GROUND ZERO – in conversation with Bri Smith & Bob Rowland from Tyneside punks THE FAUVES

The Ground Zero for Punk on Tyneside was 1977. For many kids there was no work, no hope and no future as the Queen drove by celebrating her Silver Jubilee. The only highlight that summer was when the King came to town – Muhammed Ali had his wedding blessed.

But on one notorious night at the Civic Hall in Jarrow, a major turf war descended into chaos. It was a night that changed lives.

Out of the ashes came a band that signified all the anger and frustration on Tyneside. We know the story of the main protagonists, the Angelic Upstarts went on to Top of the Pops, gigs in New York and notoriety. But what happened to the others who were on stage that night ?

First we need to go back and find out who lit the fuse of punk. On the east coast of USA the sound of raw guitar driven rock n roll was making a noise, and the UK was listening.……

Bri: It all seemed to happen so quickly. After listening to rock music in the early 70s Hodge, an old school mate introduced me to The Stooges, MC5, Ramones etc That stuff knocked me out. Hodge, who was learning to play guitar, was down London when the punk scene kicked off. He came back to Shields and told us about this punk thing happening down there with bands like the Pistols, Damned and The Clash.

Another school mate Ski invited me round to his house to listen to the Pistols single ‘Anarchy in the UK’. It was so good we played it 10 times. Ski knew I had a bass, he had some drums, so we had an idea to start a band

One Friday night we met in the Mermaids Tale a pub in Shields, Mensi was always in there and we had a good bit crack with him about the punk scene that was kickin’ off. We arranged to go to Seaburn Hall near Sunderland to see The Jam. They were absolutely brilliant. Then we saw The Clash on the White Riot tour those two bands really influenced us.

We saw lots of other bands around that time but those two stood out. So that was it, we all said ‘Let’s get this band together’. Hodge called the band the Upstarts and Mensi added the Angelic bit.

(The Jam played the Seaburn Hall on 17th June 1977, £1.00 entry. Price for act was £670. Vibrators & Penetration played 1st July £1.00 entry and on the bill for 8th July were The Saints & Straw Dogs £1.00 entry. Taken from the excellent book ‘A Promoters Tale – Rock at the Sharp End’ by Geoff Docherty with a forward by John Peel).

Bri: There was a DJ from Shields called Billy Cooper and he used to run disco’s around the town. He had a disco at Jarra’ Civic Hall and arranged for us to play our first gig there. A week beforehand some of the band and friends checked out the venue to see what gear was needed but when the lads got to the hall a gang attacked them.

Next day The Shields Gazette reported that our mate Skin Brown had to get four stitches above his eye. At first we thought about calling it off but we said stuff it, and went ahead with the gig.

Bob: It was reported that they were attacked cos the way they dressed. What people forget is at that time if you walked around dressed like a punk you got filled in. If you had straight drainpipe pants and short spikey hair you got a strange look.

Bri: On the night of the gig the place was packed – you could say there was a bit of an atmosphere when we arrived. It was the Angelic Upstarts first and only gig with the line-up of Tommy Mensforth up front, Col Hodgson and Mond Cowie on guitars, Leon Slawinski on drums, John Halliday on sax and me on bass. You couldn’t hear the sax much that night but I can remember Hal wearing a white boiler suit. The place was packed full of Jarra lads we also brought a big squad up from Shields.

During our set Skin Brown turned Hodge’s guitar up really loud so Mond pulled his lead out and Hodge walked off stage. Then the fighting broke out. It ended up a riot because of the previous trouble. I spotted me mate Kev Charlton in the audience and pulled him out. We got most of the Shields lads backstage cos they were getting battered off the Jarra’s. It looked like they had it all planned.

Next day word got round and the whole night and band became more notorious with the punk and violence thing. We weren’t asked back.

After that gig Mensi and Mond went down a different path, got signed to big record labels and lived in London. Our band The Fauves were formed and we played mostly in the North East but were finished around 81. Nowadays Hal lives in Los Angeles he’s a top film producer and Ski lives in Spain, he’s an electrical engineer.

