‘PERSUADING BIG GROUPS TO APPEAR WAS IN THE LAP OF THE GODS’ Highlights from the book ‘Rock at the Sharp End’ by Sunderland author Geoff Docherty.

Docherty talks about his life from being doorman, club promoter and band manager. He remembers some of the big names that he attracted to Sunderland’s Bay Hotel ’The door leading to Marc Bolan’s dressing room was jammed with female admirers desperate to meet him. Some were crying with emotion. Others waited to meet their new heroes, Free, especially Paul Rodgers. I’d never experienced female adulation of this intensity and found it impossible to empty The Bay that night’.

Docherty fills the book with stories about bands on their way to making it, and groups already there, but next he needed a bigger venue….’During negotiations involved in moving to The Locarno, there were important hurdles to overcome. The first was the name. Over in the States were two highly respected venues called Filmore West and East. I unashamedly plagiarised the name by renaming the Sunderland Locarno, The Fillmore North, on the night I hired it. Whether I could persuade the best groups to appear was in the lap of the Gods’.

He did – and the book contains a chronology of gigs that Geoff promoted from the Bay Hotel – Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and The Who – to the Locarno – T.Rex, Mott the Hoople, Kinks and Bowie – admission and price paid for the act are included in the details, £150 for Bowie and 10 shilling to get in.

 

After a visit to a local nightclub, Annabels, he spotted a band who were playing and ended up being their manager…’In the three years I managed them, Beckett did two John Peel radio shows, 33 dates supporting The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, 19 dates supporting Captain Beefheart, 22 dates supporting Slade, five supporting Wizzard, three supporting Ten Years After and countless University and College gigs. They also made an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test’.

Docherty gives great detail of the meeting with Peter Grant and the subsequent Newcastle Mayfair booking of Led Zeppelin on the 18th March 1971. Not short on anecdotes and how the music world affected his personal life, Rock at the Sharp End is a must read for any fan of North East music.

Gary Alikivi  May 2020

IT WASN’T ABOUT BECOMING ROCK STARS – in conversation with songwriter & producer Steve Thompson

An interview with Steve is on the blog (The Godfather of North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017 link below) where he talks about his songwriting and production work with Rodger Bain, Pete Waterman, Venom, Tygers of Pan Tang, The Hollies, Neat Records, Sheena Easton (!) and more.

But before that he started out as bassist in North East rock band Bullfrog, who were active during the early ‘70s. I wanted to know more about his early days in music to add to his story. In November 2019 as chance happened he was in a recording studio in my hometown South Shields, so I arranged to drop in.

Before recording with engineer Martin Trollope, we had a half hour chat an’ a cuppa where I asked Steve was he looking to ‘make it’ at being a musician, getting a record deal and moving to London ? When I left school I was working at Consett steelworks and I learnt more there on how to be a record producer. I learnt how to communicate and in particular using humour. So I don’t regret going into the steelworks. But I think not having to work there might have been the motivator.

It’s interesting to look back because we saw everything through a lot younger eyes. If I’d been armed then with what I know now I would have been invincible – but we were young and naïve. Really my motivation and maybe not the other guys in the band who were all older than me, I just wanted to get into this making music thing and I figured I just had to get into a band. It wasn’t about becoming rock stars it was all about getting the first gig. Then get more gigs and to just do it.

How old were you then ? I was 16/17 year old and had a couple of stabs at rehearsing with people but it was going nowhere. There was another apprentice a year above me that had been at the same school so we sort of knew each other – a lad called Robin Hird. The first year you are in the training centre and the second year that Robin was in, you go out onto the plant.

We made contact and got talking about music, guitars and bands we liked such as Cream and Hendrix, then he sold me an amp. When I got it home the speaker cabinet was a drawer from a chest of drawers with some foam backing and a circular hole cut in with a speaker fixed in.

Robin said let’s form a band, I have a guitar and a bass which I’ll give to you. I agreed and then he brought a drummer, Mick Symons, to my parent’s house. I played them a few songs I’d been working on and Robin said ‘I told you he’s got talent’. I was in.

Where did you rehearse ? We got a room where the local brass band rehearsed, we shared the place for years. We started to live and breathe the band. I’m not sure that we thought about a record deal then because that was just a distant dream. The dream that was closer was to get gigging on the local circuit. So for us this was The Freemasons Arms in Consett.

We’d go there every Saturday night and watch who was on and say how much better we were. Then the obligatory fight would break loose, the glasses would fly, bodies, tables and chairs all over – that was Saturday night.

Can you remember your first gig ? We went to see a Mrs Eiley and she gave us a date for The Freemasons, it was her only gig. The week beforehand we went to the pub and got up to play with the band who were on, that was my first time on stage. I remember one of the songs we played was Sunshine of Your Love by Cream. The following week on our own show we stormed it. Afterwards I went home and told me mam, it was a life changing moment for me.

We got loads of shows after then but we always returned now and then to The Freemasons Arms. We once done a sort of homecoming gig there and the punters were queuing down the side street, along the alley – we got such a following.

Did the band talk about what you were going to wear on stage ? No, it just didn’t enter our imagination. Although we were doing some clubs we were doing them on our terms and not in sparkly suits. I suppose we would have dressed like Free, Sabbath, Deep Purple you know. The perception was that they were wearing the same clothes that they had just walked in off the street.

In those days we never played any pop stuff it was all rock, then we started introducing our own stuff and got away with it. Although when we had two sets of 45 minutes each to fill we never done a gig with just all our songs. You had to play The Hunter or Child in Time and you’d be stupid not to do them, the audience wanted to hear those songs.

Did you have a manager ? We had a few, but looking back I was doing a lot of the organizing, I wasn’t in charge but was doing a lot of stuff. This whole thing of a bunch of young guys going out on the circuit attracting the attention of some guy who might be a plumber but has more money than you and fancies a dabble in management, well we had a few of them who had no background in the music industry.

We had one guy called Skippy who said we need to have one of those moments like The Beatles on the rooftop. So one Saturday afternoon, it was reported in the Sunday Sun, we went down to Old Eldon Square in Newcastle broke into an office and ran a cable up to the monument in the middle and performed. It was the first time anybody had played there and it hit the papers. It didn’t end well for Skippy, he got arrested and deported back to Australia.

What venues were you playing ? The North East agent Ivan Birchall got us masses of gigs supporting name bands. Venues like Newcastle Mayfair, The Viking in Seahouses and the thing was I never drove the van so I just got picked up and we drove out into the wilds.

At The Viking we loved that gig it was a big trek to get there. There was Bellingham Village Hall and a really good one was St Johns Chapel in Weardale. I can only imagine that the populous was starved of entertainment because they went crackers when a decent band turned up.

I remember we supported Suzi Quatro at the Mayfair and this was just before she cracked it and everybody was gobsmacked at not only a girl playing the bass but she was really rocking it out.

We nearly always got booked into the right places but eventually got a gig where we ended up in a place where no matter how quiet you turned down they were going to hate you. We really should of seen it coming and not got up to play. The concert chairman came up to us and said I’ll give you half your money lads and off you go. The thing I remember was the shame of carrying yer kit out from a packed club.

Every now and then you would do a gig where there would be two bands. One night we played The Rex Hotel in Whitley Bay and there are two stages there. Now this was a sign of our ambition cos we used to try and arrive later than the other band so we could headline the gig – we were top of the bill at The Rex (laughs).

The other bands would do it as well cos we saw them driving slowly along the back lanes. Beckett were one of the bands cos I recognised their posh Merc – we only had a van. We done a gig with a band called Jasper Hart. The singer was Brian Johnson, the band must have been the forerunner to Geordie, and of course he ended up in AC/DC.

Most times we’d be out gigging and finish around 2am in the morning and coming back we’d go to a cafe near Central Station in Newcastle that was open all night. All the bands would go there, we discovered we didn’t need sleep

I remember visiting Ivan Birchall one day and up on the wall he had lists of the bands he had on his books. There was an A list and a B list. We were on the B list and I wasn’t happy. He said the A list are his priority bands, if a show comes in at short notice I go to my A list and as priority they pay me 15%, and the B list pay me 10%. ‘Do you wanna be on the A list ?’ I replied ‘I insist’. In one fell swoop I gave him 50% more commission (laughs).

Did you meet with any record companies ? Well it was a struggle. We had some demos and we were going to set the world alight so we went down to London, our first time there. To save money Robin and I booked return rail tickets travelling on a weekend cos it was cheaper then. But as we found out it was the day’s when record companies were shut (laughs). So we just had a weekend in London, the closest we got was Orange had a music store selling amplifiers and they also had a record label so we gave them a tape.

