THE FIXER – in conversation with former Impulse Studio and Neat Records owner David Wood

The next person to feature on this blog was owner of probably the most influential independent heavy metal record label in the 1980’s, a label that spawned Chief Headbangers Raven and Venom, who were major influences on the multi-million selling Americans, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeath.

So what was he like ? Was he the Don Arden of Tyneside ? Am I to be flown out by private jet to a yacht on the French Riviera or picked up by a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and driven off to an exclusive restaurant ? Sadly no, it was just a misty September morning when I nipped on a ferry, crossed the river Tyne and taken to a café in North Tyneside by a man wearing a fez.

What or who inspired you to start Impulse Studio ? When I left school I ended up as a Park Keeper in Wallsend Park then found a half decent job as a Technical Assistant at Proctor and Gamble. I was there for 3 year, it was well paid at £11 a week so I had a few quid to go out on a Friday night with me mates, but I couldn’t see myself staying there. For a 21st birthday present off my parents I was given a ticket to go to America on the Queen Mary.

While sightseeing in New York I came across this recording studio called Talent Masters. I went in and got talking to a guy who worked there called Chris Huston. I found out he used to be guitarist in The Undertakers from Liverpool. They had a hit record but he left the UK to be a tape technician in the studio. I’d always liked music, my instrument is the piano while not much of a player, but was really interested in this studio.

So when I returned home on the Queen Elizabeth ship I began to play around with a bit of sound recording. At that time a teenagers club was open in The Borough Theatre in Wallsend called The Manhole. This was around 1966 and people were listening to The Beatles and locally The Animals had made their name. It was a great meeting place was The Manhole, graphics painted on the walls, flower power you know, and a lot of good bands played there. That’s where I really got interested in the music scene. There was a similar place in Tynemouth called The Cave which was underneath The Gate of India Restaurant. (There was also a teenagers club in Beach Road, South Shields called The Cellar Club run by Stan Henry and his mother. Stan later opened The Latino and The New Cellar Club where Cream and Jimi Hendrix played).

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Advert for the opening of The New Cellar Club, South Shields. Taken from The Shields Gazette December 1967.

Yes I used to go to The Cellar. I’d drive to the ferry at Howdon, get on there with my car, you could in them days, then get off at Jarrow. It was a great building I think it was in the basement of their house where Stan’s mother ran the club. South Shields and Sunderland had their own places to run music from, it was great. I ended up doing some work for Stan, we ended up doing his sound equipment and for a lot of other people to keep the business ticking over.

In the Manhole club I met a band called The Chosen Few, and in them were Alan Hull, Alan ‘Bumper’ Brown on bass, singer was Rod Hood, guitarist I think was John Gibson and keyboards was Micky Gallagher who eventually played for The Blockheads, and he’d also played in The Animals when Alan Price left. They were really good and had a recording contract with PYE records. They recorded down in the West End of London at Radio Luxembourg studios. They put a couple of singles out.

Going back to The Manhole Club, that just shut one day and never reopened. I don’t know why maybe someone out there knows something about that. The Borough Theatre was built in 1906, it was a music hall at first, then a cinema, then a bingo hall. I got to know the manager and asked him for some space to run a studio. The studio was in the dressing room and the entrance to the studio was through the old stage door. There was a little booth where the doorman would of sat, well before our time (laughs).

How did you develop the space into a recording studio ? Literally built it up from scratch Gary, it took years to get it all done. At first we used egg boxes for sound proofing then bricked up all the windows. Anything was used for padding because we never had enough money then and at first we only had a mono then a stereo studio. We then purchased a 4 track, then an 8 track, eventually a 24 track machine but this was done over 10 or 12 years. This was all by the 1980’s and by then we had the run of all the building and moved the studio to the top floor, which wasn’t very popular with the bands as we had no lift. Eventually Impulse Studios were on all 3 floors.

What bands did you record and who did you get in as sound engineer ? One day I bumped into Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) by then The Chosen Few had split up, he was working as a nurse at St Nicholas Mental Hospital and still writing songs so I invited him down to record some. Impulse at that time recorded local bands. We were a progressive studio and probably recorded most people in the region who sang and played at one time in their careers. Everything then was recorded onto quarter inch tape. At that time we started to organise pressing records.

Sound engineer was Micky Sweeney, a great character, really popular with everyone. I used to do some recording as well. Micky ended up working with Lindisfarne who were born in the studio because it was there that Alan Hull got together with various members of Downtown Faction. They played together and got to know each other and it all came together.

You recorded an album with North East comedian Bobby Thompson, how did that come about ? I knew his manager Brian Shelley and he said Bobby is doing really well around the clubs do you fancy recording him ? I thought yeah we’ll give it a go. So we recorded him in Rhyope Poplars Club and Newcastle Mayfair. This was around 1978. It was around an hours recording that we put out and got Vaux breweries to sponsor it, ironically Bobby didn’t drink then and there he was on a promo poster with a pint of beer.

Soon as we put the record out it took off, they couldn’t get enough off it, straight to number one in the local charts. Every shop was selling bucket loads. It was phenomenal. Nobody could of appreciated the way it took off like it did, he even appeared on the Wogan show. But his humour didn’t travel well, he was shy of being in other places but up here in the North East he was absolutely fantastic. He could relate to the man in the street up here – the debt, the poverty, the wife and the war, he was incredible really.

With the label doing well, was Bobby responsible for Neat records ? Ha ha well with the profits from Bobby the studio came on in leaps and bounds in no time at all, so yeah we’ve got to thank him for it. We started Neat records as an alternative to what we were doing. A couple of early singles and one by a band called Motorway which was pop, not heavy metal, then a song by Jayne McKenzie written and engineered by Steve Thompson. Then Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Fist came along and suddenly we’ve got what became a New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom added to that and before we knew it we’ve built up a library of metal records.

Was there any rivalry between the top four North East metal bands – Fist, Raven, Venom and the Tygers ? Ha ha yeah they probably hated each other. No, listen, musicians are very much their own people you know. I don’t blame them. If they are the guitarist they are a ‘great guitarist’, you can’t perform in front of a dozen, hundreds, or thousands of people if you haven’t got an ego. You couldn’t stand on stage if you are a wimp, you’ve got to have something about ya – and they all do.

For Venom, first gig they played was at a church hall in Wallsend and they decided to have pyrotechnics and smoke. That all went off at the start and that’s the last we saw of the band for the whole set – they were playing behind a screen of smoke.

