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!
Music journalist Ian Penman (RIP), Newcastle City Hall photographer Rik Walton and Tygers of Pan Tang manager Tom Noble presented the Bedrock radio show on BBC Newcastle during the late 70’s and early ‘80s. The programme featured music, a gig guide and interviews with local and international bands.
I was sent some copies of the shows and one programme featured an interview with guitarists Robb Weir and John Sykes from Whitley Bay band Tygers of Pan Tang. Sykes had just been added to the Tygers line up.
IanPenman talks to Robb Weir and asks him how do you feel about John joining the band?
‘I didn’t like the idea at first, but Tom (Tygers manager) said when we were playing with the Scorpions and Saxon the sound lacked and we needed to do something about it. I’ve got enough confidence in the guy, I’ve known him a long time and he doesn’t often come out with bad ideas so I went along with his suggestion.’
‘When we’ve recorded in the past I’ve done a backing track no matter how far down in the mix it is, it’s always there. Rocky’s never wanted another guitarist, it might steal a bit of thunder in his bass lines, we’ve never considered one and we’ve never wanted a keyboard player’.
‘But having John in is good because he’s a tremendous guitarist and a much better guitarist than I am at playing lead guitar. I’m not resentful whatsoever, he adds to the sound in the band and seems very grateful to be in the Tygers as we have an LP out and are selling out shows.’
‘I took an open line with him saying I’m happy for you to play what you feel fits with my original guitar parts. If you have any more ideas chuck them in! I was very keen for us to share guitar solos with the likes of ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ where John plays the first I play the second. In ‘Rock n Roll Man’ he plays the first half of the guitar solo and I play the second and so on’.
‘Because he’s so good I’m not going to keep him down and restrict him to a couple of solos in the set. I wrote them all but he’s shit hot. We were having a game of space invaders and I said to him don’t worry if there’s any other guitarists out there who think they’re better than you, they won’t be! A big smile came across his face. The guy is very, very good, you can be the best guitarist in the world but if you haven’t got the songs then you are nobody’.
Penman: Will John be writing any songs?
‘Yes definitely we’re going to write together then take them to the band and if we all like them we’ll develop them further. Writing songs is not an exact process for example with ‘Rock n Roll Man’ I wrote five riffs took them to the band and chose one, the other four went to the wind’.
Penman: There’s a swagger in your walk, like a star before you’re a star…
‘I’m very sure of myself, things are looking very good at the moment, but if it all goes down the drain and fails and I didn’t have this bit of thunder now, I would never have had it in my life. So if it goes from strength to strength and I get stronger, we do another album, a headline tour and go further up the ladder I’ll get more cocky (laughs)’.
Penman talks to John Sykes: What did the band ask you to do at the audition?
‘They gave me a chance to get my guitar out and tune it up. Brian sat on his drums and said to me what we’re gonna do is play a beat on the drums and we want you to just improvise along with it’.
‘He started off with a slow rhythm, when I was improvising I gradually got faster and faster then Rocky got up off his chair and walked over to his bass and started playing along. Then Robb joined in and we really started rocking it sounded tremendous’.
‘A couple of days before the audition the band invited me down for a chat to see what I was like’.
Penman: How did you end up in Blackpool?
‘I come from Reading originally but I was in Blackpool working on a building site. I left Reading when I was 14 and moved up to Blackpool with my family. I’m 21 now, but when I was 14 we moved to Spain for three years, I came back when I was 17 and got a job labouring on a building site in Blackpool, it was good money’
‘As time went on things just got worse, I used to dread 8 o’clock in the morning going to work I hated it and one day I just thought I’m wasting my time here, I’ll have to do something. I had a look in the music paper’s and saw an ad for the Tygers auditioning for an additional guitar player. It was just what I was looking for and the timing couldn’t have been better’.
Penman: How often was your previous band Streetfighter playing?
‘I was playing about two or three times a week and it was going ok. We had a track coming out on a compilation album before I left. It was something to do with Geoff Barton and Des Moines it was called the ‘New Electric Warriors’. I don’t think Streetfighter were going hit the big time, but the Tygers….’
Unfortunately some of the programmes are incomplete and the interview cut off here.
Gary Alikivi, January 2022
Thanks to Jimmy McKenna & Rik Walton for Ian Penman’s Bedrock radio tapes. More articles will be added in future posts.
Did you think you would get signed to a major label ? The first line-up of Secret Sam nearly got us signed with a big advance, but it fell through during Christmas ‘85, we were gutted when we found out. When I think back to those times I’m not proud of myself either. I was, and still am, pretty difficult to work with sometimes.
