DEFENDER OF THE NORTH – Guardian Recording Studio stories #4

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 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… 

MYTHRA – Death and Destiny 7”EP 1979. Tracks: Death and Destiny, Killer, Overlord, UFO.

MYTHRA

JOHN ROACH (guitar): ‘With Mythra we saved some cash from our gig money with the intention of recording a demo tape to see if we could get any interest from record companies. We checked out Impulse and Guardian studios and decided to go with Guardian. From what I remember we were offered actual vinyl records for our demos, rather than cassette tapes’. 

MAURICE BATES (bass):  ‘The first recording session was a new experience and opened our eyes to another part of being in a band.The owner Terry Gavaghan was more of an engineer than producer, he just said to us no slow songs lads keep it up this is good ! 

JOHN ROACH:Guardian Studios was in a very small terraced house in Durham. If you entered from the front street you ended up in the main recording room, with a very small isolation room for the drums. Through a door you entered the control room which was actually the back of the house. Terry Gavaghan lived next door. He kept disappearing during the recording, going for something to eat or answer the phone to the big record companies!

MAURICE BATES: ‘We slept upstairs to the studio so we could get on with recording straight away in the morning. But as we were recording our own bit seperately, everyone else had to leave the studio so we ended up in the pub! Happy days’.

JOHN ROACH: ‘We released the vinyl EP in November 1979. It is well documented that this was one of the very first records to be released of what would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.

HOLLOW GROUND – Flying High 7’ 1980. Tracks: Flying High, Warlord, Rock On, Don’t Chase the Dragon.

HOLLOWGROUND

JOHN LOCKNEY (drums): ‘Because we had our own material we were trying to get the money together to get in the studio and record it. It was so nerve wracking then cos we were green as grass. Doing overdubs and things something we had never done before’. 

MARTIN METCALF (guitar): ‘One night we went to a Raven gig at Newcastle Mayfair and Steve Thompson who was producing at NEAT studios then, pulled me to one side and said there’s a deal at NEAT if you want. I liked the idea but told him we had just sorted something out with Gaurdian. We went down to the studio in Durham and recorded 4 tracks. It cost around £500’. 

JOHN LOCKNEY: ‘It really was great. I mean you’ve been brought up and bought singles. Now suddenly you’ve got one of your own. We were proud of the songs. We think they still stand up today and we went round selling them to local record shops. It’s still one of the proudest things I’ve ever done you know’.

MARTIN METCALF: ’I still remember the smell of the brown cork tiles in the studio and having to sellotape the headphones on my head when recording as they kept falling off ! In hindsight maybe NEAT would have turned out better for us in the long run’.

JOHN LOCKNEY: ‘We went back to record another 2 for a compilation album Roksnax. The production and the way we played was better then. We weren’t as green and went back again and done another 4 tracks for demos to flog around record companies. You can tell the difference how confident we were with more experience in the studio’.

SARACEN – Roksnax compilation LP 1980. Tracks: Speed of Sound, Fast Living, Feel Just the Same, Setting the World Ablaze.

roksnax

STEVE DAWSON (guitar): ‘We went into Guardian Studios where our friends, Mythra, had recorded their Death and Destiny EP. Most of us were friends from school or through the scene, you know, being thrown together in this cauldron of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. We booked a day there and recorded 3 songs’. 

LOU TAYLOR (vocals): ‘I saw it as moving up to the next level and felt excited to be in the studio and something happening for Saracen. When we went down to the studio we first drove past the place and double backed on ourselves to find it. It looked just like an ordinary house, later we found it was two terraced houses knocked into one’.

STEVE DAWSON: ‘After the initial recording session, we were invited to attend a meeting with the owner Terry Gavaghan who proposed an idea to us about putting our tracks on a compilation album. It was going to feature local bands Saracen, Samurai and Hollow Ground. So we decided yeah let’s go for it’. 

LOU TAYLOR: ‘I can’t remember much from the sessions apart from recording my vocals quite late at night and the drum booth being tiny. When Dave was behind the drums we had to pass him refreshments every so often as it was such a tight squeeze to get in. Terry was forever nipping out of the studio and coming back with a smelly cheese sandwich or something to eat, and he loved to talk about the resident ghost !

