DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #3

Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. ‘Pity Me’ features later in this story by Steve Thompson, songwriter and ex producer at NEAT records. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio.

From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

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STEVE THOMPSON: (Songwriter) ‘I had quit as house producer at Neat Records in 1981. I had begun to realise that I was helping other people build careers whilst mine was on hold. I was becoming bogged down in Heavy Metal and whilst there’s no doubt I’m a bit of a rocker, I really wanted to pursue the path of a songwriter first and foremost. Production might come into it somewhere along the line but I wanted that to be a sideline, not my main gig. So I set about composing the song that is the subject of this story, ‘Please Don’t Sympathise’. This is what happened.

I had just cut a single with The Hollies. Bruce Welch of The Shadows was in the production seat for that recording in Odyssey Studios, London. I signed a publishing deal with Bruce and remember signing the contract at Tyne Tees TV Studios in Newcastle, Hank Marvin was witness. Bruce had heard an 8 song demo of my songs and selected 4 favourites from it. He asked me to make some more advanced demos of those 4. I could have gone into Neat/Impulse Studio but I still wanted to carve new territory so I went to Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham.

I played bass, keyboards and guitar on the session with Paul Smith on drums and I brought my old mate Dave Black in to do vocals. I spent two full days on those demos, Bruce Welch was paying and he really wanted me to go to town on the production. Then a producer called Chris Neil entered the story. Chris had worked with Leo Sayer, Gerry Rafferty, A-Ha, Rod Stewart, Cher and others. Chris and I had just had a massive hit with his production of my song Hurry Home. Chris was by now having a bit of a love affair with my material. Chris had asked Bruce to give him first dibs on any of my new songs that came along.

He picked up on two from the four songs I’d just demoed in Guardian. One of them he sang himself under the band name Favoured Nations. But the recording pertinent to this story is his production of Sheena Easton’s new album Madness, Money and Music. He recorded my song Please Don’t Sympathise for that album. The album did very well. It went top 20 in the UK, peaking at 13. It also charted in several other countries and did particularly well in Japan’.

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‘About a year later Celine Dion also recorded the song in French ‘Ne Me Plaignez Pas’. It was a huge hit single in Canada and certified Gold status. The album it was featured on sold 400,000 copies in Canada and 700,000 copies in France. I never did go back to Guardian but that is a lot of action from just one demo session. Interestingly, the literal translation of Ne Me Plaignez Pas is Please Don’t PITY ME ! Spooky huh?’

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‘These days I’m doing this song and many others that I wrote for various artists with my own band. I’ve uploaded a video collage here https://vimeo.com/266141205. It starts with the Guardian demo with Dave Black singing. The demo doesn’t sound that sophisticated after 37 years but that’s where it started. Then there are clips of the Sheena and Celine versions and then my band doing it live. Sadly Dave Black is no longer around to sing the song as he did on the demo but Terry Slesser does a fine job of it. Jen Normandale comes in on the bridge in French ala Celine!’  www.steve-thompson.org.uk

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This needs to be confirmed by a visit down to Pity Me, but  a quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. I wonder if customers buying their tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, was that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be much appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

Kev Charlton HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

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

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.

NEAT BITES – Making Records on Wallsend

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Neat Records were based in Wallsend, North East England. The label was established in the late 70’s by Dave Woods, who was the owner of Impulse Studios. It was notable for releases by Venom, Raven and Blitzkreig who are acknowledged as major influences on American bands Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. Songwriter and producer Steve Thompson helped set up Neat and produced the initial recordings…One day Dave Woods came in and said there’s a band who are making a bit of noise out there why not get them in and sell a few records? So in came Tygers of Pan Tang to cut three tracks. Incidentally it was to be the third single I’d produced for NEAT. Now we know it is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the tide was coming in that very evening haha’. 

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ROBB WEIR (Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘In 1979 we recorded, ‘Don’t Touch Me There.’  It had a release number 003 so we were in at the beginning of the Neat Record label story. We were the first heavy metal band to be recorded in the studio. So I’m very proud of the Tygers giving the Neat label a direction. Impulse studios took a chance and pressed 1,000 copies, that was a lot for a small independent label. Don’t Touch Me There was reviewed in Sounds newspaper which made a massive difference so the next pressing was 4,000 ! Then studio owner Dave Woods was approached by MCA record company, they wanted us! So Dave did a deal, essentially selling the Tygers to them. So MCA pressed around 50,000 copies of the single!’

BRIAN ROSS (Blitzkreig) ‘I remember the first time in Impulse Studio was great we made it feel like our second home. It came highly recommended as Tyne Tees TV used it to record their jingles there and we recorded a jingle Hot n Heavy Express which Alan Robson used on his radio show. It went well so we extended it into a single. NEAT put it out on a compilation EP. Now this studio was the label to be on, and I mean in the country not just the North East, I’ve recorded many tracks there as Satan, Avenger and Blitzkreig. It’s a shame it’s not there now’. 

ANTONY BRAY (Venom) Conrad was tape operator at NEAT doing a few days here and there and he bugged the owner Dave Woods about getting spare time in the studio for the band. He kept asking him ‘can my band come in on the weekend ? Woodsy got so sick of him he just said ok, just do it, but pay for the tape. So we recorded a three track EP and we thought it might get a little review somewhere. I was still working at Reyrolles factory then and one morning I wandered in and someone had a copy of the Sounds. Couldn’t believe it, there’s a two page spread about our EP, f’ing hell look at this. When Woodsy saw it he thought, I hate the band, think they are bloody awfull – but kerching!’

KEITH NICHOLL (Impulse studio engineer) ‘With Raven, their playing was always intensive but there were loads of stories and quite a few laughs. I think they simply wanted to do a better album than the first and then again the third. Any band would. Can’t remember if there was an official tour but they did loads of gigs. Good live band’.

HARRY HILL (Fist) ‘The first single we put out was Name, Rank and Serial Number and You Never Get Me Up In One of Those on the b side. We done a lot of reheasal and prep work so we were tight, ready to record. When we done Name, Rank we were on Northern Life TV. The cameras came down filmed in the studio that was 1980. Strangely the only piece of vinyl I have is our single The Wanderer. We started putting it in our set so yeah, went in and recorded it. Status Quo released a version a couple of month after us but honestly thought our version was better haha’.

GARY YOUNG (Avenger) ’I worked in the Shipyards near my home town but for about a year before that I worked at Impulse Studios in Wallsend which was where Neat Records were based. Due to this I was involved in a lot of recording sessions and some of them for what are now landmark albums like Venoms – Black Metal and Ravens – Wiped Out. I had my first experiences of recording there with my own bands and helping people out on random recording sessions. They were great times’.

DAVY LITTLE (Axis) ‘I remember Fist guitarist Keith Satchfield was in when we were recording. He was always track suited up. Getting fit and going on runs in preparation for a tour. I had met him a few times when I was younger I used to go and see Warbeck and Axe. Always thought he was a cool musician and writer. Plus a nice fella. We were very inexperienced and new nothing about studios. He  gave us advice on how to set up amps. Was very supportive I never forgot that. Also when we were in there a very young moody boy was working there. Making tea, helping get kit in. Always drawing. Asked to see some of his drawings. All dark, tombstones, skulls, flying demons…nice kid tho said he didn’t think we were very heavy metal. I agreed. He said “one day I am going to have the heaviest band ever”. I met Chronos years later in a club in Newcastle when he was fronting the mighty Venom. A nice lad’.

