done in the Local Studies Library, South Shields. I remember during the 80’s reading a feature called Young Weekender in the Saturday edition of local newspaper The Shields Gazette. It featured interviews, releases by local and national bands, plus a list of gig dates around Tyneside. The library had all the Gazette’s on microfilm. It took a few visits but in all it was a good start. Then during May 2007 filmed interviews were arranged at The Cave in South Shields, formerly Tyne Dock Youth Club, where in the 1970’s some of the bands had rehearsed and performed as teenagers. 

I was surprised at the amount of people who turned up to tell their story, and what excellent stories they were. The title of the documentary is from a Black Sabbath compilation album and perfectly sums up the feeling I got when people were telling their story. Some bands even got back together after 30 odd year. After working on a few other commisioned projects, finally in 2010 a 30 minute version of the documentary was screened in South Shields, it was shown a few month later at The Cluny in Newcastle along with a film about the New York Dolls. In September 2011 a full version was shown at the Library Theatre in South Shields. 

‘We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll’ is on the Alikivi You Tube channel. To check out other films why not subscribe to the channel.

Gary Alikivi  2018

NEAT BITES – Making Records on Wallsend

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Neat Records were based in Wallsend, North East England. The label was established in the late 70’s by Dave Woods, who was the owner of Impulse Studios. It was notable for releases by Venom, Raven and Blitzkreig who are acknowledged as major influences on American bands Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Songwriter and producer Steve Thompson helped set up Neat and produced the initial recordings…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 Tygers of Pan Tang to cut three tracks. Incidentally it was to be the third single I’d produced for NEAT. Now we know it is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the tide was coming in that very evening haha’. 

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ROBB WEIR (Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘In 1979 we recorded, ‘Don’t Touch Me There.’  It had a release number 003 so we were in at the beginning of the Neat Record label story. We were the first heavy metal band to be recorded in the studio. So I’m very proud of the Tygers giving the Neat label a direction. Impulse studios took a chance and pressed 1,000 copies, that was a lot for a small independent label. Don’t Touch Me There was reviewed in Sounds newspaper which made a massive difference so the next pressing was 4,000 ! Then studio owner Dave Woods was approached by MCA record company, they wanted us! So Dave did a deal, essentially selling the Tygers to them. So MCA pressed around 50,000 copies of the single!’

BRIAN ROSS (Blitzkreig) ‘I remember the first time in Impulse Studio was great we made it feel like our second home. It came highly recommended as Tyne Tees TV used it to record their jingles there and we recorded a jingle Hot n Heavy Express which Alan Robson used on his radio show. It went well so we extended it into a single. NEAT put it out on a compilation EP. Now this studio was the label to be on, and I mean in the country not just the North East, I’ve recorded many tracks there as Satan, Avenger and Blitzkreig. It’s a shame it’s not there now’. 

ANTONY BRAY (Venom) Conrad was tape operator at NEAT doing a few days here and there and he bugged the owner Dave Woods about getting spare time in the studio for the band. He kept asking him ‘can my band come in on the weekend ? Woodsy got so sick of him he just said ok, just do it, but pay for the tape. So we recorded a three track EP and we thought it might get a little review somewhere. I was still working at Reyrolles factory then and one morning I wandered in and someone had a copy of the Sounds. Couldn’t believe it, there’s a two page spread about our EP, f’ing hell look at this. When Woodsy saw it he thought, I hate the band, think they are bloody awfull – but kerching!’

KEITH NICHOLL (Impulse studio engineer) ‘With Raven, their playing was always intensive but there were loads of stories and quite a few laughs. I think they simply wanted to do a better album than the first and then again the third. Any band would. Can’t remember if there was an official tour but they did loads of gigs. Good live band’.

HARRY HILL (Fist) ‘The first single we put out was Name, Rank and Serial Number and You Never Get Me Up In One of Those on the b side. We done a lot of reheasal and prep work so we were tight, ready to record. When we done Name, Rank we were on Northern Life TV. The cameras came down filmed in the studio that was 1980. Strangely the only piece of vinyl I have is our single The Wanderer. We started putting it in our set so yeah, went in and recorded it. Status Quo released a version a couple of month after us but honestly thought our version was better haha’.

GARY YOUNG (Avenger) ’I worked in the Shipyards near my home town but for about a year before that I worked at Impulse Studios in Wallsend which was where Neat Records were based. Due to this I was involved in a lot of recording sessions and some of them for what are now landmark albums like Venoms – Black Metal and Ravens – Wiped Out. I had my first experiences of recording there with my own bands and helping people out on random recording sessions. They were great times’.

DAVY LITTLE (Axis) ‘I remember Fist guitarist Keith Satchfield was in when we were recording. He was always track suited up. Getting fit and going on runs in preparation for a tour. I had met him a few times when I was younger I used to go and see Warbeck and Axe. Always thought he was a cool musician and writer. Plus a nice fella. We were very inexperienced and new nothing about studios. He  gave us advice on how to set up amps. Was very supportive I never forgot that. Also when we were in there a very young moody boy was working there. Making tea, helping get kit in. Always drawing. Asked to see some of his drawings. All dark, tombstones, skulls, flying demons…nice kid tho said he didn’t think we were very heavy metal. I agreed. He said “one day I am going to have the heaviest band ever”. I met Chronos years later in a club in Newcastle when he was fronting the mighty Venom. A nice lad’.

STEVE WALLACE (Shotgun Brides) ‘There was a kid called Richard Denton who grew up in the same area as us and he was working A&R at Impulse records in Wallsend. He persuaded the owner Dave Woods to take us on. We went into Impulse Studio and recorded the track Restless, that was engineered and produced by Kev Ridley in 1987. The b side of the single was Eighteen. We recorded the song bit by bit, tracking it up. Unlike a few other bands it wasn’t recorded by playing all the way through and off you go add a couple of overdubs, no it was fully tracked. It eventually ended up on a NEAT compilation album’.