Who were your early influences in music ?

Bob: We knew each other from the shipyards, we were apprentices together. I had been playing in other bands for a few years so it was good to hear Bri was in a band looking to do something. By then I’d heard the Damned and The Clash and thought they were amazing.

It changed peoples consciousness of you didn’t have to sit and play in your bedroom for four years until you were a virtuoso. It’s a cliché but put three chords together and make a band, then it is all about getting the confidence to put a band together.

Bri:  I was into the rock scene but the Stooges, Ramones, Clash etc really influenced me in the early days. Kev Charlton (Hellanbach/Bessie & the Zinc Buckets) was living next door. I was always buying records Kev was never away from the door ‘Can I borrow this, can I borrow that’ ya knaa. Then when I got a bass he was around again, knocking on my door ‘Right I’m getting one of them’ (laughs).

We used to blast out records and play guitars in my bedroom. This was maybe around ‘75 or ‘76 just before the punk scene. We had a great time when we were young ‘un’s, listening to music constantly. Kev’s not a bad bass player now, he’s left me for dead hasn’t he (laughs).

In the early days where did the Upstarts rehearse ?

Bri: We started rehearsing at The Dougie Vaults in Shields, we got chucked out so we went to the West Park pub and they chucked us out as well. This was a time when people didn’t want anything to do with punk you know, we ended up rehearsing in Percy Hudson Youth Club.

In the early days Hal (John Halliday) and Mensi wrote most of the lyrics and everyone mucked in with the riffs. Hodge (Col Hodgson) was struggling a bit on guitar so Mensi brought Mond Cowie in. That’s when we started rehearsing a few times a week.

The Jarrow gig caused a split in the band. Who went with who ?

Bri: After the gig Hodge was a bit pissed off and wanted out. I was good friends with Ski and Hodge so stayed with them and we called ourselves The Fauves. Mensi and Mond went their way, got Micky Burns in on bass and Decka Wade in on drums. There were no hard feelings and we all remained friends.

Sadly Hodge died last year and Mensi said if it wasn’t for Hodge there wouldn’t have been any Upstarts. Which was good to hear him say that and remember Hodge.

After the Jarra Civic Hall gig the Upstarts started gigging regularly around the North East and at Bolingbroke Hall in South Shields where we were lined up to support them. We couldn’t find a good guitarist so we got a hippy lad called Micky Carr to help us out. Micky had long hair so to hide it we put a bathing cap on him (laughs). But in the end we were pulled from the gig. To this day I don’t know why.

I left the band for a while and two lads from Newcastle came in, and eventually supported the Upstarts at Bolingbroke Hall and the pigs head made it’s appearance. (See previous interview with Angelic Upstarts, ‘The Butchers of Bolingbroke June 1st 2017)

Did The Fauves have a manager to arrange gigs?

Bob: Nah we didn’t even have a van. We used to pile our gear in a car. When the Upstarts left for London and got signed there was a vacuum left in Shields. People came to see us and we built up a bit of a following. We had a rehearsal place in the upstairs of The Neptune Hotel in Shields. It’s not there now but it was a massive pub and we used to put on gigs downstairs. It was great that the manageress let us have the run of those rooms.

Bri: We used to play a lot then and get support bands in. One of the bands said The Neptune was the worst place they had ever played. One guitarist told me he went to plug his amp into the wall and it still had like an old fashioned coil connection, he had to sort out an extension cos it was that old (laughs).

Bob: I remember we decided to play our own gig at Boldon Lane Community Centre in Shields. We booked the hall, hired p.a, got a support band, posters, the lot. We were amazed when hundred’s turned up.

Bri: We were playing regular gigs around ‘79 and used to contact Gary Bushell at Sounds newspaper and he printed some good stories about the band. He helped us out a lot. Then we started to play the Gosforth Hotel in Newcastle. A small punk scene was starting to happen up there.

