PEDAL TO THE METAL with Steve Zodiac from rock n roll speed merchants VARDIS

92010956_3008453935880004_1605583973541478400_n

The late ‘70s saw Vardis slogging around the Northern workingmen’s club circuit – vital experience for what was to come. In 1980 they released a live album ‘100mph’ and embarked on a brutal touring schedule.

Starting on a hot summer day at the Heavy Metal Barndance held in Stafford’s Bingley Hall with Motorhead, Saxon, Girlschool, Angel Witch and South Shields metal band Mythra, this was the high point for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal – What did you think of that time ?

Very pleased and proud to be part of the scene, however we are just a rock n roll band really. We played hundreds of clubs and UK gigs travelling around in a van. We also played with many different bands over the years, like Hawkwind and Slade.

1981 was a year of momentum with total commitment from the band, they recorded and toured their first studio album ‘The Worlds Insane’, then got a call from BBC radio DJ Tommy Vance inviting them to record a session on the Friday Rock Show, they were regulars in the Heavy Metal singles charts and in August saw them opening the legendary Heavy Metal Holocaust festival held at Port Vale football ground.

I have great memories of all the bands who played, Riot, Triumph, Frank Marino, Ozzy and Motorhead. What are your memories of the day ? I remember that it was a very hot day. We opened the show and it seemed to pass in a few seconds. The crowd enjoyed it and so did we. Afterwards I said hello and had a brief chat with most of the others on the bill, however I had met most of them before at other events or in studios.

Did you hit the road in Europe and have you a following in any country ? Recently we’ve played in most EU countries, and gigged there during the 80’s. We also had releases in Japan but never visited. We still get fan mail from all over the world.

Did you have a manager and how did you get on with the record company ? Yes we had a few managers and they all took too much, too soon. They all let us down in the end and that’s the main reason why I walked away from the business for 30 years.

The early ‘80s saw a vicious two year court battle where Steve finally won back the rights to his songs, and in ’86 released the album ‘Vigilante’. It all went silent for nearly three decades until in 2014 the album was re-released on Hoplite Records and a headlining slot at Brofest and festival dates in England and Germany had the band back on form. They also played an emotional show in Wakefield, Northern England were it all began.

Have you had any magic moments on stage when everything went right ? We always strive to make every show the best so our last one we do is always the most magic. Every show is special to us and we are always improving on what we do.

What have Vardis planned for 2020? We have just recorded a new live album at the 100 Club in London and hope to get it out later in the year.

Contact Vardis on the official website:  www.VardisRocks.com

or social media: facebook/twitter or Hoplite Records.com

Interview by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.

HOME NEWCASTLE – snapshot from the life of musician, manager and record producer Chas Chandler 1938-96.

For many Tynesiders 1st February 1967 was a defining moment in music history. A packed New Cellar Club in South Shields saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience live on stage, a unique musician from New York who had been brought over to the UK by Chas. An audience member told me ‘After watching Cream play the opening night at the Cellar people picked up the guitar, but after Hendrix played, loads of bands formed on Tyneside’.

Brian James Chandler was brought up in Heaton, Newcastle, and after leaving school he worked in the shipyards. His early years as a musician were spent playing bass in local band’s like The Kon-Tors. Another band on the scene were Kansas City Five, one of their member’s was Alan Price.

The Club a Go-Go in Newcastle was the venue, for band’s like The Yardbirds, Rolling Stones and John Lee Hooker. Also getting regular gig’s were the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo formed by Chandler and Price. They were joined by Eric Burdon on vocals. Three down two to go.

With regular gigs at The Old Vic in Whitley Bay and Club a Go-Go, Chas asked drummer John Steel to join… ‘You’ll make £14 per week’. Next up was North Shields guitarist Hilton Valentine and finally by September ’63 the Animals line-up was complete – Burdon, Price, Chandler, Steel and Valentine.

In 1964 the band opened a UK tour for Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. By the summer of ’66 The Animals were hugely popular after many TV appearances and hit’s including House of the Rising Sun and We Gotta Get Out of This Place. ‘We toured non-stop for three years but hardly got a penny’. But on their last American tour things were about to change.

Chas walked into a Greenwich Village club in New York to watch a young guitarist. It took one look for him to decide he wanted Jimi Hendrix to come to the UK. After helping him arrange a passport Chas phoned the airline ‘I’d like two first class tickets to London. One way’.

The UK capital in 1966 was aptly called ‘Swinging London’ and Chas thought it was the perfect launch pad for Hendrix’ new career. At his expense, Chas rushed the Jimi Hendrix Experience into a studio to record Hey Joe which opened the doors for them. Purple Haze followed and the rest is history.

Through the 70’s Chas bought Portland Studio in London and ran a number of record labels including Barn Records, Six of the Best and Cheapskate Records. He was also very successful as manager and producer of 70’s chart regulars Slade who had a run of hit singles, before he briefly played in a reformed Animals. By the 1980’s Chas was manager and producer of 21 Strangers, a North East band that had two UK singles on the Charisma label.

By the 90’s large entertainment centre’s were springing up around the UK where live music and sporting events were held in the same venue. Chas and his business partner Nigel Stanger were the brains behind a new venture. They secured financial support and on the 18th November 1995 the 10,000 seater Newcastle Arena opened for business.

Sadly on 17th July 1996 Chas died in Newcastle General Hospital. But he left behind a rich musical history including The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Slade and Newcastle Arena.

