In the early 1980s the North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal included the big five of Raven, Fist, Venom, Satan and Tygers of Pan Tang. After a load of gigs played, records made and over 40 year experience in the music biz you’d think Tygers guitarist Robb Weir had seen it all.
The last three live shows the Tygers played were back in March 2020 when we went to Holland, Belgium and in Germany with Saxon. When we returned back to the UK a national lock down was imposed and that meant no more live appearances for a few months, or so we thought.
Here we are in February 2022 nearly two years on and our live shows are still being postponed, what is really going on? If you know please tell me as I have run out of patience!
How did you handle the lockdown ?
I write music all the time so when we were confined to our ‘living spaces’ I took the opportunity to demo some of the ideas I had with thoughts of the next album in mind.
Along with all this lock down caper we changed our guitar player and welcomed the amazing fretboard talents of Mr Francesco Marras into the Ambush – if you didn’t already know an ‘Ambush’ is the name for a gathering or group of tigers in the wild!
What was the recording process ?
I demoed about twenty songs and sent them to Francesco to get his input and fresh ideas on them. Francesco re-recorded them in his studio and with his musical additions took them to the next level. The only problem we had was deciding which ones were going to make the final cut onto the new album as they were all contenders.
At the same time we also decided to record an EP to give everyone a taste of what’s to come, also to showcase Francesco’s ability to play a lovely melodic guitar solo, so two new tracks were written.
We also asked Francesco which was his favourite track from Wildcat our first LP in 1980. He said ‘Killers’ was always one of his favourites and I had a bit of a passion to re-vamp ‘Fireclown’.
We set about recording these four tracks remotely in our own studios, I recorded my parts in Gav Gray’s studio as mine is out of the ark. The finished tracks were sent to Marco Angioni, at Angioni Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark to be mixed and then across to Harry Hess in Canada to be mastered.
Is there a release date for the record ?
‘A New Heartbeat,’ is officially released World Wide on February 25th with an accompanying video but can be purchased pre-release online now from the Tygers web shop (link below) also our record company’s web shop Target Records.
What’s next for the Tygers ?
Gav Gray (bass) decided he wanted to visit ‘pastures new’ after we finished the new recordings so we have now welcomed a new bass player into the Tygers family, Huw Holding.
I’m very excited about the new Tygers material as I feel it’s the strongest yet, but we’ll let you be the judge of that….best Tyger wishes to you all!
When you’re young you have energy, you’re fearless and full of passion and drive. I didn’t realise how different I was being a female heavy metal singer – there wasn’t many about in the UK. I loved that time.
When I think back to the ‘80s playing live we’d have all our gear in a tiny venue plus we had pyro all around the stage, you wouldn’t get away with it now. We came on stage to a big explosion then the crowd were shocked to see a female at the front for a heavy band called War Machine.
It was my 21st birthday and I remember it well. The band were travelling to a gig in Yorkshire I always sat in the front and the rest of the band and roadies piled in the back with all the gear. But the van broke down and we spent the whole night at the side of the road drinking cans of lager. We eventually got back to the bassist’s house and all he had in to eat was tins of beans (laughs).
Things were really happening around then, Neat records had released our demo tape and the track Storm Warning got a lot of interest. Someone got in touch with Kerrang and they asked me to come down to the London studio for a photo shoot, the photographer was Ray Palmer. We were also busy recording the album Unknown Soldier so it was great timing.
HEAVY METAL TREATMENT
Neat had just got a new mixing desk and you could add samples so a lot of our songs had a foghorn, sound of chains on, a few other pieces – yes we were their first band to do that.
All my songs tend to be laid back and moody and I write from life experiences. Storm Warning was wrote on an acoustic first like most songs. I wrote the lyrics and melodies on the War Machine album then Steve and Les put it all together – they were given the heavy metal treatment with guitars and drums.
But we felt rushed in the studio, Venom were the main band at Neat so they got the most time, we would go in around 10pm till 2am. In all it took a couple of weeks.
NEVER SAW A PENNY
Being young and naïve about contracts we didn’t realise that we signed everything over to Neat so when the album sold, and it done well over in Europe, we never saw a penny – it still sells now.
We also featured on a Neat records compilation album and never received anything from that. People say I should be loaded ‘Never seen a penny’ is my answer.
HOT ‘N’ HEAVY
Our bassist Les Fry handled all the promotion and used to send tapes all over that’s how it got popular on European radio. I once remember doing an interview on French radio.
I used to co-host the Hot ‘n’ Heavy Express show with Alan Robson on Metro radio here in Newcastle, done that five or six times plus he interviewed the band.
We had a following in America but now it tends to be the European market where there’s still a big culture of ‘80s heavy metal bands – I still receive messages and requests for autographs.
War Machine have still got a big fan base in Germany, Poland and Russia and the photo session from Kerrang is still about (laughs).
