Guardian Sound Studios were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings.
Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog – they were home to a recording studio.
From 1978 some bands who recorded in Guardian were – Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”, 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax.
From ‘82 to ‘85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior made singles or albums. On this blog there is a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian including stories of a ghost of a young girl who was knocked down outside the studio.
Dave King (vocals, Battleaxe): Yeah still remember the story of the Guardian ghost sitting at the piano. Terry would say can’t you see it lads ? No was our answer (laughs). He told us to be quiet and still and then go and sit on the wall outside while the ghost was sat at the piano in the live room playing a silent tune. He would then disappear for half an hour to his other house next door. He was recently married at the time so was a young virile bloke like all of us back then (laughs).
His stories were great, he told us he had been given a guitar from Paul McCartney, and an old flying jacket of John Lennon given to him from the Beatles. Terry liked nowt like taking the piss (laughs).
I found him a really nice guy, very helpful with young and naive bands. But for recording he could never get the drum sound we were asking from him and that was with all the fantastic gear he had in there – although we did have a crap kit at the time. We never stayed overnight as some bands did cos we only lived a few miles away.
We recorded our single Burn This Town and Battleaxe in one long day and Terry took half a day to mix it. Think it cost us around £200, we all chipped in £50 quid each and Terry pressed 500 x 7 inch singles. It was an amazing feeling to have the band’s music published and out on vinyl.
Roger Lewis, a great Heavy Metal DJ pioneer at Radio Tees, was first to let rip Burn this Town over the airwaves. For some unknown reason Alan Robson from Radio Metro never took a shine to us at all, in fact blatantly slagged us off live on his Hot and Heavy Radio show.
However that single and the Burn This Town album got us a BBC Radio One session with Tommy Vance and interest from a host of other radio stations.
On 28 May 1983 two car loads of hairy teenage metallers left South Shields and travelled down the M1 to see an all-day gig at Leeds. I remember we arrived in the city and the first thing I saw was massive blue posters for the gig. For me Anvil stole the day, and a month later confirmed their metal credentials when the Canadian band supported Motorhead at Newcastle City Hall. Still got my ticket from Leeds.
One of the bands playing that day were Battleaxe from the North East. Vocalist Dave King remembers the time….
We supported Saxon as special guests on their Crusader tour in 1983/4, and again at the Leeds Queens Hall Festival with Saxon, Twisted Sister, Girlschool, Anvil and more. Good old Noddy Holder from Slade was presenting the show.
I remember after the show Dee Snyder and Mark Mendoza from Twisted Sister came on board the Battleaxe bus to have a look around and thought it was fantastic. They saw a large cooking pan in the compartment under the stairs and asked what it was for. Brian the bass player told them it was for making vegetable broths in the kitchen on the bus cos we don’t wanna get scurvy on tour – that’s the god damned truth. We really did stop off near farmer’s fields to dig out potatoes, cabbages and carrots to make food on the tour bus – it saved us a fortune (laughs).
In 1981 the King family from Sunderland were restoring an old empty pub they owned called The Albert Inn, in Shotton Colliery, Durham. A local band called Warrior, not to be confused with the NWOBHM band from Newcastle, used to rehearse in the ground floor room of the pub. A young Dave King was roadie and driver for the band. When Warrior broke up there was a vacancy for a singer, and Dave hoys his hat in the ring – after an audition, he gets the job.
The band changed the name and Battleaxe was born. With help from Dave’s father Derek and promotion manager Rob Stuart, within a year Battleaxe had signed a deal with Roadrunner Records and Music for Nations, plus Tommy Vance invited the band to record a session on Radio One’s Friday Night Rock show.
Dave takes up the story…..
The first gig Battleaxe performed was Heighington Village Hall in Bishop Auckland in 1981, then we played venues like Thirsk Town Hall, Spennymoor Recreation, Country club in Saltburn and Leeds polytechnic. Sunderland Mayfair is probably the best gig we played back then and the only time we ever got paid to cover the costs of the massive show we carried with us.