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MICHAEL MAUGHAN (Phasslayne) In the summer of ’85 Phasslayne were approached by Neat Records. Dave Woods was the main man there. What happened was we recorded a demo at Desert Sounds in Felling which they really liked so the label asked us to record a live no dubs demo in their studio in Wallsend. On hearing that Dave Woods signed us to do an album. But just before we got our record deal our singer left and everyone looked at me so that’s how I ended up doing the vocals. I think Keith Nichol was the engineer. For guitars I used my Strat and Maurice Bates from Mythra loaned me his Les Paul. We called the album Cut it Up, it’s on vinyl’.

KEV CHARLTON (Hellanbach) ‘We got a deal with NEAT records to record our first album. That was the best time. After rehearsing for months getting the new songs together we recorded the album which is a very proud moment in my life. Now Hear This came out in ’83 and was produced by Keith Nichol. I remember getting the first copy of the album, taking it into work thinking this might be me leaving the shipyards. It was one of the weirdest times of my life because it came out to amazing five star reviews and some of the big bands weren’t even getting five stars. I remember sitting in the toilets of Wallsend shipyard reading the reviews in Kerrang and Sounds, thinking this will be the last time I’ll be in the shipyard….but it wasn’t !’ 

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To read a comprehensive story of NEAT records get a hold of the book ’Neat and Tidy’ by John Tucker. It examines the history of the label, its bands and their releases including interviews with many key players in the Neat Records’ story such as label boss David Wood, producer Steve Thompson, Raven’s John Gallagher and Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn from Venom.

https://www.johntuckeronline.co.uk/neat-and-tidy-the-story-of-neat-records.html

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross, SATAN/BLITZKREIG, Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

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

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

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

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

1980: The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside, 11th February 2018.

Guardian Studio: Defender of the North 3rd May 2018.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS – with Peter Whiskard bassist for North East eighties metallers Alien.

The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NENWOBHM) was immortalised on the ’One Take No Dubs’ 45 released by NEAT Records in 1982. The 12” featured Black Rose, Avenger, Hellanbach and Alien.  I talked to Peter Whiskard bassist for Felling metallers Alien… ‘Derek our singer had a reputation for a no-nonsense approach to life. During a gig at the Mayfair he found himself the unwilling target of several beer vessels – thankfully plastic – thrown by a miscreant in the audience. He jumped off the stage, felled him with one blow and jumped back onstage without losing his composure or his place in the song’. 

How did you get involved in playing music and who were your influences ? ‘I sang from a very early age and learned classical piano. An early indication of my chosen instrument was when I occasionally played piano duets and always seemed to gravitate to the bass part. A defining moment was when I hit adolescence and something seemed to click when I was jamming along to records. Needless to say the classical piano was abandoned. My influences were from the sixties and seventies, early Status Quo, Free, Cream, Bad Company and The Velvet Underground’.

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When did you start playing gigs and what were your experiences of recording?  ‘I started playing gigs when I was fifteen with friends in the Felling area of the North East. I believe our first gig was at a youth club in the same building where we rehearsed. We didn’t really gig much and the last one was at the Sixth Form Common Room Disco! I went away to University and when I returned I formed a band called Bad Luck with the former singer. We did many local gigs and recorded a few tracks at Neat’s Impulse Studios where I met label boss Dave Wood. A self financed 45 single release came from these recordings. Unfortunately this band didn’t last long. Then I answered an ad in the paper for Alien in 1982. The place where a lot of Neat bands rehearsed was the Spectro Arts workshop in Newcastle and I remember once overhearing the tremendous noise of Venom practising one day when we were offloading our gear. The band had a chequered history in the time we were together but we were offered recording at Neat Records for the One Take No Dubs EP. We still had to pay £50 for the privilege – Dave Wood was notoriously stingy. The recording took perhaps only part of a day because the essence of it was to have a ‘live’ feel and there would be no extravagant nonsense like overdubbing and repeating the process to seek the ‘perfect’ take. Hence the title ‘One Take No Dubs’.

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‘The engineer for the earlier trip to Impulse with Bad Luck and the Alien session was Keith Nichol – a lovely guy who was patient and skilful. The band played together in the studio – this was opportune for Alien’s style as we were capable of flights of improvisation as can be heard in the middle section of ‘Who Needs the Army’, one of the up to now unreleased tracks from that session. In the recording session we were in fine form, especially Ron Anderson the guitarist who recently has sadly died. A track from the recording called ‘Absolute Zero’ also appeared on a compilation cassette called ’60 minutes Plus’ sold only through Sounds and Kerrang. A Neat Singles Collection featured the track ‘Could Have Done Better’ from One Take No Dubs’.

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What can you remember of Impulse Studio ? ‘Impulse Studios lived behind a fairly anonymous doorway in Wallsend, Newcastle. It was a small place, the studio walls were covered in the ubiquitous polystyrene tiles for acoustic absorbtion. There was an office where the day-to-day running of the business took place and also a special ‘green room’ where Dave Wood would make his deals and entertain the celebs. Our relationship with Dave Wood soured somewhat as the singer felt we were being exploited financially. The band fell apart by ’83. We briefly reformed to do a gig at the Classic Cinema in Low Fell.  After Alien I joined a band called The Blues Burglars who were quite popular at the time’.

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Can you remember any high points for Alien, TV or music video’s ? ’I’m afraid we weren’t together long enough to get established to record any TV appearances or film any music videos. Although we did play some gigs with Raven and others at Newcastle Mayfair. I’m afraid I can’t remember much about the gig with Raven but I don’t think we hobnobbed much with the other bands. The audience was pretty appreciative as that was during the heyday of Neat Records. We regularly played gigs in Felling such as the Duke Of Cumberland, and our gigs had a reputation for having a febrile atmosphere with an undercurrent of unpredictability. The singer was a powerful performer and had a great rock voice. We also had several friends in other bands on the Neat roster. I knew the drummer from Hellanbach who lived round the corner, and went to school with the singer from Emerson and Axis: two Neat bands which are relatively unknown. The singer of Axis was originally born Simon Blewitt but is now called Sam Blue and at one point sang with Ultravox as well as singing on The Streets’ hit Dry Your Eyes!