STEVE WALLACE (Shotgun Brides) ‘There was a kid called Richard Denton who grew up in the same area as us and he was working A&R at Impulse records in Wallsend. He persuaded the owner Dave Woods to take us on. We went into Impulse Studio and recorded the track Restless, that was engineered and produced by Kev Ridley in 1987. The b side of the single was Eighteen. We recorded the song bit by bit, tracking it up. Unlike a few other bands it wasn’t recorded by playing all the way through and off you go add a couple of overdubs, no it was fully tracked. It eventually ended up on a NEAT compilation album’.

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MICHAEL MAUGHAN (Phasslayne) In the summer of ’85 Phasslayne were approached by Neat Records. Dave Woods was the main man there. What happened was we recorded a demo at Desert Sounds in Felling which they really liked so the label asked us to record a live no dubs demo in their studio in Wallsend. On hearing that Dave Woods signed us to do an album. But just before we got our record deal our singer left and everyone looked at me so that’s how I ended up doing the vocals. I think Keith Nichol was the engineer. For guitars I used my Strat and Maurice Bates from Mythra loaned me his Les Paul. We called the album Cut it Up, it’s on vinyl’.

KEV CHARLTON (Hellanbach) ‘We got a deal with NEAT records to record our first album. That was the best time. After rehearsing for months getting the new songs together we recorded the album which is a very proud moment in my life. Now Hear This came out in ’83 and was produced by Keith Nichol. I remember getting the first copy of the album, taking it into work thinking this might be me leaving the shipyards. It was one of the weirdest times of my life because it came out to amazing five star reviews and some of the big bands weren’t even getting five stars. I remember sitting in the toilets of Wallsend shipyard reading the reviews in Kerrang and Sounds, thinking this will be the last time I’ll be in the shipyard….but it wasn’t !’ 

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To read a comprehensive story of NEAT records get a hold of the book ’Neat and Tidy’ by John Tucker. It examines the history of the label, its bands and their releases including interviews with many key players in the Neat Records’ story such as label boss David Wood, producer Steve Thompson, Raven’s John Gallagher and Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn from Venom.

https://www.johntuckeronline.co.uk/neat-and-tidy-the-story-of-neat-records.html

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross, SATAN/BLITZKREIG, Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

Harry Hill, FIST: Turn the Hell On, 29th April 2017.

John Gallagher, RAVEN: Staring into the Fire, 3rd May 2017.

Kev Charlton, HELLANBACH/BESSIE & THE ZINC BUCKETS: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

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

Guardian Studio: Defender of the North 3rd May 2018.

LOUD AS WAR – interview with Def Con One drummer Antton Lant.

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Over the past year I have interviewed a few bands who take no prisoners when it comes to sheer power. If ya want to hear good ol’ bone crunching, face ripping, spleen removing, 100% metal. Def Con One are the go to band. Check out the videos on You Tube for their tracks 10 Bullets, Warface, Brute Force & Ignorance – you can’t miss ‘em they look like extras from Sons of Anarchy with muscles, tatt’s and shaven heads. Drummer Antton Lant looks back to where it started… ‘With my older brothers being in bands I’ve always been around music. I got an SG guitar one Christmas and used to jump around in my bedroom pretending I was playing Wembley Stadium haha. Back in the day I was massively into bands like AC/DC, Kiss and Van Halen. I loved the imagery of American bands Twisted Sister and Motley Crue which played heavily on my first band Slutt. Then I heard a band called Pantera and after that it all got much heavier’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ?  In my first band Slutt I started playing in South Shields pubs and clubs. We then got to tour Poland playing huge stadiums – 20,000 a night. Later we toured the UK playing mainly rock clubs. After Slutt called it a day in late ’91 I put a band together called Ezee but that fizzled out and I just kind of lost interest in playing but I was still writing. I was finding it hard to find a drummer who would play the stuff I wanted to play. My oldest brother is a drummer and he let me play on his kit and showed me some stuff which I liked so I swapped him my Steve Vai guitar for his kit. I then started looking for a band that needed a drummer so I could get some experience playing drums. I found some guys called Deadline, they didn’t really have a name set in stone and ended up being called Sanitys Edge. That was more metal in the vein of Megadeth, Maiden, that kinda stuff. I wanted to go heavier so formed Def-Con-One. Then I was asked to help out black metal legends Venom in the studio and ended up being the drummer for 10 year. We headlined some of the biggest festivals across Europe and played various tours. I got to play on three albums. Obviously having my name linked to Venom helped me a lot with Def-Con-One. Our record companies were big Venom fans. I was also playing in another band full off ex Venom members called M-pire of Evil. This put me in touch with the record companys – contacts I wouldn’t of got without the Venom link. Over the years I managed to achieve a lot for Def-Con-One. But it was hard, you had to put the work in’.

 

What were your experiences of recording ? ‘Recordings were great fun. Loved it in a studio compared to recording in your bedroom. Venom got to record in some huge studios. I made one album with Slutt, three albums with VenomResurrection, Metal Black and Hell. Two with M-Pire of Evil – Creatures of the Black and Hell to the Holy and two with Def-Con-One – Warface and 2. First album with Venom was Resurrection. We flew into Hamburg, Germany and  lived in the studio it was crazy. The studio had a kitchen, showers, sauna, tv room the lot. It was awesome. Charlie the producer hired me a Pearl masters kit with different size bass drums which he loved to record. We followed Motorhead into that studio and he played us some tracks he had just recorded. It sounded massive. He was a real task master though. He had me play the songs through quite a lot of times so he could pick what he felt was the best performance. It was great fun. Wen I recorded Metal Black we were in the Town House Studios in London, in the same studio that Queen recorded all their classic albums. So that was awesome too’.

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Have you any stories from playing gigs ?  ‘Wow too many too tell and most you couldn’t publish haha. But here’s one. We played Hammerfest a few years back and the food that the bands get is ok. A band I know, Cradle of Filth were headlining, so backstage I made my way over to them. We’re sitting on their bus chatting and their vocalist Dani asked what the food was like. I told him and he said they don’t eat that, they had tokens for the restaurant. That sounded better. Next thing Dani askes their tour manager to hook me up and I was able to get the Def-Con-One lads big steaks and all the trimmings’. 

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What have you got in the pipeline for Def-Con-One ? ‘I helped out a few tribute bands last year which was fun. There was Ozzy, Twisted Sister and an AC/DC tribute. All really great guys, good fun and enjoyed it. In the Def-Con-One camp we have been really busy sorting out a few things and will be back gigging soon. We are actually recording at the minute. The band have got a few festivals booked but that’s very hush hush till they reveal the whole line up and announce it formally’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommendations:

VENOM INC: Hebburn or Hell, 28th July 2017.

WARFARE: No One Gets Out Alive, 8th October 2017.

OBSIDIAN: Bomb Tracks, 8th January 2018.

BLACK FORGE: Take No Prisoners, 18th January 2018.