Back then we used a double decker bus to travel about in. A week before the Radio One session with Tommy Vance we had bought the bus and I remember parking up in BBC Maida Vale studio car park with ten of us on board – and all the p.a. plus backline equipment loaded on because at the time we were doing a UK tour with Madame X (American hard rock band).
The bus had accommodation upstairs with the stage gear down stairs. We carried an 8k rig with loads of lights, pyros, smoke machine, the lot. Plus a four stack Marshall wall and a two stack Trace Elliot bass rig for Hardies and Brian’s backline, with full double drum kit and riser for Ian.
Unbeknown to us the bus was actually a classic from the Ribble coach company on a Leyland chassis. One of the first double decker bus models to have the front cabin built over the engine creating a flat front like all double decker buses are now. We sold it to Leeds Bus Preservation Society and I’ve been told it’s now in a museum somewhere.
BURN THIS TOWN
Our first recording was in Guardian Studios in a village called Pity Me, County Durham. Terry Gavaghan was the producer and owner of the studio. We recorded two tracks – Burn This Town and Battleaxe. We self-released them on a single on the Guardian record label.
500 units were pressed which are now very rare and quite valuable in record collectors guides. The quality of the tracks were very basic but they got us a deal with Roadrunner Records and we recorded an album for them called, Burn This Town.
I remember we were sent the contract to sign at our base in Kensington Hall in Sunderland. The original member’s were me, Brian Smith (bass) Steve Hardy (guitar) and Ian Thompson drums. A year after recording Burn This Town in Guardian studio, Ian was attacked by a thug and obtained a serious injury. He couldn’t carry on so Ian McCormack came in who recorded the next album with us.
SO BAD IT’S GOOD
Cees Wessels, the record company boss, asked us what we wanted for the art work on the album cover. We had a friend and local artist called Arthur Ball who come up with a basic idea of a biker on his motorbike wielding an axe with a town in the back ground burning down – it looked like Sunderland (laughs). We sent that off in the mail to head office at Roadrunner in Holland.
You’ve got to remember there was no internet or social media at that time and things took a bit longer to arrange. We waited weeks and really needed to know from Cees Wessels what his thoughts were on the idea that Arthur had come up with.
Two months later the album was released worldwide, we couldn’t believe they had gone and used the draft cover idea as the finished art work. Since then there has been constant comments in media articles as it being one of the worst Heavy Metal album covers – ever.
Yet even today after 39 years, metal fans and journalists are still talking about it. Personally, it’s worked out as a marketing marvel. Over the years the Burn This Town cover has had a face lift four times and we are very happy with the latest upgrade drawn by Louise Limb.
Now we are really looking forward to getting out on tour and the Halloween date in Newcastle, but more so the release of our fourth album Rezonator. We have a great new set of songs for the upcoming October dates including many from our back catalogue. It shouldn’t be too long now before the new material gets to be heard as tasters before the big release.
We really hope some of the metal followers and Battleaxe fans reading this can get out and see us play in October, we are looking forward to seeing some of your there.
Battleaxe are: Dave King (vocals) Brian Smith (bass) Mick Percy (guitar) & session drummer from Colombia Mauricio Chamucero (drums).
In the fourth and final part part of an interview with Teesside based Thompson, he talks about MCA records, Pete Waterman and mainstream success.
SELL RECORDS, SHIFT UNITS
I was working in several different genres but I still had a healthy grounding in rock. In 1981 I came up with a little slushy ballad which didn’t fit the NEAT stuff although I played it to Dave Wood and he said uh it’s ok. So I was determined my future lay elsewhere. Within six month it was a Top 20 hit for a band called Wavelength, it was Hurry Home and it was in the charts for three month.
At roughly the same time the Tygers put out Paris By Air which was a minor hit so I had some credibility on both sides of the coin. My publishing was with Neon and I had a hit with Sheena Easton on her Madness, Money and Music album which went Top 20. Celine Dion also recorded the Sheena Easton song in French. It was a hit single in Canada going Gold. The album sold 400,000 units in Canada and 700,000 units in France.
One day I got a call from a management company who said they had just signed a young guy who wanted to come and work with me on some tracks. ‘No mate, I’m not into that’. They said ‘we’ll pay you’ and quick as a flash I said ‘cool, send him round this afternoon’. The young guy was Stu Emerson.
