CHECK THAT SOCKET

with David Clasper, former electrician at Newcastle City Hall.

Covid times are keeping interviews to a minimum, with no face to face meetings arranged yet just a few emails, but there has been a story recorded using old school interview techniques – a couple of crackly phone calls and a letter written by David sent from his home in the Northumberland village of Heddon-on-the-Wall.

I am retired now but I used to work for Dougal & Railtons that were  based in New Bridge Street, Newcastle and one of their contracts was supplying standby electricians for Newcastle City Council. We would attend to any electrical problems at schools, community centres and the like. That would entail any re-wiring that needed to be done, replaced sockets, and repaired lights. One of the jobs was for the City Hall where I worked for over 10 year from the late 1970’s onward.

I would start around 8 in the morning attending to any paperwork in the office then about 9.30am get over to the City Hall. There I would check for problems, do any repairs, change lights and make sure the power was on stage. As you may know there were lots of great acts that went on stage there. In fact one of the first standby jobs I done was for the David Bowie concerts in 1978 over three nights. It was the Isolar 2 tour.

(Newcastle, UK dates were 14,15 &16 June. The Isolar 2 World Tour opened in USA, March ’78, finished in Japan, December ‘78).

I was very fortunate as I was asked to take up a position beside the stage and make sure everything went ok. It was a highlight for myself and one I will never forget because not only was it a great show, but before he went on stage he would have a bit of a chat with me.

Another memory from my time there was carrying out the standby job for Leo Sayer. When he was rehearsing his songs and going through his routine on stage I was repairing a flashing light not far away from him. The next thing I was aware of was Leo bursting out in laughter, so much so that the crew came around to see what was going on. When everything calmed down and the laughing stopped it turned out that he was rehearsing one of his songs, strangely enough called Flashing Lights.

Among other standby jobs I was fortunate enough to be involved in were Lindisfarne and Wings with Paul McCartney, all great shows. Yes it was a long day finishing around 11.30pm but looking back on my time at Dougal & Railtons, the Newcastle City Hall was the best job that I had, loved my time there.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2020.

PIT CHORUS

Interview with County Durham singer & songwriter Peter Lee Hammond.

The Queen, Margaret Thatcher and Paul McCartney walk into a bar in Easington mining town – sounds like an opening line of a joke but it’s a link to a song from deep down in the coal pits of the North East.

You might have heard of Easington, the town was used as the backdrop in the film Billy Elliott.

I asked the songwriter and ex-miner of 11 years, Pete Hammond, how did the single Living in a Mining Town come about ? Easington in County Durham used to hold a carnival every year to commemorate the mining community and I was asked to write a song in 1989. A lot of people got on board when they heard the rough version of the song and the Easington council committee wanted it to be made into a single for the town.

The song was originally recorded in The Studio in Hartlepool then mixed at Abbey Road studios in London. I went down and met Paul and Linda McCartney and was given a tour around the studio by Paul. He also showed me an easy way to play his song Blackbird.

Metro Radio, Radio Tees, Radio One and many others played the song and I done a few interviews for them.

The proceeds were to raise money for a local handicapped school, so they could get a hydro pool for the residents. The money from the song also went towards launching a music collective in the area for musicians. Many businesses donated money and it was supported by celebrities like Prince Charles, Her Royal Highness the Queen, Neil Kinnock MP and the Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher.

The Queen asked for a copy of the single to be sent to her and Maggie Thatcher sent me a signed photo of herself to auction and raise money. But no-one wanted to bid given the feelings the miners had for her, so I still have the photo at home.

Were you in a band then ? Yes at the time I was in a band called Just Us. I have won many song writing contests and awards over the years and cut album and cd’s. One prize for winning a contest was song writing lessons from the lead singer of the Strawbs, Dave Cousins, and guitarist Brian Willoughby.

What studio’s did you record in ? I recorded at Guardian Studios in Durham run by Terry Gavaghan. The studio was just in a normal street, it was two houses knocked together with no big sign saying recording studio, I thought I was at the wrong place at first until Terry answered the door.

What were your memories of the studio ? Terry was a great, down to earth kind of guy always made you feel at ease, which was good as it was my first time in a studio or recording a song for that matter. I remember the mixing room being very cramped full of equipment and a large mixing desk. But the session went smooth and the songs sounded great, Terry really knew what he was doing. We recorded three tracks there, Name on a Stone, Thomas Watson and I’m a Loner.