Did you deal with any managers or did the bands represent themselves ? I dealt with Raven directly but some of the bands had managers. One of them was a butcher (laughs) then Venom ended up with Eric Cook who really worked hard for them.  He was very enthusiastic and got a lot of things going for them. Thing was he had no experience but nobody else did really with this New Wave of Heavy Metal, it was all new. And that is something to remember about that whole scene, they were trying to play and we were trying to market, we (Neat) were all on the same level. We were balancing the recording, arranging tours, marketing, it was all interesting times, sort of in development, and some nightmare situations.

How did recording on the Neat label work for bands ? We did singles at first and they were tasters trying to get some interest, get picked up by bigger labels, that sort of thing. Some of them would end up on compilation lp’s later and some of the early Neat stuff were the demos. The first Raven album went into the national charts which was a surprise to all of us. But that was the progress we were trying to make.

How did Tygers of Pan Tang end up on MCA record label ? MCA were interested in the Tygers first single and put it out on their label which put the Tygers in a position to sign an album deal. Through their enquiries I got to know Stuart Watson who was head of A&R so I took the whole Neat project to MCA. They ended up recording albums by Fist and White Spirit. But MCA didn’t get their teeth into what we were doing so it all came back to us. It could have gone further but major companies are looking for big numbers, they didn’t want to sell 5,000 albums they wanted to sell 50,000 albums. We would have been happy to sell 1,000!

If you did sell that many how would the profit be used ? It would all go in the kitty, we wanted to progress the studio and the label – but we didn’t have any Lamborghini’s you know.

How did the label work for Raven ? We ended up doing 3 albums with them and took them to America and worked with Johnny Z at Megaforce Records based in New Jersey. They did some touring over there and Neat were managing the band at the time, paying them a retainer every week. When they came back the band had signed with the Americans. ‘Thanks for telling us’ I said, but hey that’s all in the past and we came to an agreement to release I think a live album over there.

Was that the bands natural progression to go to a bigger label ? Yes I suppose that’s fair comment to say that. We had gone as far as we could as basically a smaller outfit. I liked the band, I liked the idea of a 3 piece because it makes it easier to ship around. A 5 piece band can be much more challenging to get around on tour and in the studio.

Did the label have contacts to sell records in other countries ? We tried to get like-minded people in European countries, Holland, Italy etc, to do that but sometimes it was hard. A lot of time was spent trying to get it up and running but perhaps the label never reached it’s full potential. We sold to local record shops in the North East but a good outlet was actually mail order.

How does it work for a band if they released a single in say 1980 and the track ends up on a compilation album years later ? All the contracts were given over to Sanctuary and they had a section to deal with all the necessary releases.

What were Neat paying for as in terms of recording and tours ? We would put money up for tours and we once bought a tour bus for Fist, which was a big mistake cos it got wrecked inside. Their first single was ‘Name, Rank & Serial Number’ and ‘The Wanderer’ came much later, Status Quo ended up doing that, sounding very similar. Doing a more commercial song is a way in. Again I liked Fist and thought they had great potential, Keith Satchfield is a great singer and songwriter.

But just managing it all, controlling it all was a nightmare. There wasn’t a bottomless pit to fund it and you just try your best with the resources. What was surprising about bands playing in the UK was there wasn’t many chances to play on the big festivals, England was a hard place to play. America and Europe was mainly where the market was. I remember Holland was a good place for the bands to go.

Neat released a lot of singles would that have put the label in a good position ? Yes it helped the studio, marketing etc when the next single or album come along to record and promote.

Was there a time when Neat weren’t in a good position ? Yes often, I remember one time a band wanted to go on tour and it was £4,000. A lot to lay out because you don’t get it back cos the band don’t make much playing live. There was a lot of costs involved with going on the road.

When did Neat records fold ? Jess Cox (former Tygers of Pan Tang vocalist) got involved and we set up a separate label called Neat Metal, we put a different catalogue together, started licencing from different labels – a different approach to it. At one time we didn’t have any of the original Neat stuff on the catalogue. Eventually Sanctuary Records came in for the label and did some re-releases. A lot of independent labels have been moved around over the years.

With that I checked my watch and time was getting on so we agreed to meet up again soon where Dave will tell more stories about Impulse Studio including Cilla Black, Joan Armatrading and Sir Lawrence Olivier.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  September 2019.

 

ALL FOR THE RECORD – with Jack Meille, vocalist with Tygers of Pan Tang

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Music is life. It showed me I could follow my passion and make it my job. I’m a lucky guy.

Is there a country you haven’t played that you would like to ? Australia! That would be a dream come true.

How did you get the job with the Tygers ? In the past I have been lucky not to have had to audition for a band. Firstly, I was contacted by a Swiss management company who said a British band are looking for a new singer. Without knowing the name of who it was, I sent my CV and recordings from the album released by my band Mantra. So when I got the confirmation it was the Tygers and they wanted to audition me, I said to myself ‘Why not? Let’s do the first and hopefully, only audition of your life’. I went to Darlington on November 4th 2004 ….and got the job!

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Is there a good balance of characters in the band ? It’s a five piece band and we all have different characters, more important, very different musical taste’s. This is a bonus but sometimes it’s not easy to combine everyone’s point of view on a song, if you know what I mean. We are all very passionate when it comes to Tygers songs.

You just recorded the new album, how did that go ? It was tough, but rewarding. We were force to delay the recording twice because we didn’t feel we were ready to record. It wasn’t an easy decision to take but the best. The 11 tracks on the new album are the best we could ever record. I know it sounds like a cliche, but after all the hard work, we’re all very proud of the result.

How did you get on with the producer and former Tyger, Fred Purser ? I personally enjoyed every moment spent in the studio with Fred. He is such a talented guy and made me feel at home. I only had 6 days to record, and believe me it’s not very much when you have to record 11 songs plus a couple of bonus tracks. But I made it and have to thank him for that. Also we discovered we have a passion for craft beers. So after recording we managed to ‘indulge’ drinking some really good ones.

Who were your early influences in music ? I love rock ‘n’ roll from Chuck Berry to Slayer but the first record that really blew me away was Dark Side of the Moon. I have memories of me, about 4 or 5 years old, listening constantly to ‘On The Run’. The first record I bought, or should I say I asked my father to buy was the Queen album A Night at the Opera. Still one of my favorite albums of all time. I’m a record collector – the boys in the band can confirm that – so you can find me at festivals looking at record stalls. When it comes down to singing, the choice would go to Robert Plant, early David Coverdale, Phil Mogg, Paul Rodgers…the list may go on and on.

What has been your best gig with the Tygers so far ? There has been a few. I always enjoy playing the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany. A memorable day was at a festival in Northern Spain where we played a great set and then had the pleasure to hang around with Cheap Trick, then saw the set by John Fogerty with Ty Tabor from King’s X.

