GROWING UP BIPOLAR with Scottish writer & musician Mark Fleming

Mark Fleming is based in Edinburgh, his work has appeared in a number of published books and magazines including the Big Issue. He’s run workshops across Scotland and given talks on creative writing and mental health in schools and prisons.

After spending time in a Psychiatric Care Unit, Mark rediscovered his love for creative writing and music.

As well as documenting my experiences of mental illness in my 20s, my story focuses on the cathartic power of music – said Mark.

I write regular blogs about the revitalising impact of nature and music, the blog promotes positivity through writing about mental health, wellbeing and popular culture.

What is your experience of being in bands?

My first band The Seduced, were formed in 1979 at the tail end of the first wave of punk. We mustered about three songs, including a passable version of X-Ray-Spex’s ‘Art-I-Ficial’ – chosen because we had a female singer called Pauline, just like Penetration. We never played live but did get as far as spray painting our name on our local launderette!

I joined my first ‘serious’ band a year later – 4 Minute Warning, named after a lyric by our biggest inspiration, Killing Joke, and outlining our anti-nuclear/pro-CND political stance.

4 Minute Warning

At the turn of the decade a far more interesting post-punk scene began emerging. Many bands were breaking free of the three-chord, shout-along template – The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, PiL, Punishment of Luxury, Gang of Four, Joy Division/New Order, Scars, A Certain Ratio, The Fall, et al – and using punk as a springboard into a whole new sonic universe.

As our music became more funk than punk we evolved into Desperation AM – named after a Gang of Four lyric. By the mid ‘80s my next band was Little Big Dig, melding post-punk, pop and Can, making it as far as a session on BBC Radio 1.

We never gigged beyond Edinburgh – and once in Glasgow, but did get a residency during the ‘85 Edinburgh Festival, in an ‘open until the wee small hours’ bar, La Sorbonne.

Gig poster for 4 Minute Warning

Mental health issues, recovery, marriage, and starting a family brought a lengthy hiatus until around 2002 when I reunited with mates from an old Edinburgh punk band, The Axidents. We covered everyone from The Ruts to Magazine then started writing our own stuff, supporting UK Subs, 999, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Tenpole Tudor.

Desperation AM reformed and were joined by Paul Research (ex-Scars) on violin, leading to another post-punk band, Noniconic. Then Covid struck. I’m currently mucking about with more ambient soundtracks under the moniker Giant Household Names – overheard in an interview with Wire.

Where did you grow up and what type of kid where you – playing football/in a gang/a member of a youth club ?

I grew up in Shandon on Edinburgh’s west side – traditionally the Hearts side of the capital although my dad was from Monaghan in Ireland, so I chose Hibernian. But I was always more into music than football.

In the late ‘70s uptown Edinburgh was a no-go zone, we were too young for pubs, and spiky hair/badges/ripped jeans were a red rag for ‘punk bashing’ by the far more prevalent ‘trendies’ who preferred disco music.

We’d stick to hanging around youth clubs where you could take your own records to pogo to. Youth was much more tribal back then, so if you were into punk, it was like being in a gang. But nothing like the Edinburgh street gangs, with names like Young Leith Team and Gorgie Jungle, where the emphasis was on violent ‘turf wars’ – it was always about the music for us.

North East band Punishment of Luxury.

By the ‘80s the stubborn punks who refused to embrace post-punk did become much more aggressive. Sporting cockatoo hairstyles and studded biker jacket uniforms, the bands they were now listening to, typified by local exponents The Exploited, resembled heavy metal being played at 78 rpm.

By that time we were into Punishment of Luxury, the North East’s finest sons since Penetration, Angelic Upstarts and The Carpettes!

Check out the interviews with these bands on the Alikivi blog.

What does music mean to you?

Music means everything to me. In my 20s, I struggled with bipolar disorder, and was sectioned in 1987 spending time in intensive psychiatric care. My wee sister Anne, bringing in cassettes of my John Peel recordings during visiting hours, was a pivotal moment in my recovery. I’ve only recently come off long-term medication (lithium) and music remains crucial to my wellbeing.

BBC Radio 6 presenters.

I’m an avid listener of BBC Radio 6 whose DJ’s include many long-standing musical heroes of mine – Iggy Pop, Marc Riley and Tom Robinson, along with a host of enthusiastic presenters like Craig Charles, Elbow’s Guy Garvey, Steve Lamacq, Mary Ann Hobbs, Stuart Maconie and others.

Although post-punk remains a major influence and I still love playing my now increasingly scratchy/jumpy 45s from 45 years ago, I prefer constructing playlists based on brand new songs introduced across the board on Radio 6. Listening to these on headphones while strolling along the Firth of Forth on my doorstep, is wonderfully therapeutic.

Book cover for ‘1976 – Growing Up Bipolar‘.

What have you got planned for the Autumn ?

I’ve just completed a memoir that takes in my bipolar experiences of low manic depression to the high of mania and psych wards set against the backdrop of electrifying post-punk scene of the ‘80s that coaxed me back towards stable mental health.  

1976 – Growing Up Bipolar’ is based on a novel I wrote a while back called BrainBomb. The title is a homage to the massively underrated and still out there being creative and inspirational – Punishment of Luxury.

I’m being interviewed about my book at the Portobello Book Festival on October 1st. Gig-wise, I’ve got tickets booked for Public Service Broadcasting and Pale Blue Eyes at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall in September.

I’m also making the trip down to Middlesborough to catch Punishment of Luxury in December. I never saw Punilux first time round so immensely looking forward to that.

Paperback copies of ‘1976 – Growing Up Bipolar’ are available to buy from Waterstones and most retailers. The ebook can be downloaded from Kobo, Nook, Scribd and Hoopla.

For further info check the site:

MARK FLEMING – CREATIVE WRITING & MENTAL HEALTH // MUSIC & PHOTOS. – Home (markjfleming.net)

FUNK OFF – The Punishment of Luxury & further tales of musical adventures. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

Alikivi   September 2022

SOUNDS CLIPS : PUNISHMENT OF LUXURY

You will find some grand postings on social media by archivist, Steve ‘Stig’ Chivers. He’s added articles from Sounds music paper 1975-80, some have featured bands from the North East.

Sounds singles review 9/6/79.

9 June 1979 issue carries a singles review featuring Newcastle post punk band Punishment of Luxury’s ‘Jellyfish’. Not a favourable review to put it mildly ‘Pathetic attempt to capture early seventies quirkiness’ ouch!

In an interview back in April 2021 Brian Rapkin (Bond) told me…

‘The first single after we signed was supposed to be ‘Jellyfish’, but the board at United Artists didn’t like it as an A-side so we reluctantly agreed to ‘Engine of Excess’ as the A-side’.

