DIAMOND GEEZER – with former music manager & promoter Jim Sculley

There was one particular savage night when everyone seemed to be fighting. I was worried about one lad who’s face was just awash with blood. I wiped the blood with a tea towel. ‘You been knifed mate?’ I asked. ‘Nah’ he replied ‘I nutted someone and his teef stuck in me forehead’Who said working in the music biz was a glamourous job ? Jim Sculley was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham where he had a decent education…But when I bought my first guitar, studying went out of the window (laughs). Jim joined local band The Mariners as lead guitarist in 1962 and was working at Hartlepool Steelworks at the time…After lot’s of gigs and personnel changes, the band changed its name to The Electric Plums. Then in 1964 I went for a proper job and answered an advert to train at an old established jewellers shop called Lamb’s. He was a great employer who trained me well and sent me to night school in Billingham to study Gemmology, the science of precious stones.

I repaid him by doing the dirty on him by going in business with my night school teacher. We set up a jewellers in Billingham Town Centre in 1971. I found out afterwards from an ex-colleague at Lambs that the boss admired my bravery for setting up our own business and bore me no malice at all!

Business boomed and they quickly gained 3 more jewellery shops and 2 more partners… I was still dabbling in music at the same time but by then had left the Electric Plums to join a girl fronted band called The Partizans. Around ‘68 we changed name to Whisky Mack. This band was good doing night clubs and social clubs, supporting known artistes such as Karl Denver, the Dallas Boys and Tony Christie.

The band were offered a German club tour but Jim thought it was time to call it a day…The shops were doing well and I couldn’t jeopardise my future for a few months gigging abroad. So around late ‘72 we trained up a new guitarist for the tour and I said goodbye. But a few years later, I was back on the road in a couple of duo’s…couldn’t leave the old grease paint behind (laughs).

How did you get involved in promoting ? I wasn’t a great follower or even an avid listener of rock music at that time. However I’d got into the habit of going to rock gigs at Thornaby Cons club and being a guitarist, started to appreciate the quality of musicianship in rock. This was around ’79. At the club fans were telling me that there was a lack of venues in the area, and that local promoters were finding it difficult to coax new bands with any pedigree. A light lit up! Could I make any money at it, and did I fancy the challenge?

What venue did you use for the first gig’s you promoted ? I was putting the word around for local bands to play my new weekly gig in The Swan ballroom in Billingham. Getting an agency licence wasn’t easy in those days, there were financial checks, but within a month J.S. Promotions & Agency was born. ‘Rock At The Swan’ was an instant success with local bands queuing up to play. They would take a percentage of the door take after costs were taken off for an advert in the local press and pa hire.

After a few months we were getting requests from bands from all over the country due to word of mouth. And not only from bands. Agents were wanting to send bands with newly signed record deals on the road, but were having difficulty finding promoters who would take a chance on unknown bands. Another light bulb moment hit me and I jumped at the opportunity. Provide new blood for the fans and possibilities for local bands to support a signed band.

I asked myself I’m working with big agents who need venues to blood their bands. Why don’t I track down more venues and offer these big agents a full tour for their new bands. It made sense because these agents didn’t really want to take time to blood these bands on the road. They would wait till when the album was out and selling, then take over and put them into major venues.

So I set to work on the telephone and scanning through tour adverts in Sounds and Kerrang. Eventually sorting myself a good amount of venues that I knew I could form into different size tours. It helped when talking to each promoter that I was promoting a venue, same as them, and knew the score. I could be trusted and they knew that. It was a very important point.

By 1981 J.S. Promotions & Agency was well established. I was sending bands here there and everywhere. The Swan gig was bouncing and the jewellery shop was doing great. I often look back and wonder how the hell I kept myself going! Suppose it was because I was still young and kept quite fit. Be a different story today (laughs).

Did you book any big name bands at The Swan ? I ran that Swan gig for about 7 or 8 years and some biggish names have been on that stage. It was a nice venue, being a ballroom, and a decent sized fire regulation limit of 200 plus people. Bands like The Groundhogs featuring Tony MePhee were regulars and would always fill the place. I worked them a lot tour-wise. And what about this for an eye opener of a gig – in 1983 aged 17, son of Led Zep’s drummer John Bonham, Jason formed his band Airrace.

I got a call from his agent asking for a Billingham Swan gig as part of the band’s first tour. Money no problem, they’d just accept percentage door-take. But on one condition. So that the band would be judged on their merits and not the Bonham name, no mention of Jason Bonham could be used in any advertising. Of course I agreed and the band turned up on the date…in a great big pantechnicon van!! Wow!!

