IT WASN’T ABOUT BECOMING ROCK STARS – in conversation with songwriter & producer Steve Thompson

An interview with Steve is on the blog (The Godfather of North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal, 27th June 2017 link below) where he talks about his songwriting and production work with Rodger Bain, Pete Waterman, Venom, Tygers of Pan Tang, The Hollies, Neat Records, Sheena Easton (!) and more.

But before that he started out as bassist in North East rock band Bullfrog, who were active during the early ‘70s. I wanted to know more about his early days in music to add to his story. In November 2019 as chance happened he was in a recording studio in my hometown South Shields, so I arranged to drop in.

Before recording with engineer Martin Trollope, we had a half hour chat an’ a cuppa where I asked Steve was he looking to ‘make it’ at being a musician, getting a record deal and moving to London ? When I left school I was working at Consett steelworks and I learnt more there on how to be a record producer. I learnt how to communicate and in particular using humour. So I don’t regret going into the steelworks. But I think not having to work there might have been the motivator.

It’s interesting to look back because we saw everything through a lot younger eyes. If I’d been armed then with what I know now I would have been invincible – but we were young and naïve. Really my motivation and maybe not the other guys in the band who were all older than me, I just wanted to get into this making music thing and I figured I just had to get into a band. It wasn’t about becoming rock stars it was all about getting the first gig. Then get more gigs and to just do it.

How old were you then ? I was 16/17 year old and had a couple of stabs at rehearsing with people but it was going nowhere. There was another apprentice a year above me that had been at the same school so we sort of knew each other – a lad called Robin Hird. The first year you are in the training centre and the second year that Robin was in, you go out onto the plant.

We made contact and got talking about music, guitars and bands we liked such as Cream and Hendrix, then he sold me an amp. When I got it home the speaker cabinet was a drawer from a chest of drawers with some foam backing and a circular hole cut in with a speaker fixed in.

Robin said let’s form a band, I have a guitar and a bass which I’ll give to you. I agreed and then he brought a drummer, Mick Symons, to my parent’s house. I played them a few songs I’d been working on and Robin said ‘I told you he’s got talent’. I was in.

Where did you rehearse ? We got a room where the local brass band rehearsed, we shared the place for years. We started to live and breathe the band. I’m not sure that we thought about a record deal then because that was just a distant dream. The dream that was closer was to get gigging on the local circuit. So for us this was The Freemasons Arms in Consett.

We’d go there every Saturday night and watch who was on and say how much better we were. Then the obligatory fight would break loose, the glasses would fly, bodies, tables and chairs all over – that was Saturday night.

Can you remember your first gig ? We went to see a Mrs Eiley and she gave us a date for The Freemasons, it was her only gig. The week beforehand we went to the pub and got up to play with the band who were on, that was my first time on stage. I remember one of the songs we played was Sunshine of Your Love by Cream. The following week on our own show we stormed it. Afterwards I went home and told me mam, it was a life changing moment for me.

We got loads of shows after then but we always returned now and then to The Freemasons Arms. We once done a sort of homecoming gig there and the punters were queuing down the side street, along the alley – we got such a following.

Did the band talk about what you were going to wear on stage ? No, it just didn’t enter our imagination. Although we were doing some clubs we were doing them on our terms and not in sparkly suits. I suppose we would have dressed like Free, Sabbath, Deep Purple you know. The perception was that they were wearing the same clothes that they had just walked in off the street.

In those days we never played any pop stuff it was all rock, then we started introducing our own stuff and got away with it. Although when we had two sets of 45 minutes each to fill we never done a gig with just all our songs. You had to play The Hunter or Child in Time and you’d be stupid not to do them, the audience wanted to hear those songs.

Did you have a manager ? We had a few, but looking back I was doing a lot of the organizing, I wasn’t in charge but was doing a lot of stuff. This whole thing of a bunch of young guys going out on the circuit attracting the attention of some guy who might be a plumber but has more money than you and fancies a dabble in management, well we had a few of them who had no background in the music industry.

We had one guy called Skippy who said we need to have one of those moments like The Beatles on the rooftop. So one Saturday afternoon, it was reported in the Sunday Sun, 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.

What venues were you playing ? The North East agent Ivan Birchall got us masses of gigs supporting name bands. Venues like Newcastle Mayfair, The Viking in Seahouses and the thing was I never drove the van so I just got picked up and we drove out into the wilds.

At The Viking we loved that gig it was a big trek to get there. There was Bellingham Village Hall and a really good one was St Johns Chapel in Weardale. I can only imagine that the populous was starved of entertainment because they went crackers when a decent band turned up.

I remember we supported Suzi Quatro at the Mayfair and this was just before she cracked it and everybody was gobsmacked at not only a girl playing the bass but she was really rocking it out.

We nearly always got booked into the right places but eventually got a gig where we ended up in a place where no matter how quiet you turned down they were going to hate you. We really should of seen it coming and not got up to play. The concert chairman came up to us and said I’ll give you half your money lads and off you go. The thing I remember was the shame of carrying yer kit out from a packed club.

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. We done a gig with a band called Jasper Hart. The singer was Brian Johnson, the band must have been the forerunner to Geordie, and of course he ended up in AC/DC.

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

I remember visiting Ivan Birchall one day and up on the wall he had lists of the bands he had on his books. There was an A list and a B list. We were on the B list and I wasn’t happy. He said the A list are his priority bands, if a show comes in at short notice I go to my A list and as priority they pay me 15%, and the B list pay me 10%. ‘Do you wanna be on the A list ?’ I replied ‘I insist’. In one fell swoop I gave him 50% more commission (laughs).

