Dingwalls was a live venue in Newcastle operating in the early ‘80s and many signed and unsigned bands played there. Pages from a 1983 diary and booking list for the venue were posted on-line and some of those pages are pictured here.
I got in touch with Stu Keeble who was sound engineer at the Newcastle venue at that time….I think my first gig at Dingwalls was John Martyn in 1983. After the venue closed and re-opened as the Bear Pit I was still the engineer. I then did 3 years with the Bay City Rollers!
Have you any road stories with the Rollers ? Apart from the sex, drugs and rock and roll plus the large amount of whisky they consumed, I’ve lots of stories but I’m not sure how many are fit for public consumption (laughs).
The story we remember was a nightmare journey. The van broke down on the way to Ayr in Scotland, we were about 10 miles away from the gig. We had AA cover so they came and towed us to the venue and we did the show. That wasn’t too bad but now the big problem was getting back.
I phoned my mate Barry Hodgson from Stanley in County Durham, Barry hired a 7.5 ton Ford Cargo which he drove all the way up to Ayr and towed the van back – a nightmare journey as the engine had blown up in the Transit. We hadn’t thought that the battery wouldn’t last the return trip – the lights died as we passed Carlisle.
I had to call on a friend in Haltwhistle to borrow the battery out of his Mini which just got us back. Unfortunately this was in the days before cameras in the mobile phone so there are no photos of the nightmare !
How did you get interested in sound engineering and what were your first jobs ? I was a Hi-Fi nut and loved music. I used to go to a lot of gigs, mostly names like Sabbath and The Who, but I was also into west coast American acts so bands like CSNY, Poco, America and Jackson Browne. 1979 was my first paid sound engineering job with a band called 747 in the North East workingmen’s clubs. I’d only done amateur stuff before that.
Did you engineer for any North East bands ? My first tour was with Tysondog, I also mixed for Warrior, there is a live record – For Europe Only. I worked with Danceclass and did a few shows with the Toy Dolls in fact most North East bands even Prefab Sprout.
When you were at Dingwalls what was the plan for your day ? A day at Dingwalls would start around 11-12noon depending on the bands arrival time and how much gear they had. We would load them in – I had a stage tech called Kremen, who’s sadly no longer with us. Then sound check them once the offices upstairs in the building had finished work. We would have something to eat before it would be time for the doors to open, can’t remember when that was maybe 7.30/8.00 pm.
The gig would happen and when it finished we would get ready to pack up and load out. It would take us another hour or so to get the band out. We would get a taxi so maybe get home by 2am.
What are your highlights from your career ? As for highlights I have a few, a couple at Dingwalls/Bear Pit where Man – what a band, they were awesome, and the time Roy Harper came in with a young girl looking like he had slept in a shop doorway. He proceeded to give the young house engineer a lesson in compression, when the song is quiet it’s meant to be quiet ‘DO NOT COMPRESS MY SOUND’. That was easy to do as in the early ’80s compressors weren’t as common as they are now and we didn’t have any!
I got the call to do a Christmas party for TV show The Tube at the Jewish Mother pub in Newcastle and after setting up the system Joe Cocker turned up to sound check – that was a gig to remember.
I had the contract for the Northumbria Uni/Poly for the best part of 30 years and I was house engineer at the Astoria in London for a couple of years too. I did playback for Wet Wet Wet’s first Tube video and I appeared in Crocodile Shoes (TV drama with Jimmy Nail) as the sound engineer at the live show.
There have been a few gigs to remember over the 40 odd years but they all sort of merge into one. Friends of Harry at the Radio One roadshow in Exhibition Park, Newcastle when the mixing desk was behind the stage and I had to produce a PA mix, 5 monitor mixes and a broadcast mix was a lot of fun ! The bands single that I had mixed at High Level Studio, Newcastle was the record of the week.
Doing PA for the Queen Mother at Team Valley Trading Estate, Gateshead in 1986 was an eye opener when Special Branch wanted to look inside the speaker cabinets or Alexi Sayle at Newcastle City Hall for the miners strike in ‘84 was a laugh when he walked on stage and said hello you c@#*s and half the audience left.
But two great moments were at The London Astoria meeting and mixing for Bruce Willis and Mike and the Mechanics.
What are you doing now ? I’m still working, currently doing the Northumberland Live festival in Blyth. I’m really enjoying helping to bring quality acts to Blyth for a free festival. I’ve really enjoyed my time as a sound engineer and I wouldn’t have been happy doing anything else.
Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2020.