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Have you got any gigs lined up for the new album release ? During November we are going to play the UK and Europe. Before that we play Dusseldorf with Diamond Head, Doro and Saxon on 26th October 2019. (Since this interview Saxon have been forced to postpone all upcoming gigs in 2019 due to frontman Biff Byford undergoing heart surgery. Get well soon Biff).

‘White Lines’ will be the first single, released on 27th September on all platforms, and a 12″ vinyl limited release of 500 copies for all you collectors will be available from: http://targetshop.dk/…/tygers-of-pan-tang-white-lines-12vin…

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

THE FLAME BURNS ON for Davy Little ex- guitarist with NWOBHM band Axis


Davy was guitarist with Axis, who along with Fist, White Spirit, Mythra, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang were at the forefront of the North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Axis released their first single in 1980 on Neat Records and appeared on various Heavy Metal compilations. He also played with The Pauline Gillan Band, Kashka and now his latest project Lies of Smiles…. I bumped into former Axis guitarist Mick Tucker at Crash Crallans funeral in 2008. Mick worked with Crash when he was drummer for White Spirit plus working together on Tank’s Honour and Blood album (released 1984). It was a terribly sad occasion, but we chatted about old times and new. In fact it was Mick who kick-started the Lies of Smiles project, he suggested bringing in his nephew Pat O’Neill (Black Rose guitarist) and Tony Thurlow (vocals, Berlyn, Panama). He said he would contribute to the album as well.

The opportunity to work with him and the other guy’s was certainly an incentive. So I got in Chris Wing on bass and keyboards and Keith Naylor on drums from my Pauline Gillan days. We started writing. Pat O’Neill already had the basis of four tracks. We then completed the other songs, which became Cross and Claw released 2010. Absolutely brilliant that I got to play with these great players. Mick guests on a track called Fallen, a beautifully crafted solo.

Pat is an outstanding guitarist as is his Uncle Mick, but Mick trained us both, while I am not in any way in that category of guitar player, I was trained well and I know how to get the job done.  The album was produced by Fred Purser at Trinity Heights studio. Fred used to be guitarist with Tygers of Pan Tang so we knew each other from back in the 80’s. He is a great producer, great musician, a joy to work with.

Do you look back on your time in Axis ? Well back in 2011 Jaap Wagemaker and the MD Steffen Boehm from High Roller Records got in touch with Mick Tucker about an Axis album. I believe their thing is releasing stuff from the NWOBHM era. They already acquired the rights to the single Lady/Messiah and asked if we had any old recordings. I gave them 3 live and 3 studio recordings. What a job they did of the vinyl and cd Flame Burns On, with an 8 page booklet and the original Axis poster for Lady.  They were a great company to deal with, no arsing around, just did the job in spectacular fashion.

What is the story behind Axis getting involved with Neat records ? After a year of gigging we had some interest from Neat Records. They had seen us twice in Sunderland, and then Newcastle Mayfair. I say interest but I always got the impression they weren’t interested at all. I can’t say it was great working with them. Everything was an information fog, if you didn’t see it, it wasn’t true. So my first impressions of record companies wasn’t a good one.

They didn’t think we were heavy enough for the Neat label so put us on a subsidiary label Metal Minded – go figure. Anyway I didn’t really care, it was a way to get something out. The single Lady did really well. Although it seems to be the B side Messiah that gets the more favourable press. We did go back in the studio later with a couple of changes to the line-up. This time Sam Blue was vocalist (Emerson, Samson, Ya Ya) and on bass was Phil Brady (White Spirit). We recorded Flame Burns on, You Got It and One Step Ahead, they have appeared on various compilations.

I’ve only two good memories of Neat. Meeting Chronos from Venom, before he was Chronos of Venom. He worked there and was friendly, articulate, mad on drawing, and he did tell me his band were going to be the heaviest ever! I also met Fist guitarist Keith Satchfield and had seen him play with Warbeck, Axe and then Fist. Great player and writer. When I was in the studio and keeping to the Neat sound of tinny reverby guitar, he told us how to set our amps up so we didn’t get the tinny reverby guitar! Rather kind I thought.

When did you first get interested in music ? I was 15 when I started listening to the first Sabbath and Uriah Heep album’s. When I was 16 I started work at the shipyard so had some money. We would go to Redcar Jazz Club and see Mott the Hoople, Atomic Rooster, Hawkwind and Curved Air.

I also met a great blues player in the shipyard, Kenny Relton. He had a band that did clubs, the White Folks Show band, he used to let me go to gig’s with them. They covered some great tracks, Mountain, Cream, Fleetwood Mac. I think that is really the point I thought this was a good idea. Ken would give me pointers and let me play his Gibson SGs, and L6S guitars. Ken is a great player still, I think he despairs that I play heavy metal (laughs). So I had a basic lesson in all the good things, work ethic, presentation, he was a ‘get it right’ sort of lad.

I also caught UFO and Priest early on at Sunderland Locarno. I actually saw the classic Schenker/Chapman line up. Plus of course one of my great loves Blue Oyster Cult. They influence me lyrically. I don’t think many British bands have the humour, the satire, razor sharp observations, the out there poetry. So my paltry attempts at conjuring images of Sci-Fi wastelands and Starscapes usually falls a bit short of the mark (laughs).

Can you remember your first band ? I had seen Axis live with their original line up. They were great musicians.  I always thought Axis were principally a good blues band, lots of Hendrix, Robin Trower, Wishbone Ash.

In 1979 I was looking for a band to join, I was 23 so late as a guitar player. I went to audition as second guitarist and I remember having to learn a couple of Scorpions, Deep Purple and UFO tracks. However it must be pointed out that I did arrive with a fair amount of cash from my welding job. There were probably better guitar players than me that applied, but I was older and had a decent job. I suspect I bought my way in. You know, give me the job please and I will buy this massive PA (laughs).

The chemistry was good and I got the job and Axis were the first band I was in. Mick Tucker was and is a ferocious guitar player. I knew I could work and learn from him, try to create something different. We had a darker design for Axis.
Who else was in the band ? I was surrounded by great musicians. Mick already had the line-up he wanted. Marty Day (drums) Paul McGuire (keyboards) John Cunningham (bass) Neil Grafton (vocals). They were all very patient with me as I had a pretty steep learning curve. Initially we did lots of covers, Blue Oyster Cult, Scorpions, UFO, Montrose, but our main aim was to have our own stuff as the main part of the set, it just took time.