I remember typing hundreds of letters sending them out one at a time cos there was no photocopiers them days, I must have been a mug and the rest of the band were having a life ! I have some of the responses and out of the blue got a nice letter from Brian Auger, he was organ player with Julie Driscoll (Wheels On Fire). So clearly I wasn’t just sending to record companies. I think I went through the Melody Maker yearbook getting address’ and pitching stuff left, right and centre. It was a tape I sent out that finally got us a deal.

How did that come about ? Cube Records who were formerly the Fly record label based in Soho, London with Joan Armatrading, T.Rex, Procul Harem on their roster, so they had a big track record, then we came along (laughs). They ran an advertising campaign looking for bands so I sent them a tape about the same time we had won 3rd prize in a competition run by EMI. We went to a recording studio in Manchester Square, EMI’s headquarters in London, yes we had two record companies chasing us.

Cube told us that at EMI we would only be a small part of a big machine. But on the day of going to the EMI reception we thought we couldn’t make it cos we had a gig in Durham on the same night, but they organised a flight for us to get to London and make it back to Durham for the gig. Our roadies had set the gear up and just as we were going on stage we saw the concert chairman and told him we’d just made it here as we have flown up from London. I don’t think he believed us (laughs).

Cube Records were really keen and they came up to Durham to watch us live and we couldn’t have arranged it better. The punters were swinging from the rafters going ape shit, after our first set Cube came into the dressing room and they were gobsmacked. They signed us there and then.  Now we signed everything, publishing, recording, management to that one company and the one gig that came from that was for the Newcastle Odeon supporting Wishbone Ash.

What did you record on Cube Records ? I remember taking a guitar lick into the rehearsal room it was a Jazz sort of thing and Pete the singer said it sounded like riddly, tiddly, tum. So we wrote a joke song called that. Cube were looking for the first single and we had done some recordings with Rodger Bain (Black Sabbath) and Hugh Murphy who done a lot of Gerry Rafferty stuff but when they heard Riddly, Tiddly, Tum they said that’s the single. We were mortified, it was only done as a joke. No it’ll be a hit they said.

They allowed us to change the title to Glancy, Mick Glancy was our original singer who had been replaced by Pete McDonald. To promote it we pulled a stunt with Tyne Tees TV where we were driven around Newcastle in an open topped car, but we promoted the B side of the record, In the City, we were embarrassed about the A side. That put a nail in our coffin as far as the record company were concerned.

Unfortunately that was when the dream became muddied by what the music business is about. They had the means to get our songs out there but they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. Maybe releasing a novelty song was going to be a good idea but I’m glad I’m not saddled with it – and having to do a follow up (laughs).

About 10 years ago Glancy ended up on a compilation album called 20 Powerglam Incendiaries and went to the lower regions of the album charts.

How long did Bullfrog last ? Initially we started out as Mandrake until we found another band was going out under that name so we changed it fairly quickly. It got to the point where it became our lives. We were gigging every Friday and Saturday plus some mid-week nights. I’ve still got my diaries from then and we were going out for £15-£20. It was really exciting to be out there.

Our first gig was in 1969 and we were at it until ’74. We sort of got a taste of the big time making demo recordings and sending them out to the record companies, we did have a burning ambition. There were other local bands getting record deals and the scene was really vibrant.

Eventually we took to drugs, our drummer introduced us, there was a certain brand of cough medicine and if you drank the whole bottle it would send you crackers, we all done it bar the singer. I remember doing a show in the Amble Ballroom and that was a strange one cos the stage sloped to the front so the vibrations off my bass amp pushed it towards the edge. Anyway we finished what we thought was a great gig and when we got off stage the singer said ‘Guy’s lay off that cough medicine cos I can’t sing those songs at that speed’. Apparently we played all the songs at double speed (laughs).

When did you know the dream was over ? I remember doing TV show The Geordie Scene twice. One live and the other miming, and I felt really silly miming. I always hated seeing bands giving it what fettle and not even being plugged in. So I plugged mine in to make it look at least legit. But I was embarrassed and you’re not rock star material if you are embarrassed flaunting yersel in front of TV cameras. We almost cracked it but I wonder if I was cut out for it cos I went on to become more of a backroom boy – song writing and producing.

But there was also another North East band, Kestrel, who signed to the label and the label put their guitarist Dave Black together with our singer Pete McDonald essentially destroying two bands.

We reformed as Bullfrog 2 adding keyboards and a female singer but my heart wasn’t in it. I had lived this thing from being a kid, it was all consuming, but now at 22 after working with producers Hugh Murphy and Rodger Bain, who also introduced me to Gus Dudgeon, I thought I’m gonna pull back from this thing.

I could of kept going at it but wanted to switch to song writing which led me to production. And that is where I was meant to be because here we are today in a recording studio talking about it and I’m getting ready to record some of my new stuff.

New album ‘The Long Fade’ is available here: http://thelongfade.xyz/

Read the first interview here:

https://garyalikivi.com/2017/06/27/the-godfather-of-the-north-east-new-wave-of-british-heavy-metal/

Gary Alikivi November 2019.

ART OF NOISE from the Tygers of Pan Tang new album ‘Ritual’.

69948507_10157224325300731_4713323520384303104_n - Copy (2) - Copy

Just when you thought it was safe the aptly titled ‘Art of Noise’ comes at you head on, and returns for another bite. Opening with thick treacly rock sound ‘Worlds Apart’ to ‘Spoils of War’ and the single ‘White Lines’ with plenty of room for ‘Words Cut Like Knives’. Then the MONSTER thunder of ‘Let’s turn up the sound and gather around, To hear…the art of noise’. Deafining indeed. Album closer ‘Sail On’ is a breeze after that. The Tygers of Pan Tang, engineer Fred Purser and additional production from Soren Andersen are the creative team behind the new album ‘Ritual’ which can be added to any hard rock playlist in 2020.

For further info contact the official website:

http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

WHITE LINES – interview with Craig Ellis, drummer with Tygers of Pan Tang

69659872_10156674697214639_2756183532928761856_n

The Tygers have just shot a music video for the new single ‘White Lines’, how did that go ? The video shoot went well really, the location was Dynamix Extreme Skate Park in Gateshead. A fantastic place with lots of options for backgrounds to shoot in and around. Moving a six piece drum kit into three different areas was a pain in the a**e but worth it after seeing the superb screen captures on the cameras.

How did you get the job in the Tygers ? Robb had been working on some new material with an ex-Sergeant band member and two friends of mine were drafted in the play bass and guitar. The initial demos were cut together using a drum machine so when it came to the recording a live drummer was needed and my two friends suggested me. The end product of that recording was ‘Mystical’ in 2000 and I’ve been here ever since!

Even though I’d written lyrics and melodies previously in other bands, it wasn’t until our vocalist Jack joined the Tygers that I started to contribute. From day one there was a chemistry that has worked ever since.

Before gigs do you have a warm up routine ? Some stretching exercises, specifically arms and hands to loosen up and a mash-up of sticking exercises/rudiments to get comfortable. I don’t eat anything three hours before a show and if I’m going to have any alcohol, it’s after the show.

 How did you start on drums and who were your early influences ? I didn’t start playing drums until the age of fifteen but I’d been listening seriously to music from around nine or ten year old. My Dad had a reel to reel player and I was infatuated with not only the machine itself, but also the music the spools kicked out…Hendrix, Foghat, Lynard Skynard, Blue Oyster Cult and Led Zeppelin.

Programmes on the TV like Top of the Pops, The Tube and of course The Old Grey Whistle Test were like a drug, I never missed an episode! With the pocket money I saved, I bought vinyl. Even back then I had a varied collection of music as my tastes have always been eclectic, however, once I started playing drums, rock and metal was where I found my niche. Drummers such as Cozy Powell, John Bonham, Ian Paice, Bill Ward and Neil Peart and the bands they played in resonated with me hugely and have never left me.

Where I’m from, we were very fortunate to have venues including The Coatham Bowl in Redcar, Middlesbrough Town Hall, Crypt and Rock Garden and Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall. So I got to see almost all my favourite drummers and favourite bands.

Who were the first band you played for and what venues did you play ? My first cover band at around sixteen was called Overload. We played rock covers by Sabbath, Status Quo, Golden Earring, AC/DC etc in and around the Teesside/Cleveland area. There was a huge Working Men’s Club scene back then, which I played in most venues in the North East, in various cover bands. I’ve always had a passion for original music so I took every opportunity presented to me to work alongside musicians creating original music. From very early on I learned a great deal about the recording process both at home and in studios.