‘Then we signed to Screen Gems-EMI Publishing who gave UA a bollocking about the choice of A-side. So UA re-released ‘Jellyfish’ as the A-side. But by then it was too late to get airplay. The momentum was lost’.

The diamond in the dust amongst the reviews is a favourite in my top singles list – Babylons Burning from The Ruts – ‘Music to riot too’ shouts this week’s reviewer Garry Bushell. Yer got that right Gazza.

Also came across some pages from the Reading 1979 official programme, or the official title – 19th National Jazz, Blues & Rock Festival. The Jags are on the 3pm Friday slot with Punilux at 4.30pm. Motorhead take the stage as the sun goes down. Scorpions and Ramones headliners on Saturday and Sunday.

Look out for Penetration and Angelic Upstarts on the next Sounds Clips posts.

Full interviews with Punishment of Luxury:

FUNK OFF – The Punishment of Luxury & further tales of musical adventures. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

FROM NEWCASTLE WITH LOVE – part one of an interview with actor & musician Brian Rapkin. | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)

More Sounds Magazine 1975-80 articles by archivist, Steve ‘Stig’ Chivers check twitter:  @SoundsClips.

Further posts about Sounds type in ‘Raw Meat in the Sonic Mincer’ in the blog search bar.

Gary Alikivi  September 2021

FROM NEWCASTLE WITH LOVE part 4/4 – with actor & musician Brian Rapkin

Part four of an interview with Brian Rapkin (Brian Bond), he recalls when Punishment of Luxury decided to call it a day and brings the story up to date with what they are doing now.

With Punilux, after the first tour of Europe we had second album syndrome – songs we were demoing in early 1980 were very different, which was fine, but also they were not as strong as those on Laughing Academy. Song lyrics in general weren’t so clear and effective – I was writing a few good bits here and there but also some obscure, self-indulgent stuff. Creatively it was like a cul-de-sac.

COMPANY COLLAPSE

Before our second European tour in August 1980 UA ceased as a record company. EMI took over and then dropped us, so we were in a bad place. Our A&R man Tim had left EMI so we had no-one to fight our corner.

To EMI we were a band with no hit singles. No album bands any more, no nurturing of talent over a three year period. Thatcher was in. Monetary mindset – instant success or the sack.

Did EMI spurn the new material because some of the songs were anti-war? Who knows?   At an EMI farewell party, Cliff the head man shook hands and wished us luck. I said “Good luck to you too.” He said “Why?”

LEAVIN’ AIN’T EASY

When we got back from Europe in August, spirits were low. Self-belief had taken a battering. We were at an impasse and it seemed time to part ways, so I left. It was a difficult divorce, but it was also interesting to write different keyboard-based ideas, in a piano room in Newcastle Polytechnic every day, demoing songs at Spectro Arts Workshop, who gave me a grant for recording. These songs, like Spots on the Sun, were the basis for forming a new project in Punching Holes, this was late ’80 and ‘81.

STAGE RETURN

Memorable gigs for Punching Holes was the first and best gig, at the Cooperage, Newcastle on Chinese New Year, 5th February 1981. With Norman out of the Big G on sticks, Tim Jones from Neon on guitar, Sid Smith the performance artist on bass and Steve Cowgill the jazzman on keys. it was pure adrenalin, very exciting.

We started to collaborate again as Punilux in 1983, recording in Waterloo, but despite some great songs like Doubting Thomas and a Brixton gig, my involvement was too peripheral and didn’t work that well.

EARNING A CRUST

I had to do theatre work for survival, so a 24-year gap followed when we lost contact and got on with our lives. In 2019 I was a freebie actor for half a day with Northumbria Police in Northumberland Street, being secretly filmed improvising as a man in his 60’s with early onset dementia, asking passers-by for help – it found its way onto Facebook (5.7k likes) and YouTube with the tag-line ‘The heart-breaking video that has police officers in tears. Grab your hankies, it’s emotional’.

The 1980s were a testing time but the old line-up got back and still lives on. In 2007 we reunited in The Green Mandolin, Gateshead to play for Jimmy’s birthday.

Then in 2008 we started gigging again. We got a great write-up in The Guardian by Dave Simpson, which Nev mentioned in his excellent blog. The team spirit was in good shape. We recorded ‘5’ at Blast Studios, Byker.

At our Punilux gigs since 2008 we haven’t done any songs from the 1980 writing period. The high-impact material comprises songs from 1977-79, and some from the ‘5’ EP (2011).

RECORDS & TAPES

In autumn 2019 with Punishment of Luxury I did gigs in Middlesbrough, Leeds and Trillians, Newcastle to promote Puppet Life, a 5 CD box set of all live and recorded material on the Cherry Red label.

Last year, it was the turn of Punching Holes, with a vinyl album out on ZX records – The Ghosts of Pilgrim Street, from the lost tapes of their 1980/81 songs engineered at Spectro Arts workshop in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, by the electronic maestro Ian Boddy.

It’s a historic album, as there’s no band as such any more, but we’re still all in touch. The gorgeous gatefold cover was by Richard Sharpe, who was in Holes during ‘82 and now runs ZX records in Essex.   

Last year also saw the recording of Here We Are, a song for lockdown, in Mark ‘Biz’ Taylor’s back yard in North Shields with him on bass and effects, as seagulls screeched overhead. Tim Jones, ex-Neon and ex-Holes, mixed and mastered the music files in Penrith.

It was entered for the King Lear Prizes, for 70+ writers and it was a nice surprise to be ‘highly commended’ by a music panel led by Julian Lloyd Weber. A written piece The Diviner, based on my dad as a soldier in wartime Sicily, was also lucky enough to get highly commended in the short story category of the same competition.

In 2018 my partner Kathi and I performed Angels Wings by request at our son’s wedding in Bangkok. Kathi was lead singer and co-writer in Punching Holes during 1988-89 with debonair drummer Richie Donnison and quirky keyboardist Jeff Horsman adding their own potent brand of virtuosic creativity.

Angels Wings was a revamp of a Holes song, Gone Loco, from ‘81 and was featured in a Tyne Tees TV video just after the band had finally split for good. She sang it beautifully on the video and at the wedding, and folks seemed to like it.

Live at Trillians, Newcastle 2019.

IN THE NOW

There’s now a Punilux website and a Punching Holes website, and Punishment of Luxury continues on the roller-coaster of life. Sadly in early 2020 we tragically lost our close friend and colleague, the inspired artistic visionary Simon Underhill, who with Neil Defty did brilliant visuals and projections at our gigs all over the UK. His images, like a mass of yellow rubber gloves twitching in unison, were always a feast for the eyes and a delight for audiences.