I have never been so up and close to a back line like it. Wall to wall, ceiling to ceiling Marshall amps. Not for volume but for clarity. Great sound, great gig, and a reasonably full room, rock fans aren’t stupid, they read the rock mags. And I have to say what a genial gentleman Jason was, no airs or graces, happy to chat to all the fans after the gig.

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New Wave of British Heavy Metal was at it’s peak during the early 80’s. Did you come across any of the bands in the Teeside area like Axis or White Spirit ? In 1982 I’d taken a shine to a rock band I’d given a few gigs to, Black Rose, they were in the Iron Maiden kind of mould at the time and wrote their own material. They had a manager called Barry Clapp but were disappointed they weren’t making any progress. They asked me to manage them. I talked with Barry who gave me his blessing, admitting he’d had enough.

By 6 months we had a single out on the Teesbeat label called No Point Runnin’ coupled with Sucker For Your Love. One of the Sounds reviewers loved it and wrote a nice piece about it which propelled it to no.19 in the rock charts. The band then appeared on two compilation EP’s in the same year. One Take No Dubs on Neat Records, and the other on Guardian Records, called Roxcalibur.

(The album included Battleaxe, Satan & Marauder. ‘One Take No Dubs’ had Alien, Avenger & Hellanbach).

In 1984 the Midlands rock label Bullet Records signed the band. They produced a self-titled EP, also the Boys Will Be Boys album. A single of the same name was taken off the album. All through this studio activity the band were gigging heavily in the UK and Holland where they have a strong fan base. I went with them to a gig in the Dynamo Club in Eindhoven. Brilliant gig.

Coming back from that gig a funny thing happened at the Dover customs. Me and 4 band members were in my Mercedes. We were kept at least half an hour, as the officers were searching the car, under it, in the boot, under the bonnet. They couldn’t believe that a long haired heavy metal band would not have something suspicious on them especially travelling from HollandI had an awful time explaining to the customs officers that none of the band actually smoked, rarely drank and nobody actually bought anything from duty free (laughs).

In 1985 Bullet folded so the band returned to Neat Records and recorded a superb EP titled Nightmare. Then a year later…eureka! The band were noticed in the USA. Neat Records engineered a deal with Dominion Records (an offshoot of the massive K-Tel Records) for a studio album recorded at Neat. Walk It How You Talk It, was pressed, packaged and ready to be distributed. We were in talks to arrange an American tour. After all the hard work since 1982 we’d made it.

Then a bombshell phone call from Neat. The powers that be in America hadn’t done their homework. There was already a band called Black Rose who’d registered their name in the States, they were threatening to sue. Our label Dominion Records took water in and pulled the deal. Neat wouldn’t fight it, so everything was scrapped. Not long after, myself and the band parted company. Gutted to say the least.

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Did this disappointment put you off being a manager/promoter ? No. I managed The Pauline Gillan Band, from about 1984. I knew two members who lived in the same town as me, Bilingham. Davy Little, a great ex-Axis guitarist, and Chris Wing on bass who could play anything you gave him. He wasn’t called the Wizz for nothing. I’d caught the band at a couple of gigs and was impressed. They asked me along to a rehearsal and I think we all knew when I left them that I’d be their manager.

I had them gigging extensively right through the UK. Including gigs at the London Marquee. We were contacted by a promoter in France who was organising a music festival at a place called Neuvic not far from the Dordogne region. He’d heard about the band through the music press and decided we would add nicely to the festival line-up. Actually we ended up as number 2 to the headline band.

It was a magic time both for the band and the fans. In 1985 we managed to secure an album deal with Powerstation Records based in York. The album Hearts of Fire was recorded in Fairview Studios in Willerby near Hull. While recording the album, Gerry Marsden of the Pacemakers fame popped his head in. ‘Can I pinch 10 min’s of your recording time lads, I’m appearing locally and I need to record an advertising jingle’. Well 10 min’s later, that was all the recording done for the day because Gerry insisted on taking all of us, our roadies, the recording technician, him, his management and entourage down to the pub in the village for the rest of the day. Booze and snacks all paid for. And what a gentleman he was, so friendly.

Gerry told us a great story about one of the pop successes of that time Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who had a number one hit with Relax. On the B side was Ferry Across The Mersey which of course was written by Gerry himself, and that he’d received thousands of pounds in PRS royalties. ‘I love that band’ he laughed.