Terry was full of jokes and stories, one was that the studio was haunted by the ghost of a child that had been run over on the road outside the house. He also showed me a fur coat belonging to John Lennon, Terry said when he first started out he worked at Abbey Road studios, he let me take a piece of the lining and a clip of the fur as a keepsake. I have them in a frame at home.

Looking back what does the song mean to you ? The song gave the community a sense of pride when the single came out, I was very proud and honoured to have been asked to do this for the place where I was born and raised.

What are you doing now ? I still write songs and have over 1,000 up to now and record them on my own home studio. They can be heard on YouTube and my song writing Facebook page, you can find it by putting Hammy in the search bar.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2020

 

 

 

 

EYES WIDE OPEN – in conversation with photographer Rik Walton

rock 062

The only time I had a press pass was when David Bowie was on and only 6 were given out. When Paul McCartney came to the hall, I was a big fan, I phoned up his press agent and he was great, ‘See you at the stage door 7.30pm’ he said. But anxiously I turned up 2 hours early and his press agent was really nice and let me in. I spent the next hour and a half in the dressing room with Paul and Linda McCartney, Henry McCulloch and Denny Laine. I used up all my film in the dressing room. Looking back I made very little money photographing bands at Newcastle City Hall, but I did get in for free (laughs).

How did you get interested in music ? I saw Bob Dylan in 1965 in the City Hall when they filmed Don’t Look Now and a year later at Newcastle Odeon on his electric tour. A friend of mine’s father was manager of the Odeon. One day he said we have this actor coming over from USA promoting his second film and I don’t know what to do with him, can you take him to a pub. So we did and we took Clint Eastwood to The Lord Crewe in Blanchland. He was a lovely man and was quite worried about the level of violence in the two movies – A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More.

You were involved in the earliest photo sessions with the Tygers of Pan Tang, how did that come about ? I was involved in a show called Bedrock at Radio Newcastle. Back then the radio shut down at 10pm so Dick Godfrey, local journalist, got a remit to play local bands and interviews. It would go on for hours. The team was Arthur Brown, Ian Penman, myself and Tom Noble who was manager of Tygers of Pan Tang. We took some of the earliest photograph’s of the band at Whitley Bay. I went to Reading rock festival with them, I was their driver and we stayed in the Mount Pleasant Hotel or as it become known the Unpleasant.

Did you get on well with the bands or did any of them give you any grief ? I photographed bands over a long time and I never became really friendly, I wanted to be the fly on the wall. To become too friendly made my job more difficult in a way. I started 2 magazines and done a lot of interviews backstage at Newcastle City Hall with some ‘famous’ people and early on I realised you don’t gush or pretend to be their best mate. Looking back Captain Beefheart was a really interesting guy and a good interview and to my surprise when I next met him he picked up the conversation from before, that was very interesting.

I was asked to photograph the Newcastle Jazz festival then started working for Folkworks so the music really changed for me – rock to jazz to folk. I got to know Sting through photographing the big band in the early 70’s. I lived in Jesmond and across the road lived Andy Hudson, conductor of the Newcastle Jazz Big Band. I photographed them in The Guildhall during the first Newcastle Jazz Festival. They used the photo for the cover of their album. I then went onto photograph Stings band, Last Exit and of course The Police.

Motorhead were playing in Newcastle, can’t remember where, but I was going to take some photographs of the soundcheck and I walked into the place and Lemmy was having a meltdown on the stage, a real strop about something. I wasn’t sure what it was about but I got out there quickly.

The first time I cried at a rock concert was when I heard Peter Gabriel sing ‘Biko’ for the first time. A couple of years later I went along with journalist Phil Sutcliffe on a Gabriel tour for a few days doing an in depth story about him for Sounds. I remember playing croquet with Peter at 1am outside our hotel, being a public schoolboy he carried a croquet set around with him on tour. He was a very nice guy I found him very shy compared to his on stage persona. I did get to know him but always keeping a slight distance.