I told Stu I was looking for a good female vocalist and he introduced me to Lorraine Crosby who went on to sing with Meatloaf on one of his hit singles. I recorded loads of tracks with Lorraine. She recorded all the backing vocals on some stuff I was recording with a guy called Pete Adshead. Pete’s management company had sent him up from London to work with me in Whitley Bay.
When the stuff started to get released Pete changed his name to Baby Ford. I had a couple of hits with him in the style of Acid House and one of them Chiki Chiki Ah Ah earned a BBC ban. I’m very proud of that.
HOLLYWOOD NEED SOMETHING SNAPPY
On quitting NEAT Records as producer I had a shed load of releases as a writer.In the early ‘80s I was signed to MCA Music as a songwriter. One day I got a call from my mentor there, Pete Waterman. Pete said there was a big-shot movie producer in town and I was urgently needed in London to meet up with him.
So the next day I flew down and arrived in Pete’s office around midday. Pete introduced me to an American guy who’s name now escapes me. He was one of the producers of the movie Jaws 3D which was nearing completion.
Anyway, this guy treated me to the story of his wonderful new movie and told me all it needs is a killer song. Apparently it’s a ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl’ theme. Except in this case there are no boys and girls involved, the lovers in question are dolphins. He says they have Barbara Streisand lined up to sing this yet to be written song.
Pete has put me in the frame to write the lyrics and makes his office available to conduct my work. Pete and the American guy went off to lunch saying they will check my progress on their return. As they were leaving the American called back over his shoulder ‘Hey kid, gimme a lurve song for two dolphins’.
Alone in the office I slid the cassette into the machine. Shit!!!!! How on earth could I turn this orchestral pomp into a song. Still I had been charged with the task so I had to try. I spent the next two hours racking my brain and writing one liners and drawing doodles.
SINK OR SWIM
The guys arrived back and the American says ‘OK kid, whaddyah got?’ I said ‘not much’ and passed over the piece of paper and waited to be well and truly spanked. Pete – ever the bullshitter, went into overdrive. ‘What did I tell you about my boy, F***ing brilliant, just look at this, sink or swim, I will follow him, that’s a killer line’.
It was just about the only line but Pete was leaving no room for contradiction. He was already on the phone booking a studio for that evening. Then he dashed out of the office and grabbed another MCA staff writer who had a good singing voice. This hapless guy was named Simon Jeffries and he was going to have to sing this crap. Like me, Simon was not going to say no to the guy responsible for signing his yearly salary cheque – a publishers advance.
I was therefore obliged to spend the rest of the day making words fit to soaring violins and trumpets. The pain of this was nothing compared to the recording session that evening. I think we nearly killed the poor vocalist. Unsurprisingly, I never heard another thing about my entry into the world of movie themes and as it happens I never saw Simon again either.
In the third part of Steve Thompson’s story he is working at Impulse studio/NEAT records and recording with Tygers of Pan Tang.
FIRST OUT THE BLOCKS
They had no sophistication then but I guess they made up for that with raw energy. I was looking at this from a songwriter’s perspective and suggested they shorten intro’s and reduce repetition of dead wood and get to the hooks quicker.
I mixed the tracks and worked on the drum sound and a few other bits and pieces, we got it ready and the A side of their first single was Don’t Touch Me There. We put it out and it started to really sell. MCA got interested so they picked it up, re-released it and went on to do their first album.
I was also signed to MCA in their stable of writers and my mentor was Pete Waterman, he was crackers. It was Pete who suggested the Tygers should do Love Potion No 9 as a single. Great idea.
At that time I was sharing a rented flat in Whitley Bay with the band, it’s a sitcom waiting to be written. Bizarrely the original Tygers vocalist Jess Cox and his replacement Jon Deverill both lived at the flat. Lead guitarist John Sykes lived there as well. So I would go off to Impulse studio in the mornings and John would stay in the house playing guitar constantly.