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I have been a classroom teacher since I moved to Kent in 1986, but now I am semi-retired and teach guitar to Primary age students. I still play gigs regularly. I’m afraid I’m now playing in a folk/country band called John Doggerel and the Bad Poets. We comprise me on bass, guitar, and assorted instruments including mandolin, accordion and ukulele! We are based near Margate. I recently remastered and released a track which wasn’t used from the original Neat session called ‘Who Needs the Army’. Now available at iTunes and all good digital platforms’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross SATAN/BLITZKREIG: Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

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

Micky McCrystal, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

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

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

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

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Gary Young, AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.

1980 – THE YEAR METAL FORGED ON TYNESIDE

It’s one year on from the start of this blog, with over 18,000 readers, 150,000 words, 115 posts and more to come. But enough of the stats – this one rewinds the clock back to 1980.

Skipping through Spotify or You Tube today people have the choice to listen to different styles of music. Billions of songs at your fingertips. But there was a time when music lovers listened to only one genre – creating different tribes. The 70’s brought in hard rock bands Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead and the hairy rock tribe followed. Disco filled dancefloors with Donna Summer, ‘Le Freak’ by Chic, a real Saturday Night Fever. But they were followed by the Disco Sucks movement in America. One night in 1979 at a ball game in Chicago, rock radio DJ Steve Dahl took to the field with his anti-disco army and blew up thousands of disco records. A publicity stunt he thought would bring in an extra 5,000 people to the game – it brought 70,000. Where they a tribe of firestarters, or was it the 98cents entry fee if you had a record under your arm ready to burn? The disco tribe never recovered. By ’78 the Sex Pistols had played their last gig in San Fransisco and at the start of ’79 Sid Vicious died in New York. By the end of the year The Clash had called out to London. Was the punk tribe dying out ? What did 1980 hold for the tribes ?

Post punk, Ska and Two Tone were heard around the country – they were all three minute hero’s. But a new tribe were gathering pace – one that followed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The movement started in the late 70’s in the UK and reached international attention by the early 80’s. The DIY attitude led to self-produced recordings and new independant labels setting up. The movement spawned many bands with Iron Maiden and Def Leppard becoming international stars. Bands from the North East were also delivering the goods. Newcastle had chief headbangers Raven, on the coast in Whitley Bay were Tygers of Pan Tang, and across the river Tyne in my hometown South Shields – Fist, Mythra, Hellanbach, Hollow Ground and Saracen were all recorded on vinyl by the early 80’s. Neat records were based in Wallsend and close by in Durham, was Guardian Records. Venue’s like Sunderland Mecca, Newcastle Mayfair and the City Hall had regular visit’s from rock/metal bands and the tribe followed. 1980 was the year metal was forged on Tyneside.

January
Canadian rock band Rush released their 5th album Permanent Waves and UFO released their 8th album No Place To Run.

On 17th & 18th Newcastle City Hall saw a concert by UFO with support from Girl. Over at the Mayfair AC/DC had Diamond Head opening on the 25th, and at Newcastle University Def Leppard were on the 26th supported by Witchfynde.

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February
This month will be remembered for the passing of Bon Scott, lead singer of AC/DC. He was only 33 when he died on the 19th. On the same night Rainbow played Newcastle City Hall. They also played on the 20th with support on both nights fom Samson. The City Hall also had a visit from Uriah Heep with support from Girlschool on the 6th.

Newcastle Mayfair promoted Heavy Metal Fridays with Tygers of Pan Tang plus Southbound and Axe on the 15th with Saxon plus Crypt and Mythra on the 22nd. Def Leppard played on the 29th with support from Witchfynde.

March
Three rock/metal albums were in the shop’s this month – On Through the Night the debut from Def Leppard. Van Halen’s 3rd Woman and Children First and Scorpions release their 7th album Animal Magnetism.

Newcastle City Hall saw Gillan on the 6th. April Wine with support from Angelwitch on the 10th and Judas Priest with openers Iron Maiden on the 20th. On the 21st both bands play the Mayfair which has an 18+ entry. The City Hall also saw Pat Travers supported by Diamond Head on the 30th. Over at The Castle Leazes Havelock Hall were Tygers of Pan Tang with openers Magnum on the 4th.

April
AC/DC found a replacement for the recently deceased Bon Scott, bringing in Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson. This month they enter the recording studio to work on the new album.

In this month 3 albums of note were released. The debut from Iron Maiden, Judas Priest 6th album British Steel, and Heaven and Hell from Black Sabbath. Their first with vocalist Ronnie James Dio.

Sammy Hagar with openers Riot played at Newcastle City Hall on the 12th. Def Leppard plus Magnum and Tygers of Pan Tang on the 20th then Saxon on the 21st.

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May
Saxon released Wheels of Steel their 2nd album. Whitesnake release their 3rd album, Ready n Willing and Kiss release their 8th, Unmasked.

Newcastle City Hall saw visits from Thin Lizzy on the 1st & 2nd. Scorpions with openers Tygers of Pan Tang on the 13th, Black Sabbath with support from Shakin’ Street on the 18th & 19th. Over at Newcastle Mayfair were Iron Maiden and openers Praying Mantis on the 16th. Also on the 23rd were Fist, White Spirit and Raven.

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Mythra, Fist and Tygers of Pan Tang in the Sounds charts in May 1980.

June
This month’s studio albums you could choose from I’m a Rebel – Accept, Danger Zone – Sammy Hagar, Demolition – Girlschool, Metal Rendez-vous – Krokus, Head On – Samson, Scream Dream – Ted Nugent or Tomcattin – Blackfoot.