SLUTT: Angels with Dirty Faces, 6th May 2018.

BLOOD BROTHERS – interview with David Wilkinson vocalist with North East metallers Spartan Warrior.

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Out of Sunderland came North East NWOBHM band Spartan Warrior who recorded two albums in the 1980’s. After reforming in 2009, original members the Wilkinson brothers have held together the latest line up of the band…‘When Spartan Warrior finished recording the Steel n’ Chains album in 1983 we were told there was a lot of interest from the industry. We were signed to the label Roadrunner and started work on the second album pretty much straight away. At one point we were told not to speak to any press and not play any more shows. Sort of keep quiet, say nothing, do nothing and watch them all start knocking on the door tactic. Of course the very next thing we did was to book a headline slot at Sunderland Mayfair, blow the roof off and announce that we had Steel n’ Chains done and the release was imminent. At one stage there was talk of UK tours with AC/DC and Whitesnake but they didn’t materialise. I don’t think we really had any firm opportunity to make a mark on the live circuit further than the North. I left the band in 1985, but over the last 7 years we’ve put that right having played in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Greece and Spain as well as gigs at home here in the UK.  

(From 2011 the line up has been Neil Wilkinson (guitar) Dan Rochester (guitar) Tim Morton (bass) James Charlton (drums) and David Wilkinson (vocals).

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How did you get involved in playing music, and was there a defining moment when you said “I want to do that” ? ’I don’t think there was any one defining moment. I just loved music. My influences go back to the early 70’s and the Glam Rock years. I guess back then it was pretty mainstream stuff. Bands like Sweet, Queen, Slade, Marc Bolan and T Rex. The first single that I bought was Alice Cooper’s Schools Out back in ’72 and I still have that along with loads of 45’s by T Rex, Sweet, Slade, Cockney Rebel and Queen. I then started buying albums. Sweet Fanny Adams by Sweet, Old New Borrowed and Blue by Slade. Indiscreet by Sparks and A Night At The Opera by Queen. That was a great foundation for what was to come in late 75/76. A friend of mine whose brother was a DJ in a local rock club introduced me to bands like Zeppelin, Free and Jethro Tull. I found my way into Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, UFO and all of the other bands that people today would regard as classic rock. Probably my greatest influence is Phil Mogg from UFO. I think he’s a great songwriter and performer with a great stage presence and a very understated and yet dynamic vocal delivery. I was a fan first and foremost and my brother Neil and I were always around music. Neil would probably admit that he really ended up listening to what I was picking up on and being influenced by that. In truth Neil was probably drawn to the performance side at a much earlier age than I was. We both got guitars for Christmas one year and we sort of knocked them around without any direction of how to play. It was Neil who really stuck that out. As a kid Neil had guitars, an organ and even a set of bagpipes at one point! He started playing guitar seriously from about 12 years old. When I was 14 I used to go into Sunderland Town Centre on a Saturday afternoon and watch local covers bands. That made something of an impression on me and was probably the catalyst’. 

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How did Spartan Warrior get together ? ‘I was 16 when I joined my first band with Neil and some school friends. The band was called Easy Prey and we played covers and a couple of originals. We played a show at Bede School in Sunderland and at The Catholic Club in Hendon, Sunderland. That will have been 1978 I imagine. I recall that I had recently finished my O’Levels and had just left school. I ended up quickly moving on from that and joined a local band called Deceiver who were playing a mixture of covers and originals on the North East Club and bar circuit. I just turned 17 and it was a real step up from what I had been doing up until then. Spartan Warrior evolved from Deceiver when Neil and his friend John Stormont (Jess Cox Band/Battleaxe) came on board and we began to focus much more on writing our own material which was really changing direction in line with the way Neil and John were playing’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play?  ‘With Deceiver and then with Spartan Warrior we really just gigged around the North East through 1980 to 1985. We played working men’s clubs and bars. Places like Ashington Central Club, The Old 29 and The Mayfair in Sunderland. Back in about ’83 we played a bar in South Shields called The Brunswick. It was rough as hell. They had strippers dancing on high podiums behind the bar and they had a rotating projector that rotated images of naked women onto the walls… like a moving mural of tits and ass. I remember standing having a pint with John Stormont who played guitar alongside Neil. John was leaning against the wall and this collage of female nudity was rotating over him and the wall in ever changing fleshy images – and then the thing just stopped rotating and projected a giant tit right in the middle of his face. He was just standing looking at me with this giant nipple where his nose used to be and I just cracked up when he went to take a sip out of his beer’. 

Where do the ideas come for your songs ? ’The material on the first two Spartan Warrior albums was lyrically pretty spontaneous and quite standard rock fare really. We used to jam ideas at rehearsals and I’d usually write lyrics on the spot while the guys were jamming the structure and arrangement. Being brutally honest it was pretty much occult, war, sex and rock n’ roll themed stuff. Typical heavy metal material with not much thought given to it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like the songs – it just means that I’m a little more mature now. I like to take my time over melodies, themes and lyrics and if I want to make a social comment or say something from a life experience I can do that. If I don’t have anything to say I can just write a song about sex instead!

‘With the last two albums – Behind Closed Eyes 2010 and Hell To Pay 2018 – whilst inevitably there’s still a bit of traditional heavy metal lyricism I do tend to draw on life experience. Things that have happened to me, things that I’ve read about or seen, my perspective on things. It can be quite personal at times although people wouldn’t necessarily pick up on the autobiographical nature of some of the stuff I write. Behind Closed Eyes for example is about a condition known as sleep paralysis. It occurs while the subject is between sleep and awakening and the effect is an awareness of surroundings accompanied by an inability to move, speak or fully awaken. It’s quite frightening and more so as it can be accompanied by night terrors which can be both auditory and visual. Some people say that it’s demonic restraint or possession and that’s a frightening thought. There’s a line in that song “I try to wake, I try to move death’s weight on top of me/afraid to look my eyes stay closed, afraid of what I’ll see/ my fear takes me, I’m paralysed, behind closed eyes.” That pretty much sums up the experience and the songs theme.

The Behind Closed Eyes album cover shows a silhouetted figure restrained by a bar and chain. Lots of people think that it’s a sexual thing but it isn’t. It’s a photograph taken by a guy called Craig Mod who, coincidentally, photographed that image on the very theme of the song. When we saw his pictures and realised the connection we contacted him and he gave us permission to use his photograph for the album cover. Walking The Line from the Behind Closed Eyes album is about Sado Masochism and bondage. Last Man Standing is about a street fighter and As Good As It Gets is a sarcastic look on the world through the eyes of a depressive. So it’s pretty diverse stuff. 

Cut to the Hell To Pay album and there’s the title track which tells the tale of a dying man who realises too late and as he draws his last breath that for his lifetime of sin his soul is to be taken to hell. Court Of Clown’s is a bit of a commentary on people who sit at their computer keyboards expressing their views about people, sort of an anti-keyboard warrior song. Shadowland was written about Vampires and was inspired by my reading of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Covered In Lust is about pornography. Fallen is a tribute to the 300 Spartan’s who died at their final stand and In Memoriam is an anti-war/anti-terrorism song. Sort of a modern day War Pigs. So again it’s pretty diverse stuff and I’m quite proud of the lyrics’.

