ROLL UP – with vocalist/guitarist Neil Thompson from The Carpettes

Here in North East England the Wearside Bloc has given up stories from experienced musicians Ian Munro and Field Music, Sunderland punk Steve Straughan and metallers Spartan Warrior. Now the blog has more road stories from the Houghton le Spring contingent – The Carpettes.

‘Our first North East gig was in June 1977, then we went on to headline gigs with both Angelic Upstarts and Punishment of Luxury opening’ remembers Neil.

The band first featured back in May 2020 with Thompson talking about releasing two singles on the Small Wonder label, moving down south to London in ’78, and signing a record deal with Beggars Banquet – that brought a further four singles and two albums, Thompson looks back at those days.

Just after we finished recording our first album I made a phone call to Nick Austin, one of the bosses at Beggars Banquet, he told us fantastic news – we had a residency at London’s Marquee supporting The Lurkers every Wednesday in November ‘79.

I still remember Honest John in one of the soundchecks giving me a fiver to go to the off-licence to buy him a bottle of red wine.

LEAVE THIS TO HARVEY GOLDSMITH

Our drummer Tim was from Oxford and after a few London gigs he had this idea that he’d book a couple of gigs in Oxford as he knew the venues.

The first one was in February ‘79 at The Cape of Good Hope which if I remember was upstairs in a pub, and it was terrible. Hardly anyone there and it was a disco crowd – we didn’t get an encore.

The next one he booked was in March ’79 at The Corn Dolly this was an established venue. It was just so depressing, horrible and dark. They put an ad in the NME advertising the bands and we were ‘Ta Carpets’. Only a few people scattered here and there and it was a total waste of time, again, no encore.

So I picked up the NME and thought ‘leave this to Harvey Goldsmith here’. There was an Oxford pub in the gig guide called The Oranges and Lemons and they had The Ruts on that week. Perfect, a pub that has punk bands on. I phoned them up and got a gig straight away on Friday, 1st June 1979, our 50th gig.

On the night it was packed. Me and George were talking to people outside who had come from Sheffield to see us – we rarely played outside London in them days. We went down a storm and got an encore. I felt like telling Tim ‘leave it to me from now on mate’.

A QUICK WORD WITH DAVE

The boss of Warners UK when The Carpettes were being handled by them was none other than ‘60s pop star, Dave Dee. When I was a kid I loved Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich.

When we were on Beggars Banquet, one of the bosses, Martin Mills, the other was Nick Austin, eventually took us to the Warners office in June 1980 which was just off Berwick Street in London’s West End. We were told there was a gym there. There was also a sauna and table tennis, all free to use – Angelic Upstart singer Mensi was always in that gym.

Now and then I used to go in the office to talk about The Carpettes to Sharon Wheeler who was press officer, but unfortunately I never saw Dave knocking about. Fast forward 23 years to June 2003 and I’m in Camden Underworld to see the reformed Heavy Metal Kids. Dave Dee was there. He was the one that signed them to Atlantic in the ‘70s.

I watched the band and when they finished the punters were leaving but I still had a lot of my pint left and Dave Dee was standing nearby so I went over for a chat. I’d always wondered what he thought of The Carpettes and now was my chance to find out.

‘Hi Dave, I loved your band in the 60s’. ‘Aah thanks mate’ – he then goes on to talk about his band for a short while.

I tell him ‘I was in a band and we were on the Beggars Banquet label same time as Gary Numan’. So he talks about Gary Numan for a while. I’m thinking when he has a bit of a pause I’m gonna mention the Carpettes.

The next thing I hear is ‘Come on you – let’s have your drink’. I looked up and there was this big bouncer ‘Come on mate, out. We’ve got to get the club ready for the nightclub’.  ‘I’m just having a quick word with Dave here. I’ll not be long’.

‘DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME – GIVE ME YOUR GLASS AND GET OUT’. So I never found out what Dave Dee thought of the Carpettes and sadly six years later he died so I’ll never know.