How did you get access to take photographs front row in Newcastle City Hall ? One of the first bands I took photos of was Downtown Faction who were playing in the Polytechnic. Then a few year later I fell in with a guy called Joe Robertson. Joe was an entrepreneur with an office in Handyside Arcade. He opened bars in Newcastle and was very much the man ‘in the know’. He’d seen my photos and one day said ‘I’m going to go into pirate pop posters I will give you £10 for each picture I use and here’s a ticket for the Rolling Stones in 1972’.

So I went on the night but my seat was right at the back so I went to the front and asked the stewards if I could take pictures there and they said fine. So for the next 12 years I never paid to get into the City Hall and most times got in by the stage door as the stewards got to know me. When a punk band was on they even made a cordon around me to stop me getting pogo’d to death.

You worked on some great early photographs of North East bands. Can you remember the sessions with Venom, Raven, Angelic Upstarts or Penetration ? Yes the Venom session was arranged through Dave Wood at Neat records. We went around the back of Neat where there was some wasteland. One of them had white make up and was putting it on as it started to rain so it was just dripping down his face. We hid under a bush until it stopped.

The Upstarts were doing a gig in Tynemouth and Phil Sutcliffe from Sounds was doing an interview with the band. Their manager, who had a fearsome reputation, came up to me and said very calmly ‘Rik, I like you, and I want you to know that if you have any problems me and the lads will sort it out’. I felt that he’d be true to his word.

I photographed Raven just around the corner from here (we’re in Newcastle City Library) at Spectro Arts. That is where they rehearsed I think, I can’t remember taking any live shots of them. Again like a lot of the bands they were nice lads and through Neat records I would get passed from one band to another but always retaining a distance to let them get on and do what they do.

For my entire professional life I’ve been zooming in on things and sometimes you can take away the atmosphere, you might get a great shot of someone in action but miss some surroundings. I got a great shot of Pauline Murray and Penetration, on stage kneeling down surrounded by some punk lads, great shot. Bizarrely before I moved to Canada 2 years ago (one of) the last things I did was to photograph Penetration for the first time in 37 years.

What got you started in photography ? After I left school I worked on a building site as a plumber, I really wanted to be an airline pilot but for various reasons that never worked out either. My grandfather and father were interested in photography and when my father died, I was only 13, one of the things he left me was a camera. I started taking photos and my then girlfriend’s father was a chemist so I got free developing and printing. She also knew of a Visual Communications course at Sunderland College of Art so I went on that. From that experience I learnt the language needed for design, typography and photography.

At this time I worked alongside another photographer, Ian Dixon, on the Newcastle Festival in 1972. That’s pretty much how it started and then I got a job as photography technician at the polytechnic where I stayed until 1988. Teaching came into it at the college after then and I really enjoyed it.

I worked as photographer at The Newcastle University Theatre, now called Northern Stage, for 15 years photographing the dress rehearsals and getting the prints on the wall for opening night. I realised then that my job was to be in front of the stage recording what was happening. The only person who ruined that was Bob Geldof. I was photographing The Boomtown Rats in the City Hall and you might remember they done a song called Photograph where they grab someone from the audience and pull them onstage – guess who they grabbed! I was hauled up on stage where I froze. That’s when I realised my place is down there and they do their stuff up here.

Were there any photograph sessions that turned into a nightmare ? No because with music photography there was never any pressure on me, I got in free at the City hall and I enjoyed doing it. Nothing unpleasant from the bands in fact it was The Beach Boys who taught me to frisbee in the Newcastle City Hall. I was there to interview Mike Love for Out Now, a magazine I helped to start. But to my questions I only got 5 yes’s and 2 no’s because the questions were too long and basically contained the answer.

Has photography given you anything unexpected ? I was in the West Bank in Palestine 3 years ago teaching photography in a refugee camp. Freedom Theatre company runs video, photography and theatre courses, it’s to take people away from the things that are happening around them, and to give them useable skills. The founder was a lovely man, he was a half Arab half Jewish guy that wanted to give people an alternative to what was happening around them. Sadly he was murdered outside the theatre.

Everyday going to work I had to walk across the ground were he was killed. That gives you a profound sense of where you are and who you are. I learnt an enormous amount when I was there and it was an amazing experience, would love to go back.

You know Gary there was no plan, it’s just been a series of bumping into things and one thing leading to another. You can hit a groove you know. I started taking photographs of musicians because I loved music. I didn’t go in thinking I would have a career as a photographer.

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi  October 2019.