FOR THE RECORD
When I’d come back from the studio he’d still be playing. He was a really friendly guy and he’d ask what I’d been doing that day and sometimes I’d have rough mixes and play him stuff. That particular day Tygers bass player Rocky Laws was there and I played them Paris By Air and Rocky loved it, the song stayed with him a few years.
Coming up to start recording their fourth album The Cage, there’d been a few changes in the Tygers camp and that made a big dent in the song writing team. Jon Deverill was already in, and Fred Purser from Penetration was brought in to replace John Sykes.
The band were looking for some songs and Rocky suggested we should do the track I’d played to them a few year ago called Paris By Air. OK I said I’ll re-write the lyric as it was originally for a female.
I also played a brand new song called Lonely at the Top to their managers. It was unfinished and I played it on acoustic guitar, stamping my feet and vocally trying to make noise that indicated how it would become a loud rock song. They asked me to make a full demo and I did. It was also selected for the album.
I also asked the Tygers management if anyone wants to come along to my new gaff in Tynemouth for co-writes. Jon Deverill said yes so we knocked off a few tunes. Letter to L.A. was put together using a Casio synthesiser played through a fuzzbox. That song was just prior to them going into the studio so it really was down to the wire with unfinished lyrics.
They were in the studio when I got a call from Jon Deverill, he said in his lovely little Welsh accent ‘I’m having a bit difficulty with these lyrics’. I said ‘ok what you got’. Well it turned out he didn’t have much at all. I said I’ll put some lyrics together, how long you got ?
‘Oh well, we’re having a little break then I’m going in the studio to sing it in 20 minutes’. So phoning in a second verse in double quick time was challenging.
The Cage was a success but sadly the band broke up. I don’t know why, maybe some of the guys thought we had been a touch too much in the commercial arena.
OLD FRIENDS, NEW SONGS
After that I started working with Jon Deverill on a solo album. To begin with I was using a little porta studio but decided to go large with an eight track demo studio in my new house in Whitley Bay.
I met up with John Sykes again when we used his studio to record the album. He had this huge place in the middle of a housing estate in Blackpool, where he was originally from. So when we were there he popped in and met everyone. I co-wrote all the songs on that album with Jon Deverill.
WhenJohn Sykes was touring Japan with Whitesnake we got a call from him saying the Tygers are huge in Japan why not get out here and tour. Well at the same time we were about to get a record deal from Music for Nations so we decided to make this the fifth Tygers album, rather than a Deverill solo album.
Because it was going to be a Tygers album we needed another Tyger to validate the band, who wants to see a band with no original members ? So original drummer Brian Dick came back in, there was Jon, and on guitar a guy was brought in called Neil Sheppard. I was asked to play keyboards.
I didn’t tour with them but we did a live TV rock show called ECT, Gary Moore and Robin George were also on – I was heavily disguised.
Teesside based songwriter & producer Steve Thompson has had a hell of a career in the music biz, from producing heavy metal bands Venom, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang, to mainstream artists Sheena Easton, Elkie Brooks and Celine Dion recording his songs, plus working with Pete Waterman, Gus Dudgeon, and The Hollies. Here he talks about his early influences and forming Bullfrog.
A BIT OF BULLY
Records I was fond of in the ‘60s were The Beach Boys. Brian Wilsons skill in making records was unbelievable. I used to listen to the radio and they were so far away like gods playing this music. But the thing that got me into playing guitar was seeing everyday guys around town playing guitars, just ordinary people.
Like all kids in my town, I went straight from school into Consett Steel Works. With three other steelworkers we formed a band called Bullfrog, and served two apprenticeships. One of them by day working in the steelworks, the other by night playing the pubs and clubs of North East England. That was my first stab at the music industry.
Bullfrog supported a lot of bands like Vinegar Joe and Edgar Broughton. On October 10th 1974 I got a call from our manager to say there was a gig going that night supporting Wishbone Ash at Newcastle’s Odeon Cinema and could I get the band together. When the call came in I had been dying my cream coloured platform boots, I fancied green. But because I was in a rush, I turned out on stage that night with one green boot and the other still cream.
