In the early 1980s the North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal included the big five of Raven, Fist, Venom, Satan and Tygers of Pan Tang. After a load of gigs played, records made and over 40 year experience in the music biz you’d think Tygers guitarist Robb Weir had seen it all.
The last three live shows the Tygers played were back in March 2020 when we went to Holland, Belgium and in Germany with Saxon. When we returned back to the UK a national lock down was imposed and that meant no more live appearances for a few months, or so we thought.
Here we are in February 2022 nearly two years on and our live shows are still being postponed, what is really going on? If you know please tell me as I have run out of patience!
How did you handle the lockdown ?
I write music all the time so when we were confined to our ‘living spaces’ I took the opportunity to demo some of the ideas I had with thoughts of the next album in mind.
Along with all this lock down caper we changed our guitar player and welcomed the amazing fretboard talents of Mr Francesco Marras into the Ambush – if you didn’t already know an ‘Ambush’ is the name for a gathering or group of tigers in the wild!
What was the recording process ?
I demoed about twenty songs and sent them to Francesco to get his input and fresh ideas on them. Francesco re-recorded them in his studio and with his musical additions took them to the next level. The only problem we had was deciding which ones were going to make the final cut onto the new album as they were all contenders.
At the same time we also decided to record an EP to give everyone a taste of what’s to come, also to showcase Francesco’s ability to play a lovely melodic guitar solo, so two new tracks were written.
We also asked Francesco which was his favourite track from Wildcat our first LP in 1980. He said ‘Killers’ was always one of his favourites and I had a bit of a passion to re-vamp ‘Fireclown’.
We set about recording these four tracks remotely in our own studios, I recorded my parts in Gav Gray’s studio as mine is out of the ark. The finished tracks were sent to Marco Angioni, at Angioni Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark to be mixed and then across to Harry Hess in Canada to be mastered.
Is there a release date for the record ?
‘A New Heartbeat,’ is officially released World Wide on February 25th with an accompanying video but can be purchased pre-release online now from the Tygers web shop (link below) also our record company’s web shop Target Records.
What’s next for the Tygers ?
Gav Gray (bass) decided he wanted to visit ‘pastures new’ after we finished the new recordings so we have now welcomed a new bass player into the Tygers family, Huw Holding.
I’m very excited about the new Tygers material as I feel it’s the strongest yet, but we’ll let you be the judge of that….best Tyger wishes to you all!
To celebrate the quarter of a million milestone the next couple of posts include messages from contributors to the blog.
Mond Cowie (ex-Angelic Upstarts) ‘Well done on the milestone Gary, great achievement, it was a pleasure being involved. I love reading the posts, it brings back so many great memories of gigs, bands, friends and pigs heads! What a blast we all had eh…long may it continue.’
Lou Taylor (Satan, Blind Fury, Heaven or Hell) ‘Extremely proud and honoured to have been asked to contribute to the Alikivi Culture and Music Blog, it’s so amazing that we have someone with enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to the scene – long live the Alikivi Blog !’
John Gallagher (Raven) ‘Congrats on hitting that 1/4 million mark.. and telling so many cool stories of our NE music scene!!!’
Emma Wilson (Singer/Songwriter) ‘When I released my first EP Gary offered to do a piece for the North East culture blog. Since then he has approached me at every milestone of my career – often even before I have decided to start my promotion he messages me “Get your info over to me”.
He helps promote me and often gives me a cherished page on his magnificent blog enabling my music to reach a huge audience. As an independent artist the exposure I get from Gary’s blog is invaluable. Thank you Gary you always get the exclusive x’
Tom Hill (Geordie) ‘Gary you put some great stuff on the blog and I always enjoy reading it…keep it coming mate’.
Dave Ditchburn (Brass Alley, Geordie, Talisman) ‘I’ve never been one for interviews, mainly because I have a terrible memory and sometimes get mixed up with dates and people. When Gary asked me to do the honours I was a little bit dubious but he has a great technique and makes you feel right at home. As usual since then I have remembered and forgotten again a hundred things that could have been part of the story. I think Gary does a fine job and long may he be able to keep it going. I very much enjoy reading his interviews’.
Lorraine Crosby (Singer/Presenter) ‘So thrilled to have been part of this amazing blog. Thanks so much for a great interview Gary x’.