People search for the War Machine heavy metal songs from 1983 but also hear my new stuff which is a different style. When I’m song writing a lot of times the lyric comes first then I pick up the guitar and a melody comes, sometimes it’s strange as the song is just right there when I pick it up.
Being creative is in our blood, I’ve got an Irish Catholic background and a lot of Mooney’s came over from Ireland to Wallsend in the North East, my uncle was a guitarist and my Mam and her sisters were singers and used to go out on tour.
When I was 14 I used to write lyrics and poems all the time then bought a guitar to put melodies to them. I was self-taught and started joining bands at 15 to sing and play rhythm guitar. It always felt natural to do, and a compulsion really.
HUM THAT TUNE
I record on an old eight track Tascam but sometimes if I’m in the supermarket or somewhere I use my phone. It can be embarrassing when you’re on the metro humming in a tune to a voice recorder (laughs).
I remember for the song Still Waters I woke up around 2am and had this tune in my head I don’t know where it came from. I recorded it and finished by 4 in the morning. I record during the night as I’m more of a night person for my music, I’m more creative then and my ideas come together.
I wrote Rush for a DJ called Tony Devino, that done well and last year I wrote Soul of Me. I have another three songs which I hope to get in a studio to record.
I’ve always been song writing wherever I am, in the ‘90s I was working in London as a theatre designer doing costume and props for stage and when I moved back up North, I was doing a lot of studio backing vocals and guitar for different musicians.
In the 2000’s I played a few gigs and wrote some songs including Still Waters. Some are available on Reverbnation and I’ll be uploading more onto Spotify soon and will send you the link.
A LIFE IN SONG
At gigs people would prefer to watch a full band so I spend more time writing and recording as my songs are more laid back – I’m planning to contact some musicians soon to go in the studio and record them on better equipment.
My passion is song writing and that’s what I continue to keep doing, I’m comfortable and happy doing that. I’m still in touch with the other members and would love to get up on stage and play a War Machine song, not sure if my vocals are strong enough for heavy metal though (laughs).
A previous interview with Bernadette from April 2018
Thompson releases two compilation albums this month, the first Iron Man of Norton on Friday 20 and another to follow, Second Shipment on 27 August.
‘Iron Man is my cycling name and it speaks of the prowess of my ability to go for miles and miles(laughs)’.
Toward the end of last year Thompson signed a licensing deal with Cherry Red Records and since the turn of 2021 has been busy releasing his back catalogue of songs.
‘The Bullfrog stuff (Steve’s first band) gave me the idea of a boxed set, then tracks I produced for Southbound 30 odd years ago, plus some stuff I did with Alvin Stardust and other bits and pieces’.
Thompson first appeared on the radar working at Impulse Studio in Wallsend, the home of Heavy Metal label Neat records – he produced the first singles by Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang.
‘When I quit as Godfather of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal I moved out of Impulse Studio and needed somewhere to create. Luck would have it six month later I had a massive hit with ‘Hurry Home’.
Not long after that an even bigger one with Celine Dion – that’s a whole other story’.
After the band Wavelength went on Top of the Pops with ‘Hurry Home’, the royalties started piling in and Thompson bailed out of Wallsend and set up a new base further along the North East coast in Whitley Bay.
Demo’s were made of the Tygers of Pan Tang albums ‘The Wreckage’ and ‘Burning in the Shade.
‘That studio became the ‘Brill’ building in Whitley Bay for several years with a lot of muso friends dropping in and adding bits and pieces. A lot of tracks have ended up on these two compilation albums’.
‘We recorded a bunch of tracks with a guy who became Baby Ford. There was one track from those sessions, I don’t know what it referred to but it got us a BBC ban – although it didn’t stop it becoming a chart hit.
Actually Lorraine Crosby (who sang on the Meatloaf hit ‘I’d Do Anything for Love’) sang a lot of backing vocals on those’.
Tygers fans will be interested in the original version of Paris By Air that appears on the Second Shipment album. The Tygers covered the song and had a hit with the track, it also appeared on their top 20 album The Cage.
‘On the second album is the original sung by Toni Halliday, she was only 16 at the time. There was another young 16 year old guy who hung around the studio called Andy Taylor. He played on some Toni Halliday stuff, he was one of my session guys. You could see he was soaking it all in’.
Recently, Taylor recorded an interview on Planet Rock radio where he gave credit to Thompson for giving him his first break in production.
‘It’s really nice of him to do that as it was a while ago’.
‘I was 25 then and Andy used to call me and the other muso’s around who were my contemporaries – boring old farts. He said he was going to be a major rock star. He wanted to cut a couple of tracks on vocals and guitar’.
‘Toni Halliday talked a lot about her life and ambitions while living a hum drum life on a council estate in Washington. Out of that the story of ‘Paris By Air’ emerged…..
‘I don’t know a soul in this neighbourhood, who can afford the fair, and I’m stuck here for good’.
‘But I didn’t know much about Andy’s background other than how ambitious he was’.
