‘IN 1971 WE SIGNED TO THE BEATLES COMPANY, APPLE RECORDS’ – interview with former Halfbreed guitarist Pete Dodds

I first picked up a guitar when I was twelve years old. My influences were Lonnie Donegan, Buddy Holly, Beatles, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.  My first gig was in 1964 at The Portland Hotel in Ashington, Northumberland. After that it was gigs in clubs, pubs and village halls.

What band were you playing in then ? Played in a band called Halfbreed and the line-up was Bill Elliot, Colin Mason, Les Connolly, Tom Farrier and Bob Purvis – who was a non- playing songwriter. I was a member of the band until 1974 when things happened, but unfortunately the group split. Bob and Billy went on to become Splinter who were famous for the single Costafine Town that was on George Harrison’s label Dark Horse Records.

What was your experiences in a recording studio ? In 1971 we had signed to Apple records and the first time in a studio we recorded demos for  The Beatles company. We did an 8 track demo with George Martin and Mal Evans as producers. I have a copy of the tracks, they have been cleaned up ready for further work.

My first album was recorded in 1987, that was Full Circle. The studio was Baker Street in Jarrow. It was run by Howard Baker who used to be vocalist with Warbeck. I’ve recorded a couple more albums in various North East studio’s since then, like The Cluny. The latest was in 2016.

Have you any road stories ? I was playing a gig when my guitar touched the mic stand, next thing I knew I woke up in the hospital. There was a fault in the electrical system – I must have lit up like a Christmas tree.

We were rehearsing for a gig at the Marquee club in London when my amp blew up. The Beatles roadie Mal Evans, sent our roadies round to Apple to pick up an amp. They came back with John Lennon’s gear – a 200 watt Marshal amp and two Sunn cabinets. One of the cabinets had a revolving speaker, that was an insight into Johns sound.

What are you doing now ? After my mother’s death I came out to Spain to clear my head, write a book and record a new album which I have now finished. My book is finished and is now being proof read and checked for grammar plus just waiting on the art work.

What does music mean to you ? Music has been with me most of my life I hope it will still be there after everything and everyone has gone.

 Interview by Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

 

 

 

APPLE OF OUR EYES with radio presenter & author Nigel Pearce

Radio Presenter Nigel Pearce has released a book on the products of Apple, the company originally founded by The Beatles in 1966…..

The Apple group delved into Records, Films, Publishing, Electronics, Retail, Studios and until now it has been hard to find a complete listing of what actually was done under this banner. Take a look and discover what Frank Sinatra recorded for Apple along with just about everybody from the scene at the time.

What inspired you to write the book ?  The inspiration was quite simple really apart from The Beatles recordings themselves, nobody ever mentions Apple Records, and what the company originally stood for as ‘a foundation for the arts’.

Knowing a fair bit through my own research, I started to dig a little deeper and wow the info started coming.

Also knowing musician Pete Dodds was a huge spur, because his efforts have gone very largely unrewarded, so I thought that would be a real bonus too. So with those two reasons being central, I began my quest.

How long did it take to research and write ?  The whole project took me about a year, due to the checking, and rechecking to quantify everything properly, then finding the correct prose and photographs and finally interesting a publisher.

It all takes time and mounts up to an astonishing degree, which then takes on a whole new ball game and becomes much more than a personal quest. But overall I feel satisfied as this will alert more people to what Apple did, and maybe that was the main reasons why the name was pirated, you never know.

Is this your first book ?  I have written two previous books on Aviation, which has nothing to do with the music scene or The Beatles, both now sadly out of print. The publisher for this book The Apples of our Eyes is United p.c.

Did you find any interesting facts when researching the book ?  There are many surprising and staggering facts uncovered, and that makes the whole scenario that much more incredible in the whole scheme of things. The vision that the fab four had was so far forward thinking for the time, that they are all the more incredible now in 2020. Perhaps it was their united vision that caused so many problems, no-one could keep a handle on things.

What are you working on now ?  Several very interesting projects including Pete Dodds new album, and unearthing some more unknown gems from several quarters including Splinter

(1970’s North East band signed to Dark Horse, George Harrison’s label. Check out their 1974 hit song ‘Costafine Town’).

Also continuing with the radio show Groove Britain which is now in its seventh year, all hard work.

Where is the book available ?  The book is available on Amazon and from all good booksellers so seek it out and enjoy. Go on take a slice and see how much of those halcyon days of the ‘60s still reverberate in our lives. After all The Beatles gave so much to lighten up all our lives, and you know that can’t be bad.

