LUCKY MAN – part one, with North Shields actor & musician Tony Hodge.

Leaving school and taking up a job as a Chef led Tony Hodge down a path that he couldn’t imagine

I’ve been very lucky as a chef, drummer, actor and company director plus a rocker in the famous ‘60s era of mods and rockers. Looking back they were great years, it’s been a blast. I’ve been a lucky man said 75 year old Tony.

Did you come from a musical family ?

My family weren’t musical as such, although my parents sang in the church choir and my brother plays guitar. When I was a chef in 1961 at the Park Hotel in Tynemouth, the hotel had a resident band with a drum kit. I had an urge to play and that started a career that spanned over 30 years. Mind you many wouldn’t class my drumming as musical. Then I went with Ray Laidlaw (Lindisfarne) to see Ginger Baker and Cream at the Club A Go-Go in Newcastle, that changed my style of playing – I became known as Animal.

Can you remember your first bands and gigs?

My first band, I was 16, we only played a few gigs then I joined Dominion Aces, then Turm with John Lawton singing, he later sang for Uriah Heep. Next was Arctic Rainbow with Kenny Mountain (Beckett) and Micky Balls on guitar. Venues included the famous Rex Hotel, Whitley Bay and the Cellar Club in South Shields.

Then there was Tex Leon and the Tynesiders and finally The Piranha Brothers who had a huge following and never stopped filling clubs for the 10 years we played in the North East. We had a four part singing line up in many songs and some of a set at the Birtley Rex is on my You Tube page.

The Pirahna Brothers line up was two lead vocalists in Geordie Scott and Allen Matthews, lead guitar & vocals from both Paul Simmons & Mac Norris. During their time they had three bass players – founder Bill French, then Paul Allen and finally Dave Wightman. On drums was Tony Hodge.

Where did The Piranha Brothers play ?

Venues were mainly social clubs as they were hundreds around then and all the agents used them. We weren’t a typical social club band though, as our act was largely made up from our own songs written by Paul Simmons our lead guitarist. Most bands played covers as I had in the Tynesiders, but we had an act that worked in clubs and other venues.

One night we played Newcastle Mayfair with three other bands to a 3000 plus audience and The Piranhas played several open air concerts in the early ‘80s at Gypsies Green stadium in South Shields.

The most popular Piranhas venue was Heaton Buffs in Newcastle. Our Christmas concerts sold out the year previous. The original single night ended up as three nights, and we had guest bands playing along with the brilliant resident band Burlesque.

The Christmas nights were themed with ideas being thought up by our singers… ‘St Trinians’, ‘The Young Ones’, ‘WWII’ and the final one ‘The Nativity’ and Burlesque always joined in the game. I still wonder though how some of the guys always thought women’s nylons had to be included.

The guest bands never knew what to expect and one time a guest band was 747 with the late brilliant musician Dave Black. This band was really cool, all good looking and right up to date. We hired a topless dancer to come on stage mid set and serve drinks on a tray to the band.

Dave was singing in full swing and she was out of his eyesight. The rest of the band saw her and were laughing but Dave was oblivious. When she stood in front of him he was speechless – literally – and his face was a picture. The audience loved it though.

We often had many famous faces in the audience such as John Miles, Brian Johnston (Geordie) and Hylton Valentine (The Animals) so it must have had some appeal.

Pictured above is the Newcastle Mayfair competition final. The room was packed with over 3000 people. Two bands had the biggest following, that was Burlesque and us. All bands were great on the night but the audience were very unhappy when neither won. A riot erupted with plastic glasses being thrown and Alan Hull (Lindisfarne) could not provide the prize.

Alan and Brian, the Mayfair manager, asked if anyone from the Piranhas or Burlesque could try and do something. Paul from Burlesque and I went on stage to try and calm the audience down and the anger turned to cheers.

Alan Hull presented the prize with a bowl on his head to everyone’s delight. One of the judges, Chas Chandler (The Animals), invited us to go to Abbey Road studios and record our songs which we did.

Have you any memories from those North East gigs ?

Piranhas were known for the two main singers in Geordie Scott and Alan Mathews, pulling many stunts like pretend fights and blood capsules. They had funny routines without in any way being a comic band. This night to a packed room we counted four beats and the usual very loud intro to First Bite powered out. As always Geordie jumped up fists in the air and hit the deck, Alan started to dart around the stage.

This time however Geordie didn’t get up. This seemed ok, these guys were up for anything after all, however the intro was over and Alan wasn’t joined by Geordie. We played on but after a few more bars we realised something was wrong. It was…Geordie had dislocated his knee and ended up being taken to hospital in an ambulance. In the true showbiz style of the show must go on, Alan and the rest of us finished the night.