Russ Thompson (guitar/vocals) and I really laid the law down about arrangements and harmonies, I ended up falling out with some really nice people. It got ridiculous in the end, Russ sacked himself and a dozen other people came through the band before I finally wrapped it up in late ‘86.
A year later Mick McKnight (guitar) and Paul Bateson (keys) had a club act and ended up doing Stars In Your Eyes, a big show on TV at the time. They got ripped apart by journalist Nina Myskow, that was fun to watch, but I did feel for them.
I mentioned being in the Jess Cox band, we did the first series of TX45 (music TV show filmed in Newcastle at the time of The Tube) and a couple of shows in London with Les Cheatham on guitar and a couple of great guys from down south, this was around ‘84-86.
Working with Jess (vocals) was a good learning experience, he’d had some success with The Tygers of Pan Tang so he sort of knew what he was talking about, even though he was clearly tainted by the music industry at that point.
In rehearsals for the TV show, he helped me refine my playing by offering suggestions like ‘can you put a blanket over those f**king drums’ and ‘don’t do drum fills’. Of course I will be forever grateful for that advice!
There was an album I did around ’85 with Jess and Rob Weir (guitar) called imaginatively – Tyger Tyger. Me and Rob programmed all drums on a Roland TR-707 then went into Impulse studio to record real hi-hats and cymbals, that was the second most awful studio experience I’ve ever had. I don’t think it ever saw the light of day, it wasn’t that good.
What did the new decade bring for you ? At the end of the ‘80s, heavy metal band Battleaxe got in touch and I started playing for them. Don’t they say any publicity is good publicity ? The singer would have crazy ideas like ‘we’re going to make a video on an oil rig and the BBC are coming down to film it’. At first I thought this is exciting, but soon realised he lived in a fantasy world.
What he forgot to mention was with all our gear we would have to sneak illegally onto one of the oil rigs being built in Sunderland docks, and start playing until news media and police turned up to arrest us.
Incidentally, from 2010-14 I returned to Battleaxe but I’ll not go there, it’s a four year horror story I’d rather forget, it includes the worst band and recording experience I’ve ever had.
By the mid ‘90s I was enjoying playing around the pubs in a little three piece band and one day got a call from the late Eric Cook who managed Venom and others. He asked if I could do a tour because the drummer they were hoping to use had dropped out. I immediately said yes, it’s a powerful word yes – the tour was the next week and the band was Skyclad.
I’d never heard of them but did sort of know Steve (Ramsey, lead guitarist) and Bean (Graeme English, bass) from the band Satan. With only four or five days to learn the set, we were off to Europe to play with Blind Guardian,Yngwie Malmsteen and Saxon.
It was great, but I felt like a fish out of water. I’d never played in a folk metal band before and I’d never done that kind of tour. Big venues, lorries full of gear, half a dozen tour coaches, catering the lot, it was like stepping into the unknown for me – totally routine for the other guys though.
One of the highlights for me was jamming with Yngwie Malmsteen’s band in the sound check in Hannover, a rare opportunity, they were brilliant players, and had to be because Yngwie would dock their pay if they made a mistake on stage.
I stayed with Skyclad for a couple of years, doing a few tours with bands like Riot, Whiplash, Subway to Sally, and recording a couple of albums at top studios like Moles in Bath and Jacobs in Surrey, but I was sick to death of being away on tour. It all came to a head for me at the end of ’96 in a snow storm and -20 degree temperatures.
Imagine spending Christmas Day in a freezing hotel in a town where nothing was open, and being away from your loved ones without any means of contacting them but a payphone in the street – totally depressing. Why anyone thought that would be a good idea was beyond me.
Things got so bad that in true rock star style Andy smashed up his hotel room causing a couple of thousand pounds worth of damage – by the way Andy was the lighting guy, it was the band who were the sensible one’s.
At this point I was in my mid-thirties and realised this is a game for the young, but I appreciated the experience and the band always treated me well.
What have you been doing the past couple of years ? From 2016-18 I was drumming for American band Bob Dee with Petro, he was a great guy, we did a couple of UK tours, one supporting Chris Holmes from ‘80s metal band Wasp.
So that’s about it, trying to make it in music brought good times and not so good times for me, it’s great to talk about it if someone’s interested in listening, but these days I find myself less inclined to.
What do you think about your time in music ? I think my ‘80s was a great time, the band scene was vibrant and anything seemed possible. I often think of people like Karen McInulty from She, Dave Donaldson from the Jess Cox Band, Eric Cook, and others who are sadly no longer with us, and loads of other people who were part of that close knit scene at the time, really fond memories.
For me it’s like telling a story about climbing a mountain, it’s easy to romanticise about it in hindsight and say it was all fantastic, when in reality it was hard work with only the odd moment when the clouds broke.