Did you meet with any record companies ? Well it was a struggle. We had some demos and we were going to set the world alight so we went down to London, our first time there. To save money Robin and I booked return rail tickets travelling on a weekend cos it was cheaper then. But as we found out it was the day’s when record companies were shut (laughs). So we just had a weekend in London, the closest we got was Orange had a music store selling amplifiers and they also had a record label so we gave them a tape.

I remember typing hundreds of letters sending them out one at a time cos there was no photocopiers them days, I must have been a mug and the rest of the band were having a life ! I have some of the responses and out of the blue got a nice letter from Brian Auger, he was organ player with Julie Driscoll (Wheels On Fire). So clearly I wasn’t just sending to record companies. I think I went through the Melody Maker yearbook getting address’ and pitching stuff left, right and centre. It was a tape I sent out that finally got us a deal.

How did that come about ? Cube Records who were formerly the Fly record label based in Soho, London with Joan Armatrading, T.Rex, Procul Harem on their roster, so they had a big track record, then we came along (laughs). They ran an advertising campaign looking for bands so I sent them a tape about the same time we had won 3rd prize in a competition run by EMI. We went to a recording studio in Manchester Square, EMI’s headquarters in London, yes we had two record companies chasing us.

Cube told us that at EMI we would only be a small part of a big machine. But on the day of going to the EMI reception we thought we couldn’t make it cos we had a gig in Durham on the same night, but they organised a flight for us to get to London and make it back to Durham for the gig. Our roadies had set the gear up and just as we were going on stage we saw the concert chairman and told him we’d just made it here as we have flown up from London. I don’t think he believed us (laughs).

Cube Records were really keen and they came up to Durham to watch us live and we couldn’t have arranged it better. The punters were swinging from the rafters going ape shit, after our first set Cube came into the dressing room and they were gobsmacked. They signed us there and then.  Now we signed everything, publishing, recording, management to that one company and the one gig that came from that was for the Newcastle Odeon supporting Wishbone Ash.

What did you record on Cube Records ? I remember taking a guitar lick into the rehearsal room it was a Jazz sort of thing and Pete the singer said it sounded like riddly, tiddly, tum. So we wrote a joke song called that. Cube were looking for the first single and we had done some recordings with Rodger Bain (Black Sabbath) and Hugh Murphy who done a lot of Gerry Rafferty stuff but when they heard Riddly, Tiddly, Tum they said that’s the single. We were mortified, it was only done as a joke. No it’ll be a hit they said.

They allowed us to change the title to Glancy, Mick Glancy was our original singer who had been replaced by Pete McDonald. To promote it we pulled a stunt with Tyne Tees TV where we were driven around Newcastle in an open topped car, but we promoted the B side of the record, In the City, we were embarrassed about the A side. That put a nail in our coffin as far as the record company were concerned.

Unfortunately that was when the dream became muddied by what the music business is about. They had the means to get our songs out there but they weren’t as clever as they thought they were. Maybe releasing a novelty song was going to be a good idea but I’m glad I’m not saddled with it – and having to do a follow up (laughs).

About 10 years ago Glancy ended up on a compilation album called 20 Powerglam Incendiaries and went to the lower regions of the album charts.

How long did Bullfrog last ? Initially we started out as Mandrake until we found another band was going out under that name so we changed it fairly quickly. It got to the point where it became our lives. We were gigging every Friday and Saturday plus some mid-week nights. I’ve still got my diaries from then and we were going out for £15-£20. It was really exciting to be out there.

Our first gig was in 1969 and we were at it until ’74. We sort of got a taste of the big time making demo recordings and sending them out to the record companies, we did have a burning ambition. There were other local bands getting record deals and the scene was really vibrant.

Eventually we took to drugs, our drummer introduced us, there was a certain brand of cough medicine and if you drank the whole bottle it would send you crackers, we all done it bar the singer. I remember doing a show in the Amble Ballroom and that was a strange one cos the stage sloped to the front so the vibrations off my bass amp pushed it towards the edge. Anyway we finished what we thought was a great gig and when we got off stage the singer said ‘Guy’s lay off that cough medicine cos I can’t sing those songs at that speed’. Apparently we played all the songs at double speed (laughs).

When did you know the dream was over ? I remember doing TV show The Geordie Scene twice. One live and the other miming, and I felt really silly miming. I always hated seeing bands giving it what fettle and not even being plugged in. So I plugged mine in to make it look at least legit. But I was embarrassed and you’re not rock star material if you are embarrassed flaunting yersel in front of TV cameras. We almost cracked it but I wonder if I was cut out for it cos I went on to become more of a backroom boy – song writing and producing.

But there was also another North East band, Kestrel, who signed to the label and the label put their guitarist Dave Black together with our singer Pete McDonald essentially destroying two bands.

We reformed as Bullfrog 2 adding keyboards and a female singer but my heart wasn’t in it. I had lived this thing from being a kid, it was all consuming, but now at 22 after working with producers Hugh Murphy and Rodger Bain, who also introduced me to Gus Dudgeon, I thought I’m gonna pull back from this thing.

I could of kept going at it but wanted to switch to song writing which led me to production. And that is where I was meant to be because here we are today in a recording studio talking about it and I’m getting ready to record some of my new stuff.

New album ‘The Long Fade’ is available here: http://thelongfade.xyz/

Read the first interview here:

https://garyalikivi.com/2017/06/27/the-godfather-of-the-north-east-new-wave-of-british-heavy-metal/

Gary Alikivi November 2019.