Did you promote any punk gigs ? There was a few gigs that were memorable for the wrong reasons. Many punk gigs, big names, but mostly trouble with a capital T. Around 1980/82 I was approached by a guy called Don who had just bought the then defunct Rock Garden club which was one part of the Marimba night club in Middlesbrough. Now having owned some before Don knew everything about pubs and night clubs, but knew nothing about the live music scene. So he asked me, adding a financial carrot, to book bands and run live music nights. I agreed but advised him that a new name would be a good idea. So it was a warm welcome to The Cavern.

As part of our licence the Police made us search the punks for weapons and glue, the preferred drug of the day for punks. My missus Marg would handle the takings and tickets at the door and take the glue from them. We weren’t allowed to keep the glue, but return it to them after the gig. One night we couldn’t help laughing when this little 5 foot skinhead surrendered his polythene bag from his sock, then quipped ‘Now dont forget will ye…mine’s the Evo Stick’ (laughs).

The Rock Garden had always done well with punk bands and there was still a good punk fan base in Cleveland, so I decided to alternate heavy rock with punk nights. But battling was always on the cards at punk gigs – never at rock gigs.
First night at The Cavern, if my memory serves me well but I’m not absolutely sure, was well known punks The Destructors supported by a local band. We had a strong security crew (about 8 men) one was a friend, Ron Gray who was an ex-European kick boxing champion. As it happens on that first night, we needed them all! We’d got word through a contact that a mob was coming down who had bad blood with another load of fans. Still I wasn’t worried, we had plenty of cover didn’t we ?

Support band had only been on about 5 minutes when the crowd split into two armies. A bit like the parting of that biblical sea. And then the charge! Marg was stood on a beer crate in the corner directing our bouncers, screaming ‘over there’ and ‘side of the stage’ and then opening the emergency door for me and the lads to eject the brawlers. She was a good help on band nights.

My claim to fame was to convince the Police to allow me to book the Angelic Upstarts who’d been banned in Cleveland for over a year. I knew the police were pleased with our record of not allowing any trouble to spill outside and that was the reason we were given permission to stage this particular show. And what a cracker it was, and believe it or not hardly any crowd trouble.
Other memorable bands were GBH, Penetration and Conflict. I liked Colin the singer of Conflict. He insisted we keep the entrance fee down so that his fans could afford it, even taking a smaller purse himself.

Did you promote punk gig’s at any other venues ?
Early 80’s I was co-promoting a punk gig in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in Redcar and managed to attract a really well known punk band from the late 70s, UK Subs. I booked local band Dogsbody or was it Dogsflesh as support to bring a few extra punters in.
Anyway one of the Subs members copped off with the girlfriend of one of the support band and took her to a room upstairs where the band where staying for the night. The support band went upstairs and a huge battle ensued with carpets ruined with blood and drink. It took an hour or so to restore order. Then the Park Hotel manager presents me with a bill for a huge amount. I can’t remember how much but remember shaking in my boots. As promoter I could have been held responsible in some ways I suppose. But I turned on the Subs road manager and threatened to get the police and the newspapers involved, which would probably curtail or cancel the rest of their tour. Anyway he rang the band’s manager who agreed to foot the bill. Job done. I tried hard to stick to rock gigs after all this trouble, but have to admit the memories of punk will always bring a smile.

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If you can choose one, what is the best gig you have promoted ? Slade in about 1984 at Durham University’s Student Union Hall. Massive sell out, queues right down the road. Great gig but didn’t get to meet them. Went to the dressing room straight after the gig but they’d already left for the hotel.

Have you any regrets as a promoter? Turned down a Tina Turner gig as part of her resurgence tour. Thought the fee was too high. A couple of month later Private Dancer released and the rest is history. That was my Decca/Beatles moment!

There is a regrets number two. I was in the Marquee Club with one of my bands in 1985 and took a call from Bronze Records who wanted to show me a band. I went to Camden next day to see them and basically it was a country & western star, can’t remember the name. Anyway, country wasn’t my scene so turned it down. Then he produced a picture of Tom Petty who was coming over soon to tour. The price was reasonable but I knew he hadn’t released anything for about 3 years so turned that down too. Another Decca/Beatles moment!

What does music mean to you ? For all I was playing on stage continuously for about 17 years, and it was part of my life for so long after that -management, agency and promotions, I don’t really listen to a lot of it nowadays. Weird eh!

But after thinking a little more about it, I’ve concluded that it’s the actual making of music, the playing of it, watching other people playing it – construction really. I was never one for lyrics, it was always the tune, the riffs and chord structures that got me excited. That’s why I tend to like songs with a nice hook to them.