I’VE GOT A PLAN, MAN
When Bullfrog were in Island Studios in London our first producer was Roger Bain, he also produced Black Sabbath. I was introduced to his friend and record producer, Gus Dudgeon of Elton John fame, later on I did a lot of work as a songwriter with Dudgeon.
The whole process of studio and song writing really intrigued me so I knew where I was headed. I wrote a few songs put them out and a guy called Dave Wood heard about me and found a slot at Impulse Studio in Wallsend.
Next up read Making Tracks #2, when Steve is producer at Impulse Studio in Wallsend, home to New Wave of British Heavy Metal label NEAT records, and crosses swords with metal maniacs Raven, Venom & Tygers of Pan Tang.
Teesside based songwriter & producer Steve Thompson is planning an audio and video presentation of stories from his time as house producer at Neat records.
‘I’ll also add some studio out-takes and unreleased tracks’ said Steve.
In 1977 Thompson became house producer at Impulse Recording Studios in Wallsend and helped set up Neat Records earning him the title ‘Godfather of North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.
The first couple of releases at Neat were pop records, but with the Tygers of Pan Tang, Neat led the charge for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)- North East Division.
Before leaving Neat, Thompson also produced Raven and Venom. The North East trio became arguably the most influential bands of that period, especially in the USA. Metallica in particular recognising the influence the three North East bands had on them.
Steve recalled the Raven album sessions… ‘Producing the Raven album was intense and rewarding. I’ve heard them described as ‘athletic rock’ and that’s just about right cos as they were recording I had to gaffa tape the headphones to their heads as they were just bouncing off their heads as they were banging ten to the dozen!’
Venom drummer Tony Bray said ‘When our first producer Steve Thompson heard us crashing through ‘In League with Satan’ he had the understanding that he was able to record something original and ground breaking. We didn’t, but that’s a good producer’.
What will we expect from the show Steve ?
‘This is an depth presentation of my time at the coal face of heavy metal. I want to paint a picture of what it was like to be there when these historic events happened. There are some interesting aspects to the story, some hilarious and some outrageous. This is a rock and roll story so beware if you’re easily offended’.
Thompson went on to write songs recorded by mainstream artists Sheena Easton, Elkie Brooks, Celine Dion and Wavelength who appeared on Top of the Pops with Hurry Home. The single peaked at number 17 after three month in the UK Singles chart.
In these covid times how will we be able to see the show ?
‘When lockdown eases I will present this story at a venue with reduced capacity. We’re also installing a state of the art camera and streaming system. You will be able to book tickets for the venue (limited numbers) or book a ticket for the live stream. More news will be released when I have it’.
I was reminded of the night the New Wave of British Heavy Metal came in to South Shields. What happened was I was flicking through my records and I come across the Hollow Ground EP which was kindly given to me by Lou Taylor (Satan/Blind Fury) after I lost my copy.
I originally bought one from Second Time Around Record Shop in South Shields after watching Hollow Ground play live at Tyne Dock Youth Club in 1980 – my very first LOUD gig. They certainly gave the place some welly and was one of the first NWOBHM gigs I went to – Hellanbach and Satan followed over the years.
Glenn Coates was vocalist that night, but later he left the rock hard granite sound of Hollow Ground, and became frontman for another South Shields plug in an’ play no frills outfit, Fist…Yeah we used to play so loud, one gig I jumped onto the drum riser at the very same time that the drummer hit his crash cymbal and I nearly lost my balance, I think I have tinnitus now (laughs).
I saw Fist at venues like South Shields British Legion, and Newcastle Mayfair on 4 June 1982 on the Y & T Earthshaker tour….
I remember they brought all their gear in flight cases. One of the cases was like a very tall chest, and when they opened it, it was full of cans of beer. We had a great time opening for them, good memories.
Later that year I saw Y & T again, this time opening for AC/DC in Newcastle. The Americans warmed up the City Hall enough for DC to land on stage with their huge backline. They were fronted by ex-Geordie singer Brian Johnson. During the ‘70s & ‘80s a lot of rock/metal bands came from the North East – The Animals, Geordie, Raven and the Tygers of Pan Tang….
I remember Fist supported the Tygers at Warrington Park Hall, which is the same set up as Newcastle City Hall…said Glenn.