Ed Waugh (Writer & Theatre producer) ‘What you’ve done is an incredible job of recording North East cultural and social life in your tremendous blog. It’s a fantastic feat achieving 250,000 hits but I’m sure the millionth hit will not be too far away.
I look forward to reading every interview, not least because I lived through most of what you write about and it gives a fascinating perspective of what other people were doing at the same time. Not only that, you’ve recorded history for future generations – what a magnificent legacy! Keep up the great work’.
Ray Spencer MBE (Director, The Customs House) ‘Alikivi is a rare and beautiful thing. Not seeking praise for its self but always a celebration on the subject. Gently incisive interviews cut to the heart of the subjects beliefs and motivation without them even being aware they had sat in the psychiatrists chair’.
Steve Dawson (Geordie) ‘Gary is a staple of North East cultural awareness. Working tirelessly to keep the region’s heritage of music, art and local celebrities of all genres alive and kicking in living memory. Long may he continue.’
Jan Graveson (singer & actor) ‘The North East runs in my veins. I’m a proud miner’s daughter and absolutely love where I am from and the people. It’s incredible really that while as a teenager most of us were in bands, performing, singing, playing music. It wasn’t until I moved away from my beloved North East that I realised not everywhere is like that.
I learnt over the years that it’s all about the ‘soul’ of the people and the inherent talents passed through families, the strong communities and passion that creates such love. Thank you Gary for being so devoted in showing the world what we, of the North East are all capable of !’
Dave Taggart (Belinda Carlisle, Danceclass) ‘Well done Gary. The North East culture blog is going from strength to strength. Keep it going and spread the gospel to the ‘yoof ‘ out there that there was and still is a thriving music scene in the North East’.
Jim Sculley (former Musician, Promoter & Manager) ‘Wow ! That’s some achievement Gary. But I’m not surprised to be honest. I’ve read almost every interview and most other things that you’ve written and never felt the urge to stop reading or to question or doubt what you’ve written.
Everything feels right, obviously written from the heart and absolutely smacks of the truth. You’ve laid out in words what you know to be the North East’s fabulous past, culture and heritage. Whether it be music, the arts, everyday life or it’s wonderful characters albeit sometimes wacky, but always funny, likeable and very musically talented.
You’ve done a fine job these last five years Gary and our area owes you a huge debt of gratitude for keeping us in the spotlight. I hope fervently that this is just the beginning and there’s a lot more to come. This is not bluster buddy – it’s from my heart.’
Phil Sutcliffe (Sounds/Mojo music journalist & author) ‘North East culture reaches out around the world in the endless circle of seeking and finding inspiration and using it and sending it back out again with a different accent. Lit the fire under me when I lived in Newcastle during the ‘70s. Keeps on rolling around and around (until the seas run dry?) Congrats and keep on keeping on!’
Sheila Graber (Animator) ‘Gary is a very experienced and well respected documentary maker so he fully understands the process involve in making any art form – this makes him a great Blogger.
He asks all the right questions and summarises answers into a readable and interesting form. He has been a pleasure to work with over many years – here’s to the next 250,000 viewers’.
Davy Little (Axis, Pauline Gillan Band, Lies of Smiles) ‘Congratulations on a wonderfully informative blog. Nearly 5 years, 250,000 views, a wonderful depiction of the lives/culture/music/art of the North East.
Artists, Photographers, Animators, Sculptors, Writers, Poets, Musicians, Playwrights, Broadcasters, Journalists, Authors, Actors, Entertainers, Stage crew, Tech Crew, Managers, Promoters, Film Makers, Record Company execs, the full gamut of the North East’s incredibly creative community can be found here, stories that will evoke the full range of human emotion.
From the Animals to the Tygers of Pan Tang, from the Dark Arts of the Stasi to Postcards from Spain. An incredible body of work’.
Richard Laws (ex-Tygers of Pan Tang) ‘Congratulations Alikivi for reaching the landmark of a quarter of a million readers and shining a spotlight on North East music and culture. An outstanding achievement’.
Big thanks to all you lovely people…keep spreading the love !
I asked Bob Nalbandian, host of the Shockwave Skullsessions podcast, who have you featured on previous shows ? ‘I’ve had tons of guests from classic rock and metal, icons like Bill Ward (Black Sabbath) Bob Daisley (Ozzy) Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Scott Gorham (Thin Lizzy) to record industry vets like Monte Conner and Brian Slagel to new metal artists’.