Jimmy and I get together when possible, Steve is still going strong and Nev now lives and writes in Hampshire – we’re all still in close contact, writing and sending each other songs, or playing each other songs on zoom, so we’re raring to go again with some brand-new material.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

Links to previous interviews:

FUNK OFF – The Punishment of Luxury & further tales of musical adventures. | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

FROM NEWCASTLE WITH LOVE part 2/4 – with actor & musician Brian Rapkin

In the first part of the interview Rapkin talked about his stage and TV career, in this second part he remembers his early days in music looking for a record deal with Newcastle post punk band, Punishment of Luxury.

TUNED IN

A song can have an unbelievable power – either the power to make you step inside yourself and think, or the power to galvanize you with energy and joy. I saw this when turning 19, hitch-hiking through France alone. I stopped off in a juke-box café for a while. The Beatles’ Lady Madonna started playing and the cafe came alive – all these French guys got up and started dancing, laughing, and singing along to ‘See how zey Run’.

I was beaming with delight, so proud of The Beatles, the piano, Paul’s voice, the guitar, the sax, the harmonies, the inventiveness and the euphoric drive of that music. It was magic. Two minutes and fifteen seconds of a song could take people to a different dimension. And it did.

TURNED ON

There was an old radiogram in our house, with speakers going into another room. Being much younger than my jazz-mad brother and my pop-crazy sister, a world of music drew me in. My parents didn’t get on well, so in a strained atmosphere music was an escape into other worlds.

Mr Sandman was haunting like a nightmare, Green Door by Frankie Vaughan told us of a secret world where people partied but the singer was lonely. Coconut Woman and Island in the Sun by Harry Belafonte were rays of warmth amidst the shadowy music. Every song went deep.

I first heard Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel at 7. It stopped us all in our tracks – the vocal reverb, his passion, the electric guitar, the theme of loneliness, the sad double bass, the quirky piano. My sister worshipped Elvis. She took me to her friend’s house to hear Hound Dog. I was mesmerised.

Elvis’ Hard-Headed Woman had a compelling manic energy as did Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jenny Jenny by Little Richard, the first single I bought. He ran out of breath and broke down mid-track but they still released it. He made a mistake and they kept it in! Who needs perfection?

Brian in 1967 at Warwick University.

ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE

I had piano lessons for a while but hated practising and struggled with sight-reading. At 14 I learnt to play a cheap old Spanish guitar and re-taught myself piano, writing songs that copied The Animals and Them, Dylan and even Eleanor Rigby. The Beatles, Stones and Dylan were gods, with The Kinks and The Who.

Music was an escape from difficult schooldays – my headmaster was an ex-Japanese POW and was a bizarre sadist.

STUDIO VIRGIN

At 17 I left school, worked as a brickie and saved enough to cut a disc in a studio in Surrey. I wrote and recorded it using 12-string guitar, wooden flute, Hammond organ and the engineer on bass. It was teenage atheism Heaven’s There for Those Who Need It, but it was a first stab at recording.

At university me and my best mate wrote and performed songs. We recorded at a studio in Coventry in 1969, and made about 100 copies of an LP, Dreams of the Blue Beast, selling them at Uni for 32 shillings each in 1969. Germaine Greer (Australian broadcaster & writer) was my Shakespeare tutor – even she bought one. 

STAR MAN & KEMP

I also rearranged Lord of the Dance, sang it and played organ in Coventry Cathedral while Annie Stainer mime danced down the aisles as a female clown Christ. Lindsay Kemp (Bowies dance collaborator) heard my voice on her rehearsal tape and hired me as a singer in a production.

I worked again for Kemp in Flowers years later. His marriage of theatre and Mozart, 1920s songs and Pink Floyd, was so powerful. Flowers started with Mozart’s Requiem all of us dressed as nuns in high heels, stockings and suspenders, rubbing ourselves against a pillar.

Angie Bowie came to it, recruiting dancers for Bowie’s London Rainbow gig. Not being a dancer, I didn’t get picked by her but got a peck on the cheek and a freebie to the Rainbow– it was a mind-blowing gig, making me more determined to pursue music with visuals. Kemp and Bowie showed the magic of music combined with images.

Music weekly ‘Sounds’ squashed between The Police and Def Leppard.

GATESHEAD ROCKET

In the mid-70s I met Nev and Steve in Newcastle. They joined our theatre group Mad Bongo for projects like the musical of Orwell’s 1984. Punishment of Luxury began and song-writing with Nev became a new experience. I discovered the inspiration of sharing ideas with him. He was a talented guitarist, composer and lyricist, who could change my ideas and de-normalise them, making them crazier. I could help him shape his ideas too.

We were alchemists, turning base metal into gold. Then with a superb bassist like Jimmy we had a super-strong combination. Later we got Steve, the dynamic drummer we always wanted.

As well as the inspiration of Bowie, we wanted to write powerful songs after seeing the Sex Pistols on Top of the Pops, doing Pretty Vacant. It was 1977 and I was visiting Nev in his flat on the 26th floor of The Rocket, a high-rise in Dunston, Gateshead. Johnny Rotten seemed to leap from the screen into the room – visually and musically he was phenomenal, it was a seminal moment. We knew what we had to do.

MAKING NOISES

The Newcastle music scene in 1977 had The Big G as the leading punk outfit and the Young Bucks with a devoted student following at the Cooperage every week. Their drummer later joined Dexies (Midnight Runners). One band, the 45s, had their own student following at the New Darnell, Fenham. The macho keyboardist used to down a full pint with one hand while playing a solo with the other.

The Big G were much better than us for a while, then we pulled our fingers out and got their guitarist Red Helmet to join us.

SIGN OF THE TIMES

Our songs reflected our lives. Nev wrote most of Puppet Life, about fascism and people controlling our lives in relationships or in politics. He also wrote the music for, and I did the lyrics for, a song called Pouf, which we later dropped, as people misinterpreted the song if the sound system was poor and lyrics were unclear.

As the singer I was in role as a gay-bashing bigot, whereas Nev and Jimmy were singing defiant words as oppressed gays. It trod a fine line between ironic humour and provocation. At the Blue Bell pub in Gateshead, pointing at men in the audience and chanting ‘pouf’ was a way to get them involved but it would be wrong to do it now.

The word was maybe used more casually in the ‘70s but is now acknowledged to be grossly homophobic and that kind of role-playing, often misunderstood then, would feel clumsy and awkward now.

It was partly inspired by my teaching days when teenage lads passed me in the corridor whispering ‘pouf’ at me.  Real life was always a basis for song writing, but songs like that wouldn’t work in 2021.

LONDON CALLING

Once we discovered we could all work well together and our songs were going down well with local audiences, we wanted to take it further, play in other places and record the songs – we couldn’t afford to fund it all ourselves so we needed some money behind us to do justice to the songs and make a living out of what had become a passion.