The single with Neat was a one record only deal, it sold around 6,000 copies and the tracks appeared on compilation albums and a few major labels initially showed interest after we touted the single around.
We played a couple of showcase gigs at London’s Marquee, at one of them IRS label boss Miles Copeland, musician Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Black Sabbath), Michael Schenker and a few other label guys were there. We knew we had to blast it and we did, we had a storming gig but never got any firm interest.
We were advised to stay away from publishing offers we got offered as that was signing away your rights to your song royalties. There was a label interested but when we broke it down into how much it was to record an album and take it out on tour, we would’ve been massively in debt. What we’d get initially wasn’t enough to cover an album and promotion.
Did you appear in any of the music weeklies ?
There was a few live reviews in Kerrang, Karen done a photo shoot for them called Lady Killers. I’ll never forget those couple of days.
We went down to London and supported UK rock band FM on their last night of the tour at the Astoria. That was a blast sharing the stage with them as they were my favourite band then.
On stage I remember kids at the front grabbing onto your legs it was unbelievable. After the gig we came off to a massive dressing room with tables full of food and beer and the FM drummer said our show was awesome.
He invited us to a big end of tour party at a flashy cocktail bar where we ended up partying all night but we had to get up early to go to the photo shoot for Kerrang – we were hungover and wrecked. Then had to race over to the Marquee to soundcheck as we were headlining that night.
Was this the time when you thought we have made it this far someone will sign us now ?
We were working hard – we went into Neat and pushed out a double A side single with local songwriter Phil Caffery on epic backing vocals. Then more support slots at Newcastle University with bands like Robin George and Girlschool, we also went down to London to open for Girlschool and ended up in Kim McAuliffe’s flat on her birthday.
More nights at the Marquee followed where we got free entry into the San Moritz bar and one night hung out with Thunder and Rock Goddess. Lemmy was really friendly remembering us ‘There’s the Geordie lot come an’ ‘av a drink’.
Yes everything had been going well but we still didn’t get any firm interest and after a period of the band making no progress we decided to call it a day in 1989.
Did the band want to reform ?
We did kick the idea about of doing something as a band, we were rehearsing at Red Nose Studio in North Shields – we couldn’t hear much as ‘Venom’ were rehearsing next door ! We auditioned a few singers but it was plain it was never going to work. Karen was unique and anybody else at the front of the band just wasn’t working.
When Karen was in the band did she get any solo offers ?
If she did I didn’t know. Karen was the focal point of the band her voice was amazing. We weren’t perfect there was disagreements that sometimes were on the edge of turning physical, show me a band that doesn’t, but they were all storms in a tea cup, generally we all got on.
There was a rumour that it was a yes or no decision between us and T’Pau and their song China in your Hand swung the pendulum in their favour – how true that whole record deal was I don’t know, but every time I hear that classic pop song I do wonder what if.
What did you do then ?
After the band I gave up music for a few years then got back playing again with some friends in a couple of rock cover bands. They were mates having a good laugh, getting paid for strings and beer money. Ended up playing all over the North East and The Newcastle Cluny a few times.
I remember the first gig with the Media Junkies was in the Bebside in Blyth and the guys were setting the P.A. and the soundman was Stosh – I couldn’t believe it. He used to do sound on all the big She gigs back in the ‘80s – the Marquees, Mayfairs, and he was our sound engineer on the E.C.T Channel 4 show. Now here he was doing my sound again!
When I started living as an adult (laughs)….I trained in I.T. Computer Programming and worked for various companies in the UK and Europe. I went where the money was for 30 years.
But that was really stressful so ended up working for Northumberland Cheese Company as a cheesemaker at the ‘Make Me Rich’ Farm on Blagdon Estate in Northumberland – seriously – I won a silver medal for my smoked cow’s cheese at the International Cheese Awards in 2019 (laughs).
I loved that job but when the Covid virus hit I went on furlough in 2020 and enjoyed it so much I retired, also by the first Covid lockdown in 2020 I had finished playing live.
What are the other members of She doing now ?
Paul still plays drums, not quite sure who for, I think it was mostly show bands doing holiday parks and the like but I know he played in Qween (Queen tribute) for a bit.
Billy gave up music after the band, Ken Riley found God and formed a successful Christian rock band YFriday who recorded and toured for a while. I believe he is a full time minister now, not sure where.
Karen was very religious, a Roman Catholic, after the band she made the decision to go into a convent and become a nun. I couldn’t tell you more about that because we didn’t have any contact with her then, only that she stayed a few years and then turned to social work.