Have there been many memorable gigs with the Tygers ? There’s been quite a few Gary, in no particular order …The fact we were touring in South America and the audiences were insanely awesome was amazing but the night we played Carioca Club in São Paulo on Micky’s Birthday – the whole room sang Happy Birthday to him.

Japan Assault Festival was a humbling experience for this tub thumper from Teesside to have had the opportunity to travel to and perform in Japan to a crowd of people who were so pleased to see the Tygers. Supporting the Dead Daisies at the 02 Academy to a Newcastle home crowd who were just awesome.

The Spodek in Katowice, Poland is a venue that is an assault on the mind! Its incredible both inside and outside. We’ve been very lucky to have been invited back a few times to the incredible Bang Your Head festival in Balingen, Germany. Bully-On-Rocks Festival and Raismes Festival have been our most recent shows in France both with amazing audiences.

Belgium is a special place for the Tygers, we performed some of our very first shows there and met many wonderful people who have remained friends to this day and always do their utmost to get to the shows.

Have you any road stories you want to share ? Robb’s your man for the funny he stories, he collects them! But here goes a couple… When on tour in South America we took an internal flight and got split up throughout the plane. As we were disembarking there were shenanigans going on at the front of the plane. Robb and Gav were sat in the cockpit, Captains and Officers hats on, having a laugh and chat with the crew. Turns out the captain was a huge Tygers fan and invited them in!

Around twelve years ago, travelling to Belgium in what was then the bands tour bus we were badly rear-shunted by a delivery truck late at night on the A1M. We were all thrown around the cabin like rag dolls and the back end of the tour bus was a mess but, we limped on ‘because we had gigs to do!’ The rear footstep had been shoved so far down and as we went up the ramp to board the ferry, sparks were flying from it and the noise was horrendous.

At that same point we also discovered the steering was in a bad way too so we were gliding like a sail boat up the ramp. When it came to getting off the ferry the bus wouldn’t start but the ferry mechanics got us going! With the ignition now faulty at the end of almost every gig fans would give us a push to ‘bump-us-off’! Embarrassing but a laugh and main thing was, we did the shows.

The new album ‘Ritual’, did you feel recording went well ? Time is of the essence when it comes to Recording Studios because as the clock ticks away its costing money. But, you want to enjoy the experience and to do that it’s all about the preparation. Although writing the material for the album had begun over a year prior, regular, concentrated writing and rehearsal sessions started in January of this year right up to going into the studio in April.

During that time we would video and record everything for reference and when a song is complete I write out the drum notation so I get it completely under my skin. Both Jack and I write the lyrics and melodies to the majority of the songs and because of that I automatically absorb a songs structure. Because of the prior work put in, we each completed our parts in a very short time. What also makes for a good recording session is the engineer and studio, and Fred Purser at Trinity Heights made the whole thing an absolute pleasure throughout.

Will the Tygers be promoting the album ? Absolutely! We’ll be doing four, maybe even five, songs from the new album and featuring them in our November shows and from there on. There’ll be a selection of merchandise available supporting the release too. I’m particularly looking forward to gigging with the Festival sized backdrop we’ll have for those shows, the Ritual Mask in giant-size taking ownership of the stage!

What does music mean to you ? It pretty much makes my world go around Gary. I play music, I practise music, I write music and I teach music. It takes me mentally to a different state of mind and physically to many incredible places I likely wouldn’t get to see otherwise. I’m extremely lucky to be doing what I love.

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

For further information contact the official website:  http://www.tygersofpantang.com/official/

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

NO ORDINARY JOE – in conversation with Alan Fish former guitarist with WHITE HEAT

Alan Cluny pic 2

Who was the first band you saw ? My first band was Ten Years After in 1971/72 at Newcastle City Hall, supported by Supertramp. It was a fantastic gig with Alvin Lee ‘the fastest guitar player in the world’. He had just come off the back of playing at Woodstock. I had an instant connection to the blues and rock music. I used to go to the match, Newcastle United, and have that feeling of disappointment when we got beat. But going to gigs at the City Hall was a lot more positive outcome to spending my pocket money (laughs). First game I went to was a European game against Feyenoord and we won the Fairs cup that season, I didn’t think it was going to be all downhill from there.

When did you first start playing in bands ? I first started playing in club bands doing covers, I was still at school. We played a lot of night club gigs on the chicken in a basket scene supporting bigger bands like The Fortunes and The Casuals, who were sort of one hit wonder bands. But these were ‘60s bands on the way down really.

There were hundreds of clubs so if you were a competent musician who could put a band together, play some songs off the radio, there was plenty work out there. I ended up playing Thursday night, Friday night, two gigs on a Saturday and a Sunday night. But your gear was expensive, a Les Paul guitar in 1979 was around £300 and I was never away from Mortons in Newcastle having my amp’s repaired.

But one thing about the clubs is the more you played they more you learned a discipline and etiquette. First set not too loud and if you didn’t hit the level of acceptance you would be paid off. And you had to dismantle your gear in full view of the audience with the Concert Chairman telling everyone ‘We’ve paid them off (laughs)’. So by the time I was 19 I was so ready to play in an original band.

How did the job with White Heat come about ? There was a 4 piece band called Hartbraker very much a Zeppelin/Free rock sound and they were playing to young people, and playing loud. They were essentially a Bry Younger band, a vehicle for his prodigious guitar playing. I had been offered a tour of Germany playing American Army Bases with the club band, I wasn’t keen. One night we were playing at the Guildhall and Bry Younger from Hartbraker came in and asked if I would be interested in joining the band. That was a lifeline for me really. This was time to explore my song writing abilities and the band were receptive to that.

Opportunity never comes to the front door it always comes to the side or the back door. Just always have your radar ready. It’ll be something innocuous, it’ll not be a certain thing but it’ll lead you onto the next step.

Line up for Hartbraker was Bry Younger (guitar) Col Roberts (bass) John Miller (drums) Bob Smeaton (vocals) Alan Fish (guitar). White Heat had the same line up with Alan adding backing vocals and when John Miller took a break, George Waters stepped in on drums.

Bands like Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and The Boomtown Rats were around and for some gigs we used to throw in a Small Faces cover into the set. The sound was changing from the blues/rock of Hartbraker so we changed the name to White Heat.  Bob was a big fan of James Cagney so he took the name from his film. This was around the time of New Wave and everything fitted as we shortened the guitar breaks, sharpened everything up and Bob’s lyrics fitted great.

 

How were the song writing duties shared around the band ? In White Heat it was very cut and dried. Out of the band frontman Bob Smeaton had most to say. He had a more challenging life to us and had more to shout about. He would give me a load of lyrics I would leaf through and find bits that could be formulated into songs. I had a gift for melody and you can hear a lot of it in the instrumentation. That would leave space for Bob to have a go at what’s wrong with society (laughs).

Did you play any gigs with name bands ?  If there was a big band in Newcastle at the Mayfair or the City Hall that needed an opener we would be one of the bands who would be contacted. At the last minute we got a call to support Judas Priest at the City Hall. We got on well with them so they asked us to stay on the tour. That was exciting playing to those audiences even though we weren’t exactly the same genre there was a crossover there. The sound crew said ‘You’re going down really well, we know your songs next gig we’ll have it nailed’. But we didn’t get the next gig as another band from the same label as Priest were called in.

What were your highlights from being in White Heat ? As an up and coming band we played the Bedrock Festival and it was a fantastic gig people told us we were the highlight and we picked up management from that gig. Local businessman Brian Mawson said to us ‘I’ll get you in the studio, on the radio, tv’ and he came good on these claims. He ran Rubber Records and was involved with Windows musical instrument and record shop in Newcastle. When somebody else puts faith in you it supercharges it, it was a pivotal moment.

Back in the late ‘70s getting in a studio was a difficult thing, it was an absolute fortune but one of the best thing’s we wrote was the first thing we recorded in Impulse Studios, Wallsend. It was a precise pop song, short and snappy, it was ‘Nervous Breakdown’. That got airplay and John Peel made it his record of the week. It started peaking the interest of record companies. Virgin finally signed us in 1980.

One of your songs ‘Bad Jokes’ has a New York Dolls feel to it. Is that a band you listened to ? Not me. I loved The Who and The Kinks. Maybe Bob was a Johnny Thunders fan (laughs).