Listen to Nigel, who is based in Norwich, broadcast for Groove Britain, now in it’s seventh continuous year and growing. Find Future radio at 107.8FM. The show is a 2 hour programme that goes out every Sunday at 3pm, also broadcasts for Swindon 105.5FM on a Tues/Wed/Thurs at 1pm with repeats in the early hours.

Also broadcast for Radio Stockton FM and UK Radio via Carol Miller in New York City Q104.3FM and on Soundcloud.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  April 2020.

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND – snapshot of musician & teacher Jack Brymer (1915–2003)

A post last summer featured professional jazz musician Kathy Stobart (link below). The post highlighted her link from being born in South Shields to playing residencies in London, New York and Los Angeles to sharing a bill with Radiohead. But what about a link from South Shields to The Beatles via Dracula ?

A few weeks ago I received a message from a friend ‘Have you heard of Jack Brymer ? He used to live in South Shields. He was a famous musician’. I hadn’t come across the name so checked him out and was surprised to find he was a session musician who played on Hammer horror movie soundtracks starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I got a bigger surprise to find he appeared on The Beatles track A Day in the Life.

Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus pandemic the Local History library in South Shields is closed, and I would usually check details there, but this is what I’ve found using Ancestry, Musicians Gallery, and various BBC interviews and video clips on You Tube. Facts were checked as much as possible.

In 1911 John and Mary Brymer lived at 92 South Woodbine Street, South Shields. They had two children, then on 27th January 1915, John was born, later to be known as Jack. 

John senior was a house builder who played clarinet, and with no formal instruction, his young son attempted to play the wind instrument. Throughout his young life Jack appreciated listening to a wide range of musical styles from jazz to brass-bands. He later insisted that all these genres had been of great value to him professionally.

In a BBC interview he said ‘Playing the clarinet was a natural thing because after all I can’t remember not playing it. From the age of 5 I can’t remember life without the clarinet’.

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Jack trained as a teacher and joined the teaching staff at a school in Croydon. He taught the odd combination of physical education and musical appreciation. In his spare time he played in amateur musical ensembles.  

During the Second World War Jack served in the Royal Air Force. After basic training he was promoted to corporal as a physical training instructor.

After the war he returned to his teaching post, and in 1947 on the recommendation of professional musicians, Jack received a surprise telephone call from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra inviting him to audition. At first Jack thought it was one of his friends winding him up. But he went along and after playing, badly he recalled, a call came in next day – and a contract.

Throughout his career Jack enjoyed an interest in mainstream jazz and performed as a soloist with many of the leading British and American jazz players.

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He said ‘I don’t think musicians should just be musicians. I’m quite sure having a University degree in Physics is going to make you a better musician. You know more about life, it must make you a better musician. Admittedly academic knowledge is not the be all and end all but it must have a reflection on your whole outlook on life’.

He was a frequent broadcaster, both as a player and presenter, and made recordings of solo works with orchestras. He also played in both BBC and London Symphony Orchestra and was professor at the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Military School of Music.

Now to the recording of A Day in the Life by The Beatles during January and February 1967. The song appeared on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and was recorded in Abbey Road Studio. I watched the music video for the song and there he was, at 13 seconds in, laughing with a colleague while putting his coat over a chair.

The song crescendo features forty musicians selected from the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. Producer George Martin said that Lennon requested ‘A tremendous build-up, from nothing up to something like the end of the world’.

Martin added ‘When I went into the studio the sight was unbelievable. The orchestra leader, David McCallum, was sitting there in a bright red false nose. He looked up at me through paper glasses. Every member of the orchestra had a funny hat on above the evening dress, and the total effect was completely weird’.

The recording for Jack was surely a highlight from a very distinguished career, did he think it would be one of The Beatles greatest songs and still listened to over 50 years later ?

To celebrate his 70th birthday the LSO paid Brymer tribute with a special concert, and another to mark his 75th at the Barbican Hall, London. He published two volumes of memoirs and a book about the clarinet. Sadly, Jack died at the age of 88 in Redhill, Surrey.

He didn’t do too bad for a builder’s son from South Shields, who had many day’s in his life to remember.