The last time Karen and I talked was in 2012, I was working in Germany, she was living in the North East and we were talking about meeting up. Sadly in October that year I got a call to say that she’d passed away after suffering several health problems, it was a very sad time.
I’ve always said without a doubt we wouldn’t have got as far as we did without Karen, those days in She were the best of my life. Everything you ever dreamt of when you’re 17 is unfolding into reality. It was amazing playing the Newcastle Mayfair, recording studios, TV shows and gigs at the original Marquee.
I remember looking on the dressing room wall where every band who played there wrote their name, Queen were my idols when I was a kid and I spent ages looking for them and eventually there they were – of course we wrote our name up on the wall.
Looking back the whole thing was an incredible ride, it was living the dream……the memories will stay with me forever.
Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2021.
7″ Neat Records (1985) NEAT 50 12″ Neat Records (1985) NEAT 50
1. Never Surrender 2. Breaking Away 3. On My Way
*Track 3 on the 12″ only *Same catalogue number for both releases
Captured 7″ Elle Records (1986) SHE 001
1. Captured 2. New Start
Heavy Metal Collection 2 ‘Never Surrender’ The Flame Burns On – The Best Of Neat Records ‘Never Surrender’ The Neat Singles Collection Volume Three ‘Never Surrender’, ‘Breakin’ Away’ and ‘On My Way’ Lightnin’ To The Nations NWOBHM 25th Anniversary Collection ‘Never Surrender’
‘She’ were a rock band based in North Tyneside who recorded two singles in the 1980’s. Fronted By Karen McInulty, bassist Billy Germaney, drummer Paul Defty, guitarist Ken Riley and Lee Robertson guitar & keyboards who I met up with earlier this month.
I was surrounded by music, there was always instruments at my Nana’s house and my uncles played guitar, when I was at Tynemouth college I played guitar and wanted to be in a band.
In 1981 I got in touch with a lad called Ken Riley, we started jamming together in his house then formed a band. We were playing cover songs and bounced a few original ideas around. Ken had a superb ear for melody, chorus and memorable hooks.
Then it was a constant revolving door of trying out drummers, bassists, singers, it wasn’t working so we put an ad in the Newcastle Chronicle. Bernadette Mooney, who you have already interviewed, answered the ad and fitted in, we eventually started rehearsing with a drummer.
We were rehearsing in Preston Grange Community Centre in North Shields when Billy Germaney walked by, heard us and asked to be in the band. I went to see him play live in his band and he was streets ahead in quality, he also looked the part so we rang him up and he joined the band.
For a name we knocked a few ideas around but I think it was Billy who came up with ‘She’.
When did you start playing live ?
We started gigging with our first at Preston High School, North Shields in 1982. Our set was a mixture of rock covers and raw originals, we got on like a house on fire with Bernadette but with the style of our new songs the vocal wasn’t working out so we parted ways after a few gigs. She went on to front War Machine and done well releasing an album on Neat records.
So it was back to the drawing board for us. A friend recommended listening to someone she knew, it was good of her to do that but we were after more serious people not just friends of friends, as we were devoting more and more time to the band.
Eventually we did invite her along to the Church hall where we had the gear set up. I’ll never forget this as long as I live.
In walks a really shy person and sits down on the seat in front of us while we were warming up. We started playing the Pat Benatar song Heartbreaker. We could hear her singing along really ripping into it – this was sitting down without a mic!
I looked at Ken, he looked over to me, it was a moment we knew something special was happening. We turned up our backline and nodded for her to pick up the mic. The power of her vocal was incredible.
The range, the timbre, the softness of her voice – that was the job on the spot right there…..and that was Karen McInulty.
We knew we were a bit rough so got stuck in to rehearsals to polish up and tighten. Then we recorded a few songs to tape and took it to Mingles rock bar in Whitley Bay – famous for Tygers of Pan Tang playing their early gigs there – the pub management said yes and the gig went well. We played a lot of pub gigs after that all north of the Tyne up to Blyth.
One night at Mingles we were approached by the Tygers of Pan Tang management, Tom Noble and Graeme Thompson, they asked if we were interested in signing up so I took the contract and looked it over, handy as I was a Law student then. We had our heads screwed on and were determined not to fall in to any traps.
It was understood that this was a management contract to get to a certain point and then it would be revisited. First thing they suggested was getting in Paul Defty on drums, as I’ve said before sometimes friends don’t work out as we were taking it more seriously.
Paul was well known as a great drummer throughout the music scene in the North East and adding him to the line-up was the final piece in the jigsaw, he and Billy just clicked.
We all thought we were tight as a sharks arse but when Paul came in the band were solid as a rock and he locked everything together. The impact was immediate.