What are your experiences of recording and studio work ?  ‘The Steel n Chains album (1983) was recorded at Guardian Studio’s in Pity Me, Durham. We worked with Guardian’s owner/producer Terry Gavaghan on that. It was our first time in the studio. We paid for our own studio time and to all intents and purposes we recorded what we thought were our best 10 songs. It really was a very unfettered and raw process. We just went in and what we played went down. We recorded two songs per session and I think we had a lot of fun during those sessions.

We signed to Roadrunner around about the same time as we finished up Steel n Chains and because of that we ended up going straight back into Guardian with Terry overseeing the recording sessions again. I don’t think that was a great starting point although we had some new material some songs were tracks that hadn’t been a first choice for Steel n’ Chains. The approach that was taken to recording was much different too – much less of a live feel and lots of time was spent on the bass and drum tracks to the detriment of everything else – especially the vocals. I recall that I did most of the vocals for the second album in a very short space of time and recording a number of vocal tracks for different songs back to back and repeatedly to the extent that my voice started to break under the strain. That’s why I sound so raspy on some of those recordings. Whilst we had some fun times during those sessions they were equally marred by disagreements about the recording process and how we wanted to sound. I don’t think the band had any control over what was going down and certainly we didn’t have any involvement at the point of mixing. Some of the tracks were extended by repeating vocal passages and lead breaks and that was done without our knowledge and approval. The second self-titled album was released by Roadrunner in 1984 and no disrespect to anyone but I wasn’t happy with it. I don’t think any of the band were’.

‘When we reformed in 2009 the object of the exercise was to record an album that set the record straight. An album that was truly representative of what we were capable of. In order to achieve that we really had to assume total control of everything and that is why Neil invested in his home studio and took on the huge responsibility of engineering and producing the Behind Closed Eyes album. We recorded Behind Closed Eyes at Neil’s studio. He engineered, produced and mixed it. It was no small accomplishment. He really had to learn everything along the way and still play the role of being the main songwriter with myself, and having to play all of the guitar parts. I think that album is the best that it could possibly have been given the tools at our disposal and I’m very proud of it. The object of the exercise was always to show that we were a far better band than that second album and I think that without doubt we met that objective’. 

‘With the Hell To Pay (2018) album it was pretty much the same philosophy. We wanted it to be even better than Behind Closed Eyes. In fact we wanted it to be much better and that was going to be quite some task. People occasionally ask why it took from 2010 until 2018 to get the Hell To Pay album done. Well there were lots of reasons for that. Firstly we wanted to build the bands reputation on the live circuit at home and abroad and that was our priority. Secondly, although we started recording as far back as 2013 we weren’t satisfied with how the recordings were sounding so we decided to start afresh. Neil then became ill and was hospitalised for a time. We then had to work the song writing and recording sessions around the gigs and festivals to keep our profile up and juggle the usual family and work commitments. In actual fact it didn’t take a long time to do the album – probably about 18 months – but that was scattered throughout a five year period of gigging and dealing with our individual life things. Neil is always the first to say that he’s not an engineer or producer and he finds having that responsibility very hard. He’s extremely self-critical and he can be very set on what he wants in a performance from us. That, not unnaturally, can make things tough in the studio but the guy is very talented and when it comes to arrangements and his vision of how Spartan Warrior should sound he’s not often far off the mark. He deserves such a huge amount of respect because if it wasn’t for him there’d be no Behind Closed Eyes, there’d be no Hell To Pay and there’d be no Spartan Warrior’. 

Have you recorded any TV appearances or filmed any music videos ? ’When we signed to Roadrunner we were due to appear on ECT. A live rock music tv progamme on Channel 4. But by the time that came round I had handed my notice in. That must have been summer 1985. I believe they got another Roadrunner artist to appear…Lee Aaron. We’ve deliberately steered away from the music video thing so far. It’s something that rears its head every now and again but quite frankly video is a promotional tool and these days it’s a pale shadow of its former self. You can very easily post pro shot live footage from a festival and reach a wide audience using You Tube and social media. By the same token people can access promotional audio through the likes of You Tube, Spotify and a range of other digital media’.

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Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘Recently we played a show in Belgium and we had a classic situation of a Belgian guy having designs on one of the girls at the gig – sort of one of those situations we were told where they weren’t a couple although in his head they were going to be. At the time everyone except one of the Spartan Warrior guys were in relationships and this girl kept coming over asking for guitar picks, drum sticks and for stuff to be signed. All of which we were very happy to do while telling our ‘singleton’ that he needed to go and buy the girl a drink, chat her up and get it on. Little did we know that the Belgian guy was becoming increasingly jealous. The final straw came when she wandered across again and asked for her breasts to be signed. Well that’s no problem and first – and last – up was Tim Morton. But as he started to sign her boobs the would be boyfriend ran across, grabbed her from behind, picked her up and carried her backwards across the bar. Obviously Tim can’t finish signing her breasts but he did manage to drag his marker pen right across one tit, down her cleavage and across the front of her t shirt. We’re just falling about at this point and we can see the two of them arguing like hell outside the venue. Five minutes later the bloke walks right up to us with a face like a smacked arse. Naturally we’re thinking this is going to turn into Fight Club any second now. But instead the guy simply says “I have no problem with you, but signing her tits was a step too far… may I have a drum stick to give her”. Drum stick given. Ruck avoided. International relations restored. You see folks we do this sort of stuff so you don’t have to’.

What are the present and future plans for Spartan Warrior ? ’Well, the Hell To Pay album was released in February this year by Pure Steel Records who have bases in Germany and the USA. The reviews have been absolutely incredible. There will also be a vinyl release of that album on 22nd June so that’s something to look forward to. Over the last three or four years both fans and the industry have shown a big interest in a re-release of the Steel n’ Chains album. Our label, Pure Steel, are interested in doing something quite special in terms of that. It’s just a question of whether or not Pure Steel are able to take whatever steps they need to take to make it happen. But a re-release would be pretty cool as this year would be its 35th anniversary. We’d certainly like to get out on the road again. We will be doing a headline show on Saturday 2nd June at Newcastle Trillians and aim to play a lot of material from the new album so that’s very exciting. Trillians is a great venue and the Newcastle crowd are absolutely fantastic, it’s going to be a really good gig – as always. In November we’re on the bill of the Firestorm Rocks festival in Scotland with Praying Mantis, Holocaust, Dare, Air Race and more great bands. There are other shows in the pipeline but obviously I can’t announce them until the promoter/organiser does. At some point we will need to start the writing process for the next album – that’s definitely on our radar. One way or the other we’ve got a lot of great things to look forward to!

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

SPARTAN WARRIOR: Chain Raction,  21st May 2017.

SPARTAN WARRIOR: Invader from the North, 21st September 2017. 

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #2 with SPARTAN WARRIOR

 

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Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog.