 

White Heat called it a day in 1982 and Tyne Tees TV filmed the last ever gig for a 30 minute documentary. What was the atmosphere like around the band knowing it was coming to an end ? It was a really good atmosphere and there was a big sense of relief. For a number of years we were fully committed and chasing the big deal, but towards the end there was an air of desperation when Virgin dropped us. That was a big disappointment because we knew it would be very difficult to get signed again. When you have been signed and then dropped, you still have the debt. So for a second record company to come in and sign you they have to buy you out of your previous deal. That’s not going to happen.

When we made the decision to call it a day we all collectively breathed a sigh of relief. We had put everything into it and it was time to regroup. I remember telling the lad’s that was it for me. They were originally a four piece before I joined so I thought they would go back to doing that. But I was surprised they were having the same thoughts about leaving and glad I jumped first. We left in a constructive fashion because we had good support from management and Geoff Wonfor from Tyne Tees. People had put a lot of time and energy into us and we wanted to go out with a bit of a statement.

Brian Mawson set up our last hurrah at The Mayfair and said let’s finish on a friendly basis and go forward on a friendly basis. I liked that. I can talk calmly about it now but when you are young you think your world is falling apart. There is an amount of rage and uncertainty. So looking back it’s a good thing as a band we stepped away from it calmly.

Having a half hour programme broadcast is big exposure, was there not a thought that an agent might pop in with an offer ? There might have been a small amount of that but the concept of the show was a band in it’s final stages….but you never know (laughs).

Did you make any plans what to do after the band  ? The time you invest and the fact you are paralysed by poverty for want of a better expression, I had to get working again. I was offered a few interesting music projects but wasn’t interested. Fortunately I got a job off shore as an Electrical Engineer in the Petro Chemical Industry. The money was ok and it was a chance to get back pretty even you know. I was taking my guitar off shore I learnt harmonica and we had a bit of a band out there.

Then I heard from my song writing partner in White Heat, Bob Smeaton, he had got a small deal with a spin off company from Virgin called Static. He said I need some songs so I left the rigs and we ended up in 10CC’s studio in Surrey.

I was there only as a songwriter, we didn’t have a band. I was looking for a niche in the music industry just as a songwriter and I’d be happy with that. Unfortunately nothing materialised but we got a call from Geoff Wonfor who was putting together a programme for Channel Four featuring up and coming acts called ‘Famous for Fifteen Minutes’. That’s what led to the formation of a band called The Loud Guitars.

 

Have you any road stories from your time in White Heat ? When we recorded at Townhouse Studio in Shepherds Bush it was Virgins residential studio and there was another band there. It was the time just after Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne was getting Blizzard of Oz together. Randy Rhoades was there, he was a phenomenal guitar player. Ozzy came in the studio to listen to one of our sessions ‘I love you guys you’re great’ he said. He was with Sharon his girlfriend and manager, she was delighted that Ozzy had found someone to play with, not musically just to get him out of her hair (laughs).

We used to go out for a few drinks together, there were no airs or graces he just liked a good drink and a laugh. We’d go back to the residential and he’d be in the best suite, Sharon would be there and order in a Chinese meal cos she recognised we were skint and starving so they looked after us quite well. We used to distract them so we could pinch their booze out of the cupboard. One morning Ozzy came into the studio and said in his Brummie accent ‘Ere lads we must have had a good session last night cos there’s no booze left in me cupboard’ (laughs).

By coincidence we met Sharon’s dad, Don Arden. Years after White Heat split up we were offered a decent amount of money to play a comeback gig at the Exhibition Park in Newcastle. Aswad, Haircut 100 were on and a few others plus us as a local band who went down a storm. After the gig in our trailer in walks this bull like character dripping with gold and says ‘Lads I’m gonna sign you. Meet me at The Gosforth Hotel for breakfast and bring any contracts you’ve got’. We didn’t tell him this was a one off gig but we were interested in what he had to say. But in the end we didn’t get breakfast cos when he looked at the contracts he said he would be throwing good money after bad. ‘Right Alan’ he said ‘You’re stuffed no one will buy you out of this’.

What type of record contract did the band have ? Brian Mawson was still managing us but we obviously had Virgin representation from Richard Draper. The actual record deal was £70,000 and the publishing deal was £40,000. Virgin put a lot of money into us.  What I do know is the money went quickly (laughs). We made a lot of naïve mistakes. We spent more on recording than The Police did on their third album.

White Heat were a really good live band. That’s where we built our reputation. The chemistry between the members contributed to that. But that’s not good enough for the industry cos you are signing a recording deal. You’ve got to make the transition from live to recording. We failed to do that. The money that went into it, it just wasn’t good enough.

Part two of this interview will be posted soon, Alan will be talking about what he is doing now and another few road stories from his time in White Heat.

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

YOU KNOW IT’S ONLY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – in conversation with current Geordie guitarist Steve Dawson

IMG_0539 (1)

How did the Geordie reformation come about? Peter Barton from ‘Rock Artist Management’, who handled The Animals when I was a member during the ’90s and early 2000’s, called me and asked, ‘What are the Geordie guys up to these days?’ I told him I wasn’t sure, but said I’d have a word with Tom Hill (original bass player) to see if he was up for a reformation. Tom was interested, but said we’ll need a singer who can handle the dynamics and range of original vocalist Brian Johnson, now of course with AC/DC. Both bands occupy the same stable and play in the same keys (laughs).

I last saw Brian Johnson on TV interviewing fellow musicians on ‘Life on the Road’. A great show including an episode with Dolly Parton who revealed she wrote ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Jolene’ in the same session. Kerching. Back to Geordie. Johnna might be a bit busy for this job?  Indeed. We went to see a few local guys but didn’t really feel we’d found a match for what we required. It’s not an easy gig to sing. Then Peter came up with this guy from Lancashire called Mark Wright, now an honorary Geordie (laughs). He was singing in Bon, an AC/DC tribute band. Peter sent us a link to some YouTube videos. We weren’t immediately convinced. However, Peter was and persuaded us to come down to Clitheroe, to audition Mark with four songs of our choosing, at his expense. Just to have a run through, see what we thought in the flesh as it were. We were shocked how good it sounded, and so relieved we didn’t judge Mark on the YouTube videos alone (laughs).

So,now suitably convinced, Tom got in touch with Brian Gibson (original drummer) to see if he wanted to be part of this new venture. Brian said he was happy to step behind the drum kit once again. We did our first rehearsal and the band sounded great from the get-go.

Was original guitarist Vic Malcolm interested in the reformation? We got in touch with Vic in Cyprus and asked, if it became practical in the future, would he be interested in joining in with live work. He declared that some annoying health issues meant he couldn’t commit to that but would be on board for any new writing and recording. That was great as he was the main songwriter. He’s still a prolific songwriter to this day.

We’ve already started writing new material because we don’t just want to keep trading on Geordie’s back catalogue alone. We want to avoid the nostalgia trap.

How did you set about working in Geordie? I was already familiar with their music, just good old rock n roll, classic rock, simple hooks. It’s all about capturing that magical vibe. Really enjoyable to play, with some great tongue in cheek ‘70s lyrics which are of their time. Much of today’s music can be a bit serious, sometimes people want songs to distract them from the stark reality of life.

What type of venues are you looking to play? We’re looking at festivals, theatres and typical rock music venues. These days, package tours are very popular, so we’re looking in that direction as well. That sort of thing would be great, as getting on something like that would expose us to other bands’ fans. In Germany they’re still very much into bands like Geordie and welcome them with open arms. It’s a shame the band stopped playing a while back, as it takes a concerted effort to get the wheels in motion again. We just need to get out there and show what we can do.

We booked a gig at The Cluny a few months ago, and we asked Dee Dowling from Ginger Music Company in Pelaw, where we were rehearsing, to come along and record it. The intention was to put together a promo package. We had the backdrop, photographer, merch, the lot. It was a fantastic gig and the money we made from it paid for everything. We’ve just released the promo video, because it’s very difficult to get gigs on the circuit we’re aiming for, if you don’t have any kind of professional package to sell yourself. After only one month it’s had thousands of views on social media so it’s doing its job. We are very pleased with how it turned out.

5130cf_2cd45accd4aa4c24a7a60136b04a4249_mv2_d_4659_3106_s_4_2

Can you remember watching music programmes broadcast on Tyne Tees Television, like Alright Now and The Tube?  Yeah, both those programmes. I think Alright Now was presented by Chris Cowey and Lynn Spencer. I remember The Geordie Scene more than Alright Now. That was around 1973-75 and I think it was the first music programme from the Tyne Tees stable. I saw many local bands on there as well as the popular bands of the day and it was the first time I saw Dr Feelgood, who were very impressive.