Can you remember your first gigs ? First gigs were Thornaby Cons club. Lots of the NWOBHM bands played there like White Spirit, Limelight, Son of a Bitch who went on to become Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang and Vardis. The circuit was pretty good, the Warrington Lion, Sunderland Locarno where I sat on every toilet seat in the dressing room so I could have my arse where Michael Schenker once sat (laughs).

Me and our manager John Lancaster were big pals with White Spirit’s manager Mike Sanderson so we supported them a few times. Gigging was always fun with Axis. I was in a band that is all that mattered. We travelled the length and breadth of the country.

Any road stories from that time ? A memorable one was 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 the 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’ (laughs). 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’ (laughs).

Another time our bus had broken down so we had to hire a Luton van to get us to a gig in Wales. We were on the road to Tonypandy when the Luton stopped, back doors opened and we get out looking at a battered bridge over a gorge in Wales. If you were a sparrow you wouldn’t have landed on it! Apparently there had been a lot of storms that caused structural damage so there was a sign that read something like ‘Safe load..?’

Well this Luton with all the kit and us in it must’ve been well over the limit. To turn back would take hours, so our manager John Lancaster and soundman Paul Cleugh said… ‘Just jump in the back lads, we’ll turn round and find another way’. So we did, like fools. Back door shuts, van rev’s like it’s in a drag race, sets off with wheels screeching and us holding on to anything. We go 200 yards then stop and the back doors open. We have just gone over the bridge of death. Mr Lancaster and Mr Cleugh crying laughing to shouts of ‘Are you fucking mental’. I asked why they didn’t just let us walk across the death bridge. The answer was… “That would have been no fun at all”.

What happened to Axis ? The story ends with guitarist Janik Gers leaving White Spirit to join Gillan and Mick Tucker leaving Axis to join White Spirit. We found it hard to replace a guitar player like Mr Tucker, plus we had too many line-up changes in a short time. Axis called it a day. Mr Tucker later joined Tank and is still touring and putting great albums out now, they have a really healthy following.
Pauline Gillan Band

Where did you go then ? I joined the Pauline Gillan Band who were initially signed to Mausoleum Records, but then Powerstation got us out of that deal, so we signed to them. They were good people I liked them. They had Chrome Molly on their roster and later Little Angels. A couple of singles came from the album Hearts of Fire and we took it out on the road touring extensively around the UK and Europe. I brought John Lancaster the former Axis manager in as road manager. He was and is a great fixer. We also had decent management, a guy called Jim Sculley, also Black Rose’s manager. He worked his ass off for us and spent a lot of money. We did a Tyne Tees TV live music show called TX45 and that was good fun.

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What studio did the band use to record the album ? We went into Fairview studio in Willerby near Hull. It was like Club Paradise compared to Neat. In reality we did what we could, but we weren’t great writers. Powerstation did bring in some outside writers and we recorded some of that stuff. Not sure what happened with it, may have appeared on a compilation.

Have you any road stories from your time in the Pauline Gillan band ? I remember playing in Watford and we had a very famous guest backstage, the drummer from The Sweet, Mick Tucker – not to be confused with Mick Tucker from Axis/White Spirit/Tank. He was very straight with us.. ‘I’m looking for bands to produce, I want to take you into the studio and record that song you do, it has hit written all over it’. The song in question unfortunately was Eric Martins Just Another Pretty Boy and it had been a hit for Mr Martin in the USA. We covered it in the set and he could obviously spot a tune, but unfortunately we couldn’t write one. He didn’t finish his beer (laughs).

Whilst on tour we had a particular Spinal Tap incident in Scotland. We stayed in a great hotel for a few days in a place called the Bridge of Allan and got to meet Jack Bruce (Cream) – he lived there. We bought the biggest bass cab you have ever seen off him. This particular night our management had got us a fill in gig, rather than sit on our arses in a nice hotel we had to get out and work. It was a workingman’s club and we knew we were in trouble when we looked at the juke box. All country and western, the stage had silver and gold tassles at the back. They told us to do two 45 minute sets. Which we didn’t ever do, I mean the night before we had played Glasgow Apollo a real hard rock venue.

Anyway we set up, soundchecked and you could see the bar staff with their mouths open at the sheer volume. Lots of shuffling from the committee men. That night we emptied the place in around 5 minutes, but like troopers we carried on at full tilt. I noticed two white haired old dears sat right at the back, drink in front of them, just staring at the stage. Between a break in a song I said to Pauline ‘When we’re finished I’m going to buy them a beer. Who would have thought the two oldest people would stay through this’.

We came off stage, got changed and were told by the committee that our services would not be required for the second 45 minutes, fine by me. I went to ask the two old people what they wanted to drink just as their carers arrived with their wheelchairs… they couldn’t get out if they wanted to (laughs).

But it was hard for Pauline being constantly compared to Ian (Gillan) who is one of the greatest rock singers of a generation in one of the greatest bands of a generation. But in Pauline’s defence she never wanted to call it The Pauline Gillan Band that was the record company insisting. But it worked and we got great gigs, festivals in Europe, great hotels. Oh we also got backstage passes for some spectacular Deep Purple gigs on the Perfect Strangers tour. We did our best as Pauline did, she was great to work with, fun, articulate and liked to party. I enjoyed that time immensely.

I only have good memories of the Pauline Gillan Band. We seemed to gig forever, that made us a tight band and we had fun wherever we went.

Did you work in any other studios ? After Pauline Gillan I recorded with a band, Kashka. That was for Curain Records who put us in Fairview Studios, the Producer was John Spence.  We had Dave Bell, guitar, Chris Wing, bass/keyboards from the Pauline Gillan Band and our friend Mick King on drums. We worked with two great girl singers Lorraine Crosby and Jackie Fox, and we really found our thing as writers. The usual thing tons of interest. Isn’t there always? Even from the Queen management, they called and said Brian May was interested. We got a lovely letter off him saying he had crashed his car whilst listening to the tracks! He particularly liked the two girl’s voices.

So story goes he took it to America with him. However the view from their company in the USA was that they had factories churning out great girl singers and this type of AOR. As it happened neither of the girls could commit to gigging. They both had decent well paid careers as singers, we couldn’t afford them and they understandably didn’t want to do anything on a flimsy promise of stardom.

What are you doing now ?  I always think Lies of Smiles is what I wanted Axis to develop into. You know the Starscapes, Warscapes, God as an Alien, Lucifer misunderstood. Aliens as controllers of the human race and all that heavy metal bollocks in all its glory.