STEVE DAWSON: ‘The album was basically a ‘live’ performance in the studio with minimal overdubs. I spent my 21st birthday in that place…I’ll never get it back!’

LOU TAYLOR: ‘On reflection we might have been better off recording at NEAT, as they were more loud and proud, you know the whole crash, bang and don’t forget the wallop’.

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. If the studio was there 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.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

MYTHRA: Still Burning 13th February 2017.

Lou Taylor SARACEN/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.

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.

GUARDIAN STUDIO STORIES

#1 TYGERS OF PAN TANG May 3rd 2018

#2 SPARTAN WARRIOR May 20th 2018

#3 STEVE THOMPSON (Songwriter & Producer) July 11th 2018

METAL ON THE MENU – The Making of Cult NWOBHM album Roksnax

roksnaxSouth Shields is a small town on the North East coast of England. During the 1970’s it’s main employment was heavy industry. Shipbuilding and coal kept the workers thirsty. Pub’s and clubs were doing a roaring trade with entertainment from local rock bands. Heavy riffs and pounding drums were echoes from the pits and shipyards. By 1980 the New Wave of British Heavy Metal had rolled in. The sound waves crossed the Atlantic and landed in a garage in San Fransisco. Metallica were born, and went on to become the biggest band of the genre. Not far from that garage lived a young Nick Vrankovich. Nick is now at Buried by Time and Dust Records who have re-released Roksnax, one of the albums that helped kick start the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Gavaghan copy 2

Terry Gavaghan, Guardian Records.

Originally released in 1980 by Guardian Records, the compilation album was produced by Terry Gavaghan. He recorded 3 North East bands at his studio in Durham. Teeside based Samurai, and from my hometown South Shields, Hollow Ground and Saracen. The main players behind the re-release take up the story…

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Nick Vrankovich

Nick Vrankovich (Buried By Time and Dust Records): ‘One night not long ago, I was sitting drinking some Newcastle Brown and spinning some of the compilation albums I had from the NWOBHM time, Lead Weight, HM Heroes, Metal for Muthas, all packed with songs that meant so much to us. Then I played Roksnax and I was quickly reminded of two things. One was that all twelve songs are incredible. When you talk of the magic of heavy metal or the mysticism of the NWOBHM surely they must be referring to releases like this. The second was how obscure this one was compared to the others. I made a clear decision that night to contact the bands to see if we could make this masterpiece available again. When I got in touch with the guy’s I found the willingness, generosity and honesty incredible. Even though I’m now over 50, these tracks mean as much to me as the day I first held the album all those years ago’.

‘By the end of 1980 I was 13 year old and not yet aware of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I was into Kiss, Van Halen and shortly after Black Sabbath would change things for me in a big way. By the end of 1981 I discovered the Record Exchange in Walnut Creek, California which is about thirty minutes outside San Francisco. The second I entered the record store an obsession would be born. The store was heavily stocked with all the latest imports and cutting edge heavy metal from the UK and Europe. The extreme appearance and imagery of bands like Venom, Mercyful Fate, Angel Witch and countless others was something that fired my imagination and created an obsession that continues to this day. The fact that the music was so fantastic and really heavy only added fuel to the fire’.

BACKROK

‘The Record Exchange is where I first remember seeing the album Roksnax. It was an import which meant the price was $9.99 which was a huge sum of money for me. I remember looking at the photos on the back, it all looked so old and obscure. I was unsure what it would sound like. I had not heard of any of the bands on the record and of course it was next to impossible to find out about them unless they had a record deal. Sadly, this time I never bought the lp’.

‘The release disappeared into obscurity and was forgotten about until one day my brother scored a copy of the single Warlord by Hollow Ground. Needless to say we were overwhelmed with how great it was and amongst other NWOBHM singles, it was right up there with Mythra and Witchfinder General. We knew there were extra tracks from Hollow Ground on the Roksnax album so we hunted down a copy. We eventually found one and heard the instant magic from the Hollow Ground tracks. We were equally crushed by the Saracen and Samurai tracks. The speed of Saracen with the killer Dawson guitar riffs and soaring vocals from Lou Taylor was not only trailblazing but still raises the hair on my arms to this day. Samurai was undoubtedly the most obscure band of the three but their heroic sound was also incredible’.