They were home to a well known recording studio. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded there: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7” single. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

SPARTAN WARRIOR 

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Dave Wilkinson (vocals): ‘Spartan Warrior recorded at Guardian Studio in 1983/1984. My abiding memory of recording there is that the studio was said to be haunted and that made for a lot of winding up. There were occasions when although we’d been booked into the studio during the day time Terry Gavaghan, the producer of Spartan Warrior’s first two albums, would often have us recording throughout the evening and into the early hours of the following morning… that was just his way of working. In fact it wasn’t uncommon for us to arrive for a midday start on a Saturday and be finishing up at 5:00am on the Sunday! Needless to say that a lot of the overnight sessions involved a lot of ghost story telling by Terry.

The control room had a large glass window next to the mixing desk and and from there you could see into the room in which the band was set up to record. It was quite dark in that room and I think it was only dimly lit with a red light. I found myself in situations where there would be a couple of hours spent with Terry in the control room and he’d tell us about the various sightings of the ghost of a little girl and there had been occasions when peoples headphones had inexplicably flown off across the room during a take. We’d all be sitting there listening and making light of it and then in the early hours Terry would send me into the other room to do a vocal in the dimly lit room while the rest of the band stayed in the control room. To say that I was apprehensive would be an understatement!!

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‘On one occasion we were in there recording a track called Witchfinder for the Steel n’ Chains album and Terry thought that it would be cool for the five of us to record a Satanic Chant at the opening of the track. So after a lot of the usual ghostly tales we all went around the vocal microphone while Terry remained in the control room with a lad who I think might have been a neighbour of his who was helping him in the studio that day. We had a few runs through this chant and it was an unrehearsed shambles but he called us back in to the control room to have a listen.

Terry set the analogue recordings running and we listened back… then the tape machine just ground to a halt and he pointed at the digital clock which measured the length of the track and it came up as six minutes and sixty six seconds… 666… just like that. Terry looked really worried and said you can’t have a clock showing 666 seconds and he was  telling us something sinister was at work probably brought on by the Satanic Chant. He said that we ought to abandon the idea before anything horrendous happened… he said the Chant could bring about terrible things if blood was spilled… I think he actually said “all you need is blood”. 

Then the lad got up to go into the kitchen to make us all a cup of tea and he banged his head off one of the monitors and split his head open… that was it… blood was spilled and we were all terrified. It was almost certainly a wind up. I’m pretty sure Terry could have done something to make the clock show 666 but the lad did actually split his head open. The Chant never made the album!

‘On another occasion during the Steel n’ Chains sessions we took a mate of ours along and of course the ghost stories started mid- evening. I was about to put some vocals down so the other four lads plus our mate went down the street to the pub and while they were away Terry hatched his plan. He wrote himself a one way conversation and then recorded himself whilst leaving gaps at the end of each sentence so that when he played it back he could speak to ‘the voice’ live in apparent conversation. He then speeded up the recording so that it sounded like a ghostly child speaking and not just that but speaking to our friend… to protect his identity I’ll call him ‘Steve’.

Terry then rigged up a ghostly model using an old Airfix model skull with a wig on it, a microphone stand at half mast with a coat hanger and child’s nightgown hanging on it. So it just looked like a little girl in a nightgown with this awful skull face and long black hair. Then we waited for the lads to come back. Once everyone was settled Terry again started telling his tales of the ghostly sightings into the early hours of the morning. He’d managed to let the other Spartan Warrior guys know what he was planning to do when ‘Steve’ was in the toilet as he was going to need their help to pull off the prank.

Guardian Studio consisted of three terraced houses and the recording facility was in the middle. Because of that there were multiple points of access and exit. So once Terry had had an hour or two of his scary stories he turned to recording and set away his pre-recorded ghostly conversation which went something like:-

Steve, Steve’.

Terry tells everyone to be quiet and asks ‘did you hear that’. 

Then it goes on –

Ghost: Steeeeeve.

Terry: Who are you?

Ghost: Steeeeve, Steeeeve.

Terry: What do you want?

Ghost: I want Steeeeeeeve

Steve: Tell it to fuck off!!

‘So the tape finishes and of course ‘Steve’ is concerned so Terry told him to go and put the kettle on. Off Steve goes to the kitchen where the Ghost Model is set up and of course he sees it, screams and runs back into the control room saying that he’s ‘seen it’. Of course we go to investigate but it’s not there because one of the guys has moved it into the toilet during the commotion.

So ‘Steve’ gets calmed down and after about 40 minutes is asked to go and get some toilet paper out of the toilet to clean the tape heads with. Of course he sees the Ghost Model again and runs back into the control room screaming blue murder and we have to calm him again. In fact I think Terry told him that if he was going to mess about and unnerve the band he would have to go home and he gave him a bit of a telling off. Terry then walks ‘Steve’ to the toilet, puts the light on and no ghost… of course it’s been taken out of the back door and round to the front entrance and stood in the porch at the entrance to the studio.

We all have a cup of tea and a bit of light banter then we get to work again but this time Terry asks ‘Steve’ to nip next door to get whatever the hell he was asking for this time. I forget, but naturally ‘Steve’ is reluctant to go. So one of the lads tells him that he’ll come with him. So the two of them head out of the control room into the adjoining recording area which is in darkness save for the red light. They walk beyond the drum booth to a set of double sound proofed heavy doors that lead to the porch and front street as well as Terry’s living accommodation. The first door was opened by whoever was with ‘Steve’ and he opens the second door to the porch which is of course in darkness and guess what he sees!

‘Steve’ comes hurtling back through the recording area, into the control room absolutely panic stricken, almost to the point of tears, just gasping for breath and in a right state. I honestly thought he was going to collapse and I really felt it had gone too far not realising that he was of such a nervous disposition.

The icing on the cake though was when we all had to sit down with him and calmly tell him what had been done and he was reluctant to believe it. To convince him somebody went to get the ghost model and brought it through to the control room to show him. We all fell about laughing when he lost his temper and punched the skull in the face. Looking back it’s a wonder we ever got any recording done’.

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This needs to be confirmed by a visit down to Pity Me, but a quick search of 26-28 Front Street on google maps reveals a well known supermarket where the two terraced houses were. I wonder if customers buying their tins of beans and bananas know the rich musical history that Gaurdian Studios contributed to recording in the North East. The Tap & Spile is just next door, is that the pub where many of the bands went for refreshment ? If anyone has information or recorded in Guardian studios it’ll be appreciated if can you get in touch.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Kev Charlton HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

Steve Thompson (NEAT Producer) Godfather of NWOBHM, 27th June 2017.

Richard Laws TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay 24th August 2017.

Neil Wil Kinson SPARTAN WARRIOR: Invader from the North 21st September 2017.

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

ROKSNAX: Metal on the Menu, 9th March 2018.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS – with Peter Whiskard bassist for North East eighties metallers Alien.

The North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NENWOBHM) was immortalised on the ’One Take No Dubs’ 45 released by NEAT Records in 1982. The 12” featured Black Rose, Avenger, Hellanbach and Alien.  I talked to Peter Whiskard bassist for Felling metallers Alien… ‘Derek our singer had a reputation for a no-nonsense approach to life. During a gig at the Mayfair he found himself the unwilling target of several beer vessels – thankfully plastic – thrown by a miscreant in the audience. He jumped off the stage, felled him with one blow and jumped back onstage without losing his composure or his place in the song’. 