Gary Alikivi June 2019.

PIPES OF PEACE with Northumberland musician Chris Ormston

I’ve recorded various compilations of Northumbrian music but my first big break if you like was when I got a phone call one night in 1990…

Hello it’s Peter Gabriel here. There is a rumour going round that I told him to f*** off because I never believed it was him (laughs). But it was and he was after some piping on his next recording.

So I agreed to go down to his studio in Bath. He wasn’t really sure what he wanted and just said bring every pipe you’ve got. We worked in the studio until he found the sound he liked, which was Highland Pipes not Northumbrian.

ORMSTON

What’s the difference ? Highland Scottish pipes are mouth blown and mainly played outdoors. Northumbria Pipes are small, indoor instrument, blown by bellows. Not wanting to get too detailed here but you’ve got a drone going on which is a constant note playing behind so you’ve got your basic harmony going on behind the melody.

The best pipe music is actually quite simple in it’s structure so it’s always chording and dischording against the drones.

How did the recording session go with Gabriel ? The pipes were mixed down and recorded onto the first song on the album Come Talk to Me. Sinead O’Connor sang on the track although I never saw her. He had brought in various musicians and sounds to add to what he had already recorded. That’s the way he worked.

I got a credit and a flat fee for the work and really enjoyed the experience. Gabriel I found was very thoughtful and reserved unlike his stage performances, as a lot of musicians are don’t you think ?

(Us was Gabriel’s sixth studio album, recorded in Real World Studios and released in 1992)

GABRIEL

What is your background ? I live in Ovingham, Northumberland although I was born in Jarrow. I’ve played the pipes since I was 15 but before that I played the recorder at school which I picked up quickly and got good at, all learnt by ear.

Teachers were always trying to teach me to read music but I was making good progress by ear. They sent me to the grammar school to have lessons on the clarinet. But in those days music was all about learning exercises and rehearsing not very interesting pieces so I didn’t have much commitment to it.

What first got you interested in music ? My dad was a music teacher and his brother made a name for himself as a semi-professional operatic singer. So music was always around when I was growing up. My dad died when I was 13 and I didn’t pick up the Pipes until I was 15. Later I found that my dad and my uncle wanted to learn how to play the pipes.

He was originally a joiner and my uncle was a butcher but they were both saving up money to go to music college. They ended up in the Royal Manchester College of Music and trained as music teachers. My dad played and taught piano, so there was classical music in the house and it was interesting because he never pushed me into playing anything.

Sure he gave me a few lessons but never said Sit down and you must practice this. He made it sound more interesting if I would just try it out you know.

CHRIS

Where you listening to any other music ? There was the operatic stuff from my family but I didn’t take to it and I started listening to Glam Rock (laughs). Slade were my thing then Prog Rock with Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and a band called Gryphon. Occasionly still listen to that.

You look back with affection for it, as it was part of your formative years. It’s hard to look back objectively because some of it might have been rubbish but it meant something to you then.

We talk about the moment at a concert when the lights go down, then the ‘roar’ of the crowd and the band launch into their first song. Yeah my mother used to say at Newcastle City Hall there was an excellent organ at the back of the stage that was totally spoilt when all these beat groups stated to play there (laughs).

Funnily the first rock concert I went to was around 1979 when I was studying Geography at Liverpool University and I saw Lindisfarne (laughs). It worked out really well in Liverpool because there was a good traditional music scene with lot’s of informal sessions most night’s of the week plus the folk club’s. I sort of learned the trade there.

It was a big challenge because I’d been playing the Pipes for around three years and in order to play I had to join in with the Irish music sessions. That was a steep learning curve to adapt to suit the Northumbrian Pipes.

I remember the first Garden Festival was held in Liverpool and I was playing with a Highland Pipe band at the time. We got a gig there, played our set and walked off. The first person I see is the actor John Pertwee dressed as Worzel Gummidge he said ‘Ooh arr Pipes, I love the pipes especially Northumbrian’.

I ended up having a long conversation about Northumbrian Pipes with Jon Pertwee staying in his role as Worzel Gummidge (laughs).

What was the last gig you played ? The last gig I played was at the Morpeth Gathering with Katrina Porteous. (Featured interview Some Kind of Magic, April 27th 2019). There is a folk crowd who you reguarly see at the gigs, within that there are people who like different traditions of music and dance such as Scots or Irish folk as well as Northumbrian.

The Morpeth Gathering is one place where all that comes together. People travel from all over the North East and come down from Scotland for these events. The performance with Katrina went really well. We’ve worked together on-and-off for 20 years.

Originally we were both commissioned to do something for Northumbrian Language Society and we worked on that separately first then found out when we came together it all worked in a live setting. We’ve worked a lot like that.

What have you got planned this year ? I do a bit of teaching on the Pipes so there will be more of that. I’m off to Germany in July and Ireland in October with Newcastle Poet Keith Armstrong, that’s part of a Cultural Exchange trip. (Interview with Keith on More Than Words, April 15th 2019).

In August I’m playing on a festival down in Sidmouth, Devon. Not a part of the country that I play very often so really nice to get down there.

I’m going to Devon by train rather than plane. One time I flew over to Amsterdam and security there knew what the Pipes were and said Ahh Doedelzak – that’s the Dutch word for Bagpipe. (laughs). Surprisingly, it’s usually the staff at Newcastle airport that don’t know what the Northumbrian pipes are!

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2019.