On both albums Cross & Claw (2010) and Dreams of the Machinoix (2015), Lies of Smiles have produced two huge granite slab’s of classic 80’s hard rock enhanced by Ronnie James Dio ‘Mob Rules’ era vocals. Both album’s benefit from slick, solid, meaty production courtesy of Fred Purser at Trinity Heights studio in Newcastle. Ticking all the boxes of any respected heavy rock/metal album.

There may be another Lies of Smiles album, 3 is a good number, it’s enough to tell a story! Dependant entirely on the boys in the band, we have the means to do it so it’s just time and commitment, and for no other reason than to create. Simple as that.

What does music mean to you ? Maybe it’s mathematical, the laws of physics and mathematics apply to the planet, the Solar System, the Universe. ‘There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres’. (Pythagoras). Thing is music is entirely intertwined with mathematics, even a basic major chord can be described mathematically.

But just listening to it is one of the most important things in life. It touches people and has a deeply profound effect on people’s emotions. It elevates people, makes them happy or sad, brings back vivid memories of times and places. The creativity, comradeship and feeling of creating something from absolutely nothing. Looking back it was all fun, still is. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Contact the band on their official website:  https://www.liesofsmiles.com/home

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2019.

CUSTOM SONGS in conversation with South Tyneside musician & studio engineer Martin Francis Trollope

We had John Gallagher from Raven in the studio the other week. He came in to add vocals and bass for something Steve Thompson was putting together. (Steve is a North East songwriter who featured in a post June 27th 2017). It was amazing. I only heard of Raven when I went to a Slayer gig last November with Anthrax supporting them. They said it was great to be in Newcastle where Venom and Raven came from. A few month later here he was hanging out in the studio. I listened to the album and I could totally see it. When John came in and put the vocal down he could still do it. He was screaming and held a note for about a minute and the bass, well he was flying all over the place. Yes he’s still got it.

Steve was putting these songs together for his publishing company and he was having such a good time it’s ended up for an album. He’s done about 15 songs. He like’s it here so just kept coming back. A lot of people do return, we get reviews on social media saying the studio is just nice and relaxed atmosphere.

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Who else have you had in the studio ? Lately we’ve had Newcastle musician Afnan Prince in the studio, also Connor Pattison from Durham. They have an Arctic Monkeys sound. After some recordings here the file of individual tracks of bass, snare drum, vocals etc get sent to another engineer who put’s a sort of extra shine on the mix you know and get’s it played on the radio.

We had some kids from Sunderland doing like indie rock which is a big thing. We had a band called Tank Engine in doing a real thrashy rock. They are from Washington and used to be in a band called Your Code Name is Milo who did fairly big thing’s in the 2000s. The drummer is in a band with tv’s Hairy Bikers. They are releasing stuff in Spring and I’m really looking forward to it, really interesting band.

I’ve done a lot of rap, so I was producing some beats and people were coming on and rapping on them. There was some acoustic stuff like with singer/songwriter Trev Gibb who has branched out on all sorts of sounds now.Most of what I do now is the finished product. Radio play, You Tube and Trev’s is for an album.

Most of what I record here end’s up on Radio Newcastle at some point. Some end up on BBC Radio 6. One was for a 15 year old called Tom Smith. He played on all the instruments and we sent it in and Radio DJ Tom Robinson loved it and played it. Just this Saturday I had 4 songs produced here on BBC Newcastle so that was good.

Sounds like the studio is getting a reputation… Yes it’s building up. Only in the last couple of years it’s started to happen as this has been here about 15 years. First off it was based around a youth club which was a great idea when it was 50p to come in and record. I wouldn’t have started recording if it wasn’t for that.

About 10 years ago Daniel Clifford and I were in a band called Squares and recorded a few EP’s with original engineer John Clavering. We picked up how to record so we made an album. We didn’t know anything about EQ or compression (laughs). But we learned and I ended up getting a job here.

Do you think there is much original music out there and venues to play ? As far as I know there is some amazing stuff in the North East. I catch up with it by listening to BBC Radio Newcastle on a Saturday night 8-10pm. That’s their introducing show run by Nick Roberts. All you have to do is load an mp3 to the introducing site, they have a listen and your song can go to your local radio or if they really like it a national show like BBC1 Extra.

For venues there is still The Cluny, or The Riverside which is good. The Head of Steam is still going. These are Newcastle but as far as I know nothing in South Shields. You can hire out The Customs House but you’d have to already have a following to do that. Most pub’s are focused on cover bands because that’s what get’s people through the doors. I think The Queen Vic were trying out bands but don’t know how that worked. Bands I record haven’t mentioned playing in Shields.

I’m working on putting a funding bid together to organise a live music event mainly for a student audience. Just need to fine tune it.

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With home recording made easier why would musicians use this or any studio ? I love that you can record at home. It’s what I used to do for demo’s and singles. Had some good sounds recorded in the house. But if you pay what we charge £15 per hour you get access to excellent industry standard microphone’s, guitar amp’s, drum kit to make a big noise which you wouldn’t be able to do in your house. Plus my years of experience which all counts.

Interview by Gary Alikivi January 2019.

 Contact Martin on 0191 456 3917

The Customs Space, Captains Row, South Shields NE33 5AS

ROCK CITY LIVE with Robb Weir, TYGERS OF PAN TANG guitarist

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Since releasing their last album in 2016 the Tygers have had a successful two years equalling or maybe bettering the NWOBHM days back in the 80’s. 2018 has seen them playing gigs around the UK and Europe with Kiss, Ozzy and the Dead Daisies plus a recent headline show in Japan. Can they add more kudos to their well oiled machine? With a live album release ‘Hellbound-Spellbound ‘81’ from the line up of Jon Deverill (vocals), John Sykes (guitar), Brian Dick (drums), Rocky (bass) and Robb Weir (guitar). Was this a recording of that line up at its peak?

Yes absolutely. John Sykes played on the Wildcat tour in September ’80, but not on the Wildcat album and Jon Deverill joined us just before Christmas 1980. We were writing for the next album and with the ‘new blood’ in the line up the sound changed a little bit because those two great guys brought a different edge to the Tygers, more melodic I think. Wildcat had a heavier feel to it and a bit of a punky element to it as well. I played it in its entirety a while ago and didn’t realise how much punk music had influenced me.

The opening track on this live album, ‘Take It’ was written by John Sykes and me. When John first joined the Tygers he came round to my house to learn the songs for the then, upcoming Wildcat tour. During these sessions John said I’ve got an idea for a new song. He played me the front end, (opening) of ‘Take It’ I liked it, added in something I had, played it together and added a chorus and ‘Take It’ was born. Unfortunately it was the only song that John and I wrote together. I was used to writing by myself, John and Jon Deverill lived in the same flat so they worked on songs together. As for both Spellbound and Crazy Nights the song writing guitar riff ideas were 50/50 between John and me. Then we would put them in the pot and they become everybody’s….adding drum parts and bass.