How did you get involved in playing music and who were your influences ? ‘I sang from a very early age and learned classical piano. An early indication of my chosen instrument was when I occasionally played piano duets and always seemed to gravitate to the bass part. A defining moment was when I hit adolescence and something seemed to click when I was jamming along to records. Needless to say the classical piano was abandoned. My influences were from the sixties and seventies, early Status Quo, Free, Cream, Bad Company and The Velvet Underground’.

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When did you start playing gigs and what were your experiences of recording?  ‘I started playing gigs when I was fifteen with friends in the Felling area of the North East. I believe our first gig was at a youth club in the same building where we rehearsed. We didn’t really gig much and the last one was at the Sixth Form Common Room Disco! I went away to University and when I returned I formed a band called Bad Luck with the former singer. We did many local gigs and recorded a few tracks at Neat’s Impulse Studios where I met label boss Dave Wood. A self financed 45 single release came from these recordings. Unfortunately this band didn’t last long. Then I answered an ad in the paper for Alien in 1982. The place where a lot of Neat bands rehearsed was the Spectro Arts workshop in Newcastle and I remember once overhearing the tremendous noise of Venom practising one day when we were offloading our gear. The band had a chequered history in the time we were together but we were offered recording at Neat Records for the One Take No Dubs EP. We still had to pay £50 for the privilege – Dave Wood was notoriously stingy. The recording took perhaps only part of a day because the essence of it was to have a ‘live’ feel and there would be no extravagant nonsense like overdubbing and repeating the process to seek the ‘perfect’ take. Hence the title ‘One Take No Dubs’.

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‘The engineer for the earlier trip to Impulse with Bad Luck and the Alien session was Keith Nichol – a lovely guy who was patient and skilful. The band played together in the studio – this was opportune for Alien’s style as we were capable of flights of improvisation as can be heard in the middle section of ‘Who Needs the Army’, one of the up to now unreleased tracks from that session. In the recording session we were in fine form, especially Ron Anderson the guitarist who recently has sadly died. A track from the recording called ‘Absolute Zero’ also appeared on a compilation cassette called ’60 minutes Plus’ sold only through Sounds and Kerrang. A Neat Singles Collection featured the track ‘Could Have Done Better’ from One Take No Dubs’.

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What can you remember of Impulse Studio ? ‘Impulse Studios lived behind a fairly anonymous doorway in Wallsend, Newcastle. It was a small place, the studio walls were covered in the ubiquitous polystyrene tiles for acoustic absorbtion. There was an office where the day-to-day running of the business took place and also a special ‘green room’ where Dave Wood would make his deals and entertain the celebs. Our relationship with Dave Wood soured somewhat as the singer felt we were being exploited financially. The band fell apart by ’83. We briefly reformed to do a gig at the Classic Cinema in Low Fell.  After Alien I joined a band called The Blues Burglars who were quite popular at the time’.

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Can you remember any high points for Alien, TV or music video’s ? ’I’m afraid we weren’t together long enough to get established to record any TV appearances or film any music videos. Although we did play some gigs with Raven and others at Newcastle Mayfair. I’m afraid I can’t remember much about the gig with Raven but I don’t think we hobnobbed much with the other bands. The audience was pretty appreciative as that was during the heyday of Neat Records. We regularly played gigs in Felling such as the Duke Of Cumberland, and our gigs had a reputation for having a febrile atmosphere with an undercurrent of unpredictability. The singer was a powerful performer and had a great rock voice. We also had several friends in other bands on the Neat roster. I knew the drummer from Hellanbach who lived round the corner, and went to school with the singer from Emerson and Axis: two Neat bands which are relatively unknown. The singer of Axis was originally born Simon Blewitt but is now called Sam Blue and at one point sang with Ultravox as well as singing on The Streets’ hit Dry Your Eyes!

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I have been a classroom teacher since I moved to Kent in 1986, but now I am semi-retired and teach guitar to Primary age students. I still play gigs regularly. I’m afraid I’m now playing in a folk/country band called John Doggerel and the Bad Poets. We comprise me on bass, guitar, and assorted instruments including mandolin, accordion and ukulele! We are based near Margate. I recently remastered and released a track which wasn’t used from the original Neat session called ‘Who Needs the Army’. Now available at iTunes and all good digital platforms’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

Brian Ross SATAN/BLITZKREIG: Life Sentence, 20th February 2017.

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Micky McCrystal, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

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

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Gary Young, AVENGER: Young Blood, 17th September 2017.

LOST IN MUSIC – interview with North East musician Bernadette Mooney.

War Machine went on to play many gigs after the album was released in 1986 and I was asked to do a photo shoot in Kerrang called ladykillers. I really enjoyed the day as Bon Jovi was getting his photos taken the same day and for that month’s issue we both appeared in the Kerrang magazine. We also appeared in Viz as the meanest band in the North East but I think Venom should of got that one!

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How did you get started in music ? ‘Bought my first guitar when I was 15 and had lots of song ideas but wasn’t sure how to write. There was lots of lyrics in my head so I wrote them down, taught myself to play guitar from a book and started to write my own songs. A friend heard them and played them to a guy who was in a band. He liked my voice so I ended up doing a few gigs with him. Then I joined a band called Chapter 24. I played a while with them as a guitarist and vocalist but then moved on to a local band called She with Lee Robertson. I played a few gigs with them before forming War Machine with Steve White on guitar. We were both from Wallsend and Les Fry was living in Jesmond he was on bass. We had a drummer called Steve Smith who still gigs in the North East. My influences then were Pat Benatar, Steve was into Black Sabbath and Venom. I first met Steve White at college and we dated. Before he formed a band with me he was in Atomkraft with Tony Dolan who is now with Venom Inc. Steve and myself would write the songs together just by jamming. I had lyrics and give them to Steve who would write the guitar bits and Les added bass. I think Les wrote some songs too’.

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Where did War Machine rehearse and gig? ‘We used to rehearse in an old building. I think it was in Felling near Gateshead. It was horrible. The guys used to pee in Brown ale bottles as there were no toilets. I used to stand in a cardboard box with newspaper in to keep my feet warm. But we were skint and it was cheap. We did a few gigs around the North East and in Scotland. When we did a gig we went all out with the show. Pyrotechnics and explosions which always seemed to be going off near me! One night at Chrystals Arena in Scotland we set a ceiling on fire and got sent a £300 bill. We never paid of course. Couldn’t do that now with health and safety I don’t know how we got away with it. We even got offered a gig in what was then Yugoslavia. But they wouldn’t let us in because of our name. I remember we entered a Battle of the Bands held in Gateshead Brewery. We came second, or was it third ? War Machine would rehearse a lot before a gig, getting really tight and after playing many venues in the North East we ended up with a good fan base’.

 

What was your experience of recording ? ‘We recorded a demo at Neat records and on it was a song I wrote called Storm Warning. Dave Woods who owned Neat records, liked it so much he offered to record our album. The line up of the band that recorded was me, Steve and Les and we had Brian Waugh on drums. We didn’t get much time in the studio and we felt it was a bit rushed. Our album did pretty well abroad but we never received any royalties or from any other songs that were used on compilation albums. Dave Wood said all the money from the album paid for the distribution. (Nerd alert: War Machine released Unknown Soldier in 1986 on the Neat record label. An 8 track album including the tracks Power, On the Edge and No Place to Hide. The same year the album was also released by Roadrunner records in the Netherlands. Tracks by War Machine appeared on at least four compilation albums released in the 90’s). ‘We were young and naive so never questioned it. We were like many bands in that respect. We were played on a lot of radio shows across the world even the USA. I hosted the Alan Robson North East radio rock shows as he was a fan and played our music on his broadcasts’.