Newcastle City Hall saw visits from Rush supported by Quartz on the 12th. Whitesnake with support from GForce on the 13th & 14th. Van Halen with openers Lucifers Friend on the 17th. Sunderland Mayfair had Iron Maiden and Praying Mantis on the 11th. Then Fist on the 20th.

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July
AC/DC release Back in Black the new album with Brian Johnson.

At Newcastle Mayfair was Trespass on the 18th and an all dayer at Bingley Hall in Stafford on the 26th – The Heavy Metal Barndance. Headliners Motorhead were joined by Girlschool, Angelwitch, Saxon, Vardis, Mythra and White Spirit.

August
This month saw the debut album Wild Cat released by Tygers of Pan Tang. Also records by the Michael Schenker Group and Stand Up and Fight from Quartz.

Newcastle Mayfair saw Ted Nugent supported by Wild Horses on the 7th. Fist plus Raven on the 15th with Diamond Head and openers Quartz on the 29th.
South Shields Legion welcomed hometown band Fist on the 14th.

16th of the month saw the first Monsters of Rock festival held at Donnington Raceway in Derbyshire with Rainbow, Judas Priest, Scorpions, April Wine, Saxon, Riot and Touch.

Reading festival on the 22nd-24th had headliners Rory Gallagher, UFO and Whitesnake with Gillan, Iron Maiden, Samson, Def Leppard, Ozzy Ozbourne, Angelwitch, Budgie, Samson and Tygers of Pan Tang.

September
Sadly, the Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham dies aged only 32.

The debut from Ozzy Osbourne was released this month while Strong Arm of the Law, the 3rd studio album by Saxon and their 2nd this year was released.

Newcastle Mayfair had Angelwitch on the 5th, Tygers of Pan Tang with support from Taurus and radio DJ Alan Robson on the 12th and over at Newcastle City Hall were Ozzy Osbourne plus support band Budgie on the 17th.

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October
Released this month were the 3rd album by Gillan – Glory Road and Chinatown the 10th album from Thin Lizzy.

A full month of gigs at Newcastle Mayfair. Gillan with openers White Spirit and Quartz on the 1st. Scorpions supported by Blackfoot on the 10th for over 18 fans. UFO supported by Fist 15th & 16th. Ozzy Osbourne 17th with Budgie and Raven. Motorhead with support from Weapon on the 29th & 30th. AC/DC plus Starfighters on the 31st.

At Newcastle City Hall were Michael Schenker Group supported by Dedringer on the 2nd. Scorpions plus Blackfoot 7th & 8th. Over at Sunderland Mayfair UFO and Fist on the 21st and Ozzy Osbourne the 28th.

November
This month saw the release of Ace of Spades the 4th album from Motorhead, a double from Whitesnake – Live…In the Heart of the City and the debut from Fist, Turn the Hell On. There was also Roksnax on Gaurdian Records. A compilation album produced at Guardian Studios in Durham, UK. The album features 4 songs each from South Shields bands Hollow Ground and Saracen and Teeside based Samurai.

Newcastle City Hall had visits from AC/DC supported by Starfighters on the 4th & 5th. Triumph with openers Praying Mantis the 12th and Iron Maiden on the 25th with support from A11Z.

December
Concerts at the Newcastle City Hall this month by Girlschool on the 5th with support from Angelwitch, also on the 16th Saxon with support from Limelight.

Led Zeppelin release a press release about the break up of the band due to the death of drummer John Bonham.

Unfortunately a sad end to a frantic year, but what did the 80’s have in store for the tribe ? Again from the North East there was a little band forming. They had kept an eye on what was happening and now it was their time to strike. Venom were gathering their own tribe, but that’s a story for another day.

Gary Alikivi 2017.

Information from discogs and various websites. Thanks to everyone who supplied information, ticket stubs etc.

Recommended:

MYTHRA Still Burning 13th February 2017.

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.

When Heavy Metal Hit the Accelerator 6th May 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.

It’s Only Rock n Roll 1st August 2017.

Pyromaniax -Bombs, Flashes and Burnt Eyebrows 12th December 2017.

Have You Heard This One ? -10 best stories from this years interviews 18th December 2017.

 

 

 

HUNGRY FOR ROCK – with Hollow Ground mainman Martin Metcalf.

Martin is guitarist for NWOBHM band Hollow Ground who formed in South Shields in 1978. He also played in Geordie, Powerhouse, Fist and Sabbatica.
The day we were due to meet was as cold as Russia. I walked up to his front door knocked a few times and rubbed my hands together trying to get some warmth. Knew I should have worn my gloves. Door opened and I was greeted by a smiling Martin Metcalf  ‘How ya daein howay in I’ve got the kettle on’.

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I asked Martin what were his earliest memories of music and his biggest influences. ‘I first listened to glam rock bands like TRex, Slade and Bowie with my first guitar hero being Mick Ronson. Then got into heavier sounds like Alice Cooper and progressed to bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. That was the catalyst of wanting to play music.
I got my first Satellite Les Paul Copy guitar and Sound City Amp and started rehearsing in Tyne Dock Youth Club in South Shields’.

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When were your first gigs ? ‘We played a few pubs around South Shields around 78-79 and then later some more local gigs with Fist and Hellanbach. We also played in clubs with a more commercial set doing cover versions under the name Horizon. This financed our first time in a studio, recording at NEAT records’.

What was your experience of recording ? ‘My first one was at NEAT’s Impulse Studios in Wallsend basically a live recording of most songs from the Hollow Ground set. I think it was Keith Nicholl who produced the demo and the tape operator was a guy called Conrad Lant aka Chronos, who later became the bassist in Venom. We were just young lads then, sort of finding our feet in the studio. That one cost £50 and was recorded totally live’.