‘A guitarist friend of mine, Stu Burns, God bless him he’s not with us now, was in a band called The Squad. I was taken by their ballsy, Phil Spector type songs. They had a song ‘Hey Gene’ and I thought that would be good for Andy’.
‘It was written by John Farmer of The Squad. Stu engineered the session for me in the bands makeshift basement studio’.
‘Hey Gene’ is on the Iron Manof Norton album, the original b side of that record Catch a Fast Train can be found on Second Shipment. Thompson remembers one unforgettable day in the studio with Andy Taylor.
‘He looked in The Melody Maker and he saw a notice bigger than all the others and said… ‘I’m gonna audition for this’. So he went to Birmingham to audition for this band. He came back and said…
‘I got the gig’. We said ‘what they called ?’
We all fell about laughing saying ‘you’re going to get nowhere with a band called Duran, Duran’. How wrong can you be.
Both compilation albums contain a couple of tracks by Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs.
‘Tony called me up one day to record in the studio. He wanted me to record two songs in one day but also wanted a drummer and a bass player for the session.
I got in Paul Smith who I used a lot, I played bass, we were the Geordie Groundhogs. He paid Smithy, and for the day session. I played and produced for free’.
‘When the session was over he said have you got a bed to put me up for the night ? I phoned up my wife and said we’re going to put this guy up but he says he’s a vegetarian. We hadn’t a clue what he ate’.
‘Anyway he did sleep over but next day he woke up and just pissed off without saying goodbye – I might hear from him when these tracks come out (laughs)’.
Find both albums here:
Iron Man Of Norton: Boxed Set out on Friday 20 August 2021.
I asked Bob Nalbandian, host of the Shockwave Skullsessions podcast, who have you featured on previous shows ?
‘I’ve had tons of guests from classic rock and metal, icons like Bill Ward (Black Sabbath) Bob Daisley (Ozzy) Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy) to record industry vets like Monte Conner and Brian Slagel to new metal artists’.
‘Generally the feedback is very good. We have a loyal fan base of avid metal fans that particularly love classic ‘70s and ‘80s hard rock and metal’.
Bob remembers being a 16 year old American kid reading Kerrang and the ‘Armed n Ready’ section which highlighted emerging bands, Raven, Venom, Diamond Head and Def Leppard, and being introduced to a new punky metal sound labelled the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
So for the new episode he has lined up a Heavy Metal special with two of the big players from the NWOBHM.
Raven’s Chief Headbanger, John Gallagher said ‘It was 1979 and in the music papers you start seeing stories about Iron Maiden, Sansom, Neal Kaye and New Wave of British Heavy Metal and think what’s all this about’.
‘Most of the bands had been plugging away forever because we loved the music. We were just playing the music we liked and all of a sudden we got swept up in it’.
Jaguars Garry Pepperd added ‘There was very few rock and metal bands from our part of England. The only people who didn’t have a job in Bristol were us musicians who didn’t want one’.
Nalbandian also invited Night Demon’s Jarvis Leatherby to the table.
‘I’m a bit younger than you guys and I was introduced to NWOBHM by listening to the NWOBHM ’79 Revisited album. It done it for me because I heard everybody in one shot’.
‘It had on ‘Back Street Woman’ by Jaguar and ‘Don’t Need Your Money’ by Raven. Coming from a thrash metal kid who listened to the Big Four of Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeath, it was great to hear how melodic these bands were’.
The heavy mob chew the fat about early days of NWOBHM, Sounds newspaper, Kerrang, the Marquee and being studio virgins.
‘In 1979 when Jaguar started we done a demo and sent it off to a Battle of the Bands competition and got through. We played three songs but were beaten by a funk band from Swindon’.
‘Then we linked up to the Heavy Metal label and done ‘Stormchild’, a track for the ‘Heavy Metal Heroes’ compilation album’remembers Pepperd.
Gallagher added ‘Famously we played a show in Newcastle with Tygers of Pan Tang and their manager Tom Noble loved the show and came up to us and said do you want to make a single with Neat ? Err, no (laughs).
They talk about touring and how they persisted in dragging their bands over the music biz obstacles to still be a force today.
Leatherby said‘Raven took us on our first ever tour and we played more than 60 dates on the shows around the world and on festivals, so we’re forever connected. I was able to fill in as guest vocalist for Jaguar so I got to pinch myself for how much we’ve done together’.
Pepperd added‘We played anywhere in those days but like most places now they are long gone. We were going to support Spider at Bristol Colston Hall but in the afternoon the lighting rig collapsed so we never got to play’.
Gallagher chipped in‘We once done a show with the Tygers at the Guildhall in Newcastle and in the dressing room there was some girls brushing someone’s hair and we thought who’s she, she looks hot. They turned round and it was Jess Cox’ (Tygers vocalist)
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 background 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 publisher’s 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 was a guy 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 Ashat 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’.