What does music mean to you?  I’ve always had a major passion for music. I lost my dad when I was 12, so throughout my teens I was on my own because my mother had to go out and work as a barmaid. Music got me through all that. I totally immersed myself in playing the guitar. I still have a passion for playing and could quite happily do it for a living again.

Ironically, these days I seldom enjoy just listening to music. I rarely have music on the radio in the house or car and hardly ever listen to CD’s or albums at home. I’d rather just play music. I think it’s been so long since I heard anything that inspired me.

The last time I remember being affected by something I heard, was back in the early ‘90s with The Black Crowes. Their first album had just come out, it sounded really organic, what I would call a proper performance recording, not a layered production like a Def Leppard sort of thing. But yeah, nothing’s really turned my head since in terms of an epiphanic moment (laughs).

Are you looking forward to any gigs this year? In January this year we played ‘The Giants of Rock’ in Minehead and the ‘Rock and Blues Festival’ in Skegness and we really stormed both of those, we did the business. This confirmed what we already felt about the band. There were a lot of reviews from the press and punters raving about us.

We’re currently talking to journalists in London about which venues to play down there and in particular, which ones are best for getting the band exposure. It’s hard to get gigs, you can’t just turn up and expect a crowd. You’ve got to do the groundwork first.

Contact details:

geordiebandofficial@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/geordiebandofficial/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y57t79VYvwc

 Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

RUNNING MAN in conversation with Lindisfarne drummer, Ray Laidlaw

We’re in Tyneside Cinema Café in Newcastle talking about the blog….’I put it together because we all like hearing musician’s stories’. Ray fires back Do drummers count ? ha ha’

 

We both live on either side of the banks of the river Tyne, so does he think the river has an influence on who we are and what we do…Oh yes the river is a means of communication. Everything came in and out of the river. It is a barrier but also a conduit for ideas from other people from different parts of the UK and all over the world. Geordies have always been receptive to new ideas……and if they really like them they pretend they were theirs (laughs).

Paul Irwin and I started Tyne Idols. We are big fans of the region and it’s creativity so we came up with an idea of a bus tour around Tyneside celebrating music, TV and visit film locations. We often invite a guest on the bus, maybe an actor, comedian or musician. Last year we had Dick Clements and Ian Le Frenais, and went around locations of their show The Likely Lads. It’s a celebration of the area really.

Can you remember the music TV shows that came out of Tyne Tees studio in Newcastle ? Yeah we played a few, Lindisfarne were on the Geordie Scene. We also had a half hour show to ourselves on Alright Now. That was around 78/79 when we were making our comeback. We came up with a few ideas, in the first half we did a few songs and links in various locations then the second half was all live. Loved it. That was with producers Geoff and Andrea Wonfor. But sadly Lindisfarne never appeared on The Tube. Ray Jackson had a song on where we all backed him but not as Lindisfarne.

The Tube was great. Not just music but comedy as well. Stephen Fry, Dawn French and many others all got their breaks at The Tube.  It was  influenced by the 1960’s TV show Ready, Steady, Go. I’ve been working on a programme about that with Geoff Wonfor. It tells the story of the groundbreaking programme which was one of the first that had the cameras in view. The cameramen were brought in from the sports programmes because they were used to following action. That brought up the excitement when the bands were on stage. The documentary will be on BBC4 later this year.

Lindisfarne played Top of the Pops a few times, what did you think of the show ? It was ok, you just mimed. But the best thing was meeting other musicians. Most of the time you are touring on your own. It was like the early 1970’s festivals. We loved doing festivals because of the other bands you could meet.  Bands like The Faces, Medicine Head, The Beach Boys, Rory Gallagher, Humble Pie.

We played our first festival down in Devon in summer 1970 and on that occasion Free were top of the bill, they were just breaking then. They were supposed to close the show at 9pm with us playing just before them. At 10pm we hadn’t been on. Free had to be back in London for the next morning so they went on while we were backstage having a few drinks. We finally got on at 11pm and opened with ‘Lady Eleanor’. It’s a song which creeps in. A guitar, mandolin bit, a bass bit, drums, then guitar harmonics at regular intervals. Waited for guitar part…. no guitar part. In those days Simon Cowe used to play sitting down so Hully had to go and kick him up the arse cos he’d fallen asleep (laughs).

Do bands have their time, maybe an album or two then come back in the spotlight years later ? Yes there is a bit of that. But when we broke through it was the perfect time because we were so different from everybody else. Also having three great songwriters in the band, most have just one, we had three.

 

Lindisfarne  had a number members but when the band recorded the number 1 album ’Fog on the Tyne’ the personnel were the original five, Alan Hull (vocals, guitars, keyboards) Ray Jackson (vocals, mandolin, harmonica) Rod Clements (bass, violin) Simon Cowe (lead, acoustic, 12 string guitars, mandolin, vocals) and Ray Laidlaw (drums).

We had the biggest selling album of ’71 in Fog on the Tyne. Everyone had that record. We had lots of our own fans but we were also other music fans second favourite group, like Newcastle United in the Keegan era. The Fog album was such a huge success that everything after that was going to be perceived as failure. So the third album only got to number 6 in the charts. Yes, only (laughs). But we weren’t prepared for that. Management didn’t sit us down and say whatever happens it’s going to be a hard act to follow. Plus the record was put out too quick as we were the only band making money on the label. Maybe we should have taken six month off after Fog on the Tyne.

Who was your manager ? Tony Stratton Smith who owned the record company, Charisma. It was a big mistake. Basically Tony was talking to himself (laughs). ‘Do you want an advance’…’No’ (laughs). Charisma was a wacky label with Van Der Graf Generator, Monty Python, the poet Sir John Betjeman, us…where else would you get that ? Fantastically creative but had it’s drawbacks. So the band split in two because we couldn’t agree what to do after the third record.

The band with the same personnel, released the album ‘Dingly Dell’ and charted in the top 10. What recording studios did you use for the album ? In the early days the majority of our records were done in Trident Studios off Wardour Street in London. We used that studio for Nicely Out of Tune and Fog on the Tyne. We also recorded some stuff in Olympic and Island studios and then when we got back together again in 1978 we used residential studios like Gus Dudgeon’s place in Maidenhead, we also went to Rockfield, Chipping Norton and Ridge Farm. By that time we all had young families so using residential studios worked out better as the wives and kids could visit.

Were some songs recorded just for the studio or all written to play live ? I think everything we did we at least attempted to play live. We had a guide that if a song works with one man and a guitar or piano it’ll work with the band. The song has to have a strength of it’s own first, almost with no supporting instrumentation. Live you try different arrangements, build it up or strip it back. Some songs you would only do on one tour then put it back in the box. Some you have to play because the longer you survive the more material you have. It’s the early one’s that made your name. They have to be in the set list.

Do you come from a musical family ? Me Grandad was a pub singer and he could play piano. It was a good way of not buying his own beer. His daughter, my mam, was a good dancer but was a bit nervous to leave home so she never did it professionaly. That’s the only bit of a showbiz background. But it was me Granda that bought me my first drumkit. I just liked the look of drumsets, a bit like some folks like motorbikes. A couple of mates had guitars. I was getting interested in music about 1960 and it was a perfect time because there was so much great stuff about.

When I first started in a group I was with Simon Cowe who was also in Lindisfarne with me. Our first group was a 3 piece, just instrumentals, we couldn’t afford a microphone. We were just learning, playing instrumentals. We did a couple of gigs in social clubs, only during school holidays because Simon was at boarding school in Edinburgh.

Where did you rehearse ? Simon’s family lived in a big old Georgian house, the poshest street in North Shields. His dad was an architect. There were loads of rooms and we set up in one of the spare rooms downstairs. Music wasn’t the only thing we got up to. We also made homemade fireworks and stole fruit out of people’s gardens (laughs).

But yeah I was a bit of a show-off really but didn’t have the confidence to be a singer or guitar player.  Just had an affinity with drums and was pretty good at it.

After that I was in a band called The Druids with Bob Sergeant who went on to be a producer on BBC radio for John Peel, The Clash, stuff like that. The Druids were playing all covers and gigged youth clubs for about a year. Then I met Rod Clements who was another posh lad from North Shields. His band had just packed in and we got into the blues via the Stones and John Mayall. We loved the Yardbirds. All fast and furious – we decided to get a band together.

We used to watch The Junco Partners and they were the first band we had seen that listened to each other, didn’t all play at once, they realised they all had a part to play within the group. We were inspired and looked for people who had to be as good as they were. It took 4 or 5 years to finally get our dream band together.