Bob: We also became mates with a label in Newcastle called Anti-Pop who promoted gigs and made a few singles. We supported Arthur 2 Stroke and The Noise Toys up there. One Saturday afternoon we played a great gig at The Casablanca in Newcastle. There was three bands on, it used to attract quite a crowd ya’ kna’. Inside it was done out with wicker chairs, palm trees, ceiling mounted fans and a picture of Humphrey Bogart on the wall.

Bri: Yeah it was a great gig, really popular, but we didn’t know it was a gay club (laughs).

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Did The Fauves go in the studio ?

Bob: We always planned to do some cos it was the days of do it yourself. But we didn’t really have the money for it. Studios were expensive then. It’s one of my main regret’s that we didn’t record anything from that time.

Bri: We booked a session at Impulse Studio in Wallsend for a Monday and we picked two songs we were going to put out on a single. We went to our last rehearsal on the Saturday night and it ended up in a big argument.

What was that over ?

Bri: Nothing really.

Bob: We were just kids.

Bri: It was like ‘Hey we’ve got to get this right we’re in the studio Monda’.

Bob: I think it was a bit of frustration at the lack of getting nowhere. We weren’t making progress. We wanted to get signed and move on.

Bri: I remember going outside with Abbo, who was singer then, and just saying ‘Hey this isn’t working is it’. We drove home that night, you could hear a pin drop no one spoke a word.

That night in total silence the band left their rehearsal room under the railway arches in Newcastle. Next day a phone call was made to Impulse Studio cancelling the session. But Bri remembers a recording……

Bri: There was a reel to reel three track demo that was made at Impulse Studio. I think it was Hodge or Ski who took hold of it and tried to get some tapes made but it disappeared. There’s also a Newcastle radio interview hosted by music journalist Phil Sutcliffe, that’s also gone so we’d love to hear them again if anyone can help.

Bob: The band had just about folded by ’81 and to be fair me and Bri did go on to play and record in many other bands but The Fauves was the best band we played in. We were always disappointed that we never recorded anything with The Fauves so when we got together again 3 years ago I had in mind to record half a dozen original tracks that we done years ago.

It went really well so we thought can we put enough material together to make an album. Subsequently we’ve made 2 albums and an ep since then. We recorded tracks at The Garage Studio in South Shields and the engineer Kyle worked with us to get the sounds we were thinking off.

Bri: Most of the songs off ‘Back Off World’ were written between  1978-81. There is a couple of new tracks and theres been a few line-up changes over the years but we think it has come out really well.

Bob: We’ve played some canny gigs lately and to be fair it’s probably been more enjoyable than first time around. We have a few gigs lined up with the new line up of

Mick Smith (vocals) Allen Hughes (guitar) Bri Smith (bass) & Bob Rowland (drums).

The first one in Newcastle at Trillians on 11th November, then The Wheatsheaf, Sunderland 23rd November and the Philadelphia Club, Houghton le Spring 14th December.

For further info, gig dates, cd releases contact   https://thefauves.wordpress.com/

or via Facebook at  The Fauves punk band

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019

THE TOON SHOW – interview with Simon Donald, co-founder of VIZ

Was any subject off limits or was it all out there for ridicule ? ‘For VIZ, if it worked we used it. It was all about gut instinct’.

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Simon set up the magazine with his brother Chris in 1979 at their home in Newcastle, North East UK.  

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What was the inspiration behind VIZ ? Had you seen or heard something that made you say ‘I want to do that’ ? ‘I loved comics from an early age. I started wanting to be a comic artist when I was about eight or nine and by the age of eleven I started writing to Marvel to ask how I should go about it. My entire family were comedy lovers, we spent hours as kids listening to Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Stan Freberg, then me and my brothers started to watch Monty Python. The whole family loved Laurel and Hardy and Morecombe and Wise.

When we were teenagers my brother Chris and I were introduced to comics for adults by a school friend called Jim Brownlow, he also introduced us to Derek and Clive by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, all of these things came together with Chris’ yearning to make a magazine. A comic for grown-ups with surreal and outrageous humour and swearing. We also threw into the mix, without really thinking about it, a good dose of British working class reality’.