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What were the nuts and bolts of making this live album ? We were on the UK part of the Spellbound tour in 1981, it was the second show of the tour at the Nottingham Rock City venue. Normally you would record a live performance on the last day of a major tour when you’ve had 30 odd dates to have a bit of a practice! But the Tygers never do anything easy, always back to front and upside down, we’re at the front of the queue for that (laughs).

Our record company at the time MCA hired the Rolling Stones mobile recording unit. Which was quite revolutionary in those days, it was an articulated lorry with an amazing recording studio inside of it and was owned by The Rolling Stones. It was a business venture for them and they hired it for location recording. This mobile studio was made very famous in the seventies when it went to Montreux to record Deep Purple and ‘Smoke on the Water!’ It was state of the art at the time. It parked outside Nottingham Rock City running all the recording lines inside so effectively all your equipment was double mic’d. One mic for the live sound in the hall, and one mic that ran back out to the truck for recording purposes.

 Who was engineer on the recording? Chris Tsangarides who had produced both the Wildcat and Spellbound albums had come out on the road with us to do our front of house sound. However, on this special night he couldn’t be in two places at once so he did our sound check for us and set the sound up. The guy who came with the huge sound system that we took on the road with us did front of house sound mix that night.

In those days you took your show on the road with you. It wasn’t like in Academy’s these days where everything like lights and sound system are already in house, and all you need is your backline. In those days when you went into a hall it was empty. So you had to put your sound system and lighting rig in. Consequently touring then was a lot more expensive. When you did a big tour with a big production, you almost lost money but you did it to promote your album hoping next day people would go to the record shop and buy it. That’s where you would recoup your money for the tour.

On the day of recording Chris Tsangarides set the sound up and then went into the mobile where he did the sound check again so he could set the levels and tones on the recording desk. When we were playing live Chris did what you call an ‘on the fly’ mix as well.

What was the set up as far as sound equipment and crew for the Spellbound tour? On the Spellbound tour we had two 40 foot articulated tractor pulled trailers, and a nightliner bus for the crew. We had a 16 man crew working for us. It was quite a big do as they say and in 82 when we did The Cage tour that was an even bigger production, both productions cost a lot of money. Of course you hope to get bums on seats to recoup a bit of that back. Support bands would pay to come out on the road with you because that’s the way it was done. That money all went towards the headline bands costs.

As far as I remember when we went out we took the Malcolm Hill rig out which was famed for AC/DC using it. I’m pretty sure it was a 35,000 watt rig, which was a lot of noise coming out the front of the system at you! Then on stage we had about 12,000 watt’s of monitors. I used to have two 1,000 watt wedges in front of me and they were on full tilt. We used to play loud, really loud (laughs).

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The live recording was at Nottingham Rock City. Was that a memorable day in the Tygers history? Actually there was a prequel to this show. We were staying at The Holiday Inn in Nottingham and we were all absolutely laden with flu apart from John Sykes. We were so bad our Tour Manager called for medical advice. A doctor came out and said we shouldn’t be playing, particularly Brian our drummer because he was an asthmatic. He had an array of inhalers which he used to take in-between smoking his Embassy regals (laughs). The doctor actually wrote us out a sick note to excuse us from playing, I don’t know who we were going to show it to! Maybe Tom our manager has still the sick note? (Laughs). But there was no way we weren’t playing, the gig was sold out and we were recording it.

After the gig did you hear the recording played back? At the end of the show John Sykes, who was as bubbly as ever, went to see Chris in the Rolling Stones recording mobile, they had a discussion and John came back and said Chris doesn’t think it’s very good. I can’t remember whether he had said we had made some mistakes, maybe not played very well, or something had gone wrong in the recording process, I honestly can’t remember. Nothing more was said and I guess the record company (MCA) who paid for the whole deal must have been gutted. Again there wasn’t an inquisition about it, it was just left.

It was all recorded on 2 inch Ampex tape and our manager Tom Noble took them away and they lived under a bed in his spare bedroom for years. It was only Chris and John who had heard anything from the tapes.  Brian, Rocky, Jon Deverill and myself hadn’t heard anything.

The life of the band moved on until 2000 when I said to Tom the Tygers manager, ‘you know those live tapes from ‘81 should we have a listen to them?’  He said, ‘yes, they’re under the bed in the spare room.’ So we asked Fred Purser who replaced John Sykes in 1982 and recorded The Cage album, then toured with the Tygers. When Fred left the band he went into the production side of the music business. Fred now has a wonderful studio called Trinity Heights in Newcastle. He agreed to do it but we had to hire a machine to play the tapes on because they were out dated. There was nothing in the North East so we had to ring down to London and hire a 24 track Ampex tape playing machine. Fred took delivery and transferred the tapes to digital format but because of the age of them we were told we probably would only get one chance to copy them as the Ampex tape could disintegrate! Luckily we did it.

What did the recording sound like? Fantastic, Tom and I couldn’t understand why the tapes hadn’t been used? The only thing that was wrong was because of time, the first four tracks on my guitar had ‘fallen off’ the tape. So I sourced the same pick up I had on my Gibson Explorer at the time, put it on a suitable guitar and went in the studio and recorded my guitar part’s again for the first four tracks. That is the only thing that has ever been touched so this is a complete live album with no overdubs, unlike a lot of live albums back in the day!

It has now come out years later that on some live albums back then maybe only a snare drum was live and the band went back into the studio to record most of it again– a bit naughty, but I understand band’s want their best work recorded. But if you can’t play live should you really be in the business? I’m very proud that ours IS live.

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Robb and Soren Anderson.

Why the re-release now? Well Fred mixed it and it came out in 2000 on general release. Three years ago when we signed with Target Records the C.E.O Michael Anderson, asked whether we would be interested in putting out a remixed version by Soren Anderson, who mixed our current album. So it’s been on the back burner for a while. It just so happened the timing was perfect because Soren started a mix on the album and two weeks later he appeared in Newcastle playing with former Deep Purple bass player, Glenn Hughes. I went to see them at the Academy here in Newcastle and met Soren, he said he had a day off the next day in Newcastle. Michael McCrystal (Tygers guitarist) managed to get us some studio time at Blast Studios, through his academy of music connections. This is where we recorded all the backing tracks for our current album.

So we went into Blast, he put the album up as they say, listened to some of the mixes that Soren had done and I suggested some things. All that’s happened is the tones of the instruments have been sharpened up, levels have been changed, we found backing vocals which were too low in the original mix, it’s come out really well, it’s a huge sounding live album now to be fair.