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‘One night we went to Newcastle Mayfair to watch our mates Fist who were on the bill with Raven. Steve Thompson who was producer then at NEAT records pulled me to one side and said theres a deal at NEAT if I wanted it. I liked the idea but told him we had just sorted something out with Guardian. We went down to the studio in Durham and recorded 4 tracks Flying High, Warlord, Rock On and Don’t Chase The Dragon. It cost around £500’.

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What was the story behind Roksnax the compilation LP that Hollow Ground appeared on? ‘What happened was we met up with producer Terrry Gavaghan and talked through the idea of a compilation LP with a couple of other bands from the North East. So we went down to Guardian and recorded a further 2 songs – The Holy One and Fight With the Devil. Our mates from South Shields, Saracen were also going to be on the record’.
3‘We were in the studios for 2 days and slept overnight there. The studio was basically 2 terraced houses knocked into one. I still remember the smell of the brown cork tiles in the studio and having to sellotape the headphones on my head when recording as they kept falling off!  In hindsight maybe NEAT would have turned out better for us in the long run. Although a good thing was that Lars Ulrich from Metallica bought a copy of the Roksnax LP in Los Angeles and that led to our track Fight With the Devil being played in the Metallica documentary A Year And A Half In The Life Of Metallica’.

What caused the break up of Hollow Ground ? Hollow Ground lasted until our singer Glenn Coates went for an audition for Fist. The writing was on the wall because they already had a following and a record deal with NEAT plus they had recently toured with UFO. Glenn got the job and in the end there was no hard feelings about it, all the lads in Fist were and still are good friends’.

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Where did your career go after that ? ‘Around ’84 I had a 5 year stint with Geordie, who changed their name to Powerhouse following an album release. We played gigs and recorded the album (Powerhouse) at Redwood Studios in London for Mausoleum records’.

577880_293251164129519_846241940_n‘Redwood was owned by the Monty Python guys Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison. The studio was run by a guy name Andre Jaquemin who in 1980 set up some studio work for Brian Johnson, who at the time was on the brink of leaving Geordie and joining AC/DC. Small world eh’.

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What are you up to now are you still involved in music ? ‘I’m still working in music, just not as much on stage. We do a few Hollow Ground gigs at Metal Festivals in Europe and I still play, but nowadays I mostly work behind the mixing desk engineering live sound’.

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‘I do loads of gigs for North East bands in fact I’m booked up for pretty much the rest of the year. So yeah, I enjoy that and get just as much a thrill out of it as I do when playing on stage’.

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I drained the last few dregs of my coffee, put my coat on, said our goodbyes and walked out into a cold wind howling in from the North sea. It’s Baltic out here. Head down and quickly walked along the street catching the sun going down over the river Tyne.

Interview by Gary Alikivi on 12th January 2017 .

THE SHOW MUST GO ON -“I’ve been a professional musician all my working life” say’s guitarist Mick Maughan

Mick looks back on his time when over 30 years ago he recorded at NEAT records for NWOBHM band Phasslayne ‘Tracks included Run for Guns, Who’s Losing Now and Minute Man we called the album Cut it Up

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He also brings his story up to date ‘I’ve play all around the world, last year I played at the Sydney Opera house. I do summer seasons every year in Greece and in the winter move over to Switzerland and Austria. I’ve taught guitar, played on cruises, in football stadiums, done loads of session work and live backing of other artists’.

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‘I’m a self taught musician. Music is in my blood you know and I come from a very musical family. My father played piano and his mother was a music teacher. On my mothers side all of her brothers played guitar so it was a natural progression that I would do the same. My first guitar was an SG copy which I got around 79.
The guitars I play now are mainly Strats and Les Paul’s but I’ve got a great little Tele that I like too. Acoustics I play are Maton, Martin and Takamine.
Gear wise I’ve got a couple of Fender amps, a Bassbreaker and Blues Junior 111, a Bogner Alchemist and a Line 6 DT25. I’ve used amp modelling a lot until recently. I’ve also started using analog pedals again’.

Who were your influences ? ‘My influences range from Steely DanQueen to Stevie Wonder and of course The Beatles. Then heavier stuff like Deep Purple, Van Halen, Gary Moore and UFO, I soaked up all these different sounds, loved it’.

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Where did you rehearse and when did you start playing gigs? ‘My first band used to rehearse in The North Eastern pub in Jarrow around ’81 and my first gig was at the PHAB club on Bede Burn Road in Jarrow. That was with Ian McElwee who later formed a band called Zig Zag with Ginger from The Wildhearts.
Around the same time I formed NWOBHM band Phasslayne. We rehearsed upstairs in the Dougie Vaults in South Shields and I remember our bassist borrowing his dads car and making multiple trips with Marshall cabs and drums, those were the days haha.
Amp wise in those days, I played through 2 x 100 Marshalls and 4 x 4×12’s. Also used a distortion pedal and WEM Copycat cry baby wah and a chorus.
The line up had Barry Hopper on drums but Ian Matttimore stepped in when we started gigging, Paul Gago on bass throughout until the band split’.

Phasslayne-Brofest-2015-2‘In the recent version he has been replaced by Brian Morton (pic. above) as I believe Paul has not played bass for many years now. Kev Wilkinson was the original singer who was on the first demo in 1983. He left to join glam/punk band Sweet Trash who were based in Newcastle. Musn’t forget to mention Maurice Bates from Mythra who is a very good friend of ours and was Phasslaynes manager, he helped us with decisions and advice from the very beginning’.

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What venues did you play ?  Phasslayne played the usual places around Tyneside, the Mayfair and Trillions in Newcastle. The Mecca in Sunderland and in South Shields we played St Hilda’s youth club and The British Legion social club. We could never afford the necessary equipment required for big shows as we were basically kids so we used to hire PA systems. For all those gigs we drove in a van with no insurance, no tax or m.o.t and the steering was goosed, but it still got us to the gig. In the end we scrapped it for a tenner haha’.