METY

Martin Metcalf, Hollow Ground.

Martin Metcalf (Hollow Ground): ‘I remember the buzz of being involved in Roksnax. The whole experience of being in Guardian Studio’s during November 1980 was magical. We met up with producer Terrry Gavaghan and talked through the idea of a compilation LP with a couple of other bands from the North East. Our mates from Shields, Saracen were also on the record. We were in the studios for 2 days and slept overnight there. The studio was basically 2 terraced houses knocked into one. I still remember the brown cork tiles in the studio and having to sellotape the headphones on my head when recording. The great memories of honing the songs and bringing them together with my friends, still burns brightly. The fine tuning and adjustments as we worked on them was a great feeling of coming together as a band, a unit. We used 2 of the songs from our EP Flying High and Rock On and added Fight With The Devil and The Holy One to make our four tracks for the Roksnax album’.

fog2

Saracen

Steve Dawson (Saracen): ’Right from the start of the band the other members wanted to get in the studio but I thought we should of developed our sound a bit more, let it breathe a bit, walk before we run so to speak. But we booked some time in Guardian Studios where Mythra had recorded their Death and Destiny single. The owner Terry Gavaghan proposed the Roksnax album to us where he would put us on a compilation album. It was basically a live album with some overdubs’.

Geoff Nixon (Samurai)‘I have very fond memories of that time. We were convinced that we had an excellent line up, we felt as though we had something special. We were made so many promises by Terry Gavaghan at Guardian, we believed everything he said. He signed us to a 5 year publishing deal, as young lads we were flattered about the whole project’.

Martin Metcalf (Hollow Ground): ’It’s real music made by real musicians. You can’t replicate it with machines. Sparking off each other while recording the tracks will stay with us forever. It’s what being in a band is all about…and we loved it. We were so proud of the music that we produced, and still are! It stands the test of time and the whole album is a perfect snapshot of the vitality of the NWOBHM movement’,

Lou Taylor (Saracen): ’Now it’s not the worlds number one album but everyone involved in this album agreed that it is a wonderful feeling and something special about getting your name on a piece of vinyl. Terry was true to his word and got the album in the shops. I bought six of them straight away ha ha’.

Geoff Nixon (Samurai): ‘But we actually split just after the album, sometimes you get one shot at fulfilling a dream don’t you. Many years later I found that the album had been on sale around the world but I don’t think it ever sold in Britain. Looking back we had a lot of fun and of course we always have the album’.

Lou Taylor (Saracen): ‘Just being prominent enough to be invited to be part of something which we had no concept of how much impact on the British music scene the emerging talent in this genre actually had ! NWOBHM say what ?? Guardian Studios were (in) famous enough already due to releases from acts in the region so this opportunity seemed too good to pass up!

Martin Metcalf (Hollow Ground): ’Lars Ulrich from Metallica bought a copy of the Roksnax LP in Los Angeles and that lead to our track Fight With the Devil being played in a Metallica documentary. This was the documentary about the making of their Black Album. The scene is Lars Ulrich driving to the studio in his Porsche listening to Fight With the Devil. The film was released in 1992 and if I remember correctly we’re on the credits between Black Sabbath and Madonna! It led to me and Glenn our vocalist being invited to gigs on the Black Album tour. We had access all areas and were in the famous Snake Pit. It was brilliant’.

Lou Taylor (Saracen): ’Over a series of trips to a sleepy country village including one session which soaked up guitarist Steve’s 21st Birthday – a sacrifice of serious proportions ha! The long days and nights, the scary stories, the ghostly appearences, the owner eating sandwiches… Roksnax? The narrow deadlines, the even narrower drumbooth, the raw uncertainty of the mixes (still). But all tempered with the undeniable thrill of the coming eventuallity: 4 guys making their dreams come true, putting their music on vinyl for the very first time and still to be heard worldwide today…priceless !

For further information about Roksnax contact Buried by Time and Dust Records via facebook.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2017.

Recommended:

MYTHRA Still Burning 13th February 2017.

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.

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

Metallica: When Heavy Metal Hit the Accelerator 6th May 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 New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017.

It’s Only Rock n Roll 1st August 2017.

Pyromaniax – Bombs, Flashes and Burnt Eyebrows 12th December 2017.