ALL SAID & DONE with Derek Miller from North East prog rockers CIRKUS

Out of the ashes of North East bands Moonhead and Lucas Tyson, Sunderland band Cirkus emerged on the ‘70s progressive music scene. With the right backing they were confident of achieving success on a national scale…..Every band thinks that they have something different to offer. We also had two agents at the time, Ivan Birchall who was a true professional as a booking agent, and Mel Unsworth.

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The line up was John Taylor (bass) Stu McDade (drums & vocals) Paul Robson (vocals) Dogg (guitar) & Derek Miller (keyboards)…..We played all the usual clubs and were lucky to play the University gigs. The University audiences gave us the benefit of the doubt but the club audiences were unsure how to react to our set. We opened with ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ a King Crimson song. Incidentally we got our name from one of their tracks. In fact on several occasions we didn’t even get to the bridge and were ‘paid off’ on a regular basis (laughs).

 In 1974 the band went into Sound Associates/Emison & Air Studios in London. What was your experience of recording ? We were encouraged by the reaction to our songs from Ken McKenzie. He owned the studios where we had demoed our songs. This resulted in a fight for our signature between songwriters and producers, Dave Dee, Mickie Most and Chinn & Chapman. Finally we signed up with a guy called Robin Britten who was manager of The Hollies. But this is where it all went pear shaped.

We were already earmarked by Chinn & Chapman for the project known as Smokie, but Britten intercepted negotiations and we recorded the album Cirkus One, incorporating Beatles producer Ron Richards and Tony Hymas. The album included orchestral arrangements, a 32 piece orchestra and chorus.

What did you think of the album ? It’s a good album but some of the mixes are questionable and poor old Ron was struggling. But timing is everything. We seemed to be doing alright on a retainer and with our own apartment in Central London, but as Britten was about to hand over the over produced and over engineered concept album, The Sex Pistols were telling everyone to ‘eff off’. And prog rock was dead.

Britten lost a small fortune and failed miserably trying to get it off the ground. Anyone that has been sacked will relate to this. I still remember being called into the office and having that sinking feeling ‘Is he talking about us?

How did you handle this situation ? Our bassist John Taylor, with his unstinting optimism suggested we all return to the North East and regroup. This idea was a bit of a sickener as I had just set up in London and got a job at RCA records. The ultimatum was return to Geordieland or be replaced. For reasons I find hard to understand now, I hired a transit van and returned.

Did you have any nightmare gigs where everything just went wrong ? We had a couple. Namely the Marquee in London where there was loads of reps from record companies to see us. What happened was that the pa actually ‘blew up’ and we couldn’t continue. Then there was the time our manager Robin Britten was trying to sell the band so he chartered a private plane to fly to a gig in the North East, Ashington Central to be precise. It was a nightmare flight, with sick bags being handed around. We done the gig but we were awful. Not a great way to sell the band.

On another occasion we invited Mike Chapman (songwriter/producer) up to see the band at the Londonderry Hall in South Shields. It didn’t start well as Chapman arrived at Sunderland station and walked into the glass doors, he was expecting them to be automatic. We thought it was funny, he didn’t. He wondered what sort of hell he had walked into when a police car was overturned and set on fire – just a normal Saturday night in Shields….in the end the gig was cancelled (laughs).

By ‘75 lead vocalist Paul Robson left to be replaced by Alan Roadhouse (ex Halfbreed) who also played sax….Yes along comes Alan, multi-instrumentalist, singer and larger than life character. Exactly what was needed to kick start Cirkus the club band.
Paul and Alan were both great vocalists in their own right. Alan had a certain flamboyance which the club audiences lapped up. He also played sax and flute. This allowed us to tackle all sorts of covers from Gerry Rafferty to Moody Blues. We became a live juke box.

We rehearsed all week and had a new song nailed by the weekend. We had a winning formula that continued for several years. The highlight of the first set was an explosion of pyrotechnics at the end. It worked like a dream scaring the sh** out of most people. Especially when sparks landed in the bingo machine and set fire to it. In the end we had to pay for a new machine (laughs). One highlight was watching the roadies trying to use a foot pump to inflate our blow up doll ‘Melissa’ by the end of the song (laughs).

Everything seemed to be hunky dory then ? Yeah at this time we were still writing new material. We recorded a couple of our own songs, Amsterdam, Pick up a Phone, and Melissa. We performed them live and mixed them in with the covers in the set. The EP sold well and we recouped our outlay.

By the early ‘80s ‘ I’m On Fire’ was featured on a Battle Of The Bands album but this proved to be the final offering from Derek…We were deciding if we should invest the proceeds into a new EP or divvy up the dosh. John, Stu and Dogg thought it was a good idea to divvy up and that was the beginning of the end for me… I decided to leave the band.

In my opinion we were going nowhere. We were repeating ourselves and going back to the same clubs every 3 months. I think the lads kept going for a few years after I left and I lost touch with the band.

But you know looking back over the years we were lucky to be able to recruit some of the most talented guitarists, like Keith Satchfield of Fist. Yes there was some hiccup’s along the way but we did have some brilliant gigs. We did a series in Holland where the Dutch people seemed to like our original music, tho’ it might have been what they were consuming (laughs).

We had some great gigs in the clubs as well. At one time we were gigging 8 shows a week, 2 on Sunday. My dad, who was horrified when I packed my job in at the Shields Gazette, was immensely proud to see the queues round the block on a Saturday night. Other bands around at the time were Geordie, Goldie, Burlesque and The Piranha Brothers, that was the peak of the club land scene in the North East.