We got our first London gig at the Elephant and Castle. With the aid of our manager Frank we played to a small bunch of people and an agent called Richard Hermitage liked us. He booked us gigs, and we started touring more and more, getting good reviews and a better fee each time.

We had recorded Puppet Life, Blood of Love and The Demon at Impulse Studio, Wallsend at our own expense. We took the tape to London but it was the week before Christmas 1977. No-one saw us – they were all at Christmas parties – except Arnold Frollows at Virgin, who was interested. He heard Puppet Life, then dove into a cupboard and came out with Devo’s Jocko Homo, an import single, saying Puppet Life was quite similar. 

THE DEAL

We did a gig at Spectro Arts workshop in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle. Arnold Frollows came up to the gig and it got a glowing review in Sounds. It was a start. We were offered a standard Virgin eight album deal but the line-up wasn’t quite stable enough, even though many bands would have leapt at the chance.

So we went to an indie, Small Wonder in Walthamstow, East London. Pete Stennett, an open, visionary guy with long hair and a woolly hat, immediately liked the songs and said yes. We had control over the artwork and production. It was so right. We stayed at Patrik Fitzgerald’s (the Punk Poet) big house, which he kindly lent us for a couple of days.

One of the biggest highs was sitting in the Cooperage with a drink and a transistor radio, listening to John Peel play Puppet Life for the first time. A dream come true.

Read part three when Brian is recording in London studios and remembers some memorable gigs.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

ROLL UP – with vocalist/guitarist Neil Thompson from The Carpettes

Here in North East England the Wearside Bloc has given up stories from experienced musicians Ian Munro and Field Music, Sunderland punk Steve Straughan and metallers Spartan Warrior. Now the blog has more road stories from the Houghton le Spring contingent – The Carpettes.

‘Our first North East gig was in June 1977, then we went on to headline gigs with both Angelic Upstarts and Punishment of Luxury opening’ remembers Neil.

The band first featured back in May 2020 with Thompson talking about releasing two singles on the Small Wonder label, moving down south to London in ’78, and signing a record deal with Beggars Banquet – that brought a further four singles and two albums, Thompson looks back at those days.

Just after we finished recording our first album I made a phone call to Nick Austin, one of the bosses at Beggars Banquet, he told us fantastic news – we had a residency at London’s Marquee supporting The Lurkers every Wednesday in November ‘79.

I still remember Honest John in one of the soundchecks giving me a fiver to go to the off-licence to buy him a bottle of red wine.

LEAVE THIS TO HARVEY GOLDSMITH

Our drummer Tim was from Oxford and after a few London gigs he had this idea that he’d book a couple of gigs in Oxford as he knew the venues.

The first one was in February ‘79 at The Cape of Good Hope which if I remember was upstairs in a pub, and it was terrible. Hardly anyone there and it was a disco crowd – we didn’t get an encore.

The next one he booked was in March ’79 at The Corn Dolly this was an established venue. It was just so depressing, horrible and dark. They put an ad in the NME advertising the bands and we were ‘Ta Carpets’. Only a few people scattered here and there and it was a total waste of time, again, no encore.

So I picked up the NME and thought ‘leave this to Harvey Goldsmith here’. There was an Oxford pub in the gig guide called The Oranges and Lemons and they had The Ruts on that week. Perfect, a pub that has punk bands on. I phoned them up and got a gig straight away on Friday, 1st June 1979, our 50th gig.

On the night it was packed. Me and George were talking to people outside who had come from Sheffield to see us – we rarely played outside London in them days. We went down a storm and got an encore. I felt like telling Tim ‘leave it to me from now on mate’.

A QUICK WORD WITH DAVE

The boss of Warners UK when The Carpettes were being handled by them was none other than ‘60s pop star, Dave Dee. When I was a kid I loved Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich.

When we were on Beggars Banquet, one of the bosses, Martin Mills, the other was Nick Austin, eventually took us to the Warners office in June 1980 which was just off Berwick Street in London’s West End. We were told there was a gym there. There was also a sauna and table tennis, all free to use – Angelic Upstart singer Mensi was always in that gym.

Now and then I used to go in the office to talk about The Carpettes to Sharon Wheeler who was press officer, but unfortunately I never saw Dave knocking about. Fast forward 23 years to June 2003 and I’m in Camden Underworld to see the reformed Heavy Metal Kids. Dave Dee was there. He was the one that signed them to Atlantic in the ‘70s.

I watched the band and when they finished the punters were leaving but I still had a lot of my pint left and Dave Dee was standing nearby so I went over for a chat. I’d always wondered what he thought of The Carpettes and now was my chance to find out.

‘Hi Dave, I loved your band in the 60s’. ‘Aah thanks mate’ – he then goes on to talk about his band for a short while.

I tell him ‘I was in a band and we were on the Beggars Banquet label same time as Gary Numan’. So he talks about Gary Numan for a while. I’m thinking when he has a bit of a pause I’m gonna mention the Carpettes.

The next thing I hear is ‘Come on you – let’s have your drink’. I looked up and there was this big bouncer ‘Come on mate, out. We’ve got to get the club ready for the nightclub’.  ‘I’m just having a quick word with Dave here. I’ll not be long’.

‘DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME – GIVE ME YOUR GLASS AND GET OUT’. So I never found out what Dave Dee thought of the Carpettes and sadly six years later he died so I’ll never know.

IT COULDA BEEN A HIT

We nearly got in the Top 100! When we signed to Beggars Banquet they were being distributed by the mighty WEA, and they were up to some dodgy business. They had hyped The Pretenders single Brass in Pocket to number 1 – I’m not saying this record didn’t go on to sell loads but it needed WEA’s help to kickstart it.

So they got our label, Beggar’s Banquet, interested in this idea – and it was a strange one that worked sometimes. Gary Numan & Tubeway Army released their first single Down in the Park. WEA had an idea they would use this single to get the public used to the band and then whoosh – push the follow-up into the charts. Well it actually worked – Down in the Park wasn’t a hit but the follow-up – Are Friends Electric got to number 1. So what happens next ? They try the same with us.

Our single is released and is a warm-up for the next one that they thought could be a hit single – the problem is that the first one didn’t take off. It was played on daytime Radio 1 but WEA didn’t want it to be a hit so it wasn’t a hit.

The next release Johnny Won’t Hurt You – this is the one that’s pushed and hyped by WEA, it creeps into the chart at number 123. But it wasn’t getting any airplay – surely they hyped the wrong one. The next week it shoots up six places to 117 and the next week it’s out the charts altogether.