‘Generally the feedback is very good. We have a loyal fan base of avid metal fans that particularly love classic ‘70s and ‘80s hard rock and metal’.
Bob remembers being a 16 year old American kid reading Kerrang and the ‘Armed n Ready’ section which highlighted emerging bands, Raven, Venom, Diamond Head and Def Leppard, and being introduced to a new punky metal sound labelled the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
So for the new episode he has lined up a Heavy Metal special with two of the big players from the NWOBHM.
Raven’s Chief Headbanger, John Gallagher said ‘It was 1979 and in the music papers you start seeing stories about Iron Maiden, Sansom, Neal Kaye and New Wave of British Heavy Metal and think what’s all this about’.
‘Most of the bands had been plugging away forever because we loved the music. We were just playing the music we liked and all of a sudden we got swept up in it’.
Jaguars Garry Pepperd added ‘There was very few rock and metal bands from our part of England. The only people who didn’t have a job in Bristol were us musicians who didn’t want one’.
Nalbandian also invited Night Demon’s Jarvis Leatherby to the table.
‘I’m a bit younger than you guys and I was introduced to NWOBHM by listening to the NWOBHM ’79 Revisited album. It done it for me because I heard everybody in one shot’.
‘It had on ‘Back Street Woman’ by Jaguar and ‘Don’t Need Your Money’ by Raven. Coming from a thrash metal kid who listened to the Big Four of Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeath, it was great to hear how melodic these bands were’.
The heavy mob chew the fat about early days of NWOBHM, Sounds newspaper, Kerrang, the Marquee and being studio virgins.
‘In 1979 when Jaguar started we done a demo and sent it off to a Battle of the Bands competition and got through. We played three songs but were beaten by a funk band from Swindon’.
‘Then we linked up to the Heavy Metal label and done ‘Stormchild’, a track for the ‘Heavy Metal Heroes’ compilation album’remembers Pepperd.
Gallagher added ‘Famously we played a show in Newcastle with Tygers of Pan Tang and their manager Tom Noble loved the show and came up to us and said do you want to make a single with Neat ? Err, no (laughs).
They talk about touring and how they persisted in dragging their bands over the music biz obstacles to still be a force today.
Leatherby said‘Raven took us on our first ever tour and we played more than 60 dates on the shows around the world and on festivals, so we’re forever connected. I was able to fill in as guest vocalist for Jaguar so I got to pinch myself for how much we’ve done together’.
Pepperd added‘We played anywhere in those days but like most places now they are long gone. We were going to support Spider at Bristol Colston Hall but in the afternoon the lighting rig collapsed so we never got to play’.
Gallagher chipped in‘We once done a show with the Tygers at the Guildhall in Newcastle and in the dressing room there was some girls brushing someone’s hair and we thought who’s she, she looks hot. They turned round and it was Jess Cox’ (Tygers vocalist)
In the book Heavy Tales, Jon Zazula tells the story of how he and his wife Marsha founded Megaforce Records in 1983 in New Jersey, USA, and released one of the most important albums in Heavy Metal history – ‘Kill ‘Em All’ by Metallica. This post looks at the North East connection.
I read the book in a couple of hours – I couldn’t put it down, it contains detailed accounts of the couple working with bands who would go on to release some of the most important albums in Heavy Metal history.
One historic story was how they helped kick start the Metallica machine, who eventually went on to sell millions and pack out stadiums across the world, and 40 years later, still be at the top of their game.
In the early ‘80s based in an indoor flea market in New Jersey, Rock n Roll Heaven was a record store that Jon ran with his wife. “I gave it that name because I wanted to specialize in music by dead people and pay homage to them – John Lennon, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix”.
With his business head on, Zazula had a multitude of ideas bursting around him, and with an unstinting help and belief from his wife Marsha, the ideas for the record store were becoming reality.
One day a friend returned from a heavy metal show in San Francisco with a demo tape “Johnny you gotta hear this”.
He put it on the tape deck in the store and out of the crackly speakers the first song played “What the fuck, this is amazing”. Zazula immediately new the next step and put it into action.
With some earnings from the record store he brought Metallica over to the east coast to fuse ideas together and play live dates with Raven, Venom and Twisted Sister.