 Link to Kathy Stobart feature:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/06/25/all-that-jazz-snapshot-of-the-life-of-professional-musician-kathy-stobart-1925-2014/

 Gary Alikivi   March 2020

THE BOY FROM BENWELL – with Film & TV Director, Bob Smeaton

‘You can play a hundred gigs and reach a thousand people. You can do one television show and reach millions’

When White Heat broke up in 1982, Tyne Tees art show ‘Check it Out’ filmed a half hour special on the band which Geoff Wonfor directed (later at live TV music programme The Tube). The special was broadcast during February 1982 a week before their farewell gig at the Mayfair

’When we told Geoff Wonfor that White Heat were splitting up he told us that Tyne Tees should make a documentary about the band. Geoff was able to convince them that they should do it and that he should direct it.

We filmed our second last gig at the Gulbenkian Studios near the Haymarket in Newcastle. What a lot of people don’t know is that we mimed a whole set of songs from our album In the Zero Hour and then mixed that in with film from the actual gig. So we in fact played each of the songs twice.

After we had mimed to all of those songs I had almost blown my voice out. Even though we were miming I still used to sing the songs. All the audio that was used in the documentary came from the album, none of it was live. We also shot some stuff of me returning to the shipyards. One of the followers of White Heat has put it up on You Tube’.

White Heat. Circa 1978

White Heat (circa 1978)

The blog is heading for 50,000 views so a great way to mark this milestone is to feature Director Bob Smeaton. If you’ve ever watched the Classic Album series, caught a Hendrix documentary or any TV with big names from the music world on- Bob’s probably directed it. Along with being nominated three times for an Emmy as director of music and arts documentaries, he’s a double Grammy award winner. In 2017 he worked with fellow Geordie, and ex AC/DC vocalist, Brian Johnson for the Sky Arts series A Life On the Road.

Before working in film and television, Bob was lead vocalist and songwriter with North East rock band White Heat. Signed to Virgin records, the band toured extensively and released one album and two singles. This is his story…..

‘When I was around fifteen me and my mates became obsessed with guitars. I couldn’t afford a guitar so I became a singer, it was the cheaper option. All you needed was a mic and you were up and running. I was never going to be the best singer in the North East. But I had learnt a lesson that if you put on a show that helped hide any bum notes then you stood a fighting chance.

There were loads of great singers around at the time, Mick Whitaker, Dave Taggart to name but two. I was never going to be as good a singer as those guys and over the years rather than develop as a singer I was getting better as a front man’.

Who were your influences in music ? ‘My dad had a large record collection when I was growing up. The first records that I listened to were his. I would have been around eight years old at the time. He had records by everyone from Slim Whitman to Elvis Presley. I always loved songs that told stories and I used to love learning the words and singing along to their records.

I had no idea what any of the singers looked like aside from what I saw on the record covers. So as far as I was concerned there wasn’t a great deal of difference between the likes of Slim Whitman, Elvis and Tom Jones. They were just great singers who were singing great songs.

Then in my early teens I started hearing Tamla Motown on the radio and at my local youth club disco. Again great singers and great songs. But I still had very little idea of what the artists looked like as I very rarely saw them on television.

The big moment for me was when I started getting into rock music. This was the first time when the visual side became as important as the musical side. It all came together, the songs, the musicianship and the way the bands looked. Even though I hadn’t as yet been to see a live gig. Just the pictures I saw in the music press, Sounds, NME and the Melody Maker was enough to get me excited’.

‘The first band that I saw performing live that had an affect on me were The Showbiz Kids. I was working as a floor waiter at the Scotswood Social Club and they were one of the bands that appeared. What made them stand out was the singer, Rob Coyle, he grabbed your attention and demanded that you look at him.

Up to that point the audience in the club would pretty much ignore the bands until the end of the evening then they would all be up dancing. With Rob it was different, you had to watch him. He was like Mick Jagger. And he made me realise that if you put on a show you would get the audience attention. I think Rob Coyle is not only one of the greatest front men to come out of the North East, but one of the greatest front men, period.

I saw him a couple of years ago fronting Dr Feelgood and he was still brilliant. Rob was a massive influence on me. I remember meeting him for the first time and I was really made up that he knew who I was and had heard of my band’.

Was there a defining moment when you said ‘I want to do that’ was it watching a band or hearing a song ? ’Again this comes back to seeing Rob Coyle and the Showbiz Kids. But the moment when I thought ‘I could do that and be a contender’ was when I saw The Clash at Newcastle Polytechnic. Up to that point I had seen loads of bands, Zeppelin, The Who, Bad Company, all who had great singers but way out of my league as far as aspiring to be like them.