I played my guitar at home quite often untill I had a medical problem with my finger which made it totally inflexible. I can’t even form a chord now, which actually makes me quite miserable! My last time playing on stage was backing local singer Johny Larkin at a Help For Heroes charity gig about 7 years ago.(pic. below)

Having said that we’ve booked both days of the upcoming Hardwick Hall festival. And I do watch Fridays on BBC 4 and we went to The Sage to see Mott the Hoople a couple of months ago. Sod it … looks like music still means a lot to me.

Interview by Gary Alikivi July 2019.

WE SOLD OUR SOUL FOR ROCK N ROLL documentary on South Tyneside rock music.

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In February 2017 I transcribed interviews from the documentary and decided to put them out on a blog. I added some new interviews and updated the originals. Then more musicians got in touch. The blog has snowballed from North East bands like Beckett to worldwide musicians like John Dalton in California. To date it has reached nearly 40,000 views.

But how did I tackle this documentary and pull it all together ? Firstly I talked to a few musicians who passed over some of their archive of demo tapes, video’s and photo’s. Plus I already had a number of photographs I had taken through the 90’s. Then a lot of research was done in the Local Studies Library, South Shields. I remember during the 80’s reading a feature called Young Weekender in the Saturday edition of local newspaper The Shields Gazette. It featured interviews, releases by local and national bands, plus a list of gig dates around Tyneside. The library had all the Gazette’s on microfilm. It took a few visits but in all it was a good start. Then during May 2007 filmed interviews were arranged at The Cave in South Shields, formerly Tyne Dock Youth Club, where in the 1970’s some of the bands had rehearsed and performed as teenagers. 

I was surprised at the amount of people who turned up to tell their story, and what excellent stories they were. The title of the documentary is from a Black Sabbath compilation album and perfectly sums up the feeling I got when people were telling their story. Some bands even got back together after 30 odd year. After working on a few other commisioned projects, finally in 2010 a 30 minute version of the documentary was screened in South Shields, it was shown a few month later at The Cluny in Newcastle along with a film about the New York Dolls. In September 2011 a full version was shown at the Library Theatre in South Shields. 

‘We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll’ is on the Alikivi You Tube channel. To check out other films why not subscribe to the channel.

Gary Alikivi  2018

TEN: Soundbites from first 10 blogs.

cropped-c2t4gd2wiaavbvh1.jpgComing up to the 10th interview posted and well over 1,000 views on a blog which I thought would be read by half a dozen people – but these stories will just keep on, keeping on…below is a list of the posts so far. Coming soon interviews with John Gallagher (RAVEN) Steve Thompson (NEAT Records songwriter & producer) & Paul Di’Annio (BATTLEZONE/KILLERS/IRON MAIDEN) and plenty room for more musicians and bands to tell a few stories, just get in touch.

STILL BURNING (MYTHRA)
Vince High ’I wrote the words to Still Burning about the band as we are now, the whole team and how we feel after all these years, we felt we never really went away and the music was always with us so yeah, Still Burning sums up where Mythra are right now. We are really pleased with the album, we’re proud of it and how it’s turned out’.

LIFE SENTENCE (SATAN/BLITZKREIG)
Brian Ross ‘The kids were hungry for this noise, anger, excitement and a do it yourself attitude. It was definitly getting to me, getting in my blood, this raw and visceral sound was becoming addictive. The term New Wave of British Heavy Metal had been coined by then, and yeah it really was a new wave and you’ve gotta go with it… and we did’.

ROCK THE KNIGHT (SARACEN/BLIND FURY)
Lou Taylor ‘We 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, some stories you can’t tell. 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, that’s gonna turn anybodys head…and it did’.

ANGELS OF THE NORTH (ANGELIC UPSTARTS)
Mond Cowie ‘I remember Joe Strummer saying we’re coming to your gig tonight do you mind if I bring Iggy Pop? We said Aye go on then haha. The gig was in New York we walked on stage, the lights blazed on and Mensi screamed “We’re the Angelic Upstarts, We’re from England, 1,2,3,4” as I strummed my guitar there was an almighty bang, it all went dark then nothing! There was a huge power cut. They couldn’t get it sorted out so we jumped off stage and went to the bar at the back where The Clash were standing and I ordered a Jack and Coke and said to Iggy Pop “It’ll be sorted in a minute, this sort of thing happens to us all the time”.

CAT SCRATCH FEVER (TYGERS OF PAN TANG)
Mickey McCrystal ‘It’s amazed me the amount of new fans who are just discovering the band and like the new songs, then go back and look at the history of the Tygers. It’s about respecting the song, doing it justice and sticking to those key Sykes solo’s and licks that people are waiting for, plus there’s plenty of opportunity for me to put my own stamp on the songs’.