So that was that as far as WEA were concerned, we’d blown our chance. The follow up – Nothing Ever Changes, was a blinder and could have been a hit, but it was no good cos even though WEA agreed to distribute it, they’d given up on us.

Read the first interview from May 2020:

FIGHT AMONGST YOURSELVES – interview with Neil Thompson from The Carpettes | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Edited by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

FROM NEWCASTLE WITH LOVE – part one of an interview with actor & musician Brian Rapkin.

Life in the North East started in 1973 in a basement flat in Leazes Terrace near St James Park, Newcastle. Waking up each morning to a kitchen sink full of slugs was not ideal, so I moved to Fenham sharing a flat with fellow-teacher Ged Grimes, guitarist in Hedgehog Pie.

I was teaching at John Marley Upper School where I entertained Bob Smeaton (former vocalist with Newcastle band White Heat, now music TV director, link below) and his class by reading chapters from The Exorcist.

Later in the ’70s came the North East punk scene, when I was living in Brighton Grove, Newcastle singing and writing songs as Brian Bond with Punishment of Luxury. We had a single out on Small Wonder records then got a major deal with United Artists – an album Laughing Academy and three singles – and toured UK and Europe. EMI dropped us in 1980 and I left soon after to form Punching Holes.

In part two Brian will be talking more about his music, this post will focus on his acting career. I asked him when did you start acting ?

My brother, sister and I used to put on short plays for mum and dad when I was small living in Staines near London where I was brought up. That thrill of performing to an audience had begun. There was no school drama even though I tried to get my English teacher to organise it. All that remained was sport, and boxing was mine.

My dad trained me and I won two cups in school, read books about it and loved Henry Cooper, Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston and Mohammed Ali. I was obsessed. At 13 I won a bronze medal and made the school boxing team.

Training was dire in the bad winter of ‘63 – endless gym circuits, cross-country runs in the snow wearing boots and heavy backpack. I got flu and they dropped me from the team after two matches. I lost them both, along with my killer instinct. Sometimes an illness jerks you into making changes. This one dragged me out of a rut into acting.

I was in an all-male school, so at 14 my acting debut was in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, along with Stephen Milligan, the Tory MP who died naked with an orange in his mouth and a plastic bag over his head.

The first paid acting job was at 20 working for Bowie’s mentor Lindsay Kemp at York Arts Centre. This was soon followed by a role in the 1970 Edinburgh Festival as the virgin Sir Galahad in Mort d’Arthur. I trained method-style for the part by remaining chaste until 21.

1971 involved acting in a different role. I found an ad in The Stage and applied to be a clown in Cottle & Austen’s Circus. The first performance in Surrey was adrenalin-packed but they didn’t like my ‘grotesque’ make-up so they toned me down and made me an auguste, a tramp clown. It lasted three days, the ringmaster went into a sulk after I spurned his advances, so he refused to give me the training he’d promised.

Brian as a young clown in 1967 at Warwick University.

When did you sign professionally?

I signed up as an Equity actor in 1975 whilst as a variety performer singing and playing guitar and keyboards in Mad Bongo theatre group, based in the North East. As a stage actor, the best roles were in a production about the trial of Oscar Wilde. We toured it around North arts centres and colleges. It was a disastrous opening night in Kendal but then we pulled it all together and it was much praised.

The first speaking part in film acting was in BBC’s Machine Gunners (1982) as a Polish officer.  I didn’t have to audition but chatted to Colin Cant, the director, a lovely man who gave me the part after I told him of my Polish ancestry, which was almost true.

In 1995 Brian appeared in Tyne Tees TV programme Stranger than Fiction, associate producer was Vin Arthey who features in an earlier blog. (link below)

How did you get the part ?

Dave Holly was my agent and they liked my Russian accent, the role as a 1920s Soviet intelligence officer was a dream. In a sense it was like going back centuries to revisit my family’s Russian roots as a Rapkin.

The scene involved interviewing William Fisher, the Geordie Russian spy born in Benwell, and decide his suitability as a Soviet agent. I thought smoking a cigarette would help the atmosphere and it probably did, but as a lifelong non-smoker it was hard to do.

The location of the scene was the main assembly hall in Heaton Manor School, where ten years previously I’d been a teacher. My son was about to enrol at this school and the location was ideal – dark, polished wood everywhere, and a floor where footsteps could echo, perfect for a top-secret meeting between a spy and his handler.

What other roles did you have on TV ?

Byker Grove allegedly cost £1000 a minute to shoot, and this may be why most of my role as a sadistic supervisor – in black clothing, brandishing a long stick – ended up on the cutting-room floor.  I was overseeing a group of youths doing community service and had to shout at them. We did the scene twice.

Take 1: The sound meter leapt into red and distorted, so had to be done again.

Take 2: One of my lines was marred by a slight fluff. Mathew Robinson the director said ‘Next scene!’

I asked if we could do it again. No was the answer, we gotta move on. The only line of mine that survived was ‘Oy! Back to work!

Ant, Dec, and Jill Halfpenny, were just kids. I was watching the filming at one point and they were performing a scene. Mathew said ‘Cut! Let’s do it again but speak more slowly this time.’  Jill said ‘But that’s how real Geordies speak!’ and he said ‘Yes, but this is being networked all around the UK, from Cornwall to Scotland. Everyone in the country’s got to understand everything that you’re saying. OK? One more time. Action!’

I was a cockney detective in Spender in 1990. I was in the opening scene with Jimmy Nail and Amanda Redman in a train carriage. Nervy, with the crew squeezed into the aisle between the seats, Mr Nail chivvied the crew along.  ‘Come on everyone, the actors are on tenterhooks here.’ That helped my nerves. I was the new boy on the block.

During a move from one location to another, I missed the coach for Less Important Actors and had to share a trailer with Jimmy and Amanda. They chatted about past experiences. She mentioned that she’d toured with the Rocky Horror Show. I tried to join in the conversation ‘I love that show. What part did you play?’  She turned towards me, stared at an empty space and forcing a smile, said ‘I’m sorry?’  There was an awkward pause.

I repeated it, this time less confidently. Jimmy Nail waded in with a put-down reply ‘What part did you play?’… ‘The lead, of course!’. End of conversation. Cue to look out of the trailer window. Tumbleweed floats by.

Playing a Maitre D in ‘The Round Tower’ by Catherine Cookson 1998.

Have you any stand out memories from filming ?

One day as an extra for a TV drama I had to get costumed up at 7am in the Rex Hotel, Whitley Bay. I wasn’t used in a scene until 4pm, so the best thing was to watch the filming and chat to others involved. One of these was Jimmy Garbutt, a leading actor in When the Boat Comes In and one of the elders in the Superman film with Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando.