IT COULDA BEEN A HIT

We nearly got in the Top 100! When we signed to Beggars Banquet they were being distributed by the mighty WEA, and they were up to some dodgy business. They had hyped The Pretenders single Brass in Pocket to number 1 – I’m not saying this record didn’t go on to sell loads but it needed WEA’s help to kickstart it.

So they got our label, Beggar’s Banquet, interested in this idea – and it was a strange one that worked sometimes. Gary Numan & Tubeway Army released their first single Down in the Park. WEA had an idea they would use this single to get the public used to the band and then whoosh – push the follow-up into the charts. Well it actually worked – Down in the Park wasn’t a hit but the follow-up – Are Friends Electric got to number 1. So what happens next ? They try the same with us.

Our single is released and is a warm-up for the next one that they thought could be a hit single – the problem is that the first one didn’t take off. It was played on daytime Radio 1 but WEA didn’t want it to be a hit so it wasn’t a hit.

The next release Johnny Won’t Hurt You – this is the one that’s pushed and hyped by WEA, it creeps into the chart at number 123. But it wasn’t getting any airplay – surely they hyped the wrong one. The next week it shoots up six places to 117 and the next week it’s out the charts altogether.

So that was that as far as WEA were concerned, we’d blown our chance. The follow up – Nothing Ever Changes, was a blinder and could have been a hit, but it was no good cos even though WEA agreed to distribute it, they’d given up on us.

Read the first interview from May 2020:

FIGHT AMONGST YOURSELVES – interview with Neil Thompson from The Carpettes | ALIKIVI (garyalikivi.com)

Edited by Gary Alikivi  March 2021.

RAW MEAT IN THE SONIC MINCER #2 – Looking back at Sounds music weekly 4th October 1980.

Looking through back issues of the UK music weeklies for a mention of North East bands, I came across a screaming headline from a Motorhead gig review – Raw Meat in the Sonic Mincer – Yep, that be ‘reet for theheed.

Sounds or NME was always knocking about our house, pocket money bought a copy for 25p. We could read exclusive interviews with bands out on tour promoting their latest album, check forthcoming UK gig dates or look at artwork for new albums.

The music weeklies were always something to look forward to – even though half the print rubbed off on your fingers.

Sounds had a mix of rock and punk interviews with Ozzy/Halen/Upstarts. NME featured alternative and post punk bands Damned/Cramps/Costello. Take your pick of front covers splashed with Strummer/Coverdale or Kate Bush.

Kate Bush, Sounds front cover 30.8.80

This post highlights Sounds issue 4th October 1980. The music weekly has a Geoff Barton interview with Ozzy Osbourne who had just been sacked by Black Sabbath. With Ozzy in a full blown howling blizzard of cocaine and alcohol, he formed a new band – Blizzard of Oz with Randy Rhoads, Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley.

Ozzy said in the pieceI was panicking, wondering whether my voice would pack in, whether I could still handle it’. He had nothing to worry about as he still toured and recorded for 40 years leading up to Covid.

Ozzy Osbourne, Sounds front cover 4.10.80.

On page 2 among stories of another tour date for XTC, there was a piece about Ian Gillan

putting the mockers on suggestions that he will be taking part in a Deep Purple reunion’.

Further down the page the article mentions a connection to the North East, this one really close to home with The Customs House in South Shields nearby. A close look sees a paragraph on

South Tyneside Arts and Music Association buying the Customs and Excise building for £1. Trouble is it’s going to cost £400,000 to renovate’.

To raise funds the South Tyneside Arts & Music Association set about organising gigs. The article added They are staging gigs this month at South Shields New Crown Hotel with Raven on the 9th, and Erogenous Zones with Night Flight on the 23rd’.

The Association also held a festival headlined by The Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. Unfortunately the challenge proved too great and Tyne & Wear Development Corporation took over renovations with a Government grant.

Today, The Customs House is a theatre, cinema and arts centre. Latest bookings at the venue have been bands on the tribute circuit, Tina Turner Experience, The Carpenters Gold and the ELO show. Over the years the centre has seen gigs by Ray Davies, Ian Hunter, Judie Tzuke and Belinda Carlisle.