The 1990’s saw sporadic releases from the band with ‘Cirkus II The Global Cut’ and only Derek Miller featuring from the original line-up. Then in ‘98 the much anticipated third Cirkus album ‘Pantomyne’ was released. This brought together original members and main songwriter, Stu McDade and featured cameo performances by an array of other musician’s most notably former frontman Alan Roadhouse. How did these recordings happen ? I wanted to record some new material so I built a little recording studio. I was working with a new singer called Ian Wetherburn, who I thought had a great voice and also looked the part. We put an experimental album together and Audio Archives picked up on this and decided to distribute the cd. It was basically demos but I decided to release it anyway. We pressed 500 copies and as with Cirkus One is highly collectable.
Off the strength of the Global Cut album I met up with Stu McDade and we decided to pool our resources and record a new album. Pantomyme was the result and again Audio Archives agreed to distribute.

For different reasons we lost touch until about 3 years ago when we decided to record some new material. Sadly in 2016 we lost Stu, leaving some unfinished tracks. With a brand new set of talented musicians, we managed to finish the tracks and also add some new ones. ‘The Blue Star’ album was released in June 2017 and is dedicated to Stu.

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Can you bring the Cirkus story up to date ? The new line up bears little resemblance to the original band as we have morphed so much over the years and Cirkus V is the new band. Now we have Mick Maughan (guitars, vocals, production)
Nick L Mao, (vocals, guitar, production)
Brian Morton (bass) Dave Ramshaw (vocals)
Paul Moose Harris (vocals) and me on keyboards.

On the back of the success of The Blue Star album comes Trapeze. We all record remotely passing tracks back and forth with someone ultimately doing the final mix. The tracks are all written by the band and as we speak the album is nearly finished.

Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2019.

 

 

THE GODFATHER of the North East New Wave of British Heavy Metal

Steve Thompson has had one hell of a career in the music biz, from songwriting with John Verity and Glen Ballard, to having songs recorded by artists Elkie Brooks, Sheena Easton and Celine Dion to producing heavy metal bands Venom, Raven and Tygers of Pan Tang, plus working with a whole load of names like Pete Waterman, Gus Dudgeon, Rodger Bain and The Hollies…

prof-hm‘People say of most decades, “if you remember it, you weren’t there”. I remember it all right but much of it is blurred by the passage of time, the speed at which things were happening, and of course the other “stuff” that renders your brain cells a little less active. I’m afraid I have forgotten some of the songs I cut during my time as a heavy metal producer. I still get business execs in suits coming up and telling me that they were once in a band that I produced and how this happened and that happened during the sessions. I can’t remember it all but I always tried to make things happen, mostly laughter’.

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Where did it all begin ? ’I started out in the real home of heavy metal, the Steel Works! Like all the kids in my town, I went straight from school into Consett Steel Works. With three other steelworkers we formed a band called Bullfrog, and served two apprenticeships. One of them by day working in the steelworks, the other by night playing in the pubs and clubs of the North East of England. That was my first stab at the music industry. Bullfrog put out one single with Cube Records and it didn’t do anything. But over forty years later it’s resurfaced on a compilation album called 20 Power Glam Incendiaries!’

Who were your influences ? ‘Records I was fond of in the 60’s were The Beach Boys. Brian Wilsons skill in making records was unbelievable. Later I got to work with The Hollies, The Searchers and Colin Blunstone who I admired when I was young. I used to listen to the radio and they were so far away like gods playing this music you know. But the thing that got me into playing guitar was seeing the everyday older guys around town playing guitars, just ordinary people’.

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Bullfrog supported a lot of bands like Wishbone Ash, Vinegar Joe, Edgar Broughton that type, we also did a lot of the same venues as Beckett. It was The Rex in Whitley Bay where I met Brian Johnson in a band called Jasper Hart. The Rex had two stages and whatever band turned up first, went on first. So we used to drive around the venue until we saw the other band, and get there after them to make sure we headlined haha’.

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‘On October 10th 1974 I got a call from our manager to say there was a gig going that night supporting Wishbone Ash could I get the band together for the show. I rang round everyone including the roadies and we were ready to rock. When the call came in I had been dying my platform boots (well it was the 70’s) I fancied green but because of that call, in a rush I had turned out that night with one green boot and the other still the original cream colour. The show was at Newcastle’s Odeon Cinema, the one and only time we ever played there’.

‘One of Bullfrogs influences was The Groundhogs and their singer/guitarist Tony McFee. They were treading the boards at the same time as us. Part of that scene with Sabbath, Free, Deep Purple all of that stuff. When NEAT records started to happen for me Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs got in touch and said he’s gonna be in the area and he wants to do some recording. Can you get some guy’s together he said. So I got a friend of mine to play drums, I played bass and we played some of his songs. He stayed with me and my wife for a few days but we found it difficult to feed him as he was a vegetarian! After a few days of salads he pissed off without saying goodbye and I never saw him again’.

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How did you get involved with recording ?Bullfrog were in Island Studios in London with our first producer Roger Bain, he also produced Black Sabbath. I was introduced to his friend Gus Dudgeon of Elton John fame, later on I did a lot of work as a songwriter with Dudgeon. Gus once told me he helped Roger with the Black Sabbath stuff and said he encouraged Roger to overdub more cymbals on their first album haha. But the whole process of studio and songwriting really intrigued me so I knew where I was headed. I went ahead and wrote a few songs put them out there and a guy called Dave Wood heard about me and found a slot at Impulse Studio in Wallsend.

I can see that Dave pretty much wanted a young guy who would work around the clock with bags of enthusiasm for next to nothing but I just saw it as a big opportunity. I then embarked on a number of years having a ball and learning a great deal. I would produce bands and artists and in down time would cut my own demos.