He regaled us with tales from Superman. On the first day of filming Brando was shaking each actor’s hand saying ‘Hi, I’m Marlon Brando’ – as if they didn’t know. When it came to shooting a scene, one of the other elders was Trevor Howard, who’d been with Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty. Howard was furious because Brando hadn’t bothered learning any of his lines, and he’s had them written out in large letters, sellotaped to their set.

Doing a couple of Catherine Cookson films, The Round Tower and The Man who Cried, was challenging, and it was enjoyable to dress up and play Sir Walter Raleigh to Charlie Hardwick’s Queen Elizabeth I in CITV’s Kappatoo, elegantly laying a cloak on the puddle for her majesty to step on.

Once I was an extra in Supergran in a crowded pub scene. We had to drink from pint mugs and our glasses were filled with shandy. One of the extras, a stocky Geordie actor from Walker, took a look at his glass and barked at the Production Assistant ‘Ah’m not drinkin’ that!’  

The PA – a slim, well-groomed man from the South East of England – bellowed in a high-pitched voice: ‘Remove this man from the set, please! Take his costume, thank you!’ Great days.

What are you doing now ?

I stopped acting for a living at 35 – too precarious, always touring in vans, no money, nowhere decent to live. I got married, started a family, taught in Cairo for a while then went back to Newcastle to teach and do whatever film or TV work came along.

From 1985 I taught drama in schools for 5 years, then post-16 students in a college for 30 years. Last year I took voluntary redundancy and now there are possibilities of work linked to the acting world.

In part two soon read about Brian’s alternative career as a musician in the bands Punishment of Luxury and Punching Holes.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

Interview with Bob Smeaton:

THE BOY FROM BENWELL – with Film & TV Director, Bob Smeaton | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Interview with Vin Arthey:

RUSSIA’S GEORDIE SPY with author Vin Arthey | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

HAVE YOU HEARD THIS ONE ? (#3)

Following on from the last batch of HYHTO stories here’s a few more from Fred Purser (Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang), John Gallagher (Raven), Michael Kelly (Southbound), Chris Ormston and Nev (Punishment of Luxury). First up is a story from former Axis guitarist Davey Little…..When supporting former Thin Lizzy guitarist Eric Bell at a local gig we’re in at midday to set up a huge wall of Marshalls, drum riser, lights, smoke bombs the whole nonsense. Hey, we were local heroes (laughs). Then Mr Bell and band arrived. You can imagine the headliner walking in and seeing this mountain of shit on stage.

But what a gentleman – we were young and full of it. He was very gently spoken and just said ‘This isn’t really the way it works lads’. Then much to our relief he said ‘but it’s fine, we don’t need much room, not bothered about a sound check’.

I remember it was packed to the rafters for Eric Bell, not for us, but we did ok. His drummer set up after us. Bass player rolled his amp on, Eric Bell rolled either a Vox AC30 or a Fender Twin on to the stage and blitzed the place. No arsing about, no demands, just played like true pro’s. What a lesson, what a professional.

Of course we thought he was brilliant, his band were brilliant, his last words… ‘Pleased you enjoyed it, now you know there is no need for all that shit on stage, and don’t ever fucking set up before the main band gets there’.

A year later went to see him at the Redcar Bowl and he introduced us to his new band with ‘These are the cheeky bastards who set up before we even got to the gig’

Full interview from June 2019

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/06/28/the-flame-burns-on-for-davy-little-ex-guitarist-with-nwobhm-band-axis/

In May 2019 was an interview with folk musician Chris Ormston……I’ve recorded various compilations of Northumbrian music but my first big break if you like was when I got a phone call one night in 1990… ‘Hello, it’s Peter Gabriel here’. There is a rumour going round that I told him to f*** off because I never believed him (laughs).

But it was him and he was after some piping on his next recording. So I agreed to go down to his studio in Bath. He wasn’t really sure what he wanted and just said bring every pipe you’ve got. We worked in the studio until he found the sound he liked, which was Highland Pipes.

The pipes were mixed down and recorded onto the first song on the album Come Talk to Me. Sinead O’Connor sang on the track although I never saw her. He had brought in various musicians and sounds to add to what he had already recorded. That’s the way he worked. I got a credit and a flat fee for the work and really enjoyed the experience. Gabriel I found was very thoughtful and reserved unlike his stage performances, as a lot of musicians are.

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/05/11/pipes-of-peace-with-northumberland-musician-chris-ormston/

 In April this year I spoke with Nev (PUNISHMENT OF LUXURY)……When our Laughing Academy album was being released endless gigging ensued and part of our excursion took us to The Milky Way and Paradiso venues in Amsterdam, and eventually via Cologne and Dusseldorf to the great city of Berlin. The Wall still stood and divided East and West Germany, so great things could happen here! Although our Berlin Wall encounter at Checkpoint Charlie was a bit scary.

Steve Sekrit now had long hair and a strange beard, which didn’t balance with his passport photo and only after a long exchange with an authoritarian, now in possession of a copy of our album Laughing Academy, were we able to pass across the border.

Thankfully he looked at the images on the outer sleeve cover as the inner gate fold sleeve would have offered no means of verification.

Our gig in Berlin that evening was at the Kant Kino and access to the famous venue was a long walk across a suspended structure overlooking parts of the bustling street below. It was a brilliant, receptive, bouncing crowd, full of anticipation – it was a very memorable gig.

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2020/04/06/funk-off-the-punishment-of-luxury-further-tales-of-musical-adventures/

Next is a story from Fred Purser (ex-Penetration/Tygers of Pan Tang) taken from an interview in December 2018……We were on tour in the USA and I turned 21 in Boston. It was a blast. Great fun. We were out there on the same tour that The Police had done, they had done the circuit twice and they broke. Squeeze had done it, they broke. Unfortunatley after the first circuit of that tour we were over worked, burnt out.

Virgin were a great label but turn over for albums was quicker in those days and they wanted another one quickly. Just too much. Sadly we split. In hindsight if we had just taken a holiday maybe four weeks off and come back refreshed, that would of worked.

The perception is that it can be a glittering world, we didn’t complain about it then because it was a great opportunity. But looking back it was very tiring travelling hundreds of miles every day sitting on your backside for 8-9 hours in the back of a van. When I was young I used to read the Sounds and read the back of albums and think it would be very glamourous. But the reality is it can be quite mundane.

When I joined Penetration we were getting £25 a week. Before we played The Marquee we got a telegram from Ian Dury to wish us luck. But he was only on £25 a week when Hit Me with Your Rythm Stick was number one in the charts! Obviously that money would filter in later on but the record company put a lot of money into the band and until you reach that break even line your just on the recoupment phase. They want their loan repayed before you see any money. So they would pay you per diems of £10 per day so you can get food and essentials.