The management got us working every day, Monday to Thursday was rehearsal and gigging Friday, Saturday and Sunday where we travelled further – even to the Iron Butterfly in Peterlee with the Pauline Gillan band opening for us!
During the early gigs did the band have any laughs along the way ?
I remember one gig we had just played the Friday rock night at Sunderland Mecca when Karen said ‘you’re going to have to stop the van’. After drinking a few sherbets we thought she might be ill so we pulled over and all got out.
Can you remember Rik Mayall and the Comic Strip who done the spoof TV documentary about a metal band on the road called Bad News ? Karen said ‘I’m not getting back into the van until you all say we’re Heavy Metal’! (laughs)
Did management have a positive effect on the band ?
The management contacts really started to come into play with our Newcastle Mayfair debut supporting local band Emerson. I spent a lot of time watching bands at the Newcastle Mayfair so to be on stage there was incredible.
That was around 1984 and we played the Mayfair a few times supporting Terraplane, Wishbone Ash and Vow Wow then eventually headlining with local metal band Tysondog opening. Other North East gigs were Redcar Coatham Bowl and Newcastle Riverside.
We were virtually guaranteed an appreciative audience up here but we put on a coach for our first gig in London at the Tunnel club which was beside a glue factory – it stunk when you got off the bus all you could smell was dissolving horse bones.
But it was a great experience playing in front of strangers and we went down well.
What was your experience of the studio ?
We went into Neat recording studio in Wallsend to record the 7” single Never Surrender and Breaking Away produced by Keith Nichol. The 12” included On My Way which to be honest I preferred.
Later it was remixed by Jon Verity (Argent) and Fred Purser (Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang) in Jon’s Yorkshire studio, the track got into the top ten of the National rock charts.
Did the band do any radio, appear on TV or film music videos ?
For promotion DJ Little Jeff was always good to us, he supported the band by playing our single at his rock nights in Newcastle Mayfair. In 1985 Karen and I were interviewed on The Tube talking about the new single and some upcoming gigs.
We were also asked to play TX45 which was produced by the same team as The Tube. The show had North East unsigned bands playing every week and we done two tracks Breaking Away and Still Need You. ‘One Hand, One Heart’ was the other band that night, and the comedian Chubby Brown.
I’m not that tall and our guitarist Ken is a little shorter than me but when Chubby came into our dressing room he looked Ken up and down and said ‘F***ing hell when you’re on we’ll have to put up a sign saying do not adjust your TV set the guitarist really is only 5 foot tall’. He was brutal with his jokes, they had to stop filming a few times.
The Neat single also got us on the Channel Four rock show E.C.T, we played our current single Never Surrender and our next single New Start. That was a superb experience because it was the last show of the series and they had a big after show party.
We were rubbing shoulders and having drinks with all the bands and rock stars we had watched playing live at the Newcastle Mayfair and City Hall.
How did the TV appearances come about ?
The management would ring and say get the band together and we’ll meet at The Cannon Inn, North Shields. We walked in and Chris Cowey was there, Chris was the main man for TV he worked on Check it Out, The Tube and went on to do many other music programmes including Top of the Pops.
He had already heard our single, we had a great chat in the pub and then asked are you interested in being on the telly ? So it all went from there, it was a no brainer really.
On E.C.T we were on with Warlock and Magnum. We had the dressing room next to Magnum who were a lot older than us, seasoned pro’s really, we were all 20 year old Geordies let loose in London living the rock star dream appearing on TV!
We were shouting, laughing, joking, just very loud when Wally the Magnum bass player knocked on the door and in his very dour Brummie accent asked us ‘Can you please keep the noise down people are trying to sleep in here’ (laughs).
Read part two featuring Kerrang, Girlschool, London Marquee and find out what Lee is up to now.
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
And more messages to celebrate the quarter million milestone.
Big thanks to all the contributors and readers – keep spreading the love!
Bri Smith (The Fauves) ‘250,000 views that’s brilliant Gary. You’ve done a great job and proud to be part of it. I’m sure there’s more to come and it’s great for the North East. All the best for 2022’.
Wavis O’Shave (Surreal Entertainer and Global – particularly South Shields – Enigma)‘Here’s hoping for another 250,000 to match the number of pints – give or take the odd hundred – that The Hard has drunk since last New Year’s Eve’.
Dan Green (Author, Broadcaster & Researcher into all things mysterious) ‘It’s no mystery that 250k have dropped by’.
Jan Wilson ‘You know how much my guitarist husband Alan Burke enjoyed visiting his history with Southbound for your interview…you just ‘get’ the importance of our local musical heritage’.