How much were Downtown Faction influenced by the folk scene on Tyneside ? We weren’t at first, that all came later. We were into the blues, it wasn’t until we started writing our own songs that we developed that bluesy/folk and rootsy sound. Simon was a great guitar player, finger picking style like Bert Jansch and we started listening to early Fairport Convention, Dylan, intelligent song writing.

We had a bit of arrogance about us, ambitious yes, and we looked down our noses at bands doing nothing but covers. We did play a few covers but we chose unusual tracks, Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, Frank Zappa tunes. We were looking to be original, wanted to be better than everyone else, putting the band together was organic… we gradually found the right people, there was no speedy plan.

13-mayfair-4-10-68

What year was this ? Around ‘67/68. We were the support band on Led Zeppelins first ever UK gig at Newcastle Mayfair. They were still called The New Yardbirds then and had only been going two weeks.

Can you remember much about that time ? Well we used to be on at the Mayfair a lot then, Tuesday would be a couple of local bands and other nights would be a big band who wanted local support. I used to see a lot of bands there, I was always in the Mayfair. I remember that Yardbirds gig but it didn’t make a massive mark.

How old were you then and did you have a proper job ? 20 year old and a window dresser at Shepherds department store in Gateshead. I’d dropped out of art college and needed a job. I got on well at the store so was able to juggle my time with gigs and work. Simon was a photographer at Turners in Newcastle so that was great for arty publicity shots that we could put up in a shop window in the Haymarket. They became a bit of a talking point, we always tried to be creative with what we did.

What else was happening on the music scene ? We did a gig New Years Day 1969 at Newcastle old town hall. Somebody had the brainwave of putting on a blues and poetry day. There was no heating in the place so it was freezing. 2 bands played, 4 or 5 poets were on and about 100 people there. The street poetry was astonishing, I’d never heard anything like it. Poets like Tom Pickard and Tony Jackson, pre cursor to today’s Benjamin Zephaniah and people like that. Very working class, very political.

After that there was a few blues evenings, all very arty, hippy, sit on the floor pay what you can sort of deal.

Did the band have a manager or agent  ? Ivan Burchill was the main agent in Newcastle then, but we wouldn’t compromise about our music so didn’t get as many gigs as some bands. Plus at our gigs we never got the lasses you know, we’d get all the muso’s turning up.

A guy called Joe Robertson got us gigs when we changed our name from Downtown Faction to Brethren. That was when people were taking notice, we were headlining a few shows and Joe was also managing The Junco Partners. That was when Alan Hull joined and his manager at the time Dave Woods from Impulse Studio came in on joint management with Joe. Inroads to record companies started to happen then.

Did you know Alan previously ? He was in a band The Chosen Few who along with The Junco Partners were the big bands in Newcastle. After his band crashed and burned, he took a break then began song writing again. He used to play in the folk clubs where the tradition was they’d let newcomers play 3 songs early in the night. He used to try his stuff out there and so did we because you didn’t want to try new stuff in front of a blues/rock audience.

Beginning as Downtown Faction, the band changed their name again from Brethren to Lindisfarne and were signed to Charisma records in 1970.

Was it an emerging scene then…Yeah it was a bit of an underground song-writing scene on Tyneside that was parallel to the more pop based groups. Bit underground because there were musos coming down from Scotland – Rab Noakes and the JSD Band, there was Prelude from Low Fell, Milesy (John Miles) and his group The Influence from South Shields, many others. Folk guys were influencing the rock guys and vice versa. We were listening to Music from Big Pink by the Band (Bob Dylan’s backing band). They were doing stuff from American roots music with a rock rhythm section and that’s what we wanted to do. Fairport Convention were another band playing rock’n’roll versions of English folk tunes. Now here was music with a bit more history and depth, more gravitas. This is more like it. We loved that.

Our group all had different tastes but agreed on one thing. We loved The Beatles and we loved the way they treated every song as an individual piece of work. It wasn’t a problem for us to leave a guitar or drums off a track. It was all about the song. We were a song-writing band and we had to treat each individual song right. We could write something and if it was alright for Top of the Pops we were ok with that. We didn’t have a problem about being commercial. Some of the songs we had were great pop songs but we never set out to write singles. Same with an album, every song had to count…no fillers. If there was a single in there, great, if not, no worries.

 

Have you got any road stories ? Lindisfarne had a break from 1973-76, we had a few successful one off gigs then made a new album in ’78. The opening night on the tour was Leeds University were The Who recorded their album Live at Leeds. We broke their attendance record that night. Two weeks later the fire brigade came in and told the University ‘With the number of fire escapes you’ve got, you got to cut the capacity by 400’. So our record will never be beaten (laughs).

Anyway the opening night we had some pyrotechnics, we went a bit showbiz like, and they would go off at the end of the show. Balloons and confetti cannons. The big ending you know. At that point the soundman was to mute every channel – and he forgot. So it went down every microphone, the monitors were like tissue paper, the speakers blew out as did the windows behind the stage. We weren’t invited back (laughs).

Did you play any gigs that turned out to be a nightmare ? Some of the usual rock’n’roll stories where the promoter won’t pay you. And you’ve already played the gig. One time we had to get our crew to park our truck across the path of the headliners truck so they couldn’t shift it. Then the word would go out about dodgy promoters so you would ask for half the money up front.

Some tours were great fun with other bands. Genesis were on the same label as us in the early days so we used to be on the same bill along with Van Der Graaf Generator. Depending on what city we were in and who had the biggest following we would take turns headlining. But we used to finish the gig doing a song together. We’d play ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ a Lonnie Donegan song, with Alan Hull, Ray Jackson, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel singing a verse each. All the bands singing together. And nobody recorded it!

What does music mean to you ? It’s given me my life. If I hadn’t been enthusiastic about music and taken the plunge I probably would of ended up being a not very good teacher. I’ve had a really exciting life and it still is, you never know what the next phone call is gonna be. I’m still a music fan and that’s how I maintain my enthusiasm. So many good times with music. I’m just glad me Granda got us me first set of drums.

 

What are you doing now ? We’ve been putting together Sunday for Sammy concerts. Our dear friend the actor, Sammy Johnson died in 1998 and we didn’t just want a plaque for him, we wanted to do more so we came up with a concert idea. I’ve been involved with Sammy since the beginning in 2000 with Lindisfarne, then drummer for the house-band and from 2006 producing the show. The proceeds of the show are put towards the start of creative careers for young people. To date we’ve raised around half a million pound.

It’s fun to do and the audience laugh along with it. We had Mark Knopfler on one year and the running gag was he never got to do his song. He comes on stage playing the opening bars of ‘Money for Nothing’ and Tim Healy runs on shouting ‘No, not yet’. After repeating the gag Mark comes on later and this time Alan Shearer shouts ’Knopfler, play yer hit man’ (laughs). So he never got to sing but eventually played ‘Local Hero’.

Yeah, we have great fun and so do the crowd seeing some well known faces doing things they don’t normally do on stage – singers in sketches, (Brian Johnson played an angel once) actors singing and TV presenters accidently swearing. It’s a family show but we recommend 14 years plus because sometimes people forget their lines and you never know what they’re going to say.

Who scripts the shows ? We have a few people. Dick Clements and Ian Le Frenais who wrote The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedersehen Pet, they write us a new sketch every time. Geordie comedian Jason Cook, Ed Waugh from South Shields. We also have a sketch writing competition for new writers, A Sketch for Sammy, we used two winners on the 2018 show.

Are you looking forward to the 20th Aniversary show ? To be honest I’m terrified and excited in equal measures.

https://www.sundayforsammy.org/home/blog/sunday-for-sammy-2020-ticket-news

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACCESS ALL AREAS in conversation with Stage and Production Manager, Colin Rowell

Motorhead came to the City Hall with their Bomber lighting rig. They strapped me to the cockpit and flew me round for hours ha ha. I remember drinking Tequila with them on the hotel balcony after a gig in Berlin…but don’t ask me about Brian Robertson’s hawaiin shirt ha ha. A few people told me ‘You gotta get Col’ he’ll tell ya loadsa stories’. A few weeks back I interviewed Chris Phipps who worked with Col’ on The Tube and he recommended I get in touch. He passed on his contact and we agreed to meet up.

 

This is the bit where I mention their background, what they’ve done or how they made their name. But where do I start for Col ? What about Stage Manager at Wembley Stadium for David Bowie, Production Manager for Genesis at Knebworth, Reading Festival stage manager. Tour manager for Hawkwind, Motorhead, Buzzcocks, Big Country. And more. TV stage manager at The Tube, Razzamatazz, TX 45. Music shows across the BBC, ITV, CH4, USA TV. The list goes on. What do you do to relax Colin ? Listen to music Gary, what do ya think ha ha. With his infectious laugh and good humour Colin recalls his time of nearly 50 years in the music business. Yep 50. Let that sink in. So buckle up and strap in… You know I’m just a lad from Hebburn who got to work with some of the biggest bands in the world. It was right time, right place.