The Tygers were doing well at the time with arctic’s full of sound gear parked outside. But our van with all our gear decides to pack up on the M62. We eventually got to the hall just in time – we pulled up outside at 6pm with our backline in a horsebox (laughs).
If we go back to the start, how did the job in Hollow Ground come about ?
You mentioned that Tyne Dock gig, well we have fond memories of playing there because before Hollow Ground I was in a band that used to rehearse in that youth club. There was Brian Rickman (bass) and myself in a band with guitarist Steve Dawson (Saracen/The Animals/Geordie). That fizzled out around ’78 so Brian and me got together with Martin Metcalf (guitar) and John Lockney (drums), that was the beginning of Hollow Ground.
We also rehearsed in a backroom at the Adam & Eve pub in South Shields and all day on a Sunday in a hut in West Park. We used to give the caretaker a fiver and he’d let us in. We’d always record our rehearsals then listen to it back during the week, then rearrange the songs.We had started to write our own stuff and went in a studio to get it down on tape.
Studio work was financed by playing covers in pubs and working men’s clubs around the North East. The first studio we went into was Impulse Studio where Neat records were based, and we recorded an hour long live demo. It turned out quite good, I thought the vocals and drum sound was better there than at our other recording for the EP at Guardian Studio in Durham.
What was your experience of Guardian studio ?
Terry Gavaghan was owner and producer there and it was exciting to make a record at Guardian. We were still pretty naïve about it all you know – making a record to get noticed by a record company. Then we put some tracks together for a compilation album called Roksnax. Other bands on the record were Saracen from South Shields and Samurai who I think were Newcastle based. We all contributed four tracks each.
How did joining Fist come about ?
At first Hollow Ground were like sponges taking everything in, playing gigs wherever and whenever we could, at pubs and clubs doing covers to pay for the studio time. Learning all the time, it was a great energy to write the songs and it came about quite easy and quickly.
But thing was Terry Gavaghan said EMI were interested in signing us so we were waiting for that, but really I didn’t believe it and I’ve heard he told lots of bands the same. The band had stopped playing live so with no gigs happening I wasn’t doing much.
Fist came along and asked about me joining, I took it because they had things to offer. This was around ’81 and in the summer we played the Rock on the Tyne festival at Gateshead Stadium with Rory Gallagher and a few others. U2 were on the day before us.
The night before we played in Manchester and someone had smashed the whole back window of our car. I remember being freezing cold travelling on the motorway finally getting back to the North East about 4 in the morning. Not the best preparation cos we had to do a soundcheck and the first band on stage at 12 noon. With hindsight shouldn’t have played Manchester, but had a good time the rest of the day playing to a very large audience at Gateshead stadium.
Did you go in the studio with Fist ?
Yes we recorded the Back With a Vengeance album and the feeling then around the band and the songs was great. There was magic in the air. We also recorded a single on Neat records in 1982, it was an easy going pop song called The Wanderer with Too Hot on the b side. The Wanderer was just a laugh really, I don’t think we even played it live.
But some people thought we had mellowed and gone poppy by releasing it, but no, it was never meant to be a serious record. Then about a year later Status Quo recorded a version and got it in the charts. The picture on the front cover is me with my long hair – I haven’t got that now but I still think I’ve got that jacket (laughs).
When did Fist call it a day ?
We didn’t call it a day as such, it just kind of fizzled out. We were still rehearsing new stuff in Harry’s pub (Hill, drummer) as he had got into the pub game by then. But I don’t think any live dates were coming in. It’s a hard game to keep going.
But Fist played some memorable gigs. On 7 May 1984 we opened for Motorhead at Hammersmith Odeon on their No Remorse tour. It was great they had the Bomber lighting rig. I just remember seeing the first two or three rows singing along to songs we had wrote, it was such a buzz.
Afterwards we were upstairs in the Green Room drinking, Motorhead were there and Young Blood, the other band who were on. Lemmys son was also there, who is a good looking lad – all the lasses fancied him (laughs).
What are you doing now ?
Fist are still active. We’ve got Mark Jackson in on drums because unfortunately Harry Hill had to retire due to health problems. Last year we were still gigging and ready to go in the studio, but the March lockdown came so that put a stop to it.