Have You Heard This One ? -10 best stories from this years interviews 18th December 2017.

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

LONG LIVE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – with ex-Animals guitarist Steve Dawson.

Steve Dawson played guitar for several UK bands including Saracen, Bordello and 60’s icons The Animals.

A. Steve at The Star Inn 01-12-16
I met up with Steve at his workshop in South Shields and Lou Taylor happened to be there on a social visit. We all got talking about a time in the early 80’s when Lou, as well as singing, was doing the lights and pyro for a lot of bands playing around Tyneside. One such gig was for ‘Venom’ who were playing Hebburn Quay Club. ‘They used a hell of a lot of pyro and they blew the electrics in the whole club’. You’ll have to ask Lou for the full story, it’s worth hearing. We said our goodbyes to Lou who had to leave at that point, and as Steve put the kettle on he said he’ll tell me a few stories but ‘only promising the good ones, you’re not hearing the bad or the ugly haha!’
First he remembered a gig he played with Saracen back in 1981…

‘This particular gig was at West Cornforth. We always took a massive road crew, (which included a very young Glenn Howes ex-Fist vocalist and guitarist), because we had so many lights along with all our backline. We’d hired a Luton van, drove to the venue, and dropped off the equipment. Vocalist Lou Taylor and a few of the crew stayed with the gear while the rest of us decided to go into a nearby town for some ‘supplies’. I was sitting in the front of the van between Les Wilson our bass player and Dave Johnston our drummer who was driving. In the town, we got what we came for and started back to the gig.
It was a hot sunny day and Davey, typically, was acting the goat, you know, the usual rambunctious rock drummer behaviour. He was driving along this country lane doing about 10 miles an hour, jumping out the van running alongside then jumping back in. He did this maybe three times while I was talking to Les, not really paying much attention to his antics, when suddenly Les shouts ‘There’s no driver!’ I could see in the wing mirror that Davey had jumped out, lost his balance, and fallen over. Now the van was hurtling down the country lane gathering momentum and veering over to the edge!! I leapt into the driving seat and pulled the steering wheel back over and slammed the brakes on while Les was frantically pulling the handbrake.
Davey came running up seconds later as we both shouted ‘Just drive the van for Christ’s sake!’
Drummers!?!

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Who were your influences? ‘My influences were, and indeed still are, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix. The first record I bought was Voodoo Chile by Hendrix. I remember hearing it for the first time on the TV when he had died and it blew my mind, it was one of those truly inspirational moments.
When I was 11 my parents bought me an acoustic guitar for Christmas. The brand name was ‘Lark’ and it was made in China. They got it from Saville’s in Keppel Street, South Shields at a cost of £8. However, it was an electric guitar that I really wanted and a year later I got a Columbus Telecaster copy, again from Saville’s.
I also acquired a 30W amp and separate 50W cab from an uncle, it was an obscure brand and only had a very clean sound. I would later get a pedal that enabled me to get a dirty sound! Shortly after I moved on to using the popular low budget FAL Phase 50 which wasn’t much better as an amp, but it had a little more power’.