How did you spend your teenage years ? My passion for music came in the ‘60s when me and a friend from Clegwell School were singing in North East Working men’s clubs. I was around 13 year old, still at school and earning more money than the teachers (laughs).

How did you get to be stage manager at Newcastle City Hall ? At college in the early ‘70s I ended up running a coffee stall in the Haymarket, booking bands and promoting concerts. At the Mayfair I had Fleetwood Mac on when ‘Albatross’ was in the charts. At the City Hall I had Sweet on with their hit ‘Blockbuster’. Another time was two days at the City Hall with Chickenshack, Savoy Brown and Tyrannosaurus Rex. The compere was John Peel. I also done some follow spot lights and other jobs around the hall. I knew the place well and got on with all the visiting promoters who said I done a good job.

I knew Bob Brown the City Hall manager so when the opportunity came up to take over the stage management he said ‘Col you know your way around will you look after the place ?’ So yeah I started hiring crew, getting equipment in, making sure sound checks were on time and just generally ran the venue. I was there for several years so the bands I saw and the stories I could tell you, we’ll be here forever. So I’ll keep them for my book (laughs).

 

Can you pick a few out, maybe a nightmare job ? There’s a few but maybe one that was a nightmare for others. It involves Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. They were on a UK tour and stopped for their gig at Newcastle City Hall. The singer Graham Bonnet came up to me and said ‘You don’t know any good hairdressers around here do you Colin?’  I said ‘Funnily enough my sister in law has a shop just down the road 5 mins away from the hall’. She said ‘Send him down and we’ll get him in. He went, got the cut, and everything was hunky dory…until after the show.

At 4am in the dressing room you’ve got Paul Loasby from Harvey Goldsmiths office, me, Ritchie Blackmore and the drummer Cozy Powell going mad cancelling the world tour because Graham Bonnet had his hair cut (laughs).

Another Blackmore story was we used to have to take the doors off the City Hall to get the rainbow in from their stage set, it was so big. The rumour was that on their way to America they threw it in the ocean. I was curious about this so Ritchie called me up and said ‘There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the rainbow still exists and I’m giving it to you as a gift. The bad news is, it’s in America under your name and costing you storage (laughs)’. Which yeah I thought was great, my story is littered with stuff like that. And I look back on those times Gary and think, can’t be bad can it.

Have you any gigs that stand out as really good memories? There has been loads of great times but one night we had Golden Earring on. You know they only had that one hit ‘Radar Love’. And the guest band were Lynyrd Skynyrd who were blowing them off everywhere on that tour. When they came to Newcastle City Hall the management of Golden Earring told them they couldn’t have any lighting and only 8 channels on the sound desk. Now as it happens I’d bought some lights off Lindisfarne and stored them in the hall. So I set the lights up and knew the sound engineer so we bumped them up to 16 channels. Well Lynyrd Skynyrd were over the moon and they blew them off. Again.

 

Next time they came to the City Hall on tour they were headlining and the guys came backstage to one of the rooms which was used for guitar tune up. 4pm in the afternoon they came to me and said Colin we’ve got a huge problem. ’There seems to be water coming in the room where we’ve got the guitars. Do ya’ wanna go an’ have a look ?’ I opened the door and found there was nothing in there. Then door get’s shut behind me, a water hose get’s pointed through the window and I get drenched from head to toe. It’s Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘innit. So I’m dragged out, put on the shoulders of the band and ran around the hall (laughs).

At the end of the night they gave me t-shirt’s, a tour jacket and left me two cases of Jack Daniels.

That’s a great gesture from the band… Yeah I was the only one on that tour that made the extra effort for them. The Skynyrd would have paid a fortune to be on that tour and part of that deal is sound and lighting. I thought it was so unprofessional of the other band, if they were getting blown off they should of played a bit harder.

How did you get involved with TV and in particular The Tube ? There was Geoff Brown, Chris Phipps and me sharing an office in Newcastle. What happened was they, as producers, had applied for this music television show and asked me if I was interested in joining the team as stage manager. You see from years at City Hall I knew the acts, the crews, the managers and they were all glad when they knew a familiar face and voice was going to be there running the stages in the studio. I had left the City Hall by the ‘80s and went and done a bit tour managing. Funny thing was I left on the Friday and by the next Thursday I was Rick Wakemans tour manager. And the gig was at you guessed it… the city hall.

What was your time like at The Tube ? Just five years of sheer magic. First off started with two stages, ended up with four and I did the deal with ENTEC who were a big sound company. They ran Reading Festival and owned The Marquee. It was a smooth operation with them providing all the sound and crew. It was flown in (hung from ceiling) off the stage making it easier for cameramen to have floor space and no big speakers in their way. Also a lot of the bands had done Reading festival so they could easily organise equipment with ENTEC.

Earlier on the blog an interview with Chris Phipps talks about bands that broke on The Tube. Can you remember any ? Yeah me and Geoff Brown were sent to London to check out Grandmaster Flash. It was the first time The Tube were going to have on stage a set-up of a band playing all the scratchy stuff. We get to the venue and there was a support band on so we went to a Steak house but it was dreadful, we didn’t eat it and went back to the venue. The support act were still on and it was Paul Young and the Royal Family. We listened in this time. This was good stuff.

We got back to Newcastle and in a meeting with one of the head guy’s at The Tube, Malcolm Gerrie, I banged the table and said ‘let’s get him on’. And we did. But Malcolm and I felt Paul didn’t get a good crack of the whip so we invited him back on again and the rest is history. So not only got him on twice and broke his career but in 1991/92 I was his tour manager…it all follows on.

Did you work with any North East bands while on The Tube ? Yeah Prefab Sprout. We used to do the Mid-Summer Specials on The Tube and unfortunately one show was cancelled on us. There was a boat parked on the river Tyne near the bridge called Tuxedo Princess. I had the boat all set up for them but it didn’t happen. There was an electricians strike.

I went on and done loads of music television shows, one of them was Big World Café in the Brixton Academy and Prefab were on that. I just saw Paddy last week with his long white beard. Lovely to see him.

 

You seemed to be constantly in work in what can be a fragile career working in the media ? Here in the North East in the early ‘80s I put on Rock on the Tyne festivals at Gateshead Stadium. We had three big generator trucks parked at the back of the stage and somebody had put a big sign on it saying ‘Do not switch off. Colin’s hairdryer in use’ (laughs). The crew had a laugh with me. You’ve got to get on with people.

I got invited down to Knebworth where I’ve stage managed 15 shows, last one was Genesis. I’ve been so many times there is a rumour that on the stained glass window of Knebworth Castle there is a painting with planes on and Queen in there, plus me in the corner and a glass of red wine (laughs).

But you have to be an affable person and getting people to work for you. You get a reputation. I’ve stage managed the Brits, MTV Awards countless other shows on reputation alone.

Have you worked abroad ? Yes many times, once I ended up having dinner with Boris Yeltsin in the Kremiln. There was a big cultural show in Russia, orchestra’s were on, ballet, all sorts. We got the TV trucks parked and set up in the heart of Moscow Red Square when some heavy looking Russian men approached. We all had walkie talkies and they asked us for them ‘Because they need to be configured’. Three hours later they brought them back. We asked what was wrong with them. Apparently they were interfering with their big red button below ground in the their military bunkers. Right under our trucks. Cudda’ went boom !

What you up to now ? Apart from writing my book and meeting my publisher soon, I still dabble in event production. We formed The Showblokes and worked with Sun FM, Century Radio, Newcastle Opera House, Stockton Council a load over the years. It’s my passion to still be involved. I’ve been in more hotels than living in my house so I don’t do any tour management but have for the last 9 years managed the Carlisle Blues and Rock Festival. Yeah still keeping my hand in.

Interview by Gary Alikivi 2019

MOTLEY CREW – Beer, burger & a tenner as former stagehand Mark Johnson remembers the crazy Mayfair nights.

001

We all remember our first gigs. Mine were Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Motorhead, Ozzy and Judas Priest at Newcastle City Hall and at the Mayfair with it’s over 18 policy was Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Hanoi Rocks with my last one before it was demolished, was the Fun Lovin’ Criminals in ’98.