The basic idea at Impulse was to have an in-house producer. Some places just had an engineer but I would be on hand to help in song construction, production and putting product out on vinyl and releasing it. Impulse originally had stuff released by Rubber Records which was a partnership with Windows Records in Newcastle’.

Impulse Studio and NEAT Records, what was the idea behind them ? ‘We set up NEAT as a vehicle really to release stuff or if someone wanted 1,000 records released we had the set up already. I also set up a publishing company called NEAT Music and we had a sub publishing deal called Neon with Bruce Welch of The Shadows. My early recordings gave me a start in writing and production, trying to be like Phil Spector, but failing miserably’.

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‘One day Dave Woods came in and said there’s a band who are making a bit of noise out there why not get them in and sell a few records? So in came The Tygers of Pan Tang to cut three tracks. Incidentally it was to be the third single I’d produced for NEAT (the first two releases were not heavy metal). But the thing that astonished me was how retro they sounded. I had been in a rock band in the early 70’s so knew where things were. But Dave said they are really popular let’s get them in the studio. Although now we know it is known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the tide was coming in that very evening haha’.

What was the North Eastern rock scene like at that time ? ‘Well part of the scene where the Tygers played was a club called Mingles in Whitley Bay. They had a strict dress policy, if you weren’t scruffy enough you couldn’t get in haha. I went to one of their shows and walking home afterwards the Tygers thought it would be funny to restle me to the ground and threw my shoes on the roof !
Actually Mingles was the place where I checked out Raven, they were due in the studio so I wanted to get the feel of what they were about. I’ll never forget the first time I met the bassist John Gallagher. I was standing at the back of the room with my back against the wall watching the band on stage which must have only been six inches high. John took his bass and pointed it at me like a javelin, he raced toward me and only stopped right at my throat. I didn’t flinch. He gave me a wink as though to say, yeah you’ll do for us’.

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How did you get on with Raven ? ‘Actually when I agreed to produce the Raven album it was only on a three-day week basis. I figured I would need time out to recover from the sessions. Producing this album was an intense but rewarding experienced. I’ve heard these guys work described as ‘athletic rock’ and that’s just about right. In fact they were so energetic that I was obliged to gaffa tape the headphones to their heads otherwise they were just bouncing off as their heads where banging ten to the dozen as they recorded the tracks!’

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‘We decided we wanted a marching sound to bring in the Rock Until You Drop track so we mic’d up the toilet floor next to the studio and went in there and marched. It wasn’t right though. We needed a gravel pit or different footwear. I took a coffee break to ponder the problem and then it struck me. The disposable plastic coffee cups had just that crunch factor we needed. We spread a hundred or so and stomped on them at the tempo that the track was to be. We then did several takes but had to keep replenishing the cups. In the end we used the entire supply of three thousand. The next day Dave Wood was well pissed off haha’.

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Any stories from recording with Tygers of Pan Tang ? ‘They had no sophistication but I guess they made up for that with raw energy. They listened too. I was looking at this from a songwriter’s perspective and suggested that they shorten intro’s and reduce repetition’s of dead wood and get to the hooks quicker. I remember we recorded a track and the guitar solo in it was rather long so I cut it down. Unbeknownst to Rob the guitarist, the other three guys came and asked me to cut it. I cut a huge section out and give them the tape on a little spool. Perhaps it still exists somewhere in someone’s attic but it ain’t on the record. Well a few weeks later I went back to mix the tracks and Dave said hurry up let’s get it out there cos they’ve just done a gig where the audience went absolutely crackers. So I went to work on the drum sound and a few other bits and pieces, we got it ready and the A side was Don’t Touch Me There’.

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‘You know some studio work is psychology, getting the best out of people. For instance the harder I pushed Raven the better the output was. Most of the time humour was what worked best. Some people you have to be gentler with and try not to make a mistake. With Tygers vocalist Jess Cox I just didn’t know how to handle him. As a producer my role would be to point out bit’s that were out of tune. There was a lot of pointing with Jess. I’ve since pondered that perhaps they were really a punk band. Later on Jess was replaced, so make of that what you want. Anyway we put out Don’t Touch Me There and it started to really sell. MCA got interested so they picked it up, re-released it and went on to do their first album. (Wild Cat produced by Chris Tsangarides 1980) Our paths parted then, but sometime later I was looking for somewhere to live, and the Tygers had a spare room for me to move into’.

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What other bands came through the Impulse studio doors ? ‘As well as producing bands I was writing songs, pitching them to artists and also producing local artists with my songs. By now Roger Bain (Bullfrogs first producer) was head of A&R at Phonogram records. He was interested in signing an act I was working with, The Caffrey Brothers (formerly Arbre). I put on a showcase gig at Impulse Studio and Roger came up with his friend Gus Dudgeon. If Gus liked what he heard and agreed to produce then Roger would give us a deal with Phonogram. Gus did indeed like what he heard and we got the deal with Phonogram’.

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Did this lead to more work with Gus Dudgeon ? ‘We travelled to the fabulous Mill studios in Maidstone where many of the Elton John hits were recorded. I was able to learn from a master of record production. Gus kept asking my opinion on things and I would defer to him remembering my wild youth when I would not be told anything by anybody. One day Gus said to me, ‘you know Steve, this is your record and I am working for YOU!’. It was great to meet up with Roger Bain again and he wanted to hear all about the Neat Label. He said, ‘Tygers Of Pan Tang ? – strange name’. He told me they had just signed a band called Def Leppard. ‘Hey Roger, I said, that’s a strange name!’