There would be bands in great recording studios impressed by it all, rightly so, but in the background is the ching, ching sound of the money register. They are accruing a debt to the record company, and they want it back.

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/12/30/square-one-in-conversation-with-songwriter-producer-fred-purser/

I spoke to John Gallagher from Chief Headbangers RAVEN in October 2019…….For young lads like us there was only two ways out of Newcastle…..and we weren’t good footballers.

The running joke was ‘C’mon let’s git in a van and gan doon  t’ London!’. We did quite a few one off support gigs. It was, in the back of the truck, drive down to London, play the Marquee with Iron Maiden and drive back straight after the gig.

We just worked, playing shows, writing songs. One thing we’ve never had is a lack of song ideas. Often a riff from a sound check turns into a song. We had worked hard for years so when the opportunity arrived we dove in head first. Getting the Neat deal changed everything totally then when we made contacts in the US and did our first tour with a young rag tag outfit called Metallica opening for us.

It was great to get to play a stadium show with them in São Paulo a few years back and hear James (Hetfield) tell the crowd how much they appreciated Raven taking a chance back in 1983 and taking Metallica on tour with them. That meant a lot to us.

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/10/09/heeds-doon-with-john-gallagher-from-chief-heabangers-raven/

Next is a story from Michael Kelly (SOUTHBOUND) in March 2019……We recorded some songs at Impulse Studio’s in Wallsend. We done several tracks to send to record companies and also arranged to go to London, appointments had been made to approach Virgin, Rocket, A&M, Decca, Island, WEA and others. We thought that someone must take a liking to us.

I remember going into one record company’s  office and I Feel Love by Donna Summer was playing and another office was playing Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello. This doesn’t sound like us as we were playing AOR music. After days of stumbling around the streets of London we headed home with hope that someone might pick up on what we left them.

When we got back to the North East we were offered an interview on Radio Newcastle. The interview was filled with jabs about New Wave/Punk taking over from normal rock music. I must have had blinkers on because we were in the middle of a musical revolution that was sweeping across the country. Our music was becoming old hat and as one record company said…You’re 2 years out. We had lots of replies from other record companies like …We have to pass on this…or Our label has its full quota of artists. It was very frustrating.

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/03/13/all-right-now-with-michael-kelly-former-drummer-with-north-east-band-southbound/

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

More stories on the blog with a full list of interviews on the about page:

https://garyalikivi.com/about/

 

 

 

FIGHT AMONGST YOURSELVES – interview with Neil Thompson from The Carpettes

When did you first get interested in music ? When I was a kid I loved listening to records and watching singers like Billy Fury and Joe Brown on TV. I had my first single when I was 2 – and I also saw my first gig when I was 2, which was Billy Fury at Sunderland Odeon in March 1962. By the time I was 11 I had about 150 singles in my collection.

I saw The Kinks at Sunderland Empire in 1969 and that was the start of me going to gigs in the North East – Led Zep at Newcastle City Hall, Queen at Sunderland Locarno, Sabbath, Genesis, Lizzy, Budgie, Nazareth, absolutely loved them all.

When was your first gig in a band ? My first gig playing in a band was as a drummer. We were called Brown Sugar and it was on the 22nd November 1974 at Newbottle Church Hall, County Durham.

We played Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones songs to kids that wanted Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath – we went down terrible. When we finished the vicar locked us in the back room cos they were banging on the door wanting to beat us up.

I played drums in that band for another four gigs and in the meantime started playing guitar/vocals in another band. We were doing Status Quo/Thin Lizzy covers and I played nine gigs with that band. The last one was my first pub gig at the Sunderland Royalty in March ‘77.

By this time I was getting into the punk scene and one night I was in The White Lion in Houghton, County Durham and George was there – bassist from Brown Sugar. We hadn’t seen each other for a good while and first thing he said was ‘Have you got the Ramones album’. I said I did, so he said ‘Well do you wanna be in a punk band then’. The problem was that I was a drummer, but he’d seen one of the gigs where I played guitar and sang and thought I was good enough. We did our first gig as The Carpettes in June 1977.

What was your first experience in a recording studio ? We did our first recording at Impulse in Wallsend that was in the summer of ‘77.  The demo is available on The Early Years, a CD released in 1997 on Overground Records.

Did you support any name bands ?  While we were living in the North East we gigged with Penetration, Punishment of Luxury and Angelic Upstarts. We also supported The Vibrators at Redcar Coatham Bowl. Among all this we played one gig in London at Leytonstone Red Lion in March ‘78 supporting The Leyton Buzzards. This was the only time, thank goodness, that I was spat at during a gig.

(The Carpettes released six singles and two albums from 1977 to 1980 including a 4 track EP in 1977 & ‘Small Wonder’ 7” both on the Small Wonder label. Two albums, Frustration Paradise & Fight Amongst Yourselves on Beggars Banquet).

How did signing with those labels come about ? We were on the Small Wonder label while we were living in the North East. That came about when we answered an advert in the Sounds music weekly for new bands and they liked us.

Me and the bassist, George, moved down to London in October 1978 and found a new drummer. But it was like starting from scratch when we moved down there but we signed to Beggar’s Banquet in June 1979. We stayed there until 1981 then moved back up North.

Did you appear on TV or radio ? We were on tour with The Inmates at the time and had to cancel one of the gigs at London to travel up to Manchester to record The Old Grey Whistle Test. They’d already played a track from the album on a previous show. The other band that was on was The Blues Band.

Did you have any high points in the band ? I don’t know about high or low points – all I know is that we got better and better as we gigged. Our new drummer, Tim Wilder, was a really solid drummer, he was from Oxford but he’d been a student at Newcastle University and was the drummer in The Young Bucks while living up North.

I loved going to The Marquee to watch bands but I didn’t really enjoy playing there to be honest. We did six supports there and they were hard work – there was always a ‘Come on then, impress us’ in the air !

We played four nights in November ‘79 with The Lurkers during their residency there. Each gig would have punks sitting on the stage with their backs to us and every now and then one would look around and stare at you – and then turn back around. I much preferred London gigs like The Hope ‘n’ Anchor and The Nashville.

By the very last gig for The Carpettes in June 1981 we were a really tight live act with four years gigging experience – you can’t beat live experience for getting better on stage. It’s no good sitting in the bedroom playing guitar – not gonna get you anywhere.

One story to tell is that one of our first gigs was supporting Penetration at Newcastle University in November ‘77 – and we were terrible ! It was far too early to be playing gigs like that but we supported them again at Middlesbrough Rock Garden in August ‘78 and went down a storm.

Have you any road stories ?  In 1980 we went to Italy three times and Holland once, and we also did a short UK tour supporting The Inmates. That UK tour was probably the best two weeks of my life. I was twenty years old, travelling around the country playing music and when we arrived at the venue all the equipment would already be set up by the roadies – heaven!