JIMI_HENDRIX_VOODOO+CHILE-230307

When did you start your first band? ‘Around 1975 me and school class mate Brian Rickman started a band, it didn’t have a name at that point but he was on bass and I was of course on guitar. We were playing songs by bands like Status Quo, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and we rehearsed in Ricks bedroom in Wenlock Road, South Shields. We had a couple of drummers and singers come and go until my friend Glenn Coates joined on vocals. Another friend, from Tyne Dock Youth Club where we all hung out, Keith Macintosh, joined on drums and we started to rehearse in a little back room in the Club.
We would later rehearse upstairs in the Lambton Arms pub in King Street after being given the heads up from another band who were friends of ours and rehearsed there themselves – Zarathrustra, who later became Mythra.
By then I was using my new guitar, my first proper Fender Stratocaster, which I’ve still got, and my Marshall stack, (100W amp and two 4 x 12 cabs), basically what my heroes were using. It was inheritance money that enabled me to buy this equipment before leaving school.
After much rehearsal and sounding pretty sharp, we finally played our first gig in 1977 calling ourselves Midnight Lightning at The Tavern in Crossgate, South Shields. It was a 14-18 year olds disco and it turned out to be absolutely shocking because we had little experience outside our rehearsal space back at the club.
On that night though we learnt what not to do – Don’t have too much to drink before the show; monitors are essential when you’re not playing a small rehearsal room. We were so far away from each other we could only hear ourselves! We were paid off mid set and duly devastated at the time. I could go on and on about the mistakes we made, but hey, a harsh lesson about live sound that was to give us valuable experience for future gigs and we certainly took a lot in that respect from that first booking.
After recovering from the depths of despair we contacted some Youth Clubs around the town and arranged more gigs which were better suited to us.
By now my guitar sound had also evolved with the addition of a WEM copycat and Jen Phase Shifter, alongside my Colorsound Tone-Bender and Jen Cry Baby Wha.
Sadly, after about half a dozen gigs I left the band for reasons I can’t even recall. Thereafter I was asked to join a band called Kadanza with Vince High on vocals. Glenn and Brian eventually joined up with Martin Metcalf and John Lockney, later to become Hollow Ground. Kadanza weren’t together long and never gigged but I had started to write my own material by then and had acquired a second Fender Stratocaster, which I also still have. That was around 1978-79.
Sometime in ’79 I was approached by Les Wilson who in turn introduced me to Davey Johnston with the intention of forming a new band. Another school friend, Lou Taylor, brought along a tape of himself singing a Judas Priest song and it was surprisingly good, so yeah, we thought why not give it a go, let’s get this ball rolling’.

2SARACEN

What are your memories from your early gigs? Saracen took off at a rate of knots. Lou had a lot of connections as he worked in a Sound and Lights company and through that he got to know managers and promoters at various venues in the North East. The gigs were coming thick and fast.
We hadn’t really done any ground work with the smaller venues but we ended up going straight in and playing the Newcastle Mayfair, Tiffanies, Sunderland Mecca, Spennymoor Rec, West Cornforth which was a staple rock gig at the time. We played the legendary Legion Club in South Shields and packed it, I mean really packed it.
We also self-promoted a gig at the Bolingbroke Hall and booked a 4K PA, Lou got there early and set the lights up but when the PA Company turned up they said sorry we’ve double booked, and only brought 400 watts! Well that was woefully inadequate. The night was a total disaster! Yep that was a bad one. Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you’.

3

What are your experiences of recording? ‘Right from the start Les and Dave had wanted to get in the studio but I thought we should have developed our sound a bit more, let it breathe a bit, walk before we run so to speak. But yeah, we went into Guardian Studios in Durham where our friends, Mythra, had recorded their Death and Destiny EP. We booked a day there and recorded 3 songs. Speed of Sound, Fast Living and Feel Just the Same.
After that initial recording session, we were invited to attend a meeting with the owner Terry Gavaghan who proposed an idea to us about putting our tracks on a compilation album, called Roksnax. It was going to feature local bands Saracen, Samurai and Hollow Ground. Hellanbach were also at the meeting as they too were invited to take part, but they had no money (a requirement of being a part of the project!), also they had something going with NEAT records which was an obvious conflict of interest’.

ROKSNAX
‘Most of us were friends from school or through the scene, you know, being thrown together in this cauldron of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. So, we decided yeah, ok, let’s go for it. We needed a fourth song for the Roksnax project and booked another day to record Setting The World Ablaze. The album was basically a ‘live’ performance in the studio with minimal overdubs. I spent my 21st birthday in that place…I’ll never get it back’.

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How long did Saracen last? ‘In the end the Saracen thing burned itself out really. Also, a major contributing factor was another band from the Midlands had the same name and had already recorded an album Heroes, Saints and Fools. They were getting reviews in the music press and it would have been confusing to go on.
After that it lost its momentum and we felt it was like going back to square one. That really put the final nail in our coffin because all the work we had done was pretty much nullified. We decided to call it a day’.

BORDELLO

Where did you go after that? ‘Well I went to London in January 1983 where I was sharing a flat with Lou Taylor who had been there for a few months already; I’ve never eaten so many fried breakfasts in my life. Lou put me in touch with a band called Bordello doing original stuff but after a few gigs it never worked out.
I remember doing a showcase for CBS. We really went for it, putting our heart and soul into it you know. A guy called Dave Novek came along to have a look at us, we really laid it on in a good studio. But we found out that we ‘weren’t quite what they were looking for’. A couple of weeks later he signed Sigue Sigue Sputnik!’ Go figure Haha!’