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‘From the Phonogram sessions Gus and I became firm friends and we worked together many times over the years and he recorded many of my songs. Gus introduced me to people like Elkie Books and Colin Blunstone who also recorded my songs. I would also like to mention that just prior to working with the Tygers I had been to Odyssey studios in London to work with 60’s band The Hollies when they cut one of my songs. The track was unreleased and even when Colin Blunstone cut a version of it, that went unreleased too. Disapointing yes, but that’s how it goes sometimes’.

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‘I recall a really enjoyable session at NEAT with a band called Southbound.  They were a good rocking band with great songs. However they were not considered heavy enough for NEAT and the tapes lay unreleased in the archives. I found the tapes recently and digitised them. I was disappointed not to get Southbound released and I started to feel it was all heading in a direction that I was uncomfortable with. I wanted a broader outlook than just one genre and I eventually quit NEAT to concentrate on songwriting’.

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Where did you go after Impulse Studio ? ‘In the early 80’s I was signed to MCA Music as a songwriter. One day I got a call from my mentor there, Pete Waterman. Pete said there was a big-shot movie producer in town and I was urgently needed in London to meet up with him. So the next day I flew down and arrived in Pete’s office around midday. Pete introduced me to an American guy who’s name now escapes me. He was one of the producers of the movie, Jaws 3D which was nearing completion.
Anyway, this guy treated me to the story of his wonderful new movie and told me all it needs is a killer song. Apparently it’s a ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl’ theme. Except in this case there are no boys and girls involved, the lovers in question are dolphins. He says they have Barbara Streisand lined up to sing this yet to be written song. Pete has put me in the frame to write the lyrics and makes his office available to conduct my work. Pete and the American guy went off to lunch saying they will check my progress on their return. As they were leaving the American called back over his shoulder ‘hey kid, gimme a lurve song for two dolphins’.
Alone in the office I slid the cassette into the machine. Shit!!!!! How on earth could  I turn this orchestral pomp into a song. Still I had been charged with the task so I had to try. I spent the next two hours racking my brain and writing one liners and drawing doodles.

The guys arrived back and the American says ‘OK Kid, whaddyah got?’
I said,  ‘not much’ and passed over the piece of paper and waited to be well and truly spanked. Pete (ever the bullshitter) went into overdrive. ‘What did I tell you about my boy, F***ing brilliant, just look at this, sink or swim, I will follow him, that’s a killer line’. It was just about the only line but Pete was leaving no room for contradiction. He was already on the phone booking a studio for that evening. Then he dashed out of the office and grabed another MCA staffwriter who had a good singing voice. This hapless guy was named Simon Jeffries and he was going to have to sing this crap. Like me, Simon was not going to say no to the guy responsible for signing his yearly salary cheque (publishers advance).
I was therefore obliged to spend the rest of the day making words fit to soaring violins and trumpets. The pain of this was nothing compared to the recording session that evening. I think we nearly killed the poor vocalist. Unsurprisingly, I never heard another thing about my entry into the world of movie themes and as it happens I never saw Simon again either’.

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Have you stories about any of your songs ? ‘Songs are strange beasts they just come from anywhere. I wrote Paris By Air and it was specifically written for a girl called Toni Hallliday. I was working with her at the studio trying to get a record deal. I introduced her to Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics and she went off and did stuff with Robert Plant. She formed a band called Curve and had a fairly good career. But I’ll tell you how the song came about.
I was having a drink in a pub in London with my publisher and he said you can get inspiration for a song from anywhere. Like that poster there that says Prince of Wales, you could write a song called that and I looked at a different one, ‘no I’ll write a song called that’ pointing at a holiday advert poster saying visit Paris by Air. As I toyed with the song I knew what it was about. The song is about a young girl living on a housing estate in Washington, (town in Tyne & Wear, not the capital of USA) wanting to break out, but got no money and she see’s the sign on the wall encouraging people to fly to places like Paris, but she can’t’.

‘Did I tell you about the three songs I wrote for the Tygers of Pan Tang that ended up on The Cage album, no ? Well here goes….as I’ve mentioned I was signed to MCA in their stable of writers and my mentor was Pete Waterman, he was crackers. It was Pete who suggested the Tygers should do Love Potion No 9. Great idea. Anyway at that time I was sharing a rented flat in Whitley Bay with the band, it’s a sitcom waiting to be written haha. Bizarrely the original Tygers vocalist Jess Cox and his soon to be replacement Jon Deverill both lived at the flat. Lead Guitarist John Sykes lived there as well. So I would go off to Impulse studio in the mornings and John would stay in the house playing guitar constantly. He had this old record player. Apparently putting the guitar through the record player overdrives it and you can get a sound without being too loud.
When I’d come back from the studio he would still be playing, he’d been playing all day long. He was a really friendly guy and he’d ask what I’d been doing that day and sometimes I’d have rough mixes and I’d play him stuff. That particular day Tygers bass player Rocky Laws was there and I played them Paris By Air and Rocky loved it, the song stayed with him a few years’.

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‘Coming up to start recording their 4th album The Cage, there’d been a few changes in the Tygers camp. Jon Deverill from Persian Risk had been brought in on vocals and John Sykes walked out to audition for Ozzy Osbourne. (John wasn’t without a gig for very long. He ended up in Thin Lizzy) So that made a big dent in the songwriting team. Fred Purser from Penetration was brought in to replace John Sykes. The band were looking for some songs and Rocky suggested we should do that song I’d played to them a few year ago called Paris By Air. OK I said I’ll re-write the lyric as it was originally for a female.