What happened next with the band ? ‘After a couple of years gigging I decided to leave the band as I got offered a job as a costume designer in London. It felt like the band was just doing the same round of gigs and I needed a change. Steve White the guitarist went on to play for Venom and Les went on to open Voodoo cafe. I worked in London for a few years where I did a lot of gigs with different bands’.

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What are you up to now, are you still in music ? ‘Being back home in the North East I have always played music and mainly my own. I write, record and produce my own songs. My style is very mellow now, a bit like me. Not like my wild days with War Machine which I really enjoyed’.

Listen: bernea on Reverbnation

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2018.
Recommended:
SATAN/BLIND FURY: Lou Taylor Rock the Knight, 26th Feb & 5th March 2017.
WARRIOR: The Hunger 12th April 2017.
FIST: Turn the Hell On, 29th April 2017.
TYSONDOG: Back for Another Bite, 5th August 2017.
ATOMKRAFT: Running with the Pack, 14th August 2017.
VIIXEN: Fox on the Run, 19th March 2018.

FOX ON THE RUN – interview with the new Thunderstick vocalist

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Viixen is the new lead vocalist for Thunderstick. The line up is Rex Thunderbolt (bass, backing vox) Baz Roze (guitar) Dave ‘Kandy’ Kilford (guitar) and of course the masked man Thunderstick (drums). I asked Viixen was there a defining moment when you said I want to do that…‘I can’t remember a time when I didn’t sing. When I was little my mother would hear me singing and say ‘it sounds lovely but why do you have to change it’. I was always changing the words and the melodies. I sang in the choir at school and I used to enter school music competitions. Always coming second to a girl who sang opera. I grew up in a small Shropshire town and had a religious upbringing so I didn’t have the exposure to bands that I could join. Then I got married and had children very young so it wasn’t until I hit 31 that I finally formed a band. I had recently got divorced and moved in with a girl who could play guitar. One evening she was playing the song Zombie by The Cranberries and I joined in with the vocals. It sounded pretty good so we decided to form a girlband’.

Who were your influences in music ? ‘I’ve always been a rock chick at heart. Listening to rock and metal makes me feel free and rebellious. Some of my favourites are Deep Purple, Kate Bush, Skid Row, Marilyn Manson and Evanescence. If the music makes me feel something… I’ll love it’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play ? ‘I have been in two bands before joining Thunderstick. We gigged mostly in London and Kent. I started gigging in 2010 and played in pubs and clubs. Then we started playing festivals which were amazing. I loved the big stage and having plenty of space to bounce around. We had a large biker following so we played various biker rallies and festivals. I did a big gig for Gibson guitars during the London Olympics in 2012. The venue looked over the Olympic stadium and was pretty cool. I played at the London Hard Rock Café in October last year, which was a great venue’.

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Viixen has brought both her vocal strength and stagecraft experience to her new challenge; Thunderstick. The ex-Iron Maiden/Samson drummer is known for having strong female vocalists fronting his band and Viixen fits that role. He recently commented “I had been after Viixen for a while but the timing was never right, now in 2018 it will happen. The band is perfect for her, theatrics, energy and outrage allow her to express all of her personality’. 

Where do the ideas come for your songs ? ‘Like most artists I tend to write lyrics based on personal experiences. However if the band has already written the music I search for how the music makes me feel and write from that perspective. It helps that I’m incredibly empathic. I feel other peoples pain deeply even if I’ve not experienced the emotion myself. To me music is what feelings sound like and it’s a fantastic form of self expression’.

What is your experience of studio work ? ‘I’ve done some recording work in the studio with the band and I love it! Especially when you’re recording your own material and you get to hear all your ideas coming together. It’s a magical experience!

Have you recorded any TV appearences or filmed any music videos ? ‘I have recently recorded a music video with my other band Black Roze. The song is called In the Darkness and it’s an autobiographical tale about the darkness of depression and coming out of the other side. The guitarist and I wrote the storyline and how we were going to capture the concept of the song. It did involve running through a graveyard in a wedding dress during mid winter but it was well worth it!

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Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘Haha yes I have a few…On two occasions we have set up all the equipment, started playing and the electrics blew in the venue! One of them was my sisters wedding which didn’t go down too well!

Due to my head banging and stomping around on stage I’ve had some wardrobe malfunctions. I did a biker festival last year and wore a tight cropped top. At the end of the gig the guitarists mum ran on stage and told me my bra was showing. Looking back at the pictures I saw that I’d basically played the whole gig in my bra! Recently I bought a new pair of goth platform boots from a charity shop, they were beautifull. I wore them to the gig and I was 6ft tall in them and I was boasting that I was taller than the other band members. Just before the second half one of the shoes gave way, the heel snapped and I fell over. A guy in the crowd fixed it with duct tape and I carried on. Next thing I know mid song the other shoe did the same thing. Leaving me feeling very small in my socks for the rest of the gig! At least the socks matched!’

For further information contact Viixen and Thunderstick on their facebook pages.

Interview by Gary Alikivi March 2018.

Recommended:

PAUL DI’ANNO, True Faith  22nd April 2017.

THUNDERSTICK, Return of the Mask  19th July 2017.

 

METAL ON THE MENU – The Making of Cult NWOBHM album Roksnax

roksnaxSouth Shields is a small town on the North East coast of England. During the 1970’s it’s main employment was heavy industry. Shipbuilding and coal kept the workers thirsty. Pub’s and clubs were doing a roaring trade with entertainment from local rock bands. Heavy riffs and pounding drums were echoes from the pits and shipyards. By 1980 the New Wave of British Heavy Metal had rolled in. The sound waves crossed the Atlantic and landed in a garage in San Fransisco. Metallica were born, and went on to become the biggest band of the genre. Not far from that garage lived a young Nick Vrankovich. Nick is now at Buried by Time and Dust Records who have re-released Roksnax, one of the albums that helped kick start the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

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Terry Gavaghan, Guardian Records.

Originally released in 1980 by Guardian Records, the compilation album was produced by Terry Gavaghan. He recorded 3 North East bands at his studio in Durham. Teeside based Samurai, and from my hometown South Shields, Hollow Ground and Saracen. The main players behind the re-release take up the story…

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Nick Vrankovich

Nick Vrankovich (Buried By Time and Dust Records): ‘One night not long ago, I was sitting drinking some Newcastle Brown and spinning some of the compilation albums I had from the NWOBHM time, Lead Weight, HM Heroes, Metal for Muthas, all packed with songs that meant so much to us. Then I played Roksnax and I was quickly reminded of two things. One was that all twelve songs are incredible. When you talk of the magic of heavy metal or the mysticism of the NWOBHM surely they must be referring to releases like this. The second was how obscure this one was compared to the others. I made a clear decision that night to contact the bands to see if we could make this masterpiece available again. When I got in touch with the guy’s I found the willingness, generosity and honesty incredible. Even though I’m now over 50, these tracks mean as much to me as the day I first held the album all those years ago’.