SDAWSONBordello in rehearsal at Druids 2 copy

What are you doing now and are you still involved in music? ‘I came back from London in ’87 and after stints with various local bands I was playing in The Animals from ’95 with original members Hilton Valentine, John Steel and later Dave Rowberry (who replaced Alan Price) and Jim Rodford from Argent and The Kinks. I had got myself another Strat to tour with and we went all around the world which lasted until 2002. I’d never even been out the country until I joined them at 35 years old.
Not long after leaving The Animals I got a job in Marshall Amplification’s revered R&D Department in January 2005 as a design engineer utilizing my knowledge of electronics to create new amps for my favourite manufacturer of guitar amplification. Talk about leaving one dream job for another! I stayed for nearly ten years but decided to move on in 2014 a couple of years after Jim, who I’d come to know as a dear friend, passed away.
Now I am running my own amplification business and currently performing around the UK with musicians in various projects. It’s in my blood and always will be. I wouldn’t want it any other way!’.

14. Steve at The Star Inn 01-12-16

After pulling on his guitar in the rehearsal room 40 years ago, and the continued service in the music industry since, Steve isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Maybe he’ll always keep the bad and ugly locked away never to be released.

Interview by Gary Alikivi taken from the documentary ‘We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll’ and in conversation on 2nd February 2017.

ROCK THE KNIGHT (part one of an interview with Lou Taylor)

1

Over 30 years ago Lou Taylor was vocalist for a number of British Heavy Metal bands notably, Saracen, Satan, Blind Fury and Persian Risk. He recalls a story from the 1980’s with a link to Metallica…‘When we were rehearsing in London Bridge Studios we were visited by the boys from Metallica and went on a couple of binges with them. One night our guitarist Russ Tippins went out drinking in London with their guitarist James Hetfield. I was told that we received a phone call from the police saying can you come and collect them because they were locked up in West End Central police station, they had been playing guitar on top of the canopy of Piccadilly Theatre.
It was curious that time when I met the drummer Lars Ulrick and he said I’ve met you before Lou, but I’ve never been to San Fransisco, he said I’m not from there I came from Denmark originally and a few years ago I came to Tyneside to watch Raven and other Heavy Metal bands. I remember speaking to you when you were in Saracen actually that night you were operating the lights at a gig in Newcastle, think it was for Raven. I was chuffed he remembered’.

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Who were your influences and how did you get involved in music ? ‘It was seeing Ronnie James Dio and Rainbow at Newcastle City Hall in 1976, knocked my head off. Went to see them again in ’77 and thats where I made my decision, I would love to be able to sing like that guy up there, on that stage, blew me away.
I got a knock on the door from guitarist Steve Dawson who said I heard you can sing, well I don’t know if he’s being hanging outside my bathroom window, but he said why not come down and have a bash with us.
We rehearsed at Redwell School and I couldn’t hear a single word that I was going on about but suddenly I’m in a band. So we started Saracen and I don’t know whether there had been a void in my life but everything I breathed, touched, lived, everything I had to do was something with this band. Steve was a fantastic guitarist he knew the busines so we started gigging in the neighbourhood’.

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‘I saw lots of bands doing little venues and I had all these visions of grandeur. I wanted lights, smoke, I was fascinated with the show and the whole spectacle of the thing. I thought why can’t we do something like that we really needed to start banging the drum for this band. I got myself a job at Sound and Electronics in Newcastle, got a load of gear off them on the cheap and started putting on these light shows with bangs and flashes so people didn’t come along just for the music they also came to see what this show was all about’.

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What venues did you play ? ‘It all seemed to be going a little bit rapid partly due to the deception by myself generating all this promotional paraphenalia and some of the venues that the other bands were supporting at, we went in there as headliners. We got gigs at Mayfair Newcastle, Mayfair Sunderland, we got down to Shildon, Whitley Bay. Along with other bands around like Axe, Mythra, White Spirit and Tygers of Pan Tang we were making a lot of noise in the area and turned some heads’.