I also played to their managers a brand new song called Lonely at the Top. It was unfinished and I played it on acoustic guitar, stamping my feet and vocally trying to make noise that indicated how it would become a loud rock song. They asked me to make a full demo and I did. It was also selected for the album.
Pete Waterman, who was my mentor and manager for Pete Collins who produced The Cage, heard the rough mix of the Tygers version and said ‘where’s the guitar lick, should be a guitar lick at the top’. So they flew the new Tygers guitarist Fred Purser, from Newcastle down to London to play the identical notes. Now I had done a few short lick’s on the demo but Fred is a far superior guitarist so it’s interesting to hear something so short but what effort it took to get it’.

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‘I also asked the Tygers Management if anyone wants to come along to my gaff in Tynemouth for co-writes. Jon Deverill said yes so we knocked off a few tunes. Letter to L.A. was put together using a Casio synthesiser played through a fuzzbox haha. That song was just prior to them going into the studio so it really was down to the wire with unfinished lyrics. They were in the studio when I got a call from Jon Deverill he said in his lovely little Welsh accent ‘I’m having a bit difficulty with these lyrics’ ‘I said ok what you got’ well it turned out he didn’t have much at all. He said I have these lines ‘so you like the weather and the food is nice’. I said, not only do you not have much in the way of lyrics but what you have is shit. A year later Pete Waterman sent me out to the MCA Los Angeles offices in America. I sent Jon Deveril a post card, my own ‘Letter from LA’. with my message ‘Dear Jon, I like the weather and the food is nice’ haha.
The L.A trip was quite an experience. More of that story later, now back to recording Letter to L.A. I said to Jon I’ll put some lyrics together, how long you got Jon ? ‘Oh well, we’re having a little break then I’m going in the studio to sing it…in 20 minutes’ haha. So phoning in a second verse in double quick time shall I say was challenging!
The Cage was a success but sadly the band broke up. I don’t know why maybe some of the guys thought we had been a touch too much in the commercial arena’.

What was your story from L.A ? ‘Pete Waterman sent me out to the MCA Los Angeles offices in America. The whole trip was quite an experience. I worked with some of their staff writers one of them being Glen Ballard. Now if you check him out he’s huge, Jagged Pill stuff with Alynis Morrisette, Man in the Mirror with Michael Jackson and I’m sitting in their office working with them, piano’s in the rooms you know. That’s the type of company I was keeping in those days haha. I suggested lyrics to them in my English accent and they’d say ‘oh man we don’t know what it means but it sounds fucking great ‘ haha. I was there for about 3 months working with these incredibly talented people’.

Did you record more tracks with The Tygers ? ‘After The Cage album and the break up of the Tygers I started working with Jon Deveril on a solo album before it morphed into the 5th Tygers album, The Wreckage. To begin with I was using a little portastudio but decided to go large with an eight track demo studio in my house in Whitley Bay. Jon and I went off to Dickens Home Improvement Hypermarket in Shiremoor to buy wood to build this thing. Neither one of us could drive then, so we carried the wood back on the bus and it took us three trips. How rock n roll is that ?’

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‘I met up with John Sykes again when we used his studio to record the 5th Tygers album. He had this huge place in the middle of a housing estate in Blackpool, that’s where John was originally from. So when we were there he popped in and met everyone. I co-wrote all the songs on that album with Jon Deverill. But at the time I was also working on an album with John Verity formerly of Argent, you know the single Hold Your Head Up, well he was always part of the rock scene as he was working with Saxon. To get between the jobs his roadie would pick me up at the studio in Blackpool and drive me over to Bradford where his studio was.
Gus Dudgeon was once producing some stuff that I had written with John Verity. Gus said it doesn’t have the same feel, he reckoned it just wasn’t working. I said we had originally demo’d it after a few drinks. So Gus dug out the tape and took off the harmonies and added them haha. Quite often the demo creates something that the prestine high production looses’.

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What other projects where you working on in your Whitley Bay studio ?
‘Eventually that studio in Whitley Bay became a bit of a ‘Brill Building’ with folks popping in and adding instrumentation or vocals. (Brill Building is a reference to the publishing house in New York where Carol King, Gerry Goffin and all their contemporaries hung out) One day I got a call from a management company who said they had just signed a young guy who wanted to come and work with me on some tracks. I said ‘no mate, I’m not into that’. They said ‘we’ll pay you’ and quick as a flash I said ‘cool,  send him round this afternoon’.  The young guy was Stu Emerson. I told Stu I was looking for a good female vocalist and he introduced me to Lorraine Crosby. I recorded loads of tracks with Lorraine. She recorded all the backing vocals on some stuff I was recording with a guy called Pete Adshead. Pete’s management company had sent him up from London to work with me in Whitley Bay. When the stuff started to get released Pete changed his name to Baby Ford. I had a couple of hits with him in the style of Acid House and one of them Chiki Chiki Ah Ah earned a BBC ban. I’m very proud of that’.

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‘Later I set up a publishing company with Brian Johnson of AC/DC. The company was called De Lucca Music based at his recording studio in Newcastle, Lynx De Lucca. We recorded the 6th Tygers of Pan Tang album Burning in The Shade there but it was written and pre-produced in my Whitley Bay studio. I also wrote and recorded an entire album with Alvin Stardust at Lynx. This might seem a bit lightweight but Alvin did a steaming version of a song Behind The Wheel which was originally intended for the Tygers album The Cage.

Later, Lynx studios was purchased by Eric Cook and Tony Bray of Venom. They asked me to go see them. They then offered me as much studio time as it would take to make an album or any project totally free. Wow, I said, you’re in business why would you give me a load of free studio time. Tony said ‘cos you gave us a career man’. Wow, all I did was spend about 3 hours in the studio with them and they got a whole career out of it haha’.