What are you doing now ? Well I’ve spent most of my life down London. I was in my own band called The Only Alternative – all my ideas and songs which was a bit selfish. But we had some laughs for a couple of years between the summer of ‘84 to the summer of ’86. We released an album in 1985 on the Midnight Music label.

Then with the 20th anniversary of punk happening in 1996 I got both bands back together, well sort of with different line-ups. Both bands gigged on and off until the end of 2003. During this time The Only Alternative recorded two more albums and two singles. I played drums on all of these recordings – as well as being the singer. The Carpettes released a single in 2002 and an album in 2003.

At the moment I have a three piece band called The Alternative Carpettes which play some of my songs from The Carpettes with some Only Alternative ones thrown in.

What does music mean to you ? Music means everything to me. All my life has revolved around music. I love all sorts of music. I love orchestral music like Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Love the ‘30s and ‘40s swing bands like Basie and Ellington. Rock ‘n’ roll, country, rhythm and blues of the ‘50s. I have a radio show playing ‘50s music every day.

I also love punk, metal, indie, 78’s, cassettes, records, CD’s.  I love it all. I don’t like TV or read books – my whole life is music!

Check out The Carpettes from this 1980 episode of the Old Grey Whistle Test.

https://youtu.be/LvUt7yeAepw

Interview by Gary Alikivi  May 2020.

PRESSING ISSUES with Peter Dixon & Keith Armstrong

Peter Dixon & Keith Armstrong.

Northern Voices Community Projects were set up in 1986 to give people who are denied a voice, a platform to express their views and experiences of living in the North East.

Peter Dixon and Keith Armstrong are behind NVCP and we arranged to meet in a pub along the River Tyne to find out more. The Alum House sit’s next to South Shields ferry, a handy place to meet as they are both from the North side of the Tyne.

I recently talked to Keith and featured his interview on this blog, in it he talks about his writing and poetry. In this new blog Peter pick’s out some highlights and tells a few stories from his background.

I mentioned that the last time I interviewed anyone here it was Antony Bray, drummer of black metal band Venom…

I remember Tygers of Pan Tang and all that heavy metal said Peter. But I’ll tell you about the time I worked during the day’s of the last gasps of hot metal (laughs).

From 1975-80 I worked for Northern Press newspapers which included the Wallsend News, Whitley Bay Guardian, Blyth News and where I was based, The Shields Gazette art department.

We produced the graphics for adverts and things like that. This was in the day when old presses were still being used, it really was the last gasp of hot metal!

What people tend to forget is that in The Shields Gazette you had a major employer situated right in the town centre that produced the whole newspaper under one roof.

About 250 people were working there with proper jobs and getting proper money. All buying their sandwiches, birthday cards and whatever in the shop’s right there in the centre of town.

There was a little squad of us would regularly get in The Stags Head and the Dougie Vaults spending our money on a few beers. Sadly, all those workers have gone now.

Before Northern Press I done some stuff for Vince Rea at The Bede Art Gallery in Jarrow and also designed single and album record covers for the Newcastle band Punishment of Luxury.

How did you get involved with them ?

I was doing background scenery for The Mad Bongo Theatre Company and a member of the band, Brian Bond got in touch. Then I met Neville Luxury and the drummer Red Helmet.

They done a single called Puppet Life and Tony Visconti (Bowie, Bolan & Morrissey producer) reviewed it for Sounds newspaper. He described the sleeve that I done and said I was sick (laughs).

I also co-edited a monthly magazine called The Informer. That was distributed around the North East from Hexham, up to Blyth and down to Tyneside. We done around 10,000 copies a month and it ran from 2000-2010.

It was originally for The Tyne Theatre but it became too expensive to run so became a magazine in its own right. It was a What’s On and live performance mag. It was meant as a gig guide that you could roll up and put in your pocket.

I ran it with my co-editor. He collated the live dates and information where I designed and wrote the press releases and interviews. We both used to sell advertising. Again, running it became expensive, so it folded.

What is the background to the Northern Voices project ?

I worked with Keith who was a Community Arts worker in Peterlee, and we always had some kind of publishing activity going on. It was an end result to our work in design, poetry and writing.

Back in the ‘70s we were involved with Tyneside Street Press which was a bit radical. There was a whole collective of people working on it. A bit like your punk fanzines, printed on A4 but it was news stories we were doing.

Yeah, it was a time when people could make their own papers and booklets said Keith. The idea was we could control the whole process from writing, printing and publish it all ourselves.

It was a place where people could express themselves in their own words. We had connections with other city’s that were bringing out alternative newspapers.

Peter added A lot of poetry was going on then plus the art stuff. It was part of the pop culture, challenging the existing order and critical of what was happening. But there was always an interest of the indigenous population and what was going on.

Yeah, said Keith it was the spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the alternative idea’s sprouting up a bit like the music that was around then. There was a distinct northern voice, we always had something to say. It’s a fundamental idea and very democratic.

Keith talked about an earlier version they produced called Strong Words he said it lasted a few years and done a number of publications…

It sold around 3,500 copies which was really good for us then, we sold it worldwide (laughs)…including South Shields. We used to go around interviewing people rather like what you are doing now for your blog.

Some people were quite chuffed you know…’Somebody’s bothered to knock on my door and asked about my life’. Otherwise, it would go unrecorded.

DSCF0918

Did you receive any funding ?

We didn’t go to funding bodies then, we were autonomous. It gave us a freedom. We put together a publication called Missile Village which was about Spadeadam, a military test base, and it’s impact on the village of Gilsland in Northumberland. The Blue Streak Missile was tested there and at Woomera in Australia during the ‘70s.

The general ethos is to give people a voice, so we talked to the local villagers about the idea that the Government had decided to have a missile on their doorsteps. A farmer told us that ‘it’s nowt but a puff of smoke’.

Peter brings the story up to date and talks about work they are doing now…

Mostly its history books funded by North Tyneside Council. Things on The Hartley Pit disaster, George Stephenson, the Wooden Dollie’s of North Shields and writer Jack Common.

To an extent it’s easier now to do the whole thing yourself rather than farming it out to someone else. Not like the old days of laying it out for typesetting.

The difference from the old days to now is that we are doing full colour. Back then a lot of it was single colour. To an extent there is a satisfaction of producing it yourself.

Keith checks his watch Well we’ve missed the ferry we’ll have to wait for the next one, might as well get another pint in. As for Northern Voices, yes, we’ll keep plugging away.

For further information contact

http://www.northernvoicescommunityprojects.co.uk/Northern_Voices_Community_Projects/Welcome.html

Interview by Gary Alikivi    May 2019.