‘By the end of 1980 I was 13 year old and not yet aware of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I was into Kiss, Van Halen and shortly after Black Sabbath would change things for me in a big way. By the end of 1981 I discovered the Record Exchange in Walnut Creek, California which is about thirty minutes outside San Francisco. The second I entered the record store an obsession would be born. The store was heavily stocked with all the latest imports and cutting edge heavy metal from the UK and Europe. The extreme appearance and imagery of bands like Venom, Mercyful Fate, Angel Witch and countless others was something that fired my imagination and created an obsession that continues to this day. The fact that the music was so fantastic and really heavy only added fuel to the fire’.

BACKROK

‘The Record Exchange is where I first remember seeing the album Roksnax. It was an import which meant the price was $9.99 which was a huge sum of money for me. I remember looking at the photos on the back, it all looked so old and obscure. I was unsure what it would sound like. I had not heard of any of the bands on the record and of course it was next to impossible to find out about them unless they had a record deal. Sadly, this time I never bought the lp’.

‘The release disappeared into obscurity and was forgotten about until one day my brother scored a copy of the single Warlord by Hollow Ground. Needless to say we were overwhelmed with how great it was and amongst other NWOBHM singles, it was right up there with Mythra and Witchfinder General. We knew there were extra tracks from Hollow Ground on the Roksnax album so we hunted down a copy. We eventually found one and heard the instant magic from the Hollow Ground tracks. We were equally crushed by the Saracen and Samurai tracks. The speed of Saracen with the killer Dawson guitar riffs and soaring vocals from Lou Taylor was not only trailblazing but still raises the hair on my arms to this day. Samurai was undoubtedly the most obscure band of the three but their heroic sound was also incredible’.

METY

Martin Metcalf, Hollow Ground.

Martin Metcalf (Hollow Ground): ‘I remember the buzz of being involved in Roksnax. The whole experience of being in Guardian Studio’s during November 1980 was magical. We met up with producer Terrry Gavaghan and talked through the idea of a compilation LP with a couple of other bands from the North East. Our mates from Shields, Saracen were also on the record. We were in the studios for 2 days and slept overnight there. The studio was basically 2 terraced houses knocked into one. I still remember the brown cork tiles in the studio and having to sellotape the headphones on my head when recording. The great memories of honing the songs and bringing them together with my friends, still burns brightly. The fine tuning and adjustments as we worked on them was a great feeling of coming together as a band, a unit. We used 2 of the songs from our EP Flying High and Rock On and added Fight With The Devil and The Holy One to make our four tracks for the Roksnax album’.

fog2

Saracen

Steve Dawson (Saracen): ’Right from the start of the band the other members wanted to get in the studio but I thought we should of developed our sound a bit more, let it breathe a bit, walk before we run so to speak. But we booked some time in Guardian Studios where Mythra had recorded their Death and Destiny single. The owner Terry Gavaghan proposed the Roksnax album to us where he would put us on a compilation album. It was basically a live album with some overdubs’.

Geoff Nixon (Samurai)‘I have very fond memories of that time. We were convinced that we had an excellent line up, we felt as though we had something special. We were made so many promises by Terry Gavaghan at Guardian, we believed everything he said. He signed us to a 5 year publishing deal, as young lads we were flattered about the whole project’.

Martin Metcalf (Hollow Ground): ’It’s real music made by real musicians. You can’t replicate it with machines. Sparking off each other while recording the tracks will stay with us forever. It’s what being in a band is all about…and we loved it. We were so proud of the music that we produced, and still are! It stands the test of time and the whole album is a perfect snapshot of the vitality of the NWOBHM movement’,

Lou Taylor (Saracen): ’Now it’s not the worlds number one album but everyone involved in this album agreed that it is a wonderful feeling and something special about getting your name on a piece of vinyl. Terry was true to his word and got the album in the shops. I bought six of them straight away ha ha’.

Geoff Nixon (Samurai): ‘But we actually split just after the album, sometimes you get one shot at fulfilling a dream don’t you. Many years later I found that the album had been on sale around the world but I don’t think it ever sold in Britain. Looking back we had a lot of fun and of course we always have the album’.

Lou Taylor (Saracen): ‘Just being prominent enough to be invited to be part of something which we had no concept of how much impact on the British music scene the emerging talent in this genre actually had ! NWOBHM say what ?? Guardian Studios were (in) famous enough already due to releases from acts in the region so this opportunity seemed too good to pass up!

Martin Metcalf (Hollow Ground): ’Lars Ulrich from Metallica bought a copy of the Roksnax LP in Los Angeles and that lead to our track Fight With the Devil being played in a Metallica documentary. This was the documentary about the making of their Black Album. The scene is Lars Ulrich driving to the studio in his Porsche listening to Fight With the Devil. The film was released in 1992 and if I remember correctly we’re on the credits between Black Sabbath and Madonna! It led to me and Glenn our vocalist being invited to gigs on the Black Album tour. We had access all areas and were in the famous Snake Pit. It was brilliant’.

Lou Taylor (Saracen): ’Over a series of trips to a sleepy country village including one session which soaked up guitarist Steve’s 21st Birthday – a sacrifice of serious proportions ha! The long days and nights, the scary stories, the ghostly appearences, the owner eating sandwiches… Roksnax? The narrow deadlines, the even narrower drumbooth, the raw uncertainty of the mixes (still). But all tempered with the undeniable thrill of the coming eventuallity: 4 guys making their dreams come true, putting their music on vinyl for the very first time and still to be heard worldwide today…priceless !

For further information about Roksnax contact Buried by Time and Dust Records via facebook.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2017.

Recommended:

MYTHRA Still Burning 13th February 2017.

Lou Taylor SATAN/BLIND FURY: Rock the Knight, 26th February & 5th March 2017.

Steve Dawson SARACEN/THE ANIMALS: Long Live Rock n Roll, 2nd April 2017.

Harry Hill, FIST: Turn the Hell On, 29th April 2017.

Metallica: When Heavy Metal Hit the Accelerator 6th May 2017.

Martin Metcalfe HOLLOW GROUND: Hungry for Rock, 18th June 2017.

Kev Charlton, HELLANBACH: The Entertainer, 23rd June 2017.

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

It’s Only Rock n Roll 1st August 2017.

Pyromaniax – Bombs, Flashes and Burnt Eyebrows 12th December 2017.

Have You Heard This One ? -10 best stories from this years interviews 18th December 2017.

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

ROKSNAPS #2

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 different towns around the North East. T-shirts, programmes and autographs were hunted down to collect as souveniers – and some people took photographs on the night.
One fan who kept his photo’s and kindly shared them on this blog is John Edward Spence…

 


‘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 2018.

Recommended:

Pyromaniax – Bombs, Flashes & Burnt Eyebrows, December 2017.

New Gang in Town – When Heay Metal Hit the Accelerator, May 2017.

Have You Heard This One ? December 2017.

1980 – The Year Metal was Forged on Tyneside,  February 2018.

Roksnaps#1  February 2018.