Brian Rapkin (aka Brian Bond, Punishment of Luxury, Punching Holes,Actor)
‘Gary’s blogs are incredible. Great to do and great to read. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes them work so well. Doing a blog with him is liberating and emotionally satisfying – it takes you back to childhood, younger times, important things of life that stay with us forever.
His editing is the work of a master surgeon – he pares it down to the marrow of the bone, the real events and the real consequences. Thank you Gary for the magic lantern show, the time machine that reveals the truth! You done a good job, Gaz’.
Robb Weir (Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘A very big thank you to our ‘Gary’ for keeping the world in touch with ‘Geordie Land’ and all it’s amazing characters. Here’s to the next 250,000 readers !’
Dave King (Battleaxe) ‘Hey ALIKIVI. A BIG thanks for highlighting the great talent of North East bands and musicians who are often disregarded and unappreciated by main stream music mags, and some journalists, especially in the Metal Scene which actually thrives up here in the North East.
With 250 thousand views of your blog, it could be a good idea for a full featured film on the subject? Just look what the Anvil video done for those guys as an example. Anyway cheers again and keep rocking’.
Nev (Punishment of Luxury) ‘It has been a great experience to work with Gary on Punishment of Luxury blogs. His enthusiasm is inspiring and encourages the best possible answers because of the quality of his well-researched, thoughtful and searching questions resulting in such masterful and brilliantly written blogs.
I like the way he creates such interesting themes and explores so thoroughly to bring to life excellent stories and histories about all things musical and creative in the North East.’
Jean Alicia Stokes (Tyneside Historian & Author) ‘What a delight the ALIKIVI blog is, offering such insight to our local culture. A wealth of information for the local historian which I turn to often, continually enhancing my understanding of our North Eastern area. Love the interviews as they offer such a primary resource.’
Will Binks (Photographer) ‘When Gary asked for my inclusion in one of his blogs I jumped at the chance. My ramblings about the ‘seven songs that shaped my world’ were a joy to choose and describe my connection with, perhaps only of a passing interest to some but so incredibly important to me that they were documented and published. Thanks mate, keep up the great work and well done on a quarter of a million views’.
Ray Cooney (Theatre producer) ‘You’re on course to hit 250,000 views! Well done!!It’s been great being involved with you and keep up the good work.’
Tony Wilson (Singer/Songwriter/Storyteller) ‘Gary has covered so much of our local North Eastern life in both written, audio and video form and has created hundreds of hours of informed and informative, entertaining and edifying aspects of our own great part of the world. The man is a marvel!’
Robert Olley (Artist) ‘The informal, light hearted talk with Gary was a great indicator of how my work as an artist has progressed since the first interview we did some time ago. It’s also proved to be an informative and invaluable update for the many people that have followed the progress of my career over some fifty years, thanks Gary!’
Glenn Howes (songwriter/guitarist) ‘My congratulations on this important milestone. 1/4 Million wow! I’m proud to have contributed and grateful to Gary for putting this together and keeping us entertained with all the wonderful stories in his articles of people from the North East UK scene. Well done!!’
Steve Thompson (Songwriter) ‘Congratulations on the success of your blog Gary I can see how much work you’ve put into it. My first chat with you was in the early days and since then you have given me several opportunities to tell more stories. The lifeblood of a storyteller is having a willing listener. Thanks for listening ….and of course you giving me that ‘Godfather of North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ moniker has come in handy too’.
There’ll be no idle shilly-shallying here I’ll just push on to the next batch of interviews – who’s next ?
And the messages keep coming in to celebrate the quarter of a million milestone of the North East Culture blog.
Dave Curry ‘Congratulations on the fantastic milestone you’ve achieved. I would like to say that without your interest and drive the photos that were recently included in the 40th anniversary of Motorhead’s ‘No Sleep’ CD would still be sitting in the loft. Keep up the excellent work’.
Julie Clay (Promoter) ‘Wow what a milestone, 250,000 hits on your blog….well done Gary! Great to meet you and be part of such a great blog. Good luck and all the best for 2022.’
Jon De Ville (actor, ex-vocalist Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘I spent some of my best years of my life in the North East and I love returning. My very best wishes to everyone and here’s to a rockin’ 2022’.
Alison Stanley (Actress, Writer & Theatre producer) ‘I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Gary on a couple of occasions, both of which have been thoroughly enjoyable. Gary’s blog has been an excellent means of telling everyone about my work as an actress/writer and has allowed me to reach a much wider audience.
I love reading Gary’s pieces and was really chuffed to join the ranks and be interviewed myself. I would definitely recommend reading’.