THE DENTIST (GILLAN/BERNIE TORME)
Bernie Torme ‘Creative process for me is always different, some are instant, some are like pulling teeth and it goes on for years, literally. You never can tell. Just have to have a good memory really! Lately I’ve been able to do a single album, a double album and now a triple album. Mind you I’m not planning to buy a yacht or anything on the proceeds! Just as well really, maybe a toy yacht haha’.

LONG LIVE ROCK N ROLL (BORDELLO/THE ANIMALS)
Steve Dawson ‘I remember Bordello 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!’

TO HULL AND BACK (SALEM)
Paul Mcnamara ‘On stage our flash bombs comprised an old camera flash bulb wired to the mains electric, then flash powder poured on top and as we made our dramatic entrance one of our faithful roadies would throw the switch and BOOOM!! The crowd didn’t expect a mini nuclear mushroom cloud!’

THE HUNGER (WARRIOR)
Dave Dawson ‘I remember getting a call around 1981 from NEAT records owner Dave Woods he asked me if NEAT could include our song Flying High on a compilation they were producing called Lead Weight. Well of course I said yes when he listed the other bands who were going to be on. Fist, Venom, Raven just those three names were enough, they were THE Heavy Metal bands from the North East and to be in their company was fantastic for Warrior. Yes really proud of that’.

Next post week of April 18th 2017.
SHINE ON (CLOVEN HOOF)
Lee Payne ‘1983 saw Cloven Hoof touring throughout the length and breadth of the UK, earning ourselves a sizable underground cult following. In the summer of that year the band recorded a four-track session for Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on Radio One and on the strength of the bands popularity Tyneside based NEAT Records signed us to record our first album. Things were starting to happen for the band, we were really in the mix’.

Interviews by Gary Alikivi 2017.

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

Over 30 years ago Lou Taylor was vocalist for a number of British Heavy Metal bands notably, Saracen, Satan, Blind Fury and Persian Risk. I asked him about some experiences he had in recording studio’s.

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‘When Satan recorded an album around 1984 (‘Court in the Act’ with Brian Ross on vocals, he is featured in an earlier post LIFE SENTENCE) the record company Roadrunner said we had done really well off the back of the first album and asked us to do a second one, they put us in a studio in Middlesex. It was Touch Sound Studio and the engineer was Roy Rowland and our producer was Steve James, the son of comedy actor Sid James. We didn’t believe him at first but sure enough he showed us some photos, yep it was him haha’.

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‘Another time was when Blind Fury recorded the album Out of Reach and released it in ’85. The style of the record was Satan with added flash and brash, the production delivered the tunes with a great sense of grandeur. This album let out a really big epic sound which got the chance to escape on this record. It was a big step up from the Saracen stuff I’d done at Guardian studio.
Prior to the albums release we were invited to record versions for the BBC Radio 1 Friday Rockshow, we added a couple to the session that were not yet recorded Hard Times and a rework of the Saracen tune Feel Just The Same.
We were on the ferry to the Isle of Man to start a series of shows there for the bikers and Tommy Vance was introducing our songs on BBC Radio 1 Friday Rockshow saying this was our radio debut, what will we be like in a years time, and how good Blind Fury were you know stuff like that, you couldn’t have been happier. It looked like the trail was blazing’.

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Did you get offers from any other bands ? ‘When I was based in London and vocalist for Blind Fury we would go to pubs which hosted rock nights, and pop into the Marquee to watch a band, meet up with a few mates and have a right laugh. We were all gigging on the London circuit and these were usefull places to make contacts. We’d talk about what was happening on the scene, who was playing where and who with, you know thats where you heard of bands maybe splitting or looking for new members’.

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‘One night I was talking to another notable vocalist, I mentioned I’d received a call from Jet records, he said you’re not alone mate. Word going around was that they were looking for an unknown frontman who they could mould for a band they had on their roster. ‘They’ was actually David Arden, son of Don Arden, manager of Black Sabbath. It was music journalist Malcolm Dome who worked for Kerrang and Sounds, who referred me to Arthur Sharpe and in turn David Arden. For a few days I was going to the studios, singing some material, they asked me to cut my hair, wear certain clothes and take a tape home, learn it come back, and sing a few tracks. A demo was made but I wasn’t invited to join on a more permanent basis. The rock journalist Dave Ling revealed this story in one of his features’.