The record company are bringing it out on various formats, CD, vinyl and a box set including a signed tour poster and a ticket to Nordic Noise Festival next year in Copenhagen. It’s a great package. There’s also a tour pass from 1981.

‘Hellbound – Spellbound 81’ is available 21st  December 2018 via the official Target Records website and in the shops 25th January 2019.

Interview by Gary Alikivi December 2018.

For more Tyneside stories why not subscribe to the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

WHEN THE MUSIC’S (not) OVER.

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For the music is your special friend

Dance on fire as it intends

Music is your only friend until the end

Until the end, until the end.

(The Doors, When the Music’s Over from the album Strange Days, 1967)

First thing in the morning it’s the squawk from the seagulls, the gush of water as you fill the kettle then turn the radio on. Sound is all around us. At Junior school I remember hearing Jewish songs like ‘Hava Nagila’ and ‘Shalom Shavarim’. The radio played ‘Leader of the Pack’ by The Shangri-La’s and ‘Gaudete’ by Steeleye Span.  Watching Top of the Pops meant my pocket money was spent on a 7inch single by Slade or Sweet. I still listen to a lot of music today and buy the odd cd. Last one I bought was a double, a Best of Bob Dylan. I got it at a car boot sale for a quid ! Bargain. There were loads of great songs on so I got my wallet out but only had a £20 note. ‘Struggling for change here have you got nothing smaller ?’ said the bloke. I searched in my pocket for some change and counted out 90p. Holding the note in one hand and the coins in the other. He said ‘No chance, I’m not selling that for 90p….. it’s a double album !’  

I’ve closed a lot of interviews by asking what does music mean to you or what has music given you ? The answers are fired back. No chin stroking, no pause for thought, just an instant reply. Here are some of them….

Michael McNally: ‘Music is an escape, a freedom from whatever ties us down. It can be the medicine we require to soothe or the motivation to move. Without it we are monotone, bland and sad’. 

Bernie Torme: ‘Meeting great people, shit people and doing things that a shy kid with a stutter from Dublin could never have imagined in a thousand years! Gave me everything really, for which I am eternally grateful, I wouldn’t have exchanged my life for anyone else’s. It definitely did not make me rich though! 

David Ditchburn: ‘Got loads of happy memories, I would never change it you know. I’ve done a few other things in life and enjoyed them but still every night I sit down and play the guitar and write songs. I can’t imagine life without it really. It’s what I exist for I guess’.

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Danny McCormack: ’Well it’s got me around the world and it’s like a feeling of belonging. You go to a gig and I feel one of the crowd. I’m with my people, being part of a community of music lovers, and I can express myself in music. Being confident and comfortable in yer own skin which is important. The ultimate that music has given me is freedom’.

John Gallagher: ‘It’s given us so much, the opportunity to travel the world, meet my wife, have my family and just the ability to sit in a room with a guitar and bang out some riffs and create a song. Just to know that you have made something. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do what we do and do not take that lightly, so when we go out its 100% 24/7/365 mate!!!!

John Verity: Music has given me everything – but at times it has taken everything away too. It means everything to me. I have a very long-suffering wife, Carole. She lets me be what I am despite the faults and that’s amazing, the way she accepts my obsession with all things music related’.

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Robb Weir: ‘I’ve loved every second of my musical career, the whole ride has been like sitting at the front of a giant rollercoaster, hands up, screaming with delight! Music is a way of life, it’s a wonderful thing, and it can be your best friend. You can turn to music at any time of your life and it can be a great comforter. I absolutely love it.’ 

Arthur Ramm: ‘Well I can’t live without music. If my hands don’t work I don’t know what will happen. I listen to music all the time and I am in a band now with Les’. 

Les Tones: ‘When I’ve got a guitar I lose loads of time cos I can’t put it down. I’ve also been teaching music and I got into repairing and building guitars. I still play in a band now’. 

Tony Wilson: ‘It was like opening a door to the world – I’ve travelled, met good and bad people. Coming back to the folk scene I’m flattered that people remember me. There’s still some fantastic people who put you up, give you meals, drive you places…just the most incredible thing ever….really….that’s music’.

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David Taggart: ‘Everything. Even more so as I get older. Lying on my back as a toddler in our council house listening to Swan Lake, Ella Fitzgerald or the Fab Four. Or at the Newcastle City Hall to see the now legendary Rolling Stones concert where Jagger introduced the crowd to his new wife Bianca – while Bowie clapped in the wings. Fashions and fads fall along the wayside as your journey progresses and all you’re left with is the thing that really matters. The music’.

Gary Alikivi September 2018.

To read the full interviews just type the name in the white box at the top right hand of the page.

Don’t forget to check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel.

DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #3

Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. ‘Pity Me’ features later in this story by Steve Thompson, songwriter and ex producer at NEAT records. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded in Guardian were: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7”. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior had made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

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

I had just cut a single with The Hollies. Bruce Welch of The Shadows was in the production seat for that recording in Odyssey Studios, London. I signed a publishing deal with Bruce and remember signing the contract at Tyne Tees TV Studios in Newcastle, Hank Marvin was witness. Bruce had heard an 8 song demo of my songs and selected 4 favourites from it. He asked me to make some more advanced demos of those 4. I could have gone into Neat/Impulse Studio but I still wanted to carve new territory so I went to Guardian Studios in Pity Me, County Durham. I played bass, keyboards and guitar on the session with Paul Smith on drums and I brought my old mate Dave Black in to do vocals. I spent two full days on those demos, Bruce Welch was paying and he really wanted me to go to town on the production. Then a producer called Chris Neil entered the story. Chris had worked with Leo Sayer, Gerry Rafferty, A-Ha, Rod Stewart, Cher and others. Chris and I had just had a massive hit with his production of my song Hurry Home. Chris was by now having a bit of a love affair with my material. Chris had asked Bruce to give him first dibs on any of my new songs that came along. He picked up on two from the four songs I’d just demoed in Guardian. One of them he sang himself under the band name Favoured Nations. But the recording pertinent to this story is his production of Sheena Easton’s new album Madness, Money and Music. He recorded my song Please Don’t Sympathise for that album. The album did very well. It went top 20 in the UK, peaking at 13. It also charted in several other countries and did particularly well in Japan’.