Carol Nichol (Lowfeye) ‘With social media there is often an overload of mundane feeds, so when you see an Alikivi review you are keen to hit that button with interest, whether it be a review of a band, a character from local history, there is always something brilliant in the creation of these blogs/reviews, through the research and the way they are written and presented, they are a little jewel in the world of social media today. It’s very evident how passionate Gary is in seeking out these largely unknown stories. Fantastic stuff!’
Garry Hunter (Creative Director) ‘This resource is key to continuing and reaffirming Tyneside as a cosmopolitan centre, with quarter of a million views it’s testament to Alikivi’s global reach, proving that Geordies get everywhere in the world, whether as engineers, artists or musicians, our impact is immense.’
Tom Noble (Music manager & Promoter) ‘Gary’s blog has contributed significantly to the promotion of culture in the North East at a time when it’s increasingly difficult to get coverage for anyone but the most successful acts, he has supported local music admirably.’
Par Can (former stage technician) ‘A few years ago I had a major health issue which left me with time to read and take proper notice of things I’d previously just skimmed over. One of those was a site run by Film Maker Gary Alikivi. If you can’t find a plethora of interesting, amusing, informative articles to entertain you then you have somehow ended up on ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Boris dot com’ ! Thank you for all your hard work Gary. Look forward to many more great articles’.
Tony Hodge (The Pirahana Brothers) ‘Great news hitting 250,000 views of your excellent blog. I love reading the stories you feature covering many aspects of the North East especially its huge contribution our entertainers make. Keep up the good work and here’s to the million mark’.
Jon Dalton (Jazz guitarist & Composer) ‘Thanks for all the work you’ve been doing here and particularly your focus on the NWOBHM. Not just music from the North East but also bands like ours from the opposite corner of the country. That was an important time for so many of us and it’s great to see those stories recognized and remembered’.
Sam Blewitt – aka Sam Blue, (singer for Ya Ya, Ultravox, The Streets, The Young Punx, Dizzee Rascal, The Attention Seekers). ‘The history of North East music is a very important piece of cultural history, Gary chronicles it beautifully. His interviews and historical pieces are carefully and thoughtfully put together, making them a joy to read. I really enjoyed being interviewed by Gary, his questions allow scope for a wider answer. I had to really dig deep to remember dates and locations, but it was great fun and brought back some wonderful memories. Great Job Gary, keep up the good work’.
Jeff Brown (BBC Look North) ‘Enjoyed being a part of the project, Gary – keep telling the world about the region’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.’
Antony Bray (Abaddon/Venom Inc) ‘After forming Venom Inc I was lucky enough to begin touring in Europe again followed by the Far East and USA, this continued and we toured the world for three years. Of course many, many interviews went hand in hand, but none more satisfying and relaxing than the one I did with Gary Alikivi right on my doorstep.’
Micky Crystal (Tygers of Pan Tang/New Breed Revolution) ‘Huge congratulations on a quarter of a million readers Gary. Honoured to be part of the Alikivi North East blog’.
Quentin Kopp (Chairman, The Orwell Society) ‘Gary continues to do a wonderful job of keeping aspects of the history and people of South Shields alive. For me, as Chair of The Orwell Society, a highlight was Gary’s evocative film Wildflower about Eileen O’Shaughnessy, Orwell’s first wife who grew up in South Shields where her Father was the Chief Customs Office.’
Richard Blair, Patron of the Orwell Society and son of George Orwell ‘Since the start of 2017 I have been amazed by the number of people who have shown so much interest in both my father and mother. Eileen was a child of South Shields, who fell for an impecunious and relatively unknown young author, but she had great faith in his ability. The tragedy was that she was to die before the publication of Animal Farm, a book that she contributed so much to when George Orwell was writing it.
The Orwell Society has identified with the Tyneside area with the help of interested people from the North East, and from time to time we are able to bring some of the members up to see her birth place, the area she was brought up and also buried. I hope that we might meet some of you when the Society visits in March to unveil a plaque to Eileen.’
Joe Peterson (Big Red & the Grinners) ‘I love reading posts on ALIKIVI the North East culture blog, it’s the only true record of what it was like to be a musician in bands in the North East, it’s a great piece of archive for future musicians too who will be able to look back and get a sense of what it was like for us.’
Big thanks to all you lovely people for the messages…keep spreading the love !
Tony featured on the Mystical album in 2001 but his first contact with the Tygers was when they were auditioning a new vocalist after the departure of Jess Cox.
In the late ’70s TV producers Malcolm Gerrie and Chris Cowey were acting as my managers when they got me an audition with The Tygers Of Pan Tang from Whitley Bay, but John Deverill got the job over me – more from them later.