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‘There was also a Blind Fury gig at the Tramshed in Woolwich where a number of A&R men from Jet Records watched us. This is where not only me but the band where shall I say in a bit of a mix with Jet and our record company Roadrunner. At the same time we also had a few drinks with American female rock band Madame X and found that Jet were also interested in them. So that added a bit of spice to the mix. It was basically between them and us.
We didn’t know how it would end, to be honest, as a band we flirted with Jet, our heads were turned and Roadrunner could see this. I hold my hands up, I was pushing it, I could see we were moving up to another league, but the rest of the lads didn’t want to lose what we had. Jet records knew they had to buy us out of our contract with Roadrunner so that was a hassle they didn’t need. Not long after the phone stopped ringing from Arthur Sharp’.

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‘As a band we had a few discussions and it was a very difficult decision to make, amicably I may add, that we went our seperate ways. Blind Fury returned to being Satan while I joined Persian Risk, Tony Martin got the Sabbath job and Jet Records signed Madame X. You can say it was a whirlwind that we were in, and who knows what might have been…c’est la vie’.

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What happened with Persian Risk did you gig or record with them ? Persian Risk were on the London gig circuit, I was also starting Perrys, my rock club in London. But my first gig with Persian Risk was on a Saturday night headlinging at the Marquee, you couldn’t get better. I loved it all, the sweaty metallers, denim, leather, hair all over yeah loved it. We would headline our own gigs and also support bigger bands when they came to London, loved my time in that band. But it came to an end when my stage style was questioned by one of the band, it wasn’t the same as the previous singer Carl Sentance who was more of a perfect fit really, all muscle and fist pumping macho style ha ha sorry Carl. Strange because we got on well musically I just think live I was just so different from what they had before. But still had a good time’.

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What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I’m still friends with some of the people I’ve met, I’m friends with Satan and still in touch with Metallica and currently playing in the North East with Ronnie James Dio tribute band Heaven or Hell. I’ve managed to make the love of my life the job of my life, I still get up on stage, sing and get paid for it. That’s entertainment’.

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From watching Ronnie James Dio at Newcastle City Hall in 1976 did Lou think that a decision he made as a kid all those years ago would come true? You bet ! Long Live Rock n Roll.
PART TWO of the interview with Lou Taylor. Taken from the documentary We Sold Our Soul for Rock n Roll also in conversation in South Shields 26th January 2017.

Added information from Raw Talent feature by Dave Ling in RAW magazine.

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

 

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

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 he said I’ve met you before Lou, but I’ve never been to San Francisco, 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’.

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 that’s 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 business so we started gigging in the neighbourhood’.

‘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’.

 

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 paraphanalia 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 the Samson 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, probably 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 Walthamstow 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 anybody’s 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.

LIFE SENTENCE: Addicted to NWOBHM with vocalist Brian Ross.

1Brian Ross has been vocalist for a number of North East NWOBHM bands including Satan, Avenger and Blitzkreig.  Brian looks back on the influences and defining moments in his career. ‘We actually played what I think was my first gig at Wingate Youth Club in Durham around 1972. By the late 70’s I was in a band who were playing Led Zep, Judas Priest and Deep Purple stuff, I knew this was for me I could see it coming alongside punk. The kids were hungry for this noise, anger, excitement and a do it yourself attitude. It was definitly getting to me, getting in my blood, this raw and visceral sound was becoming addictive. The term New Wave of British Heavy Metal had been coined by then, and yeah it really was a new wave and you’ve gotta go with it… and we did’.

Were there any moments in your career when you thought yes, this is what I’m here for ?
‘I joined a band called Satan, now that name has certain significance and imagery attached to it for some people, you know upside down crosses and that, but our intention was not to go down that road. We weren’t exactly listening to the church bells ringing out on a Sunday but believe me it has attracted a certain type of response from some people, shall we say maybe misguided.
But a big turning point was when I was frontman for Avenger we played a gig at the Dynamo Festival over in Holland around 1982 and there was a different feel around the place, bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden were becoming well established. I knew I was on the right direction of travel’.

2Who were your influences ?
‘Looking back I suppose the influence on my music career started back in the early 70’s with Marc Bolan, although before that I did catch The Beatles on TV and that had a big effect on me and everyone really, the whole culture with music making a real breakthrough.
You know we were at school just miming little shows with some friends which led us to picking up guitars. That’s where the bug started really, thinking yeah this could work, it was fun. The Bolan album Electric Warrior was in the charts then so we would have put some of those songs together. Then I heard Alice Cooper and the rockier stuff that was coming through like Judas Priest. So their vocalist Rob Halford was a big influence on my career but the defining moment was hearing Ian Gillan, I said to myself yes I want to sing just like him’.