Raven’s Chief Headbanger John Gallagher told me…
“For young lads like us there was only two ways out of Newcastle…and we weren’t good footballers”.
“It all changed when we made contacts in the US and did our first tour with a young rag tag outfit called Metallica opening up for us”.
Not long after Zazula added more store takings to a second mortgage on the couple’s home and paid the production costs on Metallica’s debut album. Was he stretching his resources too far and taking a huge financial risk ? “I never shipped an album in my life. Unbelievably, I ended up paying the studio bill before I left with the finished tapes”.
The original title was Metal Up Your Ass and pictured a dagger coming out of a toilet on the cover. The distributors backed away saying retailers wouldn’t stock it. Jon broke the news to the band, bassist Cliff Burton shouted
“Man, fuck those big business guys, fuck the suits, we should just kill ’em all”.
“It was a brilliant moment, that was the Metallica way” said Jon.
Lightning had struck and Megaforce propelled both bands forward to the major labels, with Raven signing to Atlantic while Metallica optioned for Elektra.
The Metallica connection to the North East didn’t stop there. Leicester band Blitzkreig, got a deal with Neat records and subsequently based themselves in Newcastle.
Brian Ross (vocalist) told me a story that isn’t in the book.
“I didn’t know that Metallica were massive fans of Blitzkrieg. In 1985 I was in the studio recording the first Blitzkrieg album. When I came home, my wife Mandy said there’s been an American guy on the phone and he wanted to talk to you. I asked who it was, ‘Somebody called Lars, he didn’t say much but he’s calling back later’.
Staying true to his word, the drummer got back in touch.
“Hi Brian it’s Lars Ulrich from Metallica here, I wonder if you’d mind if we do a cover version of your track ‘Blitzkrieg”.
“I had no problem with that at all” said Ross.
“and then spent ages on the phone telling him the structure of the song, the chord progression and dictating the lyrics. It’s a good version they’ve put their slant on it and they done it because they love the song. They put it on the American version of Kill ‘Em All and Garage Inc”.
Heavy Tales: The Metal. The Music. The Madness. As lived by Jon Zazula out now on kindle or paperback.
Heavy Tales is the story of how one American couple who ran a flea market stall, helped create the golden era of Heavy Metal and released the most important albums in its history.
Marsha Zazula and husband Jon founded Megaforce Records in New Jersey, USA in 1983, and were instrumental in the careers of Metallica and Raven.
By the early ‘80s Raven had released two albums ‘Rock Until You Drop’ and ‘Wiped Out’ on the Neat record label based in North East England. But when Neat got a call from Zazula, Raven knew their future was Stateside not Tyneside.
Zazula has documented the story in his new book where he remembers listening to Raven’s first album Rock Until You Drop.
‘That album was recorded for about 1,000 pounds with a group of the greatest fucking musicians. You’ll hear the greatest jam, grooves and change up’s.I saw a number on the back of the cover and called David Wood, head of the label’.
I asked Jon if he can remember meeting Wood.
‘Yes the mastermind. This man had the key to the pulse and Neat records was his Kingdom. He came to the US and stayed at my home and we discussed the breaking of Raven and Venom in America’.
‘Venom were a crazy lot. They stayed with me in the States. Abaddon burnt down my kitchen and Cronos ate my glassware. There was blood and glass in my sink from when he spit it out. Mantas was quiet but always held the centre. No Mantas no Venom. But he had two maniacs at his side’.
Around this time, Zazula unexpectedly received a demo tape from an unsigned band.
‘As soon as I heard it I was blown away. I thought this was America’s answer to the NWOBHM.When I came upon Metallica it was like mounting a lightning bolt’.
‘We also worked with Raven on releasing their album and had them headlining a summer tour with Metallica. When Raven hit the stage nothing can compare. They tore it up. I can honestly say that Raven were heavily on the rise. When they toured with Metallica as their opener, they were still able to maintain headline status every single night’.
‘The Raven/Metallica tour was a success. We sold a lot of band merchandise and people took notice. Raven and Metallica played an amazing show in Chicago which we filmed in case they would ever use it for promotion’.
‘I spent some time in Newcastle. I stayed in a flat with Raven drummer, Rob Wacko Hunter. I was fortunate to meet John and Mark’s (Gallagher) parents. They were wonderful people’.