Then came heavy rock band Sergeant around ’83. Anthony Curran (bass) and former Tygers members Brian Dick (drums) and Rob Weir (guitar) were in the original line up. Brian and Robb had left the Tygers after The Cage album and tour in the early ‘80s.
As for gigging I remember a show case at Mingles rock night in Whitley Bay for Carling Publishing, we done a television promo for ‘How Dare You’, as part of the show the audience threw custard pies at us. We also toured the UK supporting German metallers Accept.
Sergeant drummer Brian Dick remembers more from the Accept gig at Newcastle City Hall than I can – for some reason I was always on a self-destruct mission, alcohol mainly to blame. I have a memory that before I went on stage I was having a long friendly chat with Fish from Marillion in a dark corner of the City Hall bar.
The whole tour was like going on a battlefield – every gig was like that for me. I used to wind myself up to an alcoholic frenzy then with all guns blazing attack the stage. I was like a mad dog. That type of attitude I could muster up – that’s why I turned down doing backing vocals for Cliff Richard!
We got to London’s Hammersmith Odeon and I ended up vomiting all over the Kerrang photographers and music journalist’s at the front of the stage! I don’t think the Accept stage manager was too happy bringing out the mop and sick bucket where a lot of people found my stage antics funny – looking back I was a stupid ass.
When I told Pat Thrall (guitarist, Asia/Pat Travers) the story about puking on the music journalist’s, he burst into laughter, I stared with a vacant expression as his giggled and laughed for some time.
Accept were an amazing band and as a frontman Udo Dirkschneider had an amazing stage presence. Udo was the nicest bloke I’ve met – we all loved Udo.
How did working with the Tygers come about ?
During the period of touring with The Animals in 1999-2003 (story in part one) I was commissioned by Z records to co-write new material with Rob Weir, re-form The Tygers Of Pan Tang, then produce an album at my studio, Strange Street in Durham. Rob was founding member and guitarist with the Tygers when they started in the late ‘70s.
This new Tygers Of Pan Tang line up were fished from a North East club band called Grand Slam, I sang covers with them for a short period. Craig Ellis (drums) and Brian West (bass) were in Grand Slam, I called them up and introduced them to Rob. Deano Robertson (guitar & vocals) also came in. I did suggest naming them The Tygers Of Grand Slam!
The Mystical album was recorded in three months at my studio where I had a new Soundcraft Ghost 32 channel into a Tascam 8 track half inch hooked up by code to two Alesis Digital 8 tracks.
That gave me 7 tracks analogue tape – one for code – and 16 on digital tape. Plus a Tascam two track analogue 1/4 inch, then all those tracks went into two Apple Macs for massive editing giving me limitless tracks.
When I was home from touring with The Animals I got the Tygers over to the studio, then those recordings went on tour with me on an Apple lap top and headphones. Sometimes we had up to fifteen hours travel between gigs so I had lots of time to edit and make songs from the recordings and sound samples.
Once the song had taken shape from my editing and screaming the lyrics into the lap top mic in hotel rooms, I returned from touring and the band met at the studio again and listened to the demo. Not forgetting that Rob would bring over new ideas on a mini track recorder – riffs, bass and drum machine. Next day the band recorded the instruments into my analogue/digital 24 track hybrid.
Again that went out with me on my lap top on the next tour with the process repeated until the deadline release date – corners were cut but nobody was hurt. That’s how the whole album was created, written, recorded and released in only three months.
Are you proud of the album ?
The first tracks Rob and myself wrote for the album were Secret Agent and Detonator and a re-recording of The Story So Far an old Tygers track. They were released on a compilation album including Journey and Ted Nugent and a track by Liddle, Rush & Thrall was re-mixed for it. That song was taken from the album I recorded with Billy Rush (guitarist/producer, Southside Johnny & Asbury Jukes) and Pat Thrall 15 years previous.
I wrote lyrics for Secret Agent about being on a Russian tour with The Animals. Standing in Moscow’s Red Square I felt like a secret agent – Ian Fleming or Bond, such an amazing experience. We got lots of attention, TV cameras were in my face – I felt like Eric Burdon.
I liked the lyrics for Keep this Rock Alive, one of my personal best and don’t know how I did it in such a short time. In Detonator I wrote about the rise of terrorism which was escalating back then. I was once asked ‘why have you wrote a song for terrorists’ ? I said ‘I think you got it mixed up mate. I’m just highlighting the rise of terrorism in the world today.’
They wouldn’t let it go so I sarcastically replied ‘Well you know I was looking for a market territory for CD sales that hadn’t been tapped yet and there are a lot of terrorist’s out there – that’s a big market’ !
When I listen to Mystical I beat myself up about some of the final editing and some of the lyrics – but not a bad job overall.