10 mile up the Tyne in Gateshead is The Sage which opened in 2004, it has developed into a top class venue. I talked to Ray Spencer back in September 2018 and asked him what changes had he seen since becoming Director of the Customs House in 2000 ?

‘In terms of music programming the thing that impacted most was The Sage. When Customs House opened there was no Gala in Durham, there was no Exchange in North Shields, there was no Sage or Baltic in Gateshead and no 10 screen multi-plex up the road in Boldon.

When The Sage opened it just destroyed our guitar festival, a lot of musical acts that used to come here simply stopped. They were going there to play a big shiny building. So our music content has been damaged’.

Singles review, Sounds 4.10.80.

Included in the music weekly is a regular feature reviewing new singles. The record of the week is Change/Requiem by Killing Joke. The reviewer was not too kind on Thin Lizzy single Killer on the Loose, Disapointing, highly predictable’ or Army Dreamers by Kate Bush ‘Poor little rich girl having another breath of social comment. Any message is effectively obliterated by Miss Bush’s dentist drill warbles’ ouch!

Page 36 has the albums review. Four out of five stars for Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police featuring Wallsend born Stingit’s a record that comes truly from three diverse experienced men without any pandering to their status’ (Phil Sutcliffe).

A five star review for The Plasmatics, ‘Buy this record, it firmly establishes The Plasmatics as Americas foremost bozo punk band (Steve Keaton).

There is four and a half stars for a very young looking U2 and their new record Boymaybe their multi-layered sound might steer them off the chartwise course, but if it’s plain simple feeling you want – there’s cupfulls in here’ (Betty Page).

Gig dates including Tygers of Pan Tang, White Spirit & The Carpettes. Sounds 4.10.80.

Flicking through the back pages the UK gig list has dates at London venues for two NWOBHM bands from the North East. Tygers of Pan Tang from Whitley Bay, are on at the Marquee, and White Spirit from Teesside, opening for Gillan at Hammersmith Odeon.

On Monday 6th,Tyneside rock band Fist, opened for UFO at Bristol Colston Hall. I interviewed drummer Harry Hill back in March 2019, and asked him about his memory of that UK tour…

’We had a great time. I remember we were playing Hammersmith Odeon and a guy was heckling us. Really pissed me off. So I put my sticks down, jumped off stage and chased him into the foyer to give him a good kicking. Thinking back, the Hammersmith had a high stage so I must have been fit to get down and run after him (laughs)’.

In support of their new album on Beggars Banquet, Fight Amongst Yourselves, The Carpettes, who formed in Houghton-le-Spring, have four dates with one at Newcastle Cooperage on October 8th. I got in touch with guitarist Neil Thompson who remembers that time…

‘It was our second gig at the Cooperage. We never played there while we were living in the North East. We were living in London in August when we came up to play then. I remember we went down well both times and on the October date Treatment Room were support’.

Sellers on EBay are flogging pre-owned copies of music weeklies. They go for anything from £2.99 to £35 depending on who is on the front cover and featured inside. What you waiting for, get yer bids in and take a step back in time.

Gary Alikivi  January 2021.

HAVE YOU HEARD THIS ONE #4

HYHTO first appeared on the blog in December 2017 it included some of the best stories from interviews during that year, so for this batch there’s a few to choose from. Here’s four of them and first up is Neil Thompson (The Carpettes) from May this year…..I loved going to The Marquee to watch bands but I didn’t really enjoy playing there to be honest. We did six supports there and they were hard work – there was always an attitude in the air ‘Come on then, impress us’ !

We played four nights in November ‘79 with The Lurkers during their residency there. Each gig would have punks sitting on the stage with their backs to us and every now and then one would look around and stare at you – and then turn back around. I much preferred London gigs like The Hope ‘n’ Anchor and The Nashville.

In 1980 we went to Italy three times and Holland once, we also did a short UK tour supporting The Inmates. That UK tour was probably the best two weeks of my life. I was twenty years old, travelling around the country playing music and when we arrived at the venue all the equipment would already be set up by the roadies – heaven! You can’t beat live experience for getting better on stage. It’s no good sitting in the bedroom playing guitar – not gonna get you anywhere.