We’ve got an albums worth of new material so when we can, Covid permitting, we will go in the studio and record the songs cos they can’t be left on the shelf.
We had John Gallagher from Raven in the studio the other week. He came in to add vocals and bass for something Steve Thompson was putting together. (Steve is a North East songwriter who featured in a post June 27th 2017). It was amazing. I only heard of Raven when I went to a Slayer gig last November with Anthrax supporting them. They said it was great to be in Newcastle where Venom and Raven came from. A few month later here he was hanging out in the studio. I listened to the album and I could totally see it. When John came in and put the vocal down he could still do it. He was screaming and held a note for about a minute and the bass, well he was flying all over the place. Yes he’s still got it.
Steve was putting these songs together for his publishing company and he was having such a good time it’s ended up for an album. He’s done about 15 songs. He like’s it here so just kept coming back. A lot of people do return, we get reviews on social media saying the studio is just nice and relaxed atmosphere.
Who else have you had in the studio ? Lately we’ve had Newcastle musician Afnan Prince in the studio, also Connor Pattison from Durham. They have an Arctic Monkeys sound. After some recordings here the file of individual tracks of bass, snare drum, vocals etc get sent to another engineer who put’s a sort of extra shine on the mix you know and get’s it played on the radio.
We had some kids from Sunderland doing like indie rock which is a big thing. We had a band called Tank Engine in doing a real thrashy rock. They are from Washington and used to be in a band called Your Code Name is Milo who did fairly big thing’s in the 2000s. The drummer is in a band with tv’s Hairy Bikers. They are releasing stuff in Spring and I’m really looking forward to it, really interesting band.
I’ve done a lot of rap, so I was producing some beats and people were coming on and rapping on them. There was some acoustic stuff like with singer/songwriter Trev Gibb who has branched out on all sorts of sounds now.Most of what I do now is the finished product. Radio play, You Tube and Trev’s is for an album.
Most of what I record here end’s up on Radio Newcastle at some point. Some end up on BBC Radio 6. One was for a 15 year old called Tom Smith. He played on all the instruments and we sent it in and Radio DJ Tom Robinson loved it and played it. Just this Saturday I had 4 songs produced here on BBC Newcastle so that was good.
Sounds like the studio is getting a reputation… Yes it’s building up. Only in the last couple of years it’s started to happen as this has been here about 15 years. First off it was based around a youth club which was a great idea when it was 50p to come in and record. I wouldn’t have started recording if it wasn’t for that.
About 10 years ago Daniel Clifford and I were in a band called Squares and recorded a few EP’s with original engineer John Clavering. We picked up how to record so we made an album. We didn’t know anything about EQ or compression (laughs). But we learned and I ended up getting a job here.
Do you think there is much original music out there and venues to play ? As far as I know there is some amazing stuff in the North East. I catch up with it by listening to BBC Radio Newcastle on a Saturday night 8-10pm. That’s their introducing show run by Nick Roberts. All you have to do is load an mp3 to the introducing site, they have a listen and your song can go to your local radio or if they really like it a national show like BBC1 Extra.
For venues there is still The Cluny, or The Riverside which is good. The Head of Steam is still going. These are Newcastle but as far as I know nothing in South Shields. You can hire out The Customs House but you’d have to already have a following to do that. Most pub’s are focused on cover bands because that’s what get’s people through the doors. I think The Queen Vic were trying out bands but don’t know how that worked. Bands I record haven’t mentioned playing in Shields.
I’m working on putting a funding bid together to organise a live music event mainly for a student audience. Just need to fine tune it.
With home recording made easier why would musicians use this or any studio ? I love that you can record at home. It’s what I used to do for demo’s and singles. Had some good sounds recorded in the house. But if you pay what we charge £15 per hour you get access to excellent industry standard microphone’s, guitar amp’s, drum kit to make a big noise which you wouldn’t be able to do in your house. Plus my years of experience which all counts.
Interview by Gary Alikivi January 2019.