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What were your experiences of recording ? ‘In the summer of 1985 Phasslayne were approached by Neat Records, Dave Woods was the main man there. What happened was we recorded a demo at Desert Sounds in Felling which they really liked so the label asked us to record a live no dubs demo in their studio in Wallsend. On hearing that Dave Woods signed us to do an album. But just before we got our record deal our singer Kev Wilkinson left and everyone looked at me so that’s how I ended up doing the vocals’.

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I think Keith Nichol was the engineer.  For guitars I used my Strat and Maurice Bates from Mythra loaned me his Les Paul. But in the end Phasslayne weren’t getting any support from NEAT plus more lucrative jobs were being offered. So that was the end of that really, and I moved on’.

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Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘I have a few yes, one was where we had a gig booked in South Shields which had been booked for a few month and we wern’t going to cancel even though we had lost our singer. So I took over. I wasn’t sure of all the words to the songs but we got thru it somehow. We didn’t audition for another singer so I remained on vocals, also drummer Ian Mattimore left and we brought in Andrew Stidolph to replace him’.

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‘Around ’84 or ’85 we entered a Battle of the Bands competition at Buddy’s nightclub in South Shields. All I remember of that gig was we played three songs and came second. I can’t remember the bands name who won but they changed it to The Playboys. Was it Vila La Something or other ?’

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What are you doing now and what are your plans for the future ? ’Still keeping very busy. I play on the new Cirkus album and recorded most of the guitars in Greece and there’s also a Bouzouki featured on one of the songs played by one of my Greek friends who is one of the top players there. The guitars on that album are my Fender Strat, a Gibson Les Paul and a Maton Acoustic. The band have arranged a deal where it will be released on the 17th June so really looking forward to that’.

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‘For Phasslayne, that is an on going project, we were asked to perform at Brofest 3 in Newcastle a couple of years ago and we are now currently writing a new album. Always keeping busy you know, forever on the look out for new projects, it’s in my blood’.

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Interview by Gary Alikivi.  2017.

 

 

STARING INTO THE FIRE – interview with Raven bassist John Gallagher

Tokyo 2015Raven were formed in 1974 in the North East of England by brothers John and Mark Gallagher and Mark Bowden. The band’s highly energized live show with a unique image and style of play has been described as athletic. But the first time I came across Raven was in 1980, they were on TV in a Chinese take away. I was with a friend and we were going to the youth club. We walked past the take away and noticed they had a telly on in the corner of the shop. We looked through the big window and saw a band on. They had long hair, it looked live, it looked loud, it must be Metal…!
We went in the shop, and it was loud. Suddenly the little old Chinese woman popped her head up from behind the counter ’They play loud, they Raven’ …That may be an alternative fact so I talked to someone who was actually there…’Once we did the ITV local news live..they also showed a video clip we did for Hard Ride and we did 4 songs for the Beeb’ said John Gallagher bassist and co-founding member of Raven.

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I’ll get straight into the questions John, first one, who were your influences and was there a defining moment hearing a song or watching a band where you said ‘I want to do that’ ? ‘I do remember banging pots and pans while watching The Beatles on Ready Steady Go. But it culminated with Slade, and by then music was an obsession.
I was influenced by basically everything I heard on the radio or saw on TV and gravitated toward the bass guitar. Loving the styles and note choices of Andy Fraser, Ronnie Lane, Gary Thain, Jimmy Lea and Roger Glover’.

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What was the feeling around the band when you were recording at Neat and starting to play gigs, was it a time when things were getting a bit more serious as a band or did you still have a job to fall back on? ‘Until early 1982 I was working at the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) as a clerk and by then we were generating enough to exist on the handouts from Neat’

Have you any memories from playing at the Newcastle Mayfair ? ‘The Mayfair was our ‘office’. We must have played it about 6 or 7 times. Hellanbach were good lads when they supported us, I think we did 2 or 3 dates in a row with them. But it’s such a shame they tore down the Mayfair…what a loss’.

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What was the driving force behind the jump from Neat, a small independent to Atlantic a major label and the USA ? and did this create a friendship with Metallica ? ‘The driving force was the idea to do it right – to have a major record deal and a major agency deal in the USA. We’d seen how major deals had screwed up many of our contemporaries in the UK and wanted to do it right in the USA. Besides, Neat was at this point a total dead end. We were restricted by budget and attitude. That all changed when we made US contacts and did our first US tour with a young rag tag outfit called Metallica opening for us. It was their first tour, they were pretty green and learned a lot. We all got on like a house on fire, we actually opened for them in 2014 in front of 70,000 people in Brazil and got to hang out with them for a while. Amazingly they have changed very little!’

Raven:Metallica 2014

Creatively, what is it like now writing for your new album compared to the early Neat recordings ? Do the songs come quickly or do they take time ? ‘We have never had any problems writing songs. The only difference is that we all live far apart from each other. I’m in Virginia, Joe’s in Massachusetts and Mark’s in Florida.
So theres a lot of home writing then we get together and jam them out. Of course when we do get together, we jam and see what we can come up with! The only issues we have now is we have too many songs!’

Mark & John Montreal 1984

Any funny stories from your gigs ? ‘When our drummer Joe joined in 1988 we did the Nothing Exceeds like Excess album then went straight out on the road for 5 or 6 dates as a ‘trial by fire’…
At the Philadelphia gig we started with a little toe tapper called Die For Allah which is probably 250 beats a minute. The venue owner ran up on stage screaming into my brothers ear gesticulating wildly. Mark then started to die laughing barely able to play! I went over and shouted at him ‘what did he say, are we too loud’ he replied ‘no – he said we are too FAST!!!!!”

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Raven have a gig in the USA in October on a bill with North Eastern UK band Fist, did your paths cross back in the early days and have you been on the same bill before ? ‘Yes, we are one of the headliners on that Frost & Fire Festival in Ventura California on Oct 6th/7th and we know Fist well. They were the elder statesmen when we started I remember them when they were called Axe. We played a few shows with them and they were also on Neat and have always been a great band. It’s gonna be a lot of fun seeing them’.