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2020/05/20/the-vicar-locked-us-in-the-back-room-they-were-banging-on-the-door-wanting-to-beat-us-up-with-neil-thompson-from-the-carpettes/

In April this year I got in touch with Steve Thompson (Songwriter/Producer)……We had one manager guy called Skippy who said we need to have one of those moments like The Beatles on the rooftop. So one Saturday afternoon we went down to Old Eldon Square in Newcastle broke into an office and ran a cable up to the monument in the middle and performed. It was the first time anybody had played there and it hit the papers. It didn’t end well for Skippy, he got arrested and deported back to Australia.

Every now and then you would do a gig where there would be two bands. One night we played The Rex Hotel in Whitley Bay and there are two stages there. Now this was a sign of our ambition cos we used to try and arrive later than the other band so we could headline the gig – we were top of the bill at The Rex (laughs).

The other bands would do it as well cos we saw them driving slowly along the back lanes. Beckett were one of the bands cos I recognised their posh Merc – we only had a van.

Most times we’d be out gigging and finish around 2am in the morning and coming back we’d go to a cafe near Central Station in Newcastle that was open all night. All the bands would go there, we discovered we didn’t need sleep.

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2020/04/08/it-wasnt-about-becoming-rock-stars-in-conversation-with-songwriter-producer-steve-thompson/

I met up with Gary Miller (Whisky Priests) in March 2019…..Our first gig was in October ’85 and the band were just in a fledgling state, none of us were full-time then and were holding down day jobs. We had a loyal following and one of them was called Nigel Wreford, and his dad had a dairy farm. He used to deliver milk and one of the houses on his route belonged to a guy at Tyne Tees Television who produced The Tube, his name was Malcolm Gerrie.

We hadn’t released any records by then but we did have some demo tapes. On his next round the farmer dropped off the milk as usual but put a tape next to the bottles with a note attached saying…Have a listen to this, think you might like it.

This was early ’86 and I was working my first job as a clerical assistant in Social Services at Durham County Hall when the phone rang and my colleague shouted over… Gary, it’s for you… I thought it must have been someone ringing from one of the care homes when someone on the other end said… It’s Tyne Tees Television can you come and do The Tube this Friday. This was at five-to-five on a Wednesday afternoon (laughs).

I did meet Malcolm Gerrie later and he said he was driving in his car when he remembered the tape, listened to it and thought I must get these guys on The Tube. We loved the experience and opportunity for what was a young band then. We were sat in the studio canteen seeing all these famous people off the telly…I recognise him he does the news (laughs).

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/03/23/strike-up-the-band-in-conversation-with-gary-miller-and-mick-tyas-from-the-whisky-priests/

May 2019 saw an interview with Emma Wilson (Blues Band)…….My first experience of recording was epic! My brother and cousin were signed as 29 Palms by Miles Copeland to IRS Records in 1991. I was asked to sing backing vocal on both their albums. I went from singing in pubs to recording in The Chapel Studio in Lincolnshire with producer Mick Glossop. Mick had worked with musicians with the calibre of Van Morrison, John Lee Hooker and The Waterboys.

Mick was brilliant I basically got a masterclass from one of the legends of record making. He’s an amazing musician who knows how to put a sound together. I was so lucky to work with him at such an early point in my career. Vocals on the 29 Palms album required a much more intimate and harmonically complex sound than I had ever used vocally. I done 6 or sometimes 8 layered vocal track’s all on tape not digital. I still use the techniques he taught me today.

In 2002 I toured the UK supporting Fine Young Cannibals. After the first couple of gigs I noticed the audience were mostly made up of women who were big fans of the singer Roland Gift. They saw the support act as just more time to have to wait and see him.

So I started to mention him in my set Oh I’ve just seen Roland getting his dinner things like that and they loved it. They’d just made a connection. After that they listened to my set and it made the gig easier and more fun. Roland thought it was hilarious and was extremely sweet to us.

Full interview:

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/05/01/song-for-the-siren-blues-soul-from-teeside-with-emma-wilson/

Interviews by Gary Alikivi.

More stories on the blog with a full list of interviews on the about page:

https://garyalikivi.com/about/