How do you come up with ideas for a song ?
‘Sometimes you can get lost in the writing process you have to be dedicated to it, really immersing yourself in the subject. There is projects I’ve researched over many years almost to the point of obsession. One time we were recording and I was writing lyrics for the band. Ended up I got a mental block for a few days which was worrying but once I put myself away I stayed up all night to finish the lyrics.
It’s the dedication that got me through. But once they are done it’s done. Listening back to stuff years later I don’t go back and want to change songs, you know I don’t want to add or take away an extra verse or something like that’.

3Why did you end up recording a lot of your material at Impulse Studio/NEAT records  ?
’With the technology today you can get good results recording at home but it’s different when you are in the studio, the atmosphere adds to the creative process. 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, we recorded it at NEAT and they 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 rather like the Newcastle Mayfair and Mecca in Sunderland. Both venues I’ve gigged at many times and I think there is still an audience out there who are hungry for bands like us. In 1983 Satan recorded Caught in the Act which at the time wasn’t well received by the reviewer in Kerrang, to be honest it’s a very scathing review which I still have.
But I look at things like that and use it to my advantage. If you are doing something you believe in you’ve got to keep going and believe in yourself. Really the review is an opinion of only one person. The fans view is more important they buy the records and turn up at the gigs’.

4What are you doing now and what are your plans for the future ?
‘I suppose a really good thing to come out of this is that I’m bringing my son Alan through the industry, sort of passing the baton on as he is playing with us in Blitzkrieg.
This year with Satan and Blitzkreig we are writing new material and looking at going into the studio, maybe First Avenue or Trinity Heights in Newcastle and off the back of that will be a run of gigs. It’s in yer blood, it’s an addiction’.

blitzkreigWe finished the interview and agreed to follow up on details of his recordings on NEAT and the Satan tour of America 2016. We said our goodbyes then went off into the dark misty night on the banks of the river Tyne in South Shields, I think Brian can howl out loud he’s Sold his Soul for Rock n Roll.

Interview by Gary Alikivi 2017.

Recommended:

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

 

 

STILL BURNING – interview with Mythra.

mythra2017Interview with Vince High and Maurice Bates of Heavy Metal band Mythra.
Maurice Bates ‘Pleasently surprised yeah to say the least and after 30 odd years we’re trying our best to do the songs justice. After the gigs people come up to us and say great we loved it. What’s better than that’ frontman Vince High ‘ Metalheads have their own community they build friendships and that is all pulled together by a passion for the music. There is an underground scene going and a lot of them are real enthusiasts. There is some fans who turn up at all the Festival gigs, they fly across Europe, the USA and South America to see the bands.  Yeah it’s humbling really that some fans travel a long way to see us playing live’ Maurice added ‘And I’ve noticed a commeraderie between a lot of the bands, they support each other at gigs, kind words you know, they say great gig, things like that. Yeah you can say we are having a great time’.

Back in 1976 Mythra began what became a life long journey and through a few line up changes over the years, today they have settled on twin guitarists John Roach and Alex Perry, bassist Maurice Bates, Phil Davies on drums and vocalist Vince High. But at the time of the first New Wave of British Heavy Metal in 1979 they played on the circuit which included Raven, White Spirit, Geordie, Fist, and Son of a Bitch who became known as Saxon. In 1979 Mythra entered Gaurdian Studios to record an EP, with the backing of top music journalist Geoff Barton, Death and Destiny sold an absolute truck load and ended up staying in the UK Alternative charts for 12 weeks sitting next to the likes of Motorhead, Teardrop Explodes, Joy Division and UB40, it was all going so well. In 1980 they were on a bill with Girlschool, Saxon and Motorhead playing to 10,000 hungry Metalheads, another sign that everything was looking up. The band were on the radar of the bigger record companies and positioning themselves for the breakthrough. But then they were dealt an absolute killer blow from an industry which is well known for it’s ruthlessness when it comes to business decisions.

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Vince takes up the story ‘Everything was going great, we had played gigs with Saxon, Tommy Vance was playing the EP on the BBC Radio One Rock show and we loved the Motorhead gig at Stafford Bingley Hall. To actually get on stage in front of 10,000 people is just unbelievable. We’d gone from the social clubs to the Newcastle Mayfair to Stafford Bingley Hall in about six months. We were also lined up for the Ted Nugent UK tour in August 1980. Then 3 days before we were due to join the tour we got the news through that Mythra had been pulled and a band called Wild Horses got the support slots. They were ex members of Thin Lizzy and Rainbow with a load of serious financial clout behind them. The upshot was that we lost the gigs and we started seeing a different side to the business, one which we’d never come across before’.