I remember the distinctive green and orange day glo posters advertising gig’s at The Mayfair. Recently I talked with Mark Johnson who with his friends Dave Mitcheson and Steve Smith have recently opened Bad Moon Prints and aim to reproduce those iconic posters….

Basically we were reminiscing about all the great gigs we had seen at Newcastle Mayfair in it’s heyday. My first gig was the Pink Fairies in ‘76 and then I saw AC/DC, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Cheap Trick, there were loads. Every Friday we would be there.

We thought it would be a great idea if we could reproduce the gig posters from all the iconic acts that played the Mayfair including Zeppelin, Floyd, Sabbath, Queen, Bowie, The Who and Nirvana.

Very few, if any of the early originals are now in existence. We managed to get originals of the Led Zeppelin posters from both Sunderland and Newcastle in ’71. They were in very poor condition. But I have a few originals which I nicked off the wall from when I worked there (laughs).

When did you work at the Mayfair ? I was on the stage crew for a couple of years. My first job was in November ‘78 when AC/DC played. Then it was every Friday with the likes of Judas Priest, The Clash, Police, Cheap Trick, Ramones and Journey to name a few. I also worked at the Newcastle City Hall from summer ‘79 till around summer ‘81. I was in the same squad that also worked the Newcastle Polytechnic and Sunderland Mayfair which was a lot easier venue to load in.

How did you get on the crew ? I was a student at Newcastle College and this guy I knew who already worked there just asked if I fancied earning £10, a cheeseburger, drinks tokens and seeing AC/DC ? (laughs). We would start loading in from 11am and it ended up around 10 to 12 of us long haired types unloading two articulated trucks and taking the gear down an old service lift and using the fire escape stairs.

How much gear are you talking about ? Well these were big bands, AC/DC, Journey, Sammy Hagar, The Police, with all their sound and lighting gear, tons really. The band’s would have their own professional crew, we would just hump the gear in and out. Their crew would be the drum and guitar techs, lighting and sound guy’s etc. Those guy’s would know where everything went while we were just a rabble of young daft music fan’s getting in the gig for nowt (laughs).

When would the band appear ? They would rock up in the afternoon for the soundcheck, we would sit and watch them. Maybe hang around for a few drinks then go back to the hotel. When the bands were on stage we would either be tasked with doing follow spots, standing at the side of the stage or nicking their beer from the backstage area. Some of them were really canny  guy’s, usually the techs had more of an ego on them than the actual band members but we had some great laughs.

After the gig we would bring all the equipment back up the stairs. The load out would take until around 4-5am. I think one night it was Molly Hatchett’s sound desk that went flying back down four flights of concrete stairs because the local crew were rather a bit too refreshed. Their tour Manager wasn’t chuffed. We didn’t have any stage management or anything, half the time it was chaos and we used some dodgy characters. We were on the 5am train going home once and one of the lads had nicked half a side of beef from the kitchens which raised a few eyebrows.

Are there any stand out gigs that you can remember ? Yeah the Two Tone tour with The Specials, Selecter and Madness. Basically there was a sea of skinheads, mods and punks and there was one big fight from start to finish. Tables chucked off balconies. Mayhem. All of the stage crew had long hair so we just stood at the side of the stage or backstage and kept out of it. Think it was the night when the police with dogs turned up – or was that The Clash ?

Can you remember your last gig working at the Mayfair ? My last gig working there was The Clash. Around that time I had done 5 or 6 crew gigs in a row to save money to see Pink Floyd on The Wall tour. To be honest it wasn’t the most professional set up compared to the set up at  Newcastle City Hall. They had a plan to work from, a Stage Manager for a start. No alcohol whilst working, a set time to be there. A guy called Colin Rowell ran it and it was very well run. We were the best stage crew in England.

You have to remember most of the Mayfair gig’s would be on a Friday night, but there was concerts on at the City Hall every night. One night you could be loading in Motorhead and the next night it would be The La Sagesse School Choir (laughs) and the next night it would be Queen for two nights. By the end of the week there could have been a soul band on, an orchestra on, Shirley Bassey or someone like that and then back to a  big act like the Jam or UFO. So you were there virtually every night. Sometimes we used to sleep on the stage or back stage for the early load in next morning –Which usually involved mischief.

Can you remember your last working gig at the City Hall ? I think it may have been the Van Halen gig.They brought in enough gear to fill St James Park. It was ridiculous.

I think most of the Stage crew would not carry on doing it forever unless they get picked up by a band and go out on tour with them – which occasionally happened if they were crew down or get a job with a light or sound company. Some of lads I know went on to work for various lighting or sound companies, I know other lads, and lasses who went on to work full time for Ozzy, Queen and The Tubes. I eventually decided I needed a proper job (laughs) – with some regret later on when I heard their tales.

Now you’re involved in printing the posters of the bands that were on at The Mayfair…Yeah the main reason was to bring those long forgotten nights back to life. Anyone who went to either Sunderland or Newcastle Mayfair between ‘67 and ‘97 will know where we are coming from. These were great, great bands that defined a generation, whether you were a mod, punk, biker, rocker, hippie or whatever. Producing these posters will hopefully keep those memories alive and the spirit of those fantastic nights going. They were great times for live music, and personally from a nostalgic point of view that variation and quality of artists will never be repeated.

I’m sure everyone has their favourite Mayfair gig…Yes, for the folks in Sunderland it seems to be the Faces or Free, at Newcastle it seems to be one of the 6 or 7 times when AC/DC played. Or the nights when the Specials and Selecter came to town on their Two Tone tour.
The most interesting gigs for me is finding Pink Floyd played there in 1968 and the fact that Led Zeppelin played their first ever UK gig at the Mayfair as The Yardbirds.

This was a fact unearthed by North East music historian Marshall Hall who was met with derision by the Zeppelin ‘academia’ when he first published his findings. But they all had egg on their face once it was established as fact. This had been lost for years until Marshall’s discovery and now he has rewritten the Zeppelin history books. Another little fact was Queen supporting Vinegar Joe in ‘73 and another piece of history was Bowie just before he hit the big time.

How do you produce the posters ? The posters are produced to the exact original spec. It took painstaking research of the adverts in the British Newspaper Archives where we looked at dates, support acts, ticket prices and the promoters. We also researched all of the original fonts used on the posters, a lot of them now defunct.

After a period of about 6 months we started to reproduce and build the original posters. We had to purchase the original fonts and source the original day-glo paper. Which wasn’t easy as it isn’t cheap and now not widely produced. So the whole job has become a bit of a labour of love. Some of the originals have imperfections because they were done cheaply so we’ve even reproduced them to be as authentic as possible.


How many posters have you produced ?
There is about 50 on the site with more to come. You have to remember at the time these posters were a minimal no frill affairs with only the band, date and price on. They were produced as cheaply as possible. As it was left up to the Mecca to promote the gigs, very rarely were there any images on the posters compared to the bands that were playing at the City Hall up the road.

We really love these posters, we have enjoyed making sure they are spot on with regard to exact copies. Just great times. Great posters.

Check the official website at https://badmoonprints.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2019.  

ROKSNAPS #4

Roksnaps are fan photographs which captured the atmosphere of concerts on Tyneside during the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was a time when rock and metal bands ruled the city halls up and down the country. On Tyneside we had the main venues of Mecca in Sunderland, The Mayfair and City Hall in Newcastle. The gigs were packed with tribes of mostly young lads from towns across the North East. T-shirts, programmes and autographs were hunted down to collect as souveniers – and some people took photographs on the night.

 

 

 

Here are more Roksnaps from John Edward Spence pictured above with Janick Gers in 1982.

 

 

 

‘The first gig I went to I was 15. It was on the 31st of October 1977 at the Newcastle City Hall and the band was Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. The support band were called Kingfish. Rainbow came on really late and we missed our last bus home so one of friends had to phone his dad for a lift’.

 

 

 

‘Around October ’78 I decided to take my camera to a few gigs. I had a job so I bought a roll of film and some flashcubes, my camera was a Kodak 126. I couldn’t take it to every gig as the film and flashcubes used to make a dent in my pay packet’.

 

 

 

‘I used to go to loads of gigs at the City Hall and the Mayfair of course, that was my favourite venue. I was also lucky enough to see the bands associated with the NWOBHM, just loved the music around then’.

 

 

 

‘I don’t go to many gigs now. I always try and watch The Tubes when they come over, in fact the last gig I went to was to see The Tubes supporting Alice Cooper at Leeds, great gig’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

When Heavy Metal Hit the Accelerator 6th May 2017.

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

Roksnaps #1 18th February 2018.

Roksnaps #2 22nd February 2018.

Roksnaps #3 27th February 2018.

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