What were your experiences of recording ? ‘One day we got a knock from a fella who said I’ve got a recording studio and we can do some business for you. In walked Terry Gavaghan. In fact it was the same studio that South Shields bands Mythra and Hollow Ground used. He said I can do this record for you, get you gigs, you’ll be on the radio, come down to the studio record a few tunes and all it will cost is £200. He said it was going to have all the big names of the North East on the album, I was quite flattered. I saw it as moving up to the next level and felt excited to be in the studio and something happening for Saracen.
When we went down we first drove past the place and double backed on ourselves to find it as it looked just like an ordinary house, later we found it was two terraced houses knocked into one. But yeah it was just on the main street in a little town called Pity Me. I can’t remember much from the sessions apart from recording my vocals quite late at night and the drum booth being tiny. When Dave was behind the drums we had to pass him refreshments every so often as it was such a tight squeeze to get in or out so he stayed on the stool until he finished his parts. Terry was forever nipping out of the studio and coming back with a smelly cheese sandwich or something else to eat, and he loved to talk about the resident ghost – he had a string of yarns that could strangle the hulk !
On reflection we might have been better off recording at NEAT, as they were more loud and proud, you know the whole crash, bang and don’t forget the wallop. But out came this album that Terry produced called Roksnax. Now it’s not the worlds number one album but everyone involved in it will agree that it is a wonderful feeling and something special about getting your name on a piece of vinyl. Terry was true to his word and got the album in the shops. I bought six of them straight away ha ha’.

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Did you get offers from any other bands ? ‘It was late ’82 when I went for an audition to be the vocalist of Samson. To cut a long story short I didn’t get the job, but heres the story anyway…Samson had already released a couple of albums and were playing regular UK tours many of them as support. But unfortunately just as they were going to sign a major record deal with A&M their frontman Bruce Dickinson had just got a dream job fronting Iron Maiden, and look what they have done!
Maiden had also released a couple of albums and had toured extensivly with the likes of Kiss, Judas Priest and The Scorpions. So both bands were nearly head to head really as far as career progression goes. I’d say the strength of their management team was behind a lot of this, management pushed harder so Maiden were becoming more established and Samson had a few problems with theirs. Maiden were tipped to really go places and they chose Bruce to take along with them.
Back to the audition, I went to see Samsons new manager, Terry McClennan at Musicworks Studios in London, we went through a few songs, with the main man in the band, Paul Samson, listening in the background. I got positive notes from Terry McClellan but I got word that Paul wasn’t keen. Problem was, my vocal style, it is a bit similar to Bruce and everytime he heard me it reminded him of their former singer which didn’t go in my favour after what had happened, probaly felt like another stab in the heart really as Paul had worked so hard to get Samson to where it was and he would have felt the A&M deal was the final push needed to go on and headline their own shows.
Now Paul was a great blues, hard rock guitarist rather than straight ahead heavy metal and eventually he went with a guy called Nicky Moore whose vocal style was more suited to his guitar work. But in the end they still got a deal which I believe was with Polydor records’.

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Have you any stories from your gigs ? ‘After playing in a few bands on the London circuit, like Angelwitch, I moved back to the North East and joined Satan, and listening to them, boy they were tight, really sharp. We recorded a few bits and pieces then jumped on a ferry to do some gigs in Holland. We took this thing around Europe and by then the whole British Heavy Metal scene was red hot so it was one mad scene of gig here, gig there and everywhere we went was a bit wildness, a bit debauchery, some stories you can’t tell. But we had a great time. When you’ve played the Royal Standard in Walthomstow in front of fifty people and they aren’t interested, then you get out here where they are running after your car, sign my booby and all that, you really think you’ve made it, that’s gonna turn anybodys head…and it did’.

Read Part Two of ‘Rock the Knight’ with Lou Taylor next week where he talks about Blind Fury, Tommy Vance, Malcolm Dome, Jet records, Persian Risk and more…
 PART ONE of an interview with Lou Taylor. Taken from the documentary We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll also at The Word in South Shields 26th January 2017. Interview by Gary Alikivi. Added information from Maiden Voyage, Joe Shoomans biography of Bruce Dickinson.

Interview by Gary Alikivi.

Recommended:

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

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

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

Robb Weir, Doctor Rock, TYGERS OF PAN TANG: 5th November 2017.