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Last question, what has music given you ? ‘Looking back, for young lads like us, there was really only two ways out of Newcastle…and we weren’t great footballers….so we chose music. It’s given us so much, the opportunity to travel the world, meet my wife, have my family and just the ability to sit in a room with a guitar and bang out some riffs and create a song. Just to know that you have MADE something. Also there’s people out there that want to hear it, and hopefully the music will help them get through the day, like it does for me.
We are incredibly lucky to be able to do what we do and do not take that lightly, so when we go out its 100% 24/7/365 mate!!!!’

Thanks for the interview John and good luck for the tour.

New album release, tour dates and all information available at the official website

ravenlunatics.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2017.

Recommended:

Lou Taylor (BLIND FURY) Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

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

Steve Dawson (O/D SAXON) Men at Work, 28th May 2017.

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

Antony Bray (VENOM INC) Hebburn or Hell, 28th July 2017.

Kev Charlton (HELLANBACH) The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Dave Allison (ex-ANVIL) Still Hungry, 12th November 2017.

 

STILL GOT THE FIRE – with Mythra Guitarist John Roach.

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John Roach is guitarist with UK Heavy Metal band Mythra. On the eve of the release of their new album he took time out to reveal where it all started…
‘Around 1973 I used to go to Saville’s Music shop in South Shields on a Saturday afternoon to look at the records, and where they displayed guitars. I particularly remember the Silver Sparkle of a Burns Flyte gutar that was in the window. Another source of inspiration for our musical fantasies was a furniture shop that sold Hammond Organs. We read leaflets from Yamaha and the Bell Musical Instrument Catalogue, I mean this was musical equipment pornography haha.
At that time, I had an Audition electric guitar and 5 watt amp from Woolworths. I quickly grew out of that and it was replaced with a second hand Les Paul copy.
It got serious though in 1975 when I met Maurice Bates who played guitar. He had a Mackay 100 watt Amplifier and a 4 x 12 cabinet!
It was then that we formed a band, with original bassist Peter Melsom’s friend Kenny Anderson on drums. He was a reluctant drummer, in fact he bought a pair of drum sticks and used to play them on anything hard, technically he was what we called a fireplacer, he rattled away on anyones mantlepiece ha ha.’

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Where did you rehearse and when did you start playing gigs? ‘Once I had bought some decent equipment, thanks to my Dad, an Orange Graphic 120 amp and Vox 4 x 12 cabinet the four of us started rehearsing upstairs in the Lambton Arms pub in South Shields. We were called Zarathustra at the time and Maurice was the singer, in true Steve Marriot style. We rehearsed there for about a year working out songs and finding out how to be a band. It was at this time that we really committed to the band as we invested in a HH PA system and a Bedford van.
Through mutual friends we went to see a band called Highway or Freeway at a youth club the singer was called Vince High. They played some Free covers and Wishbone Ash. I can’t exactly remember how it happened but Vince joined us and we became a five piece. Coincidentally Vince and I both worked for Swan Hunter’s at the same shipyard in Hebburn.
We tried another drummer Barry Hopper, he joined and we became Mythra.
Our first couple of gigs were in youth clubs and then Maurice and I went out looking for an agent. We went to Ivan Birchall who had an office in Newcastle, he put us on his B list and we got loads of work in pubs and clubs all over the North East.’

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What venues did you play ? ‘I think we got a lot of work because we wanted to play all the time, we got short notice gigs where other bands cancelled. We played Saturday afternoon spots in the Old 29 pub in Sunderland. One of the things we had going for us that other bands didn’t, was a light show which Lou Taylor had built. (Lou went on to become frontman for Saracen, Satan and Blind Fury and features in a two part interview Rock the Knight Feb.26 & March 5th) For our gigs it seemed that every time we picked up Lou in the van he had more and more lighting equipment.
For a short time the local council hired out the Boldon Lane Community Centre and we played a few gigs there with fellow South Shields metal band Hellanbach. We had originally tried to hire the Bolingbroke Hall but that wasn’t available, I think punk band  Angelic Upstarts might have put paid to that venue.
A weird gig was at a club on the seafront in South Shields called the Shoreline. It was a late 70’s disco. We were a young heavy metal band playing Sabbath, UFO, Motorhead covers and our own original material. I don’t think the crowd knew how to take us.
I remember we were playing a gig in a workingmen’s club and the Concert Chairman called us on the phone to tell us we were too loud and to turn it down…thing was that the phone was on the stage! Now more recently with Mythra the gig stories seem to revolve around food varieties and quantities’.

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Where did you record the new album ? ‘For Mythra’s most recent album Still Burning we went to CP Studio in Poland. We started to write new songs and within a few months we had 13 songs which we whittled down to 12 which were recorded. The drums were done in two days with all of the guitars including solos and harmony parts, over the next four days. We then did the vocals and the bass.
We all played live and for practical reasons recorded the drums and DI guitars then we replaced the guitars one at a time and then the vocals and finally the bass. It was a lot of fun recording this way. We’re very pleased with the result it shows that there is life in the old dogs yet. The album is called Still Burning and demonstrates that Mythra still have the ‘FIRE’.

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What have Mythra got planned for the future ? ‘Mythra got back together in the summer of 2014 to see if we were any good. We were and we’re still here. Since our first gig in nearly 30 years in February 2015 we have recorded 17 new songs for two different albums. We’ve played in the UK, Germany, Spain, Belgium and have gigs planned this year in the UK, Greece, the Netherlands and California. Internationally, the interest and reaction to our gigs is great and we’ll keep going as long as that interest is there. I think for all of us in Mythra the best is yet to come’.

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Interview by Gary Alikivi February 2017.

Recommended:

Mythra: Still Burning, 13th February 2017.