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What type of music did you listen to when you were young ? ‘As a small child I listened to the radio and the Dansette with my Mam and heard all her favourites like Nat King Cole, Paul Robeson, The Seekers, and Frank Sinatra. It was The Seekers that struck a chord with me and I got The Seekers Live at the Talk of the Town for Christmas 1970.

Shortly afterwards I was given a neighbour’s entire Beatles singles collection and that was me hooked. It was the Beatles all the way for the next few years. The first band I ever saw was the Junco Partners at the Peoples Theatre in 1976, followed shortly afterwards by Woody Woodmansys U-Boat at the City Hall, they were support to Uriah Heap, but the less said about that the better’.

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‘As punk rock landed I was thirteen so of course it was ‘mine’, The Clash, The Jam, The Sex Pistols and in particular The Ramones were my big things at that time, along with Alice Cooper and The Who. As the New Wave faded I rejected New Romance for the tosh that it was and got into The Faces and then The Small Faces and a whole load of mod stuff from there. I’ve always had an eclectic collection, there’s everything from disco to heavy rock in there’.

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Is working on projects different today than when you were young, do idea’s come quickly or is it a longer process? ‘I think ideas come thicker and faster when you’re younger but for me they don’t stop coming, they just get less sporadic and more focussed. I always thought it would be difficult to write a new comedy show every year but I actually really enjoy it and having produced so much work so regularly for Viz, it’s not the impossible challenge it could be.

That said sometimes ideas can take years to come to fruition, there’s an idea there but I don’t know how to use it, then one day, out of the blue, I’ll put two and two together and that night I’ll be trying it on stage’.

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When did you realise that VIZ was becoming popular, had you seen a copy somewhere unusual ? ‘There was a time when it was unusual to see the comic anywhere outside of Newcastle. Seeing it in the window of Rough Trade Records in West London in the spring of 1981 always stays with me.

It was still rarity in London five years later and I remember at a street market I took a photo of my brother Steve finding it on a comics stall. Two years after that the newspaper seller at Kings Cross Station had devoted his entire stall to the latest issue going on sale. It was unbelievable stuff’.

Did you realise the impact that VIZ would have on the North East and when was the distribution widened from pubs in Newcastle to nationwide newsagents ? ‘We distributed the comic ourselves via pubs, local independent shops of all types, national independent record stores and student union bookshops from 1979 until 1985, at that time we signed a publishing deal with Virgin Vision and they began national distribution, it started quite slowly but within three years we’d pretty much taken over the world of British magazines.

The contract was later moved to John Brown Publishing, he had been in charge at Virgin and set up his own company on the back of our success. Quite stunning looking back’.

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Are there any comedians/artists/entertainers that you like to watch or listen to today ? ‘There are some tremendous entertainers in the north east right now, a couple of my favourites who are always worth watching are Gavin Webster and Seymour Mace (pic. below). They never fail to make me cry laughing.

Two of my personal favourites nationally are Stewart Lee and Daniel Kitson, they are the sort of acts that never fail to impress me with the brilliant structure and thoughtfulness of their material, yet never fail to produce joyfully funny moments throughout their work. It’s clever but it’s all about getting laughs’.

Bringing your story up to date what are you up to now. I see you are working with Tyne Idols how is that going ? ‘I’m currently touring two shows, a stand-up show called Satiscraptory and a character show called Barry Twyford Isn’t Meant. I also do the Tyne Idols bus tour gigs, which are an absolute hoot.

There are two types, one is a story of Viz sort of thing in which with Alex Collier, another of the ex Viz editors, we take you around all the places important in the story of Viz, telling all the funniest anecdotes from our time on the comic. We stop at Viz-related pubs and you can take your own refreshments on the bus, its fantastic fun’.

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‘The other is my character tour, in which I appear as a drunken historian called John Gruntle, plus a couple of other outrageous Geordie characters; Barry Twyford and Bingo from Benton’.

For more info contact http://www.simondonald.com for VIZ contact their official website at viz.co.uk

Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2017.