Another night at the Birtley Rex. A guy called Liddle Towers had recently died in police custody in Birtley and the police were none too popular.

(Liddle Towers was an amateur boxing coach who died in police custody, in 1978 South Shields punk band The Angelic Upstarts wrote a song about the incident The Murder of Liddle Towers).

This night our first set was our own material only, but second set we were finishing our final set with a couple of punk covers. A wedding party had been trouble through the night and a fight broke out. The police were called and a young Police Constable plus an overweight Sergeant arrived. When they entered the whole club erupted against them, chairs, tables, glasses all went flying.

A roadie got cut and I ran from the dressing room to the stage yelling to the police to run to the dressing room. The guys dragged them in and the glasses hitting the doors sounded like a battlefield. Suddenly there was silence and out of the tiny window was a wall of blue lights as far as you could see, police were everywhere.

Eventually, I ventured to the stage and the club was empty. Wrecked but empty. Never have I ever seen a club clear so fast.

Did you record any of your material ?

Yes I have a couple of singles they are in the attic collecting dust, unfortunately no turntable. I last heard one of them on You Tube as a fan must have uploaded it.

In 1979 The Piranha Brothers had a single on the Durham record label, Guardian. The song was called Too Much of Wanting You and studio owner Terry Gavaghan wrote that and Paul Simmons and Iwrote the b-side Dancing Time.

At one point Brian Johnston (Geordie/AC/DC) was a big fan. We recorded a single in his Newcastle studio Lynx, the song was called A Woman Like You. But it went to the USA and nothing happened. Chas Chandler (The Animals) got us recording in Abbey Road studio – but major fame alluded us.

Next time on the blog read the second part of Tony’s story, where he sees an opportunity to prolong his career in entertainment.

I didn’t think I could be playing drums in my 40s and 50s and I thought I would have a longer career in acting than music. It was a surprise because I never thought I would get as far as I did.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   February 2021.

KEEP ON ROCKIN’ – Tom Hill, bassist with reformed Newcastle band GEORDIE

It’s 1980 and do you really need to know what happened to Brian Johnson ? ‘Nutbush City Limits’ was his audition song for a band he only knew the initials of. He backed the black. And won.

Rewind to ‘72 and with a line up of Vic Malcolm (guitar) Brian Johnson (vocals) Brian Gibson (drums) and Tom Hill (bass) Geordie released their first single ‘Don’t Do That’ and broke into the UK Top 40. 

By ’73 the debut album ‘Hope You Like It’ was recorded for EMI. The same year included two UK hit’s ‘All Because of You’ and ‘Can You Do It’ with appearances on Top of the Pops. Everything’s gaan canny.

Competing with glam rockers Sweet and Slade the band went through some upheaval, Johnson left, Dave Ditchburn came in on vocals and there was a Geordie mark II performing. By the early ‘80s a new Geordie album was released on Neat records but without any major success they changed their name to ‘Powerhouse’. Hoping to change their fortune, they took another throw of the dice and with a new line up released an album, but eventually called it a day in 1986.

Original member Tom Hill remembers how  Geordie first got together… Well it was Vic Malcolm who approached me to join a band he was putting together, but I told him the band I was playing in at that time was better. So Vic came to a rehearsal, heard the band and agreed (laughs). 

The members in that band were me on bass, Brian Gibson on drums, Brian Johnson, vocals and Ken Brown on guitar. Not long after, Ken left and Vic joined. We named the band USA and away we went. We got signed and changed the name to Geordie. This was late 72. We ended up playing all over the world Australia, Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, all over.

Who were your early influences ? That would have been The Beatles to start with then got into Zeppelin, Deep Purple and bands of that genre.

Who were your first band and what venues did you play ? My first proper working band was with Brian Gibson on drums, we worked together since we were kids. We done the Northern circuit of working men’s clubs and night clubs.

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How did the new version of Geordie get together ? It all came together nicely really. Steve Dawson came in on guitar. Me and Brian Gibson wanted to work together again so that was good and Mark Wright joined on vocals. An agent called Pete Barton pulled it all together. The band started rehearsing and it’s sounding tremendous.

What’s the plan for Geordie ? We are working really hard on projects with the agent trying to get bookings in Rock Clubs, Festivals and any country in the world that wants to rock.

What does music mean to you ? Music has always played a big part in my life and has given me a great deal of pleasure. And I’m hoping it’s going to continue.

The 2019 version of Geordie is Steve Dawson (guitar) Mark Wright (vocals) with original members Brian Gibson (drums) and Tom Hill (bass).

 Contact details:

geordiebandofficial@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/geordiebandofficial/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y57t79VYvwc

Interview by Gary Alikivi August 2019.

 

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.