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

NEAT BITES – Making Records on Wallsend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHASSLAYNE NEAT

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

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

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

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

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robb Weir TYGERS OF PAN TANG: Doctor Rock  2017

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

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

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

 

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Gaurdian Sound Studio’s were based in a small village called Pity Me in County Durham, North East UK. There are various theories on the origin of the unusual name of the village – a desolate area, exposed and difficult to cultivate or a place where monks sang ‘Pity me o God’ as they were chased by the Vikings. Whatever is behind the name it was what happened in two terraced houses over 30 years ago that is the focus of this blog. They were home to a well known recording studio. From 1978 some of the bands who recorded there: Neon, Deep Freeze and Mike Mason & the Little People. A year later The Pirahna Brothers recorded a 7” single. 1979 saw an E.P from Mythra and releases in 1980 from Hollow Ground, Hellanbach and a compilation album, Roksnax. From 1982 to 85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior made singles or albums. I caught up with a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian… 

SPARTAN WARRIOR 

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Dave Wilkinson (vocals): ‘Spartan Warrior recorded at Guardian Studio in 1983/1984. My abiding memory of recording there is that the studio was said to be haunted and that made for a lot of winding up. There were occasions when although we’d been booked into the studio during the day time Terry Gavaghan, the producer of Spartan Warrior’s first two albums, would often have us recording throughout the evening and into the early hours of the following morning… that was just his way of working. In fact it wasn’t uncommon for us to arrive for a midday start on a Saturday and be finishing up at 5:00am on the Sunday! Needless to say that a lot of the overnight sessions involved a lot of ghost story telling by Terry. The control room had a large glass window next to the mixing desk and and from there you could see into the room in which the band was set up to record. It was quite dark in that room and I think it was only dimly lit with a red light. I found myself in situations where there would be a couple of hours spent with Terry in the control room and he’d tell us about the various sightings of the ghost of a little girl and there had been occasions when peoples headphones had inexplicably flown off across the room during a take. We’d all be sitting there listening and making light of it and then in the early hours Terry would send me into the other room to do a vocal in the dimly lit room while the rest of the band stayed in the control room. To say that I was apprehensive would be an understatement!!

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‘On one occasion we were in there recording a track called Witchfinder for the Steel n’ Chains album and Terry thought that it would be cool for the five of us to record a Satanic Chant at the opening of the track. So after a lot of the usual ghostly tales we all went around the vocal microphone while Terry remained in the control room with a lad who I think might have been a neighbour of his who was helping him in the studio that day. We had a few runs through this chant and it was an unrehearsed shambles but he called us back in to the control room to have a listen. Terry set the analogue recordings running and we listened back… then the tape machine just ground to a halt and he pointed at the digital clock which measured the length of the track and it came up as six minutes and sixty six seconds… 666… just like that. Terry looked really worried and said you can’t have a clock showing 666 seconds and he was  telling us something sinister was at work probably brought on by the Satanic Chant. He said that we ought to abandon the idea before anything horrendous happened… he said the Chant could bring about terrible things if blood was spilled… I think he actually said “all you need is blood”. Then the lad got up to go into the kitchen to make us all a cup of tea and he banged his head off one of the monitors and split his head open… that was it… blood was spilled and we were all terrified. It was almost certainly a wind up. I’m pretty sure Terry could have done something to make the clock show 666 but the lad did actually split his head open. The Chant never made the album!

‘On another occasion during the Steel n’ Chains sessions we took a mate of ours along and of course the ghost stories started mid- evening. I was about to put some vocals down so the other four lads plus our mate went down the street to the pub and while they were away Terry hatched his plan. He wrote himself a one way conversation and then recorded himself whilst leaving gaps at the end of each sentence so that when he played it back he could speak to ‘the voice’ live in apparent conversation. He then speeded up the recording so that it sounded like a ghostly child speaking and not just that but speaking to our friend… to protect his identity I’ll call him ‘Steve’. Terry then rigged up a ghostly model using an old Airfix model skull with a wig on it, a microphone stand at half mast with a coat hanger and child’s nightgown hanging on it. So it just looked like a little girl in a nightgown with this awful skull face and long black hair. Then we waited for the lads to come back. Once everyone was settled Terry again started telling his tales of the ghostly sightings into the early hours of the morning. He’d managed to let the other Spartan Warrior guys know what he was planning to do when ‘Steve’ was in the toilet as he was going to need their help to pull off the prank. Guardian Studio consisted of three terraced houses and the recording facility was in the middle. Because of that there were multiple points of access and exit. So once Terry had had an hour or two of his scary stories he turned to recording and set away his pre-recorded ghostly conversation which went something like:-

Steve, Steve’.

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

Then it goes on –

Ghost: Steeeeeve.

Terry: Who are you?

Ghost: Steeeeve, Steeeeve.

Terry: What do you want?

Ghost: I want Steeeeeeeve

Steve: Tell it to fuck off!!

‘So the tape finishes and of course ‘Steve’ is concerned so Terry told him to go and put the kettle on. Off Steve goes to the kitchen where the Ghost Model is set up and of course he sees it, screams and runs back into the control room saying that he’s ‘seen it’. Of course we go to investigate but it’s not there because one of the guys has moved it into the toilet during the commotion. So ‘Steve’ gets calmed down and after about 40 minutes is asked to go and get some toilet paper out of the toilet to clean the tape heads with. Of course he sees the Ghost Model again and runs back into the control room screaming blue murder and we have to calm him again. In fact I think Terry told him that if he was going to mess about and unnerve the band he would have to go home and he gave him a bit of a telling off. Terry then walks ‘Steve’ to the toilet, puts the light on and no ghost… of course it’s been taken out of the back door and round to the front entrance and stood in the porch at the entrance to the studio. We all have a cup of tea and a bit of light banter then we get to work again but this time Terry asks ‘Steve’ to nip next door to get whatever the hell he was asking for this time. I forget, but naturally ‘Steve’ is reluctant to go. So one of the lads tells him that he’ll come with him. So the two of them head out of the control room into the adjoining recording area which is in darkness save for the red light. They walk beyond the drum booth to a set of double sound proofed heavy doors that lead to the porch and front street as well as Terry’s living accommodation. The first door was opened by whoever was with ‘Steve’ and he opens the second door to the porch which is of course in darkness and guess what he sees!

‘Steve’ comes hurtling back through the recording area, into the control room absolutely panic stricken, almost to the point of tears, just gasping for breath and in a right state. I honestly thought he was going to collapse and I really felt it had gone too far not realising that he was of such a nervous disposition. The icing on the cake though was when we all had to sit down with him and calmly tell him what had been done and he was reluctant to believe it. To convince him somebody went to get the ghost model and brought it through to the control room to show him. We all fell about laughing when he lost his temper and punched the skull in the face. Looking back it’s a wonder we ever got any recording done’.

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

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Gary Alikivi May 2018.

Recommended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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