Have you a few more stories about The Tygers ? ‘Yeah, John Sykes was touring Japan with Whitesnake and we got a call from him saying the Tygers are huge in Japan why not get out here and tour. Well at the same time we were about to get a record deal from Music for Nations on the songs we had written so we decided to make this the 5th Tygers album rather than a Deverill solo album.
To produce The Wreck Age we couldn’t get Pete Collins who produced The Cage so we got the guy who engineered it – Phil Harding who was by then part of the Stock Aitken And Waterman set-up. Because it was going to be the Tygers, who had basically split by then, we needed another Tyger to validate the band, who wants to see a band with no original members ? So we ended up with Jon Deverill on vocals, original drummer Brian Dick came back in, on guitar was a guy called Neil Sheppard who looked like John Sykes. I can’t remember the others but I was asked to play keyboards. On the album I’m credited as guest musician but I played all the bass parts on it, all finger no plec, I thought it would take half an hour…it took 2 days haha.
I didn’t tour with them but we did a live TV rock show called ECT where I was heavily disguised. That show also featured Gary Moore and Robin George’.

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Anymore stories from the NEAT days ? ‘Yeah we had a stream of bands coming through the studio and one of them I mentioned earlier was Raven. When I first heard them I thought yeah this is heavy as hell, not what I am writing at the moment but it was constructed, well thought out and clever with a huge sound for a three piece. They have since said one of the things they remember about our time in the studio was how much they laughed. We experimented a bit, on one of the Tygers songs put a mic at the top and the bottom of the stairs, then we kicked a bin full of metallic objects down them, recorded that and put it at the end of the record, sounded great. At the bottom of the stairs someone can be heard declaring ‘Shit’ I’ve since seen that story applied to the Raven recordings. I can’t recall exactly, it’s all a blur to me now’.

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‘There was quite a scene for a number of years with muso’s getting together in some bars on the coast of the North East of England. They also hung out in Impulse Studios. We were working out of the studio on a few sessions putting stuff together, there was a band called Action. The line-up contained a young vocalist/guitarist called Andy Taylor. Andy was younger than the rest of us, he being 18 and the rest of us mid twenties. Andy did several sessions for me and I cut a few tracks with Action but none were released. He was always telling us we were boring old farts and he was going to be a megastar. One day he stuck a pin in the ‘want a musician’ adverts in Melody Maker and travelled down to Birmingham for an audition. He came home really happy and told us he got the gig. We asked him what the band was called and when he told us we laughed. ‘What kind of name is that? You’ll get nowhere, ha ha, Duran Duran, ha ha !’

‘I recall once I was coaching a nervous young bass player in the studio when our tape op said to the kid, ‘hey mate, why don’t you sell your bass and have a really good night out’. That tape op didn’t last very long but we were soon joined by another young guy called Conrad. It was his job to fetch and carry, make coffee, thread the tapes onto the machines, make tape copies and cassettes. Conrad fitted in well. He was a good tape op and got on well with everyone. He was always going on about his own band. It seemed that they saved up for about three months until they could afford enough pyrotechnics to blow up half a city, then had to save up to do another show. Conrad said very little about the music, it was mostly about the explosions. Nearly forgot to mention, Conrads band was called Venom’.

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‘Hey what about the time I gave Venom the Devil haha. The Devil is a knickname for a musical interlude called the Tritone. And it’s heavily discordant if you crank the volume up and play that, it is basically the sound of The Devil. I remember Conrad in the studio saying they had lost the bass player so I loaned them my bass and he played it through a Marshall stack and a fuzzbox. Apparently the loan of that bass gave birth to Black Metal haha. I’m responsible. Sorry.
Again they were very unrefined but absolutely bags of enthusiasm, but that was the last thing I recorded there. I never took a production royalty, just said there’s the tapes lad’s, I’m off. Eventually I sold Conrad that bass it was a Gibson EB3 and I’d had it right through my career. I said ‘I have no use for it now but you must take care of it’. Next I saw it had an upside down ephigy of Christ nailed to it and holes drilled through it. Some years later I asked him did he still have it and he replied ‘It died in L.A.’

What type of chart success did you have ? ‘On quitting NEAT Records as producer I had a shed load of releases as a writer. I was working in several different genre’s but I still had a healthy grounding in Rock. In 1981 I came up with a little slushy ballad which didn’t fit the NEAT stuff although I played it to Dave Wood and he said uh it’s ok. So I was determined my future lay elsewhere. Within six month it was a Top 20 hit, that was Hurry Home and it was in the charts for three month. At roughly the same time the Tygers put out Paris By Air which was a minor hit so I had some credibility on both sides of the coin. My publishing was with Neon and I had a hit with Sheena Easton on her Madness Money and Music album which went Top 20. Celine Dion also recorded the Sheena Easton song in French. It was a hit single in Canada going Gold. The album sold 400,000 units in Canada and 700,000 units in France.
Eventually I got to own all my own copyrights and I now publish myself with an international collection deal’.

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Looking back on your career what has music given you ? ‘Pain and pleasure !
Over the coming months I’m going to release some nuggets from my archives on a local online lable http://www.stevethompson.vaingloriousUK.com

Thanks for taking the time and sharing your stories Steve, cheers.

Interview by Gary Alikivi April 2017.

Recommended:

Micky McCrystal, Cat Scratch Fever, March 17th 2017.

John Gallagher, Staring into the Fire, 3rd May 2017.

Richard ‘Rocky’ Laws, Tyger Bay, 24th August 2017.

Robb Weir, Doctor Rock, 5th November 2017.