When I saw Joe Strummer I realised that with punk rock you didn’t have to be a great singer in order to make it. If you had the right attitude then you were well on your way. Strummer had attitude by the shed load and he looked great on stage, you believed in him 100%’.

When did you start playing gigs and what venues did you play. Was it in the immediate area or travelling long distances and did you support name touring bands ? ’I started doing gigs with my first band Hartbreaker around the mid 70s. The band were, me on vocals, Bryan Younger on guitar, Colin Roberts on bass and John Miller on drums. We didn’t want to play the working men’s clubs as we didn’t want to do cover versions and I wasn’t great at singing other peoples songs. Therefore, we started writing our own songs and began playing gigs on the Newcastle pub circuit. The Bridge Hotel, Cooperage, Gosforth Hotel and Newton Park.

At the time our goal was to be as good as another local band, Southbound, they were brilliant and we got a couple of gigs supporting them. They are another one of those great North East bands that never ‘made it’. I remember they once brought a demo that they had recorded to play to me when I was still living at home at my mam’s in Benwell. It was brilliant, if they had come from Alabama rather than Sunderland I am convinced they would have been as big as Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Hartbreaker built up quite a following, but it was still just a side-line to our day jobs. I was working as a welder at Swan Hunter Shipyards at the time. When punk and new wave happened around 76/77 that’s when I started thinking I could possibly make a career out of music. The doors had been kicked wide open. By then we had changed our name to White Heat and had added an extra guitarist, Alan Fish’.

What were your experiences of recording ? ‘Around 1976 we had acquired a manager, Brian Mawson, who also managed the record department of Windows music store in Newcastle. Brian got us studio time at Impulse Studio in Wallsend. I would nip up the road from the shipyards at lunchtime and lay down a vocal while in my overalls then head back to work.

I never enjoyed the studio as much as I did the live gigs. In the studio there was no place to hide any dodgy vocals. White Heat were much better live than on record.

Mond Cowie (ex-Angelic Upstarts) also worked in the yards and I remember him telling me that he was quitting his job to go full time with the band. I was really jealous. I hated the yards but it was something to kick against and a lot of my lyrics were influenced by working there and wanting to get out of the place.

White Heat released an independent single called Nervous Breakdown which we recorded at Impulse,  it was produced by Mickey Sweeney. Mick produced everyone who came through the door at Impulse, from the Angelic Upstarts to Alan Hull. He was a great guy and full of enthusiasm for the band.

The studio was run by a guy called Dave Woods. Dave like Mick loved the band and around this time set up Neat Records. I thought at one time we might have ended up on Neat Records but instead we released Nervous Breakdown on our own label called Vallium.

The record did really well in the North East and we started attracting the attention of the major record labels. I quit my job as a welder and became a full time musician. It was the best decision that I ever made. We eventually signed a deal with Virgin music publishing and Virgin Records. We toured with the likes of Judas Priest, the Vapours and did the odd gig supporting amongst others the Climax Blues Band, Gen X, Split Enz and the Tom Robinson band’.

By 1981 the band had released their 10 track album ‘In the Zero Hour’ and Bob looks back on that time…‘When we were recording parts of In the Zero Hour at Rock City Studios which is in the film complex of Shepperton Studios, James Cagney was there filming the movie, Ragtime. I went into the canteen one day and saw him sitting there having his breakfast. I asked one of the production people if I could go over and say hello to him. I was told he wasn’t feeling too good and maybe I should ask again tomorrow.

The next day he didn’t turn up. Ragtime turned out to be his last ever film. I wish I had got to speak to him as he died shortly afterwards. But it was great to see him in the flesh. If anyone ever asks me who my favourite film actors are I always used to say, Elvis Presley, Stan Laurel and James Cagney’.

Did the band have any help or supporters ? ’We we really lucky in that I became great mates with a guy called Geoff Wonfor who was a television director working at the BBC. Geoff would make film clips of the band and get these shown on the local BBC channel. This helped the band reach a wider audience and soon we were playing bigger gigs. By now we were playing places such as the Mayfair.

I loved doing television performances, just to see yourself on the telly was such a buzz. Nervous Breakdown did really well and we were hovering outside the national charts. If we had made it onto Top of the Pops I am convinced we would have been massive, but we only ever did local television.

In the TV documentary there is a backstage scene of the band getting together and shouting ‘Nice one’. Was that a pre-gig ritual or a set up just for the camera ? ’We used to have a roadie called Paul Elliott who when we came off stage would always tell us that the gig had been a ‘nice one’. Regardless of how good or bad we felt it had been, that always made us feel better. We adopted that line and it became part of our pre-gig ritual. It was a bonding thing, always raised a laugh and was a good way to loosen up the vocal chords.