Maurice Bates, Just A Mo’ 12th May 2017.

Vince High, Vinyl Junkies, 11th December 2017.

CAT SCRATCH FEVER – with Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist Micky McCrystal

One Friday night in September 1982 I was at the Newcastle Mayfair to watch Tygers of Pan Tang. 6 years later Micky McCrystal was born in Durham, UK, by 2013 he landed the gig of lead guitarist with the Tygers… how time flies…I asked him how do the older songs work with the new songs in the set today?

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‘Some of the songs were recorded 30 years ago but they still sound fresh and relevant alongside the new songs, I feel that it’s a very strong set that fans of the band past and present will love. I look at the gig as playing as a fan of the band and what would I like to hear if I was in the audience, we always try to give the fans what they want. The songs from Wildcat, Spellbound, Crazy Nights and The Cage albums have been classics for years so fans know how they should sound. It’s amazed me the amount of new fans who are just discovering the band and like the new songs and then go back and look at the history of the Tygers’.

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‘It’s about respecting the song, doing it justice and sticking to those key Sykes solo’s and licks that people are waiting for, otherwise I feel like people aren’t getting what they’ve come to see plus there’s plenty of opportunity for me to put my own stamp on the songs’. (John Sykes former guitarist 1981-82 albums Spellbound and Crazy Nights)

17321330_10154939271550731_56588470_n‘We’ll play songs like Paris By Air from The Cage album and I’ll do my best to add in the keyboard lines and synth parts like the original track but on guitar which it gives it a more modern edge that works great in amongst the new songs as well as the heavier tracks. It’s great to see the crowd enjoy the song and sing a long to the chorus as much as they would Hellhound or Love Potion No.9 especially the hardcore heavy metal guys or bikers who we wouldn’t normally expect to like this AOR song but yeah they sing every word, it’s great haha!’

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Who were your influences and how did you get involved in playing music ? ‘When I first started playing I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, I used to sit and jam along to those albums for hours and hours and try and figure out their licks. Then I went back and started listening to the classic blues players like BB, Albert and Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. The influence that seems to surprise most people is that I got heavily into country music especially players like Brent Mason and Brad Paisley. I try and keep an open mind so I love listening to John Scofield as much as I do Richie Kotzen or Yngwie there’s always something to pick up and learn’.

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‘My Dad was a drummer and always had vinyl in the house and he had a lot of guitar albums Hendrix, Larry Carlton but the one that stuck in my mind is ‘Friday Night in San Fransisco’ by Al Di Meola, Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin. I found it incredible that they had that level of technique but were so musical at the same time, it’s without a doubt one of my favourite albums ever. My parents always encouraged my interest in music from day one, they bought me my first guitar from a guitar shop in Newcastle, a Blue Aria Les Paul copy, I still have it today and it’s got a lot of sentimental value’

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What led you to joining the Tygers ? ‘Tygers bassist Gav Gray messaged me asking if i’d be interested in auditioning for Tygers of Pan Tang and of course I said yes. It turns out Satan guitarist Russ Tippins had recommended me for the gig. In the audition we played Keeping Me Alive, Hellhound and I think Raised on Rock. I received a message that night to say I was in and I learnt the rest of the set and began rehearsing for my debut show with the band’.

SAOPOALO

Last year you played a tour around South America how did that go ? ‘It was my first time in South America and it was amazing, I loved it. The fans are incredible, they know the songs so well, they sing every word as well as the guitar melodies, some of the fans had actually had Tygers tattoos done specifically because we were playing. They live and breathe it, it’s amazing. Also the night we played Sao Paolo was my birthday and Jack got the band and the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to me which was really special. The centrefold sleeve of the latest album has a photograph of that gig so yeah that has special memories for me, I’d love to play there again’.

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How did the recording go for the new album ? ‘It was great, I had in my head that it would be a good idea to try and mix the flavours of the first four Tygers albums with a slightly more modern feel. We recorded in a great studio in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Blast Studios. We practically lived there for three weeks haha. The process was very organic, things changed right up to the 11th hour. I had written the solo for Never Give In and Craig walked in and sang four notes as I was about to do the take which ended up becoming the first four notes of the solo. The verse drum part for Devil You Know changed the day before recording it to a tom part. We trusted each others judgement and were open to constructive feedback, at the end of the day we were all there attempting to reach the same goal of making a great album’.

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‘We worked with a great tracking engineer, Mark Broughton who often works with Andy Taylor of Duran Duran. Soren Andersen mixed the album, he works with Glenn Hughes and Mike Tramp. I was very familiar with his work and was excited when I heard he was on board. For mastering Soren recommended Harry Hess of Harem Scarem. It was a great team and we’re all happy with how the album has turned out’.

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‘We released Only the Brave as a promo single for the album along with a music video that has now had over 100,000 hits on YouTube. We’re just about to release the second music video for the song Glad Rags. The storyline is fun and a bit more lighthearted (In no time at all Mickey whipped out his phone and showed me a clip from the video ‘Glad Rags’. The track has a radio friendly feelgood bounce with a very catchy sing a long chorus, the video is not bad either with dancing girls, smoke and mirrors) ‘I’ve got to mention the company Flashlight Films who have done a great job on both videos, they were great to work with and we hope we get this new video well over 100 thousand hits too’.

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Where would the Tygers like to go next ? ‘We’d love to go and play for the South American fans again. It would be great to get to Canada, North America, Asia. Anywhere there’s fans hungry to see the band we would love to play. We’re looking forward to an Italian tour in a few weeks time followed by a two week European run and then some shows on the European festival circuit. We’re super proud of the new album, so we’re excited to play the new album for people as well as the classics’.

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New album Tygers of Pan Tang available from the Official Site tygersofpantang.com also European tour dates for 2017.

Interview by Gary Alikivi 9th March 2017.

Recommended:

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

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

Robb Weir, Doctor Rock, 5th November 2017.