Zazula remembers offering the bands a place to stay when they were out on America’s east coast gigging.
‘There was a point when Raven, Venom and Metallica were all hanging at Casa Z ! I was trying to work in the basement with my desk surrounded by sleeping bodies snoring away’.
In 1983 Megaforce released Metallica’s debut album Kill ‘Em All and became the label in America for Heavy Metal. The book also includes stories of managing and releasing albums by Anthrax, Ace Frehley, Overkill, Ministry and more.
HEAVY TALES: The Metal, The Music, The Madness.As lived by Jon Zazula – out now on kindle or paperback.
As a mark of respect this post was held back due to the death of Marsha Zazula, on 10 January 2021. Rest in Peace.
On line interview and book extracts by Gary Alikivi December 2020 & June 2021.
Guardian Sound Studios 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 recording studio.
From 1978 some 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 ‘82 to ‘85 bands including Red Alert, Toy Dolls, Prefab Sprout, Satan, Battleaxe and Spartan Warrior made singles or albums. On this blog there is a number of musicians who have memories of recording in Guardian including stories of a ghost of a young girl who was knocked down outside the studio.
Dave King (vocals, Battleaxe): Yeah still remember the story of the Guardian ghost sitting at the piano. Terry would say can’t you see it lads ? No was our answer (laughs). He told us to be quiet and still and then go and sit on the wall outside while the ghost was sat at the piano in the live room playing a silent tune. He would then disappear for half an hour to his other house next door. He was recently married at the time so was a young virile bloke like all of us back then (laughs).
His stories were great, he told us he had been given a guitar from Paul McCartney, and an old flying jacket of John Lennon given to him from the Beatles. Terry liked nowt like taking the piss (laughs).
I found him a really nice guy, very helpful with young and naive bands. But for recording he could never get the drum sound we were asking from him and that was with all the fantastic gear he had in there – although we did have a crap kit at the time. We never stayed overnight as some bands did cos we only lived a few miles away.
We recorded our single Burn This Town and Battleaxe in one long day and Terry took half a day to mix it. Think it cost us around £200, we all chipped in £50 quid each and Terry pressed 500 x 7 inch singles. It was an amazing feeling to have the band’s music published and out on vinyl.
Roger Lewis, a great Heavy Metal DJ pioneer at Radio Tees, was first to let rip Burn this Town over the airwaves. For some unknown reason Alan Robson from Radio Metro never took a shine to us at all, in fact blatantly slagged us off live on his Hot and Heavy Radio show.
However that single and the Burn This Town album got us a BBC Radio One session with Tommy Vance and interest from a host of other radio stations.
In the second part of an interview with Teesside based songwriter & producer Steve Thompson, he talks about his time as in-house producer at Impulse studio/NEAT records and crossing swords with Northern metal maniacs Raven, Venom & Tygers of Pan Tang.
The basic idea at Impulse was to have an in-house producer. Some places just had an engineer but I would be on hand to help in song construction, production and putting product out on vinyl and releasing it.
There was quite a scene with muso’s getting together in some bars on the North East coast of England. Part of the scene was a club called Mingles in Whitley Bay. This was the place I checked out Raven, they were due in Impulse studio so I wanted to get a feel of what they were about. I’ll never forget the first time I met bassist John Gallagher.
I was standing at the back of the room with my back against the wall watching the band on stage, which must have only been six inches high. John took his bass and pointed it at me like a javelin, he raced toward me and only stopped right at my throat. I didn’t flinch. He gave me a wink as though to say, yeah you’ll do for us.
CRASH, BANG & DON’T FORGET THE WALLOP
Producing their album was an intense but rewarding experience. When I agreed to produce the album it was only on a three-day week basis. I figured I would need time out to recover from the sessions. I’ve heard these guys described as ‘athletic rock’, and that’s just about right.
In fact they were so energetic that I was obliged to gaffa tape the headphones to their heads otherwise they were just bouncing off as their heads where banging ten to the dozen as they recorded.
When I first heard them I thought yeah this is heavy as hell, not what I’m writing at the moment but it was constructed, well thought out and clever with a huge sound for a three piece.
You know some studio work is psychology, getting the best out of people. For instance the harder I pushed Raven the better the output was. Some people you have to be gentler with and try not to make a mistake. Most of the time humour was what worked best. They have since said one of the things they remember about our time in the studio was how much they laughed.