We used to come on stage to the theme song from the James Cagney film, Yankee Doodle Dandy, that was because I was a massive fan of Cagney and he was once in a film called White Heat which was another connection’.

White Heat at the Marquee.

White Heat live at The Marquee, London.

Looking back what do you think of the Bob Smeaton then, and have you still got the white jacket you wore on the documentary ? ’I watched the Check it Out documentary when I was writing my book. I thought I came across like a right cocky bastard. But I was young and I was cocky and I thought I looked great. I even thought that the white jacket looked great, but not sure it quite went with the braces!!

I no longer have the white jacket. I threw it into the crowd at the end of the final White Heat gig. A bit like a cowboy hanging up his guns. I still get asked if I can still do the press ups that I used to do during the solo of Nervous Breakdown – and I can. But I feel a bit knackered afterwards.

If anyone looks at the Nervous Breakdown clip on You Tube they will notice that the performance is all captured in a single shot, there are no edits in it. Geoff Wonfor was on stage with the cameraman and I would push the the camera in the direction of where I thought it should be filming. That was all spontaneous and it’s a great clip. In fact, I would probably go as far as to say that Nervous Breakdown is the best song that White Heat ever wrote and that along with that video clip pretty much summed up what the band was all about.

It was a strange dichotomy with White Heat. I never wanted us to be considered a ‘local band’ I wanted us to succeed on a national level but so much of the success we did achieve was because of the following we had in the North East.

We did do a number of gigs in London but we really should have moved down there if we wanted to really grow a fan base. But we were all local lads and maybe the desire to make that big step wasn’t present within all the band members’.

Have you any stories from playing gigs ? ‘I have just written my memoir which is coming out in November and I have written about touring with the band. Those were the best days ever; they were not so much funny as really exciting. Touring is the best thing in the world. I have been fortunate to have made music my life, but nothing compares to performing with a band. White Heat went from playing to fifty people at the Bridge Hotel to selling out the Mayfair at our final gig playing to 2,000 plus.

I really miss performing live, the size of the crowd is secondary. It’s as good performing in front of a hundred people as it is two thousand. I have done both in fact we once played a gig just outside of London to eight people. That’s the smallest crowd we ever played too. The biggest crowd was probably around three thousand when we were supporting Judas Priest on tour and played Sheffield City Hall’.

After White Heat did any other bands enquire about you as their frontman ? ’After White Heat split I didn’t want to join another North East band I always felt that would have been a come down. I moved to London for six months and joined a band called Agent Orange who were made up of ex members of the mod group The Chords, along with Mick Talbot who used to be in the Merton Parkers and then later formed the Style Council with Paul Weller.

I recorded almost an albums worth of material with Agent Orange, the studio time was paid for by Polydor who The Chords used to be signed with. Polydor were keen to sign the band and we were in the process of arranging some gigs so that they could see the band live. But I bailed out as I missed being home in Newcastle. The lads in White Heat were my mates. The Chords were not really my mates. I wanted to ‘make it’ but not at any cost. Those days with White Heat were the best times and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Also I felt we split up at the right time’.

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What does music mean to you ? ’It sounds like a cliché but music changed my life. If I had not become obsessed with music I don’t know what would have become of me. I have been many things, an actor, television presenter and now a director of music documentaries. But this all came about through my love of music. It has been the gateway to everything that I have done.

I still love seeing live bands and hearing new records. There is so much great music around now, you just have to sift through it to find the gems. A good song and a good singer, that is still my yardstick’.

What are you doing now and are you still involved with music ? ‘I was really fortunate in that thanks to my friendship with Geoff Wonfor I got involved in making music videos. This led to working on a great number of music documentaries. For the past twenty-five years or so that is pretty much what I have been doing. I have been lucky to have worked with a number of the bands that I grew up listening too. The Who, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

My background in music, and having played in a band has been a great help when working with those people. They realise pretty early on that when it comes to music I seem to know what I’m talking about.

If any young kids read this and are thinking about playing music, I would say go ahead and do it. You have got to get out of your bedroom and start playing music with your mates. Its one of the best feelings in the world. Even if you don’t ‘make it’ just to walk out on stage and perform in front of an audience is something that you will never regret’.

Bob Smeaton memoir ‘From Benwell Boy to 46th Beatle…and Beyond’ out now.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2018.

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