With the ‘what might have been’ stories out of the way here we are in 2017, Vince High and Maurice Bates get me up to speed on what has been happening in the Mythra camp over the last two years.
Vince ’A series of connections happened starting with our reunion gig at Brofest in February 2015, that Newcastle gig was the first show we had done in 32 years, the response to that gig was phenomenal, we were blown away. Our performance was filmed by a German TV company (available on YouTube) and next morning our guitarist Alex Perry was approached by Keep It True Festival promoter Oliver Weinsheiner who booked us to play in Germany in April 2016 which was an amazing gig.  Bart Gabriel, CEO of Skol Records and Gabriel Management EU also approached us after Brofest which led to the release of our ‘Warriors Of Time’ Anthology album on CD in November 2015.  It was thanks to Bart that Steffen Boehm of German label High Roller Records released the vinyl version as a double album and also signed us to record our brand new studio album ‘Still Burning’.  Bart brokered the whole deal’.

Have you found the gigs are different now?
Vince ’In a lot of cities over Europe they have a small underground following of Metal, it’s a whole communal thing now. Some of the gig promoters are fans or record shop owners, so they can get the word out and with the internet it’s made easier, it can spread like wildfire. The venues we play at can get in about 500 to around 3,000 people’.
Maurice ‘The Barcelona gig was great, loved that one. It’s a bit different now using the internet to advertise gigs, I remember back in the late 70’s we played a gig in our hometown South Shields and we had the young metallers Hellanbach supporting us, well to advertise we had to run around with a bucket of glue sticking up posters in bus shelters all around the town ha ha’

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In October 2016 Mythra entered MP studios in Poland to record an album which they never thought would happen. I asked them what was the difference in 2016 compared to their first time recording in Gaurdian Studios back in 1979 ?
’Apart from having less hair ! ha ha. Yeah obviously we are more mature as musicians and took onboard suggestions on the odd guitar solo or vocal chorus here and there.  But we were really firing the ideas around which was very dynamic. It took us about twelve weeks in all to have that album written, rehearsed and recorded’. said Maurice.
Vince added ‘It was a very intensive process. From coming together with initial idea’s to working them up to a song and getting them in shape, we were very disciplined, that work ethic and our passion got the best out of us.  We initially wrote 16 tracks and ended up taking 12 over to the studio in Poland. Bart Gabriel was producer for the album with Mariusz Pietka engineering, we got on really well with the team and it came out in our playing. Compared to the Gaurdian recordings completed in our late teenage years there was more of a mutual respect and collaboration this time around as the band had more input into the recording’.
Maurice ‘In a way we were more relaxed about it even though within 10 days we got the 12 tracks recorded, 11 of them going on the vinyl album plus a bonus track on cd’.

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Does the album ‘Still Burning’ reflect Mythra now ?
Vince ’I wrote the words to the title track about the band as we are now, you know the whole team and how we feel after all these years, we felt we never really went away and the music was always with us so yeah Still Burning sums up where Mythra are right now. And really pleased with the album, we’re proud of it and how it’s turned out. The cover is special as well with great artwork by Italian artist Roberto Toderico’.

What next for Mythra ?
Maurice ‘We’ve already got more gigs lined up, Brofest #5 in February.  Over to Belgium in April, ‘Up The Hammers’ Festival in Athens in May were we’ll be playing more songs from the new album as it is released in April…can’t wait for that’
Vince added ‘We are flying over to America too in October, we are on the bill with our longtime friends Fist, playing in California at the Fire and Frost Festival. Jarvis Leatherby is the promoter there, he’s also in the band Night Demon and sings with Jaguar too. He is a big fan of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement. We are looking forward to seeing some of our American fans and friends out there as they have a real passion for the music’.

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With that Vince and Maurice are off to rehearsals working on the set list. Who’d have thought that 40 years ago in a Northern working class town something that started then would still have a big effect on peoples lives now… the journey continues.

The brand new MYTHRA studio album ‘Still Burning’ is released on High Roller Records on 27th April.  It will be available on CD, vinyl and as a digital download.

Interview by Gary Alikivi with Vince High and Maurice Bates  South Shields 30th January 2017.

Recommended:

John Roach, Still Got the Fire, 27th April 2017.

Maurice Bates, Just a Mo’, 12th May 2017.

Vince High, Vinyl Junkies, 11th December 2017.