THROW THE KITCHEN SINK AT IT MAN
We experimented a bit, we decided we wanted a marching sound to bring in the Rock Until You Drop track so we mic’d up the toilet floor next to the studio and went in there and marched. It wasn’t right though.
I took a coffee break to ponder the problem and then it struck me. The disposable plastic coffee cups had just that crunch factor we needed. We spread a hundred or so and stomped on them. We then did several takes but had to keep replenishing the cups. In the end we used the entire supply of three thousand.
SEDUCED BY THE DEVIL
I remember being in the studio when our tape op was a young guy called Conrad. It was his job to fetch and carry, make coffee, thread the tapes onto the machines, make tape copies and cassettes. Conrad fitted in well. He was a good tape op and got on well with everyone. He was always going on about his own band.
It seemed they saved up for about three months until they could afford enough pyrotechnics to blow up half a city, then had to save up to do another show. Conrad said very little about the music, it was mostly about the explosions. Nearly forgot to mention, Conrad’s band was called Venom. And what about the time I gave Venom the Devil (laughs).
The Devil is a nick name for a musical interlude called the Tritone. And it’s heavily discordant if you crank the volume up, basically the sound of The Devil. I remember in the studio I loaned them my bass and Conrad played it through a Marshall stack and a fuzz box. Apparently the loan of that bass gave birth to Black Metal. I’m responsible. Sorry.
They were very unrefined but had absolutely bags of enthusiasm, but that was the last thing I recorded there. I never took a production royalty, just said ‘There’s the tapes lad’s, I’m off’.
Eventually I sold Conrad that bass – a Gibson EB3. I said ‘I have no use for it now but you must take care of it’. Next I saw it had an upside down effigy of Christ nailed to it and holes drilled through it. Some years later I asked him did he still have it, he replied ‘It died in L.A.’
A BIG TIDE AT TYGER BAY
One of the earlier times in Impulse, Dave Woods – NEAT label owner – came in and said there’s a band out there making a big noise 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 – the first two releases were not heavy metal.
We recorded their first single Don’t Touch Me There, now we know it was the start of what is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), and the tide was coming in that very evening (laughs).
Anyway we put it out and it started to really sell. MCA got interested so they picked it up, re-released it and went on to do their first album. Our paths parted then, but sometime later I was looking for somewhere to live, and the Tygers had a spare room for me to move into.
Next up read Making Tracks #3, where Steve talks about song writing & recording with Tygers of Pan Tang.
Teesside based songwriter & producer Steve Thompson has had a hell of a career in the music biz, from producing heavy metal bands Venom, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang, to mainstream artists Sheena Easton, Elkie Brooks and Celine Dion recording his songs, plus working with Pete Waterman, Gus Dudgeon, and The Hollies. Here he talks about his early influences and forming Bullfrog.
A BIT OF BULLY
Records I was fond of in the ‘60s were The Beach Boys. Brian Wilsons skill in making records was unbelievable. I used to listen to the radio and they were so far away like gods playing this music. But the thing that got me into playing guitar was seeing everyday guys around town playing guitars, just ordinary people.
Like all kids in my town, I went straight from school into Consett Steel Works. With three other steelworkers we formed a band called Bullfrog, and served two apprenticeships. One of them by day working in the steelworks, the other by night playing the pubs and clubs of North East England. That was my first stab at the music industry.
Bullfrog supported a lot of bands like Vinegar Joe and Edgar Broughton. On October 10th 1974 I got a call from our manager to say there was a gig going that night supporting Wishbone Ash at Newcastle’s Odeon Cinema and could I get the band together. When the call came in I had been dying my cream coloured platform boots, I fancied green. But because I was in a rush, I turned out on stage that night with one green boot and the other still cream.
I’VE GOT A PLAN, MAN
When Bullfrog were in Island Studios in London our first producer was Roger Bain, he also produced Black Sabbath. I was introduced to his friend and record producer, Gus Dudgeon of Elton John fame, later on I did a lot of work as a songwriter with Dudgeon.
The whole process of studio and song writing really intrigued me so I knew where I was headed. I wrote a few songs put them out and a guy called Dave Wood heard about me and found a slot at Impulse Studio in Wallsend.
Next up read Making Tracks #2, when Steve is producer at Impulse Studio in Wallsend, home to New Wave of British Heavy Metal label NEAT records, and crosses swords with metal maniacs Raven, Venom & Tygers of Pan Tang.
New book ‘Closest Thing to Heaven’ produced by MiE Fielding and Simon McKay captures ‘70s & ’80s Newcastle music scene.
The 96 page book is a photographic montage of fashion, faces, venues, record shops and home-made flyers – and readers of this blog will be familiar to some of the bands featured.
‘We refer to Newcastle having more of a ‘village’ feel to it back then as everyone seemed to know everyone else. Thing is, how were those gigs organised as they were often well attended. There are faces that I’m sure will be remembered, and not a tattoo or mobile phone in sight…explained Mick.
The main focus of the book are black & white photographs of North East bands Raven, Danceclass, Venom, White Heat, Angelic Upstarts and Tygers of Pan Tang tightly packed in with The Fauves, The Carpettes and Punishment of Luxury.
Mick added…‘As well as established acts playing in front of large audiences we tried to reflect the increase in energy as punk, new wave and electronica caught hold. What unites them all is that they were performing in Newcastle in an era that has to be the most creative in the city’s illustrious history’.
There’s even a couple of early shots of Prefab Sprout in a pub in Jesmond, a young Jimmy Nail before TV fame as Oz in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and is that a snap of Neil Tennant pre Pet Shop Boys?
How did the idea come together Mick?
Closest Thing to Heaven was very much a side project as it’s not the kind of thing I generally get involved with as I’m heavily into the avant-garde in both music and art. I’m a member of dumdum SCORE previously known as Ju JU Pell Mell pictured in the book. Simon was a member of the band The Said Liquidator and runs the fanzine Eccentric Sleeve Notes, he also DJ’s on Post Punk Britain.
I put the idea of a book forward to Simon who I’ve known for many years and he agreed to get involved immediately. We needed a ‘reason’ to do the book and decided we’d like to raise money for a music charity.
That lead me to fellow Northumbrian musician Kathryn Tickell who had set up the Young musicians fund with the aim of providing money for instruments for kids who couldn’t afford their own. So it was arranged that our royalties would go directly to the fund.
What was the inspiration behind the project ?
Like Simon I was part of that Newcastle scene, plus I had a number of 35mm negatives and photographs that were taken during the late ‘70s and ‘80s. I knew Simon was also a meticulous collector of artefacts of the time. He saw the importance of stuff back then so he also came up with a treasure trove of related material.
Once we’d put our collective resources together it was a case of trying to contact other musicians who had been active during that period – many are still going – and asking for help. Luckily everyone was extremely helpful including rock photographer Rik Walton.
How long did the project take ?
The book came together over a period of around 18 months in which time a lot of the pictures needed restoration so I spent many hours on photoshop.
The next problem was how to present the book whilst avoiding the need for accuracy of names of band members as we soon realised that including individual names would be an impossible task after all these years.
What are your aims for the book ?
I think we’ve done a pretty good job in reflecting the Newcastle scene around that era and hopefully it will bring back some great memories for people as it did for Simon and myself, and above all it will raise cash for the Young Musicians Fund.
Looking ahead, the book was to be launched with an exhibition in Newcastle City Library, and an event featuring some music and associated art. However like many other things of 2020 they had to be cancelled but hopefully we’ll have a proper launch in the Spring of 2021.
Note that Tyne Bridge (Newcastle City Libraries) operate a skeleton staff because of Covid. To date they have shipped 100+ advanced orders, any potential buyer would need to be patient if ordering direct from them.
New single Metal City with a glorious big chorus is quickly followed by a ballsy, catchy Battlescarred, with a cry of ‘Raise your hands, to the sky, stand and fall, You and I’. Added to a Gallagher trademark scream the song builds and reaches out for better times. Surely a future live favourite?
Slick, tricky guitar from Mark Gallagher with balanced precision drumming by Mike Heller rattle and crunch tracks and pound them into submission. It’s all tightly packed like a mighty coiled spring. There’s even a Motorhead/Lemmy tribute – nice touch lads!
The wide and expansive closer, When Worlds Collide with ‘You meet your maker on the other side’ has turned a potential plod into a triumph. The trio look back over Metal City and watch the sunset. Credits roll.
On this evidence Raven consolidate their title of Chief Headbangers.