ContactMartin on 0191 456 3917
The Customs Space, Captains Row, South Shields NE33 5AS
Jon has just released a new album, Square One with former Tygers guitarist Fred Purser…
Square One was recorded in the early 1990s. After the collapse of the Tygers in 83 guitarist Fred Purser and myself decided to continue our partnership. I have huge respect for Fred. He’s quite simply the most talented man I’ve met. On the album he wrote, engineered, produced and played all the instruments, except the drums.
We both shared the same vision and were completely on the same page. Our musical tastes are very similar. Fred has his own recording studio so the facilities were there to make the album. I love the songs.
When was your first experience inside a recording studio ? I had formed a band called Persian Risk with my good friend Phil Campbell who later joined Motorhead. We went into a small studio in Cardiff and recorded four songs. I loved it. I’ve always enjoyed recording. Creating something is very exciting.
How did you get interested in music and who were your influences ? I used to sing along to records in my bedroom and watched Top of the Pops religiously. I discovered that I could actually sing the songs so formed a band in school. My early influences were Alice Cooper, Robert Plant, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and David Coverdale.
My first band was called Pageant and I formed it with some friends in school. I was fifteen. We played in church halls before progressing to pubs in South Wales. We took it very seriously and wrote our own songs. At that time I decided I wanted to sing professionally.
What led you to getting the job with the Tygers ? I was gigging around South Wales with Persian Risk and saw an add in Melody Maker about the Tygers looking for a new singer. I’d seen the band at Reading Festival earlier that year, 1980. They were great and I very much wanted to join them. I got in touch and came up to Newcastle for an audition and got the job. I was on cloud 9. My life changed forever. A once in a lifetime chance and I still can’t believe my good fortune.
In the space of a year I went from playing small pubs in South Wales to Hammersmith Odeon. I was with the Tygers for six years in total. We played in Europe and Japan. To promote The Wreckage album we toured America, plus of course all around the UK.
My first gig with the Tygers was at the legendary Marquee Club in London. Gone now of course. Oh yes I was living the dream !
1982 was a good year for the Tygers with a UK tour for new album The Cage, a slot at the Reading Festival in August and appearing on TV show The Tube in December. What are your memories from that time ? I remember Reading Festival and The Tube very clearly. Reading was amazing. 57,000 people. Our biggest gig ever. We were the last band on stage B and the first to use lights that day. Iron Maiden closed the day on stage A.
The Tube was great too. It was a good gig for us and went out to a big audience. We were on with Twisted Sister who I feel stole the show. They got signed by Atlantic Records after their performance. IggyPop was also on. He was frightening. Really scary. God knows what he was on!
Hellbound – Spellbound Live ’81 album has just been released. What can you remember from those times ? The live Tygers album was recorded at Nottingham Rock City in 1981. It was my first tour. I loved it. So exciting and I’ll never forget it. High energy and quite literally Crazy Nights! We were promoting Spellbound which is an album I’m very proud of. I think it’s the best Tygers Of Pan Tang album. I still enjoy listening to it.
After a successful album The Cage, you worked with songwriter Steve Thompson again…..Even though we released The Wreckage and Burningin the Shade as Tygers records. They were really more like my solo albums. I loved working with Steve Thompson. He’s a very talented songwriter and we hit it off instantly. We wrote those two albums and I’m proud of them.
Your next move was into acting. How did the change of career come about ? I’ve always wanted to be an actor. It’s something I’ve done all my life so returning to it made perfect sense. In 1989 I auditioned and got in to The Royal Welsh College Of Music And Drama and spent the next three years training to be an actor. They were three of the best years of my life. I’ve been working as a professional actor ever since. Never stopped singing and I’ve done a lot of musical theatre. A highlight being Blood Brothers in the West End. I’ll continue doing it.
Music and acting – what do they mean to you ? Music and acting is my life. They mean everything to me. Being creative and expressing myself is life to me. I have to act to live. I love what I do and continue doing it till the end. They say you’re a born actor. Yes. Totally!
With the Square One album out on the shelves where does it stand with your Tygers work ? I’m very proud of it. It’s by far my best work. I’m so delighted that it’s